Trusting the process

Growing up, everything seemed so much simpler. The formula for success seemed straightforward. Go to school, get the grades, get a good job and voila your life is set. But the reality is not so simple and you only just start to realise this when you are well into your adulthood, wading through the murkiness of uncertainty, unfulfilled dreams and societal expectations.

I’ve never been one of those people who’ve known what they wanted to be when they grow up since they were young. Heck, I don’t even have a 5-year or 10-year plan. I’ve always envied those people who have always been sure of their path. You know the ones. The boy who always knew that he wanted to be a doctor. The girl who was always tinkering with machines and loved all things engineering.  When I think about what I want for my future, I can envision the type of person/woman I want to be and the type of people I want to have around me, but the what is always elusive.

The last few months have been a period of transition for me career-wise. Soon after the excitement of making a change wanes, reality sets and you find yourself asking the tough questions. The questions you never get round to asking yourself when you’re in the thick of things because you’re always too busy with work and life. But now, in the stillness of unemployment, you begin to ask the questions.

What am I doing with my life?
What do I want next? Does this get me closer to the future I want? What is important to me? What do I want my legacy to be?

In the midst of looking inwards to soul search for the answers to these questions, you look up and around and watch your peers progressing in life. Hitting all the milestones of “successful adulthood” as defined by our society. Great job, career progression, nice car, nice house, getting married and having kids. You wonder how friends, colleagues and school-mates whom you started out with ended up on such different paths. It can get quite unnerving and requires a lot of internal self-work to pull yourself out of that ugliness borne out of comparison.

You have to come to the realisation that you are the author of your story. You are the captain of your ship. You have to define what success looks like for you. And only then, can you start enjoying the season of transition and uncertainty. Because this is the chance to try something new, to experiment, to discover new realms of possibility, to unlock new versions of yourself. This is the chance to grow and prepare for the next phase of your life, whatever that may be. You may not know what comes next but you focus on moving forward and continuing to evolve. You take a deep breath and learn to trust the process and enjoy the journey.

Birthday Month & New Beginnings

January is a time where most of us set our resolutions and intentions for the new year. Being a January baby, I get to have the chance to combine the general new year resolutions with my own personal ones as I celebrate another revolution round the sun.

I haven’t been very strict in previous years about setting resolutions; instead opting to “go with the flow”. However earlier in the month, I read about an interesting approach to resolutions that piqued my interest. Rather than focusing on a set of rules to abide by in the new year, the suggestion was to make a list of items that you’d want to do more of and less of. I like this approach better as it seems like a gentler way to ease yourself into a change or new habit rather than going from 0 – 100.

So this month, as I turn a year older and hopefully wiser, here is my “more” and “less” list for the new year.

MORE

  • Reading books from diverse authors & backgrounds
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Speaking with gentleness to myself
  • Trying out new recipes
  • Challenging my assumptions
  • Writing

LESS

  • Anxiety
  • Waiting for validation
  • Feeling small
  • Late nights watching movies in bed
  • Self criticism
  • Worrying about things outside my sphere of control

Here’s to a really good 2019!

Recap of 2018 reads

At the beginning of 2018, my goal was to try and complete at least 12 books by the end of the year (one book per month). The final count for 2018 was 8 books completed which was a massive improvement from 2017.

I don’t really have a defined selection criteria when picking my next read though I usually gravitate towards books whose authors are black and/or African and/or womxn.

Completed books in 2018:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – My interest was piqued after finishing season 1 of the eponymous TV show.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – One of my 2018 faves
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler – Fastest read of 2018. I was 100% engrossed and stayed up all night to finish.
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith
  • Invisible: Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community by Kevin Mwachiro

PS: Check out all of last year’s book reviews here to see my thoughts and opinions on some of the books on this list.

Started but yet to finish:

  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Fallen off the wagon:

  • We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union – I don’t know why but I really struggled to finish this one and ended up switching to something else midway.

I tend to buy books faster than I read them so I’m challenging myself this year to try and get through more of my collection first before buying any more. Looking forward to more great reads in 2019.

PS: Check out Terembe‘s wonderful video on the “African Literature Starter Pack”. Happy reading!

Perfection is not beauty

I’ve tried quite a number of things in the last few years to try and get to the promised land of clear skin. That dewy, soft, blemish-free skin that stands as proof to the world that you are living your best life. You know, the kind that says that you are at peace with your inner self. But I’m slowly coming to accept that maybe there’s no mask or moisturiser or cleanser that will get me where I want to be. That no matter how many litres of water I drink every day or how many fresh veggies and fruits I consume, I will still have to contend with the acne scars on my cheeks and regular pimple marking a spotlight on my forehead. Maybe knowing that my inner self is healthy and happy is okay. Or is it?

It’s only natural to want to look your best. I challenge any one who thinks that caring about looks is vain. Screw the platitudes thrown around about “inner beauty”. Inner beauty is great and all, but I think we can all agree that physical looks are a shared source of insecurities universally. Perfection is lauded as the true peak of beauty that we should all strive towards. Society has held on to the monopoly of beauty definitions and standards for far too long.

Are you really beautiful if you don’t have long, bouncy, silky hair going past your shoulders? [Picture a thousand different shampoo commercials]
Are you really beautiful if your skin is not glowing and flawless?
Or your eyebrows perfectly defined? [Remember: sisters, not twins]
Are you really beautiful if your body is not slim but curvy in “all the right places”?

Trying to live up to these standards is exhausting and frankly can drive one mad. I am making the decision to choose differently. I am choosing to live a healthy and joyful life. To appreciate my body for what it is even as I work towards improving my physical self. To speak with kindness and gentleness about myself. To be mindful of my intentions as I experiment with modifying my external image, be it through hair & make-up, working out or whatever else. And hopefully to be part of the narrative expanding the definition of what beauty looks like. I hope you’ll join me on this journey too.

[Images c/o Dominique Shepherd, Ajak Deng and Sarah Waiswa]

PS: Check out this excellent essay on the lack of inclusivity in the Body Positivity movement

November Favourites

This week I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I’ve been loving and enjoying recently.

Album: Saturn by Nao

I loved this album on my first listen which is not something that happens often. Nao’s ethereal voice delivers raw honesty and emotion throughout the entire album (you can read more about the inspiration for the album here). My top 3 songs on the album in order are: Yellow of the Sun, A Life Like This and Love Supreme. Honourable mention to Make It Out Alive whose music video is full of stunning visuals.

Netflix Special: Homecoming King

Recently, after watching Hasan Minhaj’s hilarious late night TV interview I found myself scrolling down his IMDB credits to see what else he’d done besides the Daily Show. This is how I stumbled upon his Netflix special, Homecoming King, in which he explores his identity as an Indian-American Muslim through well-crafted funny and sincere anecdotes.

Series: Little Things

I disovered Little Things while scouring through the shows on Netflix in an attempt to find something new, different and engaging to watch. This show is centred on a young Indian couple as they navigate typical and relatable relationship joys and drama. Season 1 is free and available on YouTube.

Enjoy!

[Featured image c/o Nao]

Camping at Ngare Ndare

Last year I went camping for the very first time. If there’s one thing you should know about me it’s that I’m not the outdoorsy type. I like my creature comforts a lot. So you can imagine the amount of effort it took to get over myself and agree to spend the night in a forest. Not just any forest. Ngare Ndare forest in Nanyuki. A few weeks earlier, my friend had enthralled me with tales of his adventures camping out in Ngare Ndare as he showed me photos of the surreal turquoise blue of the spring waters. Naturally, when he proceeded to invite me on a camping trip that he was organising with friends I said yes. I needed to sate my inner skeptic by seeing this nirvana myself.

Ngare Ndare spring water

Needless to say, Ngare Ndare did not disappoint and 100% lived up to the hype. I had my qualms about not having the right camping gear or hiking boots and so on but all of that was overshadowed once we got there and I allowed myself to let go and be in the moment. Swimming in the freezing cold natural pools was like a jolt to the system. Literally and figuratively. The lush green forest was alive with the harmonies of chirping birds. The tranquil night sky was lit up by the stars and the warm orange hues emanating from our campfire.

Ngare Ndare forest

It was so good disconnecting from the outside world and getting a momentary reprieve from the chaos of Nairobi life. Sure, sleeping on the ground may not have been my best night’s sleep (I swear I could feel every contour of the ground on my back). But I’m happy that I dared to venture out of my comfort zone and was rewarded in full by getting to experience the wonders of Ngare Ndare forest in person.

Ngare Ndare canopy walk

*Did you know that Ngare Ndare forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site? Check out their website for more info

Freshwater

I have lived many lives inside this body.
I lived many lives before they put me in this body.
I will live many lives when they take me out of it.

Of humans and gods. Of souls and spirits and bodies.

I started reading Freshwater on the first day of my vacation and felt completely gripped by the book. I think it is true to say that this is one of the most unique books that I have read in a while. Akwaeke explores heavy themes like identity, depression, suicide and self-harm vividly by providing a candid look inside the mind of the protagonist (Ada).

Having followed Akwaeke’s journey (and their wonderful small sister, Yagazie) prior to the book release, I already had some awareness of the potentially autobiographical aspects of Freshwater*. This added to the urgency I felt reading the book and willing Ada to pull through and find a way to make peace with all her identities. Asughara, Saint Vincent and all the myriad of entities that occupy Ada’s marble space in her mind all feel fleshed out like real characters that you can understand and empathise with even as you witness the torment that Ada is put through.

I loved how the author integrated Igbo culture with the themes of mental health issues. Too often, African spirituality and mythology has been relegated condescendingly by the lens of the Western gaze as simply juju or witchcraft practised by ‘savages’. Freshwater is brazen in the way it regards Igbo deities and mythology with the seriousness that is so rarely seen in literature.

This was a strong and fascinating debut for Akwaeke and I look forward to consuming more of their work.

*Read Akwaeke’s essay in New York’s The Cut here

My first time

It happened mid-morning one fine Thursday, a few weeks back. The sky was the most magnificent shade of blue. The kind of blue that Lupita Nyong’o was likely referring to as the inspiration for her Oscars 2014 gown. Jacaranda was in bloom and the streets of Nairobi were scattered with the lush purple of the jacaranda flowers. I had just finished with my appointment near Valley Road and decided to take advantage of the good weather by opting to walk to town. I put my headphones in and started walking towards Uhuru Highway, all the while soaking in the sun’s warmth and basking in the good vibes. I called my friend and spent the next few minutes chatting excitedly about everything and nothing. The traffic lights on the highway were red so all the cars coming into town were at a standstill. I was approaching the Uhuru highway roundabout when a white cloud of smoke billowing into the air caught my eye. I froze for a moment, unsure of what was happening. That’s when it hit me. Teargas.

“Shit. I have to hang up.” I said as I hurriedly stashed my phone and headphones into my bag. My adrenaline was rising and my mind whirred with thoughts, trying to figure out what was going on and what I should do next. More canisters were thrown onto the highway. The boda boda operators all hopped onto their motorbikes and zoomed off away from the teargas clouds. I heard someone yell that the police were on a mission to try and drive out the boda boda operators from town. I had seen my fare share of teargas-riddled running battles between police and civilians on TV but this was my first time getting caught up in one.

My first thought was to run off in the opposite direction. Then I panicked wondering if the police were going to descend into a full blown chase after the boda boda operators. I did not want to dare get caught in the cross hairs in case things were to escalate to chaotic levels. So my next plan was to attempt to get out of town asap, which would require me to cross the roundabout to get to the other side where things were calmer. I covered my face with my scarf and tried to run through the smoke but it was all futile. The pungent fumes hit me with unexpected force and I started coughing uncontrollably. My eyes stung and my throat felt like it was on fire. I ran into Uhuru park, barely finding my way through tear-soaked eyes. I tried taking gulps of fresh air but each inhale only seemed to fan the flames in my throat.

Weka maji kwa macho,” I heard a voice say. I grabbed my water bottle from my bag and splashed water in my eyes, taking a few sips in between. I stumbled and found my way to a bench in the park and sat down as I continued rinsing my face and inhaling deeply. Gradually the stinging and burning sensation lessened. I listened keenly to the nearby group of passersby as they discussed whether it was safe to leave the park. Thankfully it appeared that the police were satisfied and uninterested in continuing the assault. I joined the small crowd that had gathered as we made our way to the roundabout and crossed safely to the other side. As I raced out of town, I thought about all the people who attend protests knowing that they face the risk of being assaulted, with teargas or worse, and felt a newfound admiration and appreciation for their temerity.

[Image c/o Mutua Matheka]

Passing Through Podcast

Passing through podcast is one of my favourite podcasts ever. The podcast is hosted by Nneka Julia who is a photographer extraordinaire. In Nneka’s own words, Passing through podcast is “a podcast about revelations and wisdom collected through, travel, conversation and self-education.”

Passing through podcast

Nneka Julia is a wordsmith. A master of painting vivid imagery and skillfully weaving together beautiful and moving tales using her gift of the gab. Her silky smooth voice transports you through each episode and her narrations are filled with humour, honesty and authenticity. This podcast is full of wisdom gems that Nneka graciously and generously sprinkles in each episode.

Passing through podcast

I cannot recall how I stumbled upon her Instagram page but I’m so glad I did. Nneka is a masterful storyteller who started out using her photographs to tell stories about the people and places that she has encountered through her travels. The podcast affords her the opportunity to dive deeper into her stories as she narrates tales from her past experiences.

Passing through podcast

I would highly recommend this podcast to anyone and everyone; whether you’re in it to be regaled with tales of travels to different destinations, interested in finding a companion for those long commutes or looking for someone to inspire you. Passing through podcast can be found on iTunes or SoundCloud. Happy listening!

[All images c/o Passing through podcast & Nneka Julia]

McMillan Library Tour

I know what you’re probably thinking. Library tour? Sounds kinda meh and boring, right? Hear me out though. Libraries are a treasure trove of history and knowledge. And the McMillan library in Nairobi is one of the oldest and largest libraries in Nairobi. Besides being one of the architectural landmark buildings in Nairobi, it houses a lot of our country’s history, dating as far back as the 1900s.McMillan library main branchI have walked past the McMillan library in town countless times and somehow never bothered to venture in to explore. Funny how the hustle and bustle of our daily life can blind us to opportunities for adventure as we rush from one errand to the next. So when I noticed a poster on Twitter announcing an organised tour of the McMillan library, I decided that this was my chance to discover whatever wonders this place had to offer. A chance to play tourist in my own city.

McMillan library Makadara branch

I’m not going to lie, trading in my usual lazy weekend morning routine was not easy, but it was totally worth it. The tour included visiting the three McMillan library branches in Nairobi, located in CBD, Makadara and Kaloleni. The Makadara branch was the first stop on the tour. I loved how bright and airy the Makadara library was. The eggshell pink walls were a nice touch and the library felt spacious and accommodating.

McMillan library Kaloleni branch

The next stop on the tour was the Kaloleni branch, which is situated next to a community social hall and packed with history, both political and personal. The social hall was the site of many important parliamentary meetings in the early days of Kenya’s conception. And on the personal front, I actually have a piece of family history nested in these structures. My dad grew up in Kaloleni and has a lot of memories from his childhood, doing homework in the library and watching free movies in the social hall.

Kaloleni social hall

The final stop was the main library located in CBD. We got to venture into the basement which was full of unsorted photos and other archived history from pre-independence Kenya. Another room upstairs was packed with bound newspaper archives from the last five decades. I got a kick out of flipping through headlines from newspapers printed on the day of my birth to see what was the news back then.

problematic book titles in the Kaloleni branch

When the McMillan library was opened in 1931, it was racially exclusive (only accessible by white people) which is a fact that is glaringly reflected in the library’s book collection, majority of which are outdated and frankly problematic. It is important that the libraries be updated and modernised so as to better serve the vibrant and multicultural Kenyan population. Which is where Book Bunk comes in.

Founded by two inspiring ladies (Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange), Book Bunk’s mission is to rehabilitate the three McMillan library branches in Nairobi, working in partnership with the Nairobi county government. And part of that involves encouraging the community to participate and engage with these spaces, through a variety of events such as library tours and film screenings. All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend my Saturday morning plus support the work that Book Bunk are doing.

*Follow @TheBookBunk on Twitter to stay informed on upcoming events