Amani ya Juu

Have you ever had one of those days where you decide to toss the careful itineraries and just explore and discover random spots in your city? That was me a few days back. And that is how I stumbled upon the lovely gem that is Amani ya Juu. I am probably late to the party (I’m always late to the party) because this is not necessarily a new spot to grace Nairobi’s bustling cultural scene, yet I had never heard of this place before. I was with a friend on Riverside Drive when we saw the sign for the Amani ya Juu cafe and decided to abruptly take a sharp left turn and discover what this place has to offer. Sometimes you just have to embrace the spontaneity even if it means being hooted at by angry drivers because it was totally worth it.

Amani ya Juu interior

The first thing that caught my eye was how green everything was. The shop is a bungalow nestled among expansive leafy bushes that in my opinion add a lot of character. Their selection of items encompassed quite a wide range, from jewellery, to kitchen utensils, to clothing, to quilts, to bags and accessories. The children’s section of the store was particularly wonderful with a great collection of dolls and toys as well as cute and fashionable clothing options for the little ones.

Amani ya Watoto

I really enjoyed wandering through the store, taking in all the colour and creativity, and admiring the high level craftmanship displayed on each item. I kept on finding items that I knew would be perfect gifts for family and friends; from mums & aunties, to cousins with newborn babies. In the end though, my altruistic self lost the war and I ended up purchasing a dress which I really liked for myself.

Amani ya Juu clothing

Of course, artisanal shops in Nairobi touting “African” products are a dime a dozen, with majority of these places being very guilty of problematic attitudes such as primarily catering to the white gaze and pushing the whole poverty porn narrative. For some reason though, Amani ya Juu felt different to me. I appreciated how affordable most of the items were while still maintaining the high quality. I’m always quite disappointed by how inaccessible some local artisanal shops are. The high price tags make it difficult to support local artisans despite one’s best intentions. I liked how friendly the staff were without being stifling. It’s such a nice feeling being able to explore and wander in peace without having an attendant hovering around you the whole time.

Amani ya Juu dolls

I had a lovely experience at Amani ya Juu and it’s definitely the kind of place in my book worth visiting. You just might discover something unique or something you love in their collection.

*Amani ya Juu website: link

 

 

 

An ode to Tracee Ellis Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross is many things. An actor. A fashion icon. An activist. Daughter of a music legend. But to me she represents so much more. Tracee is the physical embodiment of true joy and self acceptance. She is so wholly herself that she takes on a magnetic quality, drawing you in and making you yearn for more. She is silly and funny and sexy and beautiful and carefree. With her big hair and her big personality, she gloriously owns her space with compassion and authenticity in a way that makes her feel accessible yet otherworldly.

Tracee Ellis Ross
“My goal is to make space for my self hood. All of it. All of me. Not just the parts I like, or the parts that I think that others like. But all of it. I am committed to bringing human back.”

Tracee inspires me to embrace myself, in all of my awkwardness and imperfection and celebrate myself. Watching the way she moves through the world reminds me to hold on to my inner child and to enable her whimsical nature, to not let the invisible shackles of adult conventions keep me from living a joyful and adventurous life.

Tracee Ellis Ross
“I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me.”

PS: Check out Tracee’s speech at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards & if you’re not already following her on Instagram, then you are seriously missing out!

[Images c/o Tracee Ellis Ross]

Born a Crime

It is apt that the day I turned the last page on Trevor Noah’s fantastic literary debut happened to be Mother’s day. Born a Crime is a story of many things. Life as a biracial child in apartheid South Africa. The tales of mischief of a young boy with a healthy sense of curiosity and all-round naughtiness. An exploration of racism, classism and the divides that form in a society under oppression. But most of all, Born a Crime is a beautiful and moving ode to Trevor’s fierce and loving mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah.

cover of born a crime

Through every story that Trevor narrates, the love and admiration he has for his mother shines through. The adventures of young Trevor are deftly described with a lot of humour yet without shying away from the ugliness. The book explores heavier topics such as racism, classism, tribalism and domestic violence but never with a heavy-handedness, managing to craft compelling multi-dimensional characters who populate the colourful world that makes up Trevor’s childhood. This was a fascinating read that I couldn’t bear to put down until I had completed it. One of the best autobiographies that I have read. I would highly recommend this to anyone, whether or not you are a fan of Trevor Noah. He also narrates his audio book delightfully succeeding in bringing all the stories to life, so definitely check that out if audio books are more your speed.

My body is not for your consumption

Last week as I was walking into the office on a particularly sunny and cheerful morning, wearing one of my favourite patterned shift dresses that hits just above my knees, a strange man who I’d never spoken to before got right in my face and told me to make sure to wear a dress that draped down to my ankles. “Kesho uvae nguo inafika hapa,” he said, gesturing to his ankles. A million thoughts raced through my mind at that moment as I wondered how I would respond. I wanted to curse him out and tell him that he had no business commenting on my body. But a small part of me feared inciting rage and I had a vivid imagination of him lurking in the shadows waiting to corner me alone in the hallway after work. I had read too many accounts of femicide to relegate my fear to simply paranoia. I considered laughing him off and thought about all the times I had used humour to shrug off incidences that made me uncomfortable. Ultimately, I just ignored him and walked past him without acknowledging his rude disruption. That has always been my modus operandi in the face of street harassment. Ignore and keep walking.

affirmation by alex elle

The following day, wearing a midi-length black skirt and statement t-shirt, a male colleague walked up to me and asked me if I was going to a church event after work. His tone implied that my dress-code on that day which could be interpreted as modest was an anomaly from my usual risque (his opinion) style. Again, a million different responses raced through my head from a tentative chuckle to indignant objection. Again I chose to ignore the grossly misogynistic undertones that he made in what could be argued to be a seemingly innocent manner. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

affirmation by alex elle

As young girls, you learn early on that your body is not your own. Everyone seems to have an opinion on everything, from your weight to your clothes to your hair. It gets even more uncomfortable once adolescence hits and you start being subjected to the lascivious male gaze. You find yourself subconsciously re-modelling yourself; your dressing, your walking style, your mannerisms, all in a futile attempt to escape the stares and leers and the dirty feeling of shame it induces. Until you realise that there is no winning. The game is rigged and your only way out is to opt out of playing.

affirmation by alex elle

The only way to win is by being yourself. Being your whole, authentic, unapologetic self. Not letting any single person dim your light and burden you with their expectations of what they want you to be. Your life is yours to live. And YOU get to choose the terms and conditions.

affirmation by alex elle
[Affirmations c/o Alex Elle]

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

I can’t remember the last time I felt as frustrated reading a book as I did reading The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives. This is in no way a reflection of the book, which I thought was wonderfully written full of humour and empathy for all the characters. What I found frustrating was the lack of agency that the wives had and the way in which their lives were wholly defined by the expectations laid on them as a result of the patriarchal nature of their society.

The three older wives have been living with a secret which their husband Baba Segi is oblivious to as egotistical men are wont to do. It’s only when Baba Segi brings a fourth wife (Bolanle) that the web of lies begins to unravel. The wives all struggle to root themselves hierarchically with Baba Segi, by ganging up against Bolanle whom they believe is out to get them because she is younger and educated. The wives are determined to undermine her at every turn and chase her away so that they can restore their home back to the status quo. Everything comes to a head towards the end of the book when the family secret is revealed and Baba Segi’s seemingly tranquil world is turned upside down.

cover of the secret lives of baba segi's wives

Lola peppers her words with colourful language and euphemisms that inject lightness and humour to the story. She treats each of the wives as whole characters, describing their motivations and world view with kindness and without judgement. The book is easy to read and a non-serious exploration of the daily lives of a polygamous Nigerian family daily straddling the border between archaic ways and modern enlightenment.

Summer Vacation in Dar es Salaam

This year for my birthday I only wanted one thing: to spend my birthday by the ocean, communing with the waves. Though it took 7 months to happen, I’m glad it happened when it did. I travelled to Dar es Salaam for vacation in August and it was everything that I hoped it would be.

I spent the week in Dar with my threesome (that is, two of my closest friends). In a bid to minimise our expenditures, we opted to travel by bus rather than flying. This gave us the perfect opportunity to see a lot of Tanzania’s landscape including Mount Meru, Usambara mountains and Mount Longido. However, sitting on a bus for 12+ hours is no joke and to say that I felt completely wrecked by the time we arrived is not an understatement.

The Air BnB that we had selected was in Kigamboni, in the south of Dar. We went on to spend the next couple of idyllic days either splashing about in the Indian ocean, wandering the CBD or exploring Bongoyo island. The beaches at Kigamboni were pristine and less populous than what I had experienced previously in Mombasa. The blue of the ocean and sky soothed my weary soul. I genuinely believe there is magic hidden in the depths of the ocean. I felt myself being healed emotionally and spiritually by the restorative waves each time I dipped my sunscreen covered self in the ocean. I shed all the baggage that had been weighing me down this year and let myself feel free and un-tethered from the realities of adulthood.

Dar es Salaam was honestly magical. Just the right break I needed to reset myself for the rest of the year. It helped that I switched off my phone and spent minimal time on screens. I tried as much as possible to be present in each moment. I wanted to capture and store each of the precious memories so that I could draw back on them when I got back to the real world. I came back to Nairobi with renewed intentions and determination to do better, be better for the remainder of 2018.  I can’t wait for my next sojourn by the ocean to see what new version of myself I unlock.