Bear with me, Mon-cheri. I am trying to understand myself better. Who I’m I? Why are things the way they are? The other day I heard my dad tell my mom that he’s grateful that she’s a different kind of woman. Not like the rest of them. He meant it as a compliment but it made my mom shake her head and go silent as if not trusting her words. Perhaps because she remembered all the misgivings she had pardoned and all the things she let slide and all of a sudden, she didn’t want to be a different kind of woman.
I try not to resent my parents for their wrongs and for sometimes seeing the world in a slanted way because I have come to realise that I am a mirror of them. Fighting them is like cutting off my nose to spite my face. The much I can do is try to understand where they are coming from and in doing so learn to row the boat in a different direction, change my pose and maybe the image in the mirror will be a bit different.
I was standing in the sitting room the other day in a baggy jumper. My head in a hoodie and a bag on my back. The house was filled with the smell of onions flirting with hot oil and the sound bites of a local TV station. I was typing something on my phone, my mom came out of the kitchen in a bit of a hurry, “Check the food in the sufuria.” She shouted as the door closed behind her.
Later when she came back and found me with the hoodie off, she was almost apologetic, “I thought it was your sister.” She stammered, it stung because it made me see how she saw genders. It stung because even though I might not want to admit it that reasoning is deeply-rooted somewhere within me.
Mon-cheri, we will probably have many sons and daughters but I understand now that the conversation must not be about pointing fingers but about uplifting both. I want to be a hero to both my sons and daughters but I cannot do that if I feel as if the kitchen will bite off my testicles. I cannot be that If I look at a woman and only see someone who can help me get off, someone whose ideas are inferior to mine.
My niece is eight years old. I love her to death. She has dark chocolate skin and cocoa brown eyes. She has a lovable face and fat cheeks and even at that age you can tell she’s going to be a tall one. She’s quite the intelligent young lady even though she likes watching vain shows like, America’s Got Talent and reruns of Shrek. I fear that the world around her is constructed to make her feel second to the boy and that she must serve at his pleasure.
My sister asked me to make ugali the other day and as I headed to the kitchen, my niece, who was on the table drawing something with her small clever hands—a hobby she picked up recently, and has been insisting that she wants to improve because a boy in her class draws very well—asked, “Kwani men cook?”
I was unnerved by the remark. The words girdled my throat. I felt as if I was falling into a bottomless pothole in city centre, my skin being ripped to the bone by the sharp edges on the side. After I caught my breath. After I was done drinking what I had heard with a bitter aftertaste, I asked her where she learnt that from? She said she was just asking but the truth is, she learnt it from us.
I worry about her. I worry about what she sees when she looks in the mirror. Does she see a girl who should be agreeable and nice and bring honour to her family? Does she see a girl whose sole purpose is to bend-over backwards and please the whims of men? Or does she see something else? A renegade, a polished, suave intelligent girl who will make waves?
Mon-cheri, I have insecurities. About a woman who earns more than me. About one who drives while I seat on the passenger’s side and even when I drive its her car. I’m unsettled by a woman who is more ambitious, who thinks clearer than me, who shuts me up with better ideas and a better line of thought. I understand that I have borrowed all these from society. I also understand I’m the problem if I don’t have a fierce hunger to shed off that skin.
“What kind of a woman do I want?” I have been mulling over this question. I grew up thinking that I shouldn’t expect much from a woman—as long as she was pretty, with an hourglass frame and had decent cooking skills, I was home and dry. I understand now how poisonous that kind of thinking is. I want a woman who is smarter than me, even when I know I have not built the capacity to attract her yet.
Sometimes I turn off the lights. It’s easier to seat in the dark with my thoughts. I wonder what will happen, if, you Mon-cheri don’t come around. I will be with a different kind of woman, one who is not like the rest. We will have sons who confuse insecurity with masculinity. Sons who hide in pubs and go home in the wee hours of the night because it’s unmanly not too and wounded daughters who hide in church and behind feminism.
It’s a dreadful thought.
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