How to find the perfect wedding dress: Lessons – Part 2

Finding a wedding dress that you love and feel great in can be a rather daunting task, as seen in my previous post. This is especially for those, like me, who are prone to bouts of chronic indecision from time to time.

Starting over on this project (it really is one) that I thought I was done with in good time so I could focus on other equally important matters was not fun at first. Searching for another wedding dress design that could actually fit into my vision and budget, shopping for fabric, and a different fundi (as the one I had talked about earlier was experiencing some health challenges) for the second time while still planning other aspects of the wedding was exhausting.

Even though the first attempt of having my dress made didn’t turn out as expected, I was not deterred from tailor-making my dress. I settled on one of the very first designs I had liked and pinned on my one of my Pinterest boards (I wouldn’t call myself obsessive but by this time I had about seven wedding-related boards). It was simple and elegant with long-sleeved lace arms, a low back, and a flowing chiffon bottom.

I’d like to acknowledge my good friend Laura of Weza Fabrics who hooked me up with not only some great fabric for the dress design I wanted but also with a great fundi from her tailoring shop who had experience in bridal work. She was also rather patient and understanding with me, something that all brides need in generous doses during this time. Though there were a number of adjustments and uncertainties that were part of this process, I loved the end result and do not regret my decision to tailor-make the dress. I also learned a couple of lessons that I’d like to pass on to another bride-to-be from my own experience.

  • Start your wedding dress search early so you can have time to browse, consider different options and titter tatter in indecision. You will not have the luxury of doing this 1.5 months to your wedding.
  • I probably do not need to state the obvious but I will anyway. Go for a dress you feel comfortable and beautiful in. It’s great to have the input of your loved ones but the ultimate decision has to be yours. You’re the one wearing the dress after all.
  • It’s possible to have continuous second and third thoughts even after you’re sure you’ve found THE ONE.
  • You will see prettier, shinier and non-mainstreamier (yes, this is a word I made up) wedding dresses after you have already settled on a dress you’re sure you love. You need to make peace with this fact and be content with your decision.
  • If you are having your dress made, please understand that it may not turn out exactly like the one saved on your phone. Find out where adjustments can be made to make it closer to the one you had envisioned and also what you can accept as the fundi’s creative interpretation of what you asked them to make, if possible (easier said than done really).
  • There is no perfect wedding dress.

 

Happy wedding day!

 

How to the find the perfect wedding dress: 15 simple steps – Part 1

  1. Blow the dust off a Pinterest account that you created ages ago but have never really put to any use. Try to remember your password. Give up on this and create a new password.
  2. Type ‘wedding dresses’ into the search bar and get lost in the plethora of options generated. Should you go for vintage, lace, princess, encaje, mermaid, boho, modest, backless, with sleeves, A-line, rustic, or tea length? Sure, you don’t know what some of these terms are referring to but they all sound great!
  3. Let your search take you to the deepest recesses of the Internet, to the places many fear to tread, the 18th page of Google search.
  4. Decide that you have seen it all and make your decision. Something that you haven’t yet encountered on your perilous voyages on the Interwebs. A long-sleeved wedding dress. With pockets. No lace. Lace is too mainstream.
  5. Type ‘long-sleeved wedding dress pockets’ into the Pinterest search bar. Wow, these exist. Marvel at the exquisiteness of some of the designs. This is definitely what you want. The sheer simplicity, elegance and non-mainstreameness of it is making you smile in traffic.
  6. You decided a while back that your wedding dress would be couture (and hopefully won’t cost you an arm, leg and spleen) and you already have a date with a fundi that has known you since you were into nguo za stairs.
  7. The day before your fundi visit, open a link sent to you by your fiancé from apracticalwedding.com on WhatsApp, containing ‘unconventional wedding dresses’. Get mind-blown by the designs and decide that your choice wasn’t unconventional enough. Not rustic or bohemian enough. This is, after all, what you were going for.wedding-dress-searchb
  8. Settle on a different design from the one you had shown your mother and all other interested parties at 11.37 pm. The model in the picture wears a one shoulder, straight wedding dress that falls oh so gracefully. Her hair is down and there’s that sunny, cheery feel (that you’re also going for) in the picture. #sunkissed
  9. Your mother may not approve. She will say it’s too simple and ask if you’re sure about this. You will chuckle at this. How can you not be?
  10. Take the design to your fundi, printed on photographic paper so she doesn’t miss the finer details. Screens can be deceiving. Find a way to add pockets to the mix. Fundi is doubtful about doing this with chiffon. It’s possible, insist on this. Show her a picture on Pinterest with pockets. Same fabric.
  11. Two weeks later when the dress is ready, make your way to the fundi’s house. So the dress kinda sorta maybe looks like the one on the picture. It probably only needs a few adjustments.
  12. How do you feel about it? A most important question from sister dearest. You’re not quite sure at first but maybe you need to see it in a better light. It was dark at the fundi’s. Try it on again during daytime in a well-lit room and try to summon feelings you don’t quite understand. Start getting a little philosophical in the midst of all this. But what does it truly mean to like something?
  13. “Don’t settle for a dress you don’t like.” You will be advised. Pay heed to this (this is the cheapest thing you will pay for as you plan for the wedding!).
  14. You don’t like the dress. This realization, this heavy wet blanket, will settle on your awareness, disillusion you. Though you don’t know what you want anymore, this dress will not be IT. Get back to the drawing board. A Pinterest board, to be more specific.
  15. Lace will start to look like an attractive choice after a few weeks. Not as mainstream as you initially thought. Also, if well put together, lace could have a positively rustic bohemian quality to it. Right?

 

Stay tuned for Part 2.

 

fundi  – Use here to mean a tailor, but also refers to  a mechanic, technician, plumber · artisan, craftsperson, metalworker or artificer.

nguo za stairs – Directly translates to ‘a staircase dress’. A (mostly) Nairobian term used here to refer to dresses with cascading detail that were rather popular with little girls in the 90s.

The woman

She’s always seated at this very spot, probably one of the very few she can lay any claim to; the corner of one of the long metal benches at the bus stop, not too far from a large parking area for matatus. Her clothes are worn and her hair hasn’t seen the front end of a comb in a while. In her arms is a sleeping baby covered in a dirty shawl. Next to her, there’s a large bundle of what appears to be the entirety of her earthly possessions; a patterned, tattered khanga fashioned as a bag, stuffed with clothes and tied with a knot. There’s a paradoxical quality about her being; conspicuous yet also somewhat unnoticeable in the mass of human traffic that traverses a bus stop.

I’m waiting to board a matatu home when I first notice her. I’m seated on the benches opposite her. Between us is a short driveway that allows the matatus to come in and out of the bus stop. I’m frustrated about the long wait for one. My dying phone having lost its charm, I’m people watching. She doesn’t notice me staring. She has a faraway look in her eyes and a half smile. She looks as if she’s trying to remember a funny joke she once heard. A matatu comes by and I dash in, thoughts of her quickly replaced by my own cares.

I spot her again a few weeks later. This time I’m inside a matatu staring from the window just before we pull away. Who is she? Where is she from? Does she spend her days or nights here?

Another chilly evening in December after a long day at work and I’m waiting at the bus stop yet again. Nearly half an hour has gone by without any sign of a matatu. I’m not dressed warmly enough for the biting evening chill. There are so many of us at the bus stop waiting, eyes on phone screens, heads bobbing to music from headphones too large, deep in conversation, or pacing and looking around impatiently.

central-bus-station1-520x245
Courtesy of http://www.jambonairobi.co.ke/tag/public-transport-in-nairobi/

One matatu comes by and it’s a fight to get in. It’s always survival for the fittest during rush hour. I’m not too keen on elbowing people to find my way in today so I opt to wait for the next one. It takes a long while. There are a few false alarms where it seems like one’s coming and we rush to fight for space but it turns out to be a damaged vehicle in the midst of repairs and testing. “Ngojeni tu hapo, ingine inakuja.” Matatu proverb. I’m back at the benches and lo and behold, there she is, in her usual spot.  Her earthly possessions sit stoically next to her on her right. I take a seat on the same bench, a small gap between us, my mind racing, trying to find things I could say to make conversation with her.

I don’t excel at small talk but today I’m winning. “Hizi matatu za hapa zinakaa sana.” She smiles and nods and makes an incomprehensible sound then continues to stare straight ahead. Today, the toddler is awake and scowling at me from her mother’s bosom. I smile at her. “Sasa baby. Sasa!” I’m trying too hard. My chitchat is running out. I’m losing. “Hata we unangoja matatu?” She shakes her head, smiles. I’m already chiding myself for this one. She is clearly not one of the commuters.

Another commuter rudely interrupts the wonderful conversation we’re about to have by sitting in the space between us. Thankfully, he leaves after a few minutes of unsuccessful small talk with me (and after trying to find out where I live). I’m left alone with the woman. What to say? I pretend to look around. I’m racking my tired brains trying to think of other things I could say to her but I keep drawing a blank. A matatu shows up and I get up to leave then turn to hand her a 100 shilling note from my pocket. “Nunulia baby maziwa.” She smiles and thanks me. On my way home I keep thinking of things I could have said to her, maybe words of encouragement. Or I could have prayed with her. Sigh. All these could-have-beens.

Today I’m waiting at the bus stop once again. She isn’t at her usual spot. In her place sit her earthly possessions silently marking her territory. On the ground below them is a faded Tuskys paper bag that I assume also belongs to her. It’s filled with what look like overripe mangoes, some with the insides spilling out of their spotted red-yellow skins. Was this her food for today? Where is she?

 

 

Matatu – minibuses used as public transport

Ngojeni tu hapo, ingine inakuja. – Wait here, another one is coming

Hizi matatu za hapa zinakaa sana. – The matatus from this route take a really long time to get here.

Sasa baby. Sasa! – Hello baby. Hello!

Hata we unangoja matatu? – Are you also waiting for a matatu?

Nunulia baby maziwa. – Buy the baby some milk.

 

 

Internship

September 2009. I was nearly done with my course work. Three units and two internships to go before I was conferred with the power to read and do all that appertained to my degree. Two internships because I was taking two different arts programs, but that’s a story for another day. I was determined to land an internship without daddy’s connections. Not that it was a terrible thing to be helped by him in this way. I probably needed this help but was holding on to a somewhat misguided sense of independence.

My search took me to the Standard Group. They had recently moved to this swanky new address on Mombasa Road. One of my lecturers had connected me to a former student of his who worked there as a sub-editor. I remember waiting for nearly an hour at the lobby, dressed in one of the very few official outfits I owned at the time, to meet the features editor after meeting the sub.

When he showed up, he perused my papers, commented about how organized I was (I had newspaper cuttings of my writing in this A4-sized book with clear paper pockets. I realize how dated that sounds now. Where did the time go?), and also made a dig at the fact that I was from a Christian university after asking whether I could write for the Pulse pull out. I really didn’t want this but I tried to look enthusiastic about it. Long story short, he took my CV and said they would call me when they were hiring interns in October. They never did.

My search continued, a rather unfruitful one, I might add. We were well into the semester and I still hadn’t found an internship. Time was not smiling at me. Daddy came to the rescue. He knew someone at The People Daily newspaper who knew someone at the Nation newspaper where I would have liked to end up. Writing for the Nation really was the dream for me then.

internship
Image from http://bit.ly/2iCiQLJ

Off I went with my little book of newspaper cuttings to their offices which at that time were on Union Towers (the building on Moi Avenue that houses Creamy Inn, Pizza Inn et cetera. Also used to be a very popular meeting place when it was Nandos. Wait, did this change at some point?). The People Daily occupied a number of floors in this building.

As I headed to the newsroom, it did not occur to me that I had not confirmed who exactly I was supposed to see and what office they occupied. I went in, asked to see the editor and was pointed to a little office at the corner of the newsroom occupied by a man that fits the description of the clichéd newspaper editors in movies and TV series; tough-talking, no nonsense, hard news kind of man.

I told him that I had been asked to see him about an internship and handed him my prized book of newspaper cuttings. I also wanted to add that I had been sent to him so that he could connect me to someone at the Nation. I didn’t. He looked through my book and asked what I was interested in writing about.  Reviews, I said. Book reviews. They already had someone doing that. What else could I write? Movie reviews. He seemed interested in this. I was excited at the prospect of watching movies for my job. He put a damper in my excitement however when he said that they had to be Kenyan movies. I was a little crushed being the Hollywood junkie that I was then and knowing very little about the Kenyan film industry.

He continued, “We do not have a space for you to work here. Do you have a computer at home? Can you work from home?” Of course I did not mind at all! Reviewing movies AND working from home! This was a fairly sweet deal. So I was taken on right there and then as an intern, all prospects about writing for the Nation shelved. Difficult as it was to access good Kenyan films, I did enjoy reviewing, learning about what to look out for in a film, and interacting with different industry players in the Kenyan film scene; the likes of Alex Konstantaras (of Jitu Films, the ones behind that film banned by KFCB), Cajetan Boy, and Wanuri Kahiu, among others .

I don’t regret going for this internship. Not too long after I started working there, I found out that the person I was meant to see about being connected to the Nation was an accountant at the newspaper. Maybe I did get my wish after all, not to have used daddy’s connections, though not in the way I had anticipated.

P.S. I don’t actually refer to my father as daddy. I’m just using it here for dramatic effect. And also to sound a little posh. I hope I succeeded on both accounts.

Day 1: My 540 Words

Let the record reflect that I showed up to write today. It’s been a very long while since I consistently did. 2016 was, for me, a year of barely any consequential writing. I’m not proud of that. When you’ve gone so long without stretching your ‘inky muscles’ as I’ve seen someone refer to them, the very thought of sitting down to write as I am now fills you with dread. Your writing is interrupted by long pauses as you keep stopping to think of what to write and you keep fighting numerous urges to edit your work, something that is frowned upon by the experts.

Stopping every now and then to edit your spelling and grammatical mistakes as many writers are apt to do is disruptive to the process, to your creative flow, according to many published writers. It’s also something I have found to be true. So here I am, typing away and almost successfully resisting that powerful urge to go back over all I’ve already written to correct my mistakes.

And so it happens that my first piece of writing is about my plans to write, more so, to commit to My 500 Words, a 31-day challenge to write 500 words every day. We’re slightly over 200 right now. Hurrah. Not that anyone’s counting. I certainly am not.

One of my biggest challenges when I think of writing, I find, is that I spend too much time planning to write, then thinking of what to write about, then getting distracted by social media, cooking and other chores that become suddenly urgent whenever I plan to actually write. My most significant hurdle so far has been consistency. The discipline required to show up every day to do the same thing is very difficult for me. Sometimes I think of it as the curse of indiscipline that I have so encouraged in myself until it became second nature. I’m rather adept at putting off to tomorrow what could have been done yesterday.

So, have I changed? Will I suddenly become consistent? Well, that remains to be seen. Here I am making a public commitment to write 500 words (or more) for the next 31 days. It seems that public declarations of one’s intentions to accomplish a certain goal are considered a great motivator for follow through because you are involving other people who can keep you accountable. It’s no longer only about you.

Jeff Goins, an author and the originator of this challenge believes that the key to accomplishing one’s goals lies in daily habits, the little steps you take to get there. Now this is hardly a new idea but it was very encouraging for me to read that at the start of this year. I do not consider myself a great planner, especially with regard to goal setting. I admire (also a little intimidated by) those with five year plans broken down into one year goals with monthly and hourly steps to get there. Writing more, as vague and obscure as this sounds to you veteran goal setters and achievers, was one of the things I set out to do this year, so help me God. This is Day 1.

P.S. I am still mulling over whether or not everything I write will end up here as a blog post and it may not. I do however intend to post about my daily journey on my social media platforms (@edgicovi on both Twitter and Instagram) with the hashtag #Eds500.

Creatives, creativity and Salmonella

Creativity can be somewhat bipolar, don’t you think? On one hand, it can be beautiful, expressive and free-spirited and on the other, difficult, mind numbing and depressive. I’m using the term creativity here to refer to the state of being creative and the state of being A creative. In addition to that, with reference to the negative aspects associated with being creative, I find myself getting rather interested in finding out why what makes us so great, what makes us tick, also seems to have the potential of destroying us or turning us into the worst versions of ourselves.

In my ongoing journey as a creative, I have been on that dark side. You know it. The one accompanied by loud voices in your head telling you that you are terrible at whatever it is you believe to be your life’s work, your best work is behind you, no one will pay for your art, just STOP! The chicken from your lunch will probably give you Salmonella… That voice gets pretty busy.

I’m not here to give any answers. Don’t you just hate it when people say that after introducing some deep topic? I digress. I’d like to share a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, which has greatly inspired me during one of many dark moments.

What she said about creativity was very timely and helpful to me in my struggle with creativity. I believe it’s applicable to pretty much anyone creating anything. I believe that all my creativity comes from God, the Creator, and listening to Elizabeth (given the number of times I’ve watched this, I think we’re on a first name basis) say all these interesting things about creativity helped me somewhat snap out of that downward spiral of creative depression and self-loathing if I may call it that. I hope that you find this as inspiring as I did. Do your job. Keep showing up. Keep creating.

Aunt diaries

13/12/14

“Ed! Ed!” Loud whispers in the dark.

It would normally have taken a louder call and possibly some shaking but her whispers woke me up. Whispers that cut short a dream I’ll never recall. Tightness from my freshly-plaited, day-old braids and wetness on my cheek from my sleepy drool are the first sensations I remember. She didn’t turn on the light.

“The baby is coming!” she said in another loud whisper.

That was enough to make me jump off the top of a double-decker bed that I usually used a small wooden ladder on the far right end to get on. I was careful not to wake my two-year-old nephew who was fast asleep in the bottom bunk. The rest of our conversation was carried out in the living room.

2.30 a.m. My brother-in-law was standing in the living-room, fully dressed, packed bag in hand. The baby was coming indeed. Could it be a false alarm? My foolish, possibly sleep-induced inquiry was met with an ice-melting side eye. Who was I to question the certainty of a mother? I am not anyone’s mother. All this was unsaid. Rather, said with ‘the look’. She was breathing hard.

“There’s milk and porridge in the fridge… Give him Weetabix or porridge… when he wakes up… He’ll tell you when he’s hungry or thirsty…” Her speech was laboured (no pun), punctuated by short puffs for air.

I was nodding frantically to her many instructions, many of which were probably forgotten as soon as I climbed back on that top bunk. After they left, I locked up, watched my nephew sleep for a few seconds then went back to sleep.

6.00 a.m. Her call woke me up. Baby already birthed. 3.5 kg. It sounded like something ticked off a to-do list, next to clean-out fridge and wash curtains. She was checking on us. Nephew #1 hadn’t been woken up by my phone’s loud ringer, thankfully.

We both slept till 8 a.m. and woke up to his daily morning rituals. Watching some competitive Japanese game-show on Sony Max while riding the tricycle while having porridge while rolling on the floor.

The rest of that day is somewhat a blur. I was a bit tired and sleepy as a result of interrupted sleep but I somehow still managed to feed him while running around, sing along with Barney and Friends, Bob the Builder and other favourite kiddie shows of the nephew, take part in a few games that involved grabbing things and shouting NOOO! (and when I didn’t say it, he would stop the game and tell me “Sema (say) NOOO!” Too cute.), read him stories, get peed on, and give him a bath after his afternoon nap. I may have dozed off once or twice in the midst of all these.

My brother-in-law had to do some running around and be with my sister so press repeat, with a few alterations, for the next day. All the while, I was thinking that I was really nailing the whole motherhood/mothering (which is the right noun?) thing. Ha! I was actually pretty tired by the end of the second day.

When my sister showed up with Nephew #2 on Sunday afternoon, after the oohing and ahhing at the tiny bundle of joy, touching his hair and smelling him (love that baby smell!), I think I took a step back. Wow. Two babies. I only had to run around after the two-year-old for a weekend and got to hand him back to his parents after that. Here they were raising two sons and managing to look cool while doing so.

I was initially visiting them for an overnight stay before my other nephew decided to make his world debut that weekend but ended up spending the entire weekend and going to work on Monday from their home. And here’s the kicker, my supermom sister had an exam on Monday morning after having her son on Saturday that she studied for and made it to (and probably aced too!).

I look forward to being a mother someday, despite the sacrifices and challenges involved. Until then, I am happy to hold (and smell), read stories about penguins and mice and roll on the floor with my nephews.

Mothers, I will repeat this trite statement. You probably hardly ever get the credit you deserve for the immense strength, courage and sacrifice it takes to birth and raise a child from day zero. To men that are present and supportive husbands and fathers, your noble tasks definitely mean a lot to your wives and children.

 

Courtesy of http://965kvki.com/
Courtesy of http://965kvki.com/

 

They’re calling me ‘author’

It was a brief, polite email. One sentence long. “Kindly let me know when you will come over to our offices to sign your contract for the above book as you pick your author copies.” ‘Author copies’. I smiled when I read that. They’re calling me an author now. And a contract, how adult!

I never anticipated any of this when I walked in late for a writing workshop that was part of the Storymoja Festival in 2013. Storymoja was holding some of their September festival events that had been interrupted by the tragic events of Westgate over several weekends in November. I had signed up for this writing workshop thinking it would be a one-time here-are-several-tips-to-make-your-writing-better sort of thing. It wasn’t. We were learning how to write fiction for an adolescent audience. Everyone was seated in front of a laptop or tablet or iPad looking oh so serious and writerly, quite unlike me, scribbling in my palm-sized notebook with a pencil.

The workshop carried on for two more weekends. We learned about plotting, character development, dialogue, descriptions… the works. The end goal was that we would all produce creative fiction that would impart life skills to an adolescent audience. Such lofty goals, I thought. I couldn’t possibly do that. I would attend the workshops and all but I probably wouldn’t end up with a written book. At least not now. I have a job, internships and a Master’s degree to think about. Also, procrastination, among other creative problems. It couldn’t be done by me.

December 2013. First draft done. 4338 words. I receive great feedback and promise to refine my work.

January 2014. Half of second draft done. The deadline for our final drafts is almost up, they say. Pretty sure I will not meet it. Could I defer my work to the next publishing year? I’m not even sure I’m on the right track. You’re on the right track, keep going, they say.

March 2014. My second draft hasn’t budged. They’re extending the final drafts deadline to sometime in April. I think I can make that. I’m about to finish my second internship. I might have some time to work on it. I could actually do this!

May 2014. A few additions and revisions to the second draft that’s about half-way done. The editor is hoping I can make the 2014 publishing year (wow, I’m beginning to sound like a real author). I may have given up on that but I won’t tell her this.

26.5. 2014. The editor is getting concerned. My manuscript is due for KICD (Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development) submission (so it can be used in schools) on July 17 and it needs to be reviewed, copy edited and illustrated. Do I still expect to send it in? She asks. Sigh. Why did I commit to this? I don’t say this. You will have it by tomorrow. I say this.

29.5.2014. 1.21 a.m. I email my second draft.

1.56 a.m. Thank you, she replies. Editors don’t sleep, do they?

9.6.2014. My final draft is ready after incorporating the editors’ recommendations on my manuscript.

24.10.2014. They’re asking for a dedication and author bio. Whoa! This is big. “To my dear parents… who have always believed in me.” Too cliché? I don’t care. It’s true.

17.12.2014. I email next of kin details. Serious stuff.

17.3.2015. 1 p.m. I’m battling the afternoon heat and my limited lunch hour to rush to the Storymoja office to pick my author copies and sign my contract. Minutes later, I’m smiling to myself as I exit their office, author copies and a copy of my contract in hand. I have a published book. I can’t believe it! I keep looking at my name on the cover. It doesn’t feel real. I’m smiling at the illustrations. Even better looking than the characters in my head.

“Every story of success is a story of community,” said Jeff Goins, a writer I look up to. I obviously did not do this on my own. Many thanks to Juliet Maruru, the ever patient, ever gracious editor, Ian Arunga and Mellitus Ogana Ogana for the design, layout and illustrations which I love, Muthoni Garland who was such a great teacher during the workshops, and Storymoja at large for this wonderful opportunity to do something I never thought I could. Thank you to my fellow workshopmates for their support and encouragement, and everyone who read my drafts and urged me on or gave me feedback. Most of all, I’m unashamed to say that I could not have done any of this without God, my dear heavenly father without whom I am nothing.

If you’d like a copy of the book, please email me – egicovi@gmail.com – and I’ll be happy to arrange for you to get one or three. The bookshops listed here should also be stocking it by now.

There she is! Mwende. 🙂

Teacher Teresa

About two years ago I stumbled upon a well-guarded family secret; one that would change the course of my life forever. Know the destiny-altering kind? Realizing you’re not from earth, have superhuman powers and your parents are not your biological parents? It wasn’t that kind. It also wasn’t really a secret. It was an interesting fact about my childhood that came up in a conversation with the folks.

When I joined Standard One, unlike other kids my age, I could hardly read or write. “UIikuwa unaimba tu (You were just singing),” said daddy dearest.

Apparently, the academic standards of the kindergarten I attended had deteriorated greatly by the time I enrolled. Not sure what we spent our time doing but it seems that we weren’t inclined towards a great many scholarly pursuits. After two years of pre-school, when it was time for this reluctant, singing little girl to join a primary school, I could not join my older sister in the public school she was attending at the time. The unforgiving public school system would probably have had me repeat Pre-Unit. I would have been that kid. That poor soul that has to put up with looks of scorn and pity whenever marked exam papers wer distributed in a class, in order of performance (worst practice ever!).

Probably what made my pre-school to primary school transition so difficult. I have since changed my point of view.

 

A private school was the next best option. I sat for an interview. The details are fuzzy but I’m told that I wrote my name and little else on the paper. This may come as a big surprise but I did not pass this interview. This was where she came in.

We only knew her as Teacher Teresa. Large in stature, she had this matronly look to her. She was kind and understanding but also firm and no-nonsense in equal measure. When she peered at you over a pair of spectacles resting on the bridge of her nose, you would want to sit up straight and focus on your carrying and borrowing math problems, that life-changing stuff we were dealing with in Standard One.

Teacher Teresa decided that this timid, tiny almost 6-year-old kid could join 1 North with the rest. She knew I had failed the test and was aware of my challenges yet, without asking my parents for anything in return, coached me privately till I caught up with the rest.

Among the memories of my early academic years, Teacher Teresa really stands out. I feel that I, to a large extent, owe part of who I am today to her selfless act those many years ago. You can imagine how excited I was to find out that she is the headmistress of a school near where I live. A couple of days ago when I had the day off, I called her. I got her contacts from my parents, who have kept in touch with her over the years.

“Of course I remember you!” she said after my long ‘you may not remember me but…’ introduction. I was smiling from ear-to-ear over the phone. It was past midday when I made my way to the school.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Obare,” I said to a young teacher walking hand-in-hand with a little girl.

“First office on the right when you enter the building,” she said.

There was a small plaque written ‘Headmistress’ on the door frame. I approached the entrance to her open office cautiously. I felt like a student as I stood there, a small gift for her in hand. She was on the phone but flashed me a huge grin and gestured for me to come in.

She looked almost like I remembered her when she taught me in 1 North. She also had this stately look to her; that refined quality acquired only from years of sharpening life experiences. That look that seems to say, ‘been there, done that, sold the t-shirt on OLX’. It seemed like a lifetime ago when I last saw her.

“I taught her in Standard One,” she said to a teacher seated across her scribbling in a large notebook.

I smiled. We both started saying how long it had been since we last saw each other. It’s not really enough to say ‘I’ve been well’ when someone you last saw when you were six asks how you’ve been, is it? When the teacher left, I took her seat across Teacher Teresa and regaled her with a classic look-how-well-I-turned-out story. Twenty years condensed into five minutes.

She left the school when I was in Standard Three and has been at this one since then. Turns out I wasn’t the only problem child she took in. She’s helped many children over the years. Now that she holds an administrative position at the school, she doesn’t get to be in the classroom as much as she’d like. She misses teaching. She stands in for teachers at her school from time to time and also moderates exams. The school has, in recent times, at the request of parents who wanted their children to stay on after pre-school, started a primary school that goes up to Standard Three. Her heart for the little ones won’t relent.

I dedicate this post to all the Teacher Teresas out there. To you who could have very easily given up or said NO because of the insurmountable task ahead. To you who struggled and went out of your way to better someone’s life. I celebrate you.

Never accept reality as an end

I dug for it intently. There was no shovel involved. I was neither exerting myself nor bent over next to a mound of earth. There were no drops of sweat to wipe off my brow and no dirt under my fingernails. I was in bed leaning against a pillow, laptop on lap, phone in hand. It was a dig synonymous with the times. A digital dig? Possibly.

I sat for an obscene amount of time, head bent in cell phone prayer, stalking scrolling through an Instagram feed. Oh how I scrolled. I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled some more. I’ll know it when I see it, I kept saying. My long-suffering thumb bore the brunt of my obsessive search. Rats! I couldn’t find it even after scrolling down to the first ever post.

I resumed my work. I looked for it twice more, unsuccessfully. The day was almost over when I finally found it. What helped me know where to look was remembering the period I first saw it and why it appealed to me so much. It was an excerpt from Khaya Dlanga’s journal when he was 20.

“I believe this to be true for anyone who wants to achieve anything in life: never accept reality as an end. If we only ever face reality as an end; if we only ever face and accept our current difficulties, our reality, then we are doomed. It is imperative that I live inside my head, a world that is not realistic. By that I mean believing in a truth that isn’t yet. But a truth that nonetheless which I will create in the future. One must face reality and the facts, but even more important is pointing out the reality that WILL BE to yourself. When someone says, ‘Face reality,’ they are telling you to forget your dream and what you know you want to do with every single fiber of your being, they are telling you to forget that you know you can do it even though it’s damn hard at the time. I choose to answer in the following manner, ‘Yes, I will, but I choose to face, to create the future reality that I want, not the one you want me to.’ And refuse to subject myself to the narrow present reality.”

Rather deep for a 20-year-old ey? I certainly was not brimming with this kind of wisdom at 20. I digress. Khaya Dlanga is easily one of the most interesting people I follow on Instagram. He’s a senior executive at Coca-Cola South Africa. Never met him. That’s about all I know about the man. He mentioned, when he posted this excerpt from his journal, that when he wrote it he was “going through an intensely difficult period (including being homeless for a few months).” The tough times, he said, lasted a few years.

What helped me remember where to look for the quote was that when I first saw it (about five months ago), I was struggling with several uncertainties. Also, the World Cup had recently come to an end (and my team lost, sigh) which meant that it had to be sometime around the end of July. For most of last year and more so towards my graduation in August, I had been wondering whether my choice for a master’s degree was a prudent decision. Please refer to my previous post for context. What would I do with this seemingly obscure qualification once I graduated? Where would I work in this area of study that was so poorly understood even by those in the mental health field in Kenya? I was also pretty broke, with zero savings and paying for a huge part of my school fees with a loan from my parents. Would I even find work that I could make a decent living from?

In addition, I was working (and still working) with individuals who have literally had the rug pulled out from under them in the most brutal of ways – refugees. After experiencing the tragedies of war, here they were, impoverished and living with a great deal of uncertainty in a land that is growing increasingly hostile towards them. How difficult it must be for them to look beyond their reality! I was struggling to look beyond their reality.

Khaya’s (I think we should be on a first name basis by now) quote speaks of a quality I greatly admire  – a stubborn resolve to keep on despite the odds. It speaks of hope. It also speaks of something so dear to me; something I feel I cannot live without. Something without which, it is impossible to please God biblically speaking (Hebrews 11:6) – faith. Never accept reality as an end. My reality is quite different now. I will refer you to my previous post yet again for context. I should stop here before I get on a pulpit and break into song. My intention was to share a quote that I have returned to again and again and why it moved me. I’d love to hear yours.