When I see this picture of black men moving their bodies with ease and control; displaying this capacity Africans have to embrace new things and learning without prestige. learning them without abandoning what they already know. I remember my dream man.
As a young girl growing up in Kenya, I never had a dream wedding, just my dream man. He was black, like the men who brought me up – he was dignified, he was “the silent, strong type”. My father drunk too much, so my dream man did not drink. My father smoked and every hug left me feeling like I was hugging his shadow and the real man, my father was hidden behind the layers of cigarette smoke and alcohol. My future man would not smoke.
He would look like that man swinging the Cricket bat and I would adore him and he would adore me. Maybe, if he was kind, I would even *let* him have a mistress to massage his beautiful ego.
And then I moved to Sweden and my dream expanded in form and content. What a twisted rope life is!
The land of many many wonderful people who reared me with confidence, civility, trust and love.
We are here. If colonialism, dehumanization, the slave trades and all the other genius plans in history didn’t kill us off, nothing will. Except the nuclear bomb that will not discriminate the shit holes.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was on TV this holiday season, and of course, we watched it. The details are irrelevant except the affirmation that I love the endlessness of the Lady Chatterley and Oliver story. But, every single time I watch or re-read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and get astounded, it is ruined by the context in my head.
The context is:
In 1959-1960, when the Penguin trial was ongoing in Britain, to un-ban D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover that was banned under the Obscene Publications Act 1959; my father was 12 years old and mother was 10. In Kenya, a state of emergency had been ongoing since 1952. Kenyans were rebelling against colonialism. In 1959, a good number of Kenyans, both men and women, were tortured, raped, humiliated and murdered. In one such camp, Hola camp, the deaths of over ten detainees kicked the already rolling ball of freedom.
You will now think that I should have forgotten about colonialism and be able to enjoy a good story, dramatized as love. Well, I don’t go around thinking about colonialism. I go around thinking about freedom. The freedom to do whatever the heck I want. And in 1959, when the Great Britain was banning books that described sex, my grandmother assured me that she was still having the wild romp in the wild. Although it was banned as wild, primitive and unnatural by the masters of the world.
My grandmother was married to Rubeni since she was fifteen. Or, rightly said, they were partners for life. Their marriage was not a documented matter. Nor was it a Imprisoned by Societal Expectations kind of marriage. In Kenya, in 1959, marriage was a Together for Survival kind of agreement. Scratch my back, I scratch yours. I may love you, I may not love you, but if I respect you and we are headed in the same direction – I will loyally walk beside you. The religion and law of one God and one partner for life, came with the masters of the world.
So, every time I see Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the contradicting thought in my head is how a society can be fighting for a freedom for themselves, that is already a freedom elsewhere; a freedom that they call primitive, unnatural and wild when exercised by others, but a freedom they want for themselves nevertheless.
Love is: Knowing that the kitchen will be a total, utter, mess when he is done cooking, and finding it in yourself, deep down, to relax and let it happen anyways. The meal will be delicious, so why the hell not? You have already fought, nagged, blackmailed and sulked one thousand and seventy eight times about this, so why bother?
I promise, every second meal, sometimes the simplest one, like tea with sandwiches, he will use all the kitchen apparatus, cutlery and utensils available.
The dishwasher will not save you when he is done.
Relax, Love is everything that happens while you Live.
I am a paradox of needs. When I celebrate Christmas in Kenya, I miss the quiet Swedish Christmas. When in Sweden, I miss the crowded, noisy Christmas in Kenya.
Kenyan Christmases are a noisy feast, due to the mere fact that everybody available is invited. Most adults will bring their favorite music with them and dancing will start before food is served. Children are let loose in the country side to play, sing, hide and seek. Adults catching up loudly while music plays in the background. It is not necessarily Christmas carols. People will dance, talk, laugh and eat all at once.
In Sweden, a melancholic people to start with, noise is frowned at. The voices need to be low. Music is low-key and definitely more Christmassy than anything else. It is cold outside so children and adults are cooped up indoors, itching to get out and breath. Or, watching the lined up Christmas shows on TV, starting with Donald Duck 15:00 pm. Yes, it is a Swedish Christmas tradition to watch Donald Duck at Christmas.
Whereas the Kenyan Christmas guest list is unplanned or loosely planned, and the Kenyan Christmas dinner is never served. Swedish Christmas dinner is served promptly at 18:30 on the 24th, December. The table is set for a pre-planned number of people for a pre-set length of time. An eyebrow or two will be raised if any uninvited person shows up for Christmas.
Basically, Christmas and baby Jesus are not welcome into a Kenyan Christmas until:
Since something has to be slaughtered for a Kenyan Christmas, the goat, sheep, or cow is tied outside grandmother’s house in Nyeri or Meru.
Sometimes, it is just a measly bird (hen or cockerel), but still! As long as something dies for Christmas!
The grill for nyama choma – roasted/grilled meat – is in its place with a sack of coal beside it.
The sacks of rice and sugar, the gallon of oil, the bucket of cooking fat, the bales of wheat and maize floor and the vegetables have been acquired.
Alcohol has taken its respected Place:
A couple of Tusker crates – the number one selling beer in Kenya – are purchased.
The whisky bottles are delivered from the cities or
The Muratina and chang’aa is brewed by one of the older relatives in the countryside. Finally, sleeping arrangements are made.
Extra mattresses and blankets are acquired and extra space is borrowed from willing friends and neighbours.
On the 24th, at the same time the Swedes are preparing for Christmas dinner, in Kenya, someone is being assigned the chicken-catcher role. To make things fun, the bird earmarked for Christmas dinner is let out to graze with the rest of the birds. On the 25th, as the Swedes wake up to leftovers and hangovers, the hen or cockerel is running the catcher in circles around the village trying to avoid being caught. Uninvited villagers and guests can easily get caught up in the chicken-catching drama. The bird will be caught, eventually.
As a child, I was the best bird-catcher according to dad, outrunning a hen in ten minutes. As an adult, I cannot run to save my life.
In Kenya, the cooking, grilling and drinking starts on the 24th and continues to the 26th. No table is really set, and everyone present is busy preparing and serving something to eat or drink. By 15th December, the relatives with wives and children start to arrive wherever the party is at. There is no knowing how many people will show up for Christmas, so you buy enough provisions for double the number of people you think may show up.
And voila! Jesus is welcome!
How was Christmas like where you are? And what’s the plan for New Year?
This Christmas, I celebrate that my Afro has turned four years old. A milestone. I have managed to walk by relaxers without succumbing to the promise of “straight easy to handle hair” for 48 months, 208 weeks, 1, 456 days.
After these years, kitchen ingredients are no longer just cooking ingredients, they are hair and skin products. Who knew?
I moved to Sweden in the summer of 2006 and my hair survived that winter solely due to all the treatments it had received in Nairobi. In the beginning of 2007, I started shopping around for an Afro salon. Between 2007-2010, there were two recommended Afro salons near where I lived with one recommendation each and I couldn’t recommend any of them, both being expensive nonchalant and tardy. There was a different hair dresser every time I came to the salon and I had to start over every time. Explaining my needs, my likes and dislikes, my sensitive scalp, my fragile hair. I had to find and try other salons.
Once, in desperation, I went to a Brazilian hair dresser at the recommendation of a new found Brazilian friend. They didn’t believe I had sensitive skin and scalp so the woman who treated my hair used the same products as she used for everyone else. After the salon visit, I came home and washed my hair again. With conditioner for sensitive skin.
I am neurotic and nutty that way.
The last hairdresser I visited in Stockholm had to close down a perfectly good salon in the end of 2015. She was caught cheating on the taxes and received a tax bill with all the tax arrears that had to be paid in the coming years. That would ruin any good business.
In Sweden, I have had to answer the question: “Is that your hair?” in all the gracious ways I can master. And then some.
No, it is not my hair, it is a weave. My hair is braided under there. Bitch!
“Why can’t you just have your hair?”
Good question! I would counter, is that the natural color of your hair? #¤#&%
“Did you know that in India, Indians girls are scalped for free and the hair sold to weave wearers?”
No. I didn’t. . . WTF is wrong with folks?! I have to read about that. How and where is hair dye made? Anyone know?
When Sebastian and I met the first month at the university and became quick friends, I was a bony bald thing. I had just gone through chemo, lost patches of hair and shaved the rest at Jill’s salon, around the corner from my first apartment in Stockholm. Jill’s was owned by a nice Ghanaian couple. Soon after, they had to leave for England. Sweden didn’t work out for them, they almost lost their children to welfare.
Sebastian and I started dating about a year later and for some reason, he liked me and my short-haired head. By the time we had been dating for a little over three years, he had seen me bald, short haired, permed, weaved, braided and other nameless Afro styles that reveal themselves in the morning. In my childhood, my grandmother used to call these miscellaneous styles porcupine style. Hair with a will of its own.
In Kenya, and later in England, I was at the salon every week, spending any penny I could spare on my hair. Arriving to Sweden, a good weaving could cost up to 2,000sek ($230) and this is after paying a similar amount for good enough human hair.Simple medium braids cost as much. In Kenya and England, I chose salons through personal recommendation. I was sure of the quality of work. Knowing no Africans, or blacks in Sweden in the first years, I could only find recommendations on the internet.
Have you ever had a weave sewed in so tight you removed it in the night? I did that in my second year in Stockholm. Sebastian sat by and massaged my scalp after the fact. Braids too tight, braids too big and/or braids too short. I never used to remove my own braids, I went to the salon to get them removed so my hair could get deep conditioned and washed right after. In Stockholm, I started first, to remove my own braids and weaves and then after a couple of disappointing years, I started to braid my own hair.
I had never worn a wig before I moved to Sweden, but three years in and I had ordered a Brazilian on Amazon and requested an Indian from my cousin in France. Things were looking up! Instant hair.
“Is that your hair?”
No. . . . I couldn’t do it any more.
In the end of August 2013, I graduated, got a job and I threw both my wigs away. I ordered 5 packets of Expressions from eBay UK, just to be on the safe side. I raided Taj Mahal, the Kenyan owned shop on Queens Street Stockholm, and bought ORS shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, the works! I already had coconut oil, Aloe Vera, olive oil and almond oil at home and felt quite confident that it would do.
I was in for the greatest transformations of my life. I was not beautiful at all, my grandmother had lied to me in all kindness, God bless her soul. I was an ordinary woman, confidentand loved.