White Crow

I am home

And yet,

I am homesick

Familiarity is ubiquitous around me

And yet,

I am chasing something relatable.

I long for one who speaks my language,

Even though surrounded by those who speak my tongue

I crave and yearn and ache.

I ache because I know,

I will not find it here

Even though I am home

I remain homesick

Until I find,

White crows like me.

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…H

Frida(H). When I was young, my mother took up the self-appointed role of writing my name on new books like Primary Maths and KLB Social Studies. Sometimes she would write Fridah and sometimes she would write Frida. I was never sure which was correct. Imagine the confusion of not knowing how to correctly spell your own name. Each time I had to write my name, I would go up all the way to A and then pause… H or no H. (This kinda has the “deal or no deal” ring to it.) It was just almost as nerve-racking as that moment where you are at the cash register and are trying to put change back into your wallet/purse and people are putting so much pressure on you by just standing there behind you. I mostly went for the H, since Frida somewhat seemed like a naked name. Like it wasn’t fully clothed, or even clothed at all. It felt like eating rice without salt. I mean, it is not the worst thing in the world and I could probably stomach it, but it just feels like something is missing. (And for those who will take me to court for putting salt in rice, this is one of the culinary debates I am least passionate about, so please leave me be.) My mother of course kept oscillating between the two, but everyone knew me by Fridah.

But trust KNEC and national exams to ruin everything! While registering for my KCPE exams, I received a life-changing revelation. Well, not exactly life changing, but stay with me here. First off, my birth certificate apparently said Frida, to my utter shock and disappointment. I remember storming to the kitchen where my mother was preparing salted rice 🙂 demanding answers. She shrugged and said the nurse had made a mistake while writing my name and had missed the H. Ama how are those people who write babies names on birth certs called? No offence if your mother does this job. We were not taught about this career. Our schools should really teach about all jobs, including the important ones of people who have a deciding role on how your name appears on official documents.

That was just one part of the surprise though. I also had another name that I had no idea was mine. Aloo. Thinking about it right now is just amusing to me, because I cannot imagine being called anything other than Fridah Aloo. It sounds so natural, doesn’t it? Yet I lived 13 years of my life under a different name. The new name was not music to my ears. How could it be that I did not have the family name anywhere in my name? I mean, I think standing out is cool, but this was more like sticking out like a sore thumb. I always considered myself unfortunate for having a boring name. I envied the likes of Angeline, Chantelle, Annabel and even Scholastica. Of all names! No offence if you are a Scholastica but enyewe, it is a mouthful. Still, it felt like an improvement of plain old boring Fridah. And now Aloo? People were not even sure whether to pronounce the last two Os as a prolonged o or as a u. In fact, when in high school, we did some literature with a character from Tanzania called Aloo, it got even more confusing for me. I easily called him Aluuu and yet called myself Aloooo. I did not think it weird coz he was Indian anyway. That must be how they pronounce it, yeah? I hear the name means potatoes in Hindi btw. Just the incentive I needed to love my name more!

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about my first name, not my last. So, Frida(H). I mean it was bad enough that I had a far-from-glamorous name. But now, an uglier reality. I had to drop the H. Which means it would look like an awkward incomplete statement. Frida. Okay, props to Frida Kahlo for making the name bearable. A famous name is always tolerable. Still, I could not take a life condemned to a no-H-Fridah. Maybe I could have both versions of my name and use them depending on the situation. Frida for official documents and Fridah for my loved ones. Well, except my mother who remains fence sitter extraordinaire on the issue. Imagine I even had to drop the H on my name on LinkedIn, ugh!

If you are following, this obviously suggests that our familiarity depends on whether you put the H in my name or not. If you met me within the past year and thought it was Frida, don’t sweat it. But it’s probably time to upgrade! When folks ask me if my name goes with H or not, I tell them to decide. If they choose the H spelling, I know we are kindred spirits. If not, I am always wary. Ask me to divide my friends into two groups and I’ll say those who spell my name correctly and those who don’t.

Cheers my H-spellers!

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Rudy Francisco is one of my favorite spoken word poets of all time. The way he plays with words and makes meaning of such otherwise mundane sentences always makes my jaw drop. This always unfortunately exposes my one little brown tooth that I prefer to keep hidden like a dangerous family secret. Anyway, recently I was having a bad day; no, a bad week. Actually, let’s just say I was having a bad life. Well, at least it felt like that. One morning seemed to be the peak of it all. If things got any worse…- oh, and yes, they did! They did actually get worse.

I was staring at my laptop, or rather the laptop I had borrowed after I poured water on mine trying to pull an all-nighter. Moral: Do not pull all-nighters if you are not skilled in the field. Where was I? Oh yes, the laptop. The YouTube icon on the chrome page was glaring at me knowingly. I wasn’t going to pass that welcome invitation. I clicked on it and typed R. YouTube knew as well as you do exactly what I was looking for, so before I could type another letter, the name ‘Rudy Francisco’ appeared. The first poem that was suggested was one called “Complainers”. Definitely check him out. He is “deep”, or whatever people say these days. The poem itself is basically a collection of experiences of pain that different people have had that is by many standards “worse” than what some of us experience on a daily basis. One of his lines that made my heart skip a beat was “when my uncle was murdered, we had to send a search party to find my father’s voice” and “how blessed are we to have tragedy so small it can fit on the tips of our tongues” (Yikes!) I hope you can see why I like him, although I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t. My friends often say I get too excited about small things. Haters!

 Needless to say, by the end of Rudy’s performance, I was ashamed. I felt even, guilty. Guilty for feeling my pain which was so small. The pangs struck each time he shouted, “TELL ME YOU’RE HAVING A BAD DAY. TELL ME ABOUT THE TRAFFIC. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BOSS. TELL ME…” Okay I couldn’t take it anymore. I was embarrassed. I was, by his standards, a complainer. I had no right to complain; not with people dying in Syria, not with slaves being sold in Libya. Not with people dead from a school shooting in Florida and Texas. Not with dozens of girls still held captive by Boko Haram terrorists. Not with…all these people going through worse. I beat myself up. Why was I even crying?

Now I look back and I am questioning my relationship with Rudy Francisco. Okay, maybe not. But I realized that I should not have at all felt guilty or even ashamed of my pain. Pain is, always was and always will be relative. There will always be someone going through “worse” by world standards than me. And there will always be something having a better time. To say that one should not complain because of pain is to say that after all one should never feel pain. But pain demands to be felt. One simply cannot wish it away. It is very unfair to comfort someone by saying that “imagine just move on”. Only Kenyans seem to have this “imagine” thing by the way. I wonder where we got it from. But ata me imagine me I don’t know.

Anyway, as absurd as it sounds, the pain of my friend when she got 96% instead of her targeted 100 is just as valid as the pain of my other friend whose boyfriend broke up with her after two years of dating. (But seriously Valerie, that 96 was way better than my unmentionable grade). And no, I am in no way saying that different pains that people go through are the same. They are simply both valid. They both demand to be felt and both people are allowed to feel it. Our very own experiences are relative to each other. Some situations we go through are more bearable than others. Yet both pains, or frustrations are valid. Sometimes we may even find some situations less or more painful than other people who go through the very same experiences. As humans we always feel the need to water down other people’s pain because if we were in their situation we “probably wouldn’t be crying like a baby like them”.

When someone hurts us, we feel the need to post ‘subtle’ quotes about karma on our Whats App statuses. When another person does the same thing, they are really just being extra. I mean of course some people go over the top and it is often annoying. I have blocked someone on social media because I could not stand their endless posts about getting hurt. But at the end of the day, maybe that person just doesn’t know better about expressing pain. Maybe someone should talk to them. Or maybe just let them be. And if you cannot stand it, just block them. But this post is not about how to express pain. It is about realizing that everyone’s pain is valid, in whatever size shape or form it may come. Even if it comes in the form of an email that starts with the words, “Thank you for your application…” Many of you know how that email usually ends.

Yes, Rudy Francisco, all the people you mentioned went through a lot more pain than I can conceptualize, but no I am not a complainer for hating the fact that I am stuck in traffic. But I do not totally disagree with you, Rudy. You know you have a special place in my heart, right? I have to agree with Rudy though, that I can become a complainer if I dwell on pain too long. Honestly, at some point one have to move on from pain. No, time does not heal all wounds. You have to make a deliberate decision that you are tired of being in pain. Anything apart from that is just a getting-used-to of the situation, rather than healing. Even your platelets decide to rush to the site of the wound to begin the healing process. Your physical wounds don’t “just heal with time”. In fact, a non-healing or chronic wound is a sign of a problem in your body. BTW if you have a chronic wound, consult a doctor. I have heard that three months is the cap. If our platelets can acknowledge that our skin has to move on from the nail that scrapped it, we too should realize that we need to move on from the things that burden us. And yes, sometimes a scar is left. Even physically. But when we look at it, we remember the situation, we do not remember the pain of the nail puncturing our skin.

Healing is not about forgetting about the situation. It is about forgetting the pain. The timeline is different for different people and different situations, just like the wounds on our physical bodies. But while you are at it, feel your pain. It is valid. Allow others to feel theirs too. Just don’t linger there like a haunting refrain. There’s roses to be planted and piña coladas to be had. You can get a non-alcoholic option if you are a teetotaler.

(This post was inspired by Nicole Cynthia)