Behind the Glass

Some people are not meant to be at the forefront of life tugging the line. These people are more comfortable and thrive better when pushing, pulling, and plodding along from the back. They actually won’t care that they won’t share in the limelight. The glory in knowing that but for them, some things would not have happened. They are happy to pick up the burdens that others throw away.

That is where I generally like to be. In the back, doing the work that most others won’t, and doing it well. I’m a photographer as well as a writer. The writing part comes comes a lot easier than the photographing. Writing is a solo job whereas photography often requires subjects. Subjects mean interaction with other humans. To interact, you need conversation. You need human management skills. You need a certain kind of personality that I don’t have. Therefore, photography is hard work. But it is immensely rewarding.

Last year I traveled to Ethiopia for business. I got a chance to take my camera and take shots of things I was always afraid to shoot- humans. I took my cousin with me as a buffer between me and the world. I wish I could say I took amazing pictures. I didn’t. Out of 200+ shots, I barely had 10 that were usable. Clearly, buffer or not, I was crap at human shots. On my last few days however, I was pleasantly surprised when just outside my window, lo and behold, were 4 humans just whiling the morning away. I got my camera out, plugged in my 50mm lens, interchanging it with a 7-250mm, and took some random shots. Between me and these humans lay a thick 5mm brown tinted, one way glass. The colors were saturated for the surprisingly sunny but cool and crisp August morning. The subjects were at a perfect and safe distance from me. I couldn’t get nearer had I tried anyway. The bokeh was creamy and smooth given that most shots were at 1.8 f-stop. The zoom lens didn’t disappoint either. It probably did better than the prime in this case. I still didn’t expect much to come out of this little morning exercise but I truly am happy with what I was able to capture given my phobia of working intimately with humans.

So, there I stood behind the glass, an anonymous person, shielded from world and still part of it.

Old Shadows

Old Shadows

Looking Back At Me

Looking Back At Me

Looking Out

Looking Out

In Shadows

In Shadows

This is Life

This is Life

Simple Breakfast

Simple Breakfast

Living to Survive

Living to Survive

Snacking

Munching Away

Faces

Faces

This Face

This Face

Drink Up

Drink Up

What's in the Hand

What’s in the Hand

Striking it

Light it Up

Inhale

Inhale

Hold it Tight

Hold it

These Old Hands

Hold it Tight

Smokes

In Both Hands

Everyday Addiction

Everyday Addiction

Puff it Out

In and Out

Look At Me

Straight Look

Then He Looked Away

Then He Looked Away

Hands

Hands

Faces

Sowing Sisters

Growing up, one of the most frequently used sayings I heard from other friends was, “Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same.” It annoyed me to no end. It sounded so cliché and so oh my God! Enough!

Almost 15 years later as I sit and sift through memories and a cache of faces from my past, this same saying comes to mind again. Oddly enough, it was not any number of friends or people that made me think of it. It was cooking. Hours upon hours and days, that spilled into days of cooking.

As a child, cooking was not something I bothered with too much. My one disastrous attempt at chicken Alfredo convinced me I was better off leaving the kitchen to my more than able mother. My mom cooked all the time. My siblings and I were always unwillingly roped into helping out in the kitchen. From whisking eggs and sugar until our muscles died, to kneading dough for bread, there was nothing my mother did not ask us to help with. Mom never did fast food. And I don’t mean the McDonalds type. I mean if the base for pizza sauce has not cooked and simmered for a good hour or two, it was considered mediocre. She always cooked from scratch. There were no shortcuts of beef stock from a box, soup from a packet, and veggies from a can. It was always from scratch.

Coming back to the present, I feel as if all the kitchen arm-wrestling I did with mom somehow paid off this week. For the first time ever, I decided to invite friends to a full Ethiopian cuisine. I have never done anything of this scale, and never of such authentic going-back-to-my-roots way. Broadly speaking, Ethiopian food is cooked not for hours, but for days. There are no shortcuts. You simply cannot pressure cook 10kgs of onions and claim to have hit the mark. You have to do it the painfully slow way. The short and sweet of it was that I started cooking one dish on Tuesday and it was not finished until dinner was served on Thursday evening.

The three-day process was quite an emotional one to say the least. Behind closed bathroom doors, there were plenty of shed tears- and none came from the onions I assure you. I never cooked like this for anyone before. I put my heart into it simply because that is what my mother would have done. There were no shortcuts but there were quite a few highs and lows. As I stood at the stove stirring a large pot of sautéed onions in spicy berbere, I thought of my mother very frequently. There were more moments than I wish to recall where I wanted to just call her and tell her of the company I was going to have, of the meal I was making, and of the difficulties I was having with some of the dishes. Even if we would have been thousands of miles away, I just wanted her to know of what was happening, and how I was doing it all the way that she would have.

My mom believed in food uniting people and making friends from enemies. Like me, mom did not make many friends. Not easily. Therefore, the carbon footprint on mom’s heart would not be too drastic. She choose her friends as carefully as she prepared every meal. She not only put effort into her work regardless of how unremarkable it was, but she also exuded grace, compassion, and humility in ways I am only beginning to discover now. She valued the relationships she made, fostered them, and made sure she had just as much space for people that mattered. For these reasons and more, this particular dinner was important.

Living as a nomad my whole life taught me to treasure the few friendships that blossomed and turned into lifelong relationships. Putting down roots is hard to do when you are you leaving one country for the next. I expected life in Kenya to be hard but not impossible. I mean, how different can people be the world over, right? WRONG! I learned that in very unsubtle ways recently that family will not always act like family. Surprisingly, friends I called mere acquaintances picked up where family dropped off. And I could not be more glad. You show your mettle when times are tough. Good times generally bring people together but it is the bad times that truly bind them. It is the hard times that separate the wheat from the chaff.

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In my three-day cooking spree, where my onions stewed for endless hours, I learned that that is how some of my friends have come to my life- in slow and meaningful ways. Very unexpectedly. Quietly. And permanently. My stew may not last long but these friends are damn solid when it comes down to it. They are the kind that will stand to the fire that their husbands, mothers, sisters, and other in-name-only-family throw at them. They are the ones that will be bringing home cooked meals, bottle of liqueur, donuts from miles away, ribs from that one special place, and hot coffee on days when you are feeling miserable. These friends will sit up for hours at night and exchange hundreds of WhatsApp messages. These friends listen to your stories of food, children, work, and everything else in between. These friends are excited for a pending interview and will have a bottle of booze waiting if you do not get the job. These friends shame family.

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As I have gotten older and slightly wiser, the above saying has more meat to it than it did before. My friends were not people I would have necessarily went hunting for. By pure luck and coincidence, our paths crossed. These are not friends where you spent years getting to know and groom into a proper friendship. Somehow, these are friends that just happened to be there at the right time. But then again, these are not friends. These are sisters you sow.

Mom, Wind Beneath My Wings

When I start a blog, I generally know where I am headed with it. In this instant however, I am afraid to write or start anything at all. I’m afraid of what will come out of my heart and hands. And I’m afraid of saying too little or too much. There is plenty that I am going to bottle up, cap and shove in the farthest corner of my shelf to collect years of dust and disappear in cobwebs.

My mom, the woman that encompassed more than just those mere three letters, the woman that birthed me, my brother and sister, the friend that she was to my entire thirty odd years of life, the woman that occupied only a tiny portion of this world, and fought every day so that we may be better off tomorrow, the woman, that struggled, fought, and won many battles, that woman who is my mom, will now have been gone for 40 days. And in those 40 days, this is the first I’ve been able to write about her, or anything public for that matter. Completing this is a very different task. Making sense of it will depend on you, the reader.

A part of me wants to make it simple and say, she lived, she loved, she died, the end. But she was only 52. She had grandkids that she was supposed to spoil. She had children that she was supposed to see get married. And then have more grandkids to spoil. She had a whole life left to live. There was more that we were supposed to do together.

In hindsight, the last week that mom was alive was probably also the most difficult. As her caretakers while battling terminal cancer, there were many decisions that were made. Very few were easy ones. We were blessed with a support system that week that kept us going. We had cousins that flew in from all over the US to be with us that last week. Weakened from an unsuccessful blood transfusion, mom, and by default us, had a great amount of friends and relatives that came to stay with us. It was just incredible. These are some of the moments I want to keep forever. To remember forever. The love, the togetherness, the unity. Despite our dysfunctionality, we ate pints of ice cream every night. Laughed out loud. And drank a lot. The amount of Ethiopian and Chinese food consumed could feed a small army. The constant army of friends and relatives we had kept us sane. Mom brought these people to us.

The day mom was due to leave the hospital after that last transfusion was the beginning of the end. She’d held on for so long. She’d fought for so long. She’d been incredibly strong and resilient for so long. But that Friday through Saturday, we could see the wear and tear in her. When she was discharged from hospital that Saturday, only 5 days before she passed away, she wanted to speak with my brother and sister and I. A moment I probably will never forget so long as I live, she gave us her blessing. Her breathe coming shallow and in short puffs, her last few words were of blessings to us. She told us she was ready to go; that she had fought as long as she could. Ke lebe new yememereqachew, she said. I bless you from my heart.

That Saturday was the last day she spoke. In my heart, I knew it meant something. You sometimes skim over things in a particular moment, but later on, you spend hours, days, months, dissecting it to its bare bones. She was ready to go. She knew it. She was ready. Her children were the last people she talked to. That is as raw and as bare bone as it can get.

In the 40 days that mom has been gone, I’ve seen how much of her lives in me. There’s always a point in life when a woman wants to be the last thing her mom was. But that does not always last. If it were a badge of honor, I’d claim it gladly. Wear it with pride. There is hardly anyone that has met her in the last 7 months that had not spoken or remarked on the strength of her faith, the peace of spirit she showed, and the constant thankfulness she had despite her circumstances.

As I sit here and ponder the ending of my article, I can’t help but wonder how much of her I carry or can embrace within me. Of course, there is plenty more to say and write, but this is the beginning of a large stumbling step for me. No one is born knowing how to grieve. Because as our lives continue, I can’t help but feel everything is mundane and trivial. It seems as if nothing will ever be as important as it once was. I’d give anything to have her here with me for one last chat. One last laugh. One last meal. As hard as it is, I will have to contend with the memories she leaves behind for without a shadow of doubt, I know where she is. The question that remains is, am I as ready as she was to one day join her in that same beautiful eternity.

Rest in Peace, Mom.

Battle of the Panties

Underwear! That second skin we wear. That thing next to our most intimate place. Cotton or silk, synthetic or organic, we all have them. Most of us don’t talk about them. They have always been one of those taboo things mentioned only in the dimness of night put on too quickly to cover our nudity.

Like many women, I grew up in a household where undies were seldom mentioned. They were as utilitarian as a septic tank. No one talked about it until it became an issue. It then took a life of its own eventually. Remember that period when thongs were visible on every wannabe hipsters back side, peaking and teasing from beyond the confines of her pants or skirts? They became the talk of town for a good long while. The perception was that girls always hid their undies under multiple layers of fabric.

My mother rarely talked about undies, and when she did it was on the merits of cotton and how each young woman should personally hand wash them. The former was something I didn’t care about and the latter was something I hated to do. Mom didn’t believe in young girls airing out their dirty laundry in public or getting the help to clean it. I was the kind of child that would stockpile her underwear in the effort to minimize time spent scrubbing at the sink. Only when I knew I was in danger of going commando soon did I start a frenzied washing. And then like jerky, they’d hang on the clothesline till they literally shriveled.

I had never really cared about what fabric I put next to my skin. As long as it was solidly constructed and a solid color, I was fine. Cotton and dark colors were a sign of maturity to me, just like my mom had pretty much indoctrinated. It was often hard to find decent undies, so when I found the right ones, I’d end up buying like the apocalypse was around the corner. Life was good. Sturdy underwear made for a dependable life. Right?

IMG_5572Three years ago I asked my sister to stretch her generosity my way and send a few pairs of undies. My husband was going to travel to the US and I knew the selection there would be better. I had just had my last born the year before and my mom had been unusually preoccupied with my wardrobe and general state of lingerie. My mom and sister ended up going shopping together and apparently there were fireworks throughout the little spree.  My mother, bless her heart, was still in the “sensible” undies phase, while my much younger sibling was going for the colors of the rainbow. My mother was more of a briefs kind of lady and if she could I know she would put me in Victorian drawers and pantalets. My sister was an expert dressing by body shape and size. My underwear dogma sadly ran along the same lines as my mother, minus the medieval undergarments, and I was dismayed to hear that my sister had gone rogue.

The day my husband returned, I was as excited as one of my kids would be on a Christmas morning. I’ve been a pretty practical person always so this was going to be enlightening. My sister had sent over a dozen pairs of lingerie. It was almost overwhelming. And they were not cotton, at least not the kind I’m used to. I’m pretty sure there was none that was sturdy ol’ cotton. I didn’t believe some of them would fit. They weren’t small. They were miniscule, like fragments of fabric left over from a scrunchie. At thirty odd years of age, it was embarrassing to think that I had never paid attention to such things before. Now I had thongs, boy briefs, bikini pants, lace, gauzy material that hardly covered anything, ribbons, color, and I had my eyes wide open. Some of the fabrics were so paper thin that it didn’t even feel like you had anything on. There were even matching bras. Be still my heart! Commensurate with my underwear attitude, my taste in bras ran towards septic-tank-utilitarian-style.

As strange and frivolous as it may sound, I did for a moment stand there in total awe at what I had. It’s not every day that you are standing next to a small mountain of unmentionables of such femininity. And that was a word that actually shocked me…feminine.  I remember that the next time I dressed to meet a friend for coffee, I dressed in my usual jeans and shirt. Underneath, I had my first ever leopard print matching bra and undies. I was in my sneakers but I might as well have been in stilettos walking on cloud nine.  The strange sense of empowerment I felt was surreal and caught me by surprise. I just felt well put together, and I didn’t need anyone to see how or why. I felt polished from the inside out. I felt…feminine. I called my sister to tell her how weird and different it felt, and how good at the same time. She sent me a quote. “Something about having matching bra and undies makes me feel like I have my shit together.” She was absolutely right.

Whether I was on a date with a much pleased hubby, running errands, or picking the kids from school, I felt good. I felt like I had my shit together. There were a lot of changes going on in my life during this point and I was happy that something as simple as a stretch of gauzy material could actually make me feel silently elegant and poised. I think at the back of my mind, I had always equated lingerie with sophisticated, sexy, Victoria’s Secret women. Those were the kinds of women who wore stuff like this. Not me. I didn’t have my shit together. I had three kids, two of whom were still home and under three. I still had plenty of post pregnancy weight to lose. I also had this image of how a proper woman, wife, and mother dressed- which was elegant but “proper.” A more accurate description would probably be dowdy. Sexy, daring and tactile lingerie did not have a place in such a life.

Unconsciously, I had locked out myself as a woman from my mind. I had stopped thinking myself as sexy and feminine. Perhaps I never did think of myself like that. I was mother, friend, wife, caregiver, and everything else in between. Sexy, sophisticated, elegant, and feminine were not words I’d use while nursing a 5 month old baby. Deliciously tactile fabric had not been in my future.

In my most recent travels, I made time to restock my drawer. Shelf life for these dainty babies is not too long really. I made sure I had quality instead of the usually quantity I would normally have gone for.  I made sure I bought pieces that would flatter me, and give me a little attitude and sass if you will. The days of dashing to the grocery store clothing aisle to pick the first 6-pack briefs I can lay my hands on were over. Just as major stores call them intimate wear, I treat them as such.

I’m sure there are ladies like me out there who have not given their intimate wear much thought. I know selections here can be sparse, but believe that this is not just about underwear. It might be trivial things that we have stopped doing for ourselves. Getting our nails done. Wearing the same clothes for years. Swooshing deodorant on while on the run and not creating a good routine for our bodies. Not thinking of ourselves as feminine. As women, I think we owe it to ourselves to take better care of ourselves, not for the benefit of anyone else but ourselves. If we don’t like our femininity, no one else will. The world is hardcore as it is. No one will know if your shit ain’t together but you. So whatever it is that will get you back in touch with your feminine side, do it. Get those smoking, red hot heels. If lipstick is your secret weapon to empowerment, use it. If you get your oomph back with a plain sparkling white t-shirt, then reclaim it. If like me, you prefer tactile experiences, go for it. Whatever you choose, remember it’s not about what the world thinks is the proper definition of a feminine, sexy, and strong woman. It’s what makes you happy and walk on cloud nine.

Talk to me and tell me what you have let go of. What have you reclaimed?

I Changed My Wheels and I Liked It

I am a firm believer that women are as capable as any man. Unfortunately, society does not look favorably upon women who take the higher road to self-liberation and discard the protective tendencies of their male counterparts. At least that’s what my gardener, cousin and random roadside strangers tend to believe.

I’ve never been a stranded motorist. I seem to always be surrounded by Cro-Magnon men who think that I should sit in an overheated car while the go do their thing and save the day. The first time I had a flat tire happened within the confines of my own house. I did a little gleeful car side jiggle because this was going to be my chance to flex my muscle. I’ve never been left alone to change my own flat tire due to the ubiquity of gentlemen in my time of need.

I had to wait until the gardener left. It would have been nearly impossible to do anything “liberating” if he was going to hover around me like a mother hen and insist on being efficient. The minute he left I dashed downstairs, opened the boot of the car and proceeded to remove the numerous metal pieces I would need for this endeavor. Although I act like I know everything I have no idea what they are called. I went textbook style. Remove spare tire first- done. Loosen bolts on tire to be changed- done. Block other tires-done- despite the little internal dialogue of blocking just one wheel or all wheels. Jack the car- ermmm, Houston, we may have a problem!

The first dilemma was figuring out how many wheels to block. All three or just the front ones? I was not going to call my husband to ask about something so trivial. Better stuff all wheels, front and back, just to be on the safe side. This car would not have a choice but to stay where I put it.

With the prep work done now was time to put this baby up in the air. I spent the next hour literally crawling on the hard dusty ground with my tush up in the air trying to figure out the right spot for the jack. I hated the jack. It was small and round and did not look efficient enough to handle an SUV. I was questioning the integrity of the jack while assessing the bottom of the car. There was metal all around but in some places it looked like it had been welded. Surely, you did not put a jack under a welded piece of metal. Wouldn’t the seams just rip like a tight dress one size too small? Wouldn’t it give way and crack? I’m no mechanic, but somehow what I saw wasn’t confidence boosting. I tried to look for the owner’s manual but it wasn’t there. This was going to be done my way or no way at all. So I called the only other person who might have been remotely helpful- my sister, 12,942 kilometers away. Her sage advice, Google it! Clearly she is not a liberated woman.

I did Google it. And they were all useless. Without a similar car model, it just wasn’t going to work. This car did not have a hope in hell of getting off the ground this day. There just wasn’t a safe and solid space where the jack would fit. It was getting dark and the evening blood suckers were out in full force. Project abandoned until further notice.

I was nervous that I would put the jack in the wrong place and the car would just sink on its own weight so I waited until my husband came home early the next day, which sort of defeated my liberation spirit. But it was either wait or lose a finger, or a toe, or a whole leg. The silver lining of the situation was when my husband was as stumped as I was. It was a slight ego booster to know that it wasn’t just me.

After endless minutes of surveying the dark underbelly of the car and trying several spots that all failed, we finally decided to put it at the largest and sturdiest looking piece of metal- right at the axle, or what I believe to be the axle. After this, I was left on my own. I mean, I wanted to be left of my own, I was not abandoned. This was my liberation project after all.

My husband had said to put the jack “there” and there is where I put it. Unfortunately, “there,” didn’t look trustworthy. “There,” was a slanted piece of metal where the round head of the jack would not push flat against. It was getting dark by this time and the kids were zigzagging with their bikes between the car and myself. I hollered several times for them to clear out- mom was doing something dangerous. Eventually, I started the tedious job of rotating the jack handle. When you see how puny and short the jack is, you doubt its strength. Don’t people use industrial grade stuff for cars weighing a couple of tons anyway? Surely this is made in China and will snap! The bloody thing actually extended literally forever. I sat there rotating the handle to the jack till my arms started burning. The bad wheel was finally about 2-3 inches off the ground. Hallelujah! I proceeded to remove the bolts I had loosened the day before. Lo and behold three of the bolts were stuck. I mean totally stuck as if I hadn’t even touched them the day before. I peered over my shoulder to my husband. Him trying to be a silent observer is like having a mosquito buzzing around your ear long after you’ve killed it. He was like a phantom, just watching. Probably judging. Sigh!

The precarious way the SUV perched on the jack, I knew I had to put the whole damn car down and loosen the remaining bolts and jack the car up again. My rump was throbbing. I’d been squatting for so long that the muscles in my behind were shooting fireworks in random directions. The car was up for the second time now. Bolts all loosened and ready to rock and roll. Not so fast, cowgirl! Because the bad wheel had been sitting on its own weight for two days, it had literally glued itself to the car. Once the car was tittering in the air, I had assumed it was a piece of cake to get the wheel off. Nope! Not by a long shot. I stole a peak at my husband. “Umm, is this normal?” I ask. As cool as a cucumber he tells me that the bush is stuck to the wheel, which is stuck to the breaks. He assumes I know what all that means and I just nod at him like I know what that means.

You know that scene in hospitals where they bring in defibrillator machine and then yell, “all clear,” right before the electrocute the patient? That’s how it was for a minute. It was like a triage area. I cleared the dogs, cleared the kids, cleared the spying watchman, cleared the bikes, and I stood a good 10 feet away while my husband kick boxed and went all   fu on the tire. I plugged my ears with my fingers because I didn’t want to hear car crashing to earth. The wheel finally gave way, and without much fanfare, I was able to get it off, put in the spare, screw bolts back on, tighten, and eventually bring down the car back to solid ground. Finally we have touch down.

Twenty-eight hours after I had first attempted to change the tire, I was finally done. Did it feel like a victory moment? Hell no. Liberation be damned, what the hell would I have done if this happened on the highway and I had to explain to some poor Nairobian where the jack would not go and why the tire was stuck? I would have had to wait for a handful of “helpful men” to deliver me from my predicament. And I would probably be in my kinky heels and woolly skirts to boot. What can be worse than not being able to bend on a highway?

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Since I couldn’t handle my camera post liberation movement, I had to take this super blurry picture of my hands.

Despite not feeling quite as liberated as I ought to feel I did learn a valuable lesson, a few of them actually. Know your own damn car. Know your tools. Have patience and don’t be afraid of getting your hands, or your butt dirty. I was blessed that my husband didn’t lose his patience and just do it himself when I took so long. I was glad that I had this chance to do it myself. Lastly, you better have solid contacts at all times because when you get a flat tire you might just be in your kinky heels too. You might not be stuck at home for 28 hours, but you sure as hell might be on a highway to nowhere waiting for Mr. Breakdown/tow truck to show up. And all for a flat tire.

I haven’t yet met many ladies who know their wheels and know to change them. My own mother has driven for decades and has no idea how it’s done. This has nothing to do with feminism. It’s just one of those things that women should know to do for themselves. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t but just imagine how much taller we would walk in our kinky heels if we got down and dirty as any man out there. What about you ladies, how many of you have ever changed a tire and how did you do it? What was your first time like? I would love to hear of your stories if only to know that there are more ladies out there doing this too.

Muzzles are for Horses, Don’t Muzzle Me

Over a decade ago while I was vacillating between majors and colleges, I was given the chance to work for a non-governmental organization. This was such a big deal because this sort of offer didn’t come twice where I lived. I was in a sort of funk for months as my younger siblings had migrated to the US and I was left behind. So when this job opportunity was presented to a mere sophomore college student, I was more than happy to take it. The pay amounted to mere peanuts, but even those peanuts were going to afford me the kind of independence unknown to many my age. I stayed with this organization for about 4 years and learned hard lessons that I would not recognize as such for almost a decade.

From among the many lessons learned was the coffee course. Less than 2 months into my employment my boss asked me to make him coffee. There was no please, could you, or would you. Because he said it from a point of expectedness of my total compliance, I bristled at the order and refused. The country director somehow heard of this incident and called me into her office. I was told that I had behaved rudely and that the least I could do was set the cups, sugar and cream and heat up the water. She is the only woman I know to date that allowed another man to dictate to a woman what she should do instead of presenting a request. It didn’t even seem to matter that it wasn’t my job. In the following months I learned that female staff ate their lunch in the storeroom while the men left for hot meals at restaurants. It simply was an unspoken rule. Whenever I was at the head office I would ask the women to go out to the cafeteria with me, much to the irritation of the 3 men at the office. At some point, my boss took to telling other colleagues from the projects that I was a “corruptive influence” and they should keep their distance.

If I had understood the implications or the hidden sentiment behind his words, I would not have laughed it off. I attributed his attitude towards me as being part of chauvinistic behavior. The attitude that I was bad news was further compounded by the fact that twice a week, one of the girls from the office and I would hit one of the bars on our way home. I suppose I had seen enough movies to be totally enamored with working girls who finish off their week with a happy hour. Total independence. Hence, twice a month we would go and sit up at the bar and order exotic drinks we’d never heard of before. We’d split one drink two ways and always leave before our 8pm curfew-so much for independence, huh? I was young and foolish and ended up dating a co-worker, which was against the rules. While the relationship was good and solid, he would tell me what the senior staff would say about me. We hadn’t told anyone we were an item and so he heard a lot of crap floating around. Often, when I would ask if he believed any of the stuff they were saying about me, he would vehemently deny that I was anything close to what they were saying. If I had been more in tune to my environment I would have heard what he did or would not say. But I had no point of reference to which I could go back to. If I had known and internalized that women simply did not ruffle feathers, I probably would have opened my eyes sooner and not spent a good chunk of my time with men and women who believed that I should have made coffee, eaten in dark corners, and that when they called me a bitch, a whore, disrespectful, ungrateful, belligerent, pushy, and opportunistic not a single person bothered to defend me being the passive creatures they all were. What I was, and am, is a challenger. Someone who had integrity, loyalty, didn’t settle for the status quo, spoke my mind, respected people who respected those lesser than them, asked a lot of whys, action oriented, didn’t kiss ass, exposed wrongs, liked being fair and just, and always did the best I could no matter what.

Eight years later I struggle with insecurities that were caused by that office. That was my first job and for years, even after being let go, I had a hard time getting over the emotional attachment I had to it. It took eight years and enough larger-than-life women, simple women, and down to earth women to show me that I wasn’t the defective one. It took many chats with women who’ve beaten men at their own game, it took many talks with women who are working their way up, it took many talks with women who struggle even today to tell the man to eff off, and it took many talks and many cups of coffee with women who tried to resurrect that inner strength I thought I had lost. The process of growing and understanding that I wasn’t the problem but rather the catalyst that showed most of those men at their worst didn’t hit me until just recently. When I left that office, there was not a single memory when I had been appreciated for any contribution I had made.

There was no single moment when I was credited with any work nor when I was encouraged to pursue new goals and objectives. The bosses rarely motivated us to look beyond our little cubicles and reach for something greater. Sadly, I was the only person that was still in college and the fact that I was “uneducated” played well into their hands. For how could a mere slip of a girl manage to get under their skin long enough for them to imagine that I would bring about insurrection? Now, as I live and learn, I see a pattern all around me. I see connections between how a man is treating me today and how the same thinking and mentality was also there 10 plus years ago. If I raise my voice I am not a lady. If I don’t speak at all I am disrespectful. If I challenge the status quo and question norms I am being aggressive and belligerent. If I follow rules and order I am not ambitious enough and won’t get far. If I am assertive I am pushy and bossy. If I am lax I have no leadership capabilities. If I give orders how dare I. If I don’t I lack motivation. If I am ambitious I am sacrificing my family. If I have no dreams and goals I am boring and unintelligent. If speak up I am usurping power. If I don’t I am not destined for bigger things. If I need to get ahead I need previous accomplishments. If I don’t get ahead I have no valid skills. In a man’s world, the woman does not speak up. In a man’s world, the woman walk does not walk too far from the sidewalk. In a man’s world, the woman does not go to a bar alone. In his world, the woman brings her lunch to the office and eats it in the storeroom. In a man’s world asking him why makes you aggressive. In his world, you are good for nothing but receiving orders. In his world, you accept your lot in life without complaint. From when I was in my twenties however, I never knew such rules existed and thus broke every one of them. It’s only now when I am in my thirties that it’s dawning on me that women are muzzled when they refuse to accept the world at face value. Women are stifled despite the fact that they have equivalent or far surpassing skills than some men. Women can’t get ahead even if they show promise. Instead, as the old adage goes, they should be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Men don’t want to be challenged, questioned, pushed, overtaken, or thrived over. When we break free from the male cast chains of these kitchens, all hell breaks loose and beautiful things happen.

Righteous Indignation at Security that Stinks!

It was a day like any other. It was closing day at school so I picked my 4-year-old and came home. Been tinkering around the garden so a shower was due. First things first however, I stepped on the scales. My policy, whenever I can, has been to wear as little as possible when you climb those things. Nothing good ever happens when that little stick goes to number you’re not looking forward to. So, here I am literally naked one a scale, when I hear the doorbell ring. I figured one of the workers would get it. About three minutes of me pottering around the bathroom collecting items that I should have picked prior to thinking about scales or showers, I hear the bell again. Damn! I don’t want to dress up again and hike the 100 feet or so to the gate. Where the hell was the watchman? Oh, yeah, he probably has his damn earphones on listening to some radio show. Sigh!

So I called my 10-year-old and asked her to see where the maid was. Since the maid was in conveniently taking a shower my daughter went to the gate herself.

I have the shower running nice and hot and I’m about to step in when my eldest barges through the bathroom door. Note to self: lock door from now on since they no longer are in school. She’s too excited and barely catches her breath before she blurts, “The police are at the gate!” WHAT? What the hell are cops doing at my gate? I knew it sounded odd and since they’d been at the gate for quite some time I really wasn’t sure what it was all about. Not a single thought could cross my mind about why they would be there. For a brief second I imagined them to be the General Service Unit (GSU) that had once before graced our neighborhood but the likelihood of a repeat visit just seemed too dim.

Thoroughly cursing whoever was at the gate, I don on whatever I can find, tie a scarf over my hair that’s sticking out every which way and dash downstairs. I’m heading for the gate when I hear a voice behind me, “hello madam!” I literally screech out a scream at the sound of the stranger’s voice. It was more of an inward scream that just didn’t make out. Right behind the random stranger in my compound is another stranger, strolling towards me. Thankfully, I don’t panic. But I am beyond irritated. “What are you doing here?” I demand. Damn fools, dressed in full alarm response team uniform from our security company tell me they are responding to the alarm that had been pressed from our house. I realize in that moment that there is no point getting mad. I tell them calmly that I followed procedures and called the designated number before checking if the alarm was still up to scratch or not. I asked why the operator would send them when I spoke to him for over 3 minutes and he confirmed everything was in working order. Stupidly enough, there are two operators who take calls and apparently the department where you call in with an emergency and the department where you all in for customer service are one and the same number. So, what had probably happened was when operator 1 was on the line with me, operator 2 was busy sending out rescue teams. Note to self: what if each of the operator thinks the other one had sent rescue teams and we just sit there and wait for them to arrive?

I walked the buggers to the gate huffing and puffing. I pointed out that they were late anyway. I checked my phone when I had disconnected the call with the company and it was 11:43am. The time they showed up was 12:16pm. I told them that if this was a serious situation, that their arrival half an hour late was beside the point when supposedly they are stationed less than a mile up the same road as our house. My knight in shining armor tells me, “Oh, we had to stop and refuel the car.” By now I’m like, dude the less you say right about now, the more blind faith I’ll have in you tomorrow. Please don’t tell me you peeing on the side of the road, getting your fancy shield and armor ready, or sitting at your waterhole when there is a damn emergency. How the hell does one go to refuel a car when someone makes a distress call? Might I point out that the gas station is also less than 2 miles up the road! As I stand there glaring at him, his third partner comes hopping from whatever bush he was hiding behind. And then I see one of their company cars driving towards us and I assumed it was back up. Silly old me! Of course it was the same damn car they came in. He was probably holed up somewhere waiting till the coast was clear. And the nerve of the driver- he waves at me with a big toothy grin. All I feel like doing is flipping him my finger.

The final nail to the coffin was when he told me that they were forced to jump over into the compound because for the last almost 5 minutes they had been at the gate nobody had responded. I didn’t mean to be sarcastic but I couldn’t help pointing out that had the situation been worse, I’m sure whoever was holding us hostage inside would be quite indisposed to opening the gate. With a smile and a blank look, they asked for my name and they left.

Righteously still seething, and still shaken,   I went back to my now much-needed shower. I’m sure by now I’ve lost a pound or two. Note to self: security is an illusion.