Picture: Charles Nyiha
We all have secrets. Or, at least, things we do not so easily talk about. Sometimes because we are ashamed, other times because these things are difficult to talk about, to explain; or because even we do not understand these things. Sometimes it’s just not the right person we’re speaking to; other times we ourselves are not the right people yet.
Getting to the place where we can talk about these things, finally, freely, is a breath of fresh air; is magic. The point at which we can finally release that pent-up emotion is a kind of salvation.
But before we can admit these things to people, and ourselves, we struggle to fit ourselves into the standard some devil of a thing taught us to fit into. We roll the sleeves back down to hide the scars on our hands, we laugh louder to hide the pain of the sickness we cannot speak of just yet, and we trample on our conscience to silence the screams from outside while our own screams from within, ignored, unattended to, die slow, disgraced deaths until we no longer know who or what we are, or were.
I’m breaking the silence in 2016, airing out the rooms of my soul, letting the light into those dark places, being free to be (willingly) seen as imperfect, utterly flawed. I will let people run their eyes over my scars, quite literally, letting go of the desire to be loved and clutching onto the need to be real, and free. Maybe I will write about this later, maybe I will not—but I am going to make it happen.
I recently met up with a friend who has sickle cell anaemia. Disease is a world on its own, with its own rules and coping mechanisms, its seasons and motions; its own personality, over and above the rules and coping mechanisms and seasons and motions and personality of life that we all have to deal with. There is the humorous side, if you would like to see it, but it is also a heavy burden to carry, and even more because it is not exactly a relatable one. I believe all pain is legitimate and should be equally acknowledged, but the problem of a broken relationship is in a sense easier to discuss over dinner than the complexity of emotion experienced over frequent sickle cell crises. She has been made fun of for her ‘big, yellow’ eyes and introversion, because people ridicule what they do not understand. And the seemingly small things are often the marks on the surface arising from the deepest undercurrents. The girl is damn tough, a regular superstar.
Then there’s Juliet Maruru. With lupus. You can see something of her story here. I’ll just say what I know about Juliet. I had just gone through one of the more terrible experiences of my life and was desperately looking for things to do to distract me. So I started compulsively attending every event that I got an email about. I met Juliet at a Goethe-Storymoja workshop and basically, she introduced me to the creative world in a way I had never fathomed possible. I said something like, Juliet, let me get involved. She said something like, Stephanie, send me this and attend that and attend that and attend that. And look, I fell in love; deep, deep, thrilling love, with writing. Writing fiction especially, poetry occasionally and non-fiction on nights like this. I fell in love with thinking. Evolving. We had these sessions called Ideagasms in the weeks leading up to the 2015 Storymoja Festival and these were just sessions in which Juliet (and anyone else who felt like it) would provoke us into thought; into challenging established ways of thinking and good heavens I do not know if I could be more excited. But sometimes Juliet would be tired or wouldn’t talk much (but not really in an unusual way) and I had no idea that this was because of a bigger issue. Here we have another incredible creature who is opening worlds up to young Kenyans, who’s giving us vision and passion and is making us laugh but is also struggling with heavy, heavy burdens. But therein lies the profound.
Disease, insecurity, fear. We don’t like to speak about these. We like to create the perfect, idyllic story for all to aspire to, and uncomfortably push the unfamiliar to remote, undisturbed places. But people are such fantastic, strange, inspiring worlds; each one, and I am just trying to push for the regularization of difference; to allow for it. We have got to be honest and admit that some people’s lives are far from what is currently considered ideal or regular but not to see that as a terrible thing in itself—to try to carve a world that recognizes difference and allows for it, as well as the deep, explosive pleasures that can be experienced within difference, and the ability to acknowledge, too, the heart-wrenching pain that does come with difference. There are so many brands of breath-taking, soul filling beauty that I feel it is such a pity that we cling to convention.
And so I would say, to those with some sorts of undercurrents bubbling within, try to wear your ‘ugly’ out for a day, with all the confidence and normalcy and joy and excitement and utter defiance that you can muster…
But I won’t lie I know what will happen; I just think it might be a good idea. Then take it from there. J