7

Then and now…

I toss and turn in my bed. I need a new bed. I wonder how much one would cost. I bought it for a very princely sum almost 15 years ago. My first purchase after receiving a lumpsum payment from the government who had been holding up our salaries for three good months. It’s a Slumberland brand. Guaranteed to give you a good night’s rest. They lied. Sleep doesn’t help if it is your soul that is tired. I switch on the lights. Time: 0410hrs. The sleeping pills didn’t work either. I had considered some wine but with an important meeting at the office at 0800hrs that wouldn’t have been a good choice. It also meant driving out to get it since I do not, in principle, stock any alcohol in my house. Something about temptations. I reach out for the blood pressure machine. 162/104mmHg. Not good. It’s back. I cringe.

Flashback a few months. Men and women in dark coloured suits holding rugged files. For many, the papers are struggling to stay in place. Some are whispering to each other. “Wakili (Translation: Learned fellow), please hold the brief for me. I am pushing for more time.” They delegate to each other as they rush on to more important cases. I later find out how twisted our justice system can be. The elderly woman in crutches hobbles over to the pew. I stand to make room for her. She perches herself painfully, each movement well calculated. She’s following up an accident claim. She’s been coming for hearings 4 years on. The defense lawyer was the one who had requested his colleague to “push for more time”… I glance at the list of the day. Case number 17. The last one to be mentioned. My lawyer is yet to arrive. I try to remain calm. What if she doesn’t show up?

The lady judge walks in. We all stand up in respect. I confirm my phone is on silent then proceed to follow the proceedings. The judge has a permanent scowl on her face. i bet borne out of listening to all those commercial cases. I try to cram the legal jargon in case my lawyer doesn’t make it on time. The elderly lady’s case comes up. The defense asks for more time (as instructed by his colleague). More time is granted, the elderly lady is awarded Ksh. 100 for her fare back home. I see tears of frustration dangling on her eyes. Her lawyer didn’t turn up either. Something inside me breaks. We are on Case number 11. More civil suits. My lawyer walks in, takes a bow and seats behind me. I heave a sigh of relief. I can now study the people around me. My favourite pastime when bored. I study people. Like the young female lawyer in neatly styled dreadlocks. She’s had to abide by the strict dress code of the profession but deep inside her she wants to be free to express herself. Or the court clerk busy trying to catch up the pace of the lady judge. He’s going through the motions of the day. Organising the files, receiving petitions from the lawyers walking in and out of the court room, calling out the cases one by one according to the list. Filling out the calendar as the judge proclaims the next hearings or judgment dates. Handing over a glass of water to the judge. He’s a busy man. One respected by the lawyers no doubt. One who determines if your file will be placed in front of the judge or not. Then…they wore colourful dresses, high heels, make-up. Now, drab dull suits in greys or black.

Then and now… Suddenly, its Case number 16. My lawyer comes to sit next to me. “Don’t worry, Amakove.” she says. “They will hear us in camera.” I didn’t have to come, she says. But how can I not come and see for myself? Case number 17. EAW vs RKN. That’s it. Our names are reduced to initials. I remember the wedding cards we sent out. African themed. Beautifully embossed with our three names. Sent out to 400 or more people. Now appearing as EAW vs RKN. To protect our privacy, they said. Everyone is sent out of the courtroom leaving only the two of us and RKN. The hearing starts. This is a first of many to come.

Then and now… What denomination are you? the court clerk asks. Protestant, I reply. Hold this Bible with your left hand, lift your right hand and repeat after me… I proceed to be sworn to the witness stand. The same Bible that was used to join us is the same one used to set us apart. The irony of life. I go through the motions.

Then and now… The defense lawyer was ruthless. My lawyer had warned me but that wasn’t enough to prepare me for the emotions that were being stirred up. It was like a serrated knife had been pierced into my heart and then twisted over and over. I promised myself to be strong. Same tears that flowed on that beautiful day as we were joined together, now flowing but for a different reason. I held on. I must do this, I kept on saying. I must. For my sanity.

Then and now… The room this time has two more people. Student lawyers on attachment. I remember the interns from church. Always helpful. Excited at the prospect of assisting in a wedding. Making sure everything was alright from the church’s side. I watched the student lawyers. Young ladies. Bored at the prospect of sitting through 23 cases and taking down notes. One of them kept on chatting on WhatsApp under the cover of the notes. Then case number 23 came up: EAW vs RKN. As usual, everyone was sent out of the courtroom and door was shut. It was his turn at the dock. The students became more attentive. My lawyer wasn’t kind either. The students expressions kept on changing from plain disbelief to pity as they watched both of us. For the whole time, not a single smile. They furiously jotted down notes. I wonder what stories they were going to share after that. I remembered the jubilant church interns. Then… we whispered lovely dovey words to each other. We laughed. We made plans. Now…we are hell-bent on bringing out the worst in each other.

Then and now… I drove out of the court parking. My mind on zombie mode. It was my 4th time appearing in court. You don’t have to attend the sessions, she said. I want to, I stubbornly replied. This time I had gone for the ruling. It was postponed again. Two of my friends called. They wanted to be there with me but the timing was not good for them. I assured them I was okay. Wedding day, over 400 people showed up. Family and friends, eager to witness the joining in holy matrimony. Then I was chauffered in the latest German car of the day. Today, judgement day. No friend. No family member. I don’t blame them. Many wouldn’t know what to say or do.  I drove in numbness.

Then and now… A message from my lawyer: Hi, divorce granted. Marriage dissolved. 5 words that changed my life completely. Passed on in a text late in the evening. Then it was shouted via a microphone: I now pronounce you husband and wife. There was jubilation, singing, clapping. A few friends try to reach out. I am in no mood to talk. Only the muffled sounds of my crying late into the night as I force myself to sleep. Another day breaks… I must put on make-up. I must look fresh.

Then and now…

 

1

Dignity Restored

Rose*

She watches us from the safety of the thin blanket she’s wrapped in. She is coiled in a foetal position. Her eyes are blank. One can see straight through to the back of her head. Her dark motionless face watches us dis-interestingly.

“Rose*! Rose!” the nurse calls her. Only her eyes shift towards the sound of the voice. She then adjusts her position by coiling tighter into her warm blanket.

“Can she talk?” I ask the nurse.

“She only responds to her name. Nothing more.”

I look at her surroundings. A folded wheelchair has been placed next to her bed. A half drunk cup of porridge long gone cold. A few clothes have been folded at the head of the bed supposedly to act as a pillow. She lies there, like a little child, folded in that position. There is a distinct smell around her. It is that of faeces.

This is Rose*. I would guess late twenties. Brought into the facility by good Samaritans more than 6 months ago. She suffers from fistula. A complication of a difficult child birth with resultant tears in the birth canal linking the bladder with the vagina or in this case, the rectum with the vagina.

Rose* has been admitted pending surgery to correct the fistula. She is one of the lucky ones to find a facility where this can be done for free. But there is s hitch. Her surgery cannot be done. You see, Rose* had a difficult childbirth five years ago in one of those villages deep in remote Kenya. Her baby died during the delivery. She also complicated by getting this fistula. Rose* couldn’t deal with the loss of her baby. She became psychotic. Pueperal psychosis is what the medics call it. Deep in the village, her father did not know how to deal with her. A vibrant young girl now gone mad and leaking faeces. He did what he thought was the easier way out. He tied her legs in a flexed position. Legs together, knees bent completely and tied to the back of the thighs. Then locked her in a hut. For five years. By the time she was being rescued, her legs were permanently fixed in that foetal position. She had suffered bed sores so bad that her leg bones were exposed. And she still leaked feaces.

Rose* is currently awaiting review by another reconstructive surgeon to release her knees and hips now that her bed sores have healed. Then the fistula surgeons can attend to her.

 

Mariam*

She’s sobbing incoherently. A lesso wrapped around her tiny frame. I notice her hair. It is short. On her right hand she carries her urine bag. It is connected to her bladder through a catheter. She is seated on her bed. Dejected. Tears streaming down her young face.

I instinctively walk up to her. “What is wrong?” I ask.

She breaks down completely, “Ninaumwa. Nitafanyaje?” (I am in pain. What will I do?)

“Where is the pain?” I ask.

“Kichwa. Kichwa chaniuma!” (My head. I have a headache.)

She is speaking in a Coastal accent. She seems to be in her early twenties. Barely an adult. I beckon the nurse to come attend to her and excuse them.

The matron draws me aside. “We’ve had two days of counseling for her. She just found out that she will never be able to conceive again.”

You see, a month ago, Mariam*, a newly wed, was looking forward to her first child. Delays in seeking care resulted in a complicated labour and she ended up having a ruptured uterus. This being a medical emergency, the surgeons had to remove her uterus too. Unfortunately, her baby never made it either. She also developed a fistula with urine leaking through her vagina.

Mariam* had travelled 400km to come and have surgery for the fistula. It was during the screening process that the news of her inability to ever carry another baby sunk in. She was still not stable enough to undergo surgery.

 

These two are just a tip of the horrors women go through when they suffer from fistula. Obstetric fistula is a severe maternal morbidity which can affect any woman or girl who suffers from prolonged or obstructed labour without timely access to an emergency Caesarean section. It is one of the most devastating consequences of neglected childbirth and a stark example of health inequity in the world. Although obstetric fistula has been eliminated in industrialized countries, it continues to afflict the most impoverished women and girls in the developing world, mainly those in rural and remote areas. Eliminating obstetric fistula required us to provide access to comprehensive emergency obstetric care, treat fistula cases, and address underlying medical, socioeconomic, cultural and human rights determinants. To end obstetric fistula, we must ensure

• universal access to reproductive health services;

• eliminate gender-based social and economic inequities;

• prevent child marriage and early childbearing;

• promote education and broader human rights, especially for girls;

• foster community participation in finding solutions, including through the active involvement of men.

 

No more Roses. No more Mariams.

#DignityRestored

 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy of the two women.

Image art by Alex Cherryf7cbc5f7ba2a4e82b35917c1da656795

1

Performance Appraisal: Year 9

Organisation: Wala abode

Title: Mothering four children

Year or period covered:  December 2007 to December 2016

Time in present position: 9 years

Appraisee: Amakove

Appraiser: Management

  1. State your understanding of your main duties and responsibilities

To mother four children. I had initially applied for 2 children. One boy and one girl. The orders got mixed up and I got one boy and three girls. I accepted my fate and adjusted accordingly. I am not one to complain though. I just thought Management should factor this in when appraising my conduct.

  1. Has the past 9 years been good/bad/satisfactory or otherwise for you, and why?

The past year has been a haze to be honest. I look at the four kids and wonder when time flew. One time I am battling with colic and toilet training and the next I am battling with smart mouths and wall-climbing and constant fights. Overall, I’d say it has been satisfactory. I mean, sometimes I really do feel like giving them away and starting all over and then they just turn around and become these cherubic little rascals and surprise me time and time again! Like the days when Z1 out of the blue says, “Mommy, you are a good mommy!” or when Z3 is like, “Mom, can I help you wash the dishes?” which is often followed by, “Mom, that will be 10 shillings!” and that is a sure way to get me slam back to reality!

  1. What do you consider to be your most important achievements of the past year?

My biggest achievement is that they are ALIVE and so am I! I mean, they are not starving. They are not running around naked (well, actually, sometimes they do but that’s their choice and it often scares the neighbours as they prance around on the balcony. But I am teaching them self-expression. Does that count?)

The other achievement is that they can read and write. Means they are getting something from school. Sometimes, I forget to check their homework (dear Management, 4 children is not a joke) and I get lovely surprises like the day the boy wrote in his composition that I used to kill patients… I had a word with him about that, not to worry! No need for exposing family secrets. Since they have not repeated a class, I suspect they must be performing well in school.

  1. What do you like and dislike about working for this organisation?

Is this on record? Like, will this be held against me? Will the kids be taken away to a more deserving mother? No? Okay, here goes. I dislike the fact that I constantly have to think about them. Like, really? Can’t someone for once tell me, here, you sleep. I will pay the bills, I will take them to school, I will by food and so on and so forth. Just for once. Please? Can my request be considered by management?

I like the fact that we are many in this organisation. Misery loves company, not so? The others seem to think I am doing a pretty good job (appearances lie I tell you) so I’ll hang on to that!

  1. What elements of your job do you find most difficult?

When they are in pain for one reason or another and mommy cannot help them endure the pain. Oh, and when they ask for things that I cannot afford, like holidays in far off places. But I am working towards that.

Something else, when I wake up to find that they have outgrown their shoes and clothes in the middle of the month! Like how do they even do that!

  1. What elements of your job interest you the most, and least?

The fact that no two days are the same! That gives me a chance to be better every day! It also means I can be quite flexible, not so? (Please add that to my score sheet!)

I hate the part where I have to pay the bills. Like my whole life is about paying bills! Please tell me that they will take me for holidays when I grow old…

  1. What do you consider to be your most important aims and tasks in the next year?

Again, next year, I plan to keep them alive and healthy! I prefer to stay realistic with my goals.

  1. What action could be taken to improve your performance in your current position by you, and your boss?

From me: I will improve on my optimism. Try to see the glass half full.

From my boss: can I be paid please?

  1. What kind of work or job would you like to be doing in one/two/five years time?

Travelling in a cruise ship?

  1. What sort of training/experiences would benefit you in the next year? Not just job-skills – also your natural strengths and personal passions you’d like to develop – you and your work can benefit from these.

Resilience training

How to see the glass half full?

How to answer those awkward questions.

  1. Score your own capability or knowledge in the following areas in terms of your current role requirements (1-3 = poor, 4-6 = satisfactory, 7-9 = good, 10 = excellent). If appropriate bring evidence with you to the appraisal to support your assessment. The second section can be used if working towards new role requirements.
    1. commercial judgement 1
    2. time management what does this mean? Do you know I have 4 kids!
    4. planning, budgeting and forecasting 6
    5. reporting and administration 3. Nanny runs our house
    6. communication skills 10 I can shout even when someone is a foot away.
    7. delegation skills 10
    8. IT/equipment/machinery skills 4 but my son is teaching me and I am a fast learner
    9. meeting deadlines/commitments 4 sometimes kids come first.
    10. creativity 10 necessity is the mother of invention!
    11. problem-solving and decision-making 7. Constantly solving wrangles
    12. team-working and developing others 7 four kids gives you a team. Synchronising them to just wake up, shower and go to school, counts!
    13. energy, determination and work-rate 10 I am still here. With them.
    14. steadiness under pressure 10 See number 13
    15. leadership and integrity 10 See number 13
    16. adaptability, flexibility, and mobility 10 See number 13
    17. personal appearance and image 1 What’s that! Do you know I have four children!
  2. In light of your current capabilities, your performance against past objectives, and your future personal growth and/or job aspirations, what activities and tasks would you like to focus on during the next year. Again, also think of development and experiences outside of job skills – related to personal aims, fulfilment, passions.

I’d like a holiday, please. And money. Lots of money

Signed and dated by appraisee:  Amakove             and by appraiser: Management
Grade/recommendation/summary as applicable: Be nice to me! I’ve tried!

Happy Mother’s Day!

How Performance Appraisal Should Work in an Organization:

1

Reporting for duty, teacher!

16 April 2016

​So we are in class waiting to pick report cards for the Zs. 

Enter Guy X looking all flustered. Goes straight to the teacher who is with another parent and says, “I am looking for Bertha’s class.” (Names have been changed to protect the poor child.)

Teacher B (handling it rather well considering the rude interruption): We have a Bertha in our class but her dad is seated right there!” She points to Guy Z.

We are all perched vicariously on these very tiny chairs (not suitable for ample African bottoms) so I am not sure whether Guy Z’s look of discomfort is from the chairs or the fact that he is just about to discover he may not be the real father to Bertha after all these 6 years or so!

Now all our attention is focused on the drama about to make out afternoon more colourful. #InsertEvilLaugh

Teacher B rises up and walks with Guy X who by this time is now frustrated. “Maybe it’s another Bertha in the other streams. Let’s go and ask.” 

They stand outside the door consulting the other teachers. None seems to recognise him. They all know about Bertha but how to solve the mystery of the new father to Bertha?

A few minutes later, we watch Guy X walking out towards the exit talking animatedly on his phone.

We turn our attention to Guy Z whose look of confusion makes us laugh. He’s the only guy in the room. “Are you sure you are the only father to Bertha?” We tease him. He laughs uncomfortably.

Suddenly, Guy X comes back. His face brighter. He addresses Teacher B, “Bertha is in KG 2B. Which class is this?”

“Oh! This is KG3. KG2 is down the corridor.” She points him the direction.

Guy Z slumps back relieved, on the tiny chair almost toppling over.

Moral of the story: paternity tests are now available at a laboratory near you…

0

Dining rule book: a Kenyan at an event

Rule Number 1:
Rush to the queue as fast as you can. Be sure to elbow out everyone on your path. Arrive there panting and sweating having left a trail of disgusted people.

Rule Number 2:
Debate on whether to start with the soup on offer, salads or main meal. Decided you can multitask. Grab a soup bowl. Balance it gingerly under your armpit. Take a salad plate. No. That’s too small. Put it back having left greasy marks on it. Stretch your arm (as you keep the hot soup tightly held to prevent it from spilling) and grab the main course plate. Aah! Much better.

Rule Number 3:
Proceed to serve all the salads available. Sprinkle generously with the accompanying dressings. A thousand islands, vinaigrette, tartar sauce. Smile at yourself for still managing to balance the soup.

Rule Number 4:
Main meal course. Oh yes. Realise your plate is now full of useless salads. Rabbit food. Never mind. Pile the main course on the salad bed. Start with the white rice. Then the pilau. Add a few roast potatoes and a slice of ugali. Don’t forget the white chapati and the brown one (doctor said it is healthier) and finally the pasta.

Rule Number 5:
Openly marvel at the assortment of meats laid out. Beef stew. Serve. Roast chicken. Two legs please. Fried goat. Yummy. A spoonful. Fish fillet. Two pieces. Remember broth still balancing delicately under the armpit. Lower the main plate so that you can see beyond the mountain of food piled on it. Approach the dessert table.

Rule Number 6:
Dessert table. So many choices. It’s confusing. Now you cannot hold three plates at once. Spread out the mountain of food so you even out the peak. Place the watermelon slices, pineapple and black forest cake (topped up with pudding) on the main plate. There! Everything’s sorted out. Proceed back to your table.

Rule Number 7:
Halfway back remember you have not picked your drink. Stop. Retrace your steps. Head straight to the counter serving drinks. Shout your order over the mountain of food as well as remember to balance the soup still tucked under the armpit. Ignore the bartender’s bewildered look. Tell them you’ve got this and request them to place the bottle of soda under your chin. Make a five-point turn to avoid spilling anything. Proceed to your table.

Rule Number 8:
Place the mountain of food down. Then the soda and finally the soup which is no longer hot by now. Get confused at all the cutlery laid out. Grab a spoon with your right hand and a fork with the left. Attack the food starting with the black forest cake. Discover you are choking. Take the soup and slurp it down noisily.

Rule Number 9:
Halfway through the food, realise what your table counterparts are doing. Take the table napkin and lay it on your laps. Two more spoonfuls and decide you are full. Push the plate away and belch loudly! Remember the soda. Drink straight from the bottle ignoring the empty glass next to you.

Rule Number 10:
A few strands of meat are now caught up in your teeth. Try to “whistle” them out through the gaps. Nothing doing. Use your left little finger nail to fish out the stubborn little thing. Zilch. Stand up, topple your chair in the process, stretch out your hand all the way over your neighbour’s food and grab the toothpicks. Scoop out the adamant protein, examine it carefully as it hangs precariously on the tooth pick and place it back in the mouth this time swallowing it without chewing. You don’t want a repeat performance.

Rule Number 11:
As the waiter comes to clear the table ask them if they can pack the leftover food on your plate….

Image result for Food piled up on a plate

0

Bomas of Kenya

2nd February 2016

Today’s review: Bomas of Kenya. Parking ample and secure. Food available at Utamaduni restaurant. Affordable. Ask to be seated in their lovely gardens. Entertainment aplenty! Traditional songs performances from 3.30pm to 5pm. Entry 100/- for adults and 20/- for kids for locals. Tickets also admit you to the traditional Bomas. Otherwise, a kids’ playground is also available for a small fee of 50/- per child. Lovely place to reconnect with our rich Kenyan history.

1

Of bikes and chit chats

2nd February 2016

I take my troop out for our regular evening cycling. There is a nice tarmac road with little traffic just outside the neighbourhood. It leads to another estate where the Zs have a classmate whom they love to play with.
The said estate has a watchman. A young man. As usual, Amakove strikes up conversation with just about anyone. He is not an exception. The conversation is in Swahili but I’ll translate for the sake of my international groupies 😉

Him: Why haven’t you come with your bike today? (He sometimes borrows it as I rest)
Me: Because it has a puncture. (The cycling in the wild took its toll on one of the tyres)
Him: You should have brought it to me so I can repair it.
Me: Oh. That’s kind of you but I have someone else who’ll fix it (Plus he didn’t inspire so much confidence on matters bicycle)
Him: So you’ve left school early today?
Me perplexed: School? Who told you I go to school? (I had just delivered a lecture at one of the local universities but there was no possible way he would have known that!)
Him: Yes. Don’t you go to school?
Me, shocked: No
Dudelet rides past us.
Him: That’s your brother?
Me, eyes wide open: No. That’s my son!
Him (genuinely surprised): Your son! Not your brother?
Me (taking a look at myself as I wondered why): No! And those other three are his sisters.
Him (almost jumping off the low wall we were seated on): Your kids!
Me: Yes.
Him: Which year were you born?
Me (deciding on whether to indulge him but thoroughly enjoying the conversation): 1978
Him (now shouting): What!
Me: When were you born?
Him: 1992.
Me (matter of factly): I was in Form Two by then. I could be your mother!
Him: where are you from?
Me (hating such questions but I can’t help myself. His bewilderment was just too interesting): Western.
Him (proudly): I am from Bomet. Do you know where Bomet is?
Me: Yes. I was once in Tenwek Hospital.
Him (very concerned): So sorry. What were you suffering from?
Me (enjoying every second of it now): I was not there as a patient. I worked there as a doctor.
Him: So you trained in KMTC? (A tertiary college)
Me: No. I went to University of Nairobi
Him (changes the subject): So which building is that over there?