Call Out For Submissions: Storymoja Reality Check! Series (Life Skills)

She Blossoms...:

The Reality Check! Series is a book series meant for teens and young adults (13 – 19 years of age).

Originally posted on Storymoja:

The Reality Check! Series is a book series meant for teens and young adults (13 – 19 years of age). Through entertaining and thought provoking stories, the series explores and demonstrates various life skills through teenage eyes and experiences.

The main characters are teens from East Africa who are facing contemporary challenges recognizable to teens living in Africa. The stories go beyond action and drama by forcing the main character to explore their emotions and grow.

Although the stories are fiction, they should be believable. The more the writer can tap into the their memories and experiences of being a teenager, and the more they use their senses to describe people and settings who seem real, the more the reader can identify with, be moved and learn from the story.

In the stories, ordinary youth face challenges that demand decisions and choices, some of which are life-changing. The characters in…

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Review: Cell

Cell
Cell by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the wake of watching shows such as The Walking Dead, Z Nation and The Last Ship, this novel makes you recognise Stephen King as the original master of the Zombie Apocalypse story. Only he goes ahead and makes the origin of the apocalypse something that we have all come to be so dreadfully dependent on that if The Pulse went out right now, pretty much no one would escape turning into a phone-crazy.

In the midst of it all, a tale of strong bonds of friendship formed in the chaos of simply trying to survive from one day to the next, highlight the humanity that we all hope would keep mankind alive. Of course, there are a few way-outers – Ricardi and Ray – because ‘this is no way to live’.

And idiots like Gunnah and his little buddy who go out of their way to perpetrate horrid crimes just because their egos have been bruised. There will be bullies under all circumstances.

Two things occurred to me as I read this deeply entertaining but thought provoking fictional story.

1. How would I really act in the middle of a crisis like that? Would I find my basic principles of humanity easy to shirk if it was choice between abandoning them and surviving, or would I hold on to them and try to survive with them intact?

2. How long would I fight to keep going, for myself, for my friends, for my family? Would I be among the first to lie down and die because ‘this is no way to love’? Or would I keep going until there was no more life to live?

I love books that throw me into existential mulling. We all need books like these.

So what have you read recently that has ‘given you a seat and asked you to think about your future’?

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October Short Story Call Out

She Blossoms...:

14 days to write up your story and submit it for the October Storymoja Writers’ Blog Showcase. Deadline Oct 21.

Originally posted on Storymoja:

The Storymoja Writers’ Blog is back! For guidelines on what, when and where to submit, please see our submission guidelines.

For October, please send in your short stories which should not be less than 1200 words; not more than 1600 words long. Send in your work in a word document attachment to blogs@storymojaafrica.co.ke. Subject Title of your Submission Email Should Be October Short Story.

Deadline: October 21st 2014.

Important Guidelines 

1. Always double edit your work before you send it to us.

2. Use 12 Point, Times New Roman Font, with 1.5 spacing to make it easier for the editors to review your work.

3. Always title your pieces, and make sure your story has author name, even if it is a pen name!

4. Language of your piece should be English. Occasional sheng, swahili and mother language allowed, with translations in brackets.

5. If you have…

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The drunk on the street via @sheblossoms

She Blossoms...:

My Guilt Trip. Where’s yours? Email to tcsmola@gmail.com and join us in our journey to #Sondeka the future we want.

Originally posted on Collective Inertia:

A few years ago, I got off a matatu opposite GPO and almost immediately ran into a little crowd just at the turn into Koinange Street. As a typical Kenyan, I stopped to peer through and see what was up.
I saw a middle aged woman who leant on the plump side on the ground. Her gray skirt suit was dusty and dirty and her weave wasn’t doing too well. She seemed to be trying to get off the ground but was unable to do so. Her words were slurred and didn’t make much sense.
The people around her asked and someone said: “Sasa, kama mama mzima kama huyu analewa chakari, hii dunia inaenda wapi?”
Someone else said, “Aibu gani hii!”
I was late for work, so I walked on thinking: Lady, it’s 7am. Why in the world are you going to be so drunk on the street at…

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How do I Look?

I never quite know what to expect when I attend an Ideagasm. There have been moments of surprise, disappointment, shock and even life-changing clarity at these ‘conversation’ events that have been running at Storymoja for a little over a year. The participants are generally different every time although we do have a consistent group of return visitors. My privilege as the organizer of Storymoja Ideagasms means that I have gotten to see how very similar human beings we are and yet how different we can be when we align ourselves with little cliques and collectives.

Ideagasms do not have a moderator per se. Yes, an organizer, me, who selects attendees, sends invites and sit very near the fire extinguisher. I occasionally do stand up in mid-session to try and give someone with a soft voice a ‘hush room’ so they can get a chance to speak. But the general format of an Ideagasm is that it is an open forum and a safe zone within a free speech zone. My job is generally to try and maintain the delicate balance between free speech and total chaos.

Each session generally has a provocation. A provocation is a thought or idea meant to provoke thought and internalized perspective. Participants have the choice to air their views, challenge the provocation, or go off tangent into a related topic that seems to be more urgent. Usually, Ideagasms are held at Storymoja Offices, but once in a while we accept an invitation to hold an Ideagasm with a group in their own space.

This past weekend, the Ideagasm was a Storymoja /Sondeka Ideagasm held at Creatives Garage Offices. Creatives Garage is an organization which among other things also organizes the Sondeka Festival. The just concluded Storymoja Festival’s theme was Imagine the World. The upcoming Sondeka Festival’s theme is ‘Create the Future You Want.’ The Ideagasm’s Provocation was: Language and Self-Articulation.

It occurs to me that the Ideagasm started long before the actual session begun. When I first arrived at Creatives’ Garage, there was the usual mini-frenzy surrounding organising a festival. But at several intervals while I waited for the Ideagasm participants to arrive, someone or the other stopped to talk to me. I was offered coffee.

Then Shiru, worrying about the fact that everyone seemed a little late brought up the topic of the strange traffic patterns in Nairobi. It occurred to me that human beings worked like swarms and in cities like Nairobi, swarms whose general driving instinct is to avoid traffic jams. The only problem is that the swarm instinctual drive is what actually causes the traffic jams, frustration and general city road chaos.

Not long after this, Kip took a break from making tracking spreadsheets to tell us about his insane (but perfectly logical) early Sunday morning movie theatre fun. And then he showed us the book book ad. I wondered if in a few years it might not be quite necessary to tell our kids about book books as opposed to ebooks and other forms of books.

Once our little group of thinkers got together over the kitchen table at Creatives’ Garage with Sandwiches, Cake and lots of milk, the conversation did finally get started.

The question all men are terrified of came up. How do I look?

I laughingly recalled my mum’s answer: How do you want to look?

And in that a long conversation ensued about validation, choices based on other people’s preferences rather than your own and ultimately the woman’s right and choice to dress and look the way she wants for her own self rather than to please someone or to avoid being assaulted.

Somewhere in the conversation, someone brought up the issue of people who feel they have some kind of right to know and have a say in other persons’ choices. From the random guy in a room who suddenly inquires of another, “Are you bisexual?’ to the relatives who demand of their nieces at weddings, “So when are you getting married?”

Where are the boundaries? Who has the right to ask these questions? And why in the world do we ALL get defensive even when we are convinced that we have no need to feel defensive about the choices we make?

I am not sure at which point we switched over to a discussion on collective inertia. But somewhere in there the question came up about a recent case that has received way too much and the wrong kind of publicity on social media. Why did the people present not act immediately? To which someone responded, how do you know no one acted immediately? And someone else asked, do our reactions to bad things that happen give the perpetrators fame and deny the victims justice? Can you be absolutely sure that you will react in the RIGHT way when something that is obviously WRONG happens in your presence?

This led to confessions of times when we have found ourselves frozen in place and just watched perpetrations of injustice happen around us. We did try to console ourselves with the times when we overcame our fear and acted in courageous ways, some of which could almost certainly have resulted in our deaths in the hands of an insane mob. But our consolations were far outweighed by the responsibility each of us felt when we realised that more than once we have watched in shock or silence as something bad happened and we did nothing about it.

So, in the spirit of #Sondeka, we all made vows to right our Karmas by being more courageous, more aware, more true to the things we believe in. Join us in our bid to #Sondeka our Karmas!

 

What is Sondeka Festival?

The word ‘Sondeka’ is a Sheng (Kenyan urban colloquial) word meaning “to make” or “create”. And true creation comes when people are free to express themselves and that is what the Sondeka Festival is all about. It is three explosive days from 18th to 20th October 2014, of creation, curation, innovation, fun, games, music, dance, till you drop, just people expressing themselves freely. All events run concurrently at various venues within the Ngong Racecourse.

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Here Cometh The Feminists

Originally posted on will this be a problem?:

The movies were wrong. The alien invasion did not come in spaceships. It did not come with beams in the sky or crop circles in the fields. We did not even even see it coming. The invasion came and went, we were occupied and we did not even know it.

You’re skeptical. I understand, but look around. There’s a chance that the invaders are with you or near you right now. The species that wants to destroy everything you know and bring all of us down. You’ve no doubt heard of them. They go by the name…. feminists.

We have all heard many things about these feminists. Disturbing things. Unsettling things. Things that spring from the same well that inspired Dante’s Inferno. But I wanted the truth. I wanted to know what it is that they truly want. So I decided I was going to meet one. Against the advice…

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Tampon Taboos

Yes, this piece might be about Tampons, but as has been pointed out to me several times, a taboo is something that has been known for a time, and then classified as a no-no for a specific community. Since we are in Africa, a taboo would have to be known for several generations and quarantined as a taboo through those generations likely backed up by some oral tradition about why-not. There, so we really cannot have tampon taboos, since tampons are fairly new *phenomena* around these parts of Africa. :)

Well, the thing is, the thingy I am talking about is not a taboo either. True, the menstruation period (when the actual flow of blood occurs, rather than the cycle itself) has been, in both African Cultural and Mosaic Law codes classified as an unclean time. The Mosaic Code stated to this effect: Leviticus 15:19 “‘And in case a woman is having a running discharge, and her running discharge in her flesh proves to be blood, she should continue seven days in her menstrual impurity, and anyone touching her will be unclean until the evening.

It would seem that the prohibiting of sexual union during menstruation contributed to health, perhaps preventing, for instance, the occurrence of inflammation in the genital area, simple urethritis. Israelites also may have been reminded of the sanctity of life and blood by the Law’s regulations involving menstruation or blood flow. These rules were not necessarily discriminatory against women, because men were also subject to being deemed unclean if found to be experiencing discharges.

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m sure that I would not be particularly interested in sex when I’m cramping and hormonal. So that would be a thumbs up from me for that particular rule in the Mosaic law. Now we can talk about cuddles, and chocolate. Wait, Chocolate gives me headaches, but I think I just heard an Amen from someone female.

Seriously though, while menstruation was, is considered unclean and for good reasons, I am convinced without a doubt that in this day and age, 21st Century and all, the reason anyone would consider the discussion about menstruation, tampon use versus sanitary pad use, between pubescent youth and responsible adults, would have nothing to do with the ‘uncleanness’ of menstruation.

I think, and until you prove me wrong, staunchly believe that the icky tampon taboo has much more to do with sexuality. Sexuality, which the 21st century ‘African’ strangely believes should never ever at all be mentioned.

You see, a tampon as opposed to a sanitary pad, requires a process that requires penetration into a woman’s body, in a process that faintly :) mimic sexual penetration. Because we have this unwritten rule that sex, grownups and teenagers should never ever be involved in one conversation, even if the conversation was to be formed with the sole purpose of educating and arming young persons with enough information such that they can make smart, informed choices.

In our defence, we always say, “We are African, it is not in our culture to discuss sex, or anything that has to do with sex.” And that is what makes us shove under the bed and refuse to discuss with our children everything that might be remotely related to sex; body changes, teenage infatuations, tampons, condoms…

It makes me mad. Plain face red mad. If my face could turn red that is.

African culture celebrated sexuality, assigning a full celebration of rites around ‘it’. When a girl reached puberty, she would go through education at the hands of the elder women at the end of which she would go through the rites of passage and become a ‘woman’. Talk about informed consent. Yeah, yeah, you are going to point at the circumcision that went with it. I am against genital mutilation. Just so we are clear. This article is not in any way an effort to make light of the brutal abuse that has caused pain for many young girls and women in Africa. But this article is all for the education that went with the rites of passage. I mean, how can you make a decision to be a woman without the information you need to make that decision?

So let’s go back to the thingy that started this all. The Tampon. At this juncture I might delve into my teen years, and an experience that very nearly jarred the bejesus out of me. The Bejesus remains in me, although a certain person who might be considered my boss has as of today Patented my insanity as his. Japanese Kiondos. Sorry, I digress.

Well, I was 15, maybe 16. Those who can remember me from back then will testify that I was a very ‘boyish’ girl. Arm wrestling when the teacher was out of class, rugby practice in a team with only one other girl, oh yeah, and sitting on the wall wolf-calling at the hot girls (Daddy, you shall not comment. Mum’s mouth is zipped. We are not going to discuss species, gender and confusion.) Oh dear, I have wandered off again, haven’t I?

Anyway, a few years before this particular incident I had hit menarche. I had been pre-informed by mum in the ‘talks’, so I was not really shocked about the blood. But I was surprised to find out that I was a girl after all. Mum was quick to explain that I did not have to stop climbing trees, although my brother strongly advised against it, since he ‘expected me to grow up and be worth some cows.’

Mum introduced me to Tampons. We did the read-up on how to use them, and how to look out for Toxic Shock Syndrome. And then she held my hand when I tried it the first time and there I was climbing trees, playing beach soccer, and sitting on the wall making wolf-calls, even on menstruation days. I had another separate conversation with the Principal about the possibility of extra fatigue if I went for rugby practice on the red days. So we found ways for me to have other priorities then.

And then came The Incident. After rugby practice, one late afternoon, I went to the changing rooms for a shower. While I was in there, the Home Science Teacher who was on discipline duty that week walked into the changing rooms. Just as she walked in, my box of tampons fell out of my school bag. I didn’t even think much of it, until she reached to pick it up, and then looked back at me with a frown.

“Are you a virgin?”

What? What do you mean ‘Am I virgin?’ I don’t even remember answering her. I do not think I answered her. And if I had, she probably would have died of stress related myocardia. Next thing I knew we had mum leaving her job to come for a PTA meeting. I think the situation would have deteriorated very fast if not for the Principal’s intervention. In retrospect, Ms. Lavingia rocked.

I can’t remember that Home Science teacher’s name. Mrs. Otieno, Mrs. Ochuodho, something like that. Anyway, the PTA meeting turned into a ‘let’s educate the damned home science teacher’ session including read ups on how the vagina naturally adjusts to the tampon, and how the reason for resistance might only be ‘fear clenching’. I was not embarrassed at all. But Home-science teacher could not believe we were talking about Vaginas in the presence of ‘the child’! Then she went on about destroying ‘the child’ by adopting European cultures by talking about sex. We were not talking about sex, just about the vagina, tampons, periods and adjusting to penetration. :)

So I remembered this incident a few days ago when someone decided to take a bashing on a kind mzungu who wanted to help collect and donate sanitary pads to poor Kenyan girls. The argument was tampons would be far much cheaper, and far much better for the environment, considering size, material and so on. At which point someone else, I think perhaps the kind mzungu, mentioned that Tampons are considered taboos by African women.

So here is my take on it, limited, since my insanity has been patented and I can therefore only use it with the very likelihood that I might be sued for copyright infringement.

Tampons are not the issue. Sex is. Sexuality is. (Honestly, judging from some people’s opinion, we should all not be alive, seeing how sex is such a bad thing) It shouldn’t be a problem but someone has perpetuated the idea that discussing sex and sexuality is a European thing. Wrong! It is not a European thing. If it was, there would not be any poor Kenyan to donate sanitary pads to. Now do not get me wrong, I have nothing against the kind mzungu. Remember that saying, ‘Mwacha mila ni mtumwa’? Well, that wise person should also have mentioned the consequences and absolute confusion of abandoning ‘all’ culture indiscriminately, and then trying to get back on the ox-cart. Seriously damaged home-science teachers.

So now, we are still having sex, but it is a bad bad thing and hush do not talk about it, or anything that has to do with it. Just use pads, which are generally uncomfortable, comparably expensive and do not ‘penetrate’. In the meantime, the same issues that have you accusing tampons of being taboos, will mean that more and more women are living unfulfilled sex lives, oh they do, cause the birth rate still has not dropped. It means that women will die of cervical and breast cancer. What didn’t you know breasts have everything to do with sex, and we do not dicuss sex, let alone go for pap smears or breast exams? I mean how can you let some strange doctor probe your ‘ladybits’? And did you know that quite a few gynaecologists are men?

Well, now, I guess what all this means is that we shall continue contributing to the environmental disaster, and continue dying of diseases that could be controlled and cured if caught early on. That’s our tampon taboo. Sigh.

© Juliet Maruru