I am a child of many worlds.
It is a blessing and a curse. Because I know that there are other worlds, I do not accept only what I know, but seek to find out what else there is, before I choose which world suits me best. Even as a little girl, I found my standpoint to be in the middle of the field, uniquely different, and usually unacceptable to most of the people around me. Most of the time, that space I occupy has bits and pieces, the best of all the worlds.
My mother taught me to love reading. By the time I was 4 years old, I had graduated from the Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Rose Red, and the other fairy tales. I started on abridged versions of the classics.Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Romeo and Juliet. Rip van Winkle. Adventures of Oliver Twist. Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Oh yes, that is where the mischief was born.
I devoured the newspapers, magazines, anything written that fell across my path. Mum encouraged me. Occasionally I would come across something that she would rather not have had me read. Most of the time, she’d find me nearly through the material. So mum figured she’d have to deal with it in a smart way.
We shared books and stories. Mum taught me to think through what I read. By the time I was in mid-primary school, I knew to look at things objectively, try and gauge what was realistic, what was not. I learnt from an early age that people have very different opinions, and that everyone has to make their own choices smartly. In high school, when all my class mates were reading Mills & Boons and Harlequins, I found them childish, and much preffered the grit in the books by Louise L’ Armour and James Elroy. I had begun to unravel in my mind, the mystery and unpredictable predictability of the human psyche.
Amidst all that, I understood that honesty, integrity, diligence, dignity, creativity and determination were values that I had to build in myself. They would be my beacon in the stormy seas of life. No matter what my identity developed to be, those values would have to be an integral part of my being.
Mum and I still share books, and movies, and TV series.
My Stepfather loves to read, too. By the time I was 6, he would slide the newspaper across the table and ask me to read a news item. I think my step brothers got quite envious of those Sunday morning debates we had over the large dining table. Up till now, I can call him up, or he can call me up, and we will gab about what is going on around us.
As I grew older, politics and politicians were pushed aside from my focus. It is a personal decision. I much prefer to talk about things that I can have an influence on. I acknowledge the part politics and politicians play in the issues I care about. But I refuse to be drawn into long debates which more than mostly veer away from the law and the country’s sovereignty into ethnic superiority debates, and power plays.
I have met many people in my life, some have just swept through my life like a transient ocean breeze, at times bringing heat, and at other times soothingly cool. But there are those who have stayed in my life, leaving marks of sensibility, honor, honesty and strength.
Khaled. He looked at the world as if he had lived so long nothing would ever surprise him. He taught me to see the world as it is. Made up of different worlds that meet at junctions, sometimes collide pretty hard, but still continue revolving in the path of history. He spoke of Khismet, laughed as he assured me that everything was written in the sands, laughed even more when he contradicted the principle of Khismet, assuring me that only an individual can chart his or her own destiny. He taught me of unforeseen circumstances, and determined effort.
At a time when I saw myself as damaged goods first, Khaled taught me not only to love the woman I was growing into, but to also build on her value with every breath that I took. It hasn’t been easy. When you most need to be strong, that is when the sands sweep in evidence of all your weaknesses. I’ve had my childhood stolen, my confidence shaken, my body turn against me. I have loved deeply, too deeply, and lost. I have been loved, and not loved back, and felt guilty for that. I have lost faith, gained it back, lost it again, and gained it back again. But in the darkest hour, I have found myself, found pride in the way I have fought to survive, and remembered Khaled.
My Father. (Adoring smile). I met him late in my life, when I was already formed in many ways. He challenges me. I might have learnt to think for myself, but I might never had to use that skill as much if I did not know him. He bolsters me. With humour, and gentle nudging he has helped me stand on my own, make my own decisions, stand up for my principles, challenge the norm and be accountable for my own mistakes. I have chosen him, and he has made it safe to be ‘mad, totally mad as a hatter’, in his shadow. Well, at times, I do upstage him. And he bites his tongue, then says, ‘Ready, Set, Don’t go. Alright, go blossom.’
More than anything else, Daddy has taught me to see life in full color.
This can be kinda hard when you are lying on the floor with your immune system running a riot in your blood. I grumble, just like him, I grumble, but when the flowers pass by, I sneeze and say, ‘How beautiful!’ When the crazy next door neighbour comes by insisting to talk to me about stuff I would rather not talk about, I smile, and I act nice, because he might come by tomorrow when I need someone to send out during one of my insane ice-cream crave episodes.
I am having trouble learning German, as I did with learning Arabic. Not because I do not have the capacity to, but more because I am caught up in so many things I need to do at the same time. Yeah, I am lazy. But from both these cultures, I have learnt the value of excellence, knowledge, and a deep resilience, the kind that redeems even after the darkest tunnel in history.
My mother is the only one who was ever able to force me to learn a language, and I learnt Kikuyu, still learn it when I meet her much older relatives and they tell me all about the days long before I was born. I have learnt from my Kikuyu elders, that life is a product of time, trial, hope and faith. I have learnt that the definition of love depends on the one who experiences it, but that love does exist; love makes us human.
I learnt Swahili out of neccesity, when my family moved to Mombasa. I learnt both the language and some of the culture. Tying the lesso was and still remains a challenge though. But I learnt to respect my elders, not because they are always right, but because they have the advantage of time on their side.
But through every culture that I come into contact with, I try to glean as much of the best side of it as I can. I have feeling there is more to come, if my flirtation with Spanish and Polish music, Hindi and Gujarati films is anything to judge by. I hope that I will carry only the best from them. Wouldn’t it be absolutely cool if I could dance like the dancers on my favorite latin films?!
Oh and if I could croon just like Asha Bhosle!
The prime purpose of being a child is to be precisely that; a child. Of much lesser importance, is to grow up. A society has failed when it’s adults do not know a thing about being children; young, honest, accepting, able to draw much more fun from 3 shillings of sweets shared with a child who looks different, than a grown up may try to glean from sophisticated conversation with other grown ups of like mind, and likely colour.
© Juliet Maruru 2010 www.jmaruru.wordpress.com