BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
I didn’t know how stressed I was until last week Wednesday, when BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya) announced the shortlist for 2018 nominees; it’s a shortlist for the nominees whose blogs were selected by a select panel of judges to win a select title, the title of ‘award-winning blogger’. It’s a nice title, I fancy it.
These nominees are now fighting it to the death to harvest enough votes to bag an award in their category. It’s Election period all over again. And surely you must know what Elections does to us Kenyans. We became a different kind of breed; we become competitive and feisty and restless and drunk with a power we didn’t know we craved. We become animals in our own right. Animals that could scare anyone, even you yourself.
I’d entered Craft It under Best New Blog.
I didn’t make the shortlist. We didn’t make the shortlist.
I was gutted, to tell you the truth. I recall the exact spot where I opened the shortlist to learn that I hadn’t cut it – I was in a jav on my way to tao; we had just taken the Globe Roundabout and were joining tao at the fork of Kirinyaga Road and the slip road to Koja; it was about 8.30a.m, the sun was just peeking out of a blue sky to chase away the blues of the drizzle from earlier that morning.
I have one rule when javing: never and don’t ever remove your phone from your bag for anything. Nairobi’s downtown is vicious. Vultures and scavengers prowl the dregs of the backstreet alleys for an easy catch. One slightly open window and your phone is yanked from your hands in one fell swoop; you’ll lose your phone, pieces of skin and blood and a little bit of your ego because of your stupidity. Because it’s stupid, really. Stupid to expect anything less than your phone being yanked through your window in traffic. In fact, when my pals tell me they lost their phones like this I never tell them pole, I shake my damn head in disbelief.
But I had my phone out and in my hands that morning.
My fingers were trembling. My heart was in my mouth. I felt a cold sweat trickle down my brow. I swallowed a ball of spit down my throat. I couldn’t breathe properly, I felt like I was choking.
I had waited a week to see the shortlist. BAKE had said they’d release it before Easter but they later changed their minds for whatever reason and said they’d do it the following week. Which was last Wednesday. On the 4th of April.
The last time I had such anxiety and anticipation (and probably wrote descriptive sentences like ‘my heart was in my mouth’, which sound like a 38/40 primo composition) was in 2011, when I was waiting for the results from my final accountancy exam with ACCA. Man, those were rough student days. But ACCA – unlike BAKE – didn’t postpone their results release. Not by a day. Hell, not even by a few hours.
When the ACCA timetable said results would be posted to their site on Monday 7th Feb, 0800hours GMT, you best believe the Brits will keep their word. Unlike us Kenyans who, on that very morning, are probably still running helter-skelter with some form to be signed by some guy that won’t be in until ‘Thursday saa nane’, sijui who is on leave and shouldn’t be disturbed for a signature, another guy who hasn’t gotten his ‘chai’ and won’t give the green light until ‘umemsalimia’, a system glitch that can’t be troubleshot. Si you know how us Kenyans run things like a kiosk and at the last minute?
A week’s wait to learn I hadn’t made the cut.
I was crashed. My heart sunk to my feet. My hands felt like spaghetti. My fingertips were… (OK, that’s the last compo phrase I’ll use for this story. Hahha.)
I’ve been working hard on this blog. I didn’t know how hard until I paused that Wednesday morning – at my desk, aggrieved, in tears – to take stock of what the stress is doing to my health.
My hair is thinning. My forehead has broken out in a constellation of pimples; I thought it’s because I’d stopped doing the cleanse-tone-moisturise routine with Oriflame prods but with regular Fa bathing soap and Valon – it isn’t. I get migraines on most days of the week, no matter that I hydrate with two litres of water daily.
My eyesight is worsening; I need to brush my teeth with my glasses on because I can’t see clearly into the mirror.
I’m drinking hard liquor: I used to drink white sweet wine but now it does nothing for me beyond a splitting headache the next morning. Now I’m drinking whiskey. Whiskey! Double Jack Daniels with some tonic to take the sting off the edge, please. Guys, send an SOS to my Mum when I stop toning it down with tonic because I’d have run into a wilderness I don’t have the tools to navigate.
I’m knackered at the end of every day of the workweek. Poor GB, on most evenings he’ll come home to an empty shell of a woman because I’ve given my best – and probably my all – to Craft It that day.
I recharge in the digs with Muna on the weekends, which means that I haven’t been hooking up with my pals or sisters as often. I’m thirsty for friend fuel.
Running this blog is difficult. It’s by far one of the most difficult side-hustles/personal projects I’ve embarked on in my adult life. Even the early months of motherhood weren’t this torturous. Building an online brand mostly on your creativity is like separating the alcohol of the marula fruit and squeezing it out by hand to fill up a tumbler – it requires smarts, balls, cheerleaders, a little bit of crazy and ungodly levels of patience, patience even Job asked God to help him master.
I don’t know when the pressure will let up. Actually, I doubt it ever will. What’ll change is me adapting to the demands. I’m a mammal, a creature of nature and of the wild – I have to acclimatise or I won’t survive.
I post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Monday is Dusty Rugs from Mike. Wednesday is Made by Hand (the mothership of this brand) or Motherhood or something useless from me. Friday is the Urban Guide’s Five for Friday from Tuape, our correspondent in Kampala; it’s been a while since Mike and I shared a story to that column. (We need to, Mike. We need to.)
I not only write my copy but I also edit Mike and Tuape’s copy.
Then I lay all edited copy on the WordPress backend, search for a stock photo to go with it then upload the post. If it’s a Made by Hand story I use Will’s photos.
Once I’ve published the post, I share it on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Google and sometimes IG, depends on how I’m feeling that day.
It takes me about two hours on Monday and Friday, and all day on Wednesday because my posts are never ready-to-publish by 11a.m on that day. 11a.m is the time I aim to publish but most mornings find me still writing the post. I never seem to beat my own self-imposed deadline. It’s shameful, really. Shameful.
That aside, I also manage our social media pages. I’m not reaching out for hyperbole when I tell you I’m obsessed with those numbers. Obsessed! I obsess over those numbers because I’ve been running campaigns every week and I need to know whether the ads convert to numbers. Conversion teaches me how to better tailor future campaigns and get value for our ads.
I obsess to the point where it becomes unhealthy. So Silicon Valley, if you are reading this, for the sake of my health, let’s not build another social network. Please. I don’t want to spend the second half of my 30s growing a social media following and obsessing over conversions and ads and numbers. Life has already handed me a plateful of other things to obsess about.
I also write and share the short stories that go up there. I don’t have a copy taker and I can’t afford a scribe for my interviews yet. Oh yeah, I also do our interviews.
I upload videos to our YouTube channel every Wednesday (well, almost every Wednesday). Videos are easier because by the time they’re on our Google drive, Will has incorporated my feedback and rendered them, he has them ready to post. It takes me about half an hour to prep the videos for upload and much less to share to social media.
Speaking of which, GB has been bringing up this storo of baby #2 quite often of late. There was one night early last month when I shrieked and said to him, “Get that thing away from me! We’ll get Muna her baby brother when me and Will have shot 50 videos for Craft It.”
He sighed. “And how many videos have you shot so far?”
I counted them with my fingers as my lips moved. Intro, Florah, Manje, Popup, Charity and Jazeera. “Six. We’ve shot six and uploaded five.”
“And how many do you shoot in a week?”
“Sometimes two, sometimes none. The ideal plan is to shoot every week.”
He did the math, shook his head and turned over to return to sleep.
It’s unbelievable that the extension of my family tree depends on YouTube and another man’s efforts to hit the record button more often than once a week. Hehhe.
Posting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is a tall order. I go to sleep on Monday and when I wake up Tuesday, I think to myself, ‘Shoot, kesho is blog day.’ When I go down Wednesday (the tightest day of the week for me) and wake up Thursday, I think again, ‘Damn it, kesho is blog day.’ It seems to be blog day every Goddamn day of every Goddamn week.
Like I said, running this blog is difficult.
All those feel-good mantras they tell you about passion – things like ‘do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day is your life’; Or, ‘follow your passion and the rest will follow’; Or, ‘make your passion your paycheck’ – is noise to me at this stage I’m at right now. It clichéd and stereotyped romance sold to a majority that’s none the wiser.
I’m past that romance.
What we have now is grit. The burden of a never-say-die spirit. The trouble of perseverance. Longevity layered in a push-yourself-to-the-limit slave driver’s ethic. The creative’s curse of building my own great tower one painful brick at a time, bricks that have been specially carved by hand and laid on to one another very slowly, very deliberately, very thoughtfully.
I wanted that BAKE award. I did. Hell I did.
I wanted it to wipe some of the sweat off my brow. To pat me on the shoulder and whisper to me, Go on, Child, you’re doing great. I wanted it to be my safe house where I’d stop to catch my breath and gear up for what waited beyond the horizon.
You ever climbed Mount Kenya? I haven’t. Folk tell me it takes about three days to summit to Batian. It peaks at 5,199m. Not every climber makes it to Batian, most make it to Lenana. At the end of each climbing day, you stop over for dinner and a night’s rest at one of the camps. There are three camps (and correct me if I’m wrong) – Lake Ellis, Minto’s and, the final one before summiting, Shipton. A BAKE award was to be my Lake Ellis.
(Now that we’re on that Mount Kenya analogy, the six months of running Craft It is, for me, equivalent to summiting Point Lenana. Batian awaits next – it’s the looming question of how we’ll make money off our words.)
I also wanted our content assessed by a professional body against a professional standard.
More importantly, I wanted the award for the marketing and exposure that comes with being listed under BAKE. Not just for me but also for the craftsmen I interview.
So when I opened that shortlist to find Craft It not there, you can understand how crashed I was.
I was at my desk wading through the nominees list and I was crying. I didn’t even realize I was crying. (I always seem to be crying for one thing or another these days. Gosh, can these hormones quit already?!)
There’s a chatty chap who sits opposite my desk and he’s always peeking his head over the partition to gossip and tell me stuff. (A few minutes ago, he’s told me about this column that used to run in the Nation’s Living magazine, Aunty Manda. It was a popular agony aunt column that was, wait for it, written by a dude, a freaking dude! By Clay Muganda. I don’t even know how that storo started or where it came from. I’ve chuckled with him because of my general decency.) Anyway, he comes in really early and leaves late; his JD is a mystery to me. That morning, he poked his head over, started to say something and saw me crying, he trailed off then eased himself back into his seat. Hehhe. He didn’t poke his head back for the rest of the day. He’s actually been very cautious not to since.
As the day matured, the tears stopped and I rightfully redirected the disappointment from myself to BAKE.
What disappointed me is that the judging panel didn’t visit this our website. How do I know they didn’t? I know they didn’t because they didn’t.
That afternoon, I went to my backend to see whether there was a spike in the site stats on any one day over the last few weeks. (I never go to see the blog stats.) What I’d expected to see was that all posts since September 2017, when we launched, had been read in one day – or, to be fair, over a few days – but there wasn’t such unusual curve in the stats.
No one came to visit. Maybe they took a whiff. Maybe they squinted at it from a far. Maybe they drove right past our front gate. Maybe they poked their heads in and scanned around. But they didn’t sit down long enough to take a cup of tea and hang out with the site and the stories here.
No one came, BAKE. No one.
It would be foolish of me and beyond reason to expect to make to the shortlist on the singular basis of merit when no one actually visited the site to measure me against their short-listing criteria.
I got a terrible throbbing headache after. Anything I ate that day I couldn’t hold down. I was hot and uncomfortable and itchy in my clothes. What made it the worse is that I was wearing this very expensive, very tight bra I’d gifted myself from Woolworths. I was hunched like a letter ‘C’ over my laptop and, I’m pretty sure of this, had blood supply to major arteries cut off because of that damn bra.
I look at the BAKE badge that you see there in my sidebar and I contemplate pulling it down. Because the question is, does BAKE as an authority – the bloggers authority in Kenya – embody the values I had initially applauded them for? Do they mirror what we strive for here at Craft It, as crusaders of the art and craft? Does their shortlist communicate their credibility and integrity as a body?
I’ll leave it pinned there solely because I already paid my membership fee for the year, I don’t want to waste that. (OK, it was only a K but I’m allowed to be cheap sometimes, aren’t I?)
I took Panadol for my headache but there was nothing I could take for my disappointment. It paralyzed me for the rest of the week.
And yet, for all its stress and chronic fatigue, injuries and backbreaking demands, there’s no place I want to be than here with Craft It. There’s no other publication that gives me such contentment, such purpose, such nakedness, such fun than writing for myself here. Who else can give me the creative license to do as I please? Who else?
Happiness lives here.
I don’t need an award to be grateful; awards are like a puppet whose strings I don’t pull – the ducks will align in their own time. And after my mother’s nimble prayers. I simply need to be grateful because there’s plenty to be grateful for.
We’ve posted consistently, three times a week (on the most part) in the last six months. I’m grateful for that.
Mike and Tuape have sent in copy without fail – every Friday, by 5p.m, sometimes later – since we launched. I’m grateful for that. Our convos are now about other new issues.
Will, our photographer and videographer, was the piece missing in the jigsaw puzzle of my vision board. I’m grateful to him. And for him.
Our numbers on social media are growing steadily. I’m grateful for that.
Using a simple barometer of you guys reading the story of some craftsmen in Kenya that are making stuff by hand – #madebyhand #madeinKenya #buyKenyabuildKenya – I wouldn’t be tooting my own horn to say that we’ve given them a decent publicity platform. It’s only a handful of interviews and follow-up inquiries but we’re not doing too shabbily, aye? I’m grateful for that.
I’m grateful for you who reads and sometimes leaves a comment and most times doesn’t. I’m grateful for your time and for your positivity and for your silent support. I am.
Happy Six Months, Craft It! Let’s climb this mountain and summit it together.