BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
It’s the morning of my birthday. I’m standing under the shower scrubbing my soapy back. I’m taking a cold shower because mornings are for cold showers. Cold showers are great for all these sexy scientific appeals – makes you more alert, doesn’t dry out your skin and hair, gets blood flowing to your heart et cetera et cetera. They even say that right before you turn off the water and step into your towel, that you should turn the water temperature down to freezing cold and stand in for about a minute. Steel yourself in the surprise. It’s called a Scottish Shower.
I look at it in far simpler terms – it’s hot in Nairobi. Again. It’s either hot, wet or cold in Nairobi. It’s always hot on my birthday. I take a cold shower to cool off.
Evenings are for warm long showers, when you purge your day’s sins. Warm long showers are especially divine right before bed, when your skin is still damp and you jump naked into your cotton bedsheets and little droplets of water trickle down your ear and land in a tiny splash on your pillow. There’s a lot that can go wrong in your day but salvation comes from hearing that tiny splash. God made that splash on the first day of creation. It’s His gift to us urbanites. But mostly to kales. Because us kales are nice to everyone.
I’m thinking a lot as I scrub my back.
I’m thinking that I have the shortest legs in this town. I swear. Out of seven kids and I’m the one who got the shortest legs and bonniest knees. It’s unfair. You should see my brother’s legs. God. They’re long and shapely and evenly toned and for some reason always appear waxed. What does he need those legs for anyway? Hahaa.
I’m thinking about Muna and that she’s ready for school. Do you know how I know she’s ready? She’s turning three, yes, but how I know that she’s truly ready is that she’s going through a dress phase. But not just any type of dress, she’s going through a Cucu Dress phase.
Here’s what a Cucu Dress is: it’s those dresses a Cucu will buy her granddaughter every time she nips in for Sunday lunch or Saturday evening tea-and-mandazis; it’s a brand-new dress from the shop, still starched and hanging stiffly on its plastic hanger; it’s frilly and with bold motifs, ruffles, belts, buttons, bows and puffy sleeves – the busy-ness can hypnotize you if you stare at it for too long; most times it comes attached to it, on a gold safety pin, either a flimsy hat or parachute bloomers in off-white (a girl’s first encounter with mother’s union).
A Cucu Dress is a dress that can never go out of style because it was never in style in the first place. Which, on a deeper twisted level, means that it supersedes all seasons of all style. It’s an immortal dress. A bewitching dress. A dress which speaks in a language only a Cucu and her granddaughter can understand, because the dress calls out to them in the name they share.
Muna will wear a Cucu Dress to church on Sunday. She’ll stand infront of the mirror twirling and regarding herself then say, “Mummy, see Una nice dress round.” You must smile through clenched teeth, you must tell her she looks smart because a Cucu Dress demands you say so. Muna will dirty the dress that Sunday then want to wear it again on Monday. And Tuesday. By which time it’s smelly. By which time she doesn’t look like our child. By which time she’ll throw a violent tantrum if Nanny Viv puts in water for a wash. Sometimes she’ll stand over Nanny Viv washing then peek out the balcony watching it drip.
Muna is under the spell of a different Cucu Dress every other week. The dress she liked at the end of September she can no longer stomach at the beginning of October. We can’t tell what she’ll obsess over next week. Or if she’ll go back to obsessing over the other old and now-faded Cucu Dresses. I got her these Nike’s that looked like something Tinker Hatfield himself had designed. I wanted her to wear them with her denim shorts but she insisted to wear them with one of her Cucu Dresses. Ghai. Remind me to show you a photo next time you see me.
I’m washing my hair now. Still in the shower. Since I cut my hair and went natural I imagined I’d be washing my hair daily but I don’t. I wash it once a week, sometimes I forget and it marinates with urban decay for two weeks. I wash it with conditioner only but it still gets dry and fizzy. I don’t understand. I must ask my pal Vicky what I’m missing. She always has answers to these things. She always has answers to everything. She’s a wise one, that one.
I’m still thinking.
I’m turning 34.
I’m thinking about what they’ll do with my body after I stop breathing. I want my organs harvested and donated to scientific research. I’ve been drinking homemade smoothies for about a year now and I want my detoxed liver to prove once and for all that the 900W Nutribullet is really the only thing to gift your bloated unhealthy pals (thanks, Vicky).
I want my remains cremated and my ashes put in a handmade ceramic urn. Something fancy and simple, in colour teal (don’t let my kuyo relas select it because I’ve seen what they can do when they go gungho).
I want that urn buried in my shagz in Kaplong, under a tree, away from the shamba. I’ll only take up a small portion of land because the cost of land is appreciating by the decades. Besides, of what use will I be to it dead and buried? I’ll be gone. If I didn’t do what I needed to when I was up here on Earth, how do I expect to finish it when I’m six feet under? I want the spot marked by a big ass gray headstone that says I lived a happy life and that I laughed at my own jokes, especially when no one else was laughing.
Have the inscription in a casual sans-serif typeface. The headstone will be so that my people can have somewhere to go when they want to talk to me. When they want to visit me and tell me about the mundaneity of their day. Please don’t come with boring stories, because I’ll be stuck in that urn and can’t make an excuse to run from your windy tales.
I’m scrubbing my elbows and wondering whether ashy elbows will ever go away. I saw Moi’s elbows once and they were pretty ashy. Even newborns are born with ashy elbows. So it’s definitely not an age thing. Or a gender thing.
I’m thinking about Beyoncé. Beyoncé and Jay Z but mostly Beyoncé because I’m in love with her now. I fell in love with her when I started to follow her on Instagram and saw the energy and effort she put on stage when she and Jay Z were on the road for ‘On The Run Tour II’. Damn. Ofcourse it helps that she has great legs and thighs and is nice to look at. There are some YouTube videos I suffer through only because whoever is talking is nice to look at. I’m sure you do too. But damn, Beyoncé – and her alter ego, Sasha Fierce – work really hard. They toured from June to October, 48 shows in the States and in Europe. Her feet bled. Her hairline thinned. Her voice went hoarse. Her synovial fluid just about dried up. She kept going. And going.
It’s now that I understand it, artists tour to make money. Ofcourse it’s a decent thing to meet your fans and sign sloppy autographs and pose for selfies with women who’ll leave foundation on your shirt collar, but that’s secondary to what touring is really about. Touring is show business. Like literally, business.
Eric Omondi and Churchill frequently do county tours. Sauti Sol is touring in the States right now. Sarabi tours Europe often. Elani has never toured. I don’t know if Blinky Bill will tour with his new album. Aretha Franklin died relatively poor because she refused to tour outside the States. She had a fear of flying so she only went to venues accessible by bus, and even then, she didn’t fill up stadiums as she should have. (I swear I’m not making this up. I read it from Forbes.)
If you’ve seen that Bradley Cooper movie – ‘A Star Is Born’ – you’ll remember than scene where… oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to spoil things for you. Have you seen it? Well if you haven’t already then don’t. It’s a strange movie. It’s like watching a play in motion – scenes don’t segue, dialogue is clipped, the camera pans in odd angles, the screen blinks to dark often. I slept for about 40 minutes of the movie. Lady Gaga plays the supporting role – when I snoozed, she’s a bar singer Cooper has the hots for, when I wake, she’s a recording artist and Cooper doesn’t look hot anymore. His lips also look thinner.
There’s a scene where Cooper is fresh out of rehab and they’re chilling on their bed in their bedroom at home, Gaga tells Cooper that the record has cancelled the tour because the album is selling pretty well. It became a truism then – artists tour to make money.
Anyway, you see Beyoncé dancing wildly – sometimes stupidly – on stage, as if a Black Mamba has slithered up her leg and she’s dancing to shake it lose, and you wonder, what the hell is she grinding like that for? She’s grinding for the dollars, man. She’s grinding for the dollars. ‘On the Run Tour’ grossed $250 million. A quarter of a billion dollars. You guy, hahaa.
Take away lesson for the artist: release a collection of work, and tour to take your art to the people.
I told Bikozulu to take DRUNK on a tour and he said he…
I’m looking at my hands right now in the shower. They’re covered in foam. Is it just me or does Dettol soap last for only one bath for only one person? Then why is it so pricey? And heavily scented?
Anyway, these hands are the hands of a creative. The hands of a writer. My beautiful hands that are doing what they can to make life better for those who depend on me. There was a time – in late 2012 and into 2013 – when I’d look at my hands and tremble in anxiety: I trembled because I believed that anything my hands would hold would break into pieces.
I was still an auditor back then. A senior associate. Our busy season was in its tail end and annual performance reviews were underway. If you hadn’t kissed ass already then you were too late, wait until next year. I’d had three big projects that busy season and I was rated 4 in all of them. Rating 1 was outstanding performance, do you know what rating 4 meant? Rating 4 meant that your performance needs immediate improvement. That you’re a broken tool.
That was me. Bett. Florence Bett. A rating 4. A fucking rating 4. (I’m even feeling woishe for myself as I write this. Jesus.) And they told us, “Hey, you won’t get promoted but don’t seem so downtrodden, c’mon wipe your tears and look at me as I’m speaking to you. Don’t despair. Don’t think about jumping off the ledge of that eighth floor window. We know what we can do to fix you and get you back with the other shiny and sharp tools. You may be a broken tool but you’re still our tool. You hear that? We’re not going to discard you. At least not yet. So we’ll put in a pile of other broken tools like yourself, we’ll put you into, uhm, a plan, a sort of program that’ll hold your hand to help improve your performance for the next season.”
And that’s how I ended my year in 2012 and started it in 2013. In a Performance Improvement Plan. P.I.P.
A P.I.P Christmas and New Year.
P.I.P sounds sexy, right? It’s sounds like a band from the psychedelic 70s. Or something you need to download to bloody move music from your laptop to your iPod. It sounds like something the government would quote from the Jubilee manifesto. Or a drug that beefy jang’o behind the counter of Neem Pharmacy Yaya would prescribe for your running stomach.
On a cloudy day, P.I.P sounds like R.I.P.
And it was.
Because I was dying inside.
I was dying yet the solution to un-dying was so simple, God it was so simple: You don’t belong here so leave.
Using a jaded cliché, they were trying to squeeze a round peg into a square hole. It couldn’t happen, it was never going to happen unless they defied the laws of nature. You can’t fight the system, so the only way it could happen is if they chipped at the sides of the round peg, take away some of its characteristic roundness – change it – so that it fit into the square hole. The chipped peg would be smaller, it would lose its elements that made it naturally round, but it would fit nice and easy into the square hole. Just as they wanted.
Folk imagine that I left my corporate job after five years to become a writer. I did but that’s not the whole truth. The truth is, I left because I was broken, because the system I’d been in had broken me and made me feel like a broken tool. I felt useless by the time I was leaving. I felt useless. Incapable. Dumb. Lazy. Slow. A failure. Lonely and alone. Rejected. I felt that I was good for nothing.
And yet, I’m none of those things. Nobody is.
God didn’t make us that way. God made us to thrive, to excel wherever He places us.
And so I wrote to heal myself.
My plan was to write for a few months as I search for another corporate job, still in audit, but something beautiful happened in the process of my writing: Not only did I heal and patch myself up again, I found myself then I found the elements to a fulfilling work life – I found happiness, then I found purpose, then I found inner peace.
You’ve heard me bang on about this countless times on this blog but I must say it over and over until you understand what I’m saying: you must be happy in this life; you must find the purpose God has for you, what He put you on this Earth for; you must find what you’re naturally good at; and you must find inner peace.
Hell, you must.
Happiness. Purpose. Fulfilment. Inner peace.
Those things aren’t a preserve or a reward for a selected few. You don’t have to trek the mountains of Bhutan in search of them. Neither do you have bag pack solo around South East Asia or go knock at the Door of No Return. Hell, a witchdoctor from Ukambani isn’t going to cook up some broth in a clay pot over firewood, and have you take two portions as you face the rising sun naked.
You deserve those things. You were made for those things.
And guess what? (I’m beginning to sound like Joel Osteen, hahha.) Guess what’s so amazing? They’re right there in your hands, in your beautiful hands.
I made two vows to myself: Never again will I engage in work that doesn’t give me happiness, purpose, fulfilment and inner peace. Never again will I sit in a performance review and have someone tell me I’m a broken tool.
And you mustn’t either. If they tell you you’re a broken tool then you’re being measured against the wrong scale. You’re not the problem here, the scale is. Measure a fish by its ability to swim, not to climb a tree. If they don’t have an ocean where you are for you to swim, then leave and go find the ocean where you belong. And swim in that ocean. Swim with your fish. Swim because you are a fish and fish were made to swim. Swim because God made you with fins that are meant for swimming. Swim so you become better at swimming. Swim because it makes you happy and gives you purpose and inner peace. Swim because there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t care for performance ratings. Swim because you have only one life to live. And because you can. And because dead fish can’t swim. And because water feels nice on naked skin.
I’m done showering now. My body is scrubbed clean and my mind is emptied of its thoughts. My hair has only a few seconds before it dries to become like sisal. I must remember to floss my teeth next week and find Elizabeth for an armpits and Hollywood wax, plus a pedicure. Oh, and an eyebrow tweeze.
GB and I are going away for the weekend. I don’t know where he’s taking me. We did nothing for his birthday yet here we are doing this for my birthday.
As I said, these kuyos will surprise your ass when they go gungho. Only sometimes it’s in a pleasant way.