Kale women don’t scream.
No, we don’t. We never scream.
Decorum dictates that we approach intense situations with a quiet passion. A culturally silenced one. A tamed one. This quiet is our personal brand – it’s consistent, handed down, refined.
Public displays in screams and tears are considered too messy a barbeque of emotions, one which is reserved for women who haven’t been raised under the thumb of another atavistic kale woman. Our effort is directed toward learning to let your body speak for you, towards stoicism. Not screams.
I have three scenarios to show it.
Scenario one: a kale woman in the height of pleasure. Or rather, of being pleasured.
There will be the random crescendo of, “Oh yes. Yes, yes. Yes.” And, “Harder, do it harder.” Or, “You’re the daddy.” A string of dirty talk she has personified. A moan maybe. A shrill halleluiah which catches in her throat. Eyes may roll back in her head. Her lips could curl into a sensual ‘O’. You’ll have to pay attention for this one. But there won’t be a scream.
A pal of mine – let’s call him Sammy – once told me how he hooked up with a mami from Eldy who confused the shit out of his game. Sammy is busy, he’s wekelead that thing. And he’s working very hard at it. He’s sweating his ass off like he’s ploughing in the noonday sun. Heehe. The kale mami is chewing gum and eyeing him with stupefied look on her face. One that said, ‘Is that all you gat? Hm? Is that it?’
Now take the same scene and the same script, and export it across counties to Muranga. Sammy with a kuyo mami. Sammy said she screamed as if he was the best she’d ever tasted. She called him Shabba Ranks and said he was a champion lover. Talk of an ego boost. Heehe.
Second scenario: a kale woman in active labour. June 2008, I spend eleven hours with my sis at Aga Khan. Child birth didn’t evoke a scream from her. The most she said was this odd phrase which she whispered over and over the eleven hours I spent rubbing her lower back: “Wacha tu, wacha tu, wacha tu.”
I don’t know where she picked it up from. Or why she chose it to acknowledge surrender. But it came out in this raspy kale accent that made us laugh when we talked about it later. Lamaze nothing.
Last February, I’m with my pal in the early evening of a loose Wednesday. We’re at Nairobi Hospital. She’s three hours away from delivery, and hockeying her way to the thick of things. But she didn’t let out a scream. Nor did she have an odd phrase to cling on to. (She would later tell me she was focussing her breathing on managing the pain.)
The labour room was quiet. Her mano and I didn’t know where to stand or what to do with our hands. He was on his phone, locking and unlocking it. I tried to be useful – I tied her braids back, I cooled her forehead with a wet towel, I told her she’s doing great. All she returned was a nod and a vacant sweep of her eyes. He and I resigned to how helpless we both were. I remember we had one of those urbanite convos, those ones which go nowhere. Those ones which are screaming to be ended before they even begin.
“Hey?” he says.
“Wsup,” I say.
“Yeah bana. I’m easy. Easy. You?”
“Keeping it,” he says. I don’t even know what he meant by that. “Baby things.”
He chuckles. I crack a smile. I see a hash tag and a letter ‘z’ festooning that last part. Do you?
Just then, the snack he’d ordered from the kitchen checks in. And he went on to have it right there, in the labour room, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the day to audience the birth of his son. I sat at the edge of the bed and returned to The Economist.
But that’s what you do when a kale woman is in labour: you have a bowl of fruit, you read a magazine, you clip your fingernails, you organize your phone book, you archive your emails, you engage old pals in empty WhatsApp convos. You will carry on with the mundanity of your selfish activities because there will be no screams from your kale pal to let you know if what are doing is right or not.
Third scenario: kale women in mourning. Not even death can smoke that scream from the pits it harbours. Kale women mourn behind closed doors – in their bedroom, their car, the restroom. It’s a silent and solitary affair but one that stings just as much.
My Mum is the closest example. She’s lost her folks, her brother and her sister. With her sister – her only sister – in the early ‘90s, my Mum told me how she shaved her head clean, stopped dressing up pretty and slouched with grief. Each time she looked in the mirror, she saw a wrinkle appear where her smile once were, one grey hair sprung forth after another. She aged. She was in a funk for months, years maybe, and she didn’t even know it.
But this isn’t really a story about women who scream. This is a story about how this preggers kale broad discovers how far out she can stretch in a pre-natal yoga class. The story starts in late July, when I am at 24 weeks. 6 months in.
I call Sheila – a yoga instructor in Westlands referred by a pal – and say, “Sheila, I feel as sexy as a loaf of bread. What can you do for me?” Sheila laughs. She tells me she can either give me a massage, or I can join her yoga classes. I tell her I am greedy, “I want both.” She laughs some more. “But tell me more about the yoga.”
Sheila says the charge is per class. But I can sign up for the package of 10 classes. I will get a discount and pay in instalments. The 10-class package includes an extra session where the new momsies can come in with their new-borns.
Sheila tells me each class runs for one hour. The Sunday class is from 9.30AM, the Tuesday class from 5PM, and the Friday one at 10AM. “It’s recommended you yoga thrice a week,” she adds.
I tell her I am good for the Sunday class, thank you. “So what do I need to come with?” Sheila says that all I need is a bottle of water and comfortable clothes (read: breathable stretchy cotton). The only other thing I need is a yoga mat, “You can carry yours, if you have one. But, if you don’t, we will give you one at the studio.” I quip that I’m kale, I don’t own a yoga mat. I laugh. She doesn’t.
(I have always found it sexy when I see those tattooed, lissom chicks carrying a yoga mat in those hand-stitched kitengee bags. It seems so eccentric. So bourgeois. You want to stop her and ask her what she’s all about.)
I tell Sheila I will see her Sunday.
Acacia Studios is on the third floor of Viking House. Right off the Westie roundabout. You can’t miss it.
The yoga room really is a studio. Think dance studio; wooden floorboards and mirrors lining all the walls from floor to ceiling. I catch a reflection of PwC Towers. To our backs are sliding windows which pour out into the eyeball of Westie. Sheila shuts them and she shuts the racket out.
There’s light soothing music playing in the background. Some Lisa Gerrard or Enya or someone. Incense burns at the back of the room.
Sheila is a dark, squat woman with sunken eyes and a firm, fleshy lunje bottom. She has small mounds for breasts. She speaks in broken sentences, with the hint of an accent.
I am at 24 weeks at this, my first yoga session. It’s a class of five – two Kenyans, three white mamis. I would later learn that my bump is the most progressed. But it doesn’t count for much. Unless, of course, you are looking for an excuse to falling behind the class.
The class kicks off with each of us sitting on our yoga mats facing Sheila – legs are crossed with your arms on your knees, thumb and middle finger touching in a relaxed pose. Sheila tells us to focus on the light in the middle of our heads. Do you know how we see this on TV and you imagine it’s a joke? Well, guess what? It isn’t. This is how it really goes. It seems so… theatrical.
I want to burst out laughing.
We warm up for a few minutes – neck twist, shoulder roll. We stretch our backs like a cat; hands flat on the mat with your toe nails digging in, bottom is high up in the air and your head turned in to look at your belly button. The downward dog stretch. Again, easy peasy. I begin to wonder what the fuss about the strain of yoga is all about.
Until the tempo and intensity is turned up, and the real stretches begin. The hell.
Sheila bellows the instructions and we move to as she moves. It’s like a choreographed dance. It looks practised and fluid from the outside, but from the inside, it’s grinding teeth and shortness of breath. We stretch, twist and bend. Squat and pump.
She shoots the instructions in quick fire, “Right leg forward, left knee bent and arms spread out. Now slide down to second warrior position and hold for one, sink in deeper, hold for two, sink in deeper, hold for three. Now release. Let’s take it to the downward dog stretch… Belly off the mat.”
I am sweating. My thighs and legs are killing me. I am groaning in pain, all that kale bravado has been flung out the window. I hear the German cuss in her native tongue, something like, Die Drecksau. Hehhe. My face is a contorted mask. But Sheila calls this out, “I don’t want to see any tight faces. Smile. Smile. Let me see those beautiful smiles. It’s easier when you smile.” And you bloody better smile. Even though you are just about ready to call it quits, you better bloody smile.
At one point Sheila’s voice lowers several notches to a caressing whisper: “Now put your hands over your belly, hold that beautiful life inside of you. Rock gently from side to side as you imagine that beautiful soul.” It’s very intimate then. Very galvanizing.
I am only settling into the mood when Sheila raises her voice again “Now let’s go down to all fours. Right leg stretched back, left palm facing up…” And so it goes. On and on and on. Until the hour lapses.
We wind down with lying on our left then close it off with a “Namaste”, bow your head in response and hum then, “Namaste.” (I swear, heehe.)
I’ve done this on almost every Sunday morning since that first time in late July. It’s one of those private pleasures that grow on you. It gets easier and funner as you go along, the ballooning bump notwithstanding. You only realize just how much it helps with your back until the day you skip it once.
A few times, class was cancelled because we didn’t have quorum; si you know how temperamental and hormonal preggers mamis can get. Other Sundays I slept in cause I’d tired myself out with a swim.
Last Sunday, at 36 weeks, I caught sight of my drooping belly in the mirror and thought, Damn, I will miss this. It’s been a good run. A bloody good run.
Oh yeah, one last thing, make sure to take your socks off before you start to yoga.0