BY FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI
The bad news isn’t that I’m ageing. The bad news is that I’m ageing, and I see it and feel it.
I’m 33 now. I wouldn’t have noticed the needle of my body clock inch if I wasn’t so self aware and so alert to the shift in my person.
It’s like that moment when the street lights come on and you happen to look up to see them light up. It’s purely by chance. A by the way. A purposeless coincidence. You’re probably taking a loose stroll or idling in your hood, or you’re in your car or in the jav stewing in traffic, and you look up into the stained sky in time to see them come on. You could easily have missed it, one blink and you could have missed it.
You didn’t quite register the gravitas of this ordinary episode until much later, when you appreciate what it signals – the streetlights coming on draws the carpe between dusk and nightfall, between the right and not-so-right decisions made in the cover of the dark, between the quiet celebration of self-control and the regret of losing yourself to your temptations. Between the what-now and what-next.
It signals the season when your sins come home to roost.
So that’s what has happened to me – my streetlights have come on and I’m present to see them light up.
After my shower – before I dress up for bed, for work or for a plan – I like to lotion myself naked infront of the bedroom mirror. I look at myself naked everyday so I can fall in love with myself all over again. It also helps to get me comfortable with my body as it is, for all its flab and seeming flaws, all the beauty in its shortcomings and my insecurities. It boosts my confidence. I must love and cherish my body as it is because no one else will do that for me. Doesn’t matter how much they care for me.
I can only get naked with someone else if I can get naked with myself first. I mean that in the literal and figurative sense.
When I look myself in the mirror, I don’t mind my boobies and my post-baby tummy because there’s nothing there a body shaper from Imenti House can’t fix.
Three thousand bob and you’ll get an hourglass shape and a tummy flatter than this table top. A body shaper allows you put on any style of dress you want. The only downside to the shaper is that it gets mighty uncomfortable as the day wears on, and by afternoon, it’s dug into your shoulders and stuck in your butt cheeks and you can’t walk straight. You’ll have little choice but to take the damn thing off and breathe with your lungs again.
I wear my CS scar as a badge of honour. It’s just above my bikini line but it isn’t the most subtle and niftiest of CS scars. I had had to get an emergency CS and my ob-gyn wasn’t at the hospital yet when the decision was made, he was in afternoon traffic on his way to Aga Khan. By the time he got to the theatre, the house doctor, some young chap in a very tight white dress shirt and a hairy chest, had already sliced me open and was about to deliver Muna. I healed with no issues. Two weeks after the CS I went in to see him (my ob-gyn) for a routine check up. I remember how he shook his head in disbelief and disgust when he saw how jagged and amateurish the slice was. The stitches had been made as if I were a torn-up gunia being sewn back for reuse, Kenyan style. Hehhe.
What has made me squint about my body, though, is my ageing ass. It looks droopy and sulky. Like a sad face emoji. Like it’s constantly having a bad day.
Say, you know how you’re baking a cake at home then some genius says, “Let me check how far the cake is!”
And you ask, “Why?!”
“Ehh…” he rolls his eyes as if you’ve asked him a stupid question that deserves a stupid answer. (By the way that’s how some of our teachers in primo used to talk to us. Hahha. I swear, how many kids did they damage with such careless tongues, how many dreams did they kill?). He says, “Ehh si because it’s baking and I need to check how far it is.”
He’s already opening your drawers to get the butter knife. It pisses you off. “We’re baking a bloody cake not boiling rice! You don’t poke a cake to check how far it is. That’s what the timer is for,” you point at the ticking knob, “that’s why we set it at 45 minutes – when the timer goes off the heat will automatically turn itself off and the cake will stop baking. That’s how ovens nowadays work, Chef Ramsey!”
He sighs but doesn’t say anything. He returns the butter knife to the drawer and goes back to the couch to unpause ‘Vikings’ on Netflix.
But because he’s an idiot, probably from a village in Kendu Bay, he goes ahead to open the oven when you’ve turned your back to get some water from the dispenser. So guess what happens next? Just guess. The hot air in the oven meets the cold air from the kitchen atmosphere, and there’s a sudden change in pressure and the poor cake collapses.
That’s what has become of my bum: life has blown a gust of cold air over my baking bum and now it’s a sad collapsed bum. An ageing bum.
I must also have told you of how my forehead has broken out. I’ve been using Oriflame prods in the last month but the pimples are only spreading the more. It looks like I was attacked by an angry army of mosquitoes because of refusing to sleep under a treated mosquito net. Jana I was at Linton’s hapo Hilton and I wondered how crazy it would be to get the entire cleanse-tone-moisturise Clinique range for 15 gees.
The greatest irony of ageing is that you have more money in your pocket to spend it on more top-drawer beauty products. Products that’ll probably do little to reverse the effects of your ageing face. Or maybe they will, who knows? The day is coming when I’ll shop for anti wrinkle day cream with SPF30. That’s not a suggestion anymore, it’s my chilling reality.
My eyesight isn’t getting better. Ageing comes with more vision and clarity to life but the trade-off is going blind in the eyes. I’m getting more sensitive to sunlight but I’m too funky to get those photochromic lenses. The ones which turn dark in the outdoor light and make you look like you’re rocking Stevie Wonder’s Ray-Ban’s. I can bet you that this year won’t end without me increasing the power on my glasses, though. I’ve been ducking that storo for the last six years but the old lady has sung now.
My eyebrows are also scanting away. (That’s no surprise. Women in Nairobi, we don’t have eyebrows. There must be something they put in our milk to make our eyebrows scant away with age. If there’s a life skill every girl in this city should learn it’s how to chora her eyebrows so they don’t look chorwad.) I’m on that Davis #40 eyebrow pencil filling mine in daily as if the outcome of the next General Election depends on it. I even watched a YouTube tutorial on Joanna Kinuthia’s channel on how to fill them in with short light strokes.
(Have you watched her channel by the way? I love that girl how. Gosh. Hahha. She’s so unpretentious and real and unapologetically herself, she doesn’t try to be some know-it-all celebrity, I love that most about her personality. Plus she has great eye contact. It builds trust. I’ve started experimenting with makeup because of her. I also like Wabosha Maxine, the youngin who also does beauty. Her smile and vampire teeth remind me of my kid sis. Not to mention her youthful porcelain skin.
I also like to watch Shiko Nguru of The Green Calabash. I sometimes skip some parts of her videos because they’re kinda long but on the most part, I also like how Kenyan and relatable she is. She sits at the dining table with her famo having breakfast – tea and bread that has Blue Band and jam, brown uji, thermos, white Luminarc mugs. Stuff that we middle-class are familiar with. Not croissants, or granolas and lattes, some fancy ass breakfast that needs to have its picture taken in soft light and put up on Instagram before guys can start eating.
I also like Mutua Matheka’s channel and… OK, OK, I admit it – my guilty pleasure is watching YouTube channels of the local underdogs. Don’t judge me.)
Generally, my body isn’t responding to rest like it used to. That’s where the smoking gun lies. I’ve been having a case of chronic fatigue and mild stress in the last months, mostly because of the hustle of jobo while honeymooning, parenting and running Craft It.
In my 20s, the solution to fatigue was immediate and pre-packaged – hydrate more, sleep better, have more sex. Probably go out on the town with my pals. Maybe take a road trip out of town or drive down to shagz in Kaplong. I’ve tried most of that but it hasn’t worked. My body feels malnourished.
At first I blamed our mattress. I whined to GB, “This mattress is so worn out, ghai! I’m waking up exhausted every morning. And which brand is this anyway? If we’re not sleeping on a Dr Mattress then we may as well sleep on sisal mats on the floor.”
Then I blamed our pillows. “They’re old and flat!” I groaned. “I’m straining my neck muscles and damaging my hearing. Why don’t we have good pillows in Kenya? Why don’t we have those microfiber pillows that puff themselves up and have memory for the shape of your head? We need one of those.”
Then I blamed the bed sheets. “These bed sheets need to have a thread count of 400, like the ones at Woolworths and Serena. Why are we punishing ourselves on these things that are thin like lesos? Those guys are Rivatex need to get serious about their cotton.”
Then I blamed the supermarket water we’ve been drinking of late. So ever since I interviewed her last year, we’ve been drinking Sarah Nyathira’s Seji Water.
What’s Seji Water, you ask? Seji Water is ultra-purified water; the hydrogen-oxygen structure of its water molecules that had been separated during the purification process, are restored during the ultra-purification process. Seji Water is the only water in this town that has been scientifically scrubbed clean and guaranteed to quench human thirst. Seji Water can work out your BMI if you ask it to.
Jonathan, the sales man, delivered them to our digs after every two weeks. Seji used to operate on the Japanese’s JIT (Just-In-Time) delivery system, so Jonathan would call me to tell me he’s delivering the water, he didn’t wait for me to call him to tell him we’ve run out. Si you know how most Nairobi folk do it?
Like, it’s Sunday mid afternoon and you just realized you don’t have bottled water and you call the water guys and say, “Aki nikona wageni! I can’t give them tap water. Please niletee 20 litre moja saa hii, saa hii.” 15 minutes later, the guy shows up at your door step with the water on his motor bike. And as you mpesa him the 500 bob, you can almost see the amoebic stream where he fetched that water then sealed it in his bedsitter for delivery to you.
Anyway. Jonathan calls me a week before Easter to tell me they’ve put a pause to the business.
I felt something inside me deflate. “Oh my goodness, why?”
Jonathan chuckles dryly. “Remember the plant where we went to in Kiambu, where the water is purified and bottled? Yeah, they’ve increased their cost of production. We’ve tried negotiating with them but they’ve refused. Sarah doesn’t want to pass that cost on to you guys.”
I was devastated. “It’s OK if you guys increase your prices, I’ll pay whatever you ask me to. I will!”
Jonathan chuckled again. He was always chuckling.
I whimpered on like a child, like how Muna whimpers when we tell her we can’t go to the slides because it’s raining. “So where will I get ultra-purified water from? Who else does water like you guys, who can you recommend to me?”
“Well…” Jonathan trailed off as he exhaled into the phone, “if I find anyone who does I’ll let you know.”
Supermarket water is nothing like Seji Water. It tastes slimy and warm in comparison, and it doesn’t quench thirst like Seji Water did. Muna had even taken to drinking more water because of Seji, now she’s no longer interested. Her sippy cup of water has become a ball she kicks around the digs.
I wasn’t done with the blame game just yet. After the water, I blamed my new sitting spot in the office. They moved us to a dingy, stuffy corner of the floor. The noonday sun pours in here in the afternoons, the windows don’t bring in enough fresh air. There’s too much foot traffic and clutter. It’s been giving me migraines. The door behind me opens to the washroom, I turn to my right to see the boardroom door.
When I look up, beyond the partition, I see the wakubwa’s offices. They even pass behind me on their way to the washroom.
I bet two of them must have had a convo as they were taking a leak. “Tell me, Kiptoo, the girl that works from her laptop, what exactly does she do with us?”
“Which one, Mutua? The one with the glasses and the new big hair?”
“Yes, that one.”
“She writes. I think with the Saturday Magazine. She must be a contributor, I don’t know.”
There’s silence as their gushes hit the urinal bowl. Kiptoo has a stronger gush because he’s younger and in better form. Mutua finishes first because he doesn’t drink as much water as Kiptoo does. He’s also older. Old people don’t have much to pee.
Mutua shakes his weener. “Think you can find out for me? She always seems busy but I’m not sure doing what. Sometimes I pass there and she’s on YouTube. Sometimes she’s laughing on WhatsApp. Sometimes she’s on her earphones.”
He grunts like a buffalo, zips up and goes to the sink to wash his hands.
Kiptoo is still peeing. “Of course, of course. I’ll find out.”
Mutua swings the door handle then turns mid step to look at Kiptoo. He quips, “Surely, Kiptoo, how much urine can your bladder hold?”
So finally, last Friday, after a rough night and a bad back and a ringing ear drum, I was brushing my teeth when I looked up into the mirror and did the math: I’m a Kale; I’m a girl; I live in the suburbs; I’m on Instagram. What do girls who live in the suburbs and have an Instagram account do? You got that right – they run, and they put up pictures of their sneaks and route on their Instastories. Run o’clock and things. Kales like me also like to run. Not for a story. Not for digital cheer. Not Vivian-Cheruiyot-in-the-London-marathon run. But they lace up their Nikes, adjust their sports bras and they run.
And thus it has began, my feeble attempt at outrunning the effects of ageing.
I’m getting up at 6.30 a.m. – I gear up, pee, wash my face then drink two tall glasses of water before warming up with some stretches in the living room. Yogis look sexy doing the downward-facing dog – I look like a baby elephant trying to drink water from a river.
After the stretches, I slink out into in the biting dawn with only the house keys in my pocket and a watch on my wrist. I already have my route mapped. I do an hour of brisk walking and some light jogging, there’s a patch on a hill where I break into a sprint. And I sweat. God, I sweat. Exercising counts for naught when you don’t sweat.
I sweat off my sins of debauchery, my laziness, my victim mentality, my failing eyesight and migraines, my ageing muscles, my poor sleeping, my sad-faced bum.
It’s been only a few days but I’m awfully proud of myself.
One other thing I’m also proud of is my healthy diet. (Jesus, how long is this story?) I started drinking these homemade green smoothies last year. Ours are no longer green though because we throw in slices of beetroot. There’s also sukuma, cucumber, carrots, mangoes, bananas, water melon, apple cider vinegar, spirulina and chia seeds. The 900W Nutribullet blends an elixir that I’m hoping will help me age more gracefully.
I drink the smoothies daily. What this translates to is that I’ve killed all my food cravings, I don’t do junk or fast food, and my meal portions are by the handful. I don’t even eat dinner. And the best thing about it is that my digestive tract moves free like a freeway – I no longer bloat or get gas, no constipation, I have marvellous consistency in my, uhm, shit. Jane Mukami would be just as proud.
But I honestly doubt anyone will ever come up to me and say, “Wow, Bett! You have such great bowel movement! I can’t wait to be 33 so I can get bowel movements like yours.”
The very fact that I’m harping about my digestive tract and exercise regimen only goes to show what an ageing urbanite woman I truly am.29