Us: In a parallel Universe.

You and I would still be together, four years strong. We would have invented new games to play, and I would tell you all about my day, even the most mundane of details.

You’d probably be glad that my phone anxiety has reduced and I can have more than a 3-minute conversation. I’d still be wearing all black, my hair still shoulder-length, and you, your shirt and pants and dreadlocks.

You’d still pick me up from the station and we would drive around with an updated playlist, replacing Cheerleader and Sura Yako and Humma Humma.

I’d still drag you along to Yoga at the park, and you’d still send me mirror selfies after working out at the gym in the middle of telling me all about work.

I’d read you my fiction and send you songs and write you mediocre poetry. I’d still be reading Arundhati Roy and you, some businessy book.

We’d share clothes and food. We’d share a cigarette and I would finally tell you how cool and not cute you look. We’d make strangers uncomfortable by holding hands and locking arms in public.

We’d attend pride together, under the UK sun, taking selfies and secretly sipping on gin and tonic.

We’d have debates again and then argue over our disagreements.

We’d kiss and have sex and laugh endlessly. Exchanging energies. Exchanging scents. Growing closer.

I’d entertain you with the news. We’d go to the cinema, for a Bollywood movie this time. We’d take that trip and have pancakes and roasted marshmallows.

In a parallel universe, I’d have said yes to you and not be sat miles away from you wondering what it would have been like even four years later, then maybe I could dedicate this or this to you, even though you wouldn’t understand a single word.

 

07.02.2020

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KSCPA, a few days into moving back

Today marks a whole year since I moved back to Nairobi, and it’s been a wonderful year. Yes, there have been very low lows, but they’ve also been very high highs.

I learned a lot this year, about myself, about my family and about everything else that came in between.

The year started off with me working at The Star newspaper, which was an amazing experience, to say the least. I got to learn about Kenyan journalism and got to bring some of my own stories as an Asian-Kenyan into the picture. I am also proud to have been the only Asian in the newsroom.

Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 14.35.11Some of the pieces I am proud of the most are this period piece and about how it’s a taboo in my culture.

Also, this piece based on eating disorders in which people trusted me to share their stories and struggles with disorders. And to talk about what is rarely talked about in Kenyan society.

Then comes the piece about femicide in Kenya. While this one was difficult to write, it was an important piece to be written about the severity of the situation. I learned that the Kenyan patriarchy is not much different from the Indian one. And that male entitlement goes a long, long way.

Then, obviously, as a person that can obsess over a celebrity or a film that dare I say changed my life, I am glad to have written about how stunning Alia Bhatt looked in the Kalank promotions. And to read tweet upon tweet of all the theories around the film Us, which I watched three times in the cinema! And once on a flight from here to London.

That’s all about work. I am so grateful for the people I have met along the way. And none of this would have been possible without the people by my side, telling me that I got this. For pushing me. For calling me out. For believing in me. I owe so much to them.

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My light

After The Star came a few months of silence. I didn’t do that much in terms of work but I spent time being there for family and friends who needed my support.

Fast forward to now. I am part of a creative writing workshop, I am learning the guitar, and I am soon to be a teacher (God willing!).

I built my relationship with God, and while that is rocky, I once heard someone say, it is hard with God, imagine how hard it is without God. And while I don’t want to impose religion or God on anyone, God and temple visits have been my saving grace this year.

I read a few books, I read up on the news, and I am active again with Indian news on Twitter.

In my year here, I have struggled with my mental health, my food and weight more than anytime before. I have learned and seen enough to know that this isn’t the end of my journey, and that there is a way out. I finally started therapy and am on medication my mood disorder and my depression. It hasn’t been easy, but I know it will get better with time.

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Where I go to do my creative writing workshops

Being Kenyan and Asian has its own struggles. Struggles of not being Kenyan enough and of not being Asian enough. But the other day, a friend asked me a simple question.

“What does your passport say?”

“Kenya”

And that did it. I know I am Kenyan, and I belong here.

There have been ups in this year, and there have been downs. For both I am grateful.

To the people in my life, I say thank you. To those that have encouraged me, I say thank you. To those that have been there for me, I say thank you. For those that include me in their projects, I say thank you.

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View from Diamond Plaza

This post is dedicated to all of you.

A friend told me once the day they decided to be friends with their home city is when things fell into place.

So to Nairobi, I say, I am ready to be friends with you, you are, after all, the city I call home.

Onwards and upwards.

x

 

 

 

You

You’re at the salon (saloon?). You’re staring at yourself in the mirror, pretty unsure of who is looking back. It’s hard to recognize yourself, almost. Who is thinking these thoughts? Are you thinking to think these thoughts? What’s going on? He’s come to massage your back while you wait for your hair to get done. You’re doing your hair because you are bored. Privilege looks like straight hair with shades of brown. The massage is the only form of human contact you’ve got in days. You realize it’s wrong to maybe think that. You don’t have change to tip anyone. All your change is spent on Ubers and bodas. You think about yesterday’s boda ride. What would have happened if the accident had happened? Would you be seriously injured or dead? Would your helmet have flown off? What would have happened if you died? You make conversation with the guy giving you a massage. Tell him you need to pee. You pee with the cubicle door open. Regard to laziness or carelessness. You study yourself in the mirror there. Who are you? What are you doing here? You wash your hands and walk out of the toilet. The corridor smells of a smoked cigarette. Smoking in enclosed spaces has a fine of up to 50,000. Someone is brave. You purse your lips thinking about how brave you’d become with smoking in public now. It’s time to do your hair. You break out of your thought process:

  • Aren’t you tired?
  • I used to this. I’m just feeling hot.

Back to thinking. Your hair gets done. It feels so delicate. You feel like a glass doll. You wait for your aunt to come to pick you up. You need to get a licence. You feel a sudden pang of hunger. A result of the new medication you’re on.

Who is thinking these thoughts?

Blow Out The Candles

By Samira Sawlani 

It’s my birthday on the 3rd of November.

Of course I won’t tell you how old I am, the patriarchal conditioning within me which I am trying to unlearn remains very much attached to the idea of concealing one’s number of years in existence, if only to cover up the shame I feel for ‘not being where I should be’ by ‘x-age’.

It’s like carrying a mixture of a stop and an apple watch on your person at all times, you can never get away from the tick-tock sound it makes while simultaneously seeing the notifications come up.

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‘It has been two years since you got a promotion, where is the career progression?’

‘It has been 15 years since you started menstruating where are the kids?’

‘It has been 30 years since you arrived on this planet, time to buy a property?’

And before you know it you’re sitting in an Italian restaurant, weighed down by copious amounts of bread (if nothing else then your digestive system will definitely remind you of your age tomorrow), surrounded by friends and family singing an out of tune rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, about to blow out your candles, and in a blur of it all as someone shouts ‘make a wish’, and all you really want to wish for is a time machine.

So that you could go back in time and tweak a few things, okay maybe more than a few, okay fine you would change most of it.

If only I had avoided meeting that person, taken a different train, gotten off the bus, gone to the gym more, studied a different degree, not bought that overpriced (and now that you think about it, hideously ugly) red coat, turned left instead of right, begun reading Marx in pre-school, enrolled for French classes, dumped that guy, said hello to the postman… things would have been different. I would be where I ‘should be.’

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The human mind seems to have a natural inclination to compare itself to other people, to measure its achievements and failures against those of those around us and the societal standards seemingly ‘set’ for us.

Comparing ourselves to others is a form of self-evaluation and a way to judge others, in some ways it is survival.

The modern-day entities that are social media apps, influencers, twelebs and reality stars and social media apps often aid this.

This is not to say that prior to this the pressures of achieving certain things by a certain age, were not a thing.

Growing up in India, my mum’s sisters and brothers were all married between the ages of 17-23, the earlier the better, and if you got there before 23, you were safe ‘married by 23- tick.’

My rebellious mother had decided that this was not a path she was interested in taking and so with every birthday that came her way, there was a reminder from the audience that was so invested in the movie of her life that she was falling behind.

It’s almost like a pressure cooker, you are like a pot, someone throws in ‘singleness’, another person throws in ‘still living at home’, in goes a sprinkle of ‘no savings’ and a garnish of ‘childless’, on goes the lid, they keep putting up the fire.

And boom.

An explosion.
BF498026-DBEA-496F-A291-ABC8383E0154 (1)Throughout my childhood and early teenage years, I would struggle to sleep in the lead up to my birthday, excitement keeping me awake.

It was never about the presents or the cake or the party or the pretty dress I would wear.

It was always about having a day which was just mine.

After all your Date of Birth is kind if important is it not? Stated clearly on every important document you are ever likely to possess.

A year older, as a child it felt like one year closer to freedom.

Except at some point, it no longer felt that way.

All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, there came a slight feeling of dread on the day itself.

Perhaps it was from opening Facebook to see an array of ‘Happy Birthday!’ messages (from people you have not seen or heard from in about ten years, yet twice a year you interact online to wish each other using two words and an exclamation mark).

Somewhere on that newsfeed, you see someone announce a pregnancy, another person starts a new job, another invite you to the housewarming of a property they have just purchased.

And while you feel joy for them, you cannot quite push aside that feeling of ‘another year older, and what have I done with my life?’

In this space there is no room for challenging your thoughts, the speed with which you fall into that abyss, leaving behind the balloons and the cards and the unopened gifts because really, what does any of it mean when you aren’t where you should be?

And then one day you get a call, a beloved family member has died.

She was young.

It was unexpected.

Never again on the morning of your birthday will you hear her voice on the phone.

She was the colour yellow.

Luminous.

Winsome.

Joy.

She was.

Absence is so heavy.

And in that moment you realise that the goalposts have been moved so far you can no longer see them.

There are no more timelines.

There is nothing.

All of a sudden, that morning you woke up and stared out of the window overlooking Nairobi, that afternoon walk in rainy London, the touch of a leather jacket, that time you chose to see a distraught friend instead of finish that job application, those moments take on a different meaning.

For while death may remind you of your own mortality and may push you towards staying on the hamster wheel of ‘achieving’, it also reminds you that there is more than ticking boxes, there is more than keeping up appearances.

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On my first birthday since that loss, I tasted every morsel of food that went into my mouth.

I savoured every bite.

No longer governed by the thought of ‘I should be this weight by this age.’

I stood outside in the Autumn-Winter hybrid London air and felt the cold against my face and I held my breath.

I savoured living.

I savoured life.

Later there was candles and cake and the sound of out of tune singing.

No thoughts to drown these out.

Just laughter.

(Picture credits: Larutadel Tumblr, Mirinda M Pinterest & Samira Sawlani)

I’m at the airport

Half crying, half trying to pull myself together.

Change is temporary, it always is.

Is it cliché for me to look at the people around me and wonder what their trips looked like.

Who did they visit?

Family, friends, lovers, their pets, loneliness?

Are they happy to going back to where they are going? Are they going back at all? Or is it a quick trip to a fun, sunny, beachy destination.

That’s where I imagine people always go. To fun and beachy and sunny places. I mean, that’s what they’ve fed us as the ultimate place to be, right?

There’s someone opposite me reading The Powers of Blood (if that is an entirely made up book, I am sorry, I can’t see short distances or long distances most times – despite my massive glasses.)

Speaking of glasses, one of part of me wants to grab a glass of wine. Another part of me tells me, don’t drink anything because then you will want to smoke and smoking is illegal in this building.

And heaven knows being in trouble by the law isn’t something I plan on doing in 2019. Or ever.

So I got a copy of My Sister The Serial Killer.

I’m in a (for lack of a better word) weird state of mind. I used to be excited to be at airports at one point in my life.

I would dress up. And by dressing up I mean: Get my hair done. Put some make up. And even Instagram a selfie with Gifs and all round-wit from the airport’s washroom’s full mirror.

But now?

I am not particularly excited to be here.

There’s a sense of unsettled strangeness.

I am on the plane now.

I am going back home.

Home is Nairobi. Nairobi is home.

I’ll see you there, readers.

A Playlist

i.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with my sister. I don’t get her. Can you check she’s okay?’

She read the message on his phone when he was outside smoking. Her heart dropped and she knew immediately she had to leave. He was halfway through his cigarette when she met him outside.

“Do you want me to walk you to the station?”

“I am okay. I will see you next week.”

A lie.

They kissed.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

All he got was a text message.

The song they listened to was number one on her playlist.

ii.

“I dated a Kenyan girl once, and she showed me the exact same song,” she rolled her eyes.

“Okay, but I bet you’ve not heard THIS one,”

They were driving along the jam-packed streets of Dubai to “this epic sports bar that has a jukebox, trust me, you will love it”.

She hit play.

“I like this, humma humma humma humma humma,” she sang.

Now at the Epic Sports Bar With A Jukebox.

“You look cute smoking that cigarette,”

“Cute? I am supposed to be looking tough.”

They part ways before she could translate the song for her.

Song number two.

iii.

Her father came bearing gifts each time he would visit.

“Is everything okay? Here these are for you…”

His visits never had a set timing. Sometimes he’d stay a month. Sometimes two weeks. And sometimes an hour.

She’d take the gifts and run off.

A pattern she was now used to.

There was a shift in the pattern when she left home one day, unsure of whether she would return in a day, a week or two months.

iv.

“I want to be in a band. Imagine being like him, and having that sense of style? Come, let’s dance!”

 

v.

“I can see that you are an expert at running away.”

Every day seems to be on repeat.

The discomfort of being in a place that carries so many memories. Fighting the urge to slip.

Eating. Sleeping. Smoking.

Scrolling endlessly through the happy faces on Instagram, what must it be like to be them?

Watching endlessly the fake happiness of people in the movies.

One friend is a doctor. One is getting married. One is moving to Canada.

Life isn’t really waiting.

*

(Picture credit: Pinterest) 

 

 

 

 

Teacup: please stop spinning

Our childhood house had a medium sized garden. And there was this large fence covered with trees and leaves working as a partition from our neighbour’s house.

We couldn’t access the neighbour’s house from our compound. But there was a little gap in between the bushes that we could possibly fit into as children had we tried.

And we would spend days just looking into the neighbour’s house.

They had two daughters and a dog.

It felt like a such a far away place.

I’m not sure if it was real or a figment my imagination, but it sticks very vivid in my memories from that time.

And as a child, I’d often wonder what would happen if I went through the gap and into the neighbour’s house.

Would my family come searching for me? Would I be forgotten? Would I make it back?

When I was little, I would wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning with a strange fear.

It would involve me being in a massive field, or a never ending black space, entirely alone.

It was almost as if I had braved the crawl through that gap.

The place would be so dark, cold and eerie.

I would spot my loved ones at a distance, but either they were slipping away from me, or I was slipping away from them.

It was terrifying.

And this visual has recurred over the course of my growing up.

A few mornings ago I woke up, sweaty, with that same feeling, and I burst into tears asking God to watch over the people that I love.

I tried to tell myself that it’s just a nightmare, a bad feeling, and somewhere in between the process I realized it is perhaps the fear of me losing touch with myself.

Of me no longer recognizing me.

I see snapshots the way you see the background spin and blur when you’re on a really fast teacup ride.

Half shutting your eyes, bargaining with your body to please not throw up.

I am laughing. My mum is there, my sisters, my aunties, my friends, the roads of all the cities I’ve lived in, the dreams I had are all there.

They’re looking at me.

I try to call out at them, but my voice is blocked by a playlist of the songs I listened to growing up mixed with the sounds of their laughter.

I beg my body to relax, but it is slipping away.

Everything is spinning fast. Everything is blurry. I am starting to slip away.

And I am terrified.

*