I fell in love with Maya Angelou when I first heard her recite “Phenomenal Woman”, a poem is celebration of women, and how confidence can make even the plainest of women make men turn heads. Sample a few lines that made me fall in love with Maya’s writing;
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
I listened to the CD over and over in my car, until it got too scratched and tired, that is.
Then I bumped into “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in one of those “Bend Over” street bookshops and was completely toast.
“The Heart of a Woman” is the fourth volume of her autobiography, and is preceded by “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, “Gather Together In My Name” and “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas”, all beautiful , poetic accounts of her life.
She tells the story of her colourful life with the humour, grace and acceptance of imperfection that only she can. Like the title insinuates, she goes right into the heart of her “woman”: From romantic love, maternal love, heartbreak, domestic violence, racial discrimination, gender discrimination- No subject is taboo for this witty writer.
Her accounts of meeting famous characters like Billie Holiday, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X make for refreshing, interesting personal accounts of historical figures that the world adored.
The simple, conversational tone, a trademark of Maya’s writing, makes for an easy, down to earth read that men and women alike can relate to.
Even I, agree that come backhome is a very beautiful phrase. Especially when spoken to a prodigal child, an embittered spouse or an exiled writer. It could even be more tempting when uttered by not just a fellow ‘cowardly’ writer but the head of state himself. And what’s more, in your case, it was told as you received a smile here, a Ketepa cup of tea there and a handshake somewhere. Therefore, I wouldn’t judge you too harshly if you were already thinking of packing your bags once you landed in the good city of California. However, I’d like to give you some counsel on why you shouldn’t move to Kenya just yet…
First of all, moving from University of Irvin to University of Nairobi will mean that you take a huge salary slash. As you might be aware Mr. Ngugi, our local…
If Mombasa old town was to be a person, then, he’d without a doubt be that old Swahili pirate with lots and lots of delightful ancient travel tales and relics and a single eye as evidence of his numerous adventures.
A ten minutes ride on a tuk-tuk from downtown Mombasa town, past tall whistling coconut palms, will deliver you, safe and sound at the entrance of Mombasa old town. The ancient town will then, as in a time travel tale, stretch out its arms and enfold you into its rich history, taking you years and years back.
Yet it is not Mombasa Old town’s history that will take your breath away at first but its 18th century artful architecture; carved and curved beautiful old buildings, elegant balconies and coral walls whose designs were influenced by Portuguese and Islamic Arab traders of old.
An hour’s drive from the sweltering Marigat town will set you safely on the shores of one of the two Rift Valley fresh water lakes; Lake Baringo. Unlike its sister lake Bogoria which is salty and thus contains no fish, Lake Baringo is animate with aquatic life, from five types of fish to friendly crocodiles and huge hippo’s. The numerous local tribes that live around the lake make it a colorful place to visit for you cannot fail to bump upon Tugens, Njemps, Maasai Fishermen and Pokots coexisting peacefully.
There are numerous myths and anecdotes that you will hear from the fishermen and the fishmongers about the 130km lake but the first thing you will notice is that the water levels have increased and thus moved towards land and submerged trees and hotels which were once on dry land.
On Sunday August 16th, amid the sweltering Nairobi heat, the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi hosted the 57th edition of Slam Africa competition. A stiffly contested and vibrant affair, the event started off with recitation of well crafted pieces by nine poets and ended with one of them, Sanaa Arman taking home the trophy and the Slam King title.
The event, under the Nandi flame tree that towers over the Alliance gardens, attracted hundreds of slam poetry lovers from all spheres of life, from activists like Boniface Mwangi to academics such as Dr. Wandia Njoya and communication specialists like Dennis Itumbi.
The competitors thrilled the audience with creatively crafted poems that contained memorable lines and saw slam lovers snap their fingers in glee. They tackled a number of issues affecting youth in contemporary Kenya. The issues ranged from yellow fever (the youth obsession with light skin…
Matt Groening once said that people go into cartooning because they
are shy and they are angry yet this cannot even begin to describe the
vibe of the six Kenyan cartoonists whose works are currently on
exhibition at the Alliance Francaise de Nairobi. Using the tool they
understand best, the pencil, these artists colorfully trace president
Obama’s life from his father’s homeland in Kogelo to his visit to
Kenya in 2006 and his long awaited visit as president of the United
That the different artists’ themes intersect with underlying common
themes and bitingly funny captions is what keeps art lovers glued to
the walls on the first floor art gallery at Alliance; giving it
popularity at a time when other people complain of experiencing too
much Obama talk, a condition social media enthusiasts have since
termed #overobama. A number of themes are explored and the artists manage to show…
They say there is no there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. Love found Chris Lyimo and Dr Wandia Njoya, both 44, long after both had given up hope of ever getting married. They wedded on July, 30th, 2015, hardly a year into dating.
“The beauty about dating while older is that there is no time for playing games. Westated clearly from the beginning that we were dating on the premise that we could get married. There didn’t seem to be a valid reason to wait,” adds Wandia.
Their unique love story culminated in a unique ceremony that had them both wearing jeans in a wedding aptly themed: “New Beginnings” to celebrate victory over their pasts and a celebration of second chances.
“I had always wanted to get married in jeans, but most people I told laughed it off and saidI would have a very difficult time finding a woman who would agree with my idea. When I mentioned itto Wandia in passing one day while on a date, she readily agreed. I thought she was joking,” says Chris, smiling at the memory.
“I knew in my heart that I did not want to get married in white, but I had not really though the idea through. In most weddings I had attended, the bride would choose a colour and have everyone else match it, but here it was the groom who inspiredthe theme. Chris did not even believe I was actually going to go through with it until we visited the tailor,” adds Wandia.
On the wedding day, Chris was the first to walk down the aisle with his mother and teenage son (from a previous relationship) by his side, which was by itself a unique act that ushered the couple boldly into a future they had both previously thought impossible.
LOVE STORY BEGINS
Chris, an addictions counsellor, blogger and creative writer, met Dr Wandia Njoya, a lecturer, at a creative writing workshop at Daystar University where she also teaches, but it was not until weeks after the workshop ended that they starting talking. Coincidentally, Wandia had just moved to the church Chris attended, and it was during a bus ride from church one day that they made a connection.
“When the seat next to her got empty, I quickly settled myself into it, and we talked about everything under the sun during that journey. During the conversation, something compelled me to tell her that God was about to surprise her. I did not know that I was in for a surprise too,” says Chris.
Chris had not really thought of Wandia as a potential mate, as he had long resigned himself to the idea that he would be single for life and would fulfil his life’s purpose as an addictions counsellor, having been on his recovery journey for the last 17 years.
He details his experience in abook titled My Side of the Street: One Man’s Journey from Alcoholism to Sobriety, wherehe bares his soul and heart about the horrors of domestic violence, addiction, depression and growing up in a dysfunctional family.
Little wonder, then, that his narrative of himself was that he was not man enough, not just because he did not have a degree, but also because he was a recovering alcoholic.
“I belittled myself. The pressure has been that I am not man enough, because I am not a graduate, because I am recovering alcoholic, and because I am not living with my son.”
Chris shares custody with his son’s mother.
Despite pressure from his extended family and friends to marry, he had not really found the person to settle down with.
This was the script he “read” from in his brief interactions with Wandia, but the more he interacted with her, the more his narrative about himself changed, and he started seeing her as a potential mate and life partner.
People had always told Wandia that she was too bold, too outspoken, too educated to have or keep a man in her life. And she believed them.
“One of my past relationships came crumbling down just as I was starting my Masters degree and some people around me automatically assumed that my studies were the reason why my relationship had ended, even though that was not the case. It was one of those really bad relationships that simply had to end,” she explains.
And then she went to teach at Daystar University where the thenDeputy Vice Chancellor kept encouraging her to go back to school for her PhD.
For fleeting moments, she wondered how this would affect her marriageability but with the DVC’s encouragement, she applied and got accepted for her PhD studies abroad.
“As much as I wanted to further my studies, I also knew that my fate was now sealed. I thought to myself: Which man would marry me now?”
Her battle with breast cancer when she was 39 years old also took a toll on her self-esteem and made her question her marriageability even more.
“I underwent a couple of surgeries which left my body scarred. I wondered what sort of man would accept a scarred woman. When I went to the hospital for my first biopsy, I saw a poster that linked breast cancer with childlessness, which really hurt and made me feel like it was a condemnation from God,” she explains.
“I have always told her that her scars are evidence of character, they are a victory over her past,” Chris reassures her.
It got to a point where Wandia refused to be introduced by her title (Doctor) and used to introduce herself as a teacher.
The pressure to get married was mostly from herself and the society as her family was very supportive, never questioning why she was single.
But it was not until she listened to a sermon at Mavuno church that she fully embraced her womanliness.
“In summary, the preacher said that we are not made women by childbirth or getting married. We are women because God made us women. I took comfort in that and told God that since you made me a woman, I am no less of a woman just because I don’t have a husband and children,” she says.
She drew strength and fulfilment from teaching her students at Daystar, and had resigned herself to her life as a happy single woman. Until that fateful bus ride with Chris.
Wandia called Chris one day, weeks after the fateful bus ride, to ask him for a copy of his book for their book club as they wanted to read an autobiography.
Chris had his book sent to her, and waited with bated breath for her reaction, as he did not know how she would handle the knowledge about his past since his book was a tell-it-all.
“It even had details about the first time I had sex,” he recalls, laughing at the memory.
But Wandia was not at all put off by his past.
“I was keen on how she would react to my past, as I had faced judgment and rejection before, but she simply said that she found some things I had revealed in the book disturbing and that she was going to do a book review. In her book review, she took the angle of exploring the subtle things that people often take for granted in alcoholism, depression and masculinity, something I had never considered before. She was curious as well and once we were dating, she even asked me to help her understand what depression is, and who she should call in the event that I relapse” he says.
Chris was both stunned and touched by her reaction.
“Education had equipped me with the tools to deal with what Chris was going through and had been through,” she explains.
A friendship was formed after this, followed by the exchange of numerous WhatsApp messages and by going on a few plays and coffee dates. Neither of them, however, officially declared interest in each other. Not until Chris attended a workshop (on Wandia’s invitation) entitled “The Soul of Sex,” where the speaker explained that the original meaning of “erotic” and “intimacy” was more than just sex but wasabout passion and zest for life.
“On my way home after that workshop, I realised that the wonderful time I was having with Wandia could be called erotic, even though there was no sex or hint of it. I was weary of letting her know because I didn’t want to jinx it. After the next “Soul of Sex” workshop, I called her and asked: ‘Would you be my girlfriend in a dating relationship with the possibility of courtship leading to marriage?’ She said yes. Three times,” he explains, smiling.
MEETING THE IN-LAWS
One month into the official courtship, Wandia asked Chris to meet her father.
“Because of his troubled past, I wanted my father to meet and get to know Chris before he heard about Chris from anyone else. I thought it would only take a couple of hours but they ended up spending over seven hours together,” she says.
“As we parted, Wandia’s fathertold me that he saw that I was mature. Later, when Wandia’s family came to see mine, he told the gathered guests that he had been interviewing me all along, because an interview is to discover what value add the interviewee is bringing. And that I had passed the interview,” adds Chris.
The recurring question Chris’s family had for Wandia was whether she knew about his troubled past, to which she answered in the affirmative.
“I suppose they were just surprised that she would love someone with a past like mine. But they were not alone…I couldn’t believe it myself. Perhaps that is why I broke down in tears minutes before my wedding officially started. I could not believe how blessed I was to experience forgiveness, freedom and new beginnings of recovery in this one event and the love of such an incredible woman.”
“I always wanted a man that would also see that side of me besides my title and job. And he did. He saw me as a woman,” says Wandia.
What Wandia loves most about Chris is his self-awareness and continued self-improvement.
“Chris is unlike most men who, after they get a great job, great car, great family, they stop working on building their character. Chris just never stops. He is constantly working to be a better man. He is also one of the most resourceful people I have ever met. Even though people may see his past, I only see a journey with him, a journey of constant renewal.”
Chris finds Wandia’s most endearing quality to be her unawareness about the power and influence that she wields, her generosity, her dedication to her students, and he loves her more for it.
DIFFERENCES IN EDUCATION AND FINANCES
Wandia and Chrisdeliberately havediscussions about their different academic backgrounds and income as they do not want it to be a barrier in their lives.
“The nature of Wandia’s employment is that she currently brings in more money, and more regularly. During the Mavuno pre-marital counselling classes, we were encouraged to save, so we decided that my income would be our savings and Wandia’s income would be for the day-to-day expenses,” adds Chris.
“We also know that the world narrowly defines manhood by property, schooling and financial status.But provision is not always financial, and schooling doesn’t necessarily mean education. We talk through these thingsover and over again because we know people willkeep throwing them back at us, and we need to make a concerted effort in facing such scenarios,” Wandia adds.
And the challenge has already started in just three weeks of marriage.
“I have been in situations where I’ve been introduced simply as Dr Wandia’s husband. And I am okay with that,” says Chris.
“Although Wandia sometimes shies away from her title, I’ve told her I’m proud of her and proud to be her husband. Her intellect was one of the things that attracted me. Besides, she was already Dr Wandia when I met her. And when we started dating, I found how refreshing her education was for our relationship,” he adds.
The couple opened joint accounts before they got married to manage the wedding contributions, and to keep their savings.
“Opening a joint account for the wedding was good because it made us have to talk about money,” she says.
The happy couple is looking forward to creating a revolution in championing for people to get second chances, and not let their pasts define them. As for starting a family, they are looking forward to following God’s intention for them and letting his will prevail.
Their union, they say, is testament to having second chances and new beginnings.
This article was first published in the Daily Nation.