We are women from Kenya, Ghana and the U.S. writing together in Dorothy's Spirit of A Womanworkshop. InthisGlobal/Social Justice initiativeof the International Women's Writing Guildthe miles between us melted away as we shared our hearts, souls and spirits.
These are our words, these are our lives.
If You Knew My Story
If you knew my story
You’d say I’d lived a full life.
If you knew my story
You’d understand my need to tell it
If you knew my story
You’d wonder why I’m inhibited, mute,
still fearful of speaking in public.
If you knew my story
You’d unmute me.
The Moment I Decided to Live Again
His gentle voice rose me from my slumber as His giant hands wrapped around my delicate frame.
His light shone bright, brighter than the heavenly lights as His breathing vibrated, a heavy storm that sent shockwaves through my brain placating me to His loving grace, and there I gently swayed.
He said again, as the ocean water beneath our feet gently waved then ran away, and so the clouds began to fall into space, calling me higher and higher towards the beating sun rays.
“ Remember, “ He said, “in order to live you must die, but in death you shall freedom to live again, just follow the Light and always remember…” he said, and as the wind glided me higher into the air and space, our hands finally parted ways and with His last breath I said,” I will re…”
The hearty cry of a baby hit the sun-rayed air of the hospital room as mother met child for the first time.
“Just 3 hours of labor, eh Kezia! Say hello to your smiling baby girl Achieng, born on at 2pm a Sunny afternoon on Monday in Nairobi.”
That was the moment I decided to live again.
“For You formed my innermost parts; You knit me [together] in my mother’s womb." – Psalms 139:13
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."– Genesis 2:7
She spits on the child. After a few seconds of silence, she spits on her palm, takes a finger and draws something that takes on the sign of the cross on the baby’s face with the saliva. “Mwangi,” she calls him. “Mwangi. Mwangi. Mwangi. Mwangi. Mwangi. Mwangi. Mwangi.” Seven times for the 7 day old child. The newborn child’s eyes drawn to her, wide as a startled doll, perhaps wondering, maybe in communication with the ancestors he is named after. The corners of Mwangi’s mouth are defined by curded milk, which he burps every other minute. Grandma Muthoni’s face can tell a story, today the furrows on her forehead seem to smile like an animated emoji. “Asante kwa Mwangi,” she tells the kid’s mother. She spits again, this time a bit of saliva splotches her patched black-red lips. She hugs Mama Mwangi, in glee.
Mama Mwangi contorts her face. How dare she spit on a newborn kid? She picks a wet wipe after everyone is settled and goes for the child’s forehead. “Do not,” the baby’s father holds her hand. “My child is not Mwangi even. We named him Faraja. He is Faraja” she is quick in her reply. “Cucu has a reason, and now the kid is Mwangi. Faraja Mwangi. I like it.” Her husband reassures her. Grandma is welcomed to speak again, compelled more after Mwangi’s older brother shouts about how Cucu has bad, bad, bad manners. He reports her to all guests that care to listen.
“Mwangi is a blessing, my husbands’ reincarnate, ready to finish the life he had before. My grandma’s always did this ritual to accept the child, give them a deserving name.”
The Daughter Who…
I was the daughter who saw too much.
…the one whose eyes should have been shielded from the sore sight of adult love-turned-sour.
I was the daughter who stood up for others, but somehow forgot to stand up and follow her dream
I was the daughter who learnt to mute and bottle up her screaming desires and took whatever crumbs of affection were thrown her way
I was the daughter who built walls so high that when the guns fell silent, she was too numb to climb over
I am now the daughter who is crawling up from under the shadow of that wall and bathing in the warmth of the sun as it kisses my bare shoulders and outstretched hands
I am soaking in the rain as it washes away the dust and dirty memories of years past
…my eyes have to catch their breath at the glimpse of how much there is to see beyond the wall…, and at the wonder of the daughter I am becoming!
From my ethnic community, Luo, we have a rite of passage ritual that is the removal of six lower front teeth. We also had our ears pierced. When I was in fifth grade, I really wanted to get my ears pierced but my Dad was against it. I thought I was smart by reasoning with him and pointed out that it's a matter of cultural pride. He said "All right, you can pierce your ears, but you'll also have to get your six teeth removed. Suffuse to say, I did not get my ears pierced until much later.
Dorothy Randall Gray
I Married for Love
My grandmother talks a lot about her past, seeming to live there more than in the present. Some stories, she repeats more than others and we sit there, listening as if hearing the story for the first time. This is one of her stories.
I was named "Mumbi" at birth
But renamed "Nyawira" because I worked hard
At marriage age, wealthy suitors came calling, strolling into my father's homestead that did little to hide our poverty
They promised untold wealth, I said no
They sent gifts, I sent them back
They sent emissaries, I turned them away
One was more persistent than most
An old man, my father's age
His daughter, my age
Married many times over
But like many Kikuyu men of his time
With land and needing someone to till it
A hardworking wife was the jackpot
At wit's end he asked my father, "What will it take to marry your daughter?"
"Her consent," my father, unlike most men of his time, replied.
And that's how it happened, when this poor young man came calling and I loved him. I gave my consent. I married for love.
I Am Not…. I Will Not!
My words barely mean much to you,
but I will speak up, anyway.
I have acted deaf, dumb and numb for far too long.
I have turned the other cheek, one too many times.
Seeing myself through your eyes
has seen me shut my own
the weight of your contempt has pounded heavily on me.
I have lied to us just so that I can be with you.
I have re-created myself in your image
and I hate what I see.
I shudder at the sight of the woman
I have allowed myself to become.
For my truth to breath, live and have its day,
…this is where I get off!
I Was Born
I was born
on a night I do not remember,
a night I only hear about
in stories from the lips
of the one whose womb
I laid for nine months.
I was born
for a purpose
unfolding each day
before my eyes
like the petals of a flower.
Some days I stumble and fall,
some days I raise my arms in victory,
some days I wonder why?
Why two souls with no love in-between
decided to converge to form me,
leaving me cold and dry,
spilling bitter words my way.
But I was born
to be the change,
I Was Born in a Little Village
I was born in a little village on the edge of the forest
At the height of the war for liberation, no hospitals open
All traditional midwives barred from movement owing to the curfew
But my grandmother’s loving hands assisted to bring me into the world
This place was only a village by name
In fact it was just a cluster of houses spread out
Left there by those who had ran off deep into the forest
To fight for the liberation of our country
All the same I have a special attachment to that village where I was born
A special attachment to that land of freedom fighters
My home town, my village, where I first learned to walk
And where my mother, my grandmother and all our fighter ancestors are buried
It’s been a long time since that first cry for breath of life
For liberation from inside my mother’s womb to the outside world
Where I found little freedom hence my constant struggle
In the fight against all forms of injustice
It’s been a long time but change has not yet come for the children of those many
Who believed enough in freedom to fight for all the children on the land
Change has not yet come for those whose children can not afford to go to school
Or even afford a tiny piece of land they can call their own but live in dirty slums
It’s been a long time that I’ve been leaning on the words of our freedom fighters
Who said share whatever you have, feed your neighbour’s child as your own
All over Africa I have gone, to every last village of every last region of
To tell them that a change is soon coming and they have to keep on
fighting for it
It’s been a long time and I have traversed the whole of the Sahel region
To rescue girl and boy children at risk of exploitation as child soldiers
Boys and girls living with disabilities, exploited by religious leaders
To these I have said: a change is soon coming thanks to school now available
To all these children, in urban and rural areas of all parts of the continent
I repeated one prayer taught me by my grandmother back in my village long ago
It’s not in vain that your parents and grandparents fought for independence
Change is long time coming, but believe me, once it comes, it will be for good
It’s been a long time but all this takes me back to the village where I was born
To the day I took my first breath at the height of the war for liberation
And swore to those in the forest that their fight would not be in vain
For I would follow in their footsteps to bring about change
Some change has come, though, thanks to all those of us who say no to injustice
Those of us who refuse to submit to a world without basic freedoms
Not just for ourselves but also for all our continent’s children and grandchildren
Our children and grandchildren whose turn it now is to speak out for change.
Digestion Luz Vasquez
We are seated at the dining table in our usual spots. Bill, our stepfather, sits at the head of the table our Mother to his right, the three of us take up the remaining chairs.
Mother doles out the pork chops, worried they are too dry. She was busy thinking about how she was going to pay the pediatrician’s bill and left them on too long.
Tim, my youngest brother, sits in his chair, wheezing. His main agenda is to grab the biggest pork chop on the serving platter. His recent asthma attack has improved, but we still hear his accordion lungs working to the push air in and out.
Ted, the middle child, sits oblivious to the family, day dreaming about how he will ace the next baseball game. He is their star pitcher. He goes through the batting order in his head meticulously deciding his pitches for each opponent. He barely touches his plate.
I sit in my usual spot. I am the oldest, the only female child. I finally made the seventh-grade popularity list. For the first time, I ‘m invited to a birthday party for someone in my class. I’m usually the kid who is left out.
Bill shoves food into his mouth at lightning speed. He is irritated at a previous interaction with his boss earlier in the day. He is tired of working the night shift, but his boss doesn’t want to hear it. John Cochran had his appendix out; they are short on staff. He is assigned night shifts for the next two weeks. He is obligated to make due.
Mother concentrates on chewing her food. She spends a long time between bites, blissfully masticating. Her chewing produces a staccato echo, that reverberates throughout the dining room.
“Why do you have to chew so much, just swallow.”, Bill says, as he turns his attention to my mother. “Some of us don’t want to listen while you chew your food one hundred times.”
Mother swallows what is in her mouth. She stares at her plate. She wishes to avoid a fight.
“Actually, that chewing is good for her digestion. Digestion begins in the mouth, so she probably digests her food better that you do.” I say, in an attempt to stifle the upcoming argument. I sit tall in my chair after my pronouncement. Bill irritates me; I’m smart enough to know how the body really works. Where does he get off, intimidating my mother while she eats? Mom, never fights back for herself.
“How can you be so stupid. I don’t know why we send you kids to school. Everyone knows digestion begins in the stomach.” Bill answers.
“Actually, it doesn’t, we covered this in science today. You have enzymes in your saliva that start the process, so when you chew you start to digest your food.” I reiterate.
Tim takes this opportunity to slip another pork chop onto his plate. Nobody notices that he gets to eat double.
“You’re wrong, digestion begins in the stomach.” Bill bangs his fist on the table. Her kids are so damn disrespectful, he thinks. He would just love to pop that kid in the mouth. What she needs are a few good slaps to remind her who’s boss in this family.
“No, you’re wrong, digestion begins in the mouth, I can prove it”, I say. I run down the dark hallway that connects the dining room table to my bedroom, to retrieve my science textbook. Back in the dining room, textbook in hand, I place the book right under Bill’s nose. It clearly states: Digestion begins in the mouth where the enzymes in saliva start to break down food.
“See it says it right there, read that sentence”, I say.
“I don’t have to read no book to know that digestion begins in the stomach!” Bill is abundantly clear, that his is the only correct answer.
“Give up, he’s never going to admit you’re right, go back to eating your dinner”, Mother says. The look on her face pleads for me to stop arguing. “Let’s change the subject”
“Ok, I was invited to Tara’s party today,” I say. I cannot contain how happy I am about the invitation.
“What kind of party is that, will there be boys there?” Bill asks.
“It’s a birthday party, its only for girls, no boys” I answer.
“I don’t know why you are so happy to go to a party with no boys. Anybody that happy to go to a party with no boys, must be a lesbian.” Bill looks at me, a smug smile on his face.
“I’m not a lesbian! And digestion begins in the mouth!”, I scream as I dramatically exit the room.
“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with that girl.”, Bill says. He reaches across the table and piles the last of the green beans onto his plate.
RITE OF PASSAGE OR ADVENTURE BY THE RIVER Wanjira Muthoni
Kururu river is silent mainly because it is full and the water flows down slowly. I want to interact with it to find out where the water is coming from and what its destination is. Is it aware of my presence and the fact that I am observing it keenly? The water is dark green in colour, seemingly sulky and not in a mood to communicate with anybody or anything, judging from the way it keeps to its side as if simply minding its own business and not wanting to know what is happening to the left, right, front or behind.
Unlike the other seasons when it is obviously angry, violent as it flows downstream, this time it is simply moody, taking its time as it flows down from the foggy hills of Mt Kenya to the lower ground towards Ragati River that soon flows into Sagana River with its banks widening as it makes its way towards Embu where it changes its name to Tana River, having swallowed all the tributaries around the hills, then fills up like a monster before emptying its water into the Indian Ocean. I look at the river wondering if it can see me, if it can sense my presence and my wonder and amazement at its gentle flow. I try speaking to it, convinced that we can hold a conversation:
“Good morning, my senior, my older parent who came here before I was even born and have been here all the years imaginable, the one who takes care of us all here in this village, up the hills and down the hill to the flat ground where crocodiles and hippos breed," I say.
The water seems to stop for a fraction of a second to listen to my words of reverence. I am sure it can hear me, that it has actually stopped to twist its hips in appreciation to my words of recognition of its stature. Then it continues as if saying:
“Was that all you could find to say to me in the form of greetings?”
I am so impressed at this conversation that I actually continue:
“Oh, my senior, my older parent, I am so grateful that you have listened to me and actually taken time to respond to me. I just want to ask you how far you would advise me to go down at the deep part of the river where the water flows violently in a circle and where people say there is a monster that lives in the water and devours disobedient children,”
The river is silent. I repeat my question:
“Oh, my senior, my older parent, I was hoping you could answer my question. I just wanted to know how far down I can swim in the river without drowning and how true it is that where the water flows violently in a circle there is a big monster that devours people.”
Like my grandmother when she is busy cleaning the millet she has bought in faraway Embu before grinding it to make fermented porridge, quiet and deep in thought about all the things that have happened since she was a small girl like me and wondering how much longer she has to live in this world, the river ignores me and continues to flow down, ever so slowly, leading me to the conclusion that this question is not worth asking as the answer is obvious.
My classmates seem to hear my inner conversation with the water as they all burst out laughing and say:
“Cowards go back home, today is for brave ones,” someone shouts.
No sooner said than done, they undress and start jumping into the water and swimming downstream. We are all in high school and know no fear. The first person jumps in, and starts swimming downstream followed by a second one, a third one and so on. The first five boys and girls jump in. Now it’s my turn. Fear grips me. I can’t. I won’t. Let them laugh at me. From behind me, someone pushes me into the water and before I know what is happening, I am in mid-air. I have no choice, it’s either swim or drown. I have to dive where only devils dare.
My body touches the water. I wait to die. I am not yet dead so then suddenly I remember my swimming lessons and do my best. Inspiration comes in flashes, emboldening me, reminding me that if I survive, I’ll have a story to tell. I swim downstream towards where the water flows in a circle, where the monster supposedly awaits naughty children to swallow them alive.
Just then, two strong arms grab me and lift me off the water. I look and notice that I have swam past the place that supposedly had ogres and hippos. As the two strong arms lift me off onto solid ground, I hear loud clapping and ululation. It’s my classmates applauding me. I have done the impossible, I have dived where only devils dare and swam downstream to just a few metres off the waterfall, much farther than many other members of the group.
It is now time to celebrate. Someone announces that this was our test for admission into adulthood and since all of us have passed, we are entitled to have our rite of passage ceremony into adulthood and into the group to be known as RIVER CHAMPS. No one should ever tell the little kids in school that there is no monster. They all have to go through that moment of conquering fear and if they come out of it alive and well, then they become responsible citizens in our society.
No sooner said than done. An adult from a group that had been observing us from the bushes comes out shouting in celebration. Many more adults, male and female follow, carrying fermented porridge, goat meat (yummy!) and yams. Within no time, stones are arranged in threes, a fire is lit and the meat arranged on the fire to start roasting as someone with a radio puts on music for us to sing and dance. That is how we enter the group of adults in our society. What an adventure!
I Was Born
cecilia amoafowaa sefa
I was born
I was born a seedling to pose as a tree
To feed a dozen mouths
Like manna with a deviation of long lasting
I was born
I was born a spear in a prayer clenched palms
Seen as a nuisance and grew as a blessing
After weathering storms
...and changing forms
I was born
I was born a hidden rainbow in a thunder
And grew a little wonder whose surrender
...was sought by villains
Who always turned fans
I was born
I was born to a world of passion
My blood a working trouble
My bones, malleable but unbending to terror
To help win wars long unwon
Before I was born
I was born
I was born a trophy in filth
...a bully target among hyenas
...a sore on a rotting skin
...a solution among problems
And now I live a miracle
Passions driving my actions
All pains forgotten
Making me glad I was born
Born to lead
Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia © September 9, 2020
A Skinny Weird Girl
A skinny weird girl growing up in Ruai
Little town, hot and named after Texas
Tagging along after her brothers
Bike riding, milestones achieved then
Youngest of four, skinny tiny tomboy
A skinny weird girl not really fitting in
Dust up to her ankles like socks
Scoring goal after goal in soccer
One of the boys but not really
One of her boys, her mother called her.
A skinny weird girl out in the wild
Hunting birds and wild rabbits
Cooking them in cowboy oil tins
She dare not tell her mother the truth
When her tummy hurt after the meal
A skinny weird girl knowing no better
Drinking and drinking the borehole water
Fluorosis they would later call it
Hell she would and still calls it
Dimming the childhood bunny smile
A skinny weird girl in her imaginary world
Blackie, Shute, her imaginary children
Making clothes, books, and book bags
For the black-faced and string-haired doll
Named Betty, that her mum finally bought
A skinny weird girl in her school uniform
On Sunday in church for a performance
Archbishop Ndingi visiting the parish
And for answering the priest's questions
Getting Mars bars during Thursday’s mass
7. A skinny weird girl in her mother's agrovet
White lace dress from her confirmation
In walks, the boy named after a calf
Looking for change, she thinks but no
Against the shelves, her breasts grabbed
A skinny weird girl down on her knees
Praying to have hips and a big bum
A footpath, her brothers dubbed hers
Her sister though, she had a 5 acre
So now, earnestly praying for a miracle
A skinny weird girl discovering books
Her dad indulging her new love
Truphena, Pamela, Sweet Valley Twins
Finally freed as a new world unlocked
The reader giving rise to a budding writer.
I WILL NOT
Rozerth Rosemary Cinadak Mensah
I will not let my father's training be in vain
Because of our friendship
I shall live well with everyone but my family comes first
You have been on the street where I met you
And there I shall leave you because I have got a name to uphold
I will not let the way my father brought me up the way
he wanted me to be go waste
I was put on a track, I shall not let you derail me with your
bad influence, friend
As for you, you have vowed to remain as you are,
so I shall not disturb you
But I shall not stay with you, I am going back to my
house full of dignitaries
Oh familyless man
You trick me to go about begging for swallows and cash
Saying we are wiser and our brains alone will feed us
But that's cheating folk
You even said if we don't get, we picked them at night
That's too bad! friend why?
I will not let you put me behind bars
In my father's house we don't beg for bread
What am I doing with you?
I will go home and make friends with elegance
For you are rough and intolerant
You insult anyone anything, dead or alive
And never regrets
You don't love or show mercy to anyone
I will not let you destroy the way I was brought up to love
Serve and care for the needy
The need of neighbours, the need of friends
Then you conned me to say; you are a friend too so I should
see to your needs.
That need of yours that's too identical to that of the devil's
No I will not let you destroy me
No no no and it's no!
I will never let you push me into the destruction zone
Killing and cutting trees
This is how far I shall go with you
What you had destroyed if possible I would rectify
If not I will let go
But the few good ones left I shall protect
I will not look at the bad trending things and remember you
I shall not let you push me to disobey my father
whose name I bear
The honourable, noble, prestigious, influential, powerful name
the world cherishes so much
I will not sit down for you to destroy me
I will not let you take advantage of me again
To the bad things you have been saying to me, I say nothing
But I will not let you speak to me again
I will not let you be in my sight
So that you will be out of my mind
I will not let the kind of your evil world rule my atmosphere
I will leave, I will leave, yes I will leave to a better world
Bye unwanted friend
The Plight of an African Girl
Benuyenah Patricia Akosua Rejoice, GATE, Ghana
I was born a twin, with a twin brother
Not by desire, but by supreme design
That fateful day dozens of people trooped to my father’s house
Many held my twin brother’s wrist and said to my father,
Congratulations!!! “Wodzi ame na wo” “Woanya nipa”
Simply put, ‘You’ve gotten a human being’
But they turned and peeped at me in apprehension
And I heard their giggles and whispers saying,
‘It is a girl’
My brother and I suckled from the same mother’s breasts
We played and fought as kids as we were
I grew up with my brother in the hut of straws
We hurt ourselves, each other and got hurt by others
To express our pain and anguish in emotions we resorted to crying
But my brother was told again and again,
“Nutsu mefana avi o” “ Burima nso”
“Men don’t cry”
I was rather encouraged to weep my heart out as a weaker cell
For, I am a girl!
Then the bell of going to school started tolling
My brother and I jumped up high with zeal and said,
‘Father and Mother, ‘we want to go to school’
Though first to say, ‘We’ll go to school’ was last
to step my feet in there.
I was sacrificed for my brother due to my feminine status
My mother tried to speak for me, but was muzzled
because she is a woman
And I am made-up to stay at home with her to do the chores
While my brother geared up for school to learn
Just because I am a girl!
Then, I found myself in school, trailing behind my twin brother,
two years later
In class I shone and glowed my intellect among my peers as the FIRST
I played the football, hockey, rugby and…. all the “rough games”
I championed the course of success and victory as I led my groups
Yet, my peers would constantly say, “She is still a girl”
I wanted to be a calculator, a moving calculator
But even my teachers turned to damp my dreams
They deliberately poured cold water on my shoulders.
They chorused to me, teasingly “but you are a girl”
Yet, the old rugged cloth, my mother!
Yes, she cushioned me with the CAN DO SPIRIT.
Who never dampened my dreams.
I will achieve my goals!!!
In town, both the young and old gaze at me
As new shepherd at the chief’s palace
They giggle sarcastically at each of my steps
But I walk with the brisk and smartest move
As I move with gallantry and the gorgeousness naturally abounds in me
They murmur among themselves
And continue to remind me of my feminine status
“Look …you’re still a girl”
I don’t need such reminders please.
In church some unscrupulous opportunists want to lure me
They tried to seal me up with cash and car
The worse of it is this: even the women push me to engage
in such filthy acts
With the so called ‘eyes’ of the church
Tangled in the thorn of men and women with frail conscience
I ran to the Bishop…..Prophet…..Pastor Man of God help
But …. I went from the frying pan into fire
The pastor used me as prey
Just because I’m a girl
I dreamt of driving and flying a plane, but I was not allowed
to ride a bike.
I am told by all, “You are a girl”
Through the beads and turns, the threats, pains that
rolled down my tears,
The trying moments, unintended, purposeless fasting
and soap-less baths
I got my academic certificate out of conscious effort and
The job I applied for was mine because I was placed second to none
But for that unscrupulous boss, I was denied.
Just because I failed to exchange my womanhood, my virtue,
my pride for a job
Yet, I don’t have the voice to shout it out
When I complained, I’m told, “But you’re a girl”
Now I see the silenced voice of girls and women slapping me
Hunting me in my dreams like the cheetah and the tiger chasing
the poor helpless rat.
At home, school, church, work, in marriage, policy and politics.
In professional and vocational endeavours.
Even in decisions that affect them directly.
Their voices are MISSING… as they cannot speak nor write right.
That VOICE needn’t be missing!
The silence must be broken!!!
email@example.com GATE, Ghana