You know you love books when you literally compare your life situations with experiences of book characters. Well, I am part of the list! I have been singing along to the Song of Lawino by Ugandan poet Okot p’ Bitek.
As a young Nairobian lady, I have been brought up with what my culture and society perceives as admirable qualities of a woman. But somehow, these qualities seem not to be enough for my fellow citizens who happen to be African men. I find myself constantly compared with the white-skinned and horse-tail-haired ladies from foreign lands.
What happened to the complements I used to receive from the boys I schooled with in primary school? Those who used to make fun of their mothers’ wigs knowing that they looked better with their natural hair? Those who found it showy when girls stole a smear or two of their mothers’ red lipstick?
Well, these are the boys who have grown into the men I was once promised to marry. At a young age, I watched closely in excitement knowing that one of these silly boys would one day man-up and refine their boyishness into manliness. Oh! What a rude shock I’ve got over the past few years. Let’s take a trip into the life of today’s girl living in the city jungle.
The Cry of Nairobi’s Lawino
Over the years, it has clearly been communicated that the natural African girl isn’t enough. It’s as if Nairobian girl fell for a cultural con! Somehow, the language she speakS with her men has changed. Childhood dreams have changed. Values have changed. African philosophies have changed. The approach to religion has changed. Even general preferences – physical, sexual, emotional – have changed.
It’s heartbreaking to see the Nairobian girl forsake her years of learning from her mother on how to be a good African woman. The old lessons just seem not to work anymore. She does not despise the foreign woman’s ways. She is just envious of how Tina seems to always have it easy.
She doesn’t need to wrestle to comb and straighten her hair. She doesn’t have to apply chalk to lighten her skin. She doesn’t have to depend on school to edit-out an African accent. Her lips are naturally red and her body fat is seen as curvy and not fat. She cusses a lot, shows off so much of her fair skin without societal alarm. She jumps onto him in public, passionately kisses him and this somehow keeps him committed to her. She lives in his house, not caring if at all he’ll propose marriage, she just enjoys living in the moment.
Should Nairobi’s Lawino do the same to salvage her love for her childhood friend?
Well, she has seen Nairobi’s Ocol in his true colours! Even the matatu driver wants a woman like Beyonce – a woman who seems to have long forgotten her African roots. The images on billboards, matatu surfaces, bedroom posters, screensavers, high-end advertisements and men’s fantasies… are all influenced by Tina and her foreign mystery.
Doesn’t Tina miss the attention from men from her homeland? Does she have to prove that she can win on both sides? Should Nairobi’s Lawino now turn a blind (coloured) eye and start a relationship with men from Tina’s land?
After all, Tina’s men seem to love Nairobi’s Lawino’s never-ending African curves, the soft black wool on her hair, the sensual swing of her African dance, the strong features on her face and even the idea of bearing beautiful children from both worlds.
But this isn’t a sure path as it’s one that she’s been jealously judged and warned by her society to avoid, in hope that Ocol will come to his senses in good time. She’s also not sure if the foreign man will want her to look like ‘what’s familiar’ to him. Might she need to look like the skeletal girl with artificial black hair on the international fashion magazines? Will she have to wear a plastic smile like a dressmaker’s dummy?
Well, there’s no definite answer for what today’s daughter of Nairobi doubts about her culture. There’s no prominent trace of the battle she silently faces in her heart and mind.
But I dare you to do just one thing – one tiny little thing. Let Nairobi’s daughter know that she’s beautiful just as she is. One might be surprised with the outcome.
NB: The Storymoja Hay Festival is on September 19 – 22, 2013 at the National Museums of Kenya. Follow @SMHayFest on Twitter, and Storymoja Hay Festival on Facebook for updates on guest authors, events, pre-fest events and tickets.