Facing A New Direction

 

For a time when I refused to look elsewhere.

 

My eyes were fixed. Fixated. Captured. I refused to look elsewhere.

It was gone, but I refused to look elsewhere. As if my gaze would make it reappear.

Your gaze will not make it reappear.

Your eyes will hurt. Your soul will hurt.

Look away. Or close your eyes, at the very least.

 

It’s gone, but you are here.

Listen- there’s nothing good for you there anymore. Look away.

Take your gaze elsewhere. Your eyes are not captives. Set them free, baby.

A new direction. A new bearing.

We’re looking for more. We’re looking for different. We’re looking for ourselves, again.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) | Eldoret, Kenya

 

Your eyes will stop searching. Your eyes will stop seeing the same thing in a different place.

It won’t follow you forever.

A new direction. A new bearing.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

Womanhood, Likeability and #IWD2016

Today is International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day celebrates the contributions of women across all spheres of life. I could write an endless list of phenomenal women who inspire and challenge me but I’d like to focus instead on three of my favourite women- my Mom and sisters, Tebby and Tania

I grew up around mostly women so I’ve learnt and understood that women come in different shapes and sizes- physically, mentally and emotionally. Some of us love the kitchen. Some of us don’t. Some of us love the workplace. Some of us don’t. Some find meaning bearing children. Some don’t. But we’re all still women. 

For this open-mindedness, I have my Mom to thank.

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Mama Tess is the original carefree black girl. Long before I became aware of the likeability politics that women often struggle with, I watched my Mom live her life unapologetically. She taught me to walk into parties by myself at an age when I was afraid to be seen without friends. She taught me not to centre my life around the opinions or activities of other people. Likeability was not romanticised in our house- there were (are) far more important things in life.

My mom taught me to love my hair. Not just through words, but most importantly by action. When she undid our braids, she always took her time to section it and gently comb it before we went to the salon the next day. She never said our hair was difficult, or tough or unmanageable- it was just our hair. At the salon, hairdressers would beg to put relaxer in our hair- it was too kinky and needed to be tamed. But what could be more glorious than the tufts of afro hair that grew graciously out of our heads? You couldn’t convince my Mom otherwise.

My mom is also an amazing storyteller. She’s animated, she’s expressive, she’s full of life. Ask her about her day and she’ll tell you about it in vivid detail- from start to finish. That’s my mom- thorough and deliberate and never wanting to miss a detail. She can sense when something has gone wrong. She’ll tell you your mood before you realise it yourself. She knows when one of her glasses is missing. Basically, she runs a tight ship.

My mom is also an aspiring member of our sister squad- I don’t blame her. My sisters and I are inseparable. You could give us all the beds in the world, but we still want to squeeze together in one bed.

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My sister Tebby follows me in age, but too often precedes me in thinking. Occasionally, when I’m not in the mood to act grown, she’ll take over and do a damn good job at it. She’s my big little sister. She loves the Lord. And I love that she loves the Lord. You can hear life speak through her. She also cooks and bakes the most delightful food and treats. If there’s a cooking gene, it missed me and found a home in her. Can you help me pressure her to start a bakery soon? Thanks.

Tania is our littlest, but tallest and fiercest sister. She’s a fairy- always in her own world, but a magical being in every sense of the word. She stands up to the big ones, with no fear of contradiction- you can’t get away with much with her. She is grounded in herself and moves with a confidence that I can only wish I had at 16. Tania is the one person I feel comfortable taking my picture- she gets my aesthetic visual preferences. She also beats me up and bullies me. Mom, I hope you’re reading this.

Happy Women’s Day, Mama, Tebz and Tania. I love you!

 

To all women,

Do not live someone else’s life and someone else’s idea of what womanhood is. Womanhood is you, womanhood is everything that’s inside of you” – Viola Davis

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

T x Gen 50 +

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of 17-21 year olds on the topic of how to use social media as an effective tool in communicating a powerful message. I’m always eager to speak to young people so when the Gen 50 + team got in touch with me, I could not say no.

Here is an excerpt of what I spoke about:

My name is Tessy and I write. I write because I enjoy it. I write because I’m good at it. And I write because my voice is important.

I was asked to host this masterclass on how to use social media as an effective tool in communicating a powerful message. But you know what? I’m not going to take you through how and why you should use social media. You know all that already. Your entire generation was born into the internet age. Most of you probably knew how to use Facebook before you learnt to count.

Today I want you to leave this masterclass with an understanding of why your voice is important. Because that’s what scares most people about starting a blog or using any other online medium to communicate a message. You ask yourself- what will people think? And it can terrify you to the point of paralysis.

I started my blog in my first year of university abroad. My blog was a lifeline in many respects. I started it to help me cope with living away from my family. But most importantly I wanted to document my journey. Sharing is a powerful thing. It brings people together; it highlights commonalities and also celebrates differences.

Over the years I have realized that what makes a blog successful is a writer’s ability to sustain an audience through consistent content. But more importantly, to me at least, a successful blog is one that is authentically and unapologetically you. People connect to a blog when they can feel the personality of a person shine through.

As I’ve grown, so has the content on my blog. I look back at some of the posts I used to write and feel embarrassed. Thank God for the glow up!

For a long time I was a very safe writer. I wrote about what I thought people wanted to read. I filtered a lot of my thoughts, packaged them gently and posted them with caution. I was also a shallow writer. Glossing over issues; saying without really saying.

That changed when I joined student politics in my former university in 2014. I found myself in the thrust of a politically charged, socially conscious team of elected representatives. They opened my mind, exposed me to new concepts but most importantly- they taught me to speak up.

I’m very much an afterthought kinda girl. I need time to reflect on a discussion before I can share a viewpoint. Discussions on politics and social issues with my team were always very intense and I found it challenging to articulate my thoughts immediately. Which is why my blog worked so well for me- I could reflect on an issue, gather my thoughts and share them in my own time.

My students’ union colleagues were by and large much more knowledgeable than I was on politics and social issues. They were involved in campaigns, joined political parties and knew feminism like the back of their hand. Then there was me- 20 years old, never been involved in politics and having a shallow understanding of world issues.

It didn’t take long before their passion and fearlessness rubbed off on me- I started sharing my thoughts- or as my friends called them, mini-rants- on my snapchat story anytime I felt strongly about something. One day I downloaded one of my videos and shared it on my blog page- the response was overwhelming. I had 3000+ organic views in just a few days.

But I also want you to know something- as I’ve made videos over time, some of them have had a really poor response rate. Can you imagine being welcomed so nicely with 3000+ views and then that reducing dramatically to like 200 views?! I almost stopped at some point because I felt shortchanged I couldn’t be baring my soul like this and only getting only a few hundred views- No way!

These days I find myself watching my videos and reading my posts several times before I upload them. It’s scary to be honest and vulnerable. But whether I get 100 or 1000 views, it’s my voice and it’s important. It’s my responsibility to share my experiences. Especially when it comes to gender-issues.

Equality is what we’re trying to achieve. And I believe feminism is the vehicle that gets us there. Feminism has two important tenets: firstly, understanding we live in a patriarchal society and secondly, a belief that there must be a women-led liberation.

Saying that this liberation must be women-led is not to say that it’s exclusively a woman’s job to fight for equality. Men must be involved, but should acknowledge the power that women have to lift themselves up from the jaws of the dreaded patriarchy.

You don’t need to look far to see the patriarchy manifest:

Catcalling – how many of you have experienced catcalling in the recent past?

Forced early marriage– Many girls in African communities face this today. This is different from an arranged marriage.

Rape culture – the idea that men are entitled to women’s bodies and that no somehow sometimes means yes.

Feminism needs to be intersectional. This means we acknowledge that gender can intersect with other identities such as race, sexuality and class. The issues faced by an upper class woman from Lavington will not be the same as the issues faced by a young girl from Samburu. Let’s stop applying Western feminist ideals to ourselves.

Too many people out there are trying to define and control the narrative of what it means to be African, Kenyan, Woman- if you’re not African, you don’t know what it means to be African. If you’re not a woman, you don’t know what it means to be a woman. Stop trying to speak for us. For those who define, use the internet to tell your story.

Social media allows us to share the African/ Kenyan story. We can’t all be interviewed on NTV or CNN or Al Jazeera, but we can create our own platforms via the internet. No one needs to invite you! Invite yourself and have something powerful to say.

You’ll hear those people who say “OMG, everyone is a blogger these days!” Guess what? No-one owns the internet. If you have something to say and want to say it consistently, do the damn thing! Don’t let anyone shame you into thinking the Internet is some kind of exclusive club.

With that said, have something to say. Read, watch, listen and learn. There’s already a plethora of vacuous content on the internet- please, don’t add to it. We need to hear intelligent, well thought out perspectives from young people.

Your voice is important. Your voice is so important. Don’t be a closet believer. When people are sharing sexist memes on Facebook, call them out. If you have friends shaming women for wearing ‘skimpy’ clothes, speak up. It takes courage to put yourself out there- but do it.

When you are afraid remember these words, “It’s not the critic who counts. Not the person who points out where the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.” The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.

It doesn’t end on social media. Social media activism is powerful but it does Not. End. There. Grassroots action is so important. Use social media to inspire, galvanise and mobilise people into doing things on the ground. Have a protest on the streets. Write a petition. Speak to the authorities, whoever they may be- but do things on the ground.

Things are looking up. Even if just one of you leaves here today and does something to challenge status quo, Gen 50 + has done it’s job. Thank you.


After I spoke, the questions came in thick and fast. If I thought, for any second, that they were going to just nod and accept what I shared, I was wrong. They challenged, critiqued and questioned.

What do you mean when you say men shouldn’t speak for women? The best example I can think of to explain this is the diaspora saviour complex- the idea that people who have studied abroad are more capable of contributing to their respective countries than local people. Those who have studied abroad have had the privilege of exposure and can often be blinded to think that this makes them the answer to all their nation’s challenges; without an understanding that the people on the ground can often be equally as capable as they are. Similarly, when men speak up for women, there’s a danger in that being interpreted or understood as them using their superior status in society to save women from the oppression they face. This doesn’t sound bad at first glance, but where there’s a power dynamic, there’s a danger that this could continue to be enforced when the more privileged take up the role of ‘saviour’. The people who are oppressed should take a lead role in liberating themselves. But that’s not to say men shouldn’t speak up for women at all- so Iet me correct myself- men, speak up for women, but just be conscious of what you say and how you say it.

What do you mean by gender equality? Someone from the audience made a really interesting point. He explained gender equality as this:

10 = 10

7 + 3 = 6 + 4

2 + 4 + 4 = 3 + 1 + 6

His point was that when we speak about gender equality, we do so without acknowledging that men and women are different. And that gender equality can be achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have a 10 = 10 situation.

Okay, I really like how he explained this. And I agree. But think we should note that some times, the differences in women are socially constructed to keep women in their place. For example, someone once wrote to me asking me how rape can be eradicated when women are (often) physically weaker than men.

Having strength is not inherently a bad thing. It’s how you’re taught to use that strength. And men are often taught that their masculinity is defined by how they exercise that physical strength- through media, sometimes family and even friends. This has contributed to the rape culture mentality- if she says no, I can still use my strength to get what I want.

So we should be careful when we say that men and women are different- yes, it is true, in many respects. But how these differences are spoken about is often a social contruct designed to uphold a power dynamic.

Gen 50 + was eye-opening. It’s great to be challenged because it helps you reflect on what you believe and why you believe it.

T

© Tessy Maritim

T x Aspire Women’s Conference

Last week, after sharing the challenges I’ve had previously with public speaking, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on risk, reward and decision-making to a 400+ strong audience of incredible women.

When I was invited to speak, I said yes even though I had no idea what I would possibly say. I mean, what could this 21 year old, Kenyan, Students’ Union representative tell a group of highly accomplished women about risk?! I’m the type of person who will accept to do something even when I feel inadequate at the time. I take the challenge because I know it’s an opportunity to learn something new and grow.

I reflected on my own experiences and realised that there was something to share with fellow women, even where our paths were completely different.

I was worried that I would speak and ramble too much. So I found a way to ensure I delivered everything I wanted to say- I wrote my points down, exactly as I wanted to say them. That’s what worked for me. When I got scared, I had to remind myself- I have something unique to offer this audience.

Here is what I shared:

My name is Tessy and I’m so excited to be here with you all today!

Risk is scary. Risk elevates you to the next level of your life. Risk is what enables you to reach your full potential. Risk may even become a defining moment in your life, as it has been for me.

Last year I took a risk and put myself forward to be elected as the Diversity Officer of my Students’ Union. The position is on the highest board of the Students’ Union. It involves representation of students, high levels of financial and project responsibility and an opportunity to work with the university and learn skills like negotiation, activism and teamwork. For a 21 year old like me, the opportunity presented was invaluable.

As I made the decision on whether I should do it, I asked myself.. What do I have to lose? And the first thing that came to mind was ‘What if I put myself forward and I don’t win, people will laugh at me and think, who did she think she was thinking she could be voted in?!‘.. And as I was reflecting on that, I remembered a quote by Theodore Roosevelt which says that “It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out where others stumble or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.. the credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.” The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena. The people on the sidelines, laughing, mocking or ridiculing you as you step in to the arena to take a risk, don’t matter. It’s really none of your business what other people think of you.

And with that it became apparent to me that taking this risk meant I could only win- if I lost the election, I would have gained the experience and skills from running a campaign- persuading people to vote for me, marketing my brand and maintaining visibility across campus, speaking in public etc; if I won the election, I would obviously have the position.

I won the election. But that experience was beyond just winning the position. In fact, when people ask me what my greatest achievement in life is- I say it’s when I put myself forward for election. Not winning- putting myself forward was the win.

And that’s because it taught me everything I now know about taking risk. Taking risk is putting yourself out there. And putting yourself out there is making a conscious decision to take your life a step forward. That’s what risk is- taking your life forward.

That one moment of taking risk has opened the floodgates of risk-taking in my life. It’s made me fearless. Never a failure or loss- always a lesson learnt.

I want you to remember a few things from my story:

1. People like to be ready before they take risks but if you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never move because you can never be truly ready. As has been said before, feel the fear, do it anyway.

2. Change the frame of reference- risk doesn’t enable you to reach reward. Risk is reward. When you start to see the benefits afforded to you when you put yourself forward, you’ll start to see that risk can only take you forward.

3. Comfort zones are the enemies of progress. I came to the UK as an international student 4 years ago to study Law. I could easily and comfortably have done my degree and not been concerned with developing other skills. After all, that’s the minimum my parents expected of me. But it’s important as you sit in your offices and classes, that you broaden your horizon and think about what you could do to take your life forward.

4. I don’t think you can talk about risk without speaking about courage. They feed into each other. Courage enables risk. Love and support enables courage. So surround yourself with the people who make you feel capable. And most importantly, believe that you are worthy, so that even if you miss out on what you’re trying to achieve, you have the wisdom to know that it doesn’t define you and can swiftly move on.

5. Taking risk fulfills you. It makes you feel alive because your life is not stagnant, you’re making moves and constantly growing.

Always remember- opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor. This is the message I’m trying to send out to young people in Kenya through an organisation I founded called The Arena which has the vision of empowering young people to realise their potential early in life.

I wish you all the best, and may you open the floodgates of risk-taking in your life.

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I had such a great time! Run towards your fears- they will diminish right before your eyes.

I look forward to more speaking engagements!

T

© Tessy Maritim

Undressing Women, Undressing Society

Last week Uhuru Kenyatta finally responded to the outrageous undressing of women. And for once, I agree with him. He grasped and articulated well what most people have seemingly missed in this fiasco.

To me, it seems as we undressed women, we were also subconsciously undressing ourselves. We revealed what makes up the fabric of society- rape culture is rampant, misogyny is manifested everywhere.

I think I get why Uhuru Kenyatta’s words in this video make us extremely uncomfortable. It’s because we don’t want to be called out. I’m obvs not misogynistic; I don’t undress women on the streets. Yet, without flinching, you grope a woman in the club when she walks past you. Without flinching, you add alcohol to her drink to make it harder for her to say no to your sexual advances. Not as bad as those whose misogyny is publicly seen, right? It’s the classic case of the glasshouse.

Uhuru unapologetically and rightly calls us out for turning a blind eye to what happens in our own backyards and then turning around to yell at others for what they do in public. If you truly think undressing women in public is barbaric- you must identify the issue for what it truly is- rape culture and misogyny.

Rape culture manifests in our society deeply and widely. It’s the idea that male sexual violence has penetrated our society to the extent that it is normal. When a man makes comments about a woman’s body on the streets; when rape is blamed on how short your skirt is; when a man sexually assaults his niece- it’s because of rape culture.

I’d like us to deal with this issue for what it truly is. It has little, if anything, to do with safety and security, and more to do with how we view women. And that’s not something Uhuru Kenyatta can fix. We could have police presence on every street in Kenya and there will still be men beating their partners at home.

If you think you truly care about and respect women because you’ve condemned their public undressing, look at your own life and those around you critically. Because if you would still have sex with a girl when she’s drunk without consent, you might as well strip her in public.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim