Thursday, 15 December 2016

Defiant Hope

Students-Mbeetwani Primary School with Rick Kiilu

I could write about the fact that I was 2hrs early for my journey to Mtito Andei, I’m a time freak and being extremely early for things is kind of in my DNA. I could also tell you about how scared I was while waiting for my ride in Cabanas as darkness eclipsed everything compelling me to make quiet prayers. I could go on and on about my journey, tell you about spicy meat ate. I could write empathetic paragraphs about the guys who sell groceries by the roadside, & how much it's hard to differentiate hardworking Kenyans from those who want a cover story to rob unsuspecting passengers under the gaze of the constellations. I could even write about intriguing discussions I had with one of my travel companions on data or even tell you of how we taught an American to eat ugali. I could write about this, and create 4,000 words maybe even 5,000. But all that would be banal and most importantly it would be an incomplete account of my experience in Mtito Andei. Most of all it would be void of the subtle inspiration the place oozes in. So I won’t dwell on that.


In October 2016, Lumen (an organization with a simple yet profound mantra- Creating opportunity where there's talent) contacted Computers for SchoolsKenya seeking a partnership in an ICT for education project. The project they explained would aim to teach kids in remote areas to use computers. The kids would then use the knowledge and technology to tell their stories; stories that would paint a picture of their view of everyday experiences and dreams for themselves and their homeland. For the pilot study they would head down to a school in Mtito Andei. And they chose it for one simple reason, Rick one of Lumen’s partners is an alumni and understands it best.

Rick’s story from Mtito Andei to Nairobi then to a change trailblazer is typically a grass to grace one. Just like many other young men in Mtito Andei, after completing secondary school curriculum he headed to the city to scrounge for a living; first for his family then for himself. For many young men there, higher education is a luxury due to among other reasons high cost. Some in fact have to assume the role of the bread winner after primary school and the city under the sun is always a preferred destination for job hunting. In a brutally competitive city and with little education, life for Rick slowly turned into a nightmare of sorts. A nightmare that he had to trudge through to continue providing for his family, this anyway was less worse than the destitution he had left back home. After working for years in various informal sectors including a security guard in a car park; his persistence and patience paid off and he ended up working as a receptionist in a flamboyant city hotel. And that's when his journey in social change begun, with supporting book drives in public schools in Kibera. An opportunity to empower his village surfaced when he met Lumen. And this is where the story of defiant hope begins...

When Lumen told us that the project would include encouraging the kids to write their stories, they immediately struck a chord. I know how powerful storytelling can be, both for the writer and reader. You see words are emotions put down on paper. Thoughts transformed into words by emotions can make enormous difference, for the writer and reader. They can cut like a dagger and heal at the same time. They can inspire and rumble up hibernating dreams. Words can have profound impact. I know this because, before I was born, conflict was already brewing among members of my extended family, and I was born at a time when the conflict was at its peak. My family got most blows because it was an us against them kind of situation. As I grew up I experienced and witnessed adult cruelty and meanness, but was oblivious of the damage it caused in my heart. Didn't even notice the chronic emotional wounds and indelible scars the burdens left. But that was until I met words, it was until I picked a pen and put down words on a piece of paper; honest words on how I felt. Words helped me to light and clean corners of my heart that were clogged with low self-esteem and sadness and gradually filled them with hope. Day in day out i wrote down words I could not tell anyone, and there i fell in love with words. Every time I read those old words, I’m reminded of the lessons I learned many years ago; that the right words at the right moment in the right order is all that is needed steer a human being forward. Over the years I have had the incredible opportunity to write my story, this is one the things I'm most appreciative for in my life. Even when the walls of my hopes and dreams threaten to cave in, I find immeasurable solace in the grace to put down words.

So now it shouldn't come as a surprise, when I tell you that when Lumen told us they wanted to teach kids in Mtito Andei to use a computer and in the process encourage them to write their stories; they made an impression. The thought of little men and women using their own words to write about their lives gave me goose bumps and I couldn't wait to see the execution of the program.

Lumen worked endlessly to put a team together, each bringing something peculiar and important to the table; there were the IT guys, the data guys and the photography bigwigs. And after weeks of organisation the classes in Mbeetwani primary school in Mtito Andei began.

There is Mtito Andei that you all see on a road trip to Mombasa, and there is the other that is 15 Kilometers from the highway. To get there you have to drive through paths that meander and you end up driving past the same spot twice. It's tempting to think your mind is playing tricks on you but that's just how it is. The SGR cuts through the community, but somehow leaves it unruffled, at least until now.

You drive on past quiet homes, concealed by bushes and vegetation sprouting from the ground. If you look keenly & listen carefully you will see and hear their fear of never growing to maturity due to water insufficiency. If you touch the ground and pick up some soil, you will see dying grass. Grass that has been broken by tough seasons. Season in and out they try and season in & out the rains let them down. The people share in the uncertainty of the plants, but perhaps they have a better understanding of why?

Then there are the students. The ones we met in Mbeetwani primary whose spirit by the way resonates with most if not all children there. Early in the morning as the sun peeps on the horizon, they bustle along beaten paths, paths that somehow tell a subtle tale of the tens of Kilometers they have to walk or cycle to get to school. All these with their dreams tightly clasped on their hands.

The school has few classrooms and only the staff room has the luxury of having a door, the irony that where there should be a window is just a big hollow is not lost on me. The mud walls are decorated with diagrams of; the human digestive system, the solar system and a host of other educative illustrations. The iron sheets have been eaten away by rust leaving  holes that gaze on the occupants of the class.

From a distance the state seems destitute. As a visitor you might think that this is one of the sorry third world stories. You will go there assuming that you will meet people beat down by the stark odds and you will quickly be proved wrong. The children in the school are an embodiment of determination. When you walk into the class they will be in groups mostly discussing home affairs like; what did you eat last night, did you finish the homework, what time did you get home when you left the river, how was the class yesterday…. There is no room for discussion about why Carlos Eduardo refuses to fall in love with Maria Clara. They meet visitors with unforgettable confidence. So they will throw questions at you. If you are lucky you will get an opportunity to ask some. If you ask one of the girl's her dream, she will hesitate a little, then give you a confident stare you will never forget, “I want to be a lawyer” she will tell you. If you ask each of them the same question, then you will understand like I did that their’s is not a sorry third world story. It's is a story of defiant hope, hope that knows no limits. It's a story if beating odds every day. And it's a story of young men and women who don't feel sorry for themselves, all they need is opportunity. And that is what Lumen was there to do: 'create opportunity where there is talent’ and I (representing Computers for Schools Kenya) was so honoured to be part of.
Students- Mbeetwani Primary school with two of their teachers (farthest left and farthest right) and Elizabeth

For children who this was there first time to see and interact with a computer, I will tell you for free that they are incredibly smart students no wonder they have well laid plans to change their lives. The stories they wrote (or should I say typed down), showed me that they know their village still has so much ground to cover. They know they need electricity to help with lighting as they do their homework. They know they need reliable easy to access sources of water. They know where the problem is and they have ideas on how to solve these problems. If you ask me, that is the greatest gift a generation can have- 'an understanding of their story’ and that is how change is ignited. If and when there will be change here, they will be the trailblazers.

One of the greatest feeling in the world for me is when I find inspiration in a place I least expected. And this is what happened to me during my trip. I was inspired in uncountable ways and reminded of the need to be hopeful. I needed that reminder, because now more than ever we need more hope. Hope that even if the darkest night seems longer than ever, the morning will come. We need hope in the world and we need it as a nation.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Secrets of the Night [Part 2]

A bulb hanging from the roof sheds sharp light across the room, highlighting the neatly spread bed, the well arranged clothes in the open closets and a blue baby court. Soft jazz plays from a radio on one of the tables in the room; the serenading music dissolves in the space forming perfect collage with everything in the room. On the wall opposite the closet and the one on the left side of the bed, hangs two exquisite paintings brought from Malaysia. There is also a nice scent that oscillates in the room, thanks to the air freshener fit on the wall. Everything in the room is an impression of the fecundity of the individual who did the interior décor; it’s nearly the perfect bedroom, an acme of order and beauty.

Sindi is standing beside the bed, leaning over to a toddler whom she is literally wrestling with to tie a diaper. She chuckles as she corners him and ties it (the diaper). The toddler is her son and his hate for dressing cracks her ribs. Every time he is being dressed, he makes sounds, clearly protesting wearing any clothes. But he can’t have it his way. It’s mid July, and the cold air is taunting. The trees outside are clapping their leaves and branches as though also complaining about the unforgiving cold July breeze, so Sindi must dress this little man warmly. When she’s done dressing him, she holds him in such a way that his head lies peacefully on her left arm as he enjoys the warm breast milk. Soon he starts closing his little cute eyes and Sindi sings him a lullaby-(row row, row your boat, row row, row your boat, gently down the stream, gently down the stream, Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily, life is but a dream). He grins at her in an appreciation of sorts, revealing a toothless gum, dark just like his father’s. Sindi continues to sing, watching as the little boy is swept away by sleep second by second. She gushes at the beauty that she and her husband brought to this world.

When certain that the youngling is on the deep end of slumber land, she carefully stands up and heads to his blue little crib right next to the king size bed. As she carefully lowers him on the bed she freezes midair, startled by the buzzing phone but more concerned that the noise will wake the little man. She glances at the phone then at her baby who is peacefully sound asleep, totally oblivious of the buzzing phone. She proceeds to lay him on the blue sheets and covers him with a brown blanket, which she sniffs with her eyes closed before covering him with it; perhaps making sure it smells of love. She stands beside the baby court- oozing with love and counterchecks that her baby is well covered, well laid down and comfortable; then turns her attention to the phone that has a blinking blue light at the top of the screen.

It’s a message from her husband;

“Hi,headed to Kisii for a business meeting; won’t be home for the weekend.”

After the succinct line, are two emoji’s Sad_Face_Emoji 1.png emoji2.jpg

She reads and re-reads the message, every time shaking her head in disappointment, taking the message with a grain of salt. She had hoped they would leave the baby home for a few hours and spent quality time together in the weekend. But her hopes have been dashed by the fifty three words explanation or excuse to get more hours away from their marital home- a red flag of a marriage whose clock is ticking. It’s a Friday night, but this night in particular is void of the warmth and excitement characteristic of Friday nights. She lazily walks down the staircase to the dining room where the house help has served food in dishes and laid on the table. She is drowning in sadness and fighting tears as she contrasts her expectations of marriage and the reality at hand.


“Four years ago she was scrambling out of a crowded Economics class in Maseno University; it was one of those semester units that brought all Mathematics freaks under the same roof. She happened to drop a book and as she walked away, a guy ran behind her and handed it to her. He was a Statistics student but most importantly was well dressed. Well dressed means he was not one of the fashion weirdos who donned extremely tight rugged jeans, strategically lowered to reveal profoundly annoying boxers and an even worse fitting t-shirt printed ‘my money grows like grass’. A t-shirt that was tight enough to highlight biceps gasping for air. No, he was not dressed like that- he had black khaki trousers that were well ironed, a dark blue short sleeved shirt and brown well polished leather shoes. He had not been caught in the dread lock craze that had swept male students like a tsunami, which to be honest was just an excuse for some to evade combing their hair. His dark hair was neatly kempt, and by the looks, he had a good relationship with great barber.

That smart guy was the samaritan who bothered to pick up her book and take it to her, his name- Simon. She expressed her gratitude and before she could walk away, he requested to walk with her. In a University where the residentials’ were so far from the lecture halls that you needed an automobile to cover the distance, an offer to walk with someone under the ever angry sun was always welcome. That walk was 20 minutes tops, but they took nearly 30 minutes, so it won’t come as a surprise that their next meeting was a date on a Friday night. Some haters have described Maseno as the ‘bush university’, but Friday nights there were far from bushy. There was excitement and lots of alcohol and the air was filled with shisha and joy; just the perfect combo. A Friday night could not be mistaken for any other night, it was peculiar. It was the night needy greedy hostel janitors positioned themselves to receive bribes from alpha males who wanted to spend the night with their girlfriends- meaning one of them had to be somewhere they were not authorized to be in the still night. Mostly it was the girl to spend in the men’s hostel and like all contradictions in Kenya, this one also needed money to exchange hands; failure to which the janitor would camp outside the door and call some security guys to be an audience to the drama they would unleash. And on that Friday night, their love story was ignited in a small room, on a squeaky bed, on the third floor of the glorious Kilimanjaro hostels. A love story that went through thick and thin, mountains and valleys, good and bad times and one that found its way to the attorney general’s office two years after they left campus.

The eloquent smart guy she met two years ago, in Mexican soap opera fashion was finally her husband and she was his wife. But the Cinderella Prince charming story was taking an unexpected turn!”
(Sindi in the dining room)
She serves some rice and stew, takes the first bite- but the throat is too dry the sadness too much that it pushes the food up the tract, right back in the mouth. She pushes the plate aside and reaches for a cup then the thermos and pours herself some tea. It’s steaming hot, perfect for a cold July night, but will it be perfect for her? When she is done drinking tea she asks her house help to clear the table and heads to her bedroom, the bedroom whose physical décor contrasts the state of her life. The only thing she feels in this room is her baby, everything else is void and has lost meaning. She closes the door, and stands still at the entrance then sighs deeply, soaking in the loud loneliness and melancholic air.

She undresses then walks to closet to pick her nightwear, then she sees it!- the little black dress with an appliqué that no longer fits on her body, the one that Simon always went sexually nuts every time he saw her in. She stares for a moment then reaches for it and flungs it over the head, somehow hoping that it can fit again, but it refuses to go past the breasts. Since the baby came they (the breasts) have doubled in size and its crazy big because before the pregnancy they were bosomy full and firm enough to command an audience. She knew that her body would change once the baby came but she hoped with exercise and a healthy eating routine she would get back on track real fast, but this has taken longer and she suspects it’s repulsive to her husband. That’s why their marital bed is cold in the weekdays and colder in the weekends.

She tosses the dress in anger and pushes the closet’s window to see the true reflection of her body, the changes that have come with motherhood. But this is not the first time she is doing it, it also neither the second nor the third!! She knows what she will see… The reflection of once a confident lady, now choking in insecurity. She will see heavy skin dripping around the waist, elaborate stretch marks on her belly, the sagging skin right above her elbow. And that is exactly what she sees. She is aware that her flower is wilting from the inside, but she is determined to look beyond what the society defines as beauty, look under the muscles and right to the bones beneath them. She steps closer to the mirror and hunches her head forward to look at her eyes; the big round eyeball, the dark pupil and the snow white retina, then a smile forms on her lips. The lips that perfectly match her small nose and flawless skin. She finally pats herself in the back and slides into her nightwear. But before she can tuck herself in her blankets, the baby cries out…it’s feeding time.


A club in Nairobi along Ngong road is packed like a Trump rally. Some are quietly drowning sorrows in beer bottles; others are laying down their cares after a long hardworking week. Waiters are serving wine and beer bottles and writing bills and collecting their dues. There is loud music that somehow blends with the flashing lights (green, blue, yellow, pink and so on). There is a DJ on a pedestal, tiny towel on his shoulders that he occasionally uses to wipe dripping sweat that forms as a result of turning tables, music tables that is. Then there are girls on the dance floor in dresses that are barely there, dresses that leave very little to imagination. They are twerking to vibe Kartel’s ‘girl a bubble’; there are men standing around them. Each waiting for the opportune moment to join the girls in dancing. The lights, the music, the sweat, the drinks, the elusive sobriety, the money exchanging hands…all form a nearly perfect blend to push the hours of this cold July Friday night.
There are two men in a corner, one has an impression on his ring finger, his wedding ring is in his trousers pocket, this man’s name is Simon, yes the Simon who told his wife he is travelling to Kisii on official duty. The Simon who picked Sindi’s book three years ago in Maseno. The elegant Simon who a year ago signed a marriage certificate, legally binding him to Sindi and Sindi only. The Simon who while in a bath tub in a hotel in Malaysia took Sindi’s hand and promised he would stand by her through thick and thin, in sickness and in health in good and bad times. The Simon who on that night in Malaysia fertilized an egg in Sindi. There is a girl sitted across him, close enough for her uncovered thighs to merge with his legs. She is constantly rubbing her legs against his and he responds in a sheepish smile and a sip of his beer. The second man is Dan. His left arm is locked with the right one of the girl sitted next to him. All four of them are having a conversation on where to take the night next.

“We should take it up stairs or to your place”

“My place? No! How about yours?”

“I don’t mind”

Simon will do things to/ with this girl that he promised only to do to his wife. Things that will be covered in a lie once he is home…

Meanwhile Sindi will toss and turn on her bed, and have a dream that will cause her to tightly clutch on the pillow. Then she will wake up in horror and dismay, to an empty bed where the trickle of resounding sadness becomes a steady stream. 

Monday, 31 October 2016

Secrets of the Night [Part 1]

Kendy lazily pulls out of bed; right leg first then the left. She struggles to open her eyes that are shy of facing the sharp light bursting from the bulb dangling on the ceiling. It’s 5pm and this has been her wake-up time for the last nine months, since she started doing this job. From the arm of her bed hangs a Rosary. She is a catholic, but faith and the ways of God have become elusive. Sometimes she prays, though with a lot of skepticism that God will listen to her. The televangelists have already condemned her to eternal fire and suffering. She has a pounding headache and decides to pop in two tablets of Hedex which she presses down her dry esophagus with a gulp of water from a glass on the night stand. It’s not so bad today (the headache that is…), there are days she pops in as many as four tablets; two first and then two more a short while afterwards. She has stuck with one brand of the painkillers to avoid a poisonous concoction.

As the cold water runs down her tract and the tablets kick in, her eyes find strength and finally open up. She drags herself to the closet where a small mirror dangles from the door, she picks it then stares at the reflection which stares right back. Her face is dry, there is a rash under her lower eyelids on both eyes and there is an annoying wrinkle on the forehead. She went to bed without washing off her makeup perhaps that’s why the beauty deities are punishing her; but nothing is too hard for makeup to fix. She didn’t scarf up her weave before going to bed; so now it’s entangled like a shrub in the desert. She runs her hands through it, but cannot go much further thanks to the entanglement. She puts the mirror down, and reaches out for hair spray and sprinkles round the head then picks a hair brush and begins to gently brush her hair. She purses her lips, reacting to the pain of untangling the weave but continues to brush anyway. Soon after the weave looks neat, enough; she rolls it then ties in a ponytail and then slips a shower cap over her head. She holds her little black night dress by the hem and yanks it over her head and out of her body. She stands there stark naked allowing the cool breeze blowing from the window to caress her, after a short while when it’s too much she reaches out for her yellow towel, ties it around her chest, right above her breasts and strolls to the bathroom which isn’t too far from her bedroom. When she turns the tap handle water comes gushing from the shower. She murmurs a few thank you words; at least the landlord finally fixed the water issues that had dragged on for weeks.

She frees herself from the towel which she hangs on a line at the entrance and steps in. The water is cold and she loves it that way. She stands right below the gushing water and tightly shuts her eyelids like one in pain. And she is pain, but not the physical kind. It’s the kind that pierces the heart and crushes the chest, the kind that elicits an overwhelming need to cry, the kind that snatches away air and cannot be treated with painkillers. This tiny bathroom is her therapy room, it has been for a longtime and the water her therapist, whether it brings reprieve or not is a whole different story. But she reckons that there is a ‘burdens lifted’ lifted feeling she experiences while in her bathroom. There is something about the cold running water and the soap that attempts to wash off the scars in her heart. So she closes her eyelids tighter than before and opens wide her heart.

As the water runs from the neck to the back and downwards, it awakens her neurons and opens up safes of memories in the jagged terrain of her mind, memories that the forgetting pill has failed to erase, memories that have perhaps left wrinkles on her soul. There is a memory about last night, then another about five nights ago, then another of a terrible dream, then another of her first day at work and she is stuck there for a while. Her mind dancing and teasing her with intense emotional pain, threatening to break her heart into pieces and eternally release her from the cell of pain.

She grabs soap and soothes her forehead as though there is a mark there she fears could tell of the unarguably dark sad story of her life. She goes on, scrubbing the forehead back and forth, getting vigorous every moment, every passing second and when it feels sore she stops suddenly. Escaping from one pain only to create another. For a few minutes she is stuck between the concrete walls of the memory. Her neurons defiant of her adamant efforts to move on to another memory. Pages of the memory begin to flip open as if blown by some damned wind in her mind. With her eyelids still tightly closed, she shakes her head, vigorously, refusing, trying to send signals to her neurons to close this book she neither wants to see nor read. She cries out- no! no!, she is losing the battle, she is going to a place she does not want to. She stops shaking her head, giving in and begins to vividly see her first day as a prostitute. Pieces of the memory escape the mind and leave, trickling down her soaped cheeks. She bows her head, crosses her hand so that the right hand ferociously grabs her left shoulder and her left hand, the right one and cries bitterly letting out fierce sobs.

“Job hunt in the city was cruel, but she landed a job as a secretary in a private school. She was exhilarated and but that soon disappeared like ash in the mouth when her employer delayed her salary for months, sometimes paying her in bits and pieces. Everything about her life was a hard nut to crack and in search for something that could crack the nut she was introduced to prostitution. She was frustrated that she couldn’t give herself the dream life she always wanted, she knew that many a people would call that a cowardly move, but she still mastered enough courage to contact a friend who was already in the business. On her first day at work, she was swimming in sea of anxiety whose water made her stomach sick. She wore a yellow mini dress, (so mini that bending left very little for the imagination), silver neck lace and black pip-toe high heeled shoes with laces that ran from the toes to the elevated heels. She was profoundly uncomfortable in the shoes, but it was the rule of the game. Yellow had always been her favorite colour and she thought it would help her calm down and perhaps bring her good luck, which being a first timer she needed badly! The silver necklace was a birthday gift from a best friend in her former life and she hoped it would give her some comfort. To what extent they worked she does not know, because (describe nervousness). Her friend took her to the orange lit micro streets of Luthuli Avenue, reminded her of pertinent hunting tips she had taught her before and left her to hunt by herself.

It wasn’t long before some men came by, each surveying the girls that strategically positioned themselves, revealing things that the men were after. She mastered enough courage and marched towards the man who would become her first client. Judging from his looks she guessed he was in his early forties-45 tops, he had recently divorced his wife (at least that is the story he told her). He was also a bit nervous and this told Kendy that perhaps it was his first time seeking ‘therapy’ from a prostitute. A fresh client meant there were no set expectations and this clothed her with some comfort. She led the man to the fourth floor of a nearby building where such partnerships were accepted as business; and entered a room that was dimly lit and had one bed covered in navy blue bed sheets. His breathe reeked of alcohol but he was not violent, in fact he was quite charismatic and insisted that they use a condom. He was also very handsome; didn’t have a single wrinkle on his face, wore a nice cologne and was clean shaven. She wondered who had driven a truck through the marriage (him or his ex-wife). She didn’t bring herself to ask him about; after all it was dangerous to serve him the trouble he was perhaps running from. So she went straight to business; first undressed herself then helped him off his clothes and quietly mounted on him and pleasured him. She remained quiet but he let out mourns that told her she wasn’t doing so badly. When his sexual need was satiated he walked to the bathroom and Kendy was left on the bed, wrapped in one of the bed sheets as she stared at a mirror that hang on the wall. She had fear, she was scared- scared of a run in with police officers who hunted women in the ‘illegal’ business, scared of an encounter with a violent client, scared of contracting a deadly disease and mostly scared of what her elusive ‘righteous’ family would think of her and do to her if they find out she was not a waitress at a fancy hotel in Mombasa.”

She inclines her head upwards, to face the water gushing from the shower and let’s is beat her eyes and wash off her tears. As the tears run along with the water she wishes that it would magically do so with her burdens. She wishes they would be diffused into the water and flow down the drainage to oblivion. But what are wishes if not fairy dust that stopped working ages ago when Cinderella was still hot with a rich Prince on her heels? She wants to remember no more and she longs to cry no more. She sighs deeply as if resigning to a life of tormenting memories. Before some reprieve can set, a fresh race begins in her mind, again! A safe opens, inside dances another memory. This she doesn’t fight she cries out loud and allows herself to relive horrible days. She opens her mouth letting out a long mourn that reeks of sadness. What she feels is something between anger and dire sadness. Strength becomes quickly elusive and she feebly lowers her body to the floor then coils.

“Her father was a serial drunk who even her mother had confessed was beyond any help, a least anything under the face of the sun. He was an English teacher at the local secondary school and had the best spoken and written English in the village. His language prowess would ooze out as he walked home from the liquor dens. Then one Saturday while he was staggering home, he fell in a ditch and begun puking blood. Some passersby grimaced and laughed at him suggesting that he had it coming. But one was kind enough to lift him up and then called Kendy’s mother and informed her of her stranded husband. When she arrived at the scene, curious by-standers watched, gossiped and even laughed at a foolish woman who married a drunk. What they did not know was that heaven was already beckoning on her husband’s soul. Her mother told him (Kendy’s father) that she would take him to the nearby clinic for a checkup, but he was against the idea. After a short struggle they were on a bodaboda headed to the clinic. While at the clinic’s gate, her father puked again and became still, still as his life left his body and ascended to worlds unknown. And that marked the beginning of Kendy’s troubles. Her grandmother and uncles ganged up against her mother. They claimed that she was not customary married, that even her daughter did not biologically belong in that family. Before the soil on her husband’s grave could dry, even before grass could grow around it, she succumbed to blood pressure. At least that’s what the doctors said, but Kendy knew it was stress. Kendy was suddenly left in the world alone. The place she had called home for years was nothing but a hollow shell that brought her depression and the people she called family treated her like she was some rubbish. And that’s why she left she packed and left for the city under the sun.

The original plan was to accrue some money and walk away from prostitution. But came day 2, day 3 and so on and here she was nine months down the line giving sexual services to needy men, husbands, fathers, C.E.Os of fortune 500 companies, all sorts of men; who needed therapy that they believed could only come from prostitutes. Maybe there was a bigger reason behind her staying on the job, perhaps she connected with them because just like them, she seemed to be in search of something, something that was elusive and would continue to be for a while.
She had spend her life overcoming- overcoming the pain brought by death, overcoming stress of leaving the place she called home, walking away from the land her parents had been laid to rest and now she was tired of overcoming. Maybe it was easier to just give up!”

(Back to the bathroom...)

She takes a long deep breath, stands on her feet and reaches for her soap. She slowly lathers her bathing towel and gently begins scrubbing her body; neck first, then armpits, then the breasts, then the stomach, then her genitals, then the knees followed by the legs then the feet. As she rinses her body of the sweet scented soap, she takes deep breathes scrounging for some internal strength.
Deep in the heart she still feels the pain…, the shower has failed in its therapeutic elements; it always has anyway. How can therapy work? Therapy is for normal that is warped, normal that needs some reinforcement- her, she is broken. What was once whole is now tiny unrecognizable pieces that would take more than a miracle to put together. She is now a statistic- the 42% of prostitutes from necessitous backgrounds, the 40,000 sex workers in Nairobi. She feels trapped, there are invisible chains around her wrists which tighten every time she attempts to free herself and there is a noose around her neck that has refused to strangle her to death. It’s just there, a stark uncomfortable reminder of the choices she has made, then there is her consciousness that has refused to give her peace, guilt has locked her behind bars and thrown the keys in hell. She is an addict on a narcotic called ‘money’ that is injected to her veins through the ‘sex’ needle. She lives in a decent house, eats well and never lacks materially, it’s a lifestyle that even some of the most ambitious middle class fellas might never experience.

“There’s no stepping out now”, she whispers to herself. “But maybe I can accrue enough money to start a business...but what business?, I will decide once I have enough money...enough money?” she chuckles at the end of her monologue. These are lies, they are just but suggestions crafted by the mind in strife unsuccessfully trying to subdue her inner weaknesses.
Once done washing; she opens her bathroom door, grabs her towel and wraps it around her body- from the breast all the way to the feet. To dress up for another day at work!

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Kibanda Woman

By 3:30am she’s normally awake, tossing and turning on her bed, staring at the rusty iron sheets. She doesn’t like to spend too much time worrying about her children’s future; so before she can fully plunge in the deep end of thought and worry she sits up on her bed and begins to pray. It’s always better to pray than worry, at least she believes and has dodged stress by this strategy. She dresses up her prayers in some worship songs which she sings in undertones for fear of waking her two sons who sleep in a room next to hers. She lives in a one bedroom apartment, so she uses the bedroom while her sons’ the living room. She gets out of bed and tip toes to the kitchen with minimum disturbance, prepares breakfast and once it’s ready she wakes her sons who fold up their beddings and hip in a corner of their mother's bedroom. When they are ready, she takes them to her neighbour’s house, where at 7am they join other pupils and walk to school together. Just like other women in the same economic tier, she relies on such social networks to hack through life, since to afford nanny services she would have to break the backs of several beasts.

She then throws her kiondo on the back and walks to the bus station to catch a matatu to work. She works at the kibanda, her kibanda located at the Eastern by-pass matatu stage. That is where she toils for a daily bread for herself and her children. This is her daily routine, she’s used to beating the sun, she’s used to braving the morning cold to be at her kibanda on time. It has been a long journey that has warped her several times; a few months ago she had a bout with pneumonia. From God knows where, the pneumonia bacteria found a corner in her lungs and made it home, the morning cold was just what the bacteria needed to hit her with a disease that ensured she lay on her bed for days, braving sharp pains from the chest, unable to run the engine, that is her life. Her kibanda remained closed for three weeks as she recuperated. She lay physically on the bed, what the doctor called ‘bed rest’ but her mind was far from any rest, it was in full activity, a melting pot of simmering thoughts boiling in the fear of leaving her children in case death waved its cold hand at her. Fear cut through her bone marrow like a knight’s sword and for three weeks she cried and prayed. She had seen and heard enough cases where pneumonia drove folks to the grave! The concoction of prayers and medication worked, the bacteria was beaten and she got another chance to row the boat on the vast sea that is life.

When she arrives at the kibanda, she ties around her neck an apron that falls all the way to her knees and begins to make mandazis. Her mandazis are legendary; fluffy and sweet just the way her customers like them. By 5:30am, five flasks (just like those the Kisii county folks bought at millions) filled with tea stand on the table. Next to the mega flasks is a green paper bag, full of steaming hot chapatis. Soon, matatu drivers and their conductors start to stream in for their morning fix. They sit on low lying wooden benches, their plates of chapatis on a table way higher than the bench and slap the tea to push down the huge bites of chapati. A passenger like me sitting in the matatu, waiting for departure thinks it’s weird and perhaps even swears quietly to never dine in a kibanda. But these clients love mama and her food even more and she loves them back. She even serves them 'chapo' and 'ugali'‘saucer’ : They have grown a symbiotic relationship where they understand and gain from each other. Most of her customers are men who work informal jobs around Eastern by-pass and matatu operators in the same route. They refer to her as ‘mum’, including the old ones with grey hair!

The apron she dones has huge front pockets where she slips in the coins she gets as payment. As the day wears on, the pockets slump, an elucidating sign of how well her business is doing. But her notes! Those you can’t easily find let alone see. She puts them somewhere around her chest and only removes at the end of the day when at an M-pesa shop doing some depositing. She is an ant of sorts, she trades and strategizes to ensure that even with mushrooming food kiosks she stands out and stays on top.

Around her neck also hangs a small bag from long strings. This bag carries her Tecno N3 which is just two weeks old. Thanks to this phone and her sheer need to learn her way around it, she has become Winnie’s student; Winnie is her neighbour’s eldest daughter. Even though she hates the idea of incessantly consulting with Winnie, it’s paramount that she keys on the end results and braves out the annoying logistics, after all the end justifies the means! What she needs to learn fast though is WhatsApp. In fact WhatsApp is the main reason she abandoned her sellotaped beat down Nokia 1110.

It all started with Mama Mwongeli, a member in one of her ‘chamas’ who purchased Infinix X510. Even before she could learn to use the darned phone everyone in Makongeni knew she had crossed over to the digital world. A few weeks later she created a WhatsApp group and added the women who were already techy techy; with phones expensive’ enough to support the message application. Mama Mwongeli insisted on being the sole admin and in her quirky fashion added and removed people ‘ovyo ovyo’. During the meetings she would craftly only talk about issues discussed in the WhatsApp group cognizantly alienating other women from the discussion. At one point they had to spend a whole hour discussing her intolerant behavior. So you understand why our woman needs to learn WhatsApp fast; so she could participate fully in taming mama Mwongeli.

It’s fair though to state that mama Mwongeli was not always like that. Subtle changes begun when her daughter changed her skin colour, size of her butt (to mega size, something profoundly uncommon with Kao ladies) and started hanging around a myriad of men with vitambis and automobiles. When the other women pried on mama Mwongeli to explain what was happening with her daughter: her response- ‘it was her brothers from 'majuu' who had come visiting.’ Mama mwongeli is many things; but is far from being a smart liar. Ati uncles from abroad? Even a bat in Kitui could smell that lie. Everybody knew her brothers: they were only two and ran a brew business in Pipeline. They owned one probox that was ceaselessly in a destitute state. The probox was used to ferry liquor and get away during police and kanjo unprecedented searches.  
The hood whispered and gossiped about Mwongeli’s metamorphosis and when they eventually moved on to other gossip topics, mama Mwongeli and her daughter moved on with their new life of abundance. During the chama meetings in sheer display of opulence and somewhat cognizant effort to spit on the other women’s faces for fueling gossip, she makes sure they know the cost of her ‘kitenges’, even though there are high chances of exaggeration she successfully stirs some jealousy from them… Oh! Christopher Columbus!
Now back to the kibanda...

She does not work alone; she has employed two assistants; Nyambura and Musembi. She is a job creator, this woman. Nyambura is one of her neighbors’ kids, back in Karatina. When her mother passed away two months ago; Nyambura together with her two younger siblings were left at the mercies of their drunkard deadbeat father who couldn’t afford to keep her in class. The kids went to live with 'cucu' and were admitted to a local public primary school. Nyambura stuffed her aspiration to complete high school in a bag and shoved it under the bed, to be or not to be unpacked sometime in the future and carried another bag to the city under the kibanda woman’s wings.

This woman knows a thing or two about serial drunk dead beat husbands and fathers, for her husband is exactly the two. For years he upended her entrepreneurial life, pilfering her money to satiate his thirst for alcohol. Alcohol when abused is a terrible master that throws the life of the abuser into shambles! What followed was a hot exchange of words between man and wife, sometimes backed up by aborted blows of a drunk man. She needed to protect her sons from the emotional wounds of being raised by an alcoholic father. Raising their two kids alone was more bearable than incessant disagreements with him in her children’s presence, she had surmised and send him on one way ticket to Karatina. The only thing he took with him was his drunkenness. Today, she single handed puts a roof over their kids’ heads, ensure they have at least three meals a day and sends them to an average private school. It’s sad that nowadays if you want to extirpate your children from generational poverty you have to make sure they get quality education which is a rare commodity in public schools.

Public schools are full of manure! Absentee teachers- who have been pressured by meager salaries to run their own businesses, which they do when supposed to be in class, overcrowded classrooms, few or no textbooks, you name it. The conditions some Kenyan kids have to go through, pursuant of the Kenyan dream are heart-rending! This woman is literally breaking her back to steer her kids from this madness. She is however aware ‘academic qualifications’ has lost the credibility it once had: More and more people are losing faith in it, stripping it of its glory. Once upon a time, it was a sure highway to achieve the middle class Kenyan dream- ‘a great job with mouth whetting paycheck, a nice three bedroom house, a nice car (at least not a probox) and two kids in a private school with playing fields that look like the football pitches in England. We are to blame for demeaning ‘academic qualification’, we attend questionable colleges and glorify godfathers and bribery. We mock those who think the system is fair and despise those unwilling to rig the process. Needless to say, there are parents who still hope education will give their children a different life to theirs, a better life. And it does, only now it’s never a guarantee. And anyway what else is there to cling onto but hope.

When Musembi lost his job at the 'muhindi’s’ shop, her kibanda was his first stop over. There he attempted to drown his sorrows in a plate of beans and chapati. He cleared the contents in the plate but his trouble remained alive and breathing staring back at him in mockery. Somewhere in between that episode he told her current employer about his woes, who then gave him a second chance at a normal life- a chance to continue living in his bedsitter apartment, a chance to continue supporting his family in Kitui and a chance to have at least three meals a day.
When Nyambura and Musembi started they didn’t have any experience in catering. But this is not the kind of catering you sit in a class at Utalii to learn. This is survival catering, which by the way is not as easy as you like to think.

She (the kibanda woman) has noticed some metamorphosis in Nyambura, her dress code after four months in the city and a few notes from her employer has evolved. Her baggy trousers have grown tighter and her maxi skirts shorter. When the male customers refer to her as ‘mrembo she chuckles and swings her head and the long braids follow suit exactly the way Delilah did when luring Samson. There before she would blush and walk away, now there is a fresh feather on her cap. Mama has been keenly observing her and one of these days she will sit Nyambura down and tell her about men. She will tell her of their innate attraction to beautiful women and she will remind her that beauty does not last forever, at least through the lust lens. She will remind her of the need to work hard to keep her siblings and cucu going. There are chances that Nyambura will hear but won’t listen. Because she is nineteen! There is something about being a teenager with boiling hormones that just translates to rebelliousness. I hope she listens, because mama has seen it all and heard it all.

This woman’s story is one woven in out of this world determination, patience to see her children climb from the rungs of poverty and resilience through challenges the world throws at her.
So please don’t be duped that politicians are the change makers. It is ordinary people like her that do extraordinary stuff that are the change flag bearers. People who care to give a hand to those who have fallen without expecting a vote in return and without inviting hundreds of hungry cameras to capture the moment. It’s not that woman rep fighting for a 2/3 majority in parliament but has absolutely nothing to show for the decades she has been in parliament. It’s not Jubilee and Cord sycophants who show up at rallies to scramble for free merchandise.

I love stories of resilience, of love, of ordinary people who swim upstream and there is a chord struck in my heart when it’s a woman behind the story. So allow me to finish with an intriguing story I read on CNN.COM. About a Syrian woman who has refused to leave her war torn home; after ISIS literally took everything from her (her father, two brothers and husbands) she chose to stay to fight ISIS. She leads a handful of men and together they have helped the government forces drive ISIS out her town. She’s been this bad ass since 2004!!

So you know what, if there is a battle you are fighting in your life stay and fight, like the zealous kibanda woman or the Syrian soldier.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

After the Winds of Change...

The deal was done when I put my signature on the lines on the paper. I was now a full status employee. A telephone, a calendar and a computer were meticulously arranged on a desk that would henceforth be mine. Then a black chair was put behind the desk. When everything was done my new boss gave a brief tour of the premises and introduced me to the people who were now my colleagues. Everything was fine. This was my first day at work, well… half -day considering I had arrived at 11pm.

When I sat down, the Human Resources officer came to my desk and informed me she would allow me to go home for the rest of the day to prepare for the following day. A part of me wanted to politely refuse in a somewhat innate effort to show that I was hardworking and ready to hop on the job. But that part was quickly beaten by the other part that was a bit lazy and just wanted a few hours of a movie and may be sleep. With calculated politeness that would not sell me as a lazy bone, I accepted the offer and hissed several thank yous’ for manners sake.

Change whether good or bad petrifies me. I know one sure way to remain afloat in this world is to adapt to change. If you don’t your story will end with a loud defeatist thud like that of ‘Kodak’; an end inevitably louder than the beginning! In one of my physics classes we were taught about ‘inertia’- that a body in motion when suddenly stopped lurches forward and one at rest continues to do so even after the element of rest is withdrawn. (I know my knowledge here is rusty!! mind you I scored a B+in that thing so even though am not an engineer today, at least I can drop few quotes here and there…oh! My physics teacher would be so proud of me right now.) But the point is the urge to continue leaving in a given state is tempting especially if change takes a lot of effort.
Just like the law of inertia (…wait! is it even a law?), my mind was inadvertently resistant to change. I was a little worried of the unknown, of doing what I was not used to- and questions streamed in my mind- how would I fit writing in my now tight schedule? What time would I have to wake up to be at work on time? How would my life change? But you know what; the best thing to do with such thoughts is to talk back at them. So my friends when walking home that afternoon I was a mad woman. I kept taking to myself, assuring myself that I could handle the new responsibilities. After all what other choice did I have?

That night I went to bed a little earlier. I had read several articles on- how to be a successful employee? And ‘a good timekeeper’ has always top in the list and I needed to be the successful kind. But there was something else, that disturbed me more than the thorn of change. One that I somehow did not want to address because I felt I didn’t have the solution and if there was one it would take a lot of sacrifice. The thing was money! Have you ever heard the story of elephant and hare? You have? Good. Now my financial needs were the size of an elephant and the financial resources, the darned hare. The hare in my scenario was meant to carry the elephant! With the job came new financial responsibilities; I now had to pay fare on a daily basis and buy food while at work.

My solution lay in intently reducing the size of the elephant, chopping chopping off a few unnecessary expenditures here and there. But how does one reduce something that has been reduced hundreds of other times and can nearly no longer be reduced? I will tell you how- more forfeiting! The first to be scrapped off the list was 10 O’clock tea, at that point I defined it as an ‘unnecessary luxury’. (You still don’t believe that necessity is the mother of invention?) But you can imagine my exhilaration when I later learned that the company management paid for every employee’s 10 O’clock snack. The trick however is what we eat at that time is solely their decision and to establish consistency and perhaps avoid surprise demands from the employees they have prepared a ka-timetable.

Tuesday Thursady and Saturday- Three slices of bread; Wednesday- one chapatti and Monday and Friday- one chapatti. Anyone who feels philanthropy can’t fill their stomach is free to dig into their pockets. Me…I’m more than contended!

The good thing is their chapos are not serviettes, they are respectful chapos, not the kind that you can just fold, lurch into the mouth and finish in a single bite. They are honorable, perhaps more honorable than our honorable members. They are not like the ones we ate in Maseno hotels that could so easily be folded and fit into a three year old’s fist. A disturbing but interesting thing about Maseno chapos was that some were sold at 15/ and others at 20/ and the funniest part was; there was no visible difference in their size and thickness. It was just a clever way of robbing students from Kileleshwa and Milimani who didn’t care about running out of money because more was at home and could be transacted via M-pesa. Between you and me- I always went for the 15/ bob ones. I have always loved getting the value for my darn money.

And I can state without fear that Mondays and Fridays are my favorite days at work- you can guess why.

My most vexatious quagmire though was ‘lunch’. Even folks with king kong hearts, when left in the office while everybody has gone out for lunch can sting a little; especially when it’s not by choice but circumstance. In my survival guidebook while on student attachment, I would read a book over lunch to distract hunger pangs and display a cool rather than a broke character which ironically scored me free lunch coupla times. But now I’m a quarter a century old so creating false impressions is officially out of the book. Not even plausible for consideration.
The cheapest meal in the cafeteria menu was valued at 100/. Only? You ask. Lemme explain the meaning of 100 shillings in my life; it’s my fare to and from home, it can also be 7-day 140MB from Airtel, it can my offering in church and it’s 25 minutes talk time with my mother on Safaricom. So when I squeal at lunch worth 100/ don’t raise your eyebrows or pucker your lips because this would translate to 500/ per week on food (btw have you crammed Daddy Owen’s song- Vanity, no?; you should! You will squeal with me at this maths).

Crossing fare out of the list was out of question,… well unless I wanted to hatch ambitions of participating in marathons and decide running from work to home and back would be my piece of exercise. But am quite lazy when it comes to physical exercise, in fact my exercise regime entails; thinking about creative stories, typing, false punching the wall with my tummy tucked and not more than five squats. So running to and from work was not an option for this and a variety of other reasons relating to hygiene.  

Mindful of all the options I had; only those that would match the strength of my financial muscle I resolved to have heavy breakfast and carry a snack from home to munch over lunch hour. And with that I was ready for day two at work.

When other disciplined taxpaying Kenyans were delicately biting slices of bread the following morning, I was digging into ugali, cabbage and a few pieces of meat, readying my stomach for a tough day ahead. Soon afterwards while riding in the matatu to work I begun to feel uneasy. Quick sharp pains would shoot from all the corners of my stomach and die away during which am pretty sure I made faces that left any passenger who might have been looking at me perplexed, trying to figure out what drug was running through my veins. When the weight of discomfort weighs heavily on your shoulders, a minute feels like eternity; and my ride which was about 45minutes long felt like it had taken ages. Am even surprised I remembered to disembark at the right place.
I knew my boss and many other people would be watching me that day in an attempt to guess the kind of person I was or even gauge my competence. It’s normal when you are new, everybody watches you and attempts to write a story about you. So I had thoroughly comprehended the need to put my best foot forward and put up a show of a lifetime. A lot of things in the future could be determined by the words written about me that very day. As I sat behind my desk, the storm stirring up in my stomach was nearly tangible, I felt my intestines tie themselves up in notes and tighten up overtime. I attempted to distract myself with paperwork and aimless typing, but every single nerve in my body was responding to the excruciating pain from my stomach. I made a short prayer and asked God to take away the cup of suffering from me, couldn’t even get to ‘Amen’… At some point I looked around the office to find out whether there was anyone watching me. There wasn’t, everyone was busy clicking their keyboards while others walked from office to office for consultations. Everything in the office was normal. I sighed with relief that nobody seemed to notice my rather dark episode that was unraveling; which by the way was a very stupid response from my ego.

I needed to weather the storm. I was the new girl in the office and I had vowed to conduct myself with royal manners. Being new in a place is much like going out on a first date, there is always some weird pressure to be the best version of you. You hold back all your ridiculous behaviors and present the best cover page. When someone near you sneezes you tell them ‘bless you’, when you sneeze you hiss two ‘excuse mes’ and when you cough you pull out your handkerchief and carefully cover your mouth as if you had rehearsed for the darn cough. The problem is as time unfolds you can’t keep the other pages about you closed and they are inevitably flipped open for reading in the relationship stage known as ‘kuzoeana’. It was the same for me. All my etiquette antennas that day were up. I was suffering deeply but I had to do it with dignity. But I would later discover the hard way that a running stomach knows no dignity. It doesn’t give a darn about etiquette; it doesn’t even know that you need to be decent in the presence of your boss or the cute guy in the office. It’s like that piece of beans or sukumawiki that sticks on the tooth after lunch; so outlandish and carefree without a thought of the impact it has.

So I put on a brave face. If you look up the meaning of a ‘brave face’ in the dictionary you will see that it means-to behave as if a problem is not important or does not worry you. It’s exactly that, behaving as if there is no problem. The weight of a brave face is pretty heavy and requires more of everything even from the most brazen human beings. When the demon facing you grows in strength; that face can only be up for some time. As it faces the test of the moment it eventually begins to thaw at the unthinkable heat of the reality at hand

In that moment of unthinkable desperation, of fighting a battle I was not winning my dignity was rudely ripped from me. When my boss came to my desk to inquire of my progress my stomach or the shit that was cooking in there decided to get my attention and my boss’s too, growling fiercely as if it wanted to leave me and live an independent life of its own. And could I have done? My boss excused himself and I was left there drenched in sheer embarrassment.

A few minutes to tea time; I knew that if I didn’t visit the washroom things were likely to take an ugly turn. I thought I would weather the storm. I thought I would ride the storm like freaking Tarzan…, that was the plan. Hey! Am sure even Abduba Dida had plans to become president. Plans are just plans they are not definite outcomes! The storm was killing me. I was gasping for air that was fast running out while facing the imminent danger of drowning. As people walked out for tea break one nice lady was generous enough to walk to my desk and invite me to join her for tea.

All I really wanted was just to rush to the ladies!

No no no!!, am a heavy breakfast person”, I replied with an intense sense of urgency and clarity to ensure she did not persist with her offer.

When most people were out of the office, at lightning speed I dashed to the ladies, which thank fully were not too far from the office. By this time I had already stripped off all illusory nobility, dignity and pride. I was just a mortal human being in need of the glorious service of a toilet! In that instant, only two things existed; my need and me; there was no crush to impress, no boss to hold in high regard and no colleagues to gossip about my unprecedented predicament. At the ladies section there were only two doors-two toilets. I knocked on the first one with a sense of deep desperation. Honestly I did it out of normal courtesy and I never imagine there would be someone on the other end. The moment became so perilous when I heard a faded response and a knock to show the room was otherwise occupied. I can’t remember lucidly, but am sure when I learnt there was an occupant I let out faded guttural sounds of defeat. The few seconds that followed were, a melting pot of feelings and emotions that I absolutely have no words to articulate with precision.

My legs and my mind functioned with incredible synergy as I scrambled to open the second door after a quick knock. I opened that door as though I had vendetta against it. The door’s hinges squeaked in protest of the vigor I applied, then I banged it behind me closing it instantly.
In the split of a second I loosened my trouser and luckily the occupant in the other room flushed and left. I didn’t want to sit on the toilet so I balanced in the air but it didn’t matter what position I was in, things left my alimentary canal violently, voluntarily and loudly; if you ask me I would say they were eager to leave my system more than I was ready to let them go.  The smell was obviously awful but I couldn’t care less. I continued to balance in the air and soaked in the reprieve. The trick though was I really needed to leave fast before another person entered the other toilet. I didn’t want anybody to link me with the odor that thanks to diffusion had spread in the toilet area. But before I could leave, I heard some footsteps outside the door. I froze for a second, worried about the pace I would set for myself as the new girl and the description drivers of the office gossip mill would label me with.

“Mmmmh…huku kuna nuka aje leo?”, a voice exclaimed in total disgust.

My eyes twitched with shame and embarrassment. And a few minutes after she left I walked out. I noticed that as I walked into the office some ladies at the reception threw me weird glances. May be I was just paranoid or there was indeed something behind their glances. 

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