Monthly Archives: December 2015

WILL THIS BE A PROBLEM: ANTHOLOGY 2 REVIEW

The Economy of Spoons and Other Short Stories

Lemmi say straight off the bat, this is not going to be a regular review. I will not analyze the stories in a formal way, I’m just gonna write about what I thought of the stories, what I liked about them and what if anything I felt should have been added. But mostly what they made me feel. Because I think it’s more important what a story makes you feel than how the sentences are arranged. Also, I’m gonna try to explain as much as possible without giving out spoilers.

I like short stories because when they’re well written they’re quite a treat. Also because I haven’t been able to write a novel yet, just short stories, so solidarity. But seriously, short stories fit in well with the stories we were told as kids. And I think being able to start and finish a story in just 3000 words, making it interesting and giving everything you’d expect to find in a novel takes real talent.

So, of course the first story you read in an anthology is the title story, right? Because by choosing that story as the title, they’ve made you curious. What’s the science of choosing a title story anyways? Why this story? Is it gonna set the tone of the whole anthology? Is there a secret message in it that will be unlocked in the other stories? Or was it just the first story submitted?

The Economy of Spoons is a story written by Kevin Rigathi. It is set in a high school, that place where all the important life battles are fought. After that we’re just dealing with the aftermath. Main character in this story is Sky, the kinda kid in high school that we all pretend we weren’t. In the periphery, barely standing out and majority of people will later ask “Who?” when asked if they remember us. I didn’t know what to expect with this story, so it was interesting to see where the author was taking us. The story started from the first sentence, building up to the end. The writing was light and fun throughout, sort of like running at a comfortable jog. And the twist at the end was very well done, not at all where I expected the story to go. Kevin is funny without taking himself too seriously, so it appears effortless. This was a fun read. Oh, also there’s an electronic toothbrush that’s used as a sex toy in the story. Yes. Someone needs to have words with Kevin.

With that story setting the tone, I was sufficiently intrigued about the rest of the anthology so I now started from the beginning and the next thing I knew I had read ¾ of the anthology in one sitting. It was so good. There is no specific theme to the stories, just a couple of good stories put together. I loved this, because the diversity of the writers made the anthology an interesting experience. One minute I was reading about the anguish of making bad choices in Jemmi by Judyannette Muchiri and the next I was reading a very intriguing afro-futuristic take on the old Pinocchio stoty, Pinocchia by Kena Muigai. This eclectic mix keeps the anthology fast paced without getting too much. It was soon obvious that I couldn’t know what to expect next.

I can’t say that there was any bad story in this collection, just some stories I liked more than others. What was exciting for me though, was discovering all these writers that I’d never heard of. Nadya Ngumi’s story A Fresh Start was interesting and different. Ms Takes by Nanania (please, someone tell me who this writer is because I must find her and read more of her stuff) had my mouth open because of how much it pushed the envelope. The Doctor’s Trick, collaboration between Kevin Rigathi and Sally Ireri had me in stitches; it is hilarious and bold and spunky.

Another thing that I really liked is how they punctuated the stories with poetry and abstract short proses. The break allows you to absorb the story you’ve just read before moving on to the next. Not that these poems and proses aren’t engrossing on their own. I’m still thinking about what Mbithe Mosa was saying in Limbic Resonance, still wondering if Sabrina Najib was talking about me or just colours in Orange Needs More Than Blue and I think Melchizedek Muya’s poem Rhyme and Reason at the end is the sweetest thing (insert heart emojis)

But one story that took me completely by surprise was I Shot The Cheating Bastard by Peter Nena. I was not ready. This story about heartbreak and pain punched me straight in my chest and I held my breath the whole time I was reading it. It’s the last story in the anthology and longer than the rest, but after reading it, you understand why they ended the anthology with this story. It sticks in your mind and lingers for a long time after, possibly while you are curled in a fetal position. It is a beautifully written story and the writer forces you to feel everything his main character is feeling while at the same time making a dark story humorous. I honestly don’t understand how Peter Nena had the audacity to unleash this on my unsuspecting heart. I need reparations or something.

A lot has been said about how Kenyan writing is not good enough and as much as I don’t want to take part of that, this anthology shows that people are just not reading Kenyan writers who are writing right now about the things that THEY want to write about. I had a conversation recently with a poet from the UK and they asked about what the writing space in Kenya was like. And I told them that we’re tired of being tied to our past and we’re now trying to build our own spaces and define Kenyan writing by what it means to US. This anthology is proof of that. Whether you think this matches up to your expectations of what you consider Kenyan writing or not, it’s really not it’s problem. It is here, and Kenyans have written it. It does not seek to be anything other than good writing and good stories. Take it, or leave it.

You can read and download the anthology here

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To The “Good Men” Who Choose Silence

Recently, I watched a conversation on rape and sexual violence on Nigerian Twitter get derailed by men. I watched these men get into mentions of the women who were talking about it, castigating, insulting, and disbelieving them. They harassed them and taunted them and generally made an already difficult discussion even more unbearable. I even saw a man give an anecdote on how he forced himself on a woman. I imagined how difficult and triggering it was for the women having this conversation. Triggering because for majority of us, conversations of sexual violence are not just theory but out of experience. We have lived this, we know this.

A week or so later something similar happened on South African Twitter. The script followed was the same, the derailing tactics the same, the insults and mocking the same.  Whether it’s US, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, whenever these conversations happen men will come out in large numbers to derail and belittle the conversation. In the end the discourse will end up being extremely violent to the women, some of who choose to fight back. I can imagine the emotional toll this takes on them and how discouraging it is.

While I was watching this conversation, I thought about good men. There were some men who were involved in this conversation, male allies who were helping the women to fight against the harassers, but they were very few. There are always fewer than the men who were harassing women. I looked at the TL and thought about how many men who were seeing this conversation happening considered themselves good men. I wondered what, if anything was going through their minds, whether they felt bothered by what was happening. I wondered if they felt any need to get involved.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one such “good man.” It was a long and tiring conversation. It was tiring because it’s a conversation I have had before and one I have seen many women have with men before. The gist of it was that it was unfair for women to lump in “good men” together with abhorrent men who abuse and violate women. It is also unfair to expect men to participate and speak up when these men attack women. It is unfair to expect all men to stand up for women.

It is easy to counter blatant, open sexism and misogyny. It reveals itself and never pretends to be something that it’s not and you can arm yourself accordingly to fight it. But it is much harder to fight benevolent sexism. This is the sexism which pretends to be good and in the fight for women in that it does not actively participate in the oppression of women, but it also does nothing to change the systems that oppresses women. Benevolent sexism is dangerous because it excuses itself and watches from the sidelines but then expects a pat in the back for not getting into the ring. Because this sexism knows there’s a problem, sees it, but choose to do nothing to stop it.

Many men who consider themselves good men, maybe because they don’t actively hurt women, or agree that a woman’s place is not the kitchen, or perhaps are raising their daughters the same as they raise their sons (forgetting their daughters are going to have to live outside their homes) but then keep silent when confronted with extreme situations where women are hurt, are benevolent sexists- although an argument can be made about their silence being a key reason why oppression of women continues. One thing that many men fail to understand is, as a man, whether you are good or bad, whether you actively participate in oppression or not, you benefit from it. Society is structured to benefit you. Every time a woman is denied a promotion because she’s a woman, the man who gets it has benefitted from sexism EVEN if he is qualified for the job. Every time a man is able to walk at night when a woman can’t, he is benefitting from an environment, which denies women freedom while he can do whatever he wants. And every time a woman’s “morals” are used as an excuse to abuse her, and yet a man can do the same things with no repercussions, he is benefitting. And so by virtue of being a beneficiary of this, men who are silent are not just ignoring what is none of their business. They’re actually ignoring something that works in their favour. By quietly accepting the world as it is, you are allowing it to continue as it is.

 

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But there’s one other thing I have also realized based on my conversation with men, and the many interactions I have seen, men do KNOW they benefit from this system. And many men don’t care to change it. For a while I believed that it was ignorance and all we had to do was teach and show them and they’ll get it and change. But now I don’t think so anymore. The man I argued with straight up told me told me that he knows he has privilege, he knows. But he also enjoys this privilege. And he doesn’t see why he should bend over backwards to change that. So according to him, it’s unreasonable for women to expect men to do anything to change a system that works for them. Further, he considers the constant call by women for men to be vocal and active in this fight as an attack of men. WE are harassing them.

Another reason I know that these men are comfortable in the current situation is because majority of these men are very vocal when it comes to other injustices. I have seen these same men who claim they don’t have to talk about “women issues” be loud about pretty much every thing else. They rant at politicians, the government, religious institutions, racism and many other social ills. Some of these men even organize protests to fight against these ill. So it’s not that these men don’t care about society and creating a better world. And it’s hard for me to believe that you can be a proponent of justice and equality in every way, but should not be obligated to do the same when it comes to women. The most amazing thing to watch is a black man using the language of racism to talk to black women. This disconnect is fascinating.

It’s a truly perplexing place to stand isn’t it? To acknowledge that there is a problem. That women are under attack, that this should stop, that it is possible for you to help even in just a show of support…and then choose to be no more than a spectator. To claim that it is unfair to expect more. When people who despise you are cruel, they’re really just doing what you expect of them. But when people who claim to understand your plight or empathize with you stand aside and watch this cruelty; what are you to make of that? Is it because they’re afraid that they will first have to confront themselves and how they have benefitted? Is it because they recognize that they are not really that good, that they have been complicit and allowed men to continue terrorizing women?

Throughout history, women have always fought their own battles in their own ways. Whether men stand by them, against them or somewhere else entirely, there will always be women taking up this fight and standing up for themselves and each other. That’s unlikely to change. What needs a change however is ‘good men’ happy to point out the rotten lot should be stopped and then reeling back in shock when women say, “then help us stop them.” You cannot claim to be a good man when you allow a problem that YOU benefit from to continue. When you choose silence, when you know that your voice will have an impact in changing things. Either you are part of the problem or you are actively working towards the solution. Those who stand in the centre have chosen to be part of the problem.BHF_aKqCMAAJxkk

(With contribution by Kevin Gachagua)