A name is a gift to your children; give wisely

My folks tell me that the inspiration for my first name came from South African song bird Brenda Fassie. I don’t know if that inspired my love for music but I grew up to be very protective over that name. Luckily in the back of the woods village where I grew up in, Brenda’s were few and far between. I walked proudly knowing that my name was unique and beautiful. I was not a Doreen, or Mary or Carol, names that occupied class roll calls.

I, however, did not like my middle name. Kageni. I felt it lacked spank, meaning, personality. It means a small visitor. I knew old people who had that name. I did not like it at all.

Somehow, because everyone at school called me by my first name, people in the village slowly stopped calling me by my second name, save for my grandma and a few elderly relatives.
So many years later I’m still apathetic to the name Kageni, though it is what my husband chooses to address me by. That makes it a little special. Also considering Brendas are all over the place, Kageni stands out.

But, does the name make the person, or does the person make the name? Brenda means a “flaming sword” “little raven” or “a beacon on a hill/torch”. Bree means “strength.”I like the beacon on a hill part.

How do you chose a name that will best fit your child?

When it came to naming our children, Hubs and I wanted names that have a meaning, that are beautiful, unique and that would inspire them to greatness and godliness. We googled, made lists, disagreed, prayed, finally there was consensus on at least one name in each case.
It was hard for Hubs and I to settle on second names, coming from different communities. Do we give them names from both communities? Suppose we can’t find inspiring names from one community? Also considering just how tribal Kenya had become, we didn’t want our children stereotyped along tribal identities. Wanjiru? Definitely Kikuyu. Odhiambo? You are Luo. Mwende? Kendi? Nkatha? Wafula? Kip?

We decided to go for neutral names; make our children global citizens. But those names also needed to speak of their testimony, of our prayers for them, and to prophesy into their future.

I believe names are a gift you give to your children. I love traveling, and I think in that way I live up to my name — of being a visitor.

I know an Asaph who is a musician (Asaph in King David’s time was the lead musician) and a Levi who is a pastor. Ever heard of Muthinis who are struggling with everything in life or a Munyua/Kinyua who is a drunkard. There is this former City Hall official called Kiamba who is being chased by KRA for tax evasion. In my language, kiamba is a big thief. It might be coincidence but I feel these names breathed a future into their holders.
You can’t drag the name Sifa to a brothel. You can’t be Imani and be an atheist. You can’t be Noelle and not know Christ. How do your parents call you you Wisdom and you live a life of folly?

By the way Hubs, your name means a chief, a head, so live up to greatness my handsome prince.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 called on Christians to choose baby names from the Bible as “an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit will allow the person to blossom in the bosom of the Church.”

We didn’t choose names from the Bible. But we chose names that breathed life and had swag. My son’s first name means “God is my strength”. That was our testimony as his parents, but was also our prayer for him- that he would always find his strength and purpose in God. His second name means “to give praise.” And the boy is musical. He could hold a tune at one year.

Our daughter’s names mean “God is gracious”, “blessed” and a “crown”. We were testifying of God’s goodness in our life, and praying that she will be a royal daughter in the King’s palace, and that she would beautify our lives and be honoured.

I am thinking that may be we should have given them names from our communities, but which bear the meaning we want them to carry. Once they become global citizens, they may want their names to proudly point back home.

“Naliaka? That’s Kenyan, yeah?”

The people in my generation seem to be thinking in a similar manner. That’s why we have the Tajis (crown), Jabali (rock), Amani (peace), Mwende (loved one), Wema/Zuri (Goodness), Fadhili (compassion), Wendo (love), Tando (love), Neema (Grace), Nia (purpose), Rehema (mercy) Nathan (God has given), Zain (beautiful), Kayla (pure), Jason (healer),  Zawadi (gift), Enzo (winner/ruler), Ethan (strong), Zeke (God strengthens), Hawi (luck), Kiama (miracle), Mutoria (victor), and so on.

What are you calling your children? Are they living up to their name? God knows that child you are carrying even before he/she was formed. You can ask him what to call your baby. Don’t be surprised that he can inspire you in naming your children prophetically.

ION, if you have a powerful or inspiring name and are not living up to it, it’s time to rethink and claim the blessings your name carries.

9 ways I am a bad mom

I remember an article I wrote about eight years ago reprimanding parents who let their children cry in church, disturbing the rest of us heaven-bound Christians who wished to listen to the sermon. I also had a few words for mums who bribe their children with sweets and chocolate to get them to cooperate forgetting how they are breeding a generation of obese kids. Needless to say, I was young, naïve and had no children of my own.

Fast forward to 2016 and I am that mom who sits with her 11-month-old baby in the service where the little girl imitates the preacher, dishes out diapers from my handbag to strangers and pats people’s heads for smiles. I think it’s cute. No, I’m not trying to distract everyone; just a desperate mom who wants to listen to a sermon away from the chaos of the crèche where you find the service ended and you have no idea what the preaching was about.

Which other ways have I been “that” mom who sets herself up?

    I have bribed my son with treats to get him to cooperate. I make him pop corn or give him my phone to play a game so that he can stop whining when I want to finish a movie or chat on Facebook. I have succumbed and bought him the chocolate he wants in the supermarket just because I do not have the mental energy to deal with a tantrum. I give him lollipop when we are in the car to make him forget he is hungry. I have let him eat cake for supper just because I didn’t want to get involved in the battle of wills. 

      I have forced my children to eat their meals, with varying levels of success. I used to be a firm believer that children should be allowed to ask for food when they are hungry, and to say ‘no’ when they are full. Until I met my son who will only ask for drinking chocolate or juice and never food and my daughter who has flat-lined on the growth charts mpaka the nurses doing growth monitoring give me those eyes of “irresponsible mum with skinny baby”. The problem with leaving my son hungry until he decides to ask for food is that hunger is the source of major toddler meltdowns in my house. Whenever my son is acting out, I first feed him and often the “bad manners” disappears. So to avoid a meltdown when we are headed to school or church, which then gets everyone involved in a bad mood, I force him to take his breakfast even if that means I have to hold a cane to him.

        On holding canes, I thought I would be the mum who gives hugs to the tantrumming toddler, does timeouts, never yells (especially that one), and has perfectly behaved children. Honestly, how are you supposed to reason with to a two-year-old who will ignore you until you yell for the umpteenth time or pinch his ear? How are timeouts going to help the boy who keeps hitting his sister and runs away laughing telling you, “You can’t catch me.”  I start out with very good intentions usually. “We can discipline without yelling or spanking,” I tel myself. But then my good voice gets ignored so I resort to whining, then yelling. Even the yelling doesn’t work so I either have to go and carry the boy physically away from something or to something, or I just bring the “mwiko” and I get instant results, most times. Moms love instant results and most other tools of discipline do not bring these. When you are strung out by an colicky infant, are stressed out by work, have just had a bad day in traffic, you want instant results. I try not to result to caning out of frustration and anger. But sometimes only the “mwiko” works. Also (hiding my face) I have found myself driven to the wall and in need of an outlet; and I need to to teach them who is the mom in that house; So mwiko, or the remote, or slippers, work well.

          I have let my children sleep in my bed when they were small. I once saw a movie that romanticised the idea of sleeping with the kids. This couple had a huge bed, so on Saturday mornings, the kids would jump out of their beds and into mommy’s for a warm snuggle. I thought that was awesome and I too wanted the big bed. My daughter hated her cot- she would wake up screaming a minute after being placed there, every time. Not even changing the mattress helped. She also woke up five times, sometimes more, in a night to feed. One night I almost dropped her as I dozed while feeding her. That’s the night I started feeding her while lying down in bed. Let’s just say I got my sleep back but taking her back to her cot has tested my patience and Christianity.

            I let my children set the rules and run my life, sometimes. We sometimes find ourselves watching cartoon the whole day because a little boy won’t let us change the channel — well, we can change but we choose to indulge him. We have eaten chips because that’s what my son wants for supper. I let my son run around the house for hours with no bottoms on because that’s what he wants. Last Sunday even the dad succumbed and let him go to church in shoes that were clashing with his outfit because that’s what he wanted. We have learnt to choose our battles and to know the things that are worth fighting about. Staying in the house with no shorts or underwear will not kill any of us so why fight over it? He wants to eat cake for supper? Let him eat, brush his teeth and go sleep. Did I really needed that 40 bob change? Well, let him have the crisps. What’s the worst that will happen if i let him step into the mud puddle?

               I sometimes ignore bad behavior. Often all a parent needs is 15 minutes of quiet and calm. So instead of always intervening when one child does something to the other, sometimes I ignore that and leave them to test each other’s limits and willpower. As long as they are not strangling each other, I will ignore their bickering and toy snatching and let them sort it out themselves. I have watched my daughter pour a whole plate of spaghetti on the floor and proceed to play with it, because i knew that would distract her for a good 10 minutes and which mum doesn’t love 10-minutes of uninterrupted time.

                 I have parented by threats that I don’t mean to implement. I tell my son that I will never buy him another toy if he doesn’t let his sister play with his trucks. I threaten to call the neighbours or visitors to our house to get my son to put on his pants. At one desperate moment I even told him I will go to work on a Saturday if he doesn’t take his breakfast — I know, low moment for all womanity! 

                  I have hidden from my kids. Sometimes I have to instruct the nanny to hide with the kids so that I can slip out of the house without dealing with a toddler meltdown. I have locked myself in the toilet to Facebook without having little hands smash my phone down. I sometimes sneak into the house because when one little person sees me, she will no longer ea her supper.

                    I have entertained my children with TV or gadgets. When my son was younger I realised that YouTube makes a wonderful child minder as does Teletubbies. The little guy would stay fixated on the screen, even forgetting to take a bathroom break. So what did I do when i wanted to watch a movie or cook without interruptions? I gave him the tablet. Now I use my phone to bribe him to stay still, or to make him stop following me around the house.

                      My day with a Kenyan traffic cop

                      I wrote this story several years back but never got around to formally publishing it. No effort is wasted though; a year or so ago I was crossing the Railways roundabout and who do I bump into but Sang; and he remembers me. We exchanged numbers. I don’t mind having a cop for a friend. This is Kenya; we all need a cop friend.

                      Photo: Courtesy

                      It’s a chilly morning and though the last vestiges of darkness are still hanging around, Nairobi city is very much awake. The usual hordes are alighting and getting into buses headed for God-knows-where in the usual Nairobi urgency.
                      Having been used to getting into town much later after day break, I am actually surprised at the number of people already up and about.

                      The people jam is almost as thick as during the later hours of the day. I check the city clock at the Old Nation roundabout. It is 6.05 am.
                      I have to hurry to my day’s post- the Uhuru Highway-Kenyatta Avenue roundabout (commonly called GPO roundabout).

                      On arriving there I find the traffic cops, stern-faced, busy at the four intersections. I try to speak with one of them who is nearest to me, but he rudely shoos me away. “Later,” he says. “Can’t you see the way the jam is thick here? Find someone there to talk to,” he tells me as he points towards the direction of the GPO and immediately gets back to the middle of the road with the same no-nonsense look, ear on the radio.
                      He probably thinks I am lost and asking for directions. I look around and finding a traffic light pole, I lean on it and watch the proceedings. After all my assignment today is to spend the day with the traffic officer and his colleagues. No need of getting uptight about a man who is doing his job.

                      Besides me is a crowd of girls in wigs, stilettos and tights, advertising an energy drink. I wince at the sight of the 6-inch heels thinking of the strain those calves must be feeling. A security guard watches over the promotion material placed strategically on the round about. On the round-about itself, another group of six girls looking silly in one huge t-shirt make the rounds as they advertise a new tariff for a mobile service provider. One of their colleagues is moving around with a horn-speaker advertising the tariff to the chagrin of the motorist whose nerves are already frayed from being held in the jam for too long.

                      I eventually approach another officer who this time takes time to listen to my rather naïve explanation about how I want to spend the day with them. He refers me to the officer in charge who is at the extreme end of the round about. I take about five minutes trying to navigate through the heavy traffic to get to the other end. To my disappointment, I discover that he is actually the officer I had approached in the beginning. However I cannot even get to him as he is perpetually situated in the middle of the road. I have been here for a little over an hour and I am already tired. The dust and smoke in the air too is making my eyes smart.

                      Photo: Courtesy

                      Finally I get to talk to the officer in charge who absolutely refuses to give his name, and he explains that the jam is unusually bad because traffic had to be held up as the Head of State was coming from the airport that morning.
                      “The problem with Nairobi roads is that when one road gets closed all the others clog up,” he tells me but has to leave to attend to traffic. He whistles to his colleague across the road, I suppose signaling him to open his side of the road. It’s 8.25am and the jam is as thick as it can be. I drift back to the officer on Uhuru highway who informs me that he is called Sang.
                      “We can’t use the traffic lights to direct traffic,” he tells me. “Sometimes the volume on one route is heavy and if we were to follow the lights alone, people on Mombasa road who left home at 6.30am would get to town at 11am. There was a time people complained that we were meddling with traffic lights so for two days we were at our posts but let traffic move with the lights. We have never witnessed so much chaos on the road like those two days. We had to revert to directing the traffic ourselves.”

                      Archaic traffic lights

                      Sang explains to me that the timing of the street lights is archaic and cannot adequately cater for the upsurge in the number of cars on the road. The traffic lights operate anticlockwise and so do the cops. That means that after traffic on Kenyatta Avenue from Community is released, then it is followed by Uhuru Highway from Mombasa Road, then Kenyatta Avenue from town then Uhuru Highway towards University Way round about and so on. Only when one road is blocked can they alter the pattern to avoid deadlocking the roundabout.

                      The timing of the street lights itself has been allocated according to deemed priority. For example the “go” lights on Uhuru highway out of town and into town take a bit longer than the rest. I notice that the traffic from Mombasa road keeps getting stopped after every few seconds. Sang explains: “We have to intervene depending on the priority. In the morning, the priority is getting people into town. In the evening it is getting people out of town. The other roads, therefore, get less priority.

                      “Other times one road may get blocked so we let the ones that are open to go. Even if the light turns to green and the motorists keep on hooting, we just ignore them because there is simply nowhere for them to go. We can’t let them block the roundabout. When traffic lightens, we revert to using the lights,” Sang tells me as he flexes his legs. “This work can be tiring you see, but we have gotten used to it” he says. And I totally agree. My legs are already twitching from the strain of being on my feet for so long.

                      So what time does he report on duty? “Sometimes I have to be here by 5.00 or 5.30am. Most times however I am here by 6.00am. That is when traffic starts building up,” he tells me.
                      Usually, the traffic officers report to the Kamukunji Police Station at 5.00am for briefing on what is expected on the roads that day before each goes to his week’s post. The next week, for another seven days, Sang tells me he will be at another spot.

                      Photo: Courtesy

                      It is now 11.00am. Motorists are now relying fully on the traffic lights and we can all take a breather. However a slight jam is developing near GPO and when one officer arrives there, he finds that a Citi Hoppa bus is picking passengers from the road thereby blocking traffic. Sang stops it and orders all passengers to get into another vehicle so that he can take the bus to the Traffic Police  headquarters. However, the passengers in revolt refuse to get out since they have already paid the bus fares.

                      “Why are you delaying us here and it is not our mistake,” one man goes at the officer. “Just deal with the driver or his conductor and let us go.” But Sang is adamant. He is taking the vehicle to the headquarters. Eventually he has to call the chief who convinces the passengers to take another bus once they have been refunded their money.

                      Traffic continues moving smoothly and for the best part of the afternoon, the motorists abide by the rules. I take this chance to grab a bite and rest my tired feet.

                      I am back at my post by 2pm and I find the officers still at their positions. “People like us gave up on ever being light-skinned,” Sang jokes. “No matter what lotion or face cream we use, with the sun on us every time, we just get darker.”

                      One driver ignores a stop sign and almost gets himself crushed by a trailer right before us. Sang just looks at him and shakes his head. “I can’t intervene as he might now get knocked down and killed. The best thing is to let him go.”

                      Three O’clock comes and the afternoon is largely uneventful. Traffic is still smooth. My back aches, my legs hurt and there is a dull thud in my head now. Despite the Lucozade energy boost in my hand, I feel like my knees are going to give in any minute. Why has the city council never thought of fixing one of those green benches here, I muse, but then, who am I kidding? I finally succumb to the temptation to sit down and since the only thing I can sit on here is the tarmac, I head for a nearby bench on Uhuru Park from where I can monitor the traffic situation.

                      Heavy traffic

                      By 3.30 pm, most of the lanes are at a crawling pace, especially those headed out of town. Only Uhuru Highway to Mombasa Road seems to be moving fast. But even that soon gets choked up in heavy traffic. After close to one hour of recuperating on a bench, I join Sang on the Uhuru Highway junction. Traffic continues building up slowly and by 5.30pm, it is choker blocker everywhere. The officers have suspended use of the lights and are now directing traffic themselves. Uhuru Highway towards Mombasa Road hardly seems to be moving. Very little priority is also being given to Uhuru Highway into Westlands.

                      Sang informs me that a vehicle has broken down on Chiromo Road and is blocking traffic. There is no where for motorists to go so he can’t open the road. And anyway, those vehicles have many other options of getting to their destinations without using Uhuru Highway, unlike those on Kenyatta Avenue that have only that route to get into and out of town, he explains.

                      The girls in stilettos are back doing their theatrics on the road. Through all that time, the security man guarding their promo materials has stayed put at his post in the middle of the highway and so has one of the young men doing a promo for the mobile service provider. Two of the girls catwalking across the road almost get knocked down by traffic.

                      On Kenyatta Avenue into town, the lights turn green. One motorist attempts to go but receives a stern warning from one of the officers who firmly places himself in the middle of the road. Horns start blaring for one annoying minute. The officer however is not moved. One driver rolls down the window and begs the officer to let them go. “We have stopped enough now,” he says. The officer explains that queues are long all over. There is no way he was letting them block the roundabout.

                      Its 6pm and it’s getting chilly. More people call and beg the officer to let them go and finally he does. It is now dark in the city and Sang informs me that being a Friday, the earliest he can get away is 9pm or 9.30pm. I shudder at the thought that I could be having two more hours here. My feet can not hold me for that long.
                      “Actually when you are in a place like Kencom, even if you came to work in a good mood, it gets spoilt. The people are many, the cars are many, and the stage is small. Sometimes people should just understand what a traffic police officer goes through before they endlessly harass us on the road,” Sang explains to me. I stop him. He doesn’t have to explain any further. The twelve or so hours I have spent there have earned him my respect and sympathy.
                      Mad respect traffic cops!

                      Rondo: Western Kenya’s hidden gem for nature lovers

                      If you spend a good chunk of your day at a desk, you must have come up with several stress relievers, be it staring out of the window, replaying funny video clips on your phone or catching up with the latest international gossip online. For me, it is staring at pictures of beautiful hotels and resorts, hoping to find a little unknown gem. That’s how I stumbled on pictures of the Rondo Retreat Centre in Kakamega Forest.

                      With a name like that, the place wouldn’t have fought for my attention. But there is nothing like stretching lawns, sleepy cabins and towering rainforest trees to catch the whims of an urban jungle damsel with a country soul like me. So the next time I had a few days to travel, I headed for Western Kenya — destination Kakamega Forest. And Rondo does not disappoint.

                      After a 45-minute drive along an okay murram road from Kakamega town, which takes us past Shinyalu market and into the forest, the green gates of the retreat centre open to us. And right from the entrance we are drawn into a world of beauty, simplicity and refreshing nature where even bottlebrush bushes grow to become towering trees.

                      My husband and I had booked lunch and soon after check in, we headed for the dining room where the chef told us that some European guests had requested for an African lunch, and so on our plates landed chapati, rice and rather overseasoned ndengu, accompanied by icecream, a glass of orange juice and lots, and I mean lots, of tea. How else do you know you are in Luhya land?

                      I was in a hurry to finish my meal because my mind was on the feel of the heavy carpet of grass on my bare feet. When did I lastly run with abandon across a lawn as the grass softly hugged my feet?

                      But someone was more excited about the expanse of grass- my one year old, who tumbled and toppled down the slight slope as he headed for the little white chapel perched on the edge of the forest and next to a stream; honestly, how idyllic?

                      I sat by a bench, listening to birds chirp and the wind whistle, while keeping an eye on the rolling toddler who hasn’t seen this much space in his lifetime.

                      But thick clouds in the sky were promising to let us know what a rain forest is and soon they brought down the heavens with them.

                      We rushed to our cottage, the colonial style main house made of white painted wood. The centre has five cottages in the same old style, with different accommodation capacity, making them perfect for groups. I make a mental note to bring my “Plotters” here; or my Bible Study Group; or my MEG members. May be I will even do my 10th wedding anniversary here and take up the entire space.

                      The retreat centre can accommodate up to 35 guests at a time, with 15 en-suite double rooms, plus three more double rooms that share the large bathroom in the main house.

                      No two rooms are the same. The bedrooms, sitting rooms and dining room have all been decorated and furnished with flair giving them this lazy country feel.

                      With our windows firmly shut to keep out the rain and cold, and my tummy gleefully full, I picked up a book from the shelves in the main house (the books are available for guests as long as you return them) and folded my feet under a couch in the lobby. I was hoping to while away the afternoon reading as I watched the rain forest in front of me from the large windows. But there is nothing like afternoon rain and a postcard scene to send me off to dreamland.

                      I was awakened by the polite knock of the waiter who had brought the four o’clock tea that was accompanied by a huge chunk of chocolate cake.

                      The rain had stopped and now there was a soft wind that moved the chime by the window, filling the room with soft music. Bliss.

                      I forgot about calorie-watching and urban diets (who watches weight when they are on holiday) and sank my teeth into the cake, listening to the chime.

                      I know no matter how tempted I am to sample the other cottages at Rondo, the bewitching charm of the wind chime will see me head back to Bob and Betty’s Room.

                      We sit on a staircase outside the main house.
                      A lounge in the main house.

                      The next day after a hearty English breakfast, we decided to honour the forest by taking a sneek preview through it. After all it would be unfair to tell the world I visited the Kakemega Forest when all the while I was holed up in my room drinking real lunje tea.

                      We took the nature trail that led us to the fishpond, along a stream and after a short climb back to the cottages.

                      Sitting on a wrought iron bench by the fishpond that feeds the kitchen, I came to a close understanding of why they say God is found in nature. It is easy to feel small under those majestic equatorial rainforest trees with their hanging lianas, and to find yourself thinking about the infinite.

                      Kakamega forest is best known for its sheer abundance and diversity of bird life, with some 367 species, 36 of which are found nowhere else in Kenya, making it a must visit for bird watchers. Flowers include 60 species of orchids and Rondo is proud to have some in its garden.

                      The Forest is also home to 40 per cent of the total butterfly population of Kenya (how cool) and the flamboyant great blue turaco, emerald cuckoo and black-and-white casqued Hornbill.

                      The retreat is run by Trinity Fellowship. Story is the house was originally owned by a saw miller who, in 1948, built a house at his wife’s request at the base of what was thought to be the biggest tree in the forest, an Elgon Olive, the stump of which still stands today. When he left the country, he handed the property to the Christian Council of Kenya.

                      From Rondo, you can set out to discover the larger forest, something I am yet to do — may be next time when I have a baby sitter.

                      For a fee, guides can take you to Lirhanda hill, which provides a breathtaking aerial view of the 240km2 forest, and the Yala River waterfalls.

                      We spent two refreshing nights at Rondo and with lots of feeding from Chef Tosha (I hope he is still there) and lots of tea and fruits, it was hard to say bye. Rondo, we will certainly be back.


                      Love your mop head of natural hair

                      I was at a restaurant when a young man approached me smiling and told me, “I love your hair? How long have you had it?”
                      He was referring to my dreadlocks.

                      That conversation doesn’t happen often with regards to my hair. People never told me they loved my hair. My hair is hard to love. But I have started loving it and the results are showing.

                      See the head above? It sparks different emotions in people. Awe, disgust, inspiration, fascination, hate.
                      For me, I am fascinated. If I met her at a quiet place, I would likely ask to touch her hair. Natural hair often stirs that urge – to run your hand through someone else’s hair.

                      But what stands out most for me is that that hair looks loved and well cared for, worn in pride. That’s the secret to having amazing hair, natural, synthetic or chemically altered. Love your mop, care for it and wear it with pride.
                       There is no good hair. There is only well-cared for hair. Though some hair is easier to care for than others.
                      When you love your hair you begin a journey of discovering what works for it and what doesn’t. You stop fighting your hair and trying to change it and start working with it rather than against it.
                      You start asking people what products they are using for their hair. You start researching stylists. You look for people who feel the same way about your hair as you do yourself. You want your stylist to get you — where you are coming from and going and to help you in that journey, not derail you.

                      I have to give it to the sistas in 2016 — more people are embracing their natural hair. I attended a retreat last Saturday where the median age of attendees was around 23. In a group of around 50, I could count the heads in weaves or with relaxed hair on my two hands. Braids, dreadlocks and open natural hair took the day.

                      People seem to have decided to try and work with their hair rather than against it, embracing curls and coils and shrinkage and denseness. They are experimenting with styles and products and hoping they’ll find that magical hair formula that makes them do a whoop and shout, “Thank you God for this hair you gave me.”

                      Consulting with strangers

                      Two Sundays ago I overheard two ladies in a church washroom discuss hair products. They both had awe-inspiring fros that looked close to this:

                      “How is shea butter working for you?” One asked.
                      “It’s only my first week, but so far so good.” The other replied replied.
                      Only people with natural hair can have such an easy conversation in a public washroom.
                      If I wasn’t in a hurry, I would have stopped to chat with them too to find out how they got those amazing curls on African 4C hair or where I can get whipped Ugandan Shea butter.

                      We’ve lived with the assumption that neat and professional hair is straight and well coiffed, not a strand out of place.
                      But then you hair type checks in and not even the hot comb can get it to style up.

                      Options: You either cut it, keep it permanently under heat or straighten it with chemicals. unfortunately, black hair is fragile thus relaxers leave your hair hair delicate and prone to damage. You have to work extra hard to care for it and are unlikely to achieve that long hair you wish for.

                      Then I go online and discover all these African women with gorgeous natural manes, some soft, others kinky, but all of it gorgeous.How does they do that? How come I am stuck out here with dry coarse hair and Venus hairfood while the rest of the girls look like pop stars out of a magazine cover?

                      For the longest in my life, I did not know what to do with my hair. Mine was that head that stands out in all the wrong ways, with a permanent “bench” right after the crown of my head (I guess my two hair types never planned to mix).

                      I also didn’t see a lot of people who were doing great stuff with their hair to inspire me or even give me ideas. Everywhere I turned I either found dull lifeless dirty product-clogged hair, or over relaxed hair that was fighting for dear life.

                      But honestly, how come no one ever taught us how to take care of natural hair? We were told you do not wash your hair because it will shrink and become tangled; you oil it with petroleum jellies (who remembers blue Runi and avocado oil?); you straighten it with a hot comb, sleep in matutas and wear a hard scarf to bed. Is it surprising that so many of us gave up and went the relaxer way? That regimen will only work for the select few, and still leave their hair looking unimaginative.
                      For lots of people, natural hair stirs negative emotions. Many of us remember classmates or teachers making snide remarks about our “shaggy” hair while growing up. Shaggy hair was a sign of untidiness, rebellion.

                      Not all hairs were made for the comb

                      A few years back, unless I had a fresh perm (which again was hard to achieve), everyone (well, almost) thought my hair to be a misfortune. You see, it is those thick, kinky, extremely thirsty types that cover the entire head and then some more, whose manageability is made worse by a sensitive scalp. Add the fact that I did not know what to do with it or which products to use, and that society then did not much appreciate natural hair, and you can understand why I would be insecure about my hair. Now I am realising: I have good hair. It’s thick, it doesn’t shed easily, it’s black and it grows. A bit dense for most combs but may be not all hairs were made to be combed.

                      Someone tells me when it comes to Kenyan hair, think porosity, elasticity, texture and density. 

                      I’m still insecure about my hair, every time I am at the salon and the stylist jokes about charging me double for using more product or taking up more time than the average head; or when someone touches my locks and they are mesmerised by how “hard” they are.

                      Hair types

                      My learning curve has involved finding out about hair types. Someone woke up one day and decided that hairs need to be named. Most people I know have type 4 hair, the kinky very tightly curled hair. Type 4 hair 4 hair can range from thin to coarse, with lots of strands densely packed together
                      It also has fewer cuticle layers than any other hair type, which means that it has less natural protection from the damage you inflict by combing, brushing, curling, blow-drying and straightening it.

                      Type 4 hair falls into three categories:

                      4a: Kinky (Soft). Tightly coiled. Has 

                      She has discovered the products that give her curls definition.

                      a more defined curly pattern; when stretched, has an “S” pattern, much like curly hair. The wash-and-go method works well on this hair type.

                      4b: Kinky (Wiry). Tightly coiled. Less defined curly pattern.  Instead of curling or coiling, the hair bends in sharp angles like the letter “Z”; has a cotton-like feel.
                      4c: Kinky (Wiry). Tightly coiled. Almost no defined curl pattern. Has more of a “Z”-shaped pattern.

                      The best way to  see your true curl pattern is after you have washed your hair and it has aired dried without product in it.

                      It’s normal to have more than one hair texture. Your edges may be 4b while the majority of your hair is 4c type.

                      Hair care

                      I still haven’t perfected taking care of my hair very coarse dry hair. But I have been learning and I am catching the natural hair vybe of loving my hair, keeping it well fed and moisturised and protected and going petrolatum-silicone-paraben-sulfates-free. Sulfates are found in shampoos, silicones in conditioners; parabens,mineral oil, paraffinum liquidium, DMDM (formaldahyde) & petrolatum in other products. These products clog pores and suffocate hair follicles while sulfates strip the hair.

                      I am also learning that type 4 hair loves creams, butters and oils and lots of water and since it is the most fragile, should be handled with lots of TLC that involves detangling with lots of conditioner, air drying it, not combing it when dry and sleeping with a satin scarf/pillow to avoid loss of moisture.

                      And while there are styles that are a bit complicated to whip up, just look at this video and get instant inspiration to be more adventurous.

                      If you are just willing to be a little adventurous, and to talk to strangers whose hair you love, you could discover the magic creams, butters, conditioners and oils that will make that 4Z hair of yours smile. I know some people would (almost) kill for my thick hair that probably pops out ten hairs from one follicle:-) Really.

                      Of course, going natural could be a craze or fad that you will soon outgrow as move to the next fad. However, for many other people, it’s the lifestyle choice or a destination they arrive at after trying out everything else and feeling frustrated and unsatisfied. They decide to simplify; to start afresh.

                      And why? Natural hair has that “look” and the authenticity behind it. I feel the freedom craved for. I feel the dedication it often calls for. I feel the courage.

                      Most people are afraid of keeping their hair natural claiming it is hard to maintain (it can be when you are using wrong products and handling it wrong); because they think they do not have the head shape to look nice with natural hair (which is the perfect head shape) or because they find it an unprofessional look for the traditional office set up.
                      Others are afraid of being judged as cheap, lazy, laissez-faire or having people who matter (like spouses, parents, friends and bosses) disapprove the look.You know why you chose your hair look. Natural hair is more healthy, forgiving (you can stop running away from the rain or gym); it allows you to DIY and use healthy products right from you kitchen counter (I’m talking extra virgin coconut oil, olive oil, mayo, eggs, aloe vera gel), and the versatility it gives in terms of hairstyles is matchless.


                      Easy DIY two-strand twists

                      Greek godess?

                      Such a healthy mane.

                      People who have worn their hair natural for a while will tell you it’s a journey of discovering what works for you product and regimen-wise. Not every one can wash and go. One product that produces envy-inducing curls on one person will show zilch results on another. Embrace the journey. And when you need a break put on a wig or weave, braid your hair or try some lines.

                      Look at these heads and tell me if they do not inspire confidence and a feel-goodness factor. These are the women you want to stop on the street and tell: “Your hair is lovely. What do you do?”

                       And to prove wrong those who say natural hair doesn’t grow:

                      Isn’t that hair gorgeous?

                      Here’s a summary for hair care that I have found useful, courtesy of Eve Dondie and Sara Mwaniki of Tricia’s Naturals:

                      1. One thing about natural hair is that it LOVES water so moisturizing is KEY to keeping your hair not only healthy but also manageable.

                      2. Then you have to seal that moisture using oils of your choice – the rule most of the time is, if you can use it to cook or rather if it’s edible then it’s great for hair. Most plant and seed based oils and excellent for hair. The best oils known for most naturals that keep the hair manageable and soft are Jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, grape seed oil, sun flower oil, hazelnut oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, JBCO (Jamaican black castor oil), EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) & EVCO (extra virgin coconut oil) and Raw unrefined Shea butter.

                      (b) Penetrating oils are also important to use. These include EVOO, EVCO & Avocado oil; these are known to penetrate the shaft and fortify it thus preventing breakage caused by manipulation.

                      If you are like me who was never taught how to manage my hair apart from oiling it with Venus (and TCB) Hairfood and putting it in braids, here are terms, things (and concepts) you can read up on to make your journey easy. They will soon be part of your lingo.

                      They include:
                      Big chop
                      Silicones, parabens, petrolatum, formaldehyde
                      Moisture and sealing
                      Wash and go
                      Deep conditioning
                      Satin scarf/bonnet/pillow case
                      Bobby pins
                      Twist outs
                      Protective styling
                      Wash and stretch

                      There are so many bloggers and Youtube channels with amazing bags of tricks for working miracles on your hair. Natural hair companies are also mushrooming in Kenya and as I said, your kitchen counter is your BFF in this journey. Online communities of like-minded people can also be a great source of ideas on hair care, reviews on products and shops and stylists, even encouraging you when you feel totally lost.

                      For a community of Kenyan women who are passionate about their natural hair and are walking the journey together, suggesting products, stylists, hair styles and answering questions with all the love and zero judgment and stone throwing, try Tricia’s Naturals.

                      Here also is a link to the newbies guide to natural haircare.

                      What it means to love a woman

                      The other day my boda guy asked me: “What is it that makes a woman willing to do anything for her husband?”
                      I couldn’t stop myself laughing out loud.
                      On realising that he actually expected an answer, I paused for a moment then told him: “Women just want to be loved.”
                      Love is the one thing that I knew could make a woman change her religion, forsake her children, cross seven seas, even forget herself.
                      “But how does a woman know when a man loves her?” He pressed.
                      “She just knows,” I told him as my ride came to an end.

                      I walked to my house thinking about the things that my husband did that made me know he loved me.
                      How is a man to love a woman such that she is left with no doubt that she is loved?

                      The best place to get that answer is in scripture, because that is the only portrait of perfect life that doesn’t change. Anything else I postulate can be overtaken by time and cultural differences, but not the perfect love as shown by God for us.

                      I find several pointers:

                      He loved first

                      No,  we didn’t go out to find God. He loved us first. He started the journey of bringing us to himself even when we did not have an inkling that the awesome creator was pursuing our hearts.
                      Women are drawn to men who love them and who show initiative and work hard to win them over. Women want to be wooed. Women want to see effort. Are you trying hard enough to get her to notice you, want to spend time with you, say yes to your advances? Most men will tell you the women they married didn’t just enter the “box” on first attempt. Someone had to persistently keep at it.

                      We did nothing to deserve the love

                      That’s the beauty of God’s love; and that is what is most amazing about it. We can never be good enough to deserve God’s love; but He loves us anyway.
                      When a man loves a woman, just, such a woman will swim a crocodile-infested river to save him. There are all the traits that may attract a man to a woman. She is beautiful, hasa great body, has awesome hair, the nicest teeth, prays a lot, can cook like a an A-star chef, is balanced, she loves your mother… But all these can fade. Beauty does fade away. A good body can be undone by the rigours of child bearing. Those perky boobs will soon meet gravity. A strong faith can be tested and it fails. Even a good heart can be corrupted. Will you love her, in spite of this?
                      I heard a sad story about this woman who won a luxury car in a competition. Her family then advised her to dump her “loser” husband, who had opened for her the business that allowed her to win the car. A few months later after the windfall was gone, she discovered she needed her husband and tail between the legs, she headed back to him.
                      “I hope he took her back,” I told my friend who was narrating the story.
                      Because this woman would have known the meaning of being loved when she doesn’t deserve it. When a man loves a woman when she feels most undeserving, when she has let him and herself down, she will know she is loved.
                      Too many of us have been taught that we need to bring something to the table in a relationship. Trophy wives bring beauty and endless hours at the salon and spa. Career women bring in a cheque and intellectual stimulation. Stay-at-home moms give the stability of a secure home. Men on the other hand most times bring home the bread, the influence, the wisdom, the strength.
                      But what happens when you have seemingly nothing to give but someone still chooses you, believes in you?

                      Love is sacrificial

                      God gave his only son. Christ gave up his throne to become limited like man, helpless as a baby. That’s sacrifice. That’s putting others needs first. That’s forgetting yourself for a moment. Even a long moment.
                      Loving is about daily dying to oneself and picking up oneness as a couple. It’s about giving up “me” for “us”. It’s about putting another’s needs before your own.
                      My favourite marriage quote has to be: “Do you want to stay happily married or to be right?”
                      That’s the moment I realise that sometimes my opinion doesn’t have to take the front seat. Life is not just about me. Everyday i find myself laying down my life in small ways for others, most times my kids and husband. I gave up my name to take up his. I make major life decisions based on what is best for my family, not just for me. That’s daily dying to me and being alive in another entity, my family.
                      Loving a woman will call for sacrifice of pride, money, goals, ambitions, friends, family, priorities.. for that which brings you closer and wins her heart. Married people will tell you they have had to give up friends, forego job opportunities, forget about buying the two-seater convertible (and instead opt for a seven-seater van cos they got four kids), move to neighbourhoods that are more family friendly and closer to schools even if that means a longer commute.. sacrifices, but which bring so much joy in the end.

                      Love endures forever.

                      God’s love is eternal. So should  a husband’s love for his wife. It endures all things. It is not pegged on good times, or on a timeline. It’s forever.
                      Love is every morning when he wakes up in a foul mood and with stinky breath. Love is every evening when he comes home tired and can barely keep his eyes open. Love is holding on through the argument knowing that differing opinions do not mean you are ruined forever. Love is persisting in faith when he is being unfaithful because you believe God can change people. Love is when you are struggling to pay bills or buy nice things but still believe in each other.

                      Love is not an emotion. It’s a conviction; it’s a decision; it’s a commitment; it’s an action.
                      Love is patient.
                      Love is kind.
                      Love is not jealous, or boastful or proud.
                      Love does not demand its own way.
                      It keeps no record of when it has been wronged.
                      It is never glad about injustice.
                      It rejoices when truth wins out.
                      LOVE NEVER FAILS.
                      It never loses faith.
                      It’s always hopeful.
                      It endures through every circumstance.
                      Love will last forever.
                      That’s what love does.

                      Loving, real loving is hard. It tests our humaneness and leaves us at the cross, in need of a saviour.
                      I remember the pastor who presided over our wedding telling my husband:”Loving this woman will make you a more godly man. She will push you until you just have to pray harder, read the word more, trust God more.”

                      But what do women need from men?

                      We need a man we can follow. He needs to have a vision, a conviction, capability, character and commitment. We aint starting no families and making vows with wussies. And we need to believe in his vision, capacity and commitment.

                      We need affection. I know we have heard the endless jokes about Kenyan men and their lack of romance. But hey men. You do not have to do what you see on La Mujer. Just know your woman. Romance to her could be rubbing her feet cos she spends the day in impossible heels. It could be taking her to dinner because she loves fine dining and dressing up. It could be holding her hand as you walk in town cos that’s what gets her. Be creative and if stuck, just ask her what she would want you to do more.

                      Women need to trust. Thus be honest and open about your life. Let her know that there are no areas of your life that are off limits for her.

                      A woman needs to feel secure. This is why unfaithfulness is a deal breaker for many relationships; it unstabilises the relationship and she is no longer sure she can count on the man. Men make women feel secure by providing, protecting, being dependable and committed. This creates an environment for her to flourish and bloom like a flower garden.

                      If you are going through a rough patch in your relationship, and starting to wonder what it is you saw in her or him, whether it is worth holding on, or starting to feel like you do not know what the heck you are doing, don’t give up. Love is worth fighting for. Marriages are worth fighting for. Families are worth every effort.
                      Here’s a song to spur you on:

                      Happy Valentines!

                      Help! My husband hates my clothes

                      Actress Gabrielle Union.

                      There’s this show that comes on TLC called Your Style in His Hands. Basically, a husband gets the chance to throw away all the clothes, accessories and shoes he would rather never see his wife in, ever again, and gets money to shop for her a whole new wardrobe, with a little help from stylists.

                      Of course I love that show. I love any makeover show, be it fashion, homes or food.

                      In one of the episodes, the man got rid of all the clothes his wife owned save for four or so pieces and two pairs of boots.
                      The lady was heartbroken on seeing what was left of her wardrobe. It didn’t help that she hated the new clothes he shopped for her as she felt they did not reflect the realities of her life. How on earth was she going to chase after horses and run a farm in stilettos and beachy dresses? But the man had spoken. He was tired of seeing her in jeans after jeans after jeggings. He wanted the sexy woman he dated in college. Oh, the distance between men’s imagination and reality!

                      I would be curious to nominate my husband Mr M for a similar show. Something tells me I would find my entire wardrobe gone.
                      You see, I’m that person whose sense of fashion is mostly practical and sometimes dictated by feelings? I dress for me. I’m feeling blue; I will dress like I am headed to a funeral.
                      I walk around a lot also, and I have wide feet, hence I buy a lot of flat shoes. I love comfort so you will hardly see me in pinching shoes or those that make me strain.

                      The fabric of my clothes needs to be comfortable (I itch easily) and the clothes need to be practical and to not draw too much attention to me. Practical is rarely sexy. And not drawing attention often equals drab.

                      Between getting kids ready or off me and wiping off snot and porridge from my clothes, I do not have much time to stay at the mirror or in the salon. A huge mistake. See,I do not want to be that drab and boring wife, though my sense of fashion and priorities may make me that.

                      I have recently tried to make my practical to look chic but hey, khakis, sandals and a coloured top can only go so far, no matter what top designer Karl Lagerfeld says.



                      Pinterest has been amazingly helpful on this front, helping me realign my dress sense so I don’t become too momsy. Ever heard of the rule of threes?

                      The rule of threes
                      See what I am talking about? These pinners inspire me.

                      I love that yellow skirt.

                      Isn’t she lovely?

                      I might just rock rugged jeans.

                      I might even get the courage to rock these:

                      Summer look.
                      How to wear a cargo jacket.

                      Here are my boards, which are challenging me to take my game a notch or five higher.

                       Chic and fun wardrobe
                      Chic African wear/kitenge

                      Does my hubby love all my clothes. Oh, no.
                      We’ve had days when he makes me change just when I’m about to leave the door. I am thankful that after five years of marriage he has the boldness to tell em, “That doesn’t look good on you,” instead of walking around sulking cos he hates my clothes.

                      The first time he suggested he might not like something I wore, I walked around sulking for days. Then it hit me: I should be happy he cares enough to say it.

                      Because of my love and respect for him, if he doesn’t approve of an item, most times I will not be comfortable wearing it; so I remove it. Even if I wear it that day, I am unlikely to wear it again.

                      I have tried to take him shopping with me so he pre-approves the clothes before I buy but this is not always practical. So there are clothes I have won once, and others haven’t left our bedroom door. I hope that doesn’t signify my dress sense is that horrible 🙂

                      Fact is — I want to stay attractive to my husband. I want him to think me hot. I want him to be proud walking next to me. I want him to say, “Hey, that’s my gal,” when he sees me at a distance.

                      Therefore, I am willing to bend over backwards a bit to dress how he likes me. It tells him I am thinking about him and care about him.
                      I know he has stopped wearing a certain checked shirt that does him no good, and  a grey T-shirt he loves; but I hate.

                      Some people may think that as giving too much control to a man. True. But really, the two reasons (well, three) we dress up is to be functional, to feel good about ourselves and to make others feel good about us. Besides God, Mr M is the other person whose opinion I value and cherish. He is the person on earth I would like to please. He is the person who will spend the longest time of my life with me; so I would like to dress in a way he finds attractive. Why should I dress to impress strangers or me when the person who matters most remains unimpressed?

                       Men are visual. My husband will point out clothes he finds attractive on other women when we are walking on the street. I would like to help him find that attractiveness not too far away- right in his home. Why does he have to go to town to see a short skirt, if that’s what he likes?

                      Maid at home

                      Reality is that since mostly he see me at home, his vision of me might end up being of oversize t-shirts, leggings and head scarfs.
                      Is that what I want my husband to think about when he looks at me? No.
                      I’m a being vain? May be. I’m hardly the person defined by the clothes I wear. I’ve lived to get people to see beyond my face, make up (or lack of it), hair and clothes.
                      But I discovered that knowing I look like a million shillings does wonderful things to me inside; I feel good about myself when I look good.
                      Looking my best in public also does reflect on our family’s “brand”, as Mr M puts it.

                      I am still working on trying to look half the part when we are at home and in the bedroom. May be that dress that “shrunk” after I bought it can find use when the bedroom doors are closed.

                      I know our fashion tastes clash. There are pieces I love that he threatens to throw away. May be this article will give him the confidence to so so. At the end of the day, all I am interested in is a happier us.

                      Blueprint of a modern woman’s life

                      Blogger Penelope Trunk’s Blueprint for a Woman’s Life  is an article I loved reading recently because it resonated with the place I am in life. 
                      The career adviser gives some rather unconventional advice for women — like why they should take botox (the longer you can look younger than 45 the longer runway time you will have to figure out how to raise kids, hold a marriage together and still keep things vibrant and interesting intellectually), do less homework (school is not a harbinger of doing well in life), start a startup with a dude (smart women in their 20s are looking for husbands and cannot be 100% focused on some pie-in-the-sky startup; women in their 30s are having kids and trying to figure out how to work less; men are more easily focused solely on work) and why women should join graduate school young (if you get your MBA early, you set yourself up for skipping entry-level jobs, make re-entry after kids easier because you have higher level experience before you leave and are more likely to marry well).
                      She additionally advises women who want to go on maternity leave to position themselves in a job they can do with their eyes closed — because if you are taking care of a newborn baby and working full-time, you’ll be doing everything with your eyes closed.
                      Want to follow her advice? You will need to search your heart.
                      There are many women telling us how an ideal woman’s life ought to look like– she is a career woman who puts her work first; no, she is a stay-at-home-mom who realises no greater joy than being a home maker; no, she balances her life, work and mission, excelling at both… 
                      I think Penelope is onto something. But today morning I read the Bible’s blueprint of a virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 and realised how much I need to realign my need to please me me  and me to what God’s word says, to what makes God, my husband, my children, even society smile.
                       What’s the blue print of a virtuous woman that I want to live up to, the kind that will make my kids say: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.?
                      • She is full of goodness. She is a woman of virtue.
                      • She is capable; can be entrusted to deliver whatever is within her mandate efficiently. 
                      • Her husband can trust her. He knows once she is handling it, it’s sorted. He knows she has his back every time. 
                      • She will not hinder her husband but HELP him all her life. Call her dignified PA, coat hanger, shoe wiper, dinner warmer, budget planner, door opener… whatever help he needs, that’s where she meets his needs. She is a helpmate. All her life. Not just when he’s remembered to call her during the day or when he’s helped with the kids. It’s not seasonal or moody helping. It’s meeting his needs all the days of her life.
                      • She is busy clothing her family. She works hard to make sure they are clothed. She shops for them. She mends those that need buttons. She irons them. She makes sure her family looks the part.
                      • She is like a merchant ship. The thought that comes to mind is a ship that looks like the middle of Gikosh or Toi market. Full of resources, goodies and supplies. 
                      • She feeds her family.
                      • She gets up before dawn to make breakfast.
                      • She is an employer. Through her others can earn a living. She plans the day’s work for her workers. 
                      • She invests in property and grows her income where she finds opportunities.
                      • She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.
                      • She is frugal. She practices austerity. She hunts for bargains. she watches her coins. She does not waste her husband’s money.
                      • Her lamp burns late into the night. I don’t know what you do late into the night but I have several naughty ideas considering that’s when there is no danger of kids breaking down our door.
                      • She’s generous to those in need and compassionate. She is a giver.
                      • She plans for the future. Nothing catches her by surprise. 
                      • She’s resourceful.
                      • She is elegant and classy. She dresses well, she looks well. She doesn’t look like a hobo or like a mama headed to the farm in leso, torn tee and worn-out stockings on her head. 
                      • Her husband is a leader whose opinion is sought after.
                      • She’s an entrepreneur who uses her skills to earn money. She grabs business opportunities that come her way.
                      • She is clothed with strength and dignity. Strong people can love. Strong people forgive. strong people give of themselves. Dignity: worthy of honour and respect.
                      • She is optimistic about the future. She inspires, uplifts.
                      • Her words are wise and her instructions come with kindness.
                      • She is observant and in charge of her household. Not the children, not the help; not her mother or mother-in-law.
                      • She is never lazy.
                      • Her children honour her and call her blessed.
                      • Top of all, she fears the Lord.

                      That list can be intimidating but don’t let it cower you. That’s not the goal. Choose an item where you need improvement and work on it gradually and who know, may be by end year you can actually tick off every single item.

                      Surviving sleep deprivation as a new mom

                      How many hours of sleep does a human need?
                      Honestly, how many hours of sleep can a mom get by on?

                      After too many nights of  interrupted REM cycles, I’m walking around feeling like a zombie, like my eyes should be on pain killers or something. Because between getting home from work, shuffling the kids off to bed, then nursing an infant who keeps waking up through the night (God, she has been teething for months), then waking up to get my son ready for an early school bus … I need a sleep vacation, somewhere with a hammock and hopefully swaying palms and endless pineapple-coconut mojitos. I also love ice cream, tangy flavours.

                      Aart from students who have been pulling all nighters to study for exams of finish a project, mums are the other category of people who walk around permanently thinking, “I need to sleep. I need to sleep.”

                      I have always been that person who tends to need more sleep than others. Well, I also sleep later than most people (My energy starts peaking at 6pm :-)) but getting out of bed in the morning has never been easy.
                      As a kid, I wanted to be grown up so I would never have to wake up early again to go to school. Oh, life’s irony! Someone forgot to tell me you grow up, get a job and live in the city- and now you have to wake up early to get to the office and to beat crazy Nairobi traffic.
                      My high school favoured me in that we had no morning preps (does God answer prayer?), and in college I gained quite the record of the chic who shows up for an 8 oclock at 9am.

                      I know there are insomniacs who cannot sleep for more than five hours, just by their wiring. Reason lends that there are others at the end of the spectrum who need more than the prescribed 7.5- 8 hours of sleep to function optimally. I think I fall squarely in that category.
                      Now writing that makes me feel guilty. Why do we look down on sleep so much as a culture? People can surely get an ample night’s sleep and still be billionaires, right?

                      To be honest, although I have always needed an alarm clock to get out of bed, I never really missed my sleep until I got kids. Now, I just stumble along with bloodshot eyes, fantasizing about Saturday mornings when I can sleep in — only for me to be woken up at 6am sharp by a pre-schooler who will only watch TV if mommy switches it on.
                      My friend told me the other day that she has been unwell, has this headachae that wont go away. She isa mother of a three-year-old and a 8-month-old.
                      My first question to her was: “Are you getting enough sleep?” To ask a mom that is  an oxymoron.

                      A research done in the UK by Mother and Baby magazine found out that most mothers, getting by on five hours of sleep a night, are so exhausted with juggling the conflicting demands of modern life they profess to not enjoying motherhood.
                      More than half (56%) said weariness left them in a “state of despair” while 82% of working mothers admitted a lack of sleep affected their performance and output at work.
                      And 55% said tiredness made them irritated with their baby with 70% of mothers aged over 35 feeling most irritated when their child cries.

                      The survey, commissioned by Mother and Baby magazine, found mums only got an average of four hours sleep a night during the first four months of their baby’s life.
                      Once their baby reached 18 months, they still only average five hours a night.
                      Those over 35 suffered most from devoting their energies to family life while holding down a career – 90% said their relationship had been badly affected, with 70% going off sex and 92% “feeling wrecked” at work.
                      Eight out of 10 mothers with a baby aged up to two said a lack of sleep put their partnership under immense strain and caused rows.
                      Only 31% of fathers woke up if their baby cried, even if both parents worked full-time, according to the survey.

                      Another recent study shows that four 10 to 15 minute sleep interruptions in the night are enough to leave people groggy and grumpy because a full night’s sleep that is interrupted can be as bad as getting only half a night. So if you slept eight hours but woke up four times to breastfeed, you are as good as the dude who slept at 3am; cruel.

                      Not that men always have it easy. There are days when the children are unwell and keep us awake through the night, sleeping at 4am; then precious dear has to be up at 5.30am, and get through the day on one and a half hours of sleep.

                      Lack of sleep does result in grumpiness, being less gracious, more impatient and more selfish and a poor worker.

                      Want to be a better spouse, worker, colleague? Get proper sleep.

                      But how, seriously, unless you can sleep train your infant to sleep through the night? And how do you make your child sleep through the night when really that is the only time you get to bond with the tot and catch up on breastfeeding now that the rest of the time you are either stuck in traffic or are at work?

                      You know you are sleep deprived when:
                      1. You are looking for a dark corner during the day to catch some Zzzz just to stay awake.
                      2. You fall asleep in warm places like stuffy Nairobi buses, lecture halls, and churches.
                      3. You doze off while watching the TV or after hitting the couch.
                      4. You need an alarm to wake you up in the morning.
                      5. You hit the snooze button regularly.
                      6. Just getting out of bed is a chore.
                      7. You are out cold within five minutes of hitting your pillows.

                      Yep, that’s all me. How did I become “those people” who fall asleep in matatus?

                      I need a sleep vacation. Somewhere where the leafy palms swing. Oh, I forgot. I am a mom.

                      Use your personality to thrive

                      I am an INFP. I am Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiver. You can google the Myer Briggs personality types to understand what that means but in summary, I am energized by being quiet and reflective; I process information in an abstract, imaginative way; I like freedom and spontaneity; I am an idealist who is concerned with meaning and authenticity.

                      Lately I have been feeling as if my personality is a weakness I need to overcome.Now, why would such an awesome person as described above feel like this?

                      Society has roles and expectations for us and sometimes when those expectations collide with what we feel inside (especially when you are an INFP) that pressure can kill your creativity and leave you feeling suffocated, inauthentic, out of touch with yourself and rebellious.
                      I have been feeling like that, a lot. But by reading up on my personality I understood why I view the world the way I do, why simple things bring me so much joy, why my values are different from many peoples’, why i am driven by the things that drive me… that INFPs pride themselves for authenticity, creativity and spontaneity.

                      Having understood that I realise that no, God did not set me up for failure by making me crave quiet, personal space, meaningful relationhips, flexibility and pursuing purpose.

                      Is there a need to overcome that which is inherently you or do you trust that there’s a task that, with my unique wiring, you can perform perfectly and excel at it?
                      Do I need to be outgoing to be successful? Do I need to think and work like others or can I run through life dictating my terms?

                      Research does point out that extroverts are among the highest earners in any industry and often rise to the helm of their organisations because they love leading, love attention and can marshall troops. So what happens to those who do not care to lead or be led? What happens to those who would give their craft for free but be happy than work for profit-minded organisations that are ruining the world.

                      I want to teach myself to be “extroverted” but really, at the end of the day I just want to go home and sink into my little world and be happy with my husband and kids.

                      I can be rational, but inherently, I feel first. I weigh with my heart.

                      I hate routines. I hate schedules. Crowds and strangers drain my energy. I thrive where there is no structure to my day, to pursue whatever tickles my fancy at that moment. 

                      I care deeply about stuff. I hold strong values and ideals. I don’t cross some lines, ever, and if I do I will retrace my steps back.

                      My family comes first. I never really appreciated how having a husband and kids would change me, my priorities and values.

                      I like to work on things I believe in. My work needs to reflect my values and be able help other people. My career is more than a job, it’s an extension of me. It’s almost a mission. It needs to flow with the rest of my life seamlessly, and needs to count in the bigger picture of: What on earth I’m I here for? I guess it’s true INFPs often feel like they are on a crusade.

                      I am optimistic, purpose-centred, service-oriented and a solution seeker. I trust God in all things and I expect to see Him move.

                      I have a rich inner world that may not be obvious beneath my cool exterior. I feel strongly, and this gets me scared. I notice small details that most people will miss out. I will pick up vibes and emotions that many are ignorant to. I discern needs quickly and I’m a quick judge of character.

                      I love personal growth, so I read a lot, or watch TV programmes that teach me new things, skills, ideas. I thrive on theories, ideas and possibilities, just. May be some day I can be able to use all that information meaningfully. Most times it helps in my writing, making me less ignorant.
                      I also like spurring others to grow and to be themselves, unique as they are. I am a firm believer in being true to yourself. Why be a cheap knock-off of someone else? No wonder I love Steve Job’s quote:

                      Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

                      I used to day dream a lot when I was younger. May be those fantasies can make a novel or short story. Now I got my head out of the clouds, but I still think about beautiful places and gorgeous photography, and rolling on the grass downhill with my kids.

                      I dream about planting a flower and herb garden and watering it; watching it grow. (Oh, I have one on my balcony).
                      I dream about sleeping outside on a warm night, watching the stars with Mr M (as long as there are no crawly or slimy things. I hate slugs).

                      But that “P” in my personality is what I have been struggling with most professionally. As a perceiver, nothing is cast in stone. Not even rules. I go with the flow. I desperately desire flexibility and autonomy. I don’t mind a little chaos; but who pays freewheelers? How do you run a business when you get bored by mundane tasks, hold non-breakable ideals and are uncomfortable discussing money?

                      In the midst of this season, God has been teaching me something. My interests are not a fluke. My personality — he created it to reflect his glory. He knew me. He made every part of me; not a single thing is hidden from his sight. No detail in my life is by chance. Not even the troubles I have gone through. He planned it all for his purpose. Nothing in life is arbitrary.

                      The world does need people like us, who think about ideas and information (Introversion), deal with possibilities and potential (iNtuition), make decisions using subjective values (Feeling) and use a flexible workstyle, that goes with the flow (Perception),

                      There is a task out there that only I can perform because of the unique experiences I have gone through, my unique desires, interests, hopes, ambitions, dreams and passion. My spiritual gifts, skills and personality equip me for a task that I will love, will be great at and that will give me the freedom (financial and otherwise) and fulfillment I need.
                      God made me this way. He means to use me this way. I will be fruitful and effective at my mission (and I use that term rather loosely here) because that’s why I am the way I am.
                      That’s not to say I am settling for mediocrity or making excuses for not trying harder. But I discovered we can be too hard on ourselves, always pushing ourselves towards more without pausing to actually live in the moment, serve where we are.

                      So suppose you are a control freak? You can work on relenting control but there are situations in life that need people like you. Suppose you are perfectly comfortable following orders and not asking questions? The military could sue people like you. Impatient people make things move. Zero-tolerant people are the ones we need leading major organs in government. They may get to everyone’s nerves (I’m thinking Nancy Baraza), but they deliver structures for governance.

                      “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, the Lord God made them all.”

                      God’s the only one who is not deterred by our weaknesses; He uses them for for his glory. When we are weak, His strength is perfected in us. Where we fail, His grace abounds. If we were strong enough, good enough, then we would never need a saviour.

                      Yes, I have major challenges keeping time. I do not like taking orders or giving them. I procrastinate a lot. I don’t care for superficial relationships. I can be aloof and stubborn. I get bored easily. I have many brilliant ideas and hardly much follow through.

                      Many times I am nearly giving up on myself. But God doesn’t give up on me. So why should I?

                      Will I find what makes me happy? Will I find what which I am great (or can be great) at? Do I know what drives my passion? Can these things earn me a livelihood?
                      I will not give up on me. I will seek, I will listen, I will be obedient. I know God makes all things beautiful in his time.

                      Here is a link to a free personality test.
                      Or this: Free personality test