No Green Thumb here.

I come from a culture that prides itself in farming; no matter the scale. (Hello there, Andū a Nyūmba).

Such a disappointment given the amount of space I have here at the moment.

It wasn’t always like this though. Some years ago, I had a thriving kitchen garden back home. I grew my own spring onion, dhania, rosemary, mint, celery, beetroot, spinach, carrots, even strawberries, and they all thrived. I have no idea what happened when we got here.

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Growing up, we had a garden and livestock. We grew maize, potatoes, avocados, kale, spinach, amaranth, passion fruits, avocado, luquats, tree tomato, pumpkins, beans etc. My Dad who has a green thumb alright, had planted some beautiful flowers all around the house too. It was a pretty place. You would think I’d get some of that green pixie dust… Well, maybe I did, it just didn’t last long.

H and I lived in Naivasha for a while and we tried to garden, it was successful, except for the monkeys that would come and have a field day uprooting the carrots and messing up the maize. We did enjoy the onions and anything else the monkeys could not consume.

When we moved back to Nairobi, I did the kitchen garden thing again and it was pretty neat except for the strawberries that would go missing just before harvest. I did figure out who the culprit was but that is a story for another day. Anyway, somewhere along the line, I got too busy with work and neglected the small space, we ended up planting grass there. Funny enough though, the celery, beetroot and lemongrass keep popping up.

Fast forward to Kampala. We found a couple of banana trees, some lemongrass, struggling mint and chives in a small corner of the compound. Hurray! I thought, I can do this. So we had the small patch fenced off the rest of the garden because of the dogs, and got planting. Guys, nothing grew! Absolutely nothing! Even the existing chives and mint just decided to exit stage left. The bananas did grow without our help and we have enjoyed them twice but that is all. Even the maize I got to plant next to the bananas just decided to leave this world.

This is Uganda, fertile land and all with rain almost every month of the year. We watered, got manure, even dug everything up and tried again, we did all we could but nope, nothing happened.

I have given up on gardening. And I have no shame in admitting it. H and the kids haven’t though. My son has a bean plant he planted in class and it is thriving, so far so good. They also planted pumpkin and mint that is also coming on well. Even they pineapples they planted have taken root. I have decided to watch it all from a distance though, I do not want to jinx their plants, seeing as I now have a black thumb.

My Mum has been sending me pictures of their amazing organically grown vegetables. Courgettes almost as big as my arm, plump beans, large leafy greens, maize and peas and I have nothing to show for all my talk of having a big space for a wonderful kitchen garden. NOTHING.

As much as I have never been an ardent gardener, I still feel like I have failed bigly. What sort of Kikuyu woman is this who cannot even grow simple dhania guys? Dhania, the easiest thing to grow. I have failed my people. Do you know how lousy of a gardener I have become that I could not even sustain an existing rosemary bush people, Rosemary!

Black thumb it is for me.

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House Matters.

Shelter is a basic need. We all need somewhere to go home to, a place to call our own, a haven from daily work struggles and a place to be safe from the elements.

Where I come from, a lot of people believe that one of the things a person should aspire to have is his or her own piece of land, where they can go ahead and construct their own home. For those who do not own property near the city, it is assumed that by the time your working life ends, you will have finished constructing a place in the village to retire to, complete with a cow and chicken coop and space to grow your own vegetables to boot.

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I grew up about 15 km from Nairobi, in a rural village juxtaposed with a college campus on one side, a farming area on another and a busy highway on another end that connects the capital to the Rift Valley. Folks made fun of it a lot, but it is home. We lived on our own land, so no rent, had our cows, chicken and eggs, and a land to farm on, which meant food was easily accessible. Back then a lot of people believed living in town (within the city and suburbs) was the best life. Well, not anymore. I keep reading and seeing more people opting to move to our area and beyond and farm life and waking up to the sound of birds singing has more appeal now.

Times have changed. We are no longer living within our tribal communities’ geographical boundaries. People are choosing to settle anywhere they feel comfortable. This could be in different towns, countries or even continents.

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With the pandemic, a lot of people have had to cut down on living costs. Housing is one of the things that takes up a large chunk of one’s income if you live in the city where rent is high. A lot of people are opting to move farther away to the country side or different counties altogether where life is more affordable, which is a good decision. Adapting to Covid 19 has taught us that it is possible for many to work from home, as long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can work from anywhere.

Land is very expensive too, not all of us may afford to get that land to build our dream house on. One can opt to get a mortgage and settle on an already built housing unit or just decide to rent for life. Which is fine.

Culture is dynamic, there is nothing cast in stone, we need to adapt to these changes and respect each others’ decisions on what is best for them. That does not mean however that these decisions are easy to arrive at.

Is there a need of having to build a house in the village that you will head to once or twice a year for a week tops, that will then stay empty till the day you retire to the village? On the other hand, it will be great to have a roof over your head with no pressure to pay rent in case your income lines dry up.

What about buying an already built property; if you do not have the ability to pay cash upfront, are you willing to be burdened with a mortgage for almost 3/4 or even all of your working life?

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Or you buy land somewhere, then extreme changes in weather, like what we have been experiencing worldwide, force you to move. Lake levels are rising here and old dried up waterways are filled with water now as well as wetlands we thought are dried up. These are places people settled in and lived for years until recently, now their homes are gone!

Some properties are also controversial in terms of location and land ownership. Imagine taking out a loan to buy a house that turns out to built on land later claimed by the government or somebody else, or buying a house that ends up not being structurally sound?

Once you hear all the horror stories some people go through, renting suddenly looks more appealing than ever.

No matter the decision, shelter is a basic right for all. We all need somewhere to live, rest and sleep in. Choosing where to live depends on our economic situation, affordability, access to infrastructure, quality of life and also access to quality education if you have kids. Security too. And not just burglary and the likes, there are certain areas that are prone to tribal clashes every few years.

There is a lot to consider when making the decision where to live, and there is no perfect place that one will pick and say “This is it.” It is all about weighing all that you consider important, the pros and cons, do your due diligence, and make the final place you decide on a home fit for you and your family.

Food.

A simple definition is what we consume to provide us with the nutrients we need to sustain our bodies. What we choose to eat is influenced by so many things. Our environment, our culture, availability, personal preference and so many more.

Food makes us happy. Reminds us of good or bad times, by the scent, the taste and even how it looks. Preparing and sharing a meal with loved ones is a pleasure, where we can share our thoughts in a relaxed atmosphere.

Githeri ; A Kenyan staple.

I currently live in a country that is very fertile and food is relatively cheap and easy to come by, that is, fresh fruit and vegetables. Processed food here is more expensive. When I first visited the United States, despite what I had watched and read before, I was still taken aback by how cheap processed and junk food was in comparison to fresh produce. I was also appalled at the wastage. And the irony is in both countries, there are people who are struggling to put a meal on the table.

Food is political. Yes it is. Think about it. In the past, food was just for sustenance. Our ancestors ate what they came across, what was around them at the time and their lives and dishes reflected that. These days though food has become a hot political take. What we eat, where it comes from, how it has been produced, how accessible it is to those who are lacking… it is no longer just about survival, but a reflection of what is going on with the world today.

Food can also be a fiery topic. There are certain foods some do not eat for religious, or health reasons, that are traditional staples in other communities. How do we deal with this? Do we bash those who do not eat what we eat or look down on them?

Many of us are now living in multicultural communities where our food has been influenced by other cultures.

Maize which is a staple in the community I come from, was brought by the Portuguese in the 1400s thereabouts. Potatoes which we love too, were introduced by the British in the 1800s. We did have other staples, milk and meat were accompanied by indigenous tubers, grains and cereals before that were wiped out by the introduction and spread of these new crops. Enslaved Africans crossed with cowpeas, okra and watermelon to name a few which are now part and parcel of American cuisine.

Railroad workers brought in from the Indian Subcontinent by British colonialists came with their food and spices that have had a tremendous effect on East African cuisine. Long time trade on the East African coast with Arabs and Chinese has seen influences from their cuisine here too. Our scented pilau and biriani dishes, chapati, samosas, Maru bhajias, masala tea, curries are just a few of the dishes that indicate this.

Beef shank curry and methi naan.

I remember this time I got gifted a bunch of green bananas ( green figs aka matooke), and I shared them with someone who declined as that specific type of banana was only eaten in times of starvation as a last resort where she came from. The banana she was rejecting is what we grow and eat back home as a staple.. what a difference! I was too shocked to be offended but it really opened my eyes to how we all relate differently with food depending on where we come from.

What we eat also changes with the times. There are many people opting not to eat certain foods as they are not produced in the right way, or overly processed. There is a shift to more traditional foods and older methods of cooking and food preservations that we had discarded over time.

Food is a very important part of our cultures, no matter what part of the world we come from. What we eat, how we prepare it, present and consume it speaks a lot on who we are as a people. It is an essential part of our lives we cannot do without. I like reading, collecting and trying recipes from different parts of the world as it is a way I can try to experience a small part of a different culture. We live in a time where information is so easily available we can interact with other cultures and traditions without having to move there physically. And food is one of the ways we can do that. Cooking different dishes with the kids makes them curious and want to know more about that culture we are making the food from, and I believe this makes them open minded and appreciative of different cultures too. Food, a meal, a recipe will always have a story to tell.

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We have however abused the role of food in recent times. Food has become something some of us take pleasure in wasting, hating and using to highlight our ignorance of other cultures. Numerous videos online show people playing pranks with food, overeating as entertainment and even trying challenges of food from other cultures and competing on how gross they find them. This is appalling and disgusting to say the least. Whatever happened to basic decency and respect of other cultures?

Despite the fact that we are living in times where information on anything is a thumb click away, people are priding themselves in showing off their ignorance and arrogance. We have moved from times where we preferred to ignore or fear what we did not know and understand, to ridiculing what is different from us. And these recent food challenges are a perfect indicator of that.

Food is IDENTITY. What we eat tells us about where we come from, what is available there, what grows there and our creativity at making something palatable from it. It connects us and makes us understand one another as we share a meal. When we go ahead and mock food that comes from a different culture… What exactly are we saying about that culture? What are we communicating about ourselves?

It is crucial for us to acknowledge the important role food plays in our lives. Food is central to what we value, how we understand our environment, understand each other and how we express who we are. It is not just about filling our bellies, it tells much more than that to us as human beings. We cannot claim to respect others’ cultures, and at the same time disrespect their food (which is an integral part of any culture). We can do better and be better.

Perception.

What are some of the things we do, that influence how we perceive each other? That make us able to discern what is good for us and what is bad?

We are relational beings, always interacting with each other in various ways. There are things about us, that we do or say, that make people love us or hate us, ignore us or pay attention to us. I find it all fascinating.

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Social media has changed how we interact; and by extension exposed us with our faults, prejudices, strength and weaknesses to those who follow us. It has changed how we perceive each other, and how we perceive ourselves. Some people blame social media for bullies, rising intolerance, superiority complex and a certain braggadocio, but is it not us in all our true colours – showing us who we really are, in a quicker and more visible way.

There is a popular quote by the famous African American poet and author, Maya Angelou that says, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This was in context of physical interaction but can still be applied in our online interactions. Yes, people can pretend online at first, but when attentive, you will see some signs of their true selves.

Let me use a romantic relationship as a simple example. In college, there was a Psych course we did to get an easy ‘A’. The course was titled “Courtship and Marriage.” I did get my ‘A’ but the amazing thing is years later when preparing for marriage and in marriage life, all we learnt back then rang true. The lovely lady who taught us used to go on and on about how courtship is important. And it is.

Ideally, courtship is when prospective partners discuss their goals and what they want their future life to be like. Decisions such as who is responsible for what, how many children to have, where to live, how to make financial decisions etcetera etcetera. But, she also taught us, this is the time to examine your prospective partner’s behaviour, and decide if this is the kind of person you want to live with. Self examination is obviously paramount, but that does not mean you should assume your partner is perfect. How does he or she behave when angry? Do they throw fits of anger when things do not go their way? How do they treat other people around them? How do they treat animals/ pets? How do they talk about and interact with their family? What kind of friends do they have? How are their personal boundaries? What is their attitude about money? Personal hygiene? What are their views on gender roles and responsibilities. What do they do for a living? Have you been to their workplace, do you know any of their colleagues? What are their career and personal aspirations? Who are their role models? I could go on and on. Thing is, red flags are always there; we choose not to see them. We ignore our intuition and that little niggling feeling that all is not well, and even lie to ourselves that it is not that bad, we can live with it, or hope our partners will change once we get married.

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How we treat each other in our religious communities, neighbourhood and professional settings also influences how we perceive each other. How do we behave towards those who wield power over us? Or those who we deem to be inferior to us? Are you a boss who bullies or a boss who cares and listens? How do you treat your domestic help? Do we pay those who work for us well? How do you treat those who are in the service industry?

How we choose to behave in all these instances, give others an idea of who we really are, than who we claim to be or not. And once we show our true colours, it is up to others to decide if they want to interact with us or not. We cannot afford to assume we can live without each other, we cannot. Once you are in that situation, you need to look inward and examine yourself.

Communication is paramount in such instances. Expressing ourselves freely and allowing others to express themselves, accepting feedback about our flaws with an open mind and deciding to work on ourselves, will create positive perceptions in us and about us. When we perceive things positively, we become confident, optimistic, are able to create solutions and work with each other in a more harmonious way.

How we perceive ourselves and each other affects how we relate to one another deeply. No man is an island. We cannot live without interacting with each other. And we need to challenge ourselves to focus on positive interactions and not dwell on the negative perceptions we have of each other. We need to respect each other, solve problems together, build a proper world together to ensure our survival on this planet; we all have a role to play that is determined by how we look at ourselves, and interact with each other. Our strengths can help others overcome their weaknesses, our differences should make us appreciate our diversity and learn how to adapt to it.

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It all begins with working on ourselves as individuals. Believing in who we are; that we are capable and worthy human beings. Accepting our imperfections but also looking for ways to reduce them or live with them.

How is your self perception?

Grief Etiquette 101.

I first shared this post in 2018 after my younger sister’s death on my old blog and social media pages.

Sometimes it takes going through something yourself to make you aware of what is the right thing to say or do, and what is not.

A friend lost her sister recently and when she told me how some folks just don’t understand how insensitive their words or behaviour can be, it took me back to 2018 all over again.

A grieving family.
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There is no complete handbook to grieving. Yes, resources are available and do help but we need to remember it is not a cookie cutter version for all. We all grieve differently, and need to be more sensitive to those who have lost loved ones by being there, and letting them grieve the best way they know how.

Here is what I shared back then and I think it’s still applicable.

Grief Etiquette 101

In no particular order:-

• When you visit a bereaved person be conscious of what you say and ask. Let them speak first if they want to. If they do not want to give more information on what happened, DO NOT PRY. It is perfectly fine to sit there in silence.

• It is not the time to bring gossip and what other people are saying into a grieving home. Why would you even do that? Why?

• Do not say “ I know how you feel,” you don’t. You may have lost a loved one too, but the pain is different. You could have both lost spouses or children, and can console each other on the same without assuming the pain and anguish is the same.

• Do not force the grieving person to tell you what they will do next. If a spouse dies, do you tell widows and widowers to change beds and houses immediately? It is NONE of your business, and they most probably haven’t even gotten round to thinking about it.

• Don’t tell a grieving person “vumilia!” (Meaning ‘be strong’ in Swahili) If they want to laugh, scream, wail, roll, let them do it as long as they are not endangering themselves and others. There is no textbook way to mourn.

• Respect the grieving person’s culture. Every culture has a way they deal with grief and bereavement. Do not be condescending. Seek clarity from a friend familiar to that culture instead, if there is something you do not understand.

• Grieving is not a platform to compete about who knew the deceased better and who knows the family more. Hatushindani kwa machozi tafadhali. (meaning, we are not competing in who grieves best). Be sensitive to the loss. With increased social media use, when a person dies, there seems to be a competition online on who knew the dead person more and who posts more photos with the deceased. Appalling to say the least.

• Some help to the family goes a long way, be it financial or just helping take out trash, stock groceries, cleaning up, cooking them a meal, running some errands for them etc. It does not hurt to also ask HOW you can help. In my culture, arranging a funeral takes about a week. At this time, there are people visiting to console the family who have to be catered to. This help doesn’t have to be food, even soap to wash dishes, serviettes, extra tissue etc, they all go a long way. Check and ask how you can be of assistance to them during this period.

Please, for the love of God, help from the heart. You do not have to help if you do not want to. Do not give any kind of help and expect to be rewarded for it. You help from the heart. Don’t expect a medal for it!

• Let the family determine the legacy they want for their loved one. AT their own time. Do NOT rush them into making decisions. God knows I can write a whole book on this!

• If the deceased person had indicated how they would want to be disposed. RESPECT IT! Who are you to question how and why someone is being cremated or buried in a certain way or at a certain place?

• After the funeral, it is ok to check on the family but don’t linger. Sometimes they also need some privacy in their mourning and as they try to cope in the absence of their loved one. If I’m bereaved and you come and find me out shopping, don’t accuse me or make me feel guilty for doing normal things.

There is no textbook way to grieve so if a long drive, retail therapy, or swimming will help me cope, let me be! Stop making bereaved people feel guilty for doing normal things. Life continues for them no matter how hard it is.

• Be silent and open to non verbal nuances. If the bereaved person wants to talk about the deceased, let them do it at their own time and shut up and listen. Do not offer opinions and answers unless asked, as sometimes the person just wants to be listened to.

• Confidentiality and sensitivity is so important. Recording committee meetings or conversations taking place, taking photos and sharing them without express family permission is a BIG NO! Only vile human beings derive pleasure from sharing others anguish. Are you the type? Please stay away from grieving families if you answered yes.

• There are different stages of grief and family members and friends who have lost a loved one are rarely at the same stage at the same time. Respect that too.

This is not an exhaustive list. I came up with this as a result of what we experienced as a family back then, and with talking with others about what they have gone through.

Grief and loss really bring out the best and the worst in us humans. Let us strive to do better, be better, more helpful, more sensitive and less judgmental when those around us lose their loved ones.

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Presently, the Covid 19 pandemic has affected they way we mourn and grieve.

We cannot gather as we are used to, our loved ones are dying and being buried in our absence, which is not an easy thing for the bereaved.

We can however choose to show compassion to those who have lost their loved ones, and support them in many other ways. We just have to remember to be kind and sensitive. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

It is not too much to ask, is it?