Get your own damn tea! by Ciku kimeria
You are a good Kikuyu woman.” Those words still haunt me today. I should explain the context of these words. I was at a meeting with someone from a client company. Just to make the setting quite clear – we were having an informational session – just the two of us. He was more junior in his own company than I was in mine. None of this is truly important – up until it is. The meeting was taking place in a boardroom in his company offices. The tea lady brought over a flask of tea. We were deep in conversation – the tea stayed on the table for a while. Then there was a brief pause and I remembered the tea. I reached over – served him (out of politeness, not servitude), served myself and found him smiling fondly at me “You are a good Kikuyu woman.” The other silent words implied by this coming out even louder in my mind, that his actual words had been.
“You know your place. You might be well-educated, but you have not forgotten your roots – you are to be subservient to men. Though you rank higher than me in a professional setting, you remember that the only hierarchy that is of importance in our interaction today is that of gender. You are a good Kikuyu woman – you remember to stay in the background and make sure the man in society has his place. You are the neck that supports the head, but never forgets it is a neck – never the head. You are a good Kikuyu woman – you know that no matter how much you achieve in the world – the PhDs you get, the awards, the promotions, the honorable mentions – you know that this will fade in prominence to archaic tests of your womanhood such as – how well you cook, how humble you are as you wash his underwear, how subservient and self-effacing you can be, how many children you are able to bring into this world, the fortitude and perseverance you show in life as you go through your husband’s cheating, his beatings, his abandonment of you and your children, the times he takes you back, the answered prayers by God for him to bring back your husband – though he has really come back now because he’s old, lost his Government job with all the kickbacks, his young mistress left him – she no longer had use for this old man with declining income and increasing medical issues (his gout, hypertension, diabetes etc.) You are a good Kikuyu woman – even when all this happens and he brings you a side kid or two of his to raise – you will not crumble. You will not shout. You will not complain – above all, you will remain his oasis of peace – because the last thing you want to do is cause him any disquiet. I will be a good Kikuyu woman who will not say a word to support my fellow sisters when the Nairobi Women’s representative is slapped by the Governor of Nairobi. After all, she is not a good woman – she thinks she wears the pants, she argues with men – she forgets her place. I will not remark when the main public debate is “How can he dare slap another man’s wife?” because of course it is ok if it was her own husband who put her in line or if she was slapped because she has no man to speak for her – but to slap someone else’s wife – what an affront to her husband’s manhood! I will not remark when women are stripped by crowds of men in broad daylight, because “what were they doing in that part of town in that outfit?” They are not good girls and they deserve whatever happened to them for growing horns.
No thanks – I choose to not be a good Kikuyu woman – if being a good woman is defined by the very things that will minimize me, make me smaller, make me quieter, make me shrink, make me kneel at the altar of male dominance and say “I am lesser than – just by virtue of being born a woman.” No thanks! I choose to be the baddest Kikuyu woman. I choose to follow a legacy of African women who have defied the odds, weathered storms, dealt with name-calling, beatings – so that the next generation of women can have more freedoms than they did. I stand on the shoulders of Mekatilili wa Mwenza who led the Giriama in the fight against British colonial rule. I stand on the shoulders of feminist author Mariama Ba whose novel So long a letter gives voice to oppressed women even today. I stand on the shoulders of Queen Nzinga of Ndongo who fought against Portuguese rule in Angola. I stand on the shoulders of the Dahomey Amazons – an elite force of female warriors who fought bravely in Benin. I stand on the shoulders of Wangu wa Makeri – the first female Kikuyu chief in colonial Kenya. I stand on the shoulders of Prof. Wangari Maathai – the mother of trees – who thankfully never heeded former President Moi’s demands to “be a proper woman in the African tradition, respect men and be quiet.” I salute all these “bad” African women and more – who every day live their lives on their own terms, despite what society tries to impose on them.
Finally, I stand on the shoulders of my maternal grandmother – who ran away from home as a teenager to prevent being married off, got educated, became a senior nurse – went on to have her own family on her own terms – singlehandedly getting and raising four children – one of whom is my mother. I stand on the shoulders of my mother. Her and my father never raised any of us to think that our life opportunities should be any different because we were girls or boys. I stand on the shoulders of my aunties – who always show me that there is no limit to what a woman can do.
No thanks! I do not want to be a “good kikuyu woman” – not on your terms.
Next time – get your own damn tea!
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