Childhood memories are nostalgic but fragile. People begin to lose access to these memories after sometime and only very emotional and significant events remain. My earliest childhood memory was when I was 6 years old and my brother was 3. My father had just bought a new car and we were all bug-eyed and excited to get a ride in it. Since he left for work at the crack of dawn, we had to wait for him all day, darting impatient glances towards the gate every time an engine whizzed past. You can imagine the zeal at which we burst through the door when he finally honked at the gate. In the ensuing scuffle to meet him, so as to get a ride all the way to the parking lot, I fell and scraped my ankle. Bloody but unbowed, I dusted myself off, bit back the tears and hobbled after my brother to the gate. By the time I got there, my brother had already scrambled into the blue Datsun 120Y and closed the door. Unable to unlatch the car door on my own, I stood there expectantly waiting for my father to do it. He stuck his head out of the window, took one look at me and barked, “Go back to your mother in the kitchen!”
Obviously stung, eyes brimming with tears, I limped back to the house as the tail lights disappeared around the back of the house. My mother who had been watching from the kitchen window met me at the door and amid my sniffles and choked sobs, I narrated what had happened. Instead of wrapping me in a comforting embrace, she karate chopped the back of my legs with the handle of the wooden mwiko she was carrying and then made me swear to never run to the car again. She nursed my bruises as I sat on the kitchen floor with a bowl of fruits, feeling the bile rise as I chewed with the pace and rumination of a sulky cow. Over 20 years later all females in our home head for the kitchen whenever my father honks his horn at the gate.
When I was 10 during lunch break in primary school, one of the naughty boys in my class made his way to where the most popular girl and her regular cohorts were huddled. He smacked her bony pre-pubescent derrière quite painfully and dashed off to join his animated friends. Turning towards the girls, half expecting a war cry and all pre-teen hell to break lose, these girls all burst into side hugging laughter. The way big girls laughed; malicious cackles which hinted at exclusivity and the forbidden. The girl, who had been assaulted, now beaming with radiance and forgiveness, linked arms with her friends and sashayed to where the offending boys were standing. I was left with heavy questions buzzing around my head like a heat hazy fly for at least a year before it dreadfully dawned on me that I had witnessed my first mating ritual. When a boy assaulted a girl, deep down it meant he really liked her! How wonderful… Not!
I know something about being raised in a polygamous patriarchy. My adolescent years were marked by one step mother after another. I learned that an obedient submissive woman was highly valued and would last longer. A modern day outspoken sassy woman would soon make way for a new untainted wife. Every time we went to visit the village, all the obnoxious men in my father’s age group, would gather at our home. They’d sit and be served food by the women as they verbally jerked themselves off, the popular theme being the ilk that was women. By eavesdropping I learned that a woman left unbridled could defecate on a man’s head. Marriage was the ultimate rhetorical device that the hetero-patriarchal misogynistic society exploited to keep women in line. A good wife was supposed to greet her husband every evening with freshly made ugali, her brood scrubbed up and asleep and her vulva laid out glistening and garnished on a silver platter. A good unmarried nubile girl was to eschew casual sex, swath her knees in modest hemlines and keep in mind that she could only be interesting or beautiful if a man said so. Apparently, all women only desire to be seen as something attractive to men. I certainly did not agree that women only existed for submission and the thankless job of motherhood. I had to be good for other things!
Now I see how my brothers, cousins and classmates, true to the nature of the men they looked up to, have morphed into charismatic sociopaths and borderline malignant narcissists who prey on unsuspecting naive women. I passively witness how they use, misuse, abuse young women and then toss them out as soon as they get bored. I hear women arguing between the size of the ship and the motion of the ocean and no one ever mentions whether the captain stays long enough for all passengers to get off. I catch wind of these enraging male conversations on how a proper lady should invest in underwear that looks like butt floss and is likely to leave one with a terrible yeast infection; and burn her comfortable cotton day to day panties, the kind that come up to her chin like a pillow! They barely skirt over what they themselves should improve on let alone how they treat the women in the lives.
Growing up, I wanted the kind of smarts that would make me money and turn me into an independent woman. The kind of fierce woman who could open her own doors, pull out her own chair and pull her own panties to the side. Instead I got the kind of smarts that made me realize horrifying truths of the universe. I don’t know how I feel about certain injustices. Perhaps growing up in a society like this has given me the emotional range of a turtle.