SKIN LIGHTENERS: THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!

skin light

It was one of those mornings when we had a casual talk in the office before we settled down to work painstakingly for 8 straight hours, ooh with an elusive lunch break in between. An assemblage of us, from tea girls, cleaners to the rest of the folks, carrying high optimism that it wasn’t just another day in the office that would do little to make our goals in life appear a bit real. We were drawn here, debating. By now you know what we pierced apart…skin lightening craze that is gaining more confidence by day, nabbing in likely and unlikely victims from high end office dwellers in Westlands to dark alleys residents inside Korogosho slums wadding its way to the rest of the country. A good majority of ladies and older women have been caught up in this mess of perceived beauty that convinces one to shed off her native African colour and dress up in a lighter skin that promises …god knows what!!

If you stand somewhere in the streets of Nairobi and decide to interview random men about the complexion they prefer in ladies, seven out of ten will tell you they have a soft spot for yellow yellow lasses. Statistics have it that 70% of urbanite African women have either skin bleached or contemplating doing it. It’s from this numbers that has led to mushrooming black markets of unregulated skin products promising overnight skin revolution. And by the way, men are clueless in this game. They have no idea if the ladies they are dating have real beauty or artificially insulated colours. Women are subtle human beings and a good number will always hide some cards below the table if not daggers to lure you into them. I’m not insinuating all women use this products but, numbers don’t lie.

We spot them at the bus stops, at the Mpesa shops, occasionally bumping into them in our office lifts, or in estate salons grappling with a skin colour that loudly betrays their feet, elbows and other scattered parts of their bodies. You must know this Aunty who nowadays looks browner. You fight the urge of telling them, ten years down the line their faces will have metamorphosed to something worse, making them appear older than their age. Over time their bodies will resemble a rainbow, donning all colours under the sun forcing them to cover even their feet all in pursuit of this perceived beauty.

Never question God about your looks. Moreover, the obsession with ladies craving to be lighter is certainly misplaced. It’s an insult to our Africanness. The perception of holding highly the whites at the expense of our dark colours is something Africans have not grown over, still deep rooted in our conscious. In the day of our Lord today, common sense is no longer common from the look of things. I’m not suggesting men don’t judge women by their looks, however, empty fakeness and desperate acts to appear browner certainly scares a good number away. What else could you be hiding in your shrouded secretive life? We wonder.

We Africans are bleeding with self esteem issues from our skin colour. We want to be like the whites. In Western countries, they call us the People of Colour. And that maims our hearts. It bogs down our rich historical background. It makes us feel inadequate and incomplete. Unfortunately, the whites have succeeded in painting an illusion that has sunk deep into our societal bones, that being dark is not cool. That Dark colour has everything to do with evil, dirt and backwardness. Our primary school teachers made it worse. They made us believe black is bad and evil, and that white is pure, clean and good. We copy pasted that into our lives. We asked ourselves hard questions of why we were created black. We questioned our heritage angrily. Anytime we spotted mzungu tourists, we ran to them, shouting mzungu, mzungu… hello mzungu. To us, mzungus were another set of gods. We were made to believe we are second class people who should have no ambition whatsoever. History teachers made us identify with being African slaves and casual labourers who should work for the whites.

That answers the question why contemporary ladies, including the fairly older women and grandmothers crave to be lighter. They are all in a mission to identify with the whites, where light skin is perceived to increase one’s social standing, privileges and marital prospects. They are needlessly auctioning their bodies to affirm a stereotype that dark colours have everything to do with emptiness and of dull people with blurred cultures.

Seemingly, the rich and the poor, intellectuals and semi literates, religious to socialites, mothers and daughters, sophisticated ladies who drive Nissan X -trail or Suzuku Escudo to clingy housewives, all appear to have been caught up in the foggy webs of colonial hangovers and ugly confusions that imagines, turning one’s body lighter makes one more beautiful. What the victims of this euphoria are oblivious of, is that some of us call this; self-denial, self-betrayal and self-sponsored ignorance. They crawl to chemists to purchase drugs that 20 years from now will compel their relatives to run dry their investments and savings to foot defeating hospital bills that have something to do with skin cancer, liver/kidney failures and other ills. Honestly, why would one subject her loved ones to such a mess, sinking them into selfish pitfalls that milk dry every coin they have, just to mitigate the burden of their deteriorating health status?

Lupita Nyong’os of this world have done little to tone down the madness. Relatively few ladies identify with her skin colour opting to go for beauty products that promise them overnight beauty. You’ve perhaps had the story of The Clark Doll Experiment where a study was done by a couple in America who asked black children to choose between a black or a white doll; they overwhelmingly chose the white as the nice one. This happened way back in America. Fast forward today, any person who opts to change her skin colour to be lighter insults our African Heritage. It is tantamount to saying; Yes we are backward, less human, less civil, poor, not any nice and doomed. Now, that insult is being passed from mother to daughter to niece, to the house girl and to the girl next door!

Skin lightening creams can be divided into legal products recommended by dermatologists and illegal, over-the-counter and unregulated products. Most reputable skin lighteners are expensive. Because of this, the market is vulnerable to over-the-counter, unregulated and unsupervised use of skin lighteners. The use of these creams can result in irreversible skin damage. The majority of illegal depigmenting or skin lightening creams can contain between 8% to 15% of hydroquinone. The use of hydroquinone in cosmetics has been banned since 2001. Hydroquinone is used in large quantities in paints and as a photographic developing solution.

Who will stop this madness? Who will change the narrative?

Boyfriends, fiances and husbands who date or are married to ladies who use skin lightening products; you better save enough. Yours will a be a to and fro hospital kind of thing not too far away. You that finance surgeries to have your woman look more lighter, you better start saving too for another round of expensive trips in South Africa and India.

HOW WILL YOUR EULOGY READ?

AliI have always wondered how my eulogy will read. Isn’t that suicidal though? Shouldn’t I book an appointment with Madam Grace the lean bodied, tall woman, with crops of grey hair who on this day will be donning one of those flowery dresses worn on a sunny wedding day which will seem to flatter her waistline and make her not seem a day older after 28. I’ll pop to her Counseling office and find her reading “How Women Decide” by Therese Huston. I’ll not miss the sparkling glass of water, half filled. She is one of those that takes water religiously and from look of things; I will be left to conclude she is ageing gracefully. She will sag her specs, hold my right hand and be like;

Young man, what’s your name again?

Andrew.

Andrew, you don’t look an inch closer to having a troubled life. Why do you bother about your eulogy, really? By the way what do you do for a living?

I’m a practising accountant, writer but they call it blogging, business man, student, and child of God.

You said child of God

Yes.

Wow, you are incredible.

Hold that for a minute…

Last weekend I found myself inside an over speeding Matatu being shoved from side to side from careless overtaking and outliving screeching breaks. That was me agonising if I’d make it to my destination, only comforted by faint hopes from a loosely fitting and dirty safety belt. I tried in vain to Toa Sauti backed by an elderly man seated next to me while the rest of the younger generation remained stitched to their addictive phones with their older counterparts seemingly struggling with sleepy faces perhaps not agitated by the unbecoming driver, after going through scarier stuff in life than being in a speeding matatu. The fact that my very dear life hanged precariously at the mercy of a driver who seemed not excited by life anymore was nerve racking enough to make my heart jump out my juvenile chest. Interestingly I had this to think in that one hour’s journey;

Just what if the worst happened and we crashed? You know in Africa, a son of the soil never dies before siring at least an offspring. It’s catastrophic, a worse tragedy than death and daunting period for the family. They just can seat next to that boggling reality. They will perform sacrifices at 3am under an aged Mugumo Tree that has stories to tell of how it made it to this day oblivious of the growing threat from timber enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. They will skin a he-goat without blemish, smear themselves with raw stuff from the intestines while facing Mt.Kenya, half naked, each holding a fly-whisk singing to Mulungu traditional songs and pleading with him to pardon me for not leaving behind a son or daughter to bequeath and keep our family name alive.

But who said we shouldn’t write about death? I know it’s still considered a taboo equaled to haunting one’s death in many African societies but this is 2016 Andreaders! It’s through writing about death that should help us audit our lives. Was it last year that I read on the gracious column by Carol Mandi of Sunday Nation about eulogies. She talked of how a group of people were tasked with writing about their deaths assuming they died that particular day (Today). They were asked whether they were proud of their lives, their achievements or lack of them and whether God would be proud of them. They were then tasked to write another set of eulogies this time round having achieved all they hoped to, in their days here on earth.

As expected, the second set of eulogies was way different from the initial one. They were enviable and conquering. But who knows if they will live to have such eulogies? It’s through such conversations that should help us cut the slack and the baggage that clogs our daily lives and align them to our goals. And goals shouldn’t necessarily be about, incredible homes, intimidating cars, plum jobs and beautiful kids and traversing the world. That’s too obvious and cosmetic. We should have bigger dreams and more inspiring like;

Resolving to be better human beings – Kind, honest, prayerful, who speak less and listen more, who look after the elderly, who give time for the less fortunate just to be with them and appreciate them, who mentor boys and girls from marginalised parts of the country without asking for a fee, people who donate to the poor and vulnerable amongst us, who resolve not to bribe or to accept bribes, people who promise not to litter while driving along highways, or drive while drunk. Souls who don’t grab land or fail to pay taxes or brood a bevy of sidekicks from all walks of life just because they are powerful and influential.

Promising ourselves that we won’t leave our families under the mercy of being undressed by shame and undignifying life kept in top secret when we are long gone. Imagine that’s part of what matters, like being good role models to our kids, nephews and nieces and instilling in them the spirit of hard work, diligence and of being responsible fathers and mothers. It’s not about your bank balance, or where you travelled before you hit 40 or how a party animal you were in your 20s. It won’t matter. And people will definitely forget that, as they attend your burial. But the vulnerable lives you touched, and thousands that you inspired in your own unique and small way will be remembered for decades. It will affirm young dreams, rejuvenate emaciated hopes and usher positive energy to souls across the nation(s).

Come to think of Mohammad Ali. Rest in peace legend. Have you heard or read of a more decorated human being? Classified in the same level with great icons like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Karl Marx, William Shakespeare and many others. What an incredible persona this guy was. A brewer of positive energy, liberal, conqueror, phenomenal and greatest of them all. This reminds me of a function I attended whose chief guest of honour was the celebrated CEO Julius Kipng’etich. He talked of how, many rich and successful people aren’t free. They are slaves of money, entitlement and fine things life has to offer. Mohammad Ali was not only free of mind, but more importantly never a sycophant of anybody. Many of us are sycophants of our jobs, bosses, families, spouses, friends ……never speaking up our minds or being true to ourselves.

Every month I get to interact with souls that earn 9k, who work in below 5 degrees temperature levels, nine and a half hours a day, 7 days a week plucking export flowers  or arranging and packing them meticulously for overseas markets. They spend their days standing or bending depending on the department they are in, all in green overalls and white gumboots, and warm gloves and with like two -three sweaters if they work in the Pack – House as is referred in the Flower industry. They take cold food since there are no luxuries like staff rations or a kitchen for that matter, not even canteens. At 1pm, a horde of them will walk in droves, speaking loudly and excitedly making their way out to take numb food that can’t be warmed and that will sink to cold stomachs and be expected to warm cold bodies that have been standing for hours in ice low temperatures. But one thing stands out, every time I mingle with them: The hope in the rays of their eyes is touchable. They live a day at a time in peace with reality but aggressively doing their best with what they have, all along supporting their needful families. A good number of them are single mothers living in shattered houses that ask for a rent of sh.1,500 and who ensure their kids attend school and have a meal in the evening. What of you? Where does your heft salary end up at the end of the month? Are you investing or expensing it in entirety?

Will your eulogy lie between the lines that you were an above average, industrious, incredible and awesome human being. Note that above average has nothing to do with education papers but the whole package of your existence. How you interacted with people, the legacy your friends, close relatives and maybe your kids will write about, 30 years from now. Fundamentals and life principles you instilled in them that will be too deep rooted and relevant, decades after you’re gone. That’s the benchmarking we should all set for ourselves, not living empty lives and borrowing heavily to support a lifestyle that has nothing to do with our goals apart from disorienting us from the very same goals. We should die trying, refusing to bow down to life challenges. Our lives should be themed with aphorisms like – Lose unrelentingly…I’m a consequence of my choices…I take full responsibility of my mistakes…I didn’t live somebody else’s life…Lord I repent my sins and those of my parents and generation…I’m sorry to whoever I wronged intentionally or otherwise…I’m the greatest of them all in my Kingdom…No word or action will ever distract me from my goals…I lived to conquer my worst fears…I tasted freedom when I ceased being a captive of my imagination…It’s been real being alive, time for the next phase…My transition won’t not only be televised but experienced by many!

That’s the spirit. Let’s create the best from our potentials as it lasts. You just never know! And to whom much is given, much is expected.

 

MY LUNCH ‘LOCAL’

jymoDuring my life in college I belonged and still do belong to a squad by the name Cattle Dip. In fact our Whatsapp group has been in existence since this social media platform taxied safely in our lives and became part of us. The close to 10 of us were using all manner of tricks to survive in Nairobi mostly living with relatives then, who too had their fair share of survival struggles. Basically, the resources weren’t enough. Naturally, we devised ways and mechanisms to survive in this city. From having the sh.50/- lunch at Ngara Market to walking from Vision – Paramount at the Globe roundabout to Uhuru highway – Haile Selassie intersection or at times paddling further to Nyayo Stadium to catch  a sh.20/- mat to Mombasa road. For most of us our daily budgets revolved around sh.100.

This type of life slowly sinked in us to an extent of nurturing a belief that no man should spend as much for lunch. Four years down the line, I have had issues with hotels that overprice meals they offer. But whom I am to protest, its either you take it or leave it. Not that I still frequent makeshift places for lunch nowadays, however, the nostalgic feeling hasn’t hanged it boots in my life just yet. With tight competition and thanks to offering the same type of menu which is rather visualised than placed somewhere, these vibandas battleground is left in the service delivery zone. How they serve the food and approach would-be-customers breaks or makes their jinx in surviving in this quite profitable market.  Of late, we’ve seen the likes of Deputy President William Ruto, Hon.John Sakaja and many other bigwigs make much publicity capital out of visiting these places mostly associated with low class citizens.

Enough of that;

I’m sitting in this favourite lunch joint waiting patiently for my order. Normally, if you are a familiar patron the waiters or are they referred as waitresses will welcome you with a high five or those affectionate handshakes that are always followed with a thunder. It’s the unwritten rule in this joint. Call it a ritual if you may or a marketing gimmick that has worked for many walk-in customers. Imagine a place where waitresses ask how your day is fairing on? You know, in Marketing they teach us about customer satisfaction and valuing. This is the magic that leaves us badly loyal to this small hotel that has one fan, 18 seats, two waitresses and buzzing noise from busy humans and their cutlery . It’s the same magic that makes many of us find our way to this hotel even when we find ourselves in the other side of town.

The two, slender ladies from head to toe but big hearted and with even ‘bigger ‘ smiles serve with sheer passion. You can always tell they love what they do and they love their boss too, and the customers as well. They refer us by our names and gladly find us a place to sit even when it is tough to find one or when those short-fat-daddies that Biko writes about occupy two seats. These ladies always depict genuine smiles to customers with their familiar phrases, “Umeagiza?” Now to you who attended Kiandutu Primary and later proceeded to Komothai Girls Umeagiza is a Swahili sanifu term meaning; Have you ordered?

These waitresses never have those times-of-the-month mood swings. Never. I envy how they enjoy what they do not like some of us who sit behind a computer doing accounting stuff dealing with mean-looking emails from auditors or stubborn clients who will not pick your calls or respond to emails. You will work under tight deadlines from the seniors and also put up with long impromptu meetings all in a day’s work. But what of serving food to hungry humans who will only be there for a maximum of 40 minutes. Here patrons don’t stay for long since they have to excuse the rest that are trooping in carrying their weathered bodies along, having been bashed by the humongous sun that has seemingly outmaneuvered the rains or were they floods! The only time I came close to eavesdropping a deal, was when I sat next to souls negotiating for a car from car brokers and in a record, 40 minutes, the deal had been struck with me as the unintended witness who couldn’t help but listen.

Moreover this is not a place for rendezvous, where you catch up with your girls for coffee or for prolonged lazy lunch breaks with your-significant-other with nothing to show but a toothpick on your hands, you will politely be chased by anxious eyes from patrons next on line struggling to hold their ever bulging tummies. Here, you don’t make long phone calls or wait for someone while keeping yourself busy with the newspaper, where do you even place the paper when fixed in a stuffy hotel clutched by six people in one table with all manner of confusing meals from Matoke beef to Kienyeji special. How do you even order for Kienyeji(Mukimo) for lunch while in a tie. How do you even make it to the office thereafter still in a tie, bracing the scorching sun and having taken Kienyeji special! 

By now you could guess my favourite order, well; I can do Matumbo-Chapati any day of the week. Yes Matumbo which I learnt lately it’s also called offal. This joint understands the art of cooking Matush. As many would fear, my stomach has been safe and happy for the six months i have frequented this place. By the way, the order is accompanied by Matumbo soup, to soften the chapoo for ease of pricking with a fork. Now, who on earth orders for Matumbo soup? Haha. Is it thick? Does it have crawling earthlings or floating stuff? How’s the taste? Kageshi couldn’t believe I take those things as she referred them until she gave in to my convictions lately. She took a friend to the same place recently and she called me immediately marveling how delicious the food was. On that juncture I’d recommend Dr. Stacey whom I wrote about, sometimes back Dr.Stacey And My Limping Leg to try my favourite meal in this hotel behind Kenol – Nanyuki. Doc, I dare you.