On 7th March, we continued our conversations about how our experiences as men and women interact with writing. This time we were privileged to have as our guests Doris Mayoli, Sitawa Wafula and Bonnie Kim, writers who have overcome adversity, and have encouraged others by telling their story.
But while their experiences sound triumphant, these writers also have struggled to open a space where stories like theirs can encourage others going through similar experiences.
As you can imagine, the discussion on articulating pain, especially in women’s lives, was very moving, especially because the pain Doris and Sitawa articulated is related to women’s status and self-perception. Doris, for example, chronicled her journey through an ending marriage, and treatment of breast cancer, a disease which is not only life threatening, but also has physical implications for our femininity since it affects our hair, our breasts and our ability to have children.
Sitawa addressed the question of violence and the space for women’s voices. Her first blog post was on her experience as a rape victim, and later posts addressed her struggles with epilepsy and bipolar disorder. She told us that in both subjects – rape and mental health – there is often pressure from those around her not to reveal her story. By persisting, she has become an icon for the untold truth in Africa. She put it this way: “My truth is a truth which in Africa, we tell in hushed tones.”
Both Doris and Sitawa also pointed to the fact that their writing met a crucial need for information that can help Kenyans struggling with difficult issues. For instance, Doris said that when she was going through cancer treatment, there was literally nothing on the subject that she could connect with, and so publishing her experience in her book Ashes to Beauty was designed to help someone who may be experiencing the same challenges.
Sitawa noted that even though mental health is a big issue for many Africans, Africans still don’t want to talk about it publicly. Every blog post, she said, gets one or no comment at all, but her email inbox gets full of questions or testimonies from people who are struggling with mental health issues.
Bonnie Kim provided a great link to the discussion by emphasizing the benefit that writing brings to society. He, too, started writing after he lost his job, and later on he would lose his first manuscript. Writing, he said, is an investment, because wealth is not about money but about growing as a person. He encouraged us to write, because books “open the doors that money cannot,” and whenever you add value to people’s lives, people want to be left with a piece of who you are.
The session was very moving, as one can tell from this blogpost by Joel Amadi and the tweets below.
— Kyesubire (@Kyesubire) March 7, 2015
— Kinyanjui Kombani (@KKombani) March 7, 2015
The discussion tied in well with the previous week’s discussion on writing masculinity, in which we had four Kenyan writers: Oyunga Pala, Jackson Biko, Chris Lyimo and Mwalimu Andrew. As I noted in my post on that session, the writers made it clear that their writing provided an alternative to the single story of Kenyan manhood that is dominant in the Kenyan media.
Like men, women too have their stories excluded from the mainstream media that focuses on women connected to glamour, to famous men through marriage, affairs or even rape, or to philanthropy that raises money for girls’ education, provides micro-finance for rural women and or sanitary towels for female students.
Creatives Academy is proud to continue the work of challenging the single stories of African masculinity and femininity, thanks to the support Hivos East Africa and the Global Dialogues story-telling contest which collects stories from the global youth in these areas and converts them into film. The contest ends on 31st March, but there’s still time for our young Kenyans to submit their ideas.