Julie Masiga is a lawyer turned journalist. Trained law in the UK, worked in a law firm, came back to Kenya in 2000, worked for some NGO working with refugees, resigned, became a freelance writer, wrote for Nation, ended up in DRUM magazine (that’s how we met), in 2009 got appointed editor of MOVE magazine which lasted about three hours on the shelves, (not that ADAM magazine lasted any longer!), before the company – East Africa Magazine – went under. Jobless, she teamed up with some ex EAM staff and formed a publishing company to publish trade magazine, an opportunity to work in Tanzania as a features editor in CITIZEN newspaper knocked on her door, she opened and dragged her bags to TZ.
In 2013 she was back in Kenya (this chick is restless, eh?) and joined The Standard Group where she has weekly columns in the Nairobian and The Standard on Sunday. She is also a Revise Editor for the daily newspaper. (What does a Revise Editor do, Jules? Clean copy?). She holds a certificate in Journalism, from University of Massachusetts (Thank God I don’t have to say this word aloud) and is enrolled in a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. (Fine! You have read books!).
Julie has a bee in her bonnet.
Jules, meet The Gang. Gang, this is Jules.
By Julie Masiga.
For a moment, I decided that I would just go home and be pregnant for a few more months…maybe forever. And that was something because I hated being pregnant. There were a few fleeting moments of sanity, but the rest was pure, puke-inducing hell.
I was ready to waddle like a deranged duck for the rest of my natural life because, come on, how was a baby’s big ol’head supposed to exit my hoo-hah without some kind of monumental, irreparable, physical damage. How did these so called ‘doctors’ know I wasn’t going to push out a kidney? Or a lung? How dare they just tell someone to push? Those kinds of general instructions are why countries don’t develop.
In the end, I pushed out far more than I intended. But that’s a story for another day. On second thought, maybe that’s a story that will never be told. Nevertheless, at 6.29pm, on 17 May 2014 – exactly one year ago yesterday – I did eventually uncross my legs (okay so maybe they pried them open), to deliver a 3.2kg baby girl, head, torso, limbs and all. And then I ‘delivered’ a placenta. Yeah, those are the things no one ever tells you about giving birth.
That’s the day I discovered why babies are so cute. If there weren’t so googly-eyed and soft and cuddly, their chances of survival would diminish considerably. Think about it: This little human pushed all your organs out of the way and then planted their backside on your bladder for the better part of nine months. Then they barrelled down your birth canal, and with a camel-like intensity, plunged through a passageway about as wide as the eye of a needle. And then proceeded to poop continuously for the next three months.
Seriously, if kids weren’t so adorable, many of them would be in the jungle somewhere being raised by baboons. That’s just plain honest truth.
But babies do seem to go from glory to glory. As a mother, you graduate from one level of chaos to the next. At month one, your child might as well be your fifth limb because for 23 out of 24 hours in a day, she’s attached to your nipple. At year one, it feels like she has five limbs because she’s here, there and every place, attaching her fingers to anything that moves and rearranging your interiors to suit her 12-month-old decor needs. As a single woman with a child, it can be overwhelming. But motherhood was designed to teach women the true nature of unconditional love and I’m learning my lesson well.
What really gets my goat is the stigma that comes along with being a single mum.
Obviously, before I had a child, I never paid any attention to it. But once I had popped the tot and there still wasn’t a ring on my finger, I began to notice the prejudice and it wasn’t subtle. You would think bigots would have the good sense to hate with some finesse.
So I’m having lunch with a colleague one day, complaining about how busy work is and what bliss it would be like to stay home all day and spend some quality time with the baby.
“Sometimes I wish I could just quit and become a housewife,” I say to her.
Her head snaps up from her battered fish, almost giving herself whiplash. With tartar sauce dribbling from the sides of her mouth he sputters, “But you don’t have a husband!”
My fork pauses in midair, my left hand curling around the steak knife. She had said it with so much force, I felt like I had to defend myself. I wasn’t going to stab her (okay so maybe I was), but obviously my mind immediately switched to defence/fight mode.
It must have been the look on my face, because she followed weakly with, “I mean, at home. You don’t have a husband at home…” As opposed to those women who keep their husbands outside the home? Do some women keep their husbands outside the home? And for some reason, that bizarre marital situation was being thrust upon me whist I was in a canteen.
I hadn’t told this woman anything about my domestic situation, so she must have hopped, skipped, jumped & grabbed onto the gnarled and twisted branches of the grapevine that was her conclusion. To this day, I still don’t know why it bothered her that I didn’t have a husband. Now if she had said, “But you don’t want a husband,” I might have given her a slightly less frigid look, because too many women have husbands they don’t want.
What I had meant to say was ‘I wish I could be a stay-at-home mum’, but I used the wrong turn of phrase and found myself up shit creek with nothing but a fork and knife. Go figure.
On another bright and sunny day, a couple of friends and I were out to lunch, all of us young mothers loving a few hours away from the tots. I truly believe that someone has put a plague on all my lunches. So naturally we were talking about our kids, you know, as women do. Again, the conversation turned to the tricky balance working mums have to strike between work, husbands and kids. I don’t really recall how we came round to the single v. married debate, but pretty quickly one of my friends piped up with, “Ever since I got married, I stay away from my single friends. My husband says hanging out with single women is the fastest way to ruin your marriage.”
This time both my fork and knife were on the table. Sweet Jesus give me strength. And these were friends so it seemed prudent to use words. “Uhmm…so what’s with you married folk and treating single women like lepers?”
I could literally see the wheels trying to turn backwards in their heads. But it was too late; there was no backtracking on that one. But the girls made a valiant attempt.
“Err…uhmm..errm…it’s just like how you can’t talk about kids with a woman who doesn’t have them…she’ll feel left out you know, and that’s not right,” one of them offered. “There’s nothing wrong with single women, it’s just that we don’t really have much in common. They don’t have anyone to answer to,” came another offering.
Both of them were drumming their finger tips on the table top and shifting their eyes from left to right with blinding ferocity, looking like a couple of cops being grilled by a vetting committee.
“Come on guys, just come out with it…you guys are afraid we’re going to snatch your husbands, aren’t you?” I will admit it wasn’t one of my more diplomatic attempts at polite conversation. But I was having fun watching them get hotter and hotter under the collar.
“…no, it’s not that…” they trailed off, leaving me wondering which married woman didn’t start off single. Plus I’ve never understood the ‘snatching husbands’ concept. So you snatch them and then what, they develop Stockholm syndrome? Personally, I don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain this to me in language that my 1 year old can understand.
It’s a skewed reality we live in where marriage is the standard, even though that particular bar has been set so low that we’re trampling it underfoot.
My house help, who’s separated herself and a single mum with four children, frequently entertains me with tales about what the neighbours are doing and with whom. The other day she was regaling me with the tale of the woman in B10, who has two kids from two different fathers, neither of whom live with her. According to her, the woman’s son is so out of control that his mother has been unable to keep a nanny for more than three months. “Afadhali angekuwa na bwana,” she says to me. Sigh.
She who finds a husband finds a good thing. There is no doubt about that. Ask any mzee and he will tell you that a good husband is like an umbrella, protecting his woman from the elements. This is as it should be. So if a woman is walking in the rain uncovered, then there’s probably a good reason for it. And please note, when I say good, I mean it in the sense that it’s not bad. In fact, it’s alright.