When I was younger and would play make believe,
I always had a sweater on my head falling on my back,
the long blonde hair I had always craved.
I always wished my skin was lighter because in more than one way,
that was the beauty I’d heard of.
I danced along with great effort to the music videos I saw on Trace,
Blatantly disregarding my mama’s traditional dances.
I vowed to always say mummy because mama was crude,
Boy! I even got sick from the sight of matoke and muthokoi.
When I was a little girl, I absolutely adored my barbie doll,
Plainly and simply put; no one could be beautiful in my eyes –
including my own self – if they lacked some resemblance to it.
Then I grew up.
And I was eager to embrace my Africanness.
The afros were now not only socially acceptable, but largely admired,
and so, I washed my hair, hardly any butter, and bravely combed it into an afro.
Finally! I needn’t sit in the salon for hours to get my hair pulled at!
The world then revered what was called ‘African curves’.
Translation; an African woman was no petite woman.
I became a crazy lover of my kangas and prints
and smiled widely at the mirror at my once disgusting melanin.
Adoration for the muthokoi and matoke, however, failed to manifest.
Therefore, I felt, much the same as before – inadequate.
Well, my hair wasn’t as dark as it should have been,
my body barely had any curves and I definitely was not crazy about Bongo.
I just couldn’t fit either category as well as I needed to.
Now, I’m older. Wiser? I would argue yes.
Now, I genuinely do smile with great pride at myself.
At the different variety of the African women that I represent.
While the body has undergone metamorphosis,
the hair colour and bulkiness (rather, the lack of) remains pretty much the same,
Even as I learnt to crave ugali, I still accept that my obsession with pizza isn’t going anywhere,
Sometimes I sing along to zilizopendwa,
the difference between now and then being that
I can do so switching it up with country music without feeling like a traitor.
I have learnt to enjoy my people’s music and dance,
but I can’t move as rhythmically as the ‘African’ should.
I have grown to admire and embrace what they called barbaric
without entirely blocking foreign influence.
I am unapologetic for the things I enjoy.
My heart still breaks a little, for women much older than I
who still wear sweaters on their heads,
would die for my Barbie’s skin tone and can hardly ever keep their food down.
Needing to cut a little here and a lot more there.
It perhaps equally breaks, for others who,
in pursuit of their Africanness, have altered much to measure up.
Rounding here, enhancing there.
I am an African, what I wear, sing, eat, say, does not diminish this, neither does it enhance this.
I’m not ashamed to speak my language neither am I ashamed to get excited over learning Spanish.
While I can’t ‘Shaku’ properly, I’ve tried it as excitedly as I have tried to ‘Shuffle’.
I am proud, and I am shameless in my Africanness and that is what makes me African.
And that is one thing no one can take from me.
Natalie Kiilu (18)
Student of Advocacy