The Naked Truth

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My name is Simone Khetu, I hail from a small town in Eastern Africa called Afeni. I am currently a resident of China, eastern China to be precise. I live in the city of Chongqing; never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would ever be this far from home. At GMT +5, dawn comes a good eight hours before papa wakes up to milk ‘Fiona’ his prized Frisian cow.  The distance is unfathomable if calculated by miles even to my mother a primary school teacher. My siblings Wehtti and Rufusa who are both technology savvy and are sated by the weekly emails we exchange and the photos on social media. I will be frank and admit that there is no day that passes that I do not miss them.

My time here was preceded by four grueling years studying in a local secondary school near my hometown. Every ounce of me wanted to study civil engineering in my later years. It was somewhat of an obsession that was triggered by a female doctor who came to our school during a prize giving ceremony. Mrs. Seko was her name; she was not only a doctor but also a successful farmer. She was everything I wished I could be and to this day I can recite her speech from that day, word for word. She offered to sponsor the two best girls for higher education in that school. I developed tunnel vision toward s that goal and I achieved it. In retrospect, the aforementioned is by far my greatest personal triumph thus far.

When I came to this country I was inevitably hit by culture shock, but it soon wore off given the fact that I wanted to absorb as much of the culture as possible. I stayed up late, walked the neon bathed streets of the city. I grew a pot belly from indulging in the delicacies the place had to offer and I made a myriad of friends from all walks of life. Put simply, my life here has been a far cry from anything the small town of Afeni would have ever offered. I however, did not have in mind one of the best lessons learned during my six year stay on self acceptance and body image.

I was never one given to problems with impulse controls and especially not food, but the food here was so great I gradually gained weight. On my second year here I joined a local gym towards the end of November as winter crept in. I had grown accustomed to standing out given my ebony complexion as opposed to getting lost in the bland masses as I did in my country. Countless times did I have people politely ask to touch my skin or even take photos. I cherished this status as it won me a platform to make good friends and fast.

I am very modest and was raised in a house where nakedness was shunned like you would witchcraft. My mother could not fathom how a skirt’s hemline would expose the knee let alone be above it. In that regard I managed to avoid showering at the gym. I walked home to my apartment that was nearby and showered there. This was not the most financially viable option; power bills in the city would dictate a free shower being most sensible. I would have taken my showers at the gym had the idea been less intimidating.

Women would hang their towels at the entrance and strut, soap in hand, to one of the twenty shower heads in the white tiled hall. They would plunge into animated chats while showering with friends of all ages immune to the embarrassment regarding their own pubic hair, cleavage, stretch marks or pot bellies of others. I was mortified upon noticing this and got gravely self conscious despite the fact that I never got down to stripping in front of the other women. Each time I would splash my face with cool water, take my bag out of the locker and go.

Two weeks into my routine, the electricity at my apartment complex was knocked out following a fire in the next building. I didn’t mind using candles as much as I dreaded the cold freezing showers in the dead of winter. I cursed at the lack of private shower stalls at the gym for two days and refrained from full showers. For two days I took sponge baths but on the third day it was soon clear to me that the power would take longer to be repaired. I had to take a shower at the gym. After my work out I stripped down; I figured that if I was going to do it, I would start in front of my locker. I took my towel and scurried to the showers trying not to stare at anyone.

That was probably the longest shower I have ever taken in my adult life. I took a shower at an isolated corner and stood under the hot jet grateful for the chance to rinse off two days worth of grime. It was not until I finished my shower that I realized that nobody was watching. Everybody went about their business cleaning their bodies. I was impressed by how women of all ages, shapes and sizes, women with telling scars and even children in their bellies pacing the locker room in confidence. It made me proud of being a woman just like them. I had never felt that way before.

Up until that day I had been mutually naked with my sisters and my boyfriend who we had long since broke up. The only other female bodies I had seen naked were those of retouched celebrities in movies scenes and heavily made up cover models. I even got to see the bodies of senior and middle aged women. I thought they were beautiful, the wrinkly pudgy types and I do not mean that in a condescending manner. Seeing their aged bodies gave me relief about what awaits the few of us that make it beyond yore. The sixty and seventy year olds I saw were particularly not bad looking, I thought they could certainly have attracted some positive attention.

One woman who particularly stood out was Georgina; our gym instructor and aerobics coach. She was originally from Nepali and spoke little mandarin like me. We avidly became friends owing to the fact that we both spoke fluent English. She was a cancer survivor who had lost both her breasts to the disease. She never got implants as in most cases like hers; she said she liked it that way as it stood to remind her of the battle she had fought. She freely entertained jokes about her flat chest especially as she walked bare-chested almost all the time in the locker room. She insisted we call her George and laughed heartily when I asked her what her husband’s opinion was.

“That man would follow me to hell if I needed him to! He stood by me all through chemotherapy; it reminds him of how much of a gift I am of him. Those are his words not mine…” she said amid giggles and a wink.

Georgina or George as she always insisted o being called went on to mother two sons and last I heard from her she was coaching acrobatic minors in Australia. She had so much life in her not even cancer could take it away. I could never thank her enough for the wonders she did for my confidence. She made me appreciate the present and approach the future with constructive pessimism.

In sum, I learnt to feel comfortable in my own skin and love my naked body. As time went by I developed certain camaraderie with other women in the locker room. I realized we all have those body parts and we are expected to meet society’s vain expectations; but we are going to be alright.  I marvel at how character shone through the mundane confines of a place like a gymnasium locker room. Georgina tattooed it in my soul that we were capable of doing more than just getting by. We were capable of living the good life!

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Speaking of Zimbabwe…

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Last weekend my Whatsapp status said that I was busy and that I could not take any calls. What it really should have been saying was that I was not busy at all, not in the actual sense of the word anyway. I was in the Rift-Valley house-sitting for an acquaintance in one of those remote places where geo-tagging would mean taking a 2 kilometre hike but by Jupiter was that place gorgeous! The owners of this house are a gay couple from Zimbabwe who I might add are actually friends of my wife. They are a jolly lot, better company than most heterosexual couples we have ever befriended. I have to admit that being gay has its perks; nothing beats the income and spending habits of two men. If I were a keen social climber I too would dedicate my anus to constant bruising and get accustomed to the taste of semen for this lifestyle. This house even had a wine cellar, maybe not as big as puff daddy’s but it is a wine cellar all the same, an outdoor shower head and a hot tub!

It boasts Persian rugs and suede couches because to quote Tracy “Leather is too main stream…”

It is a tastefully engineered wooden cabin that is set on a hill facing west overlooking a vast plain. It is a picturesque scenery, those that are perfect for insurance advertisements. I regretted having been apprehensive when Tracy* and Jude* (*Not their real names of course) presented this opportunity earlier. Jude who plays the role of the male in the union is a big guy, so big in fact that his parents had to buy a wheelbarrow instead of a baby stroller. He is a towering 6’ 2’’ and weighs in at least 90 kilograms. He is a civil engineer by profession and his partner Tracy is an interior designer. They met in their line of work in a romance riddled with the usual bullshit only that it was sparked by a conflict on the size of windows for a house belonging to a mutual client.

Their cabin is about 2000 square feet with real wooden floors for the most part. It boasts Persian rugs and suede couches because to quote Tracy “Leather is too main stream…” The television in the master bedroom is 55 inches but it seems bigger, watching basketball on it is not very dissimilar to sitting court-side in my opinion. The only thing I made sure was that we carried our own bed linen because really there was no point acquiring E coli or red eye from such an amiable experience. (Sorry Trace but i had to slot in a gay joke) The hot tub was heavenly and the outdoor shower was like kissing a pretty demon; risky yet strangely liberating.

In truth, we all suffer from the preoccupation that there exists abnormality in everyone who is gay. It is about 28 hours since I left that love shack from where I made some priceless memories- for free! It is all I can think about when I sit still. That is why I have decided that I shall never publish anything that does not reflect positively on the lives of gay people despite my prejudices. Tracy and Jude are wonderful people who are very human and have an intense sense of other people. They are uninhibited and not enamoured like most of us and that is the kind of beauty that is portrayed in their life and work. Thus some people are either put off or they are enchanted by them. Now I know for a fact that old ways will never open new doors.

ACIDS & BASES

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In high school, I was a day dreamer. I used to fantasize about many a thing; breasts and cars were my primary objects of fascination. I had some self-esteem issues because I was a late bloomer. I was a head shorter than most people my age and in an all-boys school size does matter. These were private struggles that in retrospect were petty given that some of my peers were dealing with real issues like acne or their parents’ divorce. In my case I had little emotional or physical scars to show for my turbulent teen years. I remember I hated chemistry; so much so that I finished Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather during an organic chemistry class. In the end, one thing that stayed with me was the PH scale that was useful in the determination of the acidity or basicity of a substance. The knowledge was however, never was useful except in a chemistry class anyway.

At 19 came college, and girls and the so very coveted boobs. I fell in love and realised that every woman had something of beauty about them. Loving made me look, and inhale, and look again. You notice the texture of a hand, the turn of a head, the way of a walk. When you first love, you love blindly and you see the woman all as the glorious, beloved whole, or a beautiful sum of beautiful parts. But when you see the one you love as pieces, as why dos and why nots, you learn to love those parts too, and it’s a love at once more complicated than complete. This where I noticed a great big injustice women subject themselves.

Girls hardly know what they are packing in the looks department. Most of them base their acidity or basicity on the opinion of a boy they fancy. They sit back and adopt trends that may not even favour them in the hope to draw attention. I suffered a similar predicament, but I dealt with mine by asking a female friend. She was very objective and since then I never sought anyone for a different opinion. Each morning before I left the hostel, I would look at my face in the mirror and repeat these words to myself “I am a smart, good-looking, sonovabitch…”

Women need to stand in front of a mirror every once in a while. Naked as the day you were born preferably after a shower. In the morning of course, before the lover boys taint your mind with patronizing compliments. Identify your strong points, your flaws and ways to accentuate your body. The goal here is to be objective, really look at yourself and arrive at a solid number that is authentic and you believe in. That way there is not going to be a man that can successfully build you up or tear you down. Be a stable element, an acid or a base. Being a woman is powerful business but only when done correctly. Yes, I know I give good advice, you can thank me later.