Making and keeping friends has become so much harder


I never thought I would ever get to a place in life where I need a strategy for making and keeping friends. Like so many things in life, we can take our friendships for granted. We get busy, we get committed elsewhere, we keep secrets, we miss each others significant moments,we refuse to call or return calls, we grow apart. Several years down the line and your college best friend is no better than the strange chic who used to drop in in your First Year Communication Skills class 10 years ago but disappeared soon after.

I like to think I have many friends. Then hubs challenges me to count them– and with every mention, he cancels them out saying those are acquaintances.

“When did you lastly see her?” He asks.

I feel guilty.

“People are busy. At least we talk on phone,” I defend myself.

In reality, I can count my good friends on both hands, and my close friends on one. Sucks!

Mostly, I blame marriage and work and then kids. I got married and I got a best friend. I don’t need a plus one for coffee on Friday or lunch on Sunday or to attend so-and-so’s wedding because I have a permanent plus one whose company I thoroughly enjoy. Offer me an opportunity to do fun stuff with other people or to do it with hubs and I will choose him, even when he intentionally rains on my parade, like harakishas me to go home, or makes a mental note to look miserable because i forced him to accompany me.

That has basically left most of my friendships unnurtured and starving for attention and affection.

There was a time when friendships just happened. Free time and intimacy were in plenty. My bestie as a kid was a girl from my class, who sang with me in Sunday school and whose parents attended church with mine. Then we moved away, went to high school and the next time we met, the conversation was so awkward we avoided each other after that. Distance and lack of communication always do that to people. The lack of casual daily contact does change relationships. You meet a person you thought you knew well and you both have changed physically and in life’s outlook and priorities, and you feel like strangers.

My high school friends were people I admired, people who were fun, whose personality gelled with mine. I’m gad to say that while we are no longer on each other’s Favourites on the phonebook, we can meet anywhere today and have a good laugh over a meal without too many reservations.

College friendships were also easy because we were the same age, with similar worldviews, experiences and problems; it was easy to find those who shared my interests, saw the world through my lens and who thought I was interesting enough to hang around; and we had plenty of free time to have black tea and bread in hostels (Oh those broke days when milk was a treat), hang out idly and do fun stuff.

After that my friendships have continued to be based on people I admire, people who bring extroversion and fun to my rather introverted life and people I can learn from and depend on. Most times we are world’s apart personality wise; but we share basic values.

The funbringers are many. But to find people who share my interests, remain dependable, who stay deep, who keep growing, who don’t judge you (friendship is a love-me-as-I-am zone),who stay ahead of the game, and who still have time for other people apart from their work and families… come Lord Jesus come.

I confess that my time has mostly been taken up by work and family. We gotta earn a living; and small children are pretty much 24/7 engagements. Family has also filled that need for intimacy so I will hardly feel lonely and yearn for friends the same way as a few years ago when it was just me and the cockroaches in my house. Whenever I add variety to my hangouts, then it is with a few couples from way back in college (by the way if you are in college, use that time to build good friendships. They endure a long time). Consequently my life does not have too many opportunities to meet new people, make new friends.

Not only is it harder to make friends, but even keeping the existing one has become challenging. I am yet to go see one of my friend’s babies more than six weeks after she was born. I have a friend who lives in the next estate and this week we bumped into each other on the road headed home and we were like… “Are we still neighbours?”

Another friend moved houses about a year ago and i am yet to know where she lives.

I am a terrible friend who doesn’t spend time with her friends or put them high up on my priorities list. Yet as I grow older I realise how so much more i need good friends.

I was greatly honoured when last December I held  a function for my folks to “see” my children and five girlfriends played hostess to my guests, giving of their time, energy and resources generously. These are people who have organised and attended my baby showers, come to “hold” my children, been there for me even when i am a lousy friend. You girls know yourself and forgive me where I have failed you, na nawapenda sana.

But I also grieve the friendships I’ve lost; the single girls whom I couldn’t fit in my overscheduled life full of work, wife and mom duties; college pals who gave up on me or who chose a whole new different circle… I wonder if we made the right choices. I grieve what we have lost. But I guess the beauty is realising that some friendships will die and it is fine. They make room for fresh things.

I have to say keeping friendships with couples has been easier. At least that way the plus ones and kids are catered for. Couples with kids get the chaos in your life (why is there a giant stain on your sofa and why is your wall coloured green with crayons?) and the cancelled commitments because baby developed a fever or the preschooler broke a hand. They also get that many weekend dates may end up being bring-your-whole-family-including-the-nanny dates.

Single friends don’t quite get that you can’t hang out all night when you have a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, even when you have a stay-in nanny; or the need to rush back home in the evening before the kids are in bed.

Two weeks ago I met a woman I’d very much like to be friends with. We were together for less than two hours but it felt like we had known each other a long time. I wouldn’t want to waste that opportunity to make another friend but I am not quite sure how the friend-dating process goes. After you have added them on Facebook and stalked their wall an entire night to find out what kind of a person they are, do you call them for coffee? Do you fix a play date for your kids? Do you ask to join their chama or invite them to yours?

I am going to be intentional about this friending process, including praying for godly, mature and wise women to come my way.”If you need people in your life you let them know,” a wise girl told me recently. I need these women in my life. I’m gona let them know.

I am also going to take the growth process, learning to call people and find out how they are doing, go to “hold” their babies, attend their parties and honour their impromptu lunch dates, help plan their weddings, invite them for dinner…

I am also going to nurture my virtual friends. We all have those people we are tight with on social media though we haven’t met in years and are hardly likely to take that friendship offline. It’s still fine. We love them, “like” their couple and baby photos, comment on their status updates, are often the first to know where they traveled to or when they are unwell and the doctor was a jerk. We get to answer their questions on Facebook or share their witty status and they return the favour. They are the ones who chat us up when we are bored in a training or are awake in the middle of the night. We know what they are making for supper because they are sharing the photos on Instagram or Pinterest and have so much intel about their neighbours downstairs.. Even these virtual friends matter.

I know as long as we are climbing up shaky corporate ladders until the wee hours of the night, nurturing young relationships and marriages and rushing home to breastfeed and help with homework , this will not be easy. But may be once this season is over, we will reap the rewards of more time, and more money to travel the world and hangout at snobbish private member clubs where we plan our children’s weddings and college graduations.




Is exclusive breastfeeding overrated?


My brown bag with pink polka dots has gone with me wherever I have gone this last year. To avoid too many questions from nosy Janes and prying by security guards, I told them it was my lunch bag. It was carrying food, just not my food — my baby’s food.
That is the bag that carried by breast pump and baby’s milk bottles.
Because i expressed breast milk everyday for the last 11 months, my daughter has had the good fortune of not taking baby formula or cow milk until she turned one.

I gave up on EBF (exclusive breastfeeding for six months) with my first born. At five months, his feeding demands were driving me crazy, his weight gain was slow, pressure at work was enormous and unfortunately, the people in my closest circle were not supportive of EBF. Everyone wondered why I was torturing myself trying to bleed milk from non-cooperative boobs when I could just walk to Biashara Street and get several cans of formula.

I had wanted to EBF my son because that’s what the health manuals said I should do. I knew it was what was best for my baby. But in real life, I soon found out that people didn’t really care whether you did EBF or gave cow milk at four weeks or porridge at six weeks. Even the paeditricians don’t exactly care what you you feed your child as long as the baby is healthy. In fact, most were mildly surprised when I told them we were still on breastmilk alone. Infant formula had become mainstream.

I didn’t know much about galactagogues [a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk] so I went and bought Cow and Gate, which my son took till he turned one. However, i continued expressing at work till his first birthday, supplementing breast milk with formula even after introduction of solid foods at six months.

Having learnt from failure,  was determined with my second born to EBF. The milk marathon started from week one as my baby had jaundice and i was advised to breastfeed her a lot to flush out the “bilirubin yellowness” as it was broken down by the liver and sun. This increased my milk output and I started storing breast milk right from the second week. The pumping boosted my milk supply and by the time i was going back to work when baby was four months old, I had a stash of more than 15 litres of milk.

How did I do it? Determination, mostly.
I drank a lot of  water, tea, chocolate, porridge, dill-fenugreek concoctions, and hibiscus tea, put moringa powder in my food, ate traditional mbogas, digestive biscuits, brown chapos and lots of proteins and then drank more water and tea. I was like a well-oiled machine.

It also called for sacrifice and devotion. Waking up to express milk from leaky bobs at night so that nothing goes to waste is not for the faint hearted. Spending my lunch break in the Mother’s Room at the office called for dedication.
So did scouting social media pages to find out who was selling dill seeds or affordable milk storage bags.

Luckily, there is a big online community of mothers encouraging one another to give breast milk to their babies. I knew I was not alone.

The discouragement of course was there. Whenever baby cried a lot, hubs kept asking me if the baby was getting full. Then her weight gain wasn’t remarkable in any sense. She would add 400-700 grammes between clinics and the nurse was adamant that she should be adding her weight by a kilo every month. I just looked at her with that look of you-are-preaching-to-the-choir.

I got a milk blister from a clogged milk duct and the pain! I could not imagine how that breast would go into the babies mouth, but engorgement only made the pain worse. I dug into my heels literally and expressed the milk while trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me and if I should go see a doctor. A little googling told me I had a milk blister from a clogged pore. Milk had accumulated under the skin, hence the pain. I popped the blister and voila! Relief. Sore nipples also came with the territory.

Also, my daughter refused to take the bottle and had to be spoonfed until she was seven months old. This meant that there was quite a bit of wastage in the milk she took. At five months, she was taking 720ml of breast milk between 9am and 6pm. I was on a marathon to make sure she had enough and i can attest that for sure when it comes to breastmilk, demand equals supply. My output kept up with her increasingly voracious feeding.

Seeing that she was not too keen to take up solid foods, we did EBF till she was almost seven months, and as her feeding was poor, breast milk continued to be her main source of nutrition for the next three months. She finally ate well when she was 10-months-old; so I was glad I had stocked up on breast milk to last her those extra months of little feeding.

The gains — she has been real resilient against infections, and though she is no chubby baby, she has continued to gain weight, albeit slowly.

For me, all that expressing meant that food had no time to pack up around my body so I lost that pregnancy weight, and then some more, without ever hitting the gym. I am now back to less than my pre-pregnancy weight. If for no other reason, then it was worth it. Breastfeeding, my secret tool to weight loss.

Breastfeeding for me has been a special time of bonding with my children, doing something for them that only I can. I find so much peace during those 15 or so minutes of nourishing my baby with the best that God gave. Even when I’m expressing away from home, I know that is my special time with my baby.

EBF is hard, I wont lie. Many people will discourage you, especially those  closest to you: Your husband, mother, mother-in-law, paeditrician…
If that is what you really want, and if your baby is healthy and thriving, then keep at it. You are giving your baby the best nutrition they can get, nature’s best food.
Breastfeeding benefits children nutritionally, immunologically and psychologically.
One 2001 study on breastfeeding in the second year (12-23 months), found that 448ml of breastmilk provides:

29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements.

breast express

Other studies have shown that breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates. Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation and especially during illness.
WHO notes that breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.,  a great resource for moms, notes that extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.

Nyonyo heals all, from frustrations to bumps and bruises. Nyonyo makes life alright for babies and toddlers. Every breastfeeding mum knows how the breast can cure crying from falls and bruises and what better snack and thirst quencher when you are not near a source of food. I never have to walk around with bottles and packed snacks when we are leaving the house briefly.
Babies who are breastfed up to six weeks get less chest infections and this protection goes on till they are seven years old. Push that to two months and your baby will have less allergies. Add another two months and you have less ear infections and asthma until they are six years old.
Babies who are breastfed until age two are more likely to have higher than average scores on intelligence tests.
The risk of being hospitalized for a lower respiratory track infection (pneumonia, bronchitis) is reduced by 72 per cent in infants who are breastfed exclusively for more than four months.
The risk of ear infections is decreased by 50 percent in infants who breastfeed for more than three months, and by 63 per cent in infants who breastfed exclusively for six months.
Breastfeeding reduced the incidence of gastrointestinal infections by 64 percent, with the protection lasting for two months after breastfeeding is discontinued.

Breastfeeding confers a 38 per cent reduction in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) that is independent of the sleeping position of the infant.
When infants are breastfed exclusively for three to four months, they have a 27 percent decrease in the development of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema. This protection increases to 42 percent in infants with a positive family history for these allergic conditions.
Clearly, this is what my baby needs.

But even for moms there are benefits.
I mentioned quicker weight loss and contraction of the tummy after delivery. According to Kellymom, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer,  ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer.
It protects against osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Our grandmothers used to believe breastmilk can cure eye infections and i have put that to the test again and again and it works, always. Oh, and a little breast milk applied on sore and cracked nipples works better than any balm.

Is EBF still overrated?

Where did we lose compassion for the weak and hurting?

A child begs on the road. Photo: Courtesy

A child begs on the road. Photo: Courtesy

This week I was seated in a bus, the seat right next to the door, when I saw this old man who was holding a walking stick try get into the bus. A thought struck that I should give him my seat; but in the moment between wondering if someone else will do the same and where I would find another seat, the bus pulled off and I could see the old man struggling to maintain his balance as he headed for the back bench. At that moment I felt I had failed those who raised me. I was brought up better. But so were all the people in that 30-seater bus who did not give up a seat for an old frail man, or the bus conductor who did not request or demand that a person does the same. It was a “shame on me” moment.

I was reminded of another day when I had to ask a stranger to give his seat to a pregnant woman who was standing in a full bus. He gave me an odd look then gave up his seat. I hoped he learnt a little courtesy that day. We could fault the woman for getting into an already filled bus, but I won’t judge her as I do not know her story. May be she couldn’t stand at the bus stop any more, may be she was late for some occasion, may be she was just played be Kenyan kondas as we all have, being told there are seats available.

I have also been in her place. Once while pregnant, I almost passed out at the bus stop, but no one noticed. I thought of supporting myself on a stranger, then I thought of forgetting myself and crouching at that very public place as there was no bench or even stone to sit on. Thankfully the bus came soon after saving me the drama.

Another day, when I was seven months pregnant, I got onto the train and couldn’t find an empty seat. I stood. But barely 15 minutes into the journey the standing got to me. I started feeling dizzy. I leaned forward, then against the wall… I felt tears welling up in my eyes. A few people seemed to notice my discomfort but they too were standing. Mercifully, at one stop people got out of the car and I found a seat. Long after the train arrived at the station, I stayed inside the car and cried — frustrated, mostly, but also tired.

When did we become so unmoved by the fate of others? How did  we become a society so wrapped up in itself and its cellphones , tablets and problems that we no longer notice the hungry man on the street, or the sick woman almost passing out at the bus stop?
Is it because we are afraid of being taken advantage of? Do we think it’s another act? Are we just about to be swindled and need to protect our resources and pride?

My greatest lesson the last few months when it comes to compassion and giving a helping hand is that I’d rather err on the side of helping than of caution.

Two months ago I had one of those emotionally draining moments when I am face to face with desperate human need (in my eyes) but everyone tells me to walk away lest I be conned.
I found this woman on the street on her knees, holding a bundle. I look closely and she seems to be in pain and is holding a baby, who has been wrapped in a shawl and a sweater. Thankfully he is asleep.
She tells me she’s not fine; her baby is four months old, and she has a distended tummy that makes her look another seven months pregnant. I can see a big scar. She had the baby by CS, but developed complications afterwards because of continuing to work — washing people’s clothes, she tells me.

Kenyatta National Hospital, which delivered her baby, need Sh1,500 to perform a scan to find out what’s wrong, she tells me. (Is that the cost of a scan by the way?)
She’s headed to Uhuru Park but can barely walk. So I offer to pay for her the bus to Uhuru Park, and I have to carry her big yellow paper bag and her baby to Kencom; she still takes nearly five minutes to cross the street.

I do not know how to help her. I am afraid of being taken advantage of, but it’s hard to turn away in the face of such human suffering. She wasn’t even asking for help, to start with.

I tell her she needs to go to hospital. I give her some money, though not enough for her scan. I wish I could conduct a mini harambee to take her to hospital, but I can’t. I’m late for work; and everyone is pessimistic here, save for one man who gives her Sh100.
The kondas at Kencom tell me to walk away; I have helped enough. Another gentleman tells me, “Madam wewe enda job. Atasaidiwa na wengine.”
Another yet says ” Hawa ni maconmen. Hiyo pesa unampatiea uneenda ukule lunch.”
Are we ignoring the needy among us for the fear of being conned? I walk away feeling heavy hearted and emotionally drained, a feeling that stays with me all day long.

After I posted that on Facebok, a few people told me yes, I was about to be conned but most others felt my dilemma and told me to listen to the Holy Spirit within me. What was my heart telling me?
My response could have been influenced by this verse I read today morning from I Tim 6: 18 “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

I had also been listening to Mathew West’s “My Own Little World” that week, which implores us to get out of ourselves and our cosy little spaces of “Population Me” and realise that there is a world that is needful beyond us. There is a hurting world behind a cellphone, if we just lift up our eyes; and we are being called to meet those needs, most times, in the most basic manner:- buying lunch for a hungry street boy, giving your couch to a friend thrown out by the landlord, praying with the woman trusting God for a child, giving your seat to an old or ailing person. Surely, we have been called for more than just us and our families.
That’s how we become the hands and feet of Jesus.

Some responses of course will call for more coordinated approaches, like where churches can have feeding programmes for street families, or where organisations provide ‘bedrooms’ for the homeless and vulnerable. You may not have access to the coordinated approach- yo are still called to act with compassion. We can’t close our eyes and hears to the cries of the needy in society and think that it shall be well with us.

I have a friend who is real wise. I tell her she has the gift of wisdom. She’s the one who finally brought perspective to my scenario by telling me that I’d be surprised to find out that the whole saga wasn’t about the needy mama and her baby but about me. She told me that if God had needed a person to take the woman to hospital, he would have sent one who had a car, or the cab money and the treatment cash, and one who wasn’t headed to a job she couldn’t be late for. He sent me. May be it was about testing my heart, my obedience to the small inklings in my heart and to the word I ad read… Did I pass the test?

I share a verse from one of my favourite songs by Lindsay McCaul that she sang after the devastating Haiti Earthquake of 2010  (my three-year-old aslo loves the video, may be because of it’s haunting images of the Haiti earthquake).

When she's crying,
When she's hurting, 
When she's fallen and can't go on, 
When she's broken into pieces, 
In her mourning, has lost her song..
Who will help the Church, 
The one that Christ loves, who will rise up?
How long will we wait,
How much will it take, Who will rise up?
Photo: courtesy

Photo: courtesy

A name is a gift to your children; give wisely

My folks tell me that the inspiration for my first name came from South African song bird Brenda Fassie. I don’t know if that inspired my love for music but I grew up to be very protective over that name. Luckily in the back of the woods village where I grew up in, Brenda’s were few and far between. I walked proudly knowing that my name was unique and beautiful. I was not a Doreen, or Mary or Carol, names that occupied class roll calls.

I, however, did not like my middle name. Kageni. I felt it lacked spank, meaning, personality. It means a small visitor. I knew old people who had that name. I did not like it at all.

Somehow, because everyone at school called me by my first name, people in the village slowly stopped calling me by my second name, save for my grandma and a few elderly relatives.
So many years later I’m still apathetic to the name Kageni, though it is what my husband chooses to address me by. That makes it a little special. Also considering Brendas are all over the place, Kageni stands out.

But, does the name make the person, or does the person make the name? Brenda means a “flaming sword” “little raven” or “a beacon on a hill/torch”. Bree means “strength.”I like the beacon on a hill part.

How do you chose a name that will best fit your child?

When it came to naming our children, Hubs and I wanted names that have a meaning, that are beautiful, unique and that would inspire them to greatness and godliness. We googled, made lists, disagreed, prayed, finally there was consensus on at least one name in each case.
It was hard for Hubs and I to settle on second names, coming from different communities. Do we give them names from both communities? Suppose we can’t find inspiring names from one community? Also considering just how tribal Kenya had become, we didn’t want our children stereotyped along tribal identities. Wanjiru? Definitely Kikuyu. Odhiambo? You are Luo. Mwende? Kendi? Nkatha? Wafula? Kip?

We decided to go for neutral names; make our children global citizens. But those names also needed to speak of their testimony, of our prayers for them, and to prophesy into their future.

I believe names are a gift you give to your children. I love traveling, and I think in that way I live up to my name — of being a visitor.

I know an Asaph who is a musician (Asaph in King David’s time was the lead musician) and a Levi who is a pastor. Ever heard of Muthinis who are struggling with everything in life or a Munyua/Kinyua who is a drunkard. There is this former City Hall official called Kiamba who is being chased by KRA for tax evasion. In my language, kiamba is a big thief. It might be coincidence but I feel these names breathed a future into their holders.
You can’t drag the name Sifa to a brothel. You can’t be Imani and be an atheist. You can’t be Noelle and not know Christ. How do your parents call you you Wisdom and you live a life of folly?

By the way Hubs, your name means a chief, a head, so live up to greatness my handsome prince.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 called on Christians to choose baby names from the Bible as “an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit will allow the person to blossom in the bosom of the Church.”

We didn’t choose names from the Bible. But we chose names that breathed life and had swag. My son’s first name means “God is my strength”. That was our testimony as his parents, but was also our prayer for him- that he would always find his strength and purpose in God. His second name means “to give praise.” And the boy is musical. He could hold a tune at one year.

Our daughter’s names mean “God is gracious”, “blessed” and a “crown”. We were testifying of God’s goodness in our life, and praying that she will be a royal daughter in the King’s palace, and that she would beautify our lives and be honoured.

I am thinking that may be we should have given them names from our communities, but which bear the meaning we want them to carry. Once they become global citizens, they may want their names to proudly point back home.

“Naliaka? That’s Kenyan, yeah?”

The people in my generation seem to be thinking in a similar manner. That’s why we have the Tajis (crown), Jabali (rock), Amani (peace), Mwende (loved one), Wema/Zuri (Goodness), Fadhili (compassion), Wendo (love), Tando (love), Neema (Grace), Nia (purpose), Rehema (mercy) Nathan (God has given), Zain (beautiful), Kayla (pure), Jason (healer),  Zawadi (gift), Enzo (winner/ruler), Ethan (strong), Zeke (God strengthens), Hawi (luck), Kiama (miracle), Mutoria (victor), and so on.

What are you calling your children? Are they living up to their name? God knows that child you are carrying even before he/she was formed. You can ask him what to call your baby. Don’t be surprised that he can inspire you in naming your children prophetically.

ION, if you have a powerful or inspiring name and are not living up to it, it’s time to rethink and claim the blessings your name carries.