2021 was a phenomenal year for me regarding growth and understanding of the trauma awareness field. A year of awakening. This post concerns the Kenyan community but I am sure it may resonate with some of you.
I have been in the mental health field for many years now, but 2021 made me aware that I haven’t been practicing or deepening my knowledge as much as I could have. I could always understand that we all bring our baggage and emotional history to every room we enter, to every community we join. I understood this instinctively, by virtue of knowing myself and observing other people respond to day-to-day interactions as if they were triggers. As if every interaction was a battle they could win, a personal attack, a disrespectful event or something run and hide away from.
The pandemic opened doors to discussions I haven’t had for ages and to people I hadn’t, really met, since lifetimes. In 2021 the most important topic we put on the Kenyan map was ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Experiences. Demystifying the ACEs brought up many difficult and controversial discussions we have avoided as adults. Below are 5 of those:
1. Parenting and the lifelong effects of different kinds of parenting
This is one of the most difficult topics to have because it touches on either the people who have nourished us or hurt us the most. It feels like there is no neutrality when discussing parenthood, especially damaging toxic parenting. We would rather brush over it and say “parents did their best”; which they did – but I had come to a point where I needed to find a community that can speak about the worst outcomes of bad parenting, to bring that in the surface and start opening spaces where we can openly speak about our childhood trauma for reals. And I found that in 2021.
2. Religion and the long term effects of religion that lacks empathy & spirituality
I stopped attending to religious stimuli/input before I turned 16 and I attended mass so long because I was in a catholic girls high school where mass was mandatory. Many times I attended mass to be seen, to tick the mandatory box, to clean the church. No threats of punishment or promises of rewards could take me back. In 2021 we had whole conversations about the church’s atrocities across the world, in Austria buried children in catholic church compounds. Religion as as the messenger of colonizers, oppressors and murderers. Church clergy sexual abuse on children and the never handled trauma of that. Protestant bishops stealing from their congregations in the name of heaven. The abuse and gaslighting religion has applied to deny us the opportunity to heal from religiously brainwashed communities. We spoke on that in 2021, loud and clear
3. Patriarchy and Misogyny and their long-term effects on community – Both men and women
Though I am notorious in my circles for being a fireball when it comes to speaking about equality, womens’ and girls’ rights, before 2021, I had never used my mouth so often to formulate the words patriarchy or misogyny. I didn’t want to be called a “bad woman” – one who cannot be a wife, one who fights men, one who hates men. That changed sometime in 2020 and blew up in 2021. I read and re-read materials and books I had forgotten I had read before. I started speaking openly about it and posting about it too. And I niche picked on all forums to ensure I was in communities that understood what I was referring to and affirmed or questioned my opinions. I always said I will not leave my community unchanged, and 2021 felt like the first year I publicly stepped out to occupy space that speaks about and against patriarchy and misogyny.
I will not waste any space defining these two terms, I hope you find ten minutes in your day to read about the history of patriarchy and misogyny for yourself. For your children. Patriarchy and misogyny will disappear in our lifetime, but it does us so much good to understand the historical trauma, the ongoing trauma and the future trauma we can expect from both. Especially to understand the source of our anger and fear.
4. Education and Teachers, their history, their value and their long-term effects on society
One of the things I am most proud of is my formal education because it has set me free from everything I wanted to be free from. Education set my mind free to read, to analyze to learn new languages and cultures, to secure an income – education opened my inner world to myself. Teachers are Gods when they are good, teachers are the destroyers when they are bad. I had the misfortune of having both good teachers and bad ones, but the biggest fortune to have a good first teacher. In African community, formal education is a traumatic event because for it to be implemented, indigenous ways of learning had to be destroyed. That destroyed both our traditional teachers, our understanding of learning, our pride in oral, musical and artistic accomplishments and the value of our culture and traditions. Communities were destroyed for schools and churches to be built. But we are not allowed to speak openly about this because we “should have forgotten by now”.
One of the things I am most proud of is my informal education. The things I learnt from my grandparents and parents about my history, my natural capabilities, talents and gifts, my ancestors’ accomplishments before colonialism and beyond oppression – my identity. In 2021, we spoke loads about education, teachers, what we have learned and what we need to unlearn. To expect Africans to speak about African community and trauma without speaking about the colonial education system and its effects on peoples’ psyche is abuse – manipulative and gaslighting. Sure, we will learn English and french and all the western subjects that will help us get employed, understood so we have a chance to be tolerated, but not always welcome in the global community. However, that is not our language and it not our culture – not yet, not until we have forgotten Africa and our ancestors.
5. “To Marry or not to Marry” and the effects of that decision on an individual and the community
The amount of time spent in our youth speaking about and planning marriage is ridiculous, understandably so. Reproduction makes sense on a purely existential level and creating a community in which we all can reproduce is a very clever idea. Because babies need a lot of care to survive and mothers are weak and vulnerable when they have small children. Obviously, we need men’s physical strength, detachment and testosterone to keep aggression away or to handle other aggressive males. Community of women and men for survival of the species, right? Or is marriage a love contract? To love one person so much you want them to be called yours, forever. Some good books speak on marriage as financial contract, we invest time and money inside a marriage, we don’t want to break the marriage because that will bring up the discussion of who earned what, who invested where, and based on that, who gets what when the marriage ends.
We spoke about marriage and its tricks excessively much in 2021. We spoke about partnerships, long-term friendships, companionship relationships and the like. I have never understood all the marriages that are so miserable and abusive, people develop mental and physical illnesses due to marriage-dysfunction – and they still persist. I cognitively & theoretically understand that there are things I don’t understand about marriage, things that the married understand. However, I hope that when I finally get married, it will be a marriage that improves or heals any mental or physical illnesses I may have prior to the marriage. I don’t want a space to practice and nurture my illness or to express my dissatisfaction with life. I also don’t wish for a place to stagnate and cultivate anger or bitterness.
There we are!
What do you think?
What did you learn, discuss, unlearn in 2021?
What are you looking forward to in 2022? That will be our next post! Have a happy New year 2022 and stay connected to GC!