Bloom: An Introduction

Bloom5By Wanjiku Mungai 

I wanted to write about bloom: gardens of color coming to life, about hibiscus and about carpets of Jacaranda flowers, about Nandi flame trees ablaze in season. 


Instead, I found myself fixated on the Bougainvillea bushes that lined my childhood. Suburban Nairobi is full of these shrubs: pink, purple, white, red.

In Standard 8 Science class we plucked out bunches for the lesson on acid and bases. Our teacher boiled the petals and made indicator juice, into which he pipetted drops of baking soda in water and the solution changed color from deep red to blue. I thought that it was beautiful how flower juice could tell you the true nature of things.

I told this story to a waitress who recommended that I order hibiscus juice. The drink was cold and a deep red purple color. I traced out figures onto the sides of the glass, where droplets of damp summer air had condensed.

Bougainvillea flowers are scattered all over suburban Nairobi (but awkwardly, I couldn’t find a good photo to put on this post). Our first house was ringed with a fence of them, but when I went back this year I found that that had changed. The owners had replaced it with a cold brick wall.  I knocked on the door of the house where we used to live, the one where we stayed before the divorce, the one that used to have a picture on the wall, but nobody opened, and just as well. I had nothing to say. Nobody opened the door, and I had nothing to say, and my childhood suffocated inside that tiny wall.


Sometimes I think about how we are like flowers. It’s not an original idea; I read it from the Biblical philosopher first, and then from other artists afterwards. But flowers, however magnificent, however beautiful and timeless, are yet, so mortal. Flowers are full of other contradictions: necessary for the continuation of many forms of life on land, directly and indirectly. But often, they are associated with frivolity, with opulence.

I asked a few friends to be part of this project I’m experimenting with for the next couple of weeks, centered around the theme of “Bloom” (think noun, think verb). Having this at the back of my mind constantly has made me more attentive to the spaces around me than usual, and I’ve realized that Nairobi is in bloom. Or perhaps it has always been in bloom but I just hadn’t seen it before?

As a verb, the word “bloom” conjures images of growth, of coming out of one’s shell and into one’s self, which is particularly apt because this month marks 2 years since I started blogging.  I started doing this in order to face a fear of sharing my writing with the world, and while I won’t say  that I’m completely over that fear, I feel a lot less afraid now. To use a possibly inappropriate metaphor, I have noticed that the experience of getting over a fear is kind of like that of being addicted to a drug. By which I mean, the more you face a fear, the higher the required dose of fear inducing stuff you then need to feel the initial level of scared-ness.

I say it on my “About Me” page, and I will say it here, on this sort of 2 year anniversary post: I hope that This Kenyan Girl inspires you in any way, it is that it asks you to do that thing which terrifies you.
(unless it’s dangerous or a felony)


“I wanted to write about bloom. About what it looks like when flowers are unfolding, unfurling, emerging, uncurling.”
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