Big Girls Do Cry…A Lot

I am delighted to welcome on to the blog today Mphilo Mauncho, a twenty-year old student who lives in Nairobi, Kenya. In the following piece – Big Girls Do Cry – A Lot – Mphilo writes courageously about identity, belonging and the creative tools she has used to work with anxiety. It couldn’t be more timely to be sharing her words now, at a time when mental health amongst young people as a result of the global pandemic has been a very real and pressing issue.

Mphilo was once our babysitter from many moons ago when we lived in Nairobi and so wide-ranging are her talents, it’s hard to quite know how to introduce her. Musician, creative, writer, podcaster and future psychology student are a few words that come to mind. But I’d like to Mphilo’s wise words do the talking. So grab a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy.

My name is Mphilo and I’m an addict. Addicted to what, might be your first question. And to that I’d answer worry, anxiety, and panic on a really bad day. I have so perfected the art of anxiety I don’t even actively have to do it anymore, it just lives rent free in the back of my mind. So there, that’s a little introduction into part of who I am. Let me explain how I got here. 

Eight years ago, my parents decided to move to Kenya. Don’t worry they took me with them, along with my two little sisters. In two separate trips my family relocated to East Africa my mother, sisters and I on the first flight and my father three months later on the second. Moving to Nairobi was of course a shock. Back then my addiction to worrying was a mere hobby, but you best believe I was practicing. Within two weeks on the continent my sisters and I were registered in a school and within a month we were the least liked individuals, being mercilessly bullied on a regular basis. For a year we went on, only marginally finding peace upon the news that we would not be returning the following year. 

Following that frightening educational experience, burdening our whole family not only emotionally but financially, my parents saw it fit to begin homeschooling us. In a country in which none of us had many friends we decided to stick together. So my mother schooled us, and after months of unsuccessful job hunting my father began his own website development company and thus began our now personalised Kenyan experience. But here presented yet another opportunity to worry. Five individuals all taller than 3’2 living above my grandmother’s garage in what was once a home library and was now a one bedroom apartment, left barely anything to the imagination. I was a young teenage girl going through the trappings of puberty while my father and baby sister sat in the living room not but two steps away. And, after having gone through the traumatic experience that was middle school, I was moody to say the least. These years are where I saw my anxiety turn to anger. 

Having spent most of my life in Canada in a home in which I had my own room, and a space to myself, this new living arrangement brought with it many challenges. With my sisters and I sharing less than 100 square feet of space, frustration, resentment, anger and contempt slowly began to build up. It was a tumultuous, teenage relationship, oscillating on and off for years.

Now let me not mislead you into thinking that I spent every day of those years anxious and angry. As I said it was off and on. And in the off moments I found meaningful and healthy ways of coping with the stress. Of course with our financial situation being unstable as it is, we were rarely ever a part of any activity that required the payment of a fee. This meant lots of self-teaching. From music, to drawing, to writing and media. I’ve always relied heavily on self-expression to understand my inner world. But music has been my guide through the hellscape that was my teenage years. Music offered an alternative. Especially when I began teaching the traditional african instrument, the nyatiti. 

In the years that I was busy being an emotional wreck, my parents began fulfilling their dream, the reason for uprooting our lives in the first place. A learning space, which meets the needs of students across Nairobi was born, encompassing many extracurricular activities our students wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Classes in art, creative writing, makerspace, traditional instruments and sport, has allowed students to find confidence through connecting with their heritage and expressing themselves from a uniquely African perspective. 

Through the learning space I have been able to learn and teach the nyatiti, a traditional lyre. While I have taught my students the technical fundamentals, what I am most proud of is the chance I’ve gotten to nurture their creativity and abilities to compose their own work. Over the years dealing with poor mental health, I’ve learned to create what I feel, and it’s given me the chance to share and let others learn from my emotions. Many kids in this country are not offered the opportunity to do that for themselves. 

Mphilo with her kitovu musical group

Having spent almost half my life in Kenya, it is now my home. And recognizing this, it is clear that my society has seen a fundamental lack of services available to youths in need of mental health care. Our culture is one of collective communication, but due to the globalization of our societies we’ve started losing these traditions. As I’ve gotten older and grown out of my teens, anxiety has become less and less of a crutch and this is simply because I’ve begun to express it. This problem of increased lack of communication, has become painfully apparent. It’s an issue that doesn’t discriminate, touching communities of varying socio-economic backgrounds. When I was 16 years old, I founded the organization Move On as a means of connecting with my community through mental health awareness. This organization has been the driving force behind the digital media discussions I’ve been able to have in the form of podcasts and video projects. These ventures have allowed me to foster conversations relevant to my varying realities, as a black young African-Canadian woman. And I do this because the current methods of healing and rehabilitation being implemented in my communities simply hold no cultural relevance to the people they are being brought to.

The conversations I’ve had within my community have prompted me to further understand the human experience, and hopefully bring insight to my collective, through the avenue of psychology. My pursuit of a psychology degree is rooted in my desire to restore the injured mental and emotional health of home. Through a blend of traditional restorative practices and modern psychological philosophies, I hope to bring relevant resources to my collective. 

This is how far I’ve come. Now, I’m not saying that the anxiety magically lifted once I discovered my purpose. As much as I wish it did, I am still very anxious, still very cautious, and I still get very angry. This journey, this evolution seems like it’s gonna be awhile. Am I excited? No. But am I prepared to take on the challenge? Also, no. But I’ll do it, and I’ll do it knowing that there’s hope at the end. I know I’m not the only one striving for change. I’m not the only one ready to do something, anything for our generation and those that come after, to thrive. I’m just gonna need y’all to stand up, cause it’s getting a little lonely over here. 

Mphilo with her sisters Ishara and Nabia singing and playing for Mother’s Day. Click in the left corner to unmute.

Thank you so much Mphilo for coming on the blog, for your candid, courageous words and for sharing your gifts. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what she has written.

To listen to Mphilo’s podcast, The Elephant in the Room, click here and to connect with her on Instagram, click here.

Rebecca Stonehill

Thank you for reading this blog. If you enjoyed it, compliment it with the poetry of young writers from Denmark; one young girl’s journey of working creatively with her dyselxia & how to stay connected in a time of disconnection.

2 replies
  1. Rebecca Stonehill
    Rebecca Stonehill says:

    Hi Celestine, thanks so much for dropping by the blog. It was so great to have Mphilo’s uniquely personal perspective here ❤️


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