Today on Pearls And Heels we feature Tessy Aura. Tessy “SocraTess” Aura considers herself to be an activist. She is primarily concerned with the position and condition of women and other vulnerable groups in society and she seeks to alter perceptions and behavior that exclude them from participating meaningfully in all spheres of life. In her 9-5 on the weekdays, her activism shines through in her Human Rights Officer position at UN-Habitat where she is tasked with mainstreaming human rights in the agency’s normative and operational work. Additionally, she has a podcast (254 Kaa Rada) which she co-hosts with Meremiya Hussein (Amer). They both use it as a platform to comment on and inform listeners about the socio-political issues going on within the African continent, the topics discussed so far include: “reverse racism,” migration and elections. Her activism is also evident in her poetry! She writes about her personal experience and those of others close to her and interrogates the fairness or lack thereof in it all. She is fierce and a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Describe your typical day?
There are very few things in my days that are “typical” but there are a few things that are consistent at specific times of the day which I think others might find interesting:
When I wake up in the morning I do not look at my phone messages/social media. I do this because I like to set my own energy and make sure it is not corrupted by any external forces. So I usually first meditate for 10 minutes or more and set my intentions for the day in terms of things I would like to accomplish and also how I would like to feel during the day.
Another usual occurrence in the morning is banter with my favorite fruit lady on my way to work! I have known her for about two years. I always pass by her and pick up two bananas for my daily potassium fix and talk to her for a few minutes about our feminine woes, business investments or politics. This year for my birthday she let me have my regular potassium fix for a whole week at no charge. I thought that was really sweet. I am in the process of thinking of a good gift for her for when her birthday comes up!
In the afternoon, I usually sneak away from my office for 30 minutes to read a couple of chapters from The Book of Secrets by Osho – which is all about the different techniques to become more “woke,” present and blissful in everything you do. And in the evenings, twice a week I got to the gym and the other evenings I usually spend going to a dance class, music or poetry event and writing
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I realized at a very early age I liked to fix people’s problems, make them feel better or advocate on their behalf. So, naturally, many of the things I dreamt of being when I grew up revolved around this affinity. I first wanted to be a lawyer, then later a therapist and now I want to be the person who is called in by presidents or other prominent people during times of conflict and requested to advise, strategize or mediate! Basically, I want to be a real-life Olivia Pope but to focus more on resolving development issues specifically in conflict and post-conflict areas.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would do everything the same way if I was pursuing a similar career path. But I have always said in another life, I would’ve been a linguist. I love learning new languages and I love seeing how people’s personalities differ when they speak in different languages.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed as a poet?
I think when it comes to poetry it is important to be able to write your emotions – what it is that you feel and I don’t think it is as easy as just saying “I feel sad, or I feel love.” But rather what is your sadness? What does it look like? What does it smell like? If you met your sadness on the street who would speak first or what would be the first thing it said to you? What would your sadness wear to the supermarket and who are its closest friends?
I also think in poetry it is important to contextualize as it automatically helps in drawing a connection and allows others to be able to relate to your experience – even if it is picked up a century later. One of my favorite poems about a topic poets love to right about (Love) is written by Khalil Gibran. In the poem, he writes about what Love will do to you should you choose to welcome it. He wrote it in a time where people were religiously fanatic (people still are today) – so there is a part where he talks about you being wheat to Love thus it will harvest you, grind, sift, knead then throw you into the flames and out of that fire you will emerge as the holy communion. Essentially, that is just another way of saying love will change you and though at times the process will be heart breaking you will come out better for it but the experience itself can now be placed.
Lastly, I think it is important to let go when you are performing – this is hard to do because everyone is watching. You might have an idea of what and how you want to convey it, but sometimes a vibe just moves you, and sometimes your subconscious decides to switch up words and lines and maybe you get teary eyed while saying a line and immediately you want to correct it – you want to straighten up and pretend that your voice didn’t just crack but my advice is that you let it! When it comes to artistic expression it is always going to be different because we as individuals are always changing and the frequencies are never the same in a room so don’t get hung up on trying to get it perfect – or the same as it was the night before or how you felt when you wrote it. I have heartbreak poems that I wrote in a puddle of my own tears and when I perform them years later I smile through them because that is just the groove I am in today – my subconscious wont let me cry over it anymore because I am just not in that space anymore so the poems take on new life and instead of fighting it I just go with it. And I am sure when my heart is broken again these same poems will take on a new life form and I welcome it!
As a poet how is it working in the Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I think the aim of everyone in life should be to get paid to essentially play and have fun. And I think artists are some of the few people in this world who have an opportunity to do that. So whenever I am asked to perform or write something I am always up for it and when the request is accompanied by a monetary offer it sweetens the deal.
As far as Nairobi being open to what I do – I think they are very open. I do realize that sometimes some people aren’t receptive to me talking so candidly about women and men being equal especially in the African context but their feelings aren’t my concern.
There have been so many opportunities for me to perform in Nairobi – a lot of them put together by other artist including Mumbi (hey boo!), Jaaziyah, Yellow Light Machine and Cr8tive spills. Also I am always attending open mics (Kwani, Mindful) to get into new and upcoming talent where I meet people with whom we share tips and secrets with. Another opportunity to commune with other writers is AMKA forum – a monthly meeting where we review literature as a group. Through it I get to meet other writers who are interested in reviewing work and giving constructive feedback.
In terms of challenges, my poetry has always been like therapy for me – so a lot of the content is personal and sometimes hard for me to express even to myself. That is why I write them down in the first place – so the challenge is always finding the courage to perform this to others. Every time I push myself the unintended benefit has been that it has really improved my personal relationships because it is like performing these pieces is almost practice for me to be able to share my deepest thoughts with others.
Also in line with the value I would assign to my work sometimes it does not align monetarily. But eventually, I am sure it will. When my collection of poetry is published and becomes a best seller. Or when I start dating Kofi Siriboe and everyone gets nosey enough to find out who I am and stumbles on my talent, THEY GON’ PAY ALL THE COINS!!!!
What motivates you?
In everything that I do in the back of my mind is always the goal to realize my fullest potential and purpose. That is what motivates me. It guides the decisions I make in terms of who I speak to, how I speak to them, what job or performance requests I accept to what I watch and read.
How do you define success?
Most define success as having money, fame or love and this has its own validity, but to me, success means, at any level that you are at, having the material things, personal connections, fame or love you desire and still not being attached or a slave to them. I have had the privilege of having money and also not having it, and that has shown me that while getting money can at times be a struggle, it is far more difficult to have money and be happy within. Same with fame or accolades, I have been performing (singing, dancing, reciting poems, and playing instruments) since I was a child and fame and accolades come by way of performance but they don’t necessarily equate inner peace or fulfillment. Same with love from another person – essentially these are all cherries on top – and without the foundation of understanding and loving yourself you won’t be able to appreciate or be satisfied by them. That foundation, that feeling that with or without you still know and love who you are is what success is to me and that always breeds abundance of anything I desire.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My mother! She has been a rock – grounding- and simultaneously the wind beneath my wings all throughout my life. She is the standard I hold myself to. She is intelligent, artistic, accepting, trusting and generous. Every day I see more of her in myself with regards to the tone in my voice, the choices I make and it makes me happy to know that I am cut from the same cloth as such regality, vibrancy and wisdom – it also makes me feel unstoppable because no one has ever been able to hold that woman back from doing anything she wants to do!
Then there is Maya Angelou – there are so many similarities between her and my mother that I just was always easily drawn to her when I read her poetry and heard her speak.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Being able to connect and empower others.
What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Being authentic, minimizing the attention paid toward people’s opinions and maximizing the amount paid to what feels right for you – more time should be spent in developing this compass.
What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Write and perform for yourself first – you are the audience member who matters most.
What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
A couple months ago I went to Lang’ata women’s prison with AMKA forum to review literature with the inmates. One of the pieces chosen to be discussed and critiqued was my piece. I got the chance to perform it, sit back and hear the inmates discuss it and tell me their interpretations of it, how it made them feel and it was very interesting to say the least. Subsequently, a lot of the ladies came to me privately to discuss the aspects of their lives that intersected with the piece that I performed and it was such a touching moment for me. In the end, we encouraged each other to be bolder in our artistic expression!
What makes you happy?
I am happiest when I am being myself and around people who nurture a space for understanding and acceptance.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Dancing!!! This is what I go to clubs to do and what I spend a lot of time in my room doing – apart from writing. I also go to dance classes every chance I get. After I come back in another life as a linguist, I will come back in the next life as a professional dancer for whoever is the reincarnate of Beyoncé then if it isn’t me.