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Telling My African Parents About My Tattoo

Originally uploaded: 4th February 2019

I got a tattoo.

Permanent ink on my skin that will remain there for the rest of my life. It was terrifying, it was thrilling and it was slightly reckless. People may judge and think it’s tacky but when I look at it, when I look at my arm I see something different.

The decision to get a tattoo wasn’t an impulsive decision, it was calculated and thought out thoroughly. I thought about the design, drew stencils on my arm and my ribs, the girl even prayed about it. This was not just a mental but a spiritual, psychological journey; I’m scarring my body so I wasn’t going to take this decision lightly.

The weird thing about this tattoo was that the idea to get it become stronger the more I prayed about it. The more I spent time in prayer with God, the stronger the decision became. But I never actually got around to getting it.

I didn’t get it because 1) I was scared of the pain, I’m a massive wimp and thought as soon as the needle touched my skin I would faint or slap the tattoo artist. And 2). My parents. If you cannot feel my anxiety oozing out of these words then you are probably not the child of African immigrants parents. I love my parents, don't get me wrong but, I would be explaining a TATTOO to parents who shut down Santa Claus before I could finish saying his name and never allowed my sister and I to watch Scooby Doo, Harry Porter or Wizards of Waverly Place. I believed they would throw LITERAL bible verses and try to rub off the ink with holy water while praying in tongues.

So, although I really wanted one, I would say I had a very convincing argument against it.

Until January.

Originally I was supposed to get it done on my rib because that could easily be covered up and hidden from my parents but my friend and the tattoo artist told me otherwise. They told me it would hurt especially as my first tattoo and I changed my mind immediately because I’m a wimp. So I changed it to my left forearm instead.

Okay so I’m lying there on the table, arm stretched out praying in tongues and shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. I’m lying there awaiting the pain and when the needle touches my skin I’m like “SWEET BABY JESUS… oh that’s fine”. Honestly, it just felt like someone was lightly sticking a tiny knife into my arm, it was more discomfort than agonising pain. And you better believe the sis did not move her arm at all.

The tattoo is done but my parents?!?

Afterwards I start frantically texting my sister coming up with possible ways of hiding it from my parents. She is surprised that I got the tattoo but more surprised that it’s on my arm. I say I’ll bribe them or just tell them something outrageous first like “Parents I’m pregnant! Wait, not really I just got a tattoo”.

But as I was on the phone with them that night I couldn’t hide it from them. I waited until they are both on the phone and asked what they thought about tattoos. I've had the discussion of tattoos with my parents before and to them the connotations were skulls, death, etc. Do you catch my drift? So I asked again. My mum is confused about the whole concept, she asks me whether it’s the one that is permanent. My dad thinks it’s alright as long as you have a reason behind it. They were seemingly cool about it. BUT HEY! Don’t let that fool you, parents are okay with things when it doesn’t concern permanently staining their child.

I say can ‘I get a tattoo?’

They say ‘yeah sure’ but they don’t take me seriously. I say a lot of things to my parents, you know, just for bants, I told them a had a boyfriend once and they laughed. They've learnt not to take me seriously, as my dad says 'you're a cartoon, Sarah'.

I say ‘I got a tattoo today.’

I’m literally expecting to be on the first plane out to Kenya to live the rest of my life on my Grandma’s farm and marry the first Kikuyu boy that loves the Lord.

But as I send them a photo and explain the reason behind it, something happened.

I got a tattoo of an arrow.

So anti-climactic I know, years of planning the perfect tattoo and I get a stupid little arrow on my forearm. But I got an arrow because, to me, the arrow is symbolic.

It is symbolic of my faith.

As a Christian it’s really easy to say ‘oh I trust God’ and we cry out ‘spirit lead me’ but never really mean it. But God used this tiny little arrow to remind me of what faith and what trusting really is. This arrow starts its life as a twig, it’s rough and it’s useless but when it is broken apart from the tree and it is crafted and moulded and refined it becomes the body of the arrow. The head is carved into a point that is sharp and dangerous, it's small but it's dangerous. It’s created to be a powerful weapon. As an flies, it flies solely. Solely with required focus, precision and concentration. It has an aim and it has a purpose to get to the target but in order to get there it has to be pulled back to shoot forward. The arrow is used, in everyday life, as a symbol of direction. The arrow is a weapon that my ancestors used, it's on the Kenyan flag. Okay so I'm fishing a little bit but still...

Second year of university has been different. I felt like I was stepping into the shoes of a stranger rather than resuming the position that I'd spent a year crafting for myself.

I just wasn’t present.

Things were not going the way I wanted them to go.

In my first year of university, I created this version of me that I had always wanted to be. She was cool and she went out to parties; God took a back seat as she let her hair down and she flirted with guys for fun and was reckless. I won’t lie she was and is and probably always will be a part of me. She was really living her best life and I don't regret those experiences despite judgment. However, after - I would say 'encountering God' but that makes it seem like a huge spiritual gesture, it wasn't that - talking with God, I came to a crossroads. While I was in America, I came to a crossroads where I had to decide who I was going to be.  It wasn’t a decision to depart from who I was, it wasn’t to say that I was being fake the whole year or to erase everything and start over. Again, I don’t want to degrade or regret the memories and lessons I learnt in first year by placing myself as a victim; I accept and take responsibility for my actions. It was a decision that said with everything that has happened are you going to evolve and continue ‘becoming’ the person you were created to be. Are you going to focus and allow God to lead you? Focus and spirit led. This means despite not knowing where you're going and not having the whole plan mapped out. It means despite being pulled back, know you're going forward.

The arrow. A symbol of my faith, craft, direction, purpose, determination but mostly focus. Focus on He who is within me than those who are in the world.

The arrow. It is a metaphor of me.

So what did my parents say?

“There is no point of hiding so who are we to say something against what God has confirmed.”

If anything they encouraged it! * Note to those children of immigrant parents, sometimes (I say that very sparingly) don't grossly  overthink your parents' reactions.* When he was younger, my dad used to draw tattoos on his arms so I might be getting a matching tattoo with my dad.

But essentially what they told me was that if this is what God has said who are we to condemn you.

And I can tell you now I was very relieved.


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