I turned 45 several weeks ago. The day passed quietly just like any other. I’ve never made a big deal of birthdays. Then I thought, it might be fun to compile a list of what I’ve learnt about life so far. I’m single with no kids, but not your typical career driven woman either. So let’s dive right in.
1. You control nothing, so get used to it.
Picture this. I’m in the last few months at Precious Blood Girls, Riruta. Our class teacher Mrs Chege has brought university application forms, which the rest of the class is busy filling. Meanwhile, I’m doodling in my notebook, forms untouched.
“Where are your forms?” Mrs Chege asks, a frown creasing her face.
“I don’t need them.”
“You can’t get into university without them.”
“I’m not going to university.”
“What? Why not?”
“I’m going to Utalii College to do hotel management.” I lean back in my seat with a confident smile. Mrs Chege shakes her head in disbelief.
“Everyone wants to go to university,” she insists in a firm bossy tone, lent even more weight by a hand on each hip.
“Not me. I’m going to Utalii.”
I have nurtured that dream since I was a little girl. The day I watched my uncle Joseph Wanganga, an executive chef at Jadini Beach Hotel, bake a cake using a sufuria over a charcoal jiko (we were poor and didn’t have an oven), I was captivated. I decided then and there that I was going to work in a hotel. He always let us eat the dough mixture left in the plastic basin after pouring it in the sufuria. Licking that basin clean was the highlight of the baking session.
Mrs Chege and the headmistress tried to convince me not to do something foolish. Nothing doing. So I applied to Utalii and then the worst happened. I failed to get a place despite scoring a B-Plain in the KCSE exam. I moped around the house for weeks, barely talking to anyone.
One day, dad finally placed my university admission letter on the dining table and asked me to go check it out. A few weeks before the Utalii heartbreak, the minister of education announced an extension for university applications due to some irregularities in schools. Dad convinced me to apply in the new window. “Just as a back-up, Utalii is still our main focus,” he assured me.
So I did B.Com and by a very winding road ended up as a creative writer. Is that a 5-year plan I see you compiling so diligently? Just know the universe is about to piss all over it. Don’t tear it up yet. Keep it and look at it in a decade or two. It will provide a good laugh when you see how far you’ve strayed from it.
There’s no problem that a couple of Oreos can’t fix. Or a long walk. Or better still, dancing in your living room or cleaning the house in your underwear. I bought a new computer last year to replace the one I’d had for almost a decade. Yeah, I hold on to things like that. If it aint’ broke don’t fix it, is my motto. I also bought a new mop. Those large industrial size ones. There’s no question in my mind which was the better buy. The mop. There’s nothing quite like spending 3 hours cleaning the house to put things into perspective. In a crazy world where things are out of your control so many times, just knowing that you can control this one thing – that your house is clean, is really the best therapy.
3. Men & Dating
I like men. They’re fun to be around most of the time. I’m just not sure I can live with one. I suspect my ambivalence towards marriage is the reason I’m still single. One day you think it might be nice to have someone in your corner as you navigate life’s challenges. Then the next you’re grateful to be single after hearing someone’s horrible experience with their spouse and thinking, ‘If it was me in that situation, it can only end one way. With one of us six feet under and the other in Kamiti serving a life sentence for murder’.
I have friends and relatives who’ve been happily married for decades, so I know marriage works. Still, the idea of ending up with a man who cheats on me or beats me or both (the horror!) is a real fear.
I believe my only regret if I never get married is not getting the chance to do the tango at my wedding. Slow dancing is boring and the salsa, so popular these days, is too fast and energetic for me. The tango is perfect. That mix of slow, sensual moves capped by a few clever steps…fabulous. Not to mention how much fun we’ll have practising the moves before the big day. That beats wedding planning any day.
On this one I have no doubt. I’d definitely be a good mum. Pregnancy, labour and childbirth on the other hand scare me shitless. I’ve never been in any danger of an accidental pregnancy because fear is the best birth control on the planet. The weird thing is, as much as I doubt if marriage is for me, I know without a doubt that all children need their fathers so going the single mother route (by choice) isn’t really an option for me. Perhaps adoption is a good alternative. Surely, being raised by a single loving parent is better than growing up in an institution? Children are a gift to be treasured. How they come to you is irrelevant.
If you’re doing what you love, be grateful for it. If it’s paying the bills, congratulations, you’ve found heaven on earth. Or as close to heaven as earth can be. Writing is my passion. I love it, but it doesn’t always love me back. Despite the disappointments, when I try to imagine doing something else, it feels like dying. A vast wasteland, kilometre after kilometre of desert, with no end in sight. Writing is like finding a well in the middle of that desert and feeling that cool water trickling down your throat. The water has a bitter taste sometimes, but it slakes your thirst. And always gives you that added bit of strength to keep going, to hope that somewhere beyond the arid wilderness is a land flowing with milk and honey. And one day, you will be blessed enough to find it.
At some point you will learn that friends are not the wide circle of people you went to school, church or work with. Or your social media followers. I fractured my left ankle during Easter 1998 during the Vunja Mifupa games. Got lots of ribbing over that one. Living up to the name of the event literally. Over the 6 weeks my leg was in a cast and the next month I was on crutches, I can count the number of friends who came to visit – on the fingers of one hand – and have fingers to spare. A shock to say the least, but I’m glad I learned that lesson early. I got a refresher lesson last year. My point is, real friends stick around and will call you out of the blue because they haven’t heard from you in a while. They will spend real money on a phone call, not send a WhatsApp message.
If you’re a woman in a male dominated field, the key to success isn’t to become aggressive and loud. They will under estimate you, which is good. I remember this trainer from the Financial Times who came to take us through our paces just before we launched Business Daily. “Take charge of an interview from the time you walk in the door and ask hard hitting questions.” What a load of poppycock.
When you’re dealing with male CEOs, you never go in guns blazing because they are hardwired to treat that as a challenge. The walls instantly go up and you won’t get him to open up, thereby defeating the purpose of the interview. I always go in soft and ask easy questions to build rapport. I learned that trick from moderating focus groups on sensitive subjects. By the time I ask what I really want to know, he won’t see it coming. His first instinct will be to give me the corporate BS (PR line). You have to be thoroughly prepared and do your research to counter this. Know your stuff forwards and backwards.
Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. What’s the worst that can happen? They refuse to answer? Insult me? Big deal. Most times, they do. Sometimes, in their eagerness to educate you (so that you don’t botch the story), they end up giving you information you never expected and you get a fabulous story, ‘with lots of meat’, as we say in industry lingo.
8. Own your success
Now I want to talk to women CEOs and successful entrepreneurs. Successful men will not hesitate to be interviewed. Some seek media attention to brag and are prone to exaggeration. If I’m interviewing a man and he tells me he made Ksh400 million last year, I automatically cut that figure in half in my head, especially if he volunteers that information without prompting. I won’t use that figure in my story unless I can independently verify it.
With women, I have the opposite problem. Most successful women are media shy. Extremely so. Even when I do land the interview, 9 times out of 10, she’ll call the next day and beg me to take out some bits like revenue/income figures. I get it, ladies. We are socialised to be humble and never outshine our husbands. But we need to present role models to our young girls to encourage them to aspire to be the best they can be.
Men, please do not be afraid to let your woman shine. Stop telling your boys “Umekaliwa kama chapati” when his wife earns more than him or has a high profile job. Whatever she’s doing is helping the family.
When it comes to sex, there are no rules except the ones you make for yourself. I may not understand men, but I know one thing for sure. If the opportunity presents itself, few will say no to sex. This applies even to men you’ve put in the friend zone. It’s just the way they’re wired I guess.
Which leaves the choice of whether or not to have sex entirely up to you. The only reason you should have sex with a man is because you fancy him. Not because you feel obligated to. Don’t ever feel pressured to have sex no matter how much he’s spent on a date. I don’t care if he flew you to Lake Alice in a chopper, then treated you to a bush dinner at Mt Kenya Safari Club, where you were serenaded by a live band as you tucked into slow roasted Molo lamb accompanied by champagne.
Throw out all those rules about how long to wait – 30 days, 90 days, or six months. None of it makes sense. If you’re so hot for him that you want to shag him on day one, go for it. Just don’t forget to use some protection for Pete’s sake. You will never regret having sex if you went into it freely, and did it for you, no one else.
That said, always be smart. If you don’t want to have sex and he does, you need a plan. Always have 1,000 bob tucked away in your purse just in case you need to make a quick getaway. Or your favourite cabbie on speed dial.
Have you read my second novel Duel in the Savanna? What are you waiting for? Click here to download the Pdf or read the chapters online. Enjoy and feel free to share with your friends!