The unwritten code states that as soon as you are old enough to fend for yourself. As soon as you have gained all the education you need to equip you for a successful adult life; you need to find yourself a job, move out of your mother’s house and build your own home. Times have changed, we no longer have to wait for a man to propose marriage before you leave your maternal home.
The first time I moved out of home, I was twenty three. I had successfully graduated with honors from college. Mama was proud, I think she was more proud of the fact that she could walk around with a picture of me in my graduation gown in her purse and if anyone cared to ask, she would swiftly take it out and say “you see my daughter, she is a graduate, and she graduated with honors!”
I first worked as an attendant at a mobile money transfer shop. I did not last at the job. I do not have the patience to sit in a small cubicle surrounded by walls painted in bright green colors or any other color for that matter. By the third week, no amount of money could make me stay any longer. The tiny space made feel like I was suffocating, my back ached from sitting hours on end on a wooden stool. When I told mama I was quitting my job she let out a small sigh “it is ok! You will find something better soon” she said.
Not long after, one of my many job application letters came through. I was invited for an interview at a law firm in Nairobi. “The city! You are going to the big city!” Mama exclaimed. She was more excited than me. That is until she came across an article on why Nairobi was a city in the sun. According to the article she had stumbled upon, things happened in Nairobi. Bad things. The people of Nairobi spent their days eating nyama choma and their nights drinking Tusker. “If there was a Sodom and Gomorrah in Africa, that city is it!” Mama whispered to her friends.
Despite her reservations, mama did not object to my plans to travel to Nairobi. The night before my journey to the city, she came to my room, at the time I lived in a single room house, she sat on the edge of the bed. There she was helping me fold one clothe after another while taking one heavy breath and a tiny sigh every minute or two. Her wrinkles were more visible, I could see little strands of shiny grey hair on her head.
Like a mama bird watching her chick get ready for her first flight, mama anxiously watched me like an eagle mama would. The ache she bore in her heart echoed on her face. Her little hummingbird was about to fly out of the nest for good. She knew it, I knew it. We sat there in silence too scared to admit the day we both dreaded had come to pass.
It’s been a year since mama watched me pack my bags. She now knows there is more to Nairobi than nyama choma and Tusker. The rhythm of the African drums sets the pace for Nairobi. It is a place for no job seeker but a place job seekers want to be. It is where a no can be turned into a yes if you say the right thing at the right moment. When I got here, I was twenty three years of age. A graduate, a graduate with honors, not that it makes a difference.
In my first job interview, I made it to the last three only to be rejected, they needed two individuals and I did not make the cut. As I read the last sentence of my very first regret letter, I knew my life as a hustler had begun. There after, I knocked on doors that needed to be knocked, I emailed those who needed to be emailed, and I searched for opportunities. It was more of a hunting expedition. I hunted for opportunities!
Months came and went and I became exhausted. I felt like I had done my best. I had volunteered and interned. I had spent my money, my strength and my time. I had done what needed to be done and it was not enough. One evening in June, I called home, “Mama, I have failed!” I told her about the rejection letters, the regret letters, the emails asking if I could work for free “we will offer you a platform where you will be exposed and be able to network” they said. I was tired of it all. Mama listened, I could tell when she was nodding and when she was carving unhappy looks with her lips. Mama has this way of smiling upside down when she is not pleased, her lips have a way of communicating unhappiness.
“Maybe you are on the wrong path!” Mama interjected. She went on to say that we fail to have doors opened for us because we are knocking on the wrong doors; we fail to reach our destination because we are on the wrong road. “Toto! Think about it. Maybe you have been searching in the wrong place. Remember the three weeks in a cubicle? Remember how stressful that was? We are all made differently and you need to find what works for you. The reason you have failed is because the universe wants you to think about it! Maybe you need to try a different path to find success!”
Mothers are always right! Mama changed my life that evening in June. After the phone call, I reflected on Nairobi “What does this city want which I can offer?” The people of the city, answered the city’s call. They spent hours in traffic, hours in offices and hours with their friends keeping up with the demand for social engagements. They love healthy African dishes and would hate to spend hours boiling beans or scouting for healthy fresh traditional vegetables. I on the other hand, I was a village girl, I could tell the difference between fresh vegetables and vegetables grown in a sea of farm chemicals; I had a gift for cooking, well, that’s what mama and her friends said. At that moment I came up with a business idea and I was excited about it.
It’s been four years since I called mama to tell her how much of a failure i was, four years since I hit rock bottom. It’s been four years since I failed in every job interview I had taken. Four years since I was known as a graduate, a graduate with honors.
Image by: Andrea Ricketts sourced from unsplash.com