When life gives you lemons

There I was, at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport greeted by a rude blast of cold as I stepped out of the Emirates airplane. It was just three days before the greatly anticipated day in Kenya, where I would be granted ‘Citizen of the Year’ award. Despite my busy schedule, not for anything under the sun would I have missed the opportunity to be granted the prestigious award unlike other occasions which I had failed to attend due to work commitments.
Thousands of questions raced through my mind, as I made my way into the car awaiting the arrival of my family and I, that being my seven year old son, Bruno and my husband Sean. While we were en route to the Ole Sereni Hotel where we were going to be accommodated for the next one week, I kept thinking of my life when I was younger and how much it had changed, the various obstacles and opportunities I had experienced, all giving me a true sense of life.
‘Mummy! Mummy! What is it that is being said on the radio?’ asked Bruno. I looked at him fondly as I tried to explain the lunchtime news which was in Swahili as he knew very little of it. Bruno was born in Kenya but immediately after, my husband and I relocated to Switzerland living very little room for him to learn and speak Swahili.
Finally, we arrived at the magnificent Ole Sereni. Bruno immediately sprung out of the car with excitement as he made his way around the hotel. On checking in, I headed straight to bed for a one hour nap as I was to have an interview with a lady by the name of Esther of ‘DRUM’ magazine, a leading lifestyle magazine in Kenya that features prominent personalities of all kinds from those in sports, fashion, politics, entertainment and diplomacy.
At five in the evening, I was sitted at the lobby of the hotel together with Esther, ready to begin the interview. I slowly sipped my coffee latte as Esther welcomed me to my home country and as we exchanged several jokes making the atmosphere very warm and hospitable.
“Dr. Kigen, welcome once again. It is a great honour to interview you, as you are a source of perpetual inspiration to millions of young people out there who would like to land at the pinnacle of success,” said Esther.
Esther then continued, “Dr, today I have only one question for you and that is for you to reveal in entirety who you are, how you have been able to accomplish so much, the hard times you have been through and whatever else you deem fit to share with those who look up to you.”
Of course, as has happened before, in other interviews I was to talk about how I had achieved my success, however in this one I could also share more about my life, from childhood to adulthood.
On clearing my throat I went ahead to give a lengthy response to Esther. “Esther, I was born on twelfth February nineteen eighty three at Majengo slums in Nairobi, and bestowed the name Sheila by my mother. The neighbourhood was very much similar to my rural home as most of its occupants were from the Coast province, where my mother came from. Throughout my life, I was raised by a single parent, my mother. Occassionally, I tried asking her where my father was and whether I could meet him. After nagging her on several occasions, she had no choice but to come clean with me. When my parents lived together in Mombasa. My father worked as a waiter at a well-known hotel while my mother stayed at home. Two months after I was born, father began to change. He no longer came home on a daily basis or took care of his responsibilities as a husband and father.
For one thing, it became clear that he was in a romantic affair with an elderly foreign woman, whom he had met at his place of work as she was a tourist on holiday from Germany. Later on, they got married and left for Germany. As a realist, my aunt who we were staying with at that time had accepted the likelihood that I wasn’t going to make it as I was malnourished, due to lack of enough money to buy food and had started making arrangements for a burial. My mother on the other hand, had unwavering faith that I was going to survive. Once she had accumulated enough money from washing other people’s houses and clothes, she decided it was time for her and me to move to Nairobi. A friend had organized for her to stay at her house until she was able to sustain herself.
Through years of struggle, she was able to set up a stand on which she lay various vegetables that she sold and at times I accompanied her to the rich and lavish estates in Nairobi, where we would clean up and wash clothes earning us a few hundreds. Considering, that she did not complete her primary education, I knew that she was doing her best to ensure that I had a bright future.
Where she got the strength not to dwell on past negativities like the betrayal by her husband who she had believed was her best friend and lover or relatives discouraging her instead of being a shoulder to lean on, I do not know. As I grew older, probably at the age of twelve, this is where all the questions really started in me; I would spend hours sitting on a chair by the window of our small house thinking of how one day I would attend global events and share platforms with personalities like Nelson Mandela and Koffi Annan.
Lucky for me, my mother established a bond with a middle-aged white lady whom we frequently went to her house for regular cleaning. This lady, as I had observed and later came to know was married and had three children who all lived in England. Her husband and her were ideally suited for one another, clearly they were soul mates. The lady was called Evelyn and her husband Sydney. Evelyn, eventually learnt of the situation my mother and I were in and immediately offered to pay my school fees up to the university level and also for us to continue working for her while occupying the servant’s house which was quite big. At first, my mother was hesitant but later on, gave in to the offer. Overflowing with excitement, I vowed to my mother not to let her down as well as the Smiths who were hosting us that I would work very hard and make something useful out of myself. Never before had I been so shocked with amazement. In my twelve years of existence I had never experienced a hot shower or walked on perfectly paved roads and here it was all true. With incredible support from my mother, the Smiths, hardwork and God’s blessing I knew that I could conquer anything and take over the world by storm.
As they say the rest is history. Over the years I was able to complete school up to the university level where I attained a law degree, later on a masters in International Relations and Diplomacy and finally a Doctorate of Philosophy in International affairs the specific interest being in refugees landing me the highly coveted job of being the Commissioner for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees based in Geneva Switzerland. In all of these accomplishments, the greatest has been my family with my husband who is simply indescribable, as he is my lover, best friend and the father of my beautiful son Bruno.
My success is greatly attributed to the Smiths and my deceased mother, who was destined to pass away soon without having to witness what kind of a woman I had grown to be, one of high intuition. A bit of me was lost when she passed away after suffering from cancer, but wherever she is, undoubtedly she is proud of her daughter.
As I come to an end, I sincerely thank the Kenyan people for nominating me for the prestigious ‘Citizen of the Year’ award, as it shows that they acknowledge the good work my team and I have been doing in Kenya as well as the rest of the world in trying to assist refugees by providing food, education and good environments for them to live in.
Finally, for those young people out there, the road to perfection is one that you must be ready to work for with determination and perseverance. Once you make it, remember to focus your attention on those you left behind.”
“Wow! Dr! That was amazing! As you kept talking, I realized that it is not only because of your achievements that you have gained the devotion of numerous admirers but also because of your cheerfulness of soul, beauty and intellect. God bless you and good luck as you receive your award and have a lovely evening.” Esther concluded.
On finishing the interview, I joined my family for dinner who keenly listened as I told them how the interview had gone.

Sharon Kitur (19)