Sunday, September 25, 2011

A tribute to a true heroine

The night was long for her and more so for her family members after she succumbed to the long battle with cancer.

Very few people speak of her fight with cancer perhaps because she always wanted to keep that part of her life secret, perhaps because we all wanted to know her as the brave woman soldier who did more than fight for what she believed in.

Her life has always been about struggles cancer was not the only battle she ever fought. The greatest battle for me would be her achievement of bring the first woman in east Africa to receive a PHD in 1971 a time when very few people considered the education of women as important.

More intriguing is her doctorate specialization in that time teaching nursing and agriculture was the engineering law and medicine of today. Why did she choose to go the anatomy way?

Perhaps because she was different set apart to go against the grain.

Her book Unbowed captures most of her other struggles in politics, activism and environmental conservation.

So strong were her opinions that her husband filed for a divorce in 1979 on the grounds that she was too strong willed and opinionated for him to control her.

Most memorable would be the spirited fight she put against the plans to set up a mighty complex in Uhuru gardens.

Yes or for the times she cried and begged for the conservation of Karura forest. She mobilized women in Kenya not to think ‘traditional’ bowing to the every command of the men. No wander former president dedicated a speech for her to shut up and behave like other women.

Much will be said following her demise but it is best for us to keep the memory of the true heroine alive.

I salute you Prof. Wangari Muta Mathai

Monday, September 12, 2011


I guess this is the worst part of being a journalist. Seeing people hurting and not being able to do anything about it. Not by choice but forced by circumstances. I watch as scores of people are rushed in ambulances, personal vehicles and matatus to the nearest hospitals for medical attention having sustained up to 90% degree burns. I am not a medic but those kinds of burns a very hard to recover from. Tears are streaming and I can only be glad that I am watching the events of the black Monday unfold while I am 500kms away. Selfish it might seem but, I don’t think that if I were covering that news piece, I would do it objectively. Even the première was devastated by what he saw at the Sinai slums. Today’s tragedy is the worst of fire tragedies that have been seen in a while. Bodies burnt beyond recognition, hundreds left is almost time for children to go home from their first day in school after teacher’s called of their strike yesterday, but some of these children will have nowhere to call home and no parent to return to because of the black Monday tragedy. After Sachangwan it would have been evident that Kenyans would learn from it and forget the idea of siphoning fuel altogether. The truth is many of us never learn and if we do we try to rationalize the chances of the events happening to us as very few. Imagine the thoughts of the woman running with a three litre jerican to siphon fuel to sell: at least my children will have food for the next few weeks. She is among the many whose bodies have been burnt beyond recognition. But even then innocent blood was spilled, that of those who had no intentions of getting rich quick from the illicit sale of spilt fuel. The fire caught them of guard in their homes or maybe in their sleep. It is even more tragic that many people will not know if their family members are among those who perished for a little while longer as confirming with the busy hospitals the victims have been referred to will be difficult. The Kenyatta National Hospital is in dire need of blood donation if it is to help the more than seventy people that have been admitted to their hospital from the fire. The least we can do is donate!

Friday, September 9, 2011


When you want something real bad nothing deters you from achieving it even when skeptics say that it is practically impossible.

When I made my first application to the Standard Group, I knew that I was doing the right right was I that I made three more applications with one being sent by a courier service just in case the others got lost in the mail.

Finally the call for me to go for an interview came, I expected to be heading to Nairobi but that is hard to come by especially if your postal address reads Mombasa.

Nothing I ever learnt in class prepared me for my first day at the bureau. I got to the office and apart from a few pleasantries there was not much that I got form the other journalists.

I sat there in the newsroom keeping myself busy with every newspaper I could get a hold of as journalist after another walked out to an assignment.
In less than half an hour the office was empty, everyone was out in the field but I just sat there all cold and lonely like a mortuary.

But around midday they started streaming in each punching away their stories to beat the newspaper, television and radio deadlines. Everyone seeking their on space if I had made my maiden entrance at that particular time I would have mistaken that office for a madhouse.

When I left the office that evening I prayed to God that the next day would not be another cold room experience. I vividly recall my first day in the field I accompanied one of the journalist to an assignment feeling very accomplished.

When we got to the office he did his story and I was left hanging, someone challenged me to write my story and then later on compare it with his. I wrote it the first time, and rewrote it three more times because I had missed the angle.

I accompanied other journalists to assignments in days that followed and with time learnt how to pick out the most news worthy angles in the story.
Soon I was going on assignments on my own, doing stories for both print and radio used to the pressures of meeting deadlines.

The diary in the office where assignments are noted can helped in planning but there was still a large possibility that a bigger story could break at any minute anytime anywhere and at that moment you would have to drop whatever you were doing, and go for that story regardless.

Working irregular hours for six days a week could not surpass the joy of waking up every morning not knowing what the future holds for that day. The thrill of walking into that office compared only to walking into an abyss of possibilities and uncertainty.

The day my lecturer came to asses me, a big story had broken in the early morning, the police had nabbed a drug haul and arrested suspects. We did not have time to talk for long because my editor sent me for an assignment almost immediately.

For the six months that I was there I was exposed to a lot that goes on in the journalistic world and learnt how to report on different beats from health to business, form courts to science, more so on human interest stories.

It was not always a bed of roses; there were times when I would get to the house at midnight or even later than that because there was a story that need to be covered. Times when I had to give up my off day to go to the office an file a story that I covered late into the night.

I quickly networked with other journalists and joined various media association like Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), Media for Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA) and the Kenya Correspondents Association which have provided me with numerous opportunities to train and invaluable information which I used in writing stories.

Being a journalist is passion driven and working in any organization let alone mainstream media provides and adequate opportunity for one to expose themselves.

My outfit was the Standard Group which helped expose writing abilities that I hardly knew existed. But even without the outfit I am still a journalist and that is why I am currently freelancing until I get the next outfit that fits perfectly.

I became a journalist the minute I decided to follow my dream and am glad that through it all I never looked back.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


She walks with her head high, briskly sauntering through the streets of Mombasa county, taking each step with pride.

27 year old Beatrice Muni Wambua knows quite well how good it is to be home surrounded by loved ones.

The last six months have been the worst of her life an ordeal in the Arab world that she would rather forget.

When an agent who still lives in their neighborhood approached her with a job offer in January as a house help in Saudi Arabia that would pay Ksh 16,000 monthly, Muni jumped for the opportunity.

“I didn’t think twice it seemed like such a lucrative offer after unsuccessfully searching for a job for more than six years,” she said.

She had never been out of the country before and was worried that the opportunity would pass her by because she lacked a passport.

Her agent reassured her that it could be arranged for and managed to secure her one in a week’s time.

“She was very concerned, she got me the passport took me to Nairobi and made sure that I had boarded the plane to Saudi Arabia,” she recalled.

When Muni set foot in the foreign country she realized that she was not the only Kenyan who had sought for those greener pastures.

“When I arrived at the airport, I realized there were several girls like me. We were picked and housed in a big room in Sakaka until each of our employers came to pick us” she says.

The agents who coordinated their arrival ,ensured the househelps were safely delivered to their employers and hers was a two week stay.

She began working for her Arabian employer in the month of February and did all the house chores with much diligence even as the work load became overbearing.

“When I first got into the house I was given long deras and headscarfs that I had to wear every day, you cannot wear jeans you have to wear clothes that hide your figure because the women fear you can seduce their husbands.”

Like other girls, Muni was often scolded by her employer, abused and belittled before guests and children even when the house chores were done to perfection.

“She was quite jealous and would treat me badly, yet I was not interested in her husband.She would quarrel me while I stood their crying until her husband interefered.”

Real trouble began in May when she demanded to be paid her three month salary to send to her parents back in Kenya.

“The mistreatment worsened, the chores increased as she said that she wanted me to finish two years before she could pay my salary in lumpsum,” she says

Muni’s adamant defiant led to another drastic turn in the already strained relationship with her employer.

“I was so frustrated and did not even eat for days, then one morning she just woke up threw all my belongings out from the balcony and kicked me out of her house,” she says.

At that moment the reality of being stranded in a foreign country hit hard.
After two days of seeking directions with the few arabic words she had learnt, Muni managed to get to the police station in Sakaka.

“I recounted my ordeal and stayed in the police cells until the day my employer would come, pay for my air ticket and return my confisticated travel documents,” she said.

According to muni the police station was filled with poor girls of all races,mostly philipinos and Africans who had sought refuge after escaping mistreatment in the hands of employers.

For three weeks Muni stayed at the police station, her family in Mombasa remained worried as there was no way to communicate.

“I talked to my mother last,when I was kicked out,saying I was safe even though I did not know where to goand that my phone would go off because it had no charge,” she says

Her employer finally softened heart and came to the station handing her the passport and airfare but no pay.

Muni had to take three connect flights to get to Kenya and then a bus to reach home but that did not damppen the joy she continued to feel about her homecoming.

“When I got to Nairobi I called home to say I would arrive the following day. It was so overwhelming to see my whole family had come to the bus station that I fainted.”