I ring the bell then wait. As I stand outside waiting to be let in, I keep wondering what my first question would be. Sometimes holding conversations with accomplished people is not always easy. You have done your background check all right, but there is always that one thing you feel is still missing but cannot put a finger on it. My mind is flooding with questions, apart from those I had prepared, and I let them in. My train of thought is brought to an abrupt halt when a smartly dressed woman holding this angelic baby in one arm, while the other arm is holding the doorknob, opening the door. She is donning a yellow dress that flows down covering her feet, her big brown eyes can almost see right through anyone. She has a killer smile. Her super white teeth gets me thinking if I need to let my dentist go.
“Welcome. I hope you didn’t have trouble locating the apartment”, she smiles, then welcomes me.
“You are very good with directions”, I reply as I keep standing by the door waiting to be ushered where to sit.
“Kindly, have a seat as I put the baby to sleep”, she points to the left one-sitter sofa by the window opposite the balcony. Perfect view.
I rest my backside on the cozy sofa as I wait for Rachael Kigame, the Country Programme Director at Help a Child Africa. Her role is to provide oversight leadership for the Kenya Country office.
As I kept waiting, I notice some artistic paintings hanging on the wall. I am not a big fan of art so, I lose interest and stare outside the tinted windows. As I look across the balcony, I watch as some English-speaking kids skate, some riding bicycles, while others kicking the ball back and forth. I hear their screams and shouts from up the fourth floor of this second last apartment in this suburb. I imagine how this contrasts with kids from Eastlands whose playing games are far from what I see here.
Rachael returns and finds me lost in the view outside.
“We are hoping that schools will reopen in January next year.” I look up and smile in agreement.
“Are you working from home?” I ask.
“Yes I am. At Help a Child Africa, our people come first. We are currently working from home but we shall head back to the office, sometime next year”.
As I listen to her and everything she does for her team, I think to myself, “can a woman have it all? How can she have the best of both worlds, career, and family?”
“The baby, is she your firstborn?”
“No, she is my second born”.
“I have a two-year-old son. My daughter is three months old now”.
Growing up, she did not have much but she is grateful that her mother, who raised her and her siblings single-handedly after their father died, did the best she could to provide for them. The ghetto roughed up most of her peers especially those who did not take school seriously. Rachael’s mother had to break a leg to keep them in school. If it meant borrowing money from friends, relatives, bursaries, whatever means necessary, she went all the way out, sparing no effort.
One day at the school’s assembly, she recalls her name, among other students, being read out by the school’s principal to go collect letters and bursaries from their sponsors after the assembly. Other students would laugh at them, as they were deemed poor. They were poor no doubt.
Another time while in the school assembly, another student shouted “chawa” (lice) when she saw two of them coming out of her shaggy hair. All the students ran away from her that day. “It must have been tough”, I think to myself.
Rachael’s firsthand experience with abject poverty, had one way out, education. She went on to excel in her studies right from primary school to university. Today, she sits at the helm of leadership at Help a Child Africa.
“How can a woman have it all?” I ask.
“It’s about being intentional.”
“Intentional?” I press on.
“A woman needs to find that balance between work and family. For me, I always leave work at work and home at home. When am at home, my job title does not accompany me to the house. At home, I am a wife and a mother. And the vice versa is also true.”
Rachael says things don’t just come easy. One has to put in the time and hard work. Gone are the days when people, especially women, expected things to be handed down to them. Now, you have to go the extra mile. If you are not invited to the table, you bring your seat. Companies or organizations are interested in people who offer solutions. Your value, skills, and experience are what will earn you a seat at the table.
“Mummy, I have a bubuu”, her son comes crying to her.
“Show me where it is.”
“In my tummy.”
She excuses herself and brings him some warm water.
“Drink some water. The bubuu will go away”, she tells her son.
I don’t understand what that is all about but I think it’s cute.
“So what else can a woman do to have it all?” I continue.
As a woman who has worked hard to get to this level, Rachael emphasizes the importance of one investing in personal development, undergoing training, reading books, and being mentored.
Mentors, she says, play an important role in the growth of an individual. A mentor is someone who has walked down the same road before and so, he or she will guide you on that path. Moreover, as you learn and grow, you also invest by holding someone else’s hand. On this backdrop, she mentors young women in her local church more so, those that are married and are at the same time building their careers. This she says, fulfills her as she passes lessons she has learned over the years of working and being married.
Before I leave and out of curiosity, I ask her about the paintings on her wall.
“I enjoy traveling which is one of the ways I unwind from the busyness of work. I am a collector of sorts, and so anything artistic that catches my eyes, I don’t hesitate to buy it. I got the two paintings from one of my escapades (chuckles)”. She enjoys cooking too.