I had always liked the sound of it. Kenya. Two syllables that start on a clacking puff of sound projected from the back of the throat and ends on a soft mushy note that oozes down the tongue. Kenya is a beautiful word.
And when I was a child, I imagined it to be a beautiful country. I don’t know why, I just had this fascination with the place. I’d never been there or really known anyone from there, but somehow it was where I wanted to be. It was supposed to be my happy place. I spent many afternoons pretending I was there. When I grew into my teenage years, I learned more about the place and got into its music. The national language, Swahili, had a charm to it with its clear staccato pronunciations that give it sort of a rhythmic flair. I promised myself to try and learn it.
And that’s exactly what I did when I moved to Kenya in June 2010. I hired a Swahili tutor and he taught me some basics. (Asante sana, mwalimu Oloo Ochieng’!)
The plan had been set in my heart for years before it finally happened. Me, an adolescent girl in Atlanta, Georgia, fantasizing about Kenya. When I was applying for graduate school for a Master’s degree program, I went for the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University because it’s one of the best in America and because it had an optional semester where students could do a residency reporting in another country. Kenya was on the school’s list of countries. So, I went to Medill to go to Kenya. The plan had already been set. I learned TV broadcasting skills like shooting, editing, doing stand-ups and writing a script. Then, I was off to the other side of the world. I’d gotten a placement at a TV news station in Nairobi called K24. It was hip and relatively new, tagged as the nation’s first 24-hour news channel. I got to work with Jeff Koinange, a prominent broadcast journalist who once worked for CNN.
I’m not sure if I can really explain to you how excited I was to be in Kenya, to be in a newsroom there, to be in Africa. You know when you’re having one of those perfect days when the weather is just right and you’re hanging with your best friends and the radio is playing your favorite songs back-to-back and you’ve got your favorite thing to eat set out on a shiny plate in front of you and that tingly joyful sensation ripples through your body? Well, that’s what everyday felt like for me in Kenya. I went with an open mind beaming with optimism and an eagerness to work in a new place.
My colleagues in the newsroom were so welcoming and friendly. God bless them. And the hostel where I had booked to stay was adorable. The people I encountered when I went out and about the streets smiled at me when I approached them. I managed to deliver some good news stories about interesting people and I traveled outside Nairobi into towns and countrysides. It truly was one of the best times of my life. I journaled some of my time in this blog called Chika In Kenya which features ancient photos where I’m flashing cheesy smiles because I was just so happy.
I’d say that Kenya is a soft landing if you don’t have much experience in Africa, or in a developing country. Kenya was good to me. I’ll never forget the fun I had in the newsroom with my K24 colleagues: Beryl Ooro, Jatelo Muthee, Apollo Kamau, Eugene Osidiana, Anthony Ngacha, Gladys Wanjiru Mwangi, Agnes Gakunga, Remmy Majala, Maureen Mugane, Emily Kimani, Solomon Kihara, Jane Munyi Kariuki, Galgallow Garlow, Caleb Karunga, Horace Osimbo, Violet Otindo, Caleb Ratemo, David Kwallimwa, Collins Oundo, Lillian Kalela, Tosh, Leonard, Jeff Njoroge, Diana Wanjiru Muiri, Sylvano Mbatu, Julius Odali aka “Papa,” Kimberly Njeri, Grace Ndungu (who allowed me to join her to cover a press conference on girls education on my first day of work), Ken Mijungu, Catherine Nasimiyu, Maggie Kimunye and last but not least, Kevin Mureithi, with whom I am still very close to. I have utmost respect for these people because they opened their arms to embrace me, someone who had never worked in Africa. They showed me the ropes of getting around in a TV news station, going out into the field, covering breaking news and producing features. I saw how much passion they brought to work everyday.
These people showed me that there was another way to exist outside of an American lifestyle and not merely to exist but to thrive.
Kenya was good to me. Kenya was a safe space for me to land in a massive continent. Kenya confirmed that I was on the right career path. Knowing that I’m on the right path gives me an inner peace that never goes away.
Kila jambo na wakati wake. Everything and its time; there is an opportune time for everything.
I’m missing a few names, but here are some blasts from the past.