Fixed! Molded!Mentored…

imagesI planned to tell her that I had been having a challenge with punctuality and was working on it. I would pledge respect for her time in future, to the very last second. Seated in dead traffic, I thought about her. The lady whom I had heard of and read about. She was a mover, she had a wealth of experience across different industries. Pat had told me that she had struck a fair balance between family and career too. I wanted her, to be like her. And so I had chosen her to be my mentor. We had scheduled this first meeting over a short soft conversation. She was soft, eloquent and pleasant on phone.

Wednesday 2.00pm, at the PDR room in Nairobi club… See you then.

I glanced at my watch, 1.56pm and still in traffic. Clearly I would not make it in time. I wouldn’t text her either, kept telling myself that I would make it before she noticed I was late. And twelve minutes past two, I was at the PDR room. Nervous much, but locking it in with a quiet mask. LinkedIn had given me a rough idea of how she looked and what she was all about. Not finding her in the room was a relief; I would not have to talk about my punctuality struggles.

“Gilda hi, I am at the PDR room. See you soon”

Cut long story short, I never got to meet her on this day. She had fallen sick shortly before our meeting, and was admitted. I went to see her the next day, we went to see her. We had our first meeting in hospital. It made it much easier for me; you don’t have to do a lot of talking to a patient.

Subsequently, we had weekly meeting. Sometimes more, sometimes less , depending on her travel schedule. It was at a time when my life needed fixing in all dimensions. And she did fix it. I had had a series of outcomes against odds: against what I wanted. I was two months fresh in a docket I had zero interest in. No, I had negative interest actually! My social life was shaky and I had taken a back step spiritually. Her support came in ways I had never imagined.

When she joined us for a CSR activity that we had organized in a children’s home,  we had a long chat on how I was coping with my role. When I dropped the challenges I was facing trying to build a working relationship and create value to them, the program’s alumni, she offered to host the current leadership team and all previous executive team members in her home over a buffet. This way, those who had been there before us would share with us what had worked for them,their changing needs over time, what they wanted now and how best we would engage them during our term. Turnout was impressive, and it made a whole lot of a difference for the year to come.

Unlike the first meeting where I was at my best behavior, I no longer feel the need to filter what I say or do. She has made me be comfortable in my own skin at all times without feeling the need to be accepted or worried that I might not impress. She has been that woman with whom I can genuinely share my fears, failures and disappointments.Without feeling judged: and without even feeling inadequate or incompetent.

There have been days I ran to her at the verge of giving up, and she always knew what to say. I would leave the session with a new life breathed in. C’mon Lilian. You are not going to quit now, you are not a quitter. You have to try a little harder, you have to want this. You sed you wanted this, you aint falling off, or are you? see, if you haven’t felt like quitting at some point, I’d be worried that your dreams are not big enough…

Conversations like those gave me validation, some virtual stamp of approval that made me feel that I was on the right track.  They gave me the morale to focus my energy on the task at hand. And other meetings have been designated to chatting, just catching up on the week culminated.

It is on a day like that, when I ask her to take a look at my face and tell me what she has noticed.

“ Smooth”

Nuh! (Pout)..Ok, besides that?

You are glowing, it’s HIM again.. huh?

Sigh, my chubby is back Gilda…look at my chubby cheeks.

Ha ha, you’ such a younger version of me…

And there we have the conversation on my struggles with weight and how it makes me feel to gain a kilo. About how ephemeral bad situations are and about my progress in gaining self awareness. Sometimes about the average zone and the dangers therein. About my career, and him too.. practically all dimensions of life. She has been a brilliant brain to pick from, a keen listener and a push in the right direction. Not that we agreed on virtually everything, we sure had a thing or two we had different views to.

Over the mentorship year, she did not do the thinking for me. She let me do it under her umbrella…and no matter how absurd some ideas and goals felt, she listened. Some goals we set together and had her as my accountability partner. Others remained in the comfort of my diary, but she  taught me the discipline of holding myself accountable. That no one else would do the hard work for me, and that things just do not happen unless we MAKE them happen.

But beyond a mentor, she has been my aficionado of some sort. After my blogging debut,My rules all day, any day,  I was itching to reach out to her and ask her for her opinion. But even before I could drop a polite brag to her, she wrote to me…

Look who just made her first post! Congratulations, it’s a brilliant piece!!!

quotesmI was happier than words could ever possibly express. Not because she had read, or because of the fact that I looked up to her in a million ways. It was because she was interested in what I was doing, even though it was not necessarily an area she had keen interest in. And that she was taking time to appreciate my progress as a mentee. We had previously had a session on latent talent, discussed why I was jittery about having my blog…and now, there she was, proud that I had finally beaten my uncertainties. One year later, I feel fixed, molded and mentored!

That’s my definition of a mentor who made an impact. Someone who saw more talent and ability within me even when I couldn’t see it, and helped me bring it out at its best. If you ask me, a good mentor is someone who shows just as much interest in you as you show in them. Someone who comes down to your level despite being at a different phase in life, values your ideas, provides candid feedback and holds your hand. Someone who does not shy away from correcting you when you are straying, and someone who will remember to come and back you up when you when you are losing focus off the target, who beyond being a mentor, is a life coach, friend and a confidant.

To Gilda Odera for being such a mentor, to the mentors who have invested time to bring out the best in others, and to Greenhorn Mentorship for providing the platform to other great women and men to touch lives, and  inspire generations to make a difference, this is to you. Gracias

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The third cent: Part one

Human wants are unlimited and insatiable, and that is why economics as a subject will never be irrelevant to the society, especially to students in THE University. You learn how to manage the little resources that you have to satisfy your wants” He hesitated; ‘little’ was not the term to use in an economics class.

Scarcity creates value,” he went on. “Some of you girls are already living in  well- furnished and refined apartments, or driving ostentatious vehicles, thanks to  the resources that you sitting on!” There was a roar of laughter…

…but again, when these resources are too available, they lose value, tihihi, and when the high bidders stop their bids, you start realizing that even your classmates whom you thought to be immature and unworthy of your attention can afford to…” he did not complete his statement. The joke was perfectly sinking through the class, and knowing glances being thrown to a few girls. (more…)

The third cent (Part 2)

Part one…

….5 months later: Brains encountered brains!
Like every other teenage girl, she was increasingly getting the urge to have someone
she could call her own. A man of her caliber who would understand her and walk the
journey to greatness by her side. And well, she wanted the fondling and squeezes
that made a girl’s heart race wildly. Her friends called such men glow machines
because they made the girls faces glow with euphoria whenever they talked about
them. She wanted to belong to someone, and to own him in equal measure. It’s only
normal that she had a list of ideals longer than her age and that the little girl still
believed in fairy tales. Most of her classmates already had that special person. She
was spoilt for choice with so many suitors around her who were working pretty hard
to win her over.
The lucky boy was Neville. He was a bright and conserved final year student in the
University. An eye candy in his appearance, and evidently wiser than his years. He
had never mentioned that he was interested in her and he first invested in forming a
very strong friendship with her. He was keen not to make any passes and always
chose his words carefully. For the first time, Nas had found someone whom she
believed matched her expectations. But no, he was only playing his cards right, you
know brains encounter brains. They went out for movies and played indoors games.
Dinner dates became more frequent. She started getting butterflies in the stomach
whenever they were together. At times she would make herself believe that it was
only a crush which would end, but then, crushes as she had read lasted for a very
short time. Neville had mastered the art of taking one step at a time. You know in the
University, relationships are formed within hours. People meet, get acquainted and
soon enough they announce that they are in a relationship.

During the time, Neville had secretly been learning her and playing with her psychology. She wanted to be respected and pursued with dignity, and he surely did. (Whatever dignified pursuit means, shrugs shoulders). He never proposed to her. Instead, he moved to the next level without any formal announcement. Naserian was human by all means. When they first kissed, he was very passionate. He however stopped without warning and told her that they had to take control their emotions. He did not want to spoil her future and he felt obliged to ensure that she got the best she could.
This was the beginning of Naserian’s series of wrong decisions. He would introduce
her to new habits and remind her that she had to take control of her life. There is a
first time for everything and it always gives a reason to have a second try. She saw
nothing wrong in alcohol as long as she did not lose control, or skiving classes as long as she made up for it during her free time, or spending the night at Neville’s
room as long as things did not go wrong. But losing control or things going wrong are
relative terms, no? He never prided himself how she was at his service, and she liked
him more for that. Three months down the line and his wish was her command.
Were they dating or just more than friends? Did he consider her his girlfriend? She
was already dreaming big about her wedding, children, home… in fact, she
developed a keen interest in books which talked about relationships and marriages
that defiantly stood the test of time. She had every reason to thank God for her
imaginary boyfriend. She had seen her friends in abusive relationships, or being
taken for granted, or being cheated on. Hers was, let’s call it-*different! 

When she lost her virginity to him, she had no regrets at all. After all, she was convinced beyond doubt that sooner or later, she was bound to lose it anyway. So many habits were now normal to her, as long as she was safe. For the first few times, a lot of caution was taken to avoid unwanted pregnancies or anything else going wrong. She knew he was faithful and so when she heard her friends talking about just how stupid it was to force your partner to wrap it up like a bonbon, she thought that she could as well save him the burden. This was the gravest mistake she could ever make.

(more…)

“They are so happy out there, you wouldn’t imagine they are sick.” I absentmindedly tell the lady standing next to me as we watch them play and laugh with their newly made ‘friends’…

“The kids here know that every day counts. They enjoy life to the fullest while they can. If one passes away, they are all personally affected, and by reflex we give them time to recover. They barely talk to us before their mourning period is over. It’s even harder for their parents. Watching their young ones fight for their lives is draining and difficult. They have become one big family united by hope and faith that all will someday be well. Chemotherapy is a painful process: some of them make it through and recover, others don’t.”

“Do you ever feel depressed?”

“No, it’s very easy to get depressed in here, but we have refused to be. It’s my job to cheer them up. I derive so much satisfaction seeing them smile in pain… It has taught me gratitude, I have learned how to pray too.”

We are at the Kenyatta National Hospital, ward 1E…the oncology one. After writing Nightmare in Reverie, I realized that maybe the reason I dreaded valentine’s day was because I had always been on the receiving end, because I allowed myself to measure my worth by the premium dates and gifts that came along with the day. I pegged my happiness on what other people did for me, and yes, I missed the point for over two decades. I wanted a different kind of valentine’s day this year, one I would look forward to. It is this ‘want’ that brought me here today:To give selflessly and not expect anything in return. To be among my most comfortable company: kids. To spread the love to those who needed it most, and to momentarily journey with them in their journey to recovery, or maybe their last days.

One of the bubbly kids passes by and ‘Sister’ smiles back at him. They all call her sister, the lady I have been talking to. Our conversation goes on.

“See how fast they pick up? That boy couldn’t walk when he came, his spinal cord was affected. Now he is getting better, but it’s only for so long… Victims of the cancer he has barely grow past thirteen years, I hope he will be one of the lucky kids who make it beyond the life span.’’ I walk away from sister feeling disturbed by her last statement, the thought of having numbered days to live is frightening, it is a countdown to the last breath: to death.

My pals are out playing with the other kids. I am inside the ward, with the ones who are a little too weak to play. They all defiantly afford me a smile. All of them, except one. I walk over to him trying really hard to keep it together. I am scared I will break down into tears. I am suddenly realizing just how much I have been taking for granted. What am I supposed to tell him? What if I can’t contain myself? Am I allowed to show empathy by crying my heart out? Am I even supposed to cry in the first place? There is something about a child fighting pain and tears that splits me apart.

“Mala” He whispers.

“Ma?” I am not sure what he has just said.

“Mala…” I am now startled. But he is looking at a pack of milk next to his crib.

I guess he wants milk, Maziwa mala. (Accurate guess). His plate of food is barely touched: chewing and swallowing are equally painful to him. I have noted that a good number of the kids’ parents are here to give them the morale to carry on, to fight the pain and to provide a shoulder to lean on when the ache becomes unbearable. Most have severe back ache, I am told that it is caused by the Neulasta shots administered. As he sips the mala, my mind drifts. How does it feel having a child with cancer? Do you wake up scared that they will have succumbed by the next time you get to there? Where do you draw the strength to keep trusting in God’s favor? But wait, why are we always saying that the Lord has been faithful when things are smooth, does it mean that the Lord is not faithful to those who are suffering? To these kids juggling in pain on Valentine’s day, would they believe me if I told them that the Lord has favored them?

Back to the boy in front of me. I ask him if his family will be coming.

“I don’t know. Mom akipata pesa atakuja. Daddy sijui alienda wapi, hajawai kuja. He is starting to cry.

I look away to wipe tears from my eyes. I am not sure what hurts me more, the sudden realization that we take so much for granted, or the pain in those kids. They all go through pain, to some more than others. And the detachment from their families at such tender ages! I look at the boy and wonder how much he is enduring, and how much more it tortures him to be away from the comfort of his home. How much the little attention he gets from his mom means to him, and how much he appreciates the sacrifices she makes to afford the transport charges to see him. A wave of tears gushes out, I am losing my composure. I reach out for my sunglasses with trembling hands, I must conceal my weak self. My pitiful self that is now being betrayed by my inability to hold back tears when I most need to. I somehow feel like an emotional wreck but altogether determined to remain collected. I feign a smile, promise him that I will be back in a few minutes, and storm out for some form of release of emotions. I cry a little in the ablutions, dry my face and walk out determined to be the sunshine in the storm.

I walk over to Cii; she is the one girl who helped in the planning of this visit. I ask her a million questions. Why we came? And if she feels like we have achieved our objective. I ask her what we can do for the kids and if a foundation for supporting children with cancer would be a viable idea. I question what she knows about chemotherapy and radiotherapy and what happens to those who cannot afford the process. I answer myself without giving her the opportunity to respond. That they (The patients) are so many, we wouldn’t even reach out to them all in a million years. Then I pause, I remember my life coach telling me that the winning strategy is to think big and start small. That great things are done by daring to believe in the bigger picture and the end goal. She listens apprehensively.

We are almost equally lost in our own small world. And we both agree on a couple of things. That next time, we will remember to bring them temple run! And that a foundation is a worthy course! And that going forward, our way of showing love on Valentine’s Day will be by giving our time and attention to those who need it most, these kids included.

As we leave the hospital, I feel overwhelmed with mixed emotions. I feel happy that we put smiles on their faces, and partly feel disappointed in myself for momentarily losing my calm. I Feel sad that we are leaving them, hopeful that we will be with them again soon, and challenged by the work that the medical team does to save lives, to restore hope and be there with the patients whenever they can.

I am immeasurably proud of the children’s strength in their battle with cancer. They are my roses for Valentine’s, Roses of pearl-coated infinity who have transformed the hospital
into a palace made of psalms and gold with their zeal to live. And for all those who have succumbed to the battle, I make a quick prayer that their souls find eternal rest. I look at the amazing friends beside me who found time on this special day to be with me and quietly thank God for them. I look at Cii and anticipate a day when our bigger picture will come to pass, all in due time.

“Life is made up of a few moments all strung together like pearls. Each moment is a pearl, and it is up to us to pick the ones with the highest luster. If we do not have time to do great things, take a few gentle moments and do small things in a great way.”
― Joyce Hilfer