As a young child, Suki led a ‘not so ordinary, non-amazing’ life in Kenya’s most infamous slum. She had good friends, and young women she could relate to. Her family was great some of the times, but as she grew up the demand to care for everyone was wearing her thin. Aged thirteen her modest job as a freelance hair dresser barely supported her, but she was expected (sooner than later) to educate her three younger siblings, and take care of their alcoholic mother. As soon as she was old enough, her mother had pushed her to find employment to help support the family. Since she was barely educated her choices were limited. She hated her family life. She hated the life her mother led. Her mother, a woman in her late thirties yet looked like a 70-year-old grandmother, was almost always drunk from cheap local brew; she rarely bathed or did anything resembling personal hygiene; her eyes were sunken and permanently squinted. As a young teenager Suki endured unspeakable abuse from some of her mother’s boyfriends who when drunk would grope her or make rude comments. Her mother joined in the laughter, too drunk to realise what was happening. Suki did not wish the same for her younger sister or brothers, and swore she’d dig herself and them out of this abject poverty in one way or another.
Aged seventeen, she ran away from home in the hope that the streets would offer more opportunities. She was wrong. Life on the mean streets of Nairobi was harder than anything she’d known in the slums. One day as she begged for food at an upscale supermarket’s carpark, a middle aged smartly dressed woman approached her. She asked Suki if she was willing to do some housework in exchange for food.
“No. But, I am willing to do real housework in exchange for money and a better life!” She said humbly with a smile.
The woman admired her acumen, she didn’t need house help, but as a mother she couldn’t leave this young girl behind. She wanted to help her. Mrs Fanaka was the epitome of generosity, however she didn’t believe in handouts. She believed in giving people opportunities and nurturing them to meet expectations.
After a few minutes haggling, Mrs Fanaka offered Suki a live-in job as a house help effective immediately. She helped the woman load her shopping into the boot of her SUV. There was so much stuff Suki assumed the woman had 100s of kids, turned out she only had four. When they got to her house, it was hard to imagine there were people who lived like this. The house was a huge two storey mansion, she was promised a tour later. The house was set on sprawling grounds that felt cooler than the rest of the world. The compound was surrounded by a stone wall with electric wires on top. The gate to this magnificent fortress opened like magic, and the gravel on the driveway made soothing soft noises. There were several cars parked in a small car park, Suki assumed there was a party – there was none, the cars belonged to the Fanakas. All the surrounding houses looked similar, or so she assumed since one couldn’t see past the high walls and electric heavy metal gates.
After unloading the car with what felt like the entire supermarket’s content, Suki was suddenly aware of the stench around her, she was sure the Kibera air oozed out of her every pole. This was evident one hour later when she was introduced to the family, the children scrunched up their noses and the house dog sniffed her feet then ran away. She barely noticed though, because she was busy staring at this very clean dog that apparently lived in the house. Where she came from dogs roamed the streets and if by accident they sniffed at a doorway, they would be kicked into next week.
Mrs Fanaka suggested tactfully that Suki may need to shower. Suki replied “yes” almost instantaneously. She was shown to a room bigger than her whole house and neighbours combined, where the shower cubicle was big enough to fit a mammoth man, a massive bath tub that could double as a swimming pool, a toilet and two sinks and still enough room left to fit a bed. There was also a sitting area with a mirror and Suki could not understand why furniture was needed in a bathroom – she did several years later. The water was hot and tasted good. This was the first time Suki had a shower, and the first time she used liquid soap. In her house, a bucket with luke warm water was enough for all, because not only was water scarce, it was expensive. Apparently in this house they had water all the time, running from several taps inside the house and outside. Suki did not know this kind of life existed. She’d heard of it but as they say ‘seeing is believing’. The amount of water she used to clean her filthy body could have lasted her family for two weeks. Later that evening and after eating a meal made for the royalty, her duties were described to her. Her duties included polishing utensils once the dish washer was done, ironing clothes once the washing machine was done, polishing the floors once the hovering was done, cleaning furniture using chemicals that made her ill, but the smell afterwards was refreshing. She was learning a lot – who knew there were machines that did human jobs. At most times she felt useless, but she was grateful for the job.
The lady of the house, as her employees fondly called her, believed in self-help and encouraged Suki to study for something. Years later, Suki realised that the Mrs Fanaka didn’t need her but because she didn’t believe in handouts, had given Suki the job so she could help herself. Five years later and having educated her siblings through primary school, she knew it would be an uphill battle for the secondary education and the house help salary wouldn’t cut it. Luckily over the years she had taught herself the culinary arts, and Mrs Fanaka had introduced her to her friends where Suki got catering gigs, she also did hair for these ladies. Business was booming because not only did these ladies change hairstyles like they did underwear, weekend parties were round the year events, and Suki’s chapatis and mandazis were legendary.
In the meantime, the Fanaka children had grown and flown the nest literally and figuratively. The youngest of the children, Malaika, studied/lived in the UK, and she and Suki had become good friends as they were closer in age. Suki looked forward to this girl’s visits to Kenya. Her stories of life in the UK became Suki’s lifeline and ultimate goal. And she wanted it, most importantly she needed it – she believed this was the main reason she met Mrs Fanaka so many moons ago.
The stories Malaika told Suki ringed true; in hindsight, most of it was bullshit of the highest order, but her narratives made sense, besides why would she lie. Of the many things, she said was that in the UK, money literally grew on trees. “Everybody in UK is rich” she would say excitedly. “If you lost your job for whatever reasons, the queen gives you money and a house to live in while you sort your life out!” Sounded like paradise, the land of milk and honey, and Suki wanted nothing more than to go there. She could only imagine what the hard-working people reaped. She would work her fingers to the bone, and her family would be transformed forever. Naturally Suki had to initiate a plan to secure her rightful place in the land of plenty. She’d learn plenty from the Fanakas and their powerful friends. She’d also learned a thing or two from some of Mrs Fanaka’s younger female relatives e.g. “why have a poor boyfriend when you can have a rich one”, or facts like “women have weapons at their disposal that are worth their weight in diamond” etc. In hindsight she realised most of it was BS because she learned the hard truth – using what you have above the neck reaps more benefits than using what is below the neck.
Two years later and flourishing in her job as a receptionist in a reputable hotel; Suki was nominated for a leadership course in London. She saw this as her opportunity to live in the land of milk and honey. She could hardly contain herself, as she called Malaika to tell her the good news. She would be travelling with two colleagues and staying at one of their branches in London. Malaika was just as ecstatic, especially as she knew more than anyone how much Suki wanted to live in London, not just visit: the devil was in the details, and the intricate plans to make the later happen during the former.
London was everything Suki looked forward to and more. The tour of London was even more eye opening as she and her colleagues visited all the main landmarks in London. They visited Big Ben, the Houses of parliament, Buckingham palace and witnessed the changing of the guard, the millennium wheel, London aquarium and many more. She met Malaika to see where she lived, and give her some goodies from home. It was a fitting reunion.
On the last day, she and her colleagues spent their last few hours shopping and packing to catch the night KQ flight out of London. The intricate plan mentioned above was mobilised too: – Suki told her colleagues that she was meeting someone and that later she would meet them at the airport. She met with Malaika and returned to her house. That evening, at the airport, her colleagues waited for what felt like eternity, but Suki did not show up. They called her UK mobile number but it was switched off – the penny finally dropped – and they left without her.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Enfield, Suki sat on a huge corner sofa watching Jeremy Kyle and drinking endless cups of tea. She felt guilty but she also knew God helps those who help themselves, and she would not let an opportunity to reap eternal wealth pass. She was at last in the land of milk and honey, and life can only get better. She sat there for a long time contemplating the bright future – she should have been afraid, very afraid.