Rita’s Story: Life Lessons Made in Kenya & US

I was fortunate enough to attend Loreto High School, a highly ranked Kenyan Catholic school for girls. At the school, we were all young women from different economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Of course they were girls who were more clever and more talented than me; girls considered more beautiful than me, but for some unknown reason we all still got along.

As a young woman in high school, it was all about luck (or lack of it), you were either lucky to be born pretty, lucky to be smart, or lucky to be a leader… you could never venture out into something else, it was either you were or you weren’t; not in-between.

High school for me was a challenge; to find out what my “luck” was. I realized that I was unlucky; unlucky that I didn’t live in the capital city Nairobi, (Apparently, alot of things in Kenya happen in the capital city and that’s where the ‘cool’ kids lived. I always tell people that I live in Mombasa and only mention Kilifi when they ask me for more detail). I was unlucky that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after school, unlucky that people saw leadership in me when leadership was considered uncool.

It was always a hustle travelling to school. I would have to leave home three days before and travel by bus to Nairobi. Lucky for me, my siblings and I could rest at my aunts house and then catch a matatu (commuter omnibus) to Limuru the next day or day after.

To be honest, I finished high school ‘confused’. To my grandma I was going to be an Engineer. To my parents, I was all set for International Affairs and to my peers I was going to be a lawyer. Deep down, I was still trying to figure out how I could incorporate music somewhere in my future career. This was something I couldn’t share with anyone.

Why you may ask? I remember at one time reciting a poem back in elementary school, and one of my uncles trying to discourage me saying “Do you want to become Ojwang’?” A Kenyan TV actor, he considered a ‘mere’ comedian.

Later on, I was on my way to the beach with my neighbors when I received a phone-call from the Kenyan National Committee: “We feel that you are a perfect candidate for our program and would love you to consider our offer. Would you be interested in pursuing music in your studies?“. I will never forget the weight of those words.

According to them, I was a qualified candidate for their program by virtue of my interest in the arts. I would be headed to Swaziland on scholarship for the United World college (UWC) program. I was convinced this was the first sign that I had chosen a true path.

Studying at a UWC definitely broadened my way of thinking. Over 200 nationalities under one roof opened up my mind to unlimited possibilities. Two years of interacting with various people intrigued me and elicited an epiphany; I wanted to keep interacting with people to get their different views and music was the perfect avenue to do this.

All I had to do, was figure out how I was going to make that happen and encourage my family, friends and community support me. At this point, the woman in me had a vision; a dream albeit with a lingering hindrance.

In UWC Swaziland, a biology Professor Jim Proctor from Lewis & Clarke made a presentation about the university. It aroused my curiosity. During an interview with the professor, he said to me: “You give out this ‘mover’ vibe, like you want to take on so much. It is such people who make great Pio’s –LC pioneers.”

I really didn’t feel solid enough to travel abroad again and was anchored onto getting a referral to a university back home in Kenya. As I weighed my options, I spoke to a kind hearted lady (Timmy’s mum) residing in Swaziland who said, “it’s a sad thing to live in Swaziland as a woman, you know. Here, women are comfortably stepped on, looked down upon and made to feel inferior to men in a world that is craving equality in every essence. You are a young, beautiful, educated, African female. Just decide what you want and the world will cave into your demands.”

Timmy’s mum made me choose to take my step, a journey to the US and a discovery of my passion.

Most of my friends usually envy me when I go abroad and always ask me about my school with such genuine admiration. From my point of view, I always see it as a hindrance. I lost a lot of friends along the way simply because our ways of thinking were very different. I also no longer relate to people who go or went to college in Kenya and this fills me with sadness. I do however always talk to my few remaining friends about their experiences as I share my own and have come to realise that even if I had gone to college in Kenya, my experience would not be relative to all Kenyan students. We are all so diverse and that’s what makes Kenya very special to me. Our diversity ecompasses people of all walks of life, religion, creed and race.

I am now a Musicology and International Affairs double major. Thriving for excellence in everything I get involved in and getting constant inspiration and support from everyone around me.

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