Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rags to Riches

Elizabeth Wambui Njeri, 23, has had a hard knock life but through it all, she held her head high and persevered. She gives her real life story of struggle and triumph to SHIRLEY GENGA
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Gikambura Village, in Kiambu County. My mother was a single mother with three kids and we all stayed with my grandmother. I am the eldest girl followed by my sister and my younger brother. My mum worked in Nairobi as a secretary and she would commute to and fro daily. She was not well-paid, but we survived because in ushago, you get food from the shamba, you do not pay rent and electricity is cheap. While I was a Form two student at Loreto Kiambu High School, my mother moved us to Nairobi.
How did your life change?
Everything changed; life became a struggle. After my mum paid rent, electricity and food, there was nothing left from her salary. We had to grow up very fast. We lived in a small house in South C and it became the norm for me to be sent home for school fees .
In fact, when the headmistress would call out the names of students being sent home, I automatically knew I was among them. I remember I would get so depressed. I would be sent home then come back and try and catch up. The following term, the cycle would repeat itself.
What happened next?
Life continued got worse. Once when my other siblings had gone up-country for holidays, auctioneers came to our house and left us with nothing but a bed. Soon after, I was also sent up-country and I remember not having the strength to tell my siblings that they had nothing waiting for them when they returned to Nairobi.
What did you do after you completed high school?
In 2006, I joined Regional Centre to pursue a cabin crew, PR and Japanese course but due to lack of school fees, I was unable to complete them. I stayed for a year and was in and out because of school fees. I was finally forced to leave. I felt as if my life was not changing, as I was still going through the same high school cycle.
What did you do after leaving college?
I immediately started looking for a job. At the time, my younger sister was in high school and watching her go through what I went through was difficult. She was the student always being sent home for school fees, who did not have shopping, it was so hard. I got temporary jobs as a sales promoter. I think I did all the sales promotions in the world.
I would promote different products outside supermarkets and get paid Sh1,000. At around that time, my mum lost her job so we had to move to a small two-bedroomed house in Umoja. We only had one bed and because my mum refused to sleep on it, my small sister would sleep on it and my brother and I would sleep on the floor while my mum would sleep on the sofa.
That is how we lived for the three years. I would never bring anyone to our house because I was embarrassed. From then on, we lived in debt because my mother never got another stable job. If I can remember, even drinking milk was a luxury for us.
Did any of your friends know about your situation?
The greatest lesson my mother taught us through it all was that just because life was hard, it did not have to show n you. I would go to Mtindwa and Gikomba market and buy nice cheap clothes. Looking at me, you would never know where I was from. Only those closest to me knew of my struggle. Just because you do not have, does not mean everyone has to know. Just do the best with what you have and hold your head high up.
What were you hoping to achieve at that time?
Other people have dreams to be doctors or lawyers, but I knew that I was limited by my education thus the next best thing for me was to be a flight attendant. The house in Umoja had a balcony and from it, you could see aeroplanes passing by and I would cry out to God and beg him to give me a chance. I borrowed a directory and wrote down all the airline information I could find on the yellow pages. I sent my CV to all the airlines. One of my privileged friends tried to discourage me; he told me that airlines only took light skinned girls or girls with nice legs and not skinny ones like mine. It hurt so much but I did not really despair. I had a dream and somehow I knew God would come through for me.
My mum never got another secretarial job; she had so much on her back because my siblings were still in school. She lost so much weight as a result. She would sometimes get manual jobs at industrial area and would walk there everyday. Everything she got she gave us, a lot of times forgetting herself. I remember once while I was doing a promotion job in Westlands, she walked from Umoja to Donholm, got on a matatu for Sh20, then walked from Muthurua to Westlands just to give me Sh100 for transport back home in the evening.
She had gotten some money after I had left for work and she did not want me to struggle going back home in the evening. When I saw her, I just broke down and cried. I did not transport to go back home but God always provided. I remember promising myself that the day God would bless me with a good job, my mother would live like a princess.

A lot of young women look for �sugar daddies� to help them along the way why did you not choose that path?
My mother taught me to love myself and I promised myself a long time ago that I would never go that direction. I got a lot of offers and the men I refused would laugh at me and tell me that I was not as special as I thought and that I would be back.
Did life change in 2008?
No, it got worse. I would meet with some of my former schoolmates or friends who were in college or university and I would feel like dying. Here I was, struggling to help my family but they had the luxury to go to school (laughs). Their only duty was to pass their exams. I began to attend church at JCC Buruburu, gave my life to God and even became an usher. The year 2008 turned out to be one of the worst years of my life. I had continued applying for a cabin crew position everywhere but nothing seemed to be coming up. My life felt like it was falling apart. We were still going through the same struggles; my mum had still not gotten a job, my sister had just completed high school and watching her cry because there was no money for university was unbearable. I think she was even becoming a little depressed; she would lock herself up in the room and cry.
Elizabeth Wambui Njeri
By the end of 2009, I was in a very dark place in my life. I felt hopeless. I had been waiting for something, anything to change but nothing had happened. That December, I travelled up-country to reflect. I remember in the evening, I would go out and sit alone and cry about my life. Once when I was sitting outside, I remember praying to God and asking for a sign that I would get my dream job and as I sat there crying, a plane passed and I knew that everything would be okay.
A few days later on December 26, I got a call asking me to report to my dream job at an international airline. After some training, I began working as cabin crew on January 2010 in Dubai. The airline paid for everything from my relocation to my flight there. I now live in Dubai and the only thing I spend my money on is food.
How did this change your life?
The first thing I did was pay my mother�s debts. After I was done, I moved her from Umoja to a big house in South C. I have made sure her room is huge and luxurious, I never want her to suffer again. My two siblings also have their own rooms and I am paying school fees for my sister, who is doing a degree in psychology at Nairobi University and for my brother who is in Shan Tao College. The other day, they all came to Dubai during the holidays and it feels so good to be able to do these things for my family.
What was the first thing you bought for yourself?
After the auctioneers came to our house, we never ever owned a good television or radio, the first thing I did was buy myself a 42-inch flat screen TV. I have always loved clothes and fashion and to live in a country like Dubai where you can get the latest styles, is like being in heaven. I never had nice things growing up so being able to buy myself stuff is truly a blessing from God.
How do you keep yourself grounded?
I have a personal relationship with God and he keeps me grounded. A lot of girls come to Dubai and get lost in all the raha here and by the time the job is over, they come home with nothing. I know how far I have come so I work hard and keep out of trouble. I have recently been promoted from economy class to business in a span of one and a half years, while most people take three years. Apart from hard work, I try to use my money wisely and invest and I even bought some land in Kitengela.
What are the perks of your job?
I have been to the whole of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many other places. The other day, I got the chance to visit Disneyland in Tokyo and it felt wonderful to fulfil one of my childhood fantasies.
Are you dating?
Yes I have been dating the same guy for six years now. I remember he would buy me bread with his pocket money back in the day when bread in our house was like manna from heaven (laughs). He is a wonderful man.
Advice to other young girls?
Do not take the short cut, just work hard and give God your dreams and he will do more than you could have ever imagined.