Kenyans gave me much-needed hugs

by Mimi Mwiya

In the beginning of May 2013, I got the opportunity to go to Nairobi for an African Coalition on Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights workshop. When she found out, I remember an aunt calling to say I shouldn’t go, lest the people in Kenya thought all Namibians were like me. I had red and blonde braids at the time, so perhaps her fears were founded. However, I got to the workshop and thought that it might not be such a bad idea if the coalition thought the average 24-year-old Namibian was an advocate for equal rights and equal treatment of minorities… even if they do so with red and blonde braids!

I fell in love with Nairobi! It was warm, the people were friendly, and despite the city being really big, I had no problem getting around, and was not as scared as I had been on my Jo’burg trip. Things there were also really cheap. So I was in my element, buying stuff for myself and other people (I also had a rather handsome travel allowance, so that might have helped) and the variety of tea in Kenya, my God, I was in tea heaven!

There was so much more of Nairobi I would have liked to experience and explore but unfortunately on the second day of the workshop, I got tragic news from home, so this article is going to be less about Kenya, and more about Kenyans. Sometimes during workshops, I get a little distracted, my thoughts wander and I get fidgety like a toddler during church service or something like that.



The second day of the workshop was one such day for me, so I took my phone out, and went on to Facebook. My niece Lisa had a post about what a tragic time it was for the family, pleading with people to just keep the family in their prayers and not post anything on Facebook, as some people were out of the country. Lisa has countless family members that aren’t related to me, but something was really unnerving about that post. I was out of the country, my eldest brother was out of the country, so I texted Lisa to ask what was going on. I expected her to tell me some distant relative had passed on, or perhaps one of her maternal relatives (I’m a paternal aunt).

I was ready with an automated “oh that’s so sad, I’m really sorry” response, I was ready to tell her to be strong.
Her response: “Mimi, I don’t know how to tell you this. I don’t know how to tell you this, I don’t know if you’re strong enough.” Oh boy. I told her to just tell me and she replied “It’s Aunty Carol, Mimi. She passed away yesterday. Please be strong!” Ha, ‘please be strong!’ The “Aunty Carol” she was referring to, was our eldest sister, Carol.

I walked out the workshop venue to make some calls to confirm, and I definitely got confirmation, my sister had passed away!
The heartbreak began… my heart broke for my siblings, then I thought of the nieces and nephews who had just lost their mothers, and I fell apart… right there in the lobby of Nairobi’s Hilton Hotel, I just fell apart. I think security eventually alerted someone in the workshop that there was a hysterical young woman in the lobby.

A woman called Catherine Ombima came out, I remember her name because the previous day she had told me she had a niece called Mimi, so I was to call her “Aunty Catherine”, she was very sweet. Aunty Catherine asked me what was going on and I told her what had happened, she took me to my room, we walked past a guard who squeezed my arm and said ‘pole’(sorry). After delivering me to my room, Aunty Catherine went back to the workshop and told everyone the news, one by one, people came by my room to check on me and offer their sympathies and they made sure I had enough airtime in my phone to call whoever I needed to call. I was hysterical, and really just wanted to come back home!

In preparation for that trip, I liaised with another Kenyan woman called Hellen Kibowen, and that day she did everything she could to change my flight back home. It was just around 9am and the earliest she was able to change my flight to, was 8pm, I thought I was going to die having to wait until then, but I was truly grateful for all she had done. God bless those Kenyans, really. Being away from home, nothing could have made the news of Carol’s death more bearable for me, but heaven knows they tried. They thought of all the practicalities I was unable to think of, and they gave much needed hugs.

Munukayumbwa Mwiya, commonly known as ‘Mimi’ does not quite consider herself a writer, but loves to write because writing is her escape and refuge, it’s where she runs to, to find herself, and it’s how she best expresses her innermost thoughts. Writing is very personal for her, which is why she journals a whole lot more than she writes on any other platform, including sharing a lot of her thoughts on Facebook, and she sometimes blogs at ramblingsofapotentialycrazyperson.blogspot.com. She also loves to travel and tries to do so whenever and wherever possible.

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