She is those few Kisumu social media users having a good following on social media. Studies and works in the UK, Mapenzi Oberana from Siaya is not just the woman we see and give likes on social media. “People actually think the happiness they see on my face is what I am, everyone is struggling my friend, some of these things you just hide coz after all everyone is undergoing through something so yours shouldn’t be any bigger to have a frowning face” she says
Her school life started right in class one, she didn’t attend any Pre unit, went straight to class one as “My parents thought I was so bright for that” Mapenzi says. Having been born in a struggling family, that did not make her lose focus to what she wanted to be. “I’m that girl who went to school without socks, we could skip all the meals from morning and just have supper which was also anything we could find, not really a good meal” she recalls.
Having been born in a family of 8 as the 7th born, Mapenzi recalls her childhood career being a lawyer. But the Mathare community where she grew up made her think she was over ambitious. “That area as we grew up we knew nothing like lawyers. What we saw everyday were teachers, ours of course and roadside vendors. And maybe matatu drivers from the ghetto to town. So thinking of becoming a lawyer there was un-explainable” she says.
She lost her parents at 5 and they had to move in to their elder sister’s single room. Their elder sister was a hairdresser and now had to take care of 7 siblings in the Mathare single room. “Life at times wants to prove to you that it can frustrate you but if you are also stiff at heart, nothing will prevent you to reach where you want to reach” she says.
Life had to continue and as she struggled with her education from primary right through secondary through all odds and means. She doesn’t remember ever thinking that one day she would be living and pursuing her further studies abroad after the frustrating Mathare life.
“You know when you struggle believing in God, all ways will eventually be very clear for you” Mapenzi says as she recalls how life suddenly took a turn after her form 4 exams. “I passed my exams and was immediately absorbed at Stan Chart earning KES 45K. I thought the world was trying to cheat me coz I’d never seen such money all my life” It’s from the Stan Chart work that she says the relationship you keep with the people you meet shall either make or break you.
Later in 2007, she made her maiden trip to the Sweden thinking that she’d saved enough to go hustle abroad from her Stan Chart job. “I got shocked as what I thought would help me abroad couldn’t. Again, I had terrible home sickness and I couldn’t just stay in Sweden any more. Men I had to come back home after 6 months” she says. She indeed came back to Kenya and to her shock, her family members now thought she’d suddenly become a millionaire and expected everything from her. “What they knew is that as long as you’ve got into an aeroplane and flew abroad, you are a millionaire. Which wasn’t the case here, I was the opposite but still life had to continue” she says
After 8 days in Kenya the pressure from everybody around her couldn’t make her stay any longer. She had nothing to give those who thought she’d made money and nobody could either believe her not to be having any thing to give as she was from abroad.
“When I went back to Sweden life wasn’t easy again, I did very awkward jobs to survive but something funny they pay more better than similar jobs back here at home” Mapenzi says. I had to talk to her so well to tell me more about these odd jobs she did and in deed she is not ashamed of saying them as “those are what made me be who I’m today” she says. She tells me that she baby sat Swedish kids who she thinks are the most difficult kids to deal with as a child at 5 or 6 will tell you of their rights and you have to obey. She has also been a bartender which she disclosed to me some evidence that might not go public, she used to take home upto KES 18K converted to Kenyan money. Not monthly but each night!
“So it’s from these jobs that again I saw the need of furthering my studies and make myself better away from poverty that drove me away from Kenya” she recalls. Her husles continued until she landed her first job in Sweden as an Administrator at Kloch Konsult AB. AB is the equivalent for LTD. A company in Sweden that provides consultancy services. “Life started becoming better but not as I still wished, I needed to get higher than what life was giving me” she says.
She enrolled for further studies in Management and it’s from here that she moved to the UK after staying & working in Sweden for 5 years. In the UK she says life started taking the shape she wished because “The UK is not like our Kenya. As long as you have the skills, have no doubt, you’ll be hired. It’s not about who you know but what you know” she tells me. So as she pursued her Management in CMI [she’s currently in level 7] at the University of Sunderland, she landed her current job – A Manager at UK Vecton (A communication service provider in the UK). “It hasn’t made me relax either, I’m pursuing my MBAs as I also complete my International Relations & Diplomacy course at Riara University Kenya, which is what brought me back home to submit my project proposals” Mapenzi says.
Despite her progress, she feels home is still the best as she experiences a lot of culture shock, too much home expectations and she discloses that it feels lonely to be abroad. But about the food she says she got no problem as “I eat everything. In fact stuff like ugali I might even cook twice a year” she says.
When free away from work, she is a writer (real life articles & academic projects), she loves travelling and listening to a lot of Luo music. As we got through our very long discussion, I had to ask the most obvious question and insisted that she had to give an answer. [Married/Single/Dating?] “I can’t be married by a white” was her answer. Therefore as she explained, I got some hint that she opted not to be made public.
Back home, she has embarked on an initiative to work with those infected with HIV/AIDS through a program she’s slowly turning into an NGO. And that’s Mapenzi Oberana. Check her out on facebook by clicking here.