WHOEVER ALLEGED that only cocks crow at dawn to wake up the village and make a statement, while all hens do is peck the soil for worms, lay and hatch eggs?
Well, they would have been in for a shock had they attended the just concluded Kenya Women in the US (KWITU) Annual Reunion, 2019, in Los Angeles (LA) California.
Yes, these hens no longer scratched the soil for the lost needle as portrayed in African folktales. Theirs were loud noises of success, of achievers ready to move on to the next big thing. A united front of Kenyan women who had found their lost and buried needles. Powerful noises of women who had found their voices and were ready to speak up for themselves, for one another and for the community.
The three-day networking and empowerment event took LA by dizzying storm. Close to 700 Kenyan women in the Diaspora including members from the Kenya Chapter claimed back lost places and time, uplifted and supported one another without diminishing each other’s crown. They taught each other the ropes in every imaginable field; business, investment and self-employment, dance, cooking, etiquette, travel tips, motherhood, job search, marriage, single motherhood, dressing.
The mistress of ceremony, Dr Mercy Kamau set the positive wheel reeling with her hype, “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who got her back.” This became the mantra for the event and put to shame stereotype adages that declare women their own worst enemies.
Facebook friendships turned into reality as top notch billionaires, nannies, career women and housewives hustled and bustled in and out of The Hilton, LA, Universal City in a mix of sophisticated Kenyan made and Hollywood designed attires, glittery shoes, sneakers and handbags. They came to conquer and to grab every opportunity available to attain the American dream.
They sang. They danced. They did make up. They exchanged contacts. They ululated. They smiled, laughed and hugged. They commended each other on their looks, wigs, children, swags. These women woke to the sound of the clock and time that has now become familiar to the sisterhood – “KWITU o’clock.”
In simple $5 worth raffles, some of the women walked away as homeowners with homes worth about half a million KSh, Kenya Airways return air tickets from the US to Nairobi, $250 shopping spree vouchers and 90-minute free massages. The raffle was a no joker wines and dinner for two outings. The bars were set quite high.
“Habari!” was the new language in town and everything was “Mzuri Sana”. Waiters, Uber and cab drivers, bank tellers, club DJs had all learnt a bit of Kiswahili and some Kenyan dialects in a few hours.
Karibu Night was a ‘shake a leg’ takeaway. Women danced their hearts away before getting down into serious business. The dancing styles were unique and authentic in their own rights. Every one danced to their own beats, stresses, pleasures and desires as Kenyan music floated through the crowded floor. Beer, whisky, soda, chapati, chicken stew, beef fry, Sukuma wiki provided by individuals from the local chapter settled in empty stomachs and refueled the dancers’ energy way into the wee hours of the morning. Sweet nostalgia scents and tunes hang like a thick cloud in the air.
KWITU is a non-governmental organization established in 2015 by founding President Lilly Richards, “to connect and build relationships among Kenyan women in America through mentorship, career and leadership development, personal support and advice. One of the missions is to bridge the gap between Kenyan women living in the USA and our sisters living in Kenya. It comprises 13, 000 members.
Among the keynote speakers were Josephine Mong’are, Chairperson of Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), Polycarp Igathe, Managing Director of Equity Bank Kenya Limited, Prisca Nchoe, a Maasai Girl from Kenya and Director Marketing and Public Relations, Maasai Mara University and Elizabeth Wafula, Immigration Advocate, founder of Law Office of E.M. Wafula, PLLC. The Guest of honor was Los Angeles Counsel Njeri Karago and Stephen Loreshe.
Describing KWITU as a strong village of women breaking barriers, Non-profit founders, executive directors, financiers and grant writers were at hand to guide women through the process in the well-attended and exciting Women in Business Panel hosted by Mumbi Gaskin, Caroline Kimani, Sillie Mugo, Yvonne Bulimo and two allies Matt Griffith and Robert Menja. The women widely discussed owning an Africa-Fusion Restaurant, Kim Accounting and consultancy, Mugo Art, ZOEZI Sporting, Mass Mutual insurance Coverage
The Mental Health Panel raised serious concerns affecting diaspora women especially the need to have the conversation going in our homes and communities. It was noted that the community still lives in denial of mental health related illnesses due to the stigma surrounding the topic and that the community silently suffered cases that are preventable or manageable due to lack of diagnosis. The panel was hosted by Norah Bushenberry, a Texas based Registered Nurse who has been in practice for 17 years, Maria Goretty Rotich, a Kansas based CAN professional, Miriam Chemoss, a small business owner and performing artist on the DMV area specialized in wellness, self esteem repair and recuperation from trauma, Jacci Kameri, Founder of Baraka Village International, A Menta Health Awareness Consultancy and Foundation. It was moderated by Tujipange Africa Media.
The Domestic Violence Panel was candid and highly emotional as victims and survivors interacted with professionals in the field. It was hosted by Catherine Warigi, Eunice Menja, Alice Ng’ang’a and Helen Mutuura.
The power of women telling their own tragic stories of resilence and survival and being vulnerable without judgement moved many to tears.
The highlight of the event was the KWITU Hollywood Trail Fundraiser in which hundreds of women young and old braved the scorching California heat to climb the 4-mile peak. The walk raised about $4000 for the KWITU Haven, a KWITU Inc. project that provides survivors of domestic violence (sisters) with a way out of an abusive relationship be it verbal, emotional or physical abuse.
Although one woman forgot her sneakers at home, she walked up the trail in her sandals, all for a worthy cause.
The 5-course gala dinner turned patriotic as the women flaunted the room with Kenyan flags and trailing gowns and sang the popular “Kenya Kipenzi Chetu, Hatutaiacha Milele, Daima (Kenya Is Our Love, We Shall Never Ever Abandon Kenya).
Although some women lost their voices while some had them hoarsely in need of Kenyan honey, ginger and lemons, the certain truth was that every one left with wings to fly on to empowerment land, new friends, new perspectives and positive vibes.
And when the Grand Reunion Committee officials Angie Nas, Nelly Harris, Nancy Gakere, Erika Fletcher, Angie Mugo, Mumbi Baskin, Jean Ayacko, Susan Saiyorri, Mary Kimari and Margaret Muchemi sighed in relief as they closed shop, their tired smiles could only be described as, “joyous catharsis.”
One parting shot from KWITU president, “One day, when I am no longer here, I would love them to say Lilly did not spend her life waiting to start Living, instead she kicked life’s Ass, grabbed everyday by the horns and owned every second of her life. She loved life and lived on her own terms.”