By Rose Miyonga
As soon as I step off the plane at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport it envelops me in a familiar embrace and I know that although I am more than 4000 miles away from London, I am home.
It was never my intention to take a year out from my degree at University College London and move to Kenya. It was actually conceived during a conversation with my sister, Poppy, who is a photographer and lives in Nairobi, on the way to Heathrow Airport.
She suggested. “I can’t just…” I stuttered
“Why not? If you want to be a writer, write, and if you don’t like being in London, come to Kenya.”
So I did.
On the outside, it could look like I was in the throes of a breakdown: I dropped out of university, got a tattoo and moved to another continent, but I was actually calm and joyful, seeing my life with clarity and enthusiasm for the first time in what felt like years.
Kenya is where I was born, and it is my Fatherland, so in a way it made total sense to go back there, move in with my sister and get a job as a writer. I went with the blessing of my family and my university, and I didn’t feel nervous stepping off the plane into that warm Nairobi night. Instead, I had managed to find a remarkable power: confidence.
I don’t believe in fate or destiny. I believe in making things happen, in asking for what you want and embracing opportunities (and working hard, sometimes).
When I arrived in Kenya, I didn’t really have a plan. Poppy and I went back to her house and ate brownies and chatted and laughed long into the night, and the next few days were spent visiting old friends and enjoying the sunshine.
I had been living independently to varying degrees since I was 16, but support from my family, scholarships and student loans had meant that I’d never felt entirely financially self-sufficient. A paying job was for the first time not a way to make extra cash, but an urgent necessity.
Luckily, Poppy once more had a simple solution, and introduced me to a friend who offered me her job: my first full-time paying job as a writer.
I very deliberately went back to Kenya for myself, to nurture myself and reconnect with my Kenyan identity and my Kenyan family, to seek new adventures in a place that I call home.
I stopped acting out of fear and obligation and started acting with confidence and vitality.
Now, back in drizzly London and preparing for a new adventure in Madrid this September, I carry the memory of re-learning what I first learned as a young child: how to ask for what I want and how to approach life with confidence and a willingness to have fun along the way.
Rose Miyonga is [currently] a London-based student, writer and general adventurous woman. Born in Kenya to a British mother and Kenyan father, she has lived, studied and worked in the UK, Kenya and the United States, and hopes to make a career out of traveling, learning and sharing stories.
Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
All photos courtesy of Poppy Miyonga.
Posted by Kay
We’re three months into 2016, and on the week on International Women’s Day (8th March) we’ve been encouraged to remember those women who are still suffering injustices, and to celebrate those have done, or are doing something about it.
That’s why we thought that we’d ‘upcycle’ this post from 2014 as a remembrance of the importance of encouragement, and of solidarity among women, about community, about finding ‘your people, about belonging.
There is plenty of time for introspection over the Christmas and New Year period, and for me there is yet another yearly milestone to add.
If Christmas and New Year is the bread, ’tis my birthday on the 28th that maketh my holiday sandwich.
Perhaps this is why it was particularly poignant to receive a gift – tucked inside the form of a vintage powder compact- from my 18 (now 20!) year-old writer friend Rosalind Jana.
Received amidst the party flurry of guests arriving and champagne being ordered and drunk, this long note (what I knew would be a hand-on-heart treat) in concertina format was destined to be read with the clarity, calm and sobriety of the next new day.
Having been rescued from a spilt cocktail- not to mention unceremoniously separated from its compact home – the note managed to get to my home in one piece somehow, to dry out (not unlike my poor over-partied body) overnight.
It took a mere fraction of time (considering the thought it had taken Rosalind to create) to absorb and cherish.
But like all things of value, her words will continue to resonate and change shape.
Which brings me to Rosalind’s last sentence which inspired me to write about the importance of ‘celebrators’, the honour and pleasure of celebrating others.
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To have sparked anything akin to a genuine connection, to have forged anything considered a bright direction from a mind as well-lit as Rosalind’s, comes a satisfaction and joy more fulfilling to me than any perceived ‘glory’ of having my name on a magazine cover/red carpet how-to.
For what I am truly in awe of is the talent, fierce intellect and dedication – at such a young age, to the craft of writing; a poster child for ‘being in your world’, as I once heard the great film director Jane Campion say to her daughter Alice as she played guitar on a photo shoot (another ‘celebrator’).
More importantly, however, it is the very reason I have ended up doing covers of magazines and red carpets – because when I was 16, 17 and 18, I had mentors who celebrated me, and placed this (shy and precocious in equal measure) teenager into extraordinary circumstances, and really encouraged me.
Yay. I’ve finally found an excuse to share one of my favourite stories about artists who’ve celebrated other artists.
In 1955 black singers were still not allowed to perform in leading nightclubs and as is often still the case today, it is the counter- culture of the Arts, and in this case Hollywood, that seeks out the underground and the unusual.
Jazz was ‘the thing’ and filmaker/photographer Bert Stern made the unforgettable Jazz On A Summer’s day‘ while his most famous subject, Marilyn Monroe began to immerse herself in the scene in New York, and in particular the music of Ella Fitzgerald.
Marilyn was apparently at a point where she was tired of her helpless sex symbol image. One of her favourite clubs – the Mocambo in Hollywood – refused to book Ella Fitzgerald as a performer because of segregation. Marilyn approached the manager, Charlie Morrison, and promised to sit in the front row for a week if he let Fitzgerald play. Morrison agreed to break the colour bar, knowing that her presence would attract a lot of reporters and publicity for the club.
Soonafter, Ella became the first African-American to perform at the club, and Marilyn kept her promise.
In 2009 American playwright Bonnie Greer had a play that she wrote called ‘Marilyn and Ella’ perform at the Apollo Theatre in London. Greer said of Marilyn, “She knew who her audience were: people who parked cars and flipped hamburgers, housewives and guys who worked in the factories – she called them workers and she was a worker, so her interest in Ella Fitzgerald and helping Ella to break the colour bar was all of a piece.”
Of her celebrator, Ella said “I owe Marilyn a debt”. She went on to become the first black woman to perform at the Copacabana in 1957.
Our society often seems to want to separate us, encouraging the competitive, ‘each man for himself ‘ attitude, which can make us go down the dead-end street of comparing ourselves to others, even rustling up a little useless envy on the way.
No one can be you, and you can’t be someone else.
To bring each other along for the ride is the ultimate honour. Celebrity make-up artist? Nah. I want to be a celebrator.
See Rosalind’s blog here
Follow Rosalind on twitter
Photograph, in film, and printing by Susannah Baker Smith