Sometimes it blows my mind how this slum girl school dropout is now a world-renowned actress. I sit in my apartment with the lights off and look outside at the city lights. It reminds me so much of home which I often think about. We’d sit at a rundown factory and spend the entire night talking about our future. Many of my friend’s parents’ either didn’t care where their children were or were too tired to notice their children didn’t spend the night at home.
However, my grandmother pressed me about everything; school, house chores, even my friends. She called them “arimu” which is my vernacular for fools. She knew it would make me laugh but it followed with long lectures about life. My grandmother had raised almost all of her grandchildren. To us, she was the only mother we knew.
“Where have you been?” she asked in the little English she learned during her youth working at a tea plantation.
“with my friends,” I replied snottily but still respectful.
“Acio arimu?! Didn’t I tell you to stay away from them? But do you listen?”
“Nana, I listen to you. Now you don’t want me to have friends?”
She didn’t mind that I had a little attitude. She said it built my character and I’ll need it someday. Plus, the house came alive whenever I walked in. I was a character; she’d always say in Kikuyu after we cracked up for hours.
However, life came at me fast as a school dropout. It broke my grandmother’s heart when we couldn’t afford to pay school fees anymore and I was forced to be a school dropout. She tried her best to give me a different life.
There wasnt much a school dropout like me could do in life. And where I’m from, at 14, I was considered an adult. They said I was strong enough to sell at the market. I didn’t like it. It smelt like rot, the noise gave me a headache every day and the women were always rude to me.
My grandmother sold baskets in a different market nearer home. I would pass by every evening and tell her about my horrible experience.
“But you have money, don’t you?” she would say and I’d respond in agreement.
To her, and many others, any job was good as long as you get paid. In fact, she considered me lucky that I had a “stable job”. Stable, that was funny. I barely made enough to buy new clothes. By the time I was 16, I developed a keen fashion sense. I was also growing into a beautiful young lady as my peers would remark every time we met up.
Soon, I met and fell in love with a young man who ran a movie shop in my area. We’d spend lots of time together and soon, I moved in with him. He lived in a bigger, better house from my grandmother’s. He had a bigger TV and a DVD player where I’d watch movies all day. Oh yeah, I stopped selling at the market the minute I moved in with him.
Whenever I was alone, I’d mimic the actresses on TV. I especially loved the Bond movies. The women were so stunning. I wanted to look exactly like them. I knew every line by heart which wasn’t so hard for me to master.
“You’re really good at this.” One of my friends commented as we watched my favourite movie, Die Another Day.
“Thanks. I think I want to be an actress, Wanja.” I said. That was the first time I said it out loud, but I had been thinking about it for years.
“You should. I’m telling you, you’re more entertaining than this movie.” She complimented me. “I heard there are theatres that look for talent. Why don’t you try those ones out?”
“Won’t they mind that I’m a school dropout?” I asked her.
“No. It’s all about your talent there.”
I took her advice and auditioned a week later for a small role in a local play. I had no idea there were so many plays showing all year long.
“They must get paid well.” I thought to myself as I watched ongoing rehearsals. I’d stay around and watch different plays rehearse. They even had vernacular plays. This new world amazed me.
I soon caught the director’s eye who was impressed by my acting skills. He urged me to audition for bigger roles as I was talented. It took one big role and one big role that landed me on the big screen. I remember it so well. how could I forget it?
They invited us to the British High Commission to do a snippet of our play, Hide And Seek, which highlighted the plight game rangers go through to protect wildlife. The play was so moving it caught worldwide attention. We were featured on The Sun and got invited for an interview with BBC.
While we were there, one of the leading British directors approached us with a role in his upcoming film. Some of us declined it but two of my colleagues and I took up the offer. Before I knew it, one role turned to two and my title changed to a Kenyan-British Actress.
I smile every time I see that on interviews. The awards beautifully displayed in a glass cabinet are a constant reminder of how fast life can turn. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be a big screen actress – in another country. It feels crazy even thinking about it right now.
Occasionally, I go back home where my grandmother still lives no matter how many times I ask to move her to a better house. Immediately I arrive a huge crowd gathers outside our house. Some ask for autographs while others want to know how I did it. And I always tell them the same thing.
“Follow your dreams no matter how crazy they seem.”