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Rising to Breathe Again

Updated: Jul 6, 2020


| This is the 19th story of Our Life Logs |


I watched as my uncle’s casket was lowered into the grave. With him, my dreams buried forever. I must have fainted because when I came to, the burial ceremony was already complete.  This one man–who showed me that much affection I needed–just died. All the dreams he shared with me, paying my tuition fee and giving me hope in life, were gone. My future became bleak.


1 | Letting go at a tender age

My mother gave birth on the day she was to start her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. She missed the exams, got deserted by her boyfriend (my father), and was left to fend for herself. With no other options, she got married, and when her husband died a few years into the marriage, she agreed to have me adopted by a distant relative. My younger sister was left in her care and they went to stay with her parents.

I was seven years old, and with a new environment and faces I had not seen before, I was at a loss. I did whatever was thrown at me without a question. I learned at a young age that I was not there to enjoy life but to redeem that of my mother. I felt sorry for her, and when I knelt down to pray, I asked God to give her whatever she lacked, just as a child would.

My adoptive parents had three children; however, the place seemed to host a lot of other relatives, always coming and leaving. Whenever the other kids left, I felt like an orphan, until I accepted the new place as my permanent home. I would do all the chores assigned to me religiously. If I failed to finish any one of them, I would get a thorough beating. I did what I had to do to survive.

With my older siblings at the adoptive parents’ home in Siaya.
With my older siblings at the adoptive parents’ home in Siaya.

My mother would visit occasionally. On such visits, she was told how bad I was, yet I never defended myself. Despite all this, I could sense that she wanted the best for me, that she somehow understood what I was going through. She was, however, helpless and did not have the financial capacity to raise me. This went on throughout my eight years in primary school. When I joined the secondary school, I chose to own my fate.


2 | Choosing education above all

At 16, I joined high school. I was qualified for a boarding school with better quality of education, but my “parents” said they did not have the funds to take me to a fancy school. I did not mind. All I wanted was education, whether I could get it under a grass thatched roof or on an open playground. I had to live my life, command my destiny, and work hard for the sake of my mother and my siblings.

My mother was compelled by culture to get married again, and with her new husband she had a boy, my half-brother. Her husband proved to be an abusive drunk, so my mother quit the marriage. She was a strong woman. She had suffered early pregnancy, desertion, death, abusive marriages, and miscarriages and could still afford to smile. I envied her.

In high school, I made my mark. I was dedicated to my studies and was appointed the library prefect. By the time I was in my fourth year, I was the school head-girl. I commanded the respect of both the students and the teachers.

I got an aggregate of a B- but missed the university entry score by 3 points. I was not dejected. I applied and was invited for an interview to join a medical school. I succeeded and was sent an offer letter. But fate played a trick on me. While waiting to join the college, Kenya was pummeled into election violence that left scores dead and thousands of people internally displaced in 2007. The relatives and friends I had hoped to contribute to my tuition were displaced, and with them, my dreams shattered.

Me (on far right) with high school friends, 2004.
Me (on far right) with high school friends, 2004.

It was not until 2008 that my uncle Tom advised me to apply for a course I was drawn to, and journalism, my Plan B, instantly became my choice. I qualified and was accepted. I had left my adoptive family and came to the city to seek a life for myself. I was offered shelter by one of my mother’s relatives as I attended college. I was enrolled in the evening classes after my uncle paid for my first semester.


3 | Sinking deep into hopelessness

Things became thick moving forward. I could not get the subsequent tuition fees. Much as he tried, my uncle had his hands full. Almost all other hopeless relatives were looking up to him. He had just gotten married and his responsibilities had increased. I tried to assist by getting odd jobs, but they were not long lasting.

Working at the school radio station, 2010.
Working at the school radio station, 2010.

During my second year, I got an internship at the institution’s radio station. You cannot imagine how happy I was when I was told that we would get a stipend of $80 at the end of the three-month internship. During one of my radio shows one morning, I received a call from a family friend in Uganda telling me my uncle, Tom, had an accident. It was December 27, 2010. We had spoken over the phone on the Christmas day and he had promised to discuss with me about a project I could not refuse. I was looking forward to our talk. A call about his accident was definitely unwelcome. I panicked, but knowing him, I told myself he would recover very quickly from his two broken legs.

What I did not realize was that all the bones in his body were literally broken. In a bus ferrying 60 people, only the driver and my uncle perished. He bore the pain for eight straight hours. During the mourning period, I was in denial. I detached myself completely and watched things unfold as if I were not part of it. It was during the burial that everything rushed back. It took two more years for me to shed my first tear over him, and it took even longer to start healing.

By then, I was used to the hopelessness that was becoming a part of my life. I no longer had a place to live while attending college, no money for fees, and no hope of a better tomorrow. So when a friend offered to share a place with him in the city ghettos, I gladly accepted. It did not come free, and when I could not take the molestation, I shared with a classmate about my ordeal.


4 | Rising in a ray of hope

Together with a few colleagues at school, my classmates arranged a hostel and paid for two months in advance for me to stay as I did my final exams. Most of my relatives had distanced themselves from me. Whenever I called any of them, they thought I wanted to ask for money and would not pick my calls. I had not paid the tuition, so I walked to the bursar with the $80 I had received during the internship.

“$80? Yet you have $980 outstanding arrears. That’s like a drop of salt into the sea,” the bursar scoffed.

I looked at him straight in the eye and told him how much I’d have loved to pay more, but because I just lost my breadwinner, I did what I thought was right and brought all the money I had. Whether it was pity or sympathy, I didn’t know, but something changed in him. He gave me a slip to present during the exams to be allowed to enter the exam room. He was my miracle. Because of him, even without clearing my entire tuition fee, I was able to take the exam, and yet I know a number of other people were barred from taking the same exam due to tuition arrears.

A lot of intrigues happened after my graduation, but I was determined. I started as a casino cleaner, and later I trained and was promoted to be a dealer in a roulette table. Every coin I earned, I’d send to my mother to support my siblings. I made sure that I did not tell her any of my tribulations. I knew she would end up with a depression. So I would talk to my best friend from high school.

Working as a casino dealer, 2012.
Working as a casino dealer, 2012.

I have held different jobs and have grown in maturity and wisdom. I am now more stable compared to years ago. I am by no means where I’d want to be, but I am not too blind to know where I have come from.

I have ensured my sister has taken a short course and is providing for herself. My brother is now in college, and even though I struggle to pay his tuition, I am determined to see him through, by the grace of God.

I am also blessed with a baby girl who is turning two next month. Did I tell you I married my best friend? Oops! I forgot that bit. We met in high school and have been friends since. He has been my support system, helping me bounce back from unpleasant situations and cheering me on. I love to call him my partner-in-crime.

With my baby girl Alex.
With my baby girl Alex.
Section Break

This is the story of Maureen Awino.

Maureen was born in a sleepy village in Kogello, Siaya County, Nyanza Region of Kenya in 1987. She has weathered the storms of life to overcome a challenging childhood into a better stronger person. She shares a story of perseverance, disappointments and hope. She is married and has a two-year-old daughter. She is currently venturing out into freelance writing and is very optimistic about the future.


This story first touched our hearts on January 25, 2018.

| Writer: Opondo Maureen | Editor: Our Life Logs |

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