Stella Khachina Busolo is the Founder of Creatives Piazza; a hub for African women in the creative space. She is a sociologist and a writer. She owns the blog nerdyclues.com. She is a women’s rights activist and is currently working to help bridge the gap in gender based start-ups and leads.
In 1991, my mother met my father at a local bar in a small town, bordered by two tribes that often engaged in cattle rustling clashes. 1991, a woman in the conservative cultures of the Pokot and Kalenjin was meant for the kitchen yet, she was at a bar drinking her morals away. That wasn’t surprising at all, she had done much worse than abandon the kitchen to drink like her uncles. She was a single mom by then, at the age of 20, with a child of a married man. She was also aiming to go to college and was a volleyball star – aiming for the stars with a few scholarship offers – rather than getting married. She was one of the first women to go to college under a sports scholarship. Interestingly enough – she chose to become a vet.
This woman had refused to be a woman and was living like a man. She was getting educated and had already soiled her purity. She wasn’t woman enough anymore for the society! By 1990, as a single mother struggling to raise her child, while being assisted by her mother; a widower, the stars seemed too far from her reach. The dreams she had, would vanish before her eyes. Her father; a butcher, in a land where meat is the staple meal, had died, after succumbing to an injury he had sustained a few years back from robbers, leaving his children to his wife; a retired primary school teacher.
When my mother met her first love, she was the woman whose limit was the sky. Her soulmate, as soon as she got pregnant, took her to his home to meet his parents and his first wife; a woman she never knew existed. It was no crime, he was simply a polygamous man in a polygamous praised community. She was crushed. She never thought her walls would cave in on her. She had two options; be a second wife, or be a single mother. She took the selfish way out and opted to raise the child alone. That’s how the whole village saw it. My sister, a woman I love and adore through thick and thin because nothing compares to the love of family, was torn between two worlds. Something that never got into her way of success (she recently was named in the Top 5 most influential African women in IT). Yet, this rebel of a woman that had way too much baggage to handle, met a fine successful agriculturist, son of a Scottish-based Kenyan born doctor. My grandfather had moved to Scotland to further his studies and opted to live there for a while raising his children, until he brought them back home. He often said, ‘East West, I enjoy the Kenyan sun.”
My mother got married in 1992. A church wedding. This woman, once shamed and alone, had gotten married to a loving family that embraced her as one of her own and better, a church wedding! Church weddings were the fashionable thing for the 90s in Kenya. She had a reason to smile, once again. The moon was shining brightly at her future and happiness. She quit college and relocated to a different geographical location; hundreds of miles away. Gave birth to 3 girls and a boy. I was my father’s first child. My mother wanted to name me Dolphin, my father insisted on Stella. I was Dolphin to her, and Stella to him.
When I turned 16, my mother came to school, a boarding school, and told me that she was leaving my father. Sixteen years of my life, I was blinded by my parents that everything was okay. I was angry at life. I was more angry at my mother. I blamed my mother for the failed marriage. “Why was she leaving? Didn’t she care for family? Did she ever care for family?” I did my exams angrily, just as I found out that my grandpa had died. That was a bad year for me but it was the worst for my mother. I never thought about my mother and what she was going through. She had lost everything. Her life, her family; she had no house, no job but she did it all with a smile. She was back to 1990, when all she had was shame and children to cater for. Children that blamed her for something she had no control over. This time, she had lived up to her village’s expectations. She had divorced the society as well. With every stagger, she was reminded that she was a rebel that was paying for her defiance. How would she raise her children? Five children? Would they turn out cursed? Condemned? Rebels, too?
My mother, sat me down one day before I left for campus and told me, “I know that you do not understand where to start from as a woman because your ideologies have been wiped out, but I am going to teach you how to be a strong woman, through my mistakes as a result of my weakness.” She made me promise to commit my life to being better, before anything else. “Do things you are good at,” she once told me over a glass of wine. That’s how I started writing. I also started a business while still in campus because she told me, “to fail is to learn and the best way to learn how a fall feels like, is a place that can cushion the fall. Dreams crushed shouldn’t be dreams killed.” Campus, according to her, would be a great place to fall and not be unable to get up.
Education and talent, was my mother’s main focus. “Never settle, never compromise.” She always reminded me. She knew exactly how it feels to turn down scholarships from 3 different continents to have a family because it is the womanly thing to do according to the society. She knew the beauty of waiting, for something she would never experience. She had to work harder, both as a parent and a provider. She had bills she never imagined she would pay on her own and loans she took during her marriage to build a home. She had a whole village turned enemies and she still held her head up high. For 5 years, it had been a life where she cannot laugh too hard or be seen crying. She was a woman on a mission to become the woman she often wanted to be – growing up.
Last week, my mother came to the city to hang out. Can you imagine? I couldn’t! She had time to spare for a hangout! It was a fulfilling moment for me. She checked into a hotel and called me to check my schedule. She was on her first ever fulfilling vacation. We talked over some scotch, took her to my first apartment and showed her around. I also needed advice over a few issues and the drastic changes in my life. I had just quit my job and started a startup. At 23, when work experience is all that we need; I have chosen to go down a different path of financial struggle, risks and giving my all in something that I believe in.
“Why?” I have been asked. Because my mother’s own ‘de-powerment’ (that’s what she calls it no matter how many times you tell her that it is a non-existent term), has taught me that risks should only be worth it, if they make you smile. And when you have a strong and dangerous woman who has defied odds as your mother, you will find out that your heart smiles, even when you have no idea why. She has been defying odds. Daily. It is motivating to see the older generation abandoning the negative attributes of culture and stepping up.
I am graduating in a week’s time with honors. I get to go home with a startup for women in the creatives space, a silver medal in the East African Chess Tournament and 4 years of living my 20s like the woman I feel proud to be. All these, I owe to my mother; a woman that stepped on every stone before I did just to make sure that I did not drown. The woman that taught me it is okay to be different if being different makes you happy.
She taught me: being a dangerous woman is the only life worth living.