October 1st, I came face to face with her. This time, she was officially my boss. “I want you to get straight to work,’ she had stated. ‘You have your laptop with you, right?” No I didn’t. As a matter of fact, I had travelled to Nairobi that morning and could not make it home to pick it up on time.
“No Wanji, my apologies. I don’t have it…” the consternation on her face was enough to crack the ground open. “I’ll carry it from tomorrow,” I had whispered behind her.
Three seconds later, IT department was called and requests issued to have my table set up for use. This was definitely going to make it to the diary of an intern. Day one and I had four documents on my table ready to be worked on. No induction, no debrief. As a matter of fact, the promise was to get me through the settling in process later in the week. Her face spoke grit. Her eyes spelt determination. Her walk defined a go-getter. Her size four or is it five, but nope…pumps tick-toking and the echo reverberating all the way to Timbuktu and back.
“Why were you late?” she had queried. I wasn’t late for sure. 8.15 am had found me at the gates, but the Askari was adamant, my name was not listed as an expected visitor so you can imagine me insisting, I was in fact an intern. “You have to wait till 9:15 for the bosses to arrive and attend the Monday morning briefing.” That is how an hour later, my eyes were busy trolling wasps at the coffee plantation.
“How far are you?” Hahaha… Day one and I was pushing deadlines to stuff I had no idea about. This is where lessons taken from Emily Mwaka came into use. Mwalimu, wherever you are, I will always celebrate you. Without your insisting I become excellent at summary skills, Wanji was sure going to make my day one at work hell on earth. Come 2pm, two documents were delivered and the remaining were underway. And the best part, the review came with tutorials. Oh girl, that confirmed it all. I wanted to be here. Everything I had gone through and learned was preparing me for this moment. And I was sure going to put my best foot forward.
Day in day out, this became a journey of pursuing excellence. Horning my inter-personal skills. Meeting numerous new faces and having guys excruciatingly recite their names every morning. ‘Morning Doc. Do you remember my name today?’ Honestly I didn’t. My selective amnesia is so that I am not good with names. As a matter of fact, one has to tell me their name a minimum four times before I can recall them. The guys found it easy, of course… Davi, Peter, Charles… Do I even know them today? Every morning they would pass by my desk offering lunch and treats if I guessed their names right. Of course I wouldn’t. But this got me easing out and settling in real fast.
On Day four, Wanji pulled me to the side; to the bathroom to be precise. Who does a debrief in the bathroom? Yeh, that’s my boss. A walk to and from the bathroom did it for me. “I am sorry I haven’t had the time to debrief. But you will learn. I want you to learn as much as possible before I leave.”
Leave? Going where? Why was she leaving just after I had come on board? A thousand and one questions crossed my mind. This wasn’t any pleasing. And whatever she said thereafter, I would later struggle to track between the bathroom walls for days to come. It had been an experience settling in with her, then I would have to warm up to yet another face… Noooooo. I wanted to scream.
“Commitment, excellence, passion is what I seek from you. Keep time. And always communicate. You need to invest in a good phone and be available on call, text or email whatever time of day or night. It is your professional career we are building, every step of the way. You have to be intentional if you want to succeed. We chose you among many qualified persons, do not let us down.” I had no intention of failure, let alone being a normal passers-by through this opportunity.
I set out, heart, soul and mind to put my best foot forward, and shine like the star that I was born to be.
Now, anyone who knows me, will tell you I harbour a total dislike for taking minutes. But here I was, for the first time in the longest while, the subordinate, learner, looking to paint my future green. Boy, I can assure you this was going to be tough. Hahaha… The text had come through and a follow up on email. There was no pretending to have missed the info. ‘Doc, take the minutes for this week’s meeting.‘ I wanted to cry. There was Ms. Weisner who’s pronunciation I was still struggling to get around. Then Marcel, who spoke more in a manly whisper with the bass resounding hours after he had gone silent. Not to forget Mary, the gentlest soul I know. My biggest fear though had been the names of all participants. Two weeks down I think I only knew 5 names out of about 30-40 persons.
“Why Wanji? Whyyyyyy…. Please don’t make me do minutes.’ My salvation however happened when I noticed Tim had a tape-recorder. Eeehhh.. You should have seen the glow on my face. I mean, transcription was sure going to be my way out. My ahaaaa moment had come. My fears diminishing one at a time.
My best memories of this short term was Wanji’s forwards of the final documents I had worked on, with all the corrections done. Not to forget her acknowledgement of work delivered. I always looked forward to more work and the forthcoming lessons. She even reminded me that I had access to her whatever time, via text, email or call.
“Doc, ask and be open to learning. That is the way to grow. This is the start of a lifelong journey. And when the time comes for us to look back and write your testimony, I shall be glad, I put my trust in you,” Wanji had stated.
Did I tell you about the typing of hand written notes? That had been another looong morning. Mhhh. Wanji came in with notes upon notes, all handwritten, verbatim reporting from her on mission moments. And with the kindest voice she had asked that I type them for her. Well, this was easy, myself and the keyboard are best of buddies remember. So I got to work, word after word, comma and dashes. 2pm and the work was done. All hard words marked out with green on her notebook and the assignment sent out to her.
“Doc, you mean you couldn’t make out all these words? Come, let us go through them together.” I walked timidly to my seat. That pupils seat, I was a pupil here after all. More like being introduced to holding a pen and how to use a sharpener. The only difference was that here, monolization was not going to happen. I even got an offer to be bought peanuts by Tim on the second day. One word after the other, she explained and reminded me to take note as she would have me typing for her more and more.
Then World War III begun to sound the war drums; the trigger – food. This has been a battle my mother lifted her hands upon eons ago. I happen to be a terrible eater. The slowest in chewing ever, and I will enjoy a cold bowl of soup let alone a meal. Now Wanji amongst many others would not get it, that I would sit through my lunch hour and not go out. Worst still, was because they never saw me eat anything in the office rather than water. Mary even was a witness to my taking only water and she even went ahead to testify to it. My oh my… The lecture that followed from the ladies about the need to eat… Hahaha… Only for a testament to be told of Wanji having to go for lunch without which she wouldn’t function as well. Wanji, please know, I do eat. These days, I break for lunch and start my day with a bowl of oats.
I hate parting moments. The strong are the weakest beings on the inside. And when the farewell luncheon happened, I kept away from you. I sat at the furthest end of the room, watching you smile from the corner of my eyes. I struggled to hold the welling tears. Pretending through a wary smile, my heart crushing on the inside. It is sad to see you go. Harder still to let go off your hand. But I have to keep strong. I have to keep the name Wanji rolling, resounding in the hearts of all. I have to let go of one who came and became so dear to me. I may not have shown it or even said a word to this effect, but time will tell.
Wanji, you are a unique special being. A boss, friend, sister, mentor, guide. A Good Samaritan in every aspect of the word. And a teacher. As a matter of fact, the best tutor anyone can ever ask for. With a gentle heart you reprimand, entrust and give direction. With humility you tell of a vision only you hold for you put your trust in. with a smile and a nod, you acknowledge even the smallest of accomplishments and with every sunrise, you breathe out positivity, and energy, and excellence.
My take home:
‘Never dismiss anything at face value.’ Wanji.
I have big shoes to fit in. and an ever bigger heart to learn from. We part today as you head out to waters beyond. To new faces, different environment, another adventure. The journey is just beginning. But Wanji, there are no limits to what you can and will achieve. I trudge on behind. A step at a time. Do you know where I envision you a few years from today?
I will surely miss you. Enjoy this new encounter my dear.