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Against All Odds: Courage and Tenacity From Kenya to Europe

From Kenya to Europe, a memoir by Grace Ndiritu

Will you marry me?

She was born and brought up in a culture where a woman waits for a man to propose to her. But, what’s that thing they say about desperate times? They call for desperate measures. She had measured everything over and over in her mind, and today was the day to cut. Measure twice. Cut once.

“Will you marry me?” She asked him. Straight for the jugular. A double punch to his gut. Grace Ndiritu clearly knew what she was doing, and most importantly, why she was doing it.

“What?” He asked. His eyes peeled wide open. This man, a Finnish, was on the receiving end of a proposal he never would have seen coming. And that’s the thing with calculated moves, assertive moves. You never see them coming. You never know the move until it is made.

“Yes, I mean what you heard,” she said.

“Marry me. Will you?”

I never thought I would ever ask a man to marry me

They were somewhere in Finland, passing time at a restaurant. He was seated across from her. Shocked. But at least, he didn’t bolt for the nearest exit as she had expected. This was in the year 2010.

In her stunning memoir she recollects, I never thought I would ever ask a man to marry me…In Kenya, this would be unimaginable for a lady to ask a man for his hand in marriage. A Kenyan man would feel inferior and probably end the relationship.

He must have asked why?

“Why?”

Men, that’s probably a good one to ask, when out of the blue, a woman you have been seeing romantically for a while and basking in her company proposes marriage to you. And you’re like, what the (bleep) am I supposed to say? Ask her, why. And as she answers the why, you run back into your mind’s toolbox to fetch the sharpest of tools to cut through a situation like this.

“I’ll be honest with you,” she said, shifting in her seat, prepared to explain herself away. Honest. No masks. No bullshitting. I’ll give it to you just the way it is, that’s what she meant by honest.

“I want you to marry me because—”

***

I am promoting my book. Welcome, have a look

It’s now 2021, in the month of August. August also means grand and important, and that just fits well the occasion that has brought Grace Ndiritu to this place. CJ’s at Village Market Mall, Nairobi, Kenya.

Grace is positioned at a strategic place that gets human traffic. People have to pass her way while they slalom gracefully to find shops and businesses in the mall. She sits behind a table that has a pristine black tablecloth over it. Copies of her memoir are neatly spread on it.

From Kenya to Europe
My Story

The title beams on a cover whose design includes the silhouette of a lady holding a takeaway cup in one hand, the handle of a suitcase in the other, staring at the far horizon past an airport. Kissed by the rays of a setting/rising sun.

“Hello,” she greets, her voice dripping in etiquette and an otherworldly kindness you just can’t ignore.

“Hi,” someone responds.

“I am promoting my book. Welcome, have a look. It’s a story you want to read.”

And much to my amazement, people do actually stop by, check out her book, ask questions mostly along the lines of Aaah, this is your book? You wrote this? What’s it about? How much for a copy? and then they buy it.

“What name would you want me to address on the autograph?”

Insert the gentle sound of a pen on un-coated vellum paper for books, scrawling an autograph. And then she envelops the book and hands it over to the eager reader. Neat. Teach us your ways, great sensei!

Bookselling at malls in Nairobi

Grace has been moving around malls in Nairobi, promoting her book. What she calls, activation of her book. Go ahead and ask me, how many books has she sold? That’s a good question. In just one month she has sold four hundred copies! If you are an author like me who is solely in charge of your book distribution, you’ll agree with me that selling such a number of copies within that period of time is insane!

“I only facilitated renting space at a mall for one week. From there, the books grew up and shouldered responsibility. They pay their bills, and pay me.”

Grace concedes that it’s hard for your books to move if you just stock them in a bookshop then go home sit on your hands.

“You have to go out there and market your work, meet the readers directly, and engage them.”

I don’t know about you, but as for me and my house, if that isn’t tenacity then go ahead and shoot me, I don’t know what tenacity is. Beautiful ambition. Calculated moves by a smart mind.

“Some malls say no, but then I move on to the next. Others say yes, and it’s amazing to see just how many readers out here in these malls have been waiting for you!”

But then, who is Grace Ndiritu, and where on God’s green earth did she come from?

***

Truly ambitious, you’ve got to give it to her

It’s in the year 2006. Grace Ndiritu is in Kenya, Nairobi, keeping a day job as well as keeping her ears on the ground and her eyes peeled for an opportunity to become more. One of the lowest scale employees at Nairobi City Council, she works as a copy typist.

Away from her employ, she does what most Nairobians do — keep a side hustle. Grace moonlights as a model. Do you want to find her? Go where photo/video shoots for models are going down, and sets for ads, and there you’ll find her. Apart from that, she’s taking French classes. Truly ambitious, you’ve got to give it to her.

One of her friends, French, asks her one day, “Would it tickle your fancy to go to France and work as an au pair?” Grace has been waiting for the slightest of opportunities, and so it’s with alacrity that she pounces on this one. “Yes!” She exclaims.

Flying to France: Meet the new au pair

Here’s a free language lesson for those who want to drop out of this page because they don’t know what or who an au pair is. It’s someone who is hosted in a home and in return helps out taking care of kids. Feeding them. Taking them to and picking them from school. Playing with them. Okay, a babysitter if that makes life easier for you.

Grace, for the first time in her life, flies out of Kenya and lands in France, where she begins her work as an au pair while polishing her French-speaking skills.

“A culture shock smacked me right in the face! I encountered this interesting stereotype that Africans eat a lot. There’s a home I was in where everyone would stare at me while I served my portion, just to see how much food I’d put on my plate.”

Life does what it does best — it goes on, and Grace keeps her focus. She is a hungry lioness in the wild, maneuvering the bushes. Hunting for her kill.

The au pair contract in France was for one year, after which you have to pack your bags and fly back home. But you at this point know that Grace Ndiritu is an ambitious one who’s out to get what she wants, and so, somehow, she figures out a way to stay in France after her contract comes to an end.

“I moved to Lyon, a city that’s more like a student city in France. Here, I continued babysitting, and enrolled in school to study French.”

Moving on to Finland

Later, a friend she had connected with during her modelling days in Nairobi invites her to Finland.

“I believe in taking risks and going after my dreams, so I went to Finland.”

It is in Finland that Grace enrolls in University for a course in International Business; a four-year course. While here, she also meets a man, and after dating for a while, proposes to him.

“I was as honest as I could be with him. We hadn’t gone out for long and so we didn’t know each other well. But he liked me. Genuinely.”

“Will you marry me?” She asked him. Grace saw marriage as her only option if she was to survive in Europe.

“I have a student visa that is expiring soon and I cannot live in Europe any more. Unless you marry me.”

The man is shocked, as Grace had expected. But he likes her. After giving it a thought, he says yes, and that is how they get married and Grace continues to stay in Europe. Their marriage doesn’t last though. Grace, in retrospect, says probably because they never approached it the right way. The two go their separate ways after a divorce, but remain good friends.

“Getting a job after clearing campus was another turbulent ocean I had to swim across. Oh, I’ve been through a lot.”

She however gets one, finally, in the hotel industry. She works here until recently, when the unprecedented Covid pandemic strikes and the hotel closes down.

***
The manuscript: From Kenya to Europe

All along her journey, Grace had developed a habit of journaling. It is from this habit that she decided to write a book. Once the manuscript was ready, she came back to Kenya with it. She published it with The Writers Guild- Kenya.

“I came back to Kenya early this year, to take a break. I’ll be travelling back to Finland in a few month’s time. I felt that Kenya was the place to have my memoir published. My goal is to, through my story, teach someone who wants to travel and settle abroad a thing or two.”

The blogger at yogeclub.com tells me that she enjoys, as a hobby, devouring thrillers. Whether in books, movies, or series. Criminal Minds is one of her favourite.

***

Grace Ndiritu is our author of the month. In this month’s Positively African Book Club that will take place on the 25th at The Chat Room, Kilimani, Grace will share her story and lessons while we discuss her book.

We encourage you to get a copy of From Kenya to Europe at The Writers Guild Bookshop, Hazina Towers, ground floor, suite 2A, Nairobi. Copies will also be available during the book club session.

Those interested in being part of the book club should call/WhatsApp their details to 0748055879 or 0708382631. Limited slots available.

Lesalon Kasaine
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