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ANASTANZIA 'STACY' WAKESHO survived an abusive marriage to prosper in business and succeed in raising her two children. Working closely with people living with HIV is her way of giving back to society.

By Phares Mutembei

You will not believe this but my husband turned abusive on the first week of our marriage. Our wedding was glamorous in Diani Beach and I was shocked by the turn of events as our relationship progressed from being physically abusive to being emotionally and psychologically depressive. I got married at 22 and the physical abuse began soon after. My ex-husband beat me even during my pregnancies. I remember when I was three months pregnant, he slapped and even head-butted me on the face. He wanted to destroy my good looks.

Anastanzia Wakesho (centre) with her two children, Dora Mtuta (left) and David Gray. Anastanzia is best remembered for her role as the former National Chairperson of the Domestic Tourism Council of Kenya. [Photos: STANDARD]

My ex-husband was not bad looking but he did not like to talk much. When upset, he would smile at me and look friendly then hit me without warning.

My parents and friends advised me to hang in there saying it was part of marriage, but, eventually, I reported him to Fida and they sent him a letter warning him against hitting me again. He read it and was very angry.

My father, Mzee Peter Mombo, came to visit and my ex-husband confronted him and broke a beer bottle at his feet. Later, my father sat me down and apologised to me. He said a husband that has no respect for his in-laws was not good and he urged me to leave, warning if I stayed I could die.

My father is a prayerful man and, initially, he had thought my ex-husband’s violent behaviour would change, which is why he had urged me to hang on in the marriage. I believe had I done that, I would be dead by now.

When my daughter, Dora Mtuta Kimaro, was about to sit her Standard Eight Mock examinations and my son, David Gray Kimaro, was in Standard Seven, my ex-husband and I had an argument and as he was about to beat me, our son jumped between us and said: "Dad you cannot do this to mum any more."

Leave marriage

My daughter said she was going to fail her Mock exams because of what was going on with us, her parents. My children then told me they could no longer handle their dad’s violence against me and they urged me to leave with them. I listened to them and left the marriage and our home. Were it not for them, maybe I would have stayed… and died in the process.

I drew strength from my trust in God so raising my children as a single mother was not hard. After 13 years of a bad marriage, this was definitely not a difficult task and I thank God for the decision to leave. My children bring value to my life in a big way. They love travelling, which is good as that is my core business. They started travelling while still in my womb!

My daughter is now 24 years old and is back from China where she had gone to learn the Chinese language. Chinese is one of the most marketable languages today and I believe that, after the US, China is the next superpower. I am very proud of her because she has mastered the language. She has passion for it. Dora is ahead of her time. She aspires to take over the running of my business. She and I are best friends and we motivate and encourage each other.

My son is now 22 years old and he is my jewel and rock. This month, he starts his fourth year at Kenyatta University where he is doing Literature and French.

He is also pursuing public speaking at Toastmasters. He aspires to be a career diplomat. He was the team leader of his university’s team in the Zain Africa 2009 Challenge and they finished as the first-runners-up.

On the spiritual front, my pastor, Prophetess Faith Mukami, motivates and gives me spiritual strength.

I have been in the tourism industry for three decades. When I was an employee with a multi-national tour company with offices here, I was the first woman to handle the millionaires who used to come here on Concorde and private jets.

The tourists were the cream of American society and Kenya was their preferred destination so I arranged their security and planned local charters to take them to the Masai Mara and other local attractions. They usually spent lots of money on their visits. This was the time when tourism was real tourism!

Since their main concern was security, the police commissioner often assigned officers to comb the area before and during their stay.

Fired from job

In 2000, I got another job in yet another multi-national tour company where, with time, I was promoted to become the marketing manager. My new position allowed me to travel around the world promoting Kenya overseas.

In 2002, I was assigned to our US office in Atlanta, Georgia, to promote Kenya from there, but that was never to be because two months to my departure, I was fired from a very promising job under very disturbing circumstances. I was implicated in a fraud that involved just Sh20,000, yet my salary then, including travelling allowance, was over Sh100,000 per month!

Losing my job was a big blow to my children and I. I did not understand it back then but now I appreciate it was God’s plan. I had gotten to the point where I was worshipping my job more than I did Him. When He separated me from the job, it was painful. I had not only lost my powerful job, but my closest friends also disappeared!

That August, I formed my own tour company, Karibu Paradise Safaris East Africa. I used my savings to market my company in Europe as I visited Hungary, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany. I received my first clients in December 2002. After that, business began to boom.

For a long time, I handled domestic tourists, but now I also deal in international tourism.

As I continued with my business as a tour operator, I noticed a gap, a niche market that I felt I could tap into, and this was to arrange special packages for single men and women, so I took up the challenge and started organising short excursions for them. The packages became very popular, especially with young professionals — single, divorced and widowed — who are too busy and never have time to socialise. I formed a separate company for this market and called it Stacy Executives Agency and Tours.

My experiences have taught me the importance of giving back to society. My downfall made me know God. I am now a born again Christian and I can say I have a wonderful relationship with my Creator, as do my children. I learnt that we don’t need material things to be happy and content as material things come and go.