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Managing homes from lecture halls

Living

By Harold Ayodo

Lucy Kimani, is a professional woman, a wife and a mother of a toddler. She is also taking a masters programme in Communications Studies at the University of Nairobi.

The University of Nairobi’s Fountain of Knowledge

During the day, she is busy getting work done at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (Kirdi) where she works as an information officer then rushes to class in the evening. Her rigorous routine means she hardly has enough time to run her family.

To keep abreast with the happenings at home, she keeps her phone on throughout the lectures.

"My househelp flashes me on the phone at any time, especially if my baby is unwell, and I cannot ignore it as it could lead to regrets," she says.

Kimani is not alone. There are many career women in the same situation using technology to succeed in their roles.

So just before lectures begin, at about 5.30pm, their phones get busy as they call home to ensure that all is fine. As the lesson progresses, they divert to the silent mode and exchange short text messages. Then, before classes end at about 8.30pm, they call again to confirm that everything is fine.

Kimani’s day begins at 4am and does not end till late into the night. When she gets home, she spends an hour with her family before embarking on assignments.

"It’s challenging but we have to sacrifice to change the traditional place and status of the African woman," she says.

Instinct

TV programme producer Catherine Muhatia shares the same sentiments as Kimani. "It’s instinct," Muhatia insists.

"Sometimes you just have to make that call — to instruct your househelp on important matters such as what and how to prepare for supper or just simply keep track on what is happening at home. It is simple things that make or break a home and we must guard against it. We are students but cannot neglect our homes," says Muhatia.

"We need to set the pace and show young girls who believe the stereotype that this is a man’s world, that being a wife and mother does not condemn you solely to the kitchen."

Muhatia who has worked for eight years says the quest for knowledge encouraged her to seek a Masters degree.

"Knowledge is power and women should no longer whine but struggle for the few opportunities available," she says.

There is also Lillian Atieno, who is a graduate trainee at a local bank and a postgraduate student. She says mothers must keep their phones on while in class because three hours in class is a long time.

"I have to ensure that food is ready for my husband and child in case they want to eat early," Atieno says.

Briefings

But Irene Kihumba, a teacher, says sometimes telephone calls are not enough. On several occasions she has had to miss classes to be with her family.

But there is a price she pays for this. For instance, she must create extra time for briefings from her classmates on the lessons she missed and writing notes.

"Concentration in class is also interfered with, when you keep interrupting lectures to receive a call," Kihumba adds.

But she says this arrangement is inevitable as wives play a pivotal role in keeping the family stable.

"We cannot avoid it as it is us who are familiar with every corner of the house, and our husbands and househelps will need to make inquiries here and there."

But it is surprising that the women outnumber the men in most evening classes. And most of them are career women. In one class of 86 students, for instance, three quarters of them are women. Sunday Magazine sought to find out why they had returned to school despite the numerous challenges that confronted them.

Some said they were bored with sitting at home waiting for their spouses to return late in the evening either from work or social places.

Traffic jams

Pamellah Asule, who is a class representative, says she enrolled for her second Masters degree so she could upgrade her skills while saving on time spent on traffic jams in the evenings.

"I spend two hours in the jam from the University of Nairobi where I work as a science editor to my residence in Karen," Asule says.

Asule agrees that juggling between being a mother, wife, student and employee is not a cakewalk.

"This year, my first born daughter will be sitting her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams and I want to help her prepare for it," Asule says. "I am contemplating to defer my second semester to do this".

Asule is grateful to her husband and househelp for being supportive of her endeavours.

"My husband for instance, runs the errands at home while I am away and even picks our last born from school," Asule says.

"I also work on the week’s budget every Saturday morning with my househelp before I meet my colleagues for group discussions on Sunday."

She continues: "On some days I wake up at 4am to complete my assignments or go to the office an hour earlier and use the lunch hour for the same."

English and Literature teacher, Anne Eboi, whose daughter is at the United States International University — Africa resolved to pursue a Masters degree to ascend the academic ladder.

She has no househelp and sometimes things get out of hand especially when she and her daughter are either busy with assignments or reading for exams.

Atieno and Kihumba on the other hand say they are lucky that their spouses are supportive of their pursuit for further education.

"My husband encourages me to complete my assignments when I get back home late in the evening," Atieno says.

With education, even weekends are taken as they attend discussion groups and, sometimes, make-up classes on Saturday mornings.

"It is a struggle but we are not giving up…we’ll keep our jobs, marriage, families and graduate next year as scheduled," Kihumba vows.

Reaching for the heights

Rebecca Otachi is a grandmother who balanced her roles and recently graduated with a Masters degree at the University of Nairobi.

"It was a struggle juggling my roles as a mother, wife, employee, politician and student," Otachi says.

"But it helped that my family was supportive. My husband, for instance, took charge of the home while I was in class."

She adds: "He believes in an educated family and the empowerment of women and hence he was understanding."

Otachi graduated last December in the same university her husband and daughter were studying.

Otachi vied for a parliamentary seat in the last elections.

"I addressed charged political rallies during the campaigns, did my assignments and projects but still kept a keen eye on the family," she says.

But this required some tact so that her pursuit for further education did not override her marital duties that are prerequisite for a stable family.

"I would call home all the time — before class, when lectures were in progress and on my way home just to be sure and continually acknowledged my husband’s presence and authority over the family," Otachi says.

Otachi, who graduated with two majors in her undergraduate (Sociology and Communication), says she had always wanted to return to class.

"That I grew up in a cash strapped family forced me to shelve schooling and get myself a job to support my siblings," she says.

She soon married and had children, which meant she had added responsibilities. But she knew that at some point she would enrol for undergraduate studies.

Midnight oil

"But I held on before registering for postgraduate studies to the time when all my children had got their first degrees, then we all attended postgraduate classes," Otachi says.

Burning the midnight oil helped her realise her dream. "I sat on my reading table over night after every member of my family had eaten and gone to bed."

But it was the daily struggles of the ordinary rural woman in her community and the challenges she faced to make ends meet that left a mark on her and pushed her resolve to return to school. "I realised that I needed specialised skills to lead other women and motivate them to improve their lives…higher education was my way."

But her going back to school came with challenges and nearly threatened her dream.

"Reduced income after I took a part time job scared me…I also cut down on my social life to concentrate and realised that I had little time for myself," she says.

Otachi says her education motivated all her children to aim higher in academia.

She encourages other women who are mothers, wives, career women and students not to give up arguing their success will encourage more.

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