At the busiest time of her life, Angeline Yiamiton Siparo's doctor told her that if she wanted to stay alive, she had to take a break and take care of herself. She shares her story how she finally let go of trying to make everyone happy
Childhood in countryside Narok was a beautiful time for Angeline Yiamiton Siparo. She was under her grandparents’ care and relished the communal way of life. “When neighbours slaughtered a goat we would receive a full leg and when we did we returned the favour,” she says.
Life is not static though: It was inevitable that she would grow and things would change. Her father was posted as ambassador to Somalia. She had already left her grandparents place to live with her parents.
As a Maasai, Angeline was primed to undergo FGM. She suspects, however, that her parents' literacy protected her. “My maternal grandfather was a pastor in the AIC church. My father had gone to school,” she says.
The same qualities, perhaps, also allowed a teenage Angeline to develop a buoyant self-esteem. Instead of shying away from debate, Angeline never let a moment that needed clarity slide by. “I asked questions. Why this? Why that?” she says.
Of all that confounded her, nothing was more puzzling than gender roles. Her refusal to accept things and move on made for a testy relationship between her and her mother.
“I used to tell my mother that I never chose to be born a girl. I did not understand why certain chores were assigned to me just because I was a girl. I took notice of the fact that the level of unfairness was very high,” she says.
One incident has stuck with her for ages. Meal time had just ended and Angeline took to cleaning in the kitchen. “My brother sauntered in with his plate and left it on the table. I felt like I could blow an artery,” she says.
Angeline went to school, first at St Mary’s Girls in Narok, then later to Moi Girls in Nairobi. Afterwards she enrolled at USIU to study psychology.
She jokes that her parents wanted her in a private university to keep her from trouble. “Because I was so rebellious and political in my thinking, they probably figured a private institution was a safe bet. If I were in a public institution, I would be the troublemaker,” she says.
The next phase of her life would start in 1992 – the year she got married. She had just completed her Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology.
Like many girls she too dreamt of being swept off her feet by a chivalrous man – one who could easily pass for a prince. Perhaps because of naivety she looked forward to a romantic marriage. She was optimistic of the union. But some time after 2000, they divorced.
“What happened?” I ask Angeline.
“We sort of just drifted apart,” she says. “He was not (physically) violent, he was not a womaniser, and he was not a drunkard. We were not growing together and the love died a natural death,” she says.
Despite the disappointing end, Angeline credits the marriage for giving her three beautiful daughters: Shalel, Naisula and Soila. “My ex and I don’t have the easiest of relationships but he has never stood on the way when my children needed something,” she says.
From the time she graduated, Angeline immersed herself in work. Often, she fit into leadership roles. Her husband, she says, had gone off towards politics. She, on the other hand, had taken a tangent towards leading human rights organisations.
The jobs, she reckons, were demanding. She travelled a lot and shouldered the full weight of running the organisations. She was always busy – barely having time for herself. She wanted to be the best mother, the best wife, the best manager, the best daughter, the best friend: the best everything to everyone who mattered in her life.
“There was a time I was completely burnt out. I was feeling sick. I went to see my doctor and she said nothing was wrong with my body except for the fact that I lived in a perpetual state of stress – trying to make everyone happy.”
The doctor warned her that she would die if she did not institute fundamental changes to allow her time for herself. “I realised that there was a level of vanity to making people happy. Not that it was bad but I was at a point I needed to get in touch with my inner self and ask: ‘Who am I?’” she says.
Life post-divorce had its own challenges. She notes that, within the family, there was shame and stigma attached to divorce. At the same time, there were awkward encounters between her folks and her in-laws.
It was a turbulent time, she says. One that saw friends go off on her. “It was a year of immense growth: I asked myself, ‘Who matters to me?’”
She credits those who showed up, who stuck by her, when the tendency was for people to shun her, as her true friends. Angeline also took drastic measures to protect herself from pretenders and bystanders.
“I resolved that not everyone will have a say in my life. You must earn it. And there were very few people who had earned it,” she says.
She had started rebuilding all over again. Around the same time she was reminded that she did not have a son. “An aunt told me that time was running out: meaning that I needed to give birth to a boy,” she says.
Someone else asked why she worked hard. “The inference was that I did not have sons and therefore I did not need to work hard (and accrue wealth) since the girls would get married and I did not have a boy to inherit the wealth,” she explains.
When she was pregnant with her last child, (now 12 years old) her doctor, she recalls, feared that she might not take it well if she found out it was a girl.
“He kept telling me to find out the sex of the baby,” Angeline says. “The doctor wanted to prepare me psychologically in case it is a girl.”
"What are you hoping for specifically?" her doctor had asked. To which Angeline responded, “I want a beautiful healthy baby.”
"Nothing specific?" the doctor pried further.
In Angeline’s mind, a baby is a gift from God. The giver of the gift, she says, decides which gift to give. The value of a child, she says, is not whether they are a boy or a girl. “I do not negate the value of boys. I am just against the idea that because I don’t have one I should somehow feel incomplete,” she says.
These are lies that many of us have inherited from culture. Angeline believes it is time we evolved beyond them. At the core of her life today is a spiritual awakening that she says she has grown into over the years.
“I believe in God. I know I am here for a reason. And everything I do must be done for the glory of God,” she says.
Angeline is a gifted orator. She keeps getting job offers from many quarters. But because she has a better understanding of her existence, she turns many of those offers down. After all, she says, her ambition is to make an impact. And why take up an opportunity just to perform below par.Would you rather speak all languages or speak to animals?