Celebrating Friendship among Women is a book about the power of women connections. A close look at the subject in Kenya reveals that genuine friendship cuts across ethnic, age, class and religious divides.
This book, which is also an autobiography, a cultural account, a historical and a do-it-yourself didactic material, is a must-read.
In it, you find yourself looking in a mirror while getting surprised about a topic that is so simple, so taken for granted, so under-explored. At a time when Kenya is being ripped apart by negative ethnic, religious and class sentiments, Margery Kabuya’s book goes against the grain.
You encounter a deep friendship between Njeri and Gathoni, Metian and Sinet, Sau and Chemtai, Khadijah and Asha, Winfred and Mwikali, Joan and Amina, Wangu and Akoth, Margery and Mrs Were, and a host of others.
Celebrating Friendship packages a wealth of culture coming out from the narratives by the women that author talked with.
Although I grew up during the same period as the author did, the book presents so much about diverse cultures in Kenya. An experience that renews appreciation for our diversity.
In talking of the good, old days, since I did not go to boarding school, I am amused by Margery’s description of rigging in the dining hall, ironing chapatis, rats and other rodents, as well as fake mothers, shoes and weddings.
A friend is “the one you connect with, the one you trust, and the one whom you share your confidences with, knowing it’s safe,” says the author.
“You talk to her regularly about everything and nothing in particular. You even call her just to complain. A good friend acknowledges that you need her to vent to. If you are going through a difficult time and you don’t call her and tell her about it, later she says, “Why didn’t you call me?” It’s not solving the problem, or getting advice or answers. It is about sharing and being there, being present for your friend.
The story of 10 teenage girls from Oldorok Primary School helping younger girls adjust to school has stood out in my mind. Sanaipei recounts that the older girls “were assigned several girls each for care and mentoring. The girls had to wash and dress us and teach us how to sleep in modern beds which were double deckers! So many of us used to fall down that it was decided that we sleep on the floor for a while...
“They introduced us to modern clothes. For example, we had never worn panties before but they taught us how to wear them as well as dresses, sweaters and shoes... I remember this girl named Tingoyian who was always complaining and crying that she was uncomfortable with the new way of dressing. ‘These are too many clothes. They are heavy and they are making me sweat. I want to wear my shuka,’ she would cry.”
Margery has been my friend for close to 20 years. We met at the University of Nairobi, though we did not strike a friendship then. We met again in the late ‘90s when she was the executive director of the then Christian Children’s Fund.
Margery has always loved people, a leader always surrounded and admired by her friends and family members. She is full of humour, making it no surprise that she has written a book on friendship, her first.
A holder of a BA degree from the University of Nairobi, and a Master’s from the University of California in Los Angeles, she worked for 25 years in the social development sector.
She initiated “Booking Girls for School,” an award-winning project, to increase the enrolment of Maasai girls in school. For this, she won the Agatha Uwilingiyamana Award by the Federation of African Women in Education (Fawe) in 2004 and got a nomination for CNN Hero in 2006.
She is a founder trustee of Starehe Girls Centre and a council member for Laikipia and Riara universities.
Reading Celebrating Friendship reminded me of my own friendships.
Chapter 4 on “Friends as Supporters” came alive for me. The past year, has been a particularly intense time in my life and I benefited from my “supporter” friends.
As my daughter, Lupita, went into the run-up to the Academy Award season, I set up a Mum’s Squad to share the journey with me by praying, encouraging, sharing every bit of information and concern.
The Squad was made up of my six dearest friends – people I have known for between 32 and 44 years.
This group of friends consist of a Kenyan Arab living in Canada, an Embu living in the UK, my Luo sister-in-law living in the US, a Kikuyu living in the US, and two white Americans living in the US.
They truly stood by me in good times and in very challenging times.
When Lupita won the Oscar, the excitement among the Mum’s Squad was palpable! It was a personal victory for each one of them.
Margery writes for girls and women of all ages, noting that most long-lasting friendships are established in the teenage years, in high school, although there are some that date back to primary school days.
This book should also be read by men, whose friendships are somewhat different from those of women. It will give them a precious insight into the friendships among the women in their lives —mother, sister, wife, daughter. Celebrating Friendship among Women is for all Kenyans, all Africans and all people for whom the word “friend” means anything.
It is a book for social development, a book for peace-building.
Mrs Nyong’o is the managing director of 7th Sense Communications Ltd.