Prof Eunice Ndirangu Mugo: If I’m given a second shot

Aga Khan University, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Associate Professor and Dean Prof. Eunice Ndirangu Mugo on June 01, 2022. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

It is the kind of morning where the greens on the lawn look exaggerated and the flowers look like they were coloured by a child. Juxtaposed against this beauty of The Wine Bar’s garden is Prof Eunice Ndirangu Mugo in a very butterfly African print dress exuding playfulness that she admits is something she is only been just trying out.

“I’m learning to let go more,” the Professor and Dean at Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery said.  Prof Ndirangu, who is also the Chairperson of the Nursing Council of Kenya, is interested in infectious diseases [HIV/Aids in particular], adolescent health, and health policy.

She has studied extensively, the intersection of health and education-training programmes to address the gap in sexual healthcare.

“One of the things I have constantly done is colour within shapes,” she told JACKSON BIKO. “I doodle in my free time. [Apart from reading Rumi] I carry books with doodles and colouring pencils and whenever I get a moment I colour the shapes to relax.] It also helps me come up with ideas.”


Your earrings read, “You’re a July girl living her best life, so she ain’t going back and forth with you.” Do people go back and forth with you?

[Laughs] They were a gift from my friend. I don’t know what she was on about but I think they looked nice and I like big earrings. It’s a silent rebellion because, when I was in university, we were not allowed to wear earrings. I only remove big earrings if I’m in the hospital. But everybody knows me by my earrings.

A little bird that knows you very well told me to ask you why you never let go, is it a professorial thing?

I let go! [Laughs] That little birdie who told you that isn’t very particular with time-keeping, for instance, but I am and she sees my structure as something stiff and unyielding. I like things done in an orderly manner. I like things done in a particular way.

Where does that come from?

Growing up.  I’m very much like my mom who was very inherently organised. And by the way, imagine this is me letting loose. I was worse. [Laughter].                                                                                               

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

That’s a difficult one. [Pause] Getting into a leadership position. I took a risk. Oh and accepting a role [as Dean] while I had a two-month-old baby, back in 2019.

It was not something that I would have done. Because I had a plan, and my plan was very clear. To be away from work until my son was six months. So to be called to go back to work with a two-month-old was a very hard decision to make.

I worried about my child, I worried about whether I’d do the job well, and whether I had the ability and capability to do it. I knew if I fail to do this job well, I’ll not have just failed myself, but failed or killed any chance or opportunities for anybody else who’s like me, that’s a local person, to ever take up that role.                                                                                                             

What do you remember as a little girl growing up?

I remember lots of hugs. We are a hugging family. I remember the travels. My parents believed in taking a break once every year and just being away because they were business people.

I remember being serious and organised. I remember my primary school, a boarding school. I hated it. I cried every opening day. My dad is a vet. My mom was the deputy director for what they called then the National Seed Quality Control or something in those days.

She travelled a lot globally for work then at some point left employment to join my dad in business. My parents used to talk a lot. They would work together, talk the whole day, drive back talking, get home, sit and have dinner, then they would be like, ‘ah us we’ve gone to bed. You know we like sleeping early.’

It’s 8 pm and then we’d pass by the corridors and hear them still talking. So I used to ask my mom, what do you guys talk about?

When you grow up seeing that as the idea of marriage, how does it shape your marriage when you finally get married?

I always believed that I was never going to get married because I felt like I couldn’t manage. I knew that marriage wasn’t like that, that my parent’s marriage was unique.

Also, because I’m an introvert, I was always aware that it was not something I was likely to get. So for a very long time, I never wanted to get married. I knew I wanted to have a child, though.

How did it feel like to finish your PhD.? Was there a feeling of accomplishment or even emptiness?

My PhD journey was complicated because I got married, I lost my mom, and I had two children.

So my PhD journey was quite long. It took me six years. Interestingly enough, because you have so much adrenaline as you’re doing it and you can’t wait for it to end and when you finally finish you don’t even know what to feel.

Yes, you’re happy but the amount of joy and excitement that you expected to feel is not equal when you get there. But it’s a journey and it’s worth it.

If you were given a second shot at life, what would you do differently?

I’d make some different decisions in life. I would also definitely learn to let just let go a lot earlier.

What are you struggling with currently in your life?

I’m struggling with feeling positive lately, contrary to what face value might look like. But I’m working on it. The other struggle is trying to figure out how certain facets of my life that I feel are not going as well as they should, like what to do about it, and how to make stuff work. 

I guess because now I’m in my 40s, I feel that I should be in that space of working towards the end of my career. I know that sounds weird seeing as retirement is at 60. But I know I want to do more.

Have you turned out to be the woman you always wanted to be?

Yes. But I don’t think I ever imagined I would be where I am now. In some aspects, I think I have exceeded the expectations I had set for myself.

I think where my children are concerned I have done way better (Chuckles). I also find that I have managed to create relationships and networks that I never imagined I would be able to.

I’d like you to vividly describe yourself at 60 years of age.

Oh my God; how much time do you have? Children are grown up and doing their thing. I won’t be working an 8-5 job. I will be engaged in an easier role because I want to. Most definitely giving back. Spending at least three weeks somewhere at the Coast.

I love the Coast, but I hate sand. I will be spending time at the Coast writing, reading, and just chilling. And at 60, this will sound very weird, I will be in love and I will be loved. And at 60, I’ll have very good dear friends around me.

What has motherhood taught you about yourself?

My children are 11, 8, and three. Motherhood has taught me that too much planning, and getting organised is in my head, children don’t allow you to do that stuff. It has taught me that I have so much love to give. It has taught me that I am worthy of so much love.

It has taught me to remain in touch with my human side. My children don’t care whether I have a PhD, I’m a Prof, or I don’t know where I am. They don’t care when they see me on TV, maybe for only two minutes. [Laughs]. They’ve taught me to just stop and smell the roses.

If fear was taken away from you for a day, what would you do?

I would pursue love and live my life to the fullest. Love, all manner of love really, is often a scary concept because to embrace it you have to choose to be very vulnerable with yourself and the other person, to put your heart at risk. Every day. But therein lies its beauty as well, doesn’t it? A real paradox. [Shrugs].

Give your 30-year-old self some advice.

Take a chill pill. [Laughs]

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