You should hear Catherine Muraga talk about mutura, that delicacy of goat/cow/lamb intestines sewn together, stuffed, and fire-grilled. It’s a storybook romance for her.
The only thing she loves more than mutura is, er, well, urm…maybe another mutura. Or sometimes masala tea brewed to the Kenyan mother standard viz., rich, brown, and scalding. But mutura is her love language. “If you buy me mutura, you won’t have to say you love me. I’ll just know,” she says.
We are at the Microsoft Africa Development Centre (ADC) at Dunhill Towers on Waiyaki Way, Nairobi where she serves as the Managing Director and occasional starter of rain. It is here that she puts it all on a platter: her afternoon siesta, her backpacking impulsions, and that handbag moment.
Even the sun snuck from behind the clouds, first to peek, but mostly to eavesdrop. All that was missing was a side of fatty, illicit, daktari-will-not-approve-this dish of mutura.
What’s it like being you?
I am very calm. So, if you are into calm, observant, and reading a room, that’s me. Very few things rattle me. It takes a lot for me to be set off.
What’s interesting about you?
That I can read a room. Some call it discernment, others EQ (emotional quotient).
What was your nickname growing up?
It is more of people referring to me depending on where we met. If people call me my middle name, I know we grew up together. In high school, I was called ‘Geisha’ because my mom bought me Geisha soap.
Do you still use Geisha?
No. My nose is sensitive to strong scents.
What remains unchanged about you since childhood?
That calm nature. I'm detail-oriented and still introverted. Introversion can be a superpower because it makes you very observant.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done as an introvert?
I have backpacked to Thailand. I was away for a week, just alone. I had a multiple-entry visa. It was a long weekend, and Thailand caters for every wallet side, and I had leave days and some money. It's a great destination for shopping and massage too.
What do you look for in a travel destination?
The food, and the vibe. I love to observe people, just sit at the restaurant and people-watch. In some countries people walk slowly, in others fast. In some countries, people are chatty, elsewhere they speak loudly.
What’s one travel destination that has stayed with you?
It’s actually two. Diani and Thailand. Their tangerine juice and chicken made in lemon grass. Just a vibe.
What gives for Diani?
Let me tell you, Eddy, we have a beautiful country and people don’t realise it. Look at the beach in Diani. I have also been to places like Vihiga, Butere, and Kisumu in western Kenya—it’s a beautiful drive if you use the Kericho route. So scenic.
What meal could you eat every day?
Masala tea, the one you brew the tea leaves, and boil Kenyan style. And I want it brown. Then you add ginger and it hits here [touches throat]. I love mutura too. Mutura is a love language. You give me mutura and I know you love me.
How often do you do mutura?
I don’t do it often. Growing up, chapati was special across most Kenyan homes, that’s how mutura is to me. I love it from Roadhouse Grill on Dennis Pritt Road.
But there are days I love ugali, fish, and traditional vegetables like spinach, and terere. That mix just slaps. Mmh.
Where does your love for mutura stem from?
When we had family gatherings, goats would be slaughtered and mutura was always a finisher. You’d have your rice, mukimos [beans mushed with potatoes] and soup.
Nyama choma would be going around but you always knew mutura was coming. I figured never to stuff myself, leave room for mutura, haha!
Can you make mutura yourself?
I have never thought about it. But if I put my mind to it, maybe.
What treat do you do for yourself?
I enjoy those days when I am just in my room. Me-time could involve a book, backpacking, or just sitting here enjoying the views, especially when it is raining. Rain just transforms a place.
What are you reading now?
The Culture Map by Erin Meyer. I have been with Microsoft for one year and three months. It is a global company. It is important to ask yourself, "How am I being experienced?" In Kenya, we are passive-aggressive and hierarchical.
In the American tech space, it is flat. Here we use official terms like sir. But in America, I’d just call the boss by their name.
We also speak a lot in parables and analogies. In other cultures, they just get straight to the point. You need to be aware of those points, otherwise, you may take it personally and feel like you have a terrible boss.
What’s the most boring part about being you?
The part where I have to leave a room just to be by myself. Say the bash is kicking and my battery is low, I’ll just leave.
What do you love most about your weekends?
That I can sleep in. There is just something about Friday that gets someone in an expectant mood. Like, ‘It’s Friday!’ I get to do other things away from work.
What’s a typical weekend for you?
Sleep in. Wake up early at times, and go for a walk. At some point I do what my friends and I call FMCG [Fast Moving Commodities Goods] shopping. Catch up on my book/s and social media.
Some weekends are for attending functions. Nothing fancy. But once in a while, I will find fancy stuff.
Sunday…Pews or PJs?
Church definitely. After lunch, an afternoon siesta, maybe till 6pm. But I am also a nocturnal animal. My colleagues are in North America, so my day starts at 10pm.
What’s your weekend soundtrack?
It depends on how the week has been. If it's been a week where I conquered things, bring Mkono wa Bwana [by Zabron Singers]. If it was a heavy week, I’ll look for something inspiring. Why should I wallow in that poor-me syndrome? Good vibes only, haha!
What’s one thing you are proud of but never get to talk about?
I am proud of the things we have done, impacting universities. We visited 10 universities last year and have been able to change the curriculum for two bachelor’s degrees at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology [JKUAT]. And when I see folks that I am mentoring get promoted, I am always like, "Wow!"
Is there something new that you’ve been considering trying?
I am big on experimenting. Here at ADC, we want to try things on some cybersecurity stuff. There is a global shortage of cybersecurity experts.
Can we carve out a curriculum for cybersecurity in universities? It was sad to see the outage of e-citizen services for so long.
Think of it as a fire station: maybe they have come [to an emergency scene] and don’t have water, or they are so far so the house continues to burn down. So how do we change that and how do we partner with the government because ni sisi ndio tuko.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve spent money on?
I bought too many handbags. I’d be like, "Oh, the colour. Oh, the side looks cute.:" And they were so cheap they didn’t even last. Don’t spend all that money, lump it up and buy one good piece. Amortization.
What’s your superpower?
Discernment. Reading a room. I am drawn to blank canvases. We need to go to x. How do we get there? Or spaces that are disorderly and need order.
What does your billboard say about you?
Oh, wow. It won’t have my picture. It will be testimonials from people I have impacted.
What’s an absurd thing or unusual habit that you love?
Is drinking many cups of masala tea absurd?
Maybe. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Eddy, you have hard questions. But it has to be mutura. Kwanza some parts of mutura have the fatty bits. So I am like, "Cholesterol…hahah!" And when you are enjoying it hot, how it just melts in your mouth.
And with ugali made just right…you know the ugali that imeungua [sligthly burnt] kidogo? Haha! Now see I am craving mutura.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
That I gift thoughtfully. Because I am observant. If I were to gift you, I’d want it to connect with you.
What’s the secret of your life?
Being content. That doesn’t mean you will always have everything. And the spirit of gratitude. Appreciate what you have.
It doesn’t mean killing your ambitions, but you can be so busy chasing that big thing that you don’t notice things that just happen. Contentment and gratitude.
What’s a weekend hack that can make my weekend better?
Delegate things that you can delegate. I have never met children when they are reminiscing about their moms who say, “Oh you know my mom really used to go the supermarket and shop.”
That work can be delegated. It’s always my mom came to watch me play. Time spent with the children. It’s not, "my mom picked the ripest tomatoes."
Are you a mom yourself?
What’s the best part about motherhood?
It’s a gift. You’ve been gifted with these lives to mould. It’s up to you what you decide to pour into that cup. It’s a heavy responsibility.
How do you balance with everything that goes on in here?
My goodness, Eddy. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that. Do you ask the same to men?
Okay, but please let’s change that narrative. Because there are men who are leaders, who are very intentional fathers and spouses.
Please start asking them as well, because they are also taking care of the home and office. It’s not a balance. For me it’s appreciating the season. What season am I in my career? Learning? Coming out?
Taking on more difficult tasks? Is it a mundane season or getting stretched? The same with parenting. There is a time when the home front will demand of you more. The wisdom is in knowing what season am I in.
What are you learning from your children?
Children remind us that everyone is uniquely created. It is very tempting to try and superimpose yourself as a parent, robbing the child of sharpening their uniqueness.
Who do you know that I should know?
Many people. I have a very strong community of friends. We have kept each other grounded for 15 years. We call it ‘Wazazi’. We first met in church and wanted to figure things out together. I also have another set of friends called ‘Twelofs.’ Twelve but the Kenyan way [chuckles]. We are just ladies, the same age, who knew each other right from campus, before the cars, we used to jive, first jobs, living in SQs and we’ve been together for a while—through it all. Those are amazing people.
And of course, ordinary Kenyans. The other day I was driving in Westlands at night and there is this lady who makes chapatis, tea, et al, and she is probably educating her kids courtesy of this. I used to know a newspaper vendor who educated his children from that job.
You will not see them in the Top 40 under 40, but you listen to their story and realise there are people doing amazing things and can teach you much about personal finance management. I challenge you.