BIKO INTERVIEW: A part of me died with him


Laura Chite, CEO, CIO East Africa. PHOTO | COURTESY

Laura Chite worked for Microsoft East Africa for 16 years. It’s the only job she ever held after graduating from Egerton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Sociology. That was before she joined publishing, working for CIO magazine.

She recently started a programme called Hernovation, targeting women in information technology who want to thrive and find success in this male-dominated field.

She met JACKSON BIKO at Tamarind Tree Hotel for a chat about life.

What is your biggest struggle currently, as a woman, as a professional?

I was married for two years before my husband died. We didn’t have children. As a woman, one of my biggest struggles is being alone. I think everybody must have a companion.

As a professional, I’m struggling with questions of the youth at the workplace, especially women in an industry like IT. How do we grow in this environment that is male-dominated and how is a woman brave enough to go to the next level?

You mention your space being male dominated, how women should sort of survive, how have you survived?

I think one of the reasons that I have survived is because I'm not a technical person when it comes to the technology world. I'm actually a marketer and marketing is typically a woman's thing.

Marketing in technology, you're expected to understand technology to a certain extent. And technology for me is a passion, it's a way of life. And that's how I believe I've survived. I've been able to use my charm as a woman to open the doors in technology. Men don't make technology sexy, women make it sexy, and that's the difference.

Let's go back a tad, you say one of the challenges is being alone, these are things you could have —and can— change, right?

Yes. If I wanted to. But I've chosen not to. And the reason I've chosen not to is because I'm in a comfort zone. I have sisters who have children, I have friends who have children, when I want to have children over, they drop them off. Last year for my birthday, you know what I did? I celebrated my birthday with only children. We baked, we cooked, we toasted with non-alcoholic champagne, and that was fantastic.

But right now, where I've reached in my life, I'm thinking is this really it? Because I'm not going to share those children forever. I'm privileged to share them now but not forever.

You're right, I can change that and I've reached a point I'm thinking about it. Do I want to have children? Yes I’d love to have children. Do I have options? Yes I have options. Have I looked into them? 2019 is my year, I’m gonna look into it.

I'm not sure about a partner, and I'm very clear about this. The biggest struggle is I'm in a situation where I compare a lot, because my husband was an amazing guy.

If the curtain was to fall now, what's the one thing you wish you'd have done?

(Pause) Had children. That's my one desire. I wish I'd had them when I was younger.

Have you read Michelle Obama's book, ‘Becoming’’?

Not yet.

Neither have I, but I was told that it’s about becoming someone new or different at a different stage in your life. What are you becoming now?

I think I'm becoming a woman who is going to change lives. The one thing I realised after leaving Microsoft after 16 years is you have to create space for the next person.

(Pause) But the thing I didn't mention is about my husband killing himself. For me, the one thing that bothers me everyday is the high rate of suicide—especially amongst young men.

We have a problem and society needs to address it. This is the one thing that I feel I must get involved in and champion. I don't know how, and I don't know when, but I see myself doing it after I'm done with this part of my life because people are struggling, especially men, and they don't have anyone to talk to.

It's because of the way society is. It will not give you the opportunity to express yourself if you're a man, it means you're weak. Our society judges you if you have a mental or a personal disorder. We assume you're mad.

I'm sorry to ask, but do you know why he killed himself?

He had a personality disorder; bipolar. It was discovered very late in life. I'm not a specialist, but this is my observation from what I saw with my husband, when you have a personality disorder, the older you grow, the more pressures you have in life and the worse it gets.

Did you feel that that unfortunate event reflected on you in whatever way?

I did. Maybe that's one of the things I should have said when I was saying I don't think I can commit again. I felt like a part of me died with him. It took a lot from me, and at the same time I was balancing my life, I had my career. So when he got to the point he was now acute, it was really bad, he couldn't do much.

He was a very successful man. But the quality of life had deteriorated and it took a big part of me. As I took care of him, I was judged a lot. My personality changed a lot. I even heard a couple of years later that people said I had something to do with his personality disorder.

How did it change you?

It made me start thinking of life and how fickle we are. We're quick to judge, you know.

Do you feel you'd have done anything more to avert that calamity?

I used to ask him several times “what can I do?” And he would tell me “there's nothing you can do, I have to help myself and I don't know how.” He would be like “I've done everything.”

He left a suicide note, and the first thing he wrote was “tell Laura I love her very much, but I can't continue letting her live in this pain.’’

They say there is always some good in every bad. Have you found any good in him committing suicide?

(Pause) Yes. It has made me talk. Because when he was alive, I tried to control the situation as much as I could. It has made me more sensitive. I'm always ready to help somebody else who has gone through something like this.

It has made me more aware of my environment and it has also made me think before I react to a situation. As I said, we're very judgemental as a society, very judgemental. So I try not to be. And I always tell people, don't judge.