Taka Awori arrives at Sankara Nairobi bang on time. It would have been ironic had the general manager of City Clock arrived late, wouldn’t it? She explains what City Clock does with the easy flair of a snake oil salesman. “We aim to give the correct time to the community, when the community keeps time, clients advertise on our clocks.
But it’s not mere advertising, it’s trust. You trust us with your time. The rest follow.” Before City Clock, she was the general manager of Urgent Cargo Handling. She laughs from her navel and the girl in her is irrepressible. Taka—as JACKSON BIKO discovers—makes you feel that she has all the time to chat, that she’s not on the clock.
What part of corporate world do you enjoy the most?
How many parts are there? (Laughs) But it’s the process that I enjoy. Making things work, failing to make things work, trying again to make those things work. So far, I’m enjoying the journey.
Talking of time, what's your favourite time of the day? Or night, for that matter.
(Chuckles) That's a very good question. (Pause) I'd say 3am.
Isn’t that the hour of the devil?
On the flip side, my mother taught me that's the time for prayer. I have never been a prayerful person. In fact...wait, I told you my age, didn’t I?
I wish… 46. You know it’s only recently that I just learnt how to say I'm in my ‘late 40s,’ grudgingly, albeit. I've really hang on to early 40s. Up until 44 years, I was never a prayerful person. This 3am prayer thing sprang out of death in my family. My mother said, anytime you get up in the night—and we usually do between 3am and 4am — you have to pray. I kneel and I pray, even if for two minutes.
Why are you praying more now, is it connected to age, the realisation of your mortality?
No, just tough times. (Chuckles) But what's the life expectancy rate for Kenyans, 60 something? I’m still okay. In 2016, I lost my brother, our only brother. Before his death, I never thought death would visit our family, it was for other people. When it knocked on our door, it shook me. Now, I'm prayerful. I feel stronger in the sense that I don't despair. Before, there was always an element of “what if.” Not anymore. When I look back, I wonder how caught up I was with things that had no consequence in the larger scheme of things. Like weight, for instance. Now I feel nothing about my weight.
Is that why you are ignoring that poor cookie on your saucer?
(Laughs loudly) Oh no! Please, this is the Sankara, you just don’t rush for the cookie. You give the cookie time. Decorum. (Laughs) But no, I don’t have the insecurities I had when I was young. My weight has always yo-yo-’d a lot, and that came with major insecurities. I’d get a bit depressed and paranoid about the weight gain. Someone needed to make a small comment about my weight and I’d go away carrying a mountain on me.
At this age, I buried that. I don’t have time for many other things that would occupy me with worry. I am important, my time is important, and I carefully choose things I give them. As a divorcee, I went through anxieties, but now it doesn’t matter whether I meet someone or I don’t. I’m happy...very happy.
What can you not absolutely walk away from?
My son, Jordan. He’s 21 years now. I only have one child. We're not even tight. In fact, this interview might embarrass him. (Laughs) People say when children become teenagers they don’t want you around them. That’s how he is. But we share the same sense of humour, he will send me jokes on the phone and all, but he still keeps to himself even though I know he’s got my heart. And mine his. I’d chop off my hand and I give Jordan.
They say when children leave the house they leave a crater in your life, has that been your experience?
I live with him. So he goes to the dad on the weekends, and he's with me in the week. When he’s away I can be at my worst behaviour, because I don’t do convention very well. I don’t have to drink my wine in the bedroom. (Laughs). When he’s around I'm careful. He’s very proper, polite, well-mannered, a gentleman and I feel my quirkiness sometimes embarrasses him.
If he was a girl, what would you teach her at this point in her life?
That's a very good one actually. (Pause) I would say, “my darling, a beautiful girl has never been born, and maybe will never be born.” When I look at my journey, I have always thought that I was the most gorgeous, most intelligent girl in the room. But as I grew older and met Rwandese girls, I thought, has this always been a lie? I also realise that sometimes the pain I had is because I believed those things. My mom is an analogue kind of woman, and I adore her. She is the type that taught you not to take compliments. If you tell her that her dress is beautiful, she will say, “oh come on, this is all from River Road.” People call it positivity when someone says ‘yes, yes I know I'm beautiful.’ I don't believe in that.
I love that.
(Laughs) I suffered insecurities because I believed that I was the best, the most gorgeous, and what not. That's so naive. Nobody told me that ‘yeah, maybe you are, but you're not the ultimate, somebody would be better. That's what I would teach my little girl or my big daughter.
If you're told to pick between beauty or brains, what would you pick?
That's a dodgy one. (Long pause) Very, very dodgy. I pity men who have to choose. (Laughs) Sincerely brains is excellent. I see men who sit with a doll, but if you hear what’s spewing out her mouth! What do you do with beauty without brains? How do you engage? (Pause) But...you know what, I want both. I want a balance. Can I get a balance?
No. Not always. What are you most passionate about outside work and your clocks?
Interior design. My house in never the same. I’m always changing things.
Is that the same with your life as well?
(Chuckles) I change a lot of things in my life, I change friends. I think it’s a good thing. You have to find the space and things that you are happy with. I’m six months old in this new job, for instance. I'm about to change my car. I’m a fan of cars.
What car are you?
Land Rover. I’m close to being Caterpillar. Rough and rugged. I can ram into you and destroy you. I don’t see obstacles, I see things I can go past. I’m not a polite car at all. I'm complicated. I don’t conform. I can choose to be refined but I can also choose to be rough. I can be primitive too. (Laughs and picks her cookie) Listen, I think it’s only fair that you help me eat this cookie.