Tuesday, 1 July 2014

How I’d love to meet my father!

My name is Susan Kikuvi and I am looking for my father. The last time my mother, Alice Munee Wambua, saw my father, a Kenyan of Indian descent, I was less than a year old.
We lived in Nairobi, Karen, until I was about two years old. Mother later got married, and we moved to my stepfather’s home in Thoma Village in Kola, Makueni County. My stepfather, who passed away in 2008, was a good man who treated me as if I were his own daughter.
However, there are some who were not as accepting of me as he was. Due to this, my childhood memories would not make a happy script. Being fair-skinned and having “come” with my mother, I was considered an outcast by some, who told me that I would bring bad luck to that homestead.
In fact, when my stepfather passed away, there were those who dared to say that I had somehow caused his death, never mind that he had cancer.
I remember someone insensitively telling me to go find my mhindi father. Had it not been for the love my late stepfather had for me, as well as my mother’s and siblings’ unwavering support, I probably would not have survived the taunts that were directed at me.
At Kyamwalye Primary School, I was the odd one out, thanks to my skin tone and hair texture. All the children called me mhindi, though at that time, I had no idea what the term meant. In my mind, I looked like my parents and was no different from everyone else around me.
My schoolmates must have seen something different from what I saw in the mirror and would make a game out of pulling my hair, pinching my cheeks and nose, something that distressed me.
My saving grace was that I was a bright pupil, and because of this, my teachers appreciated me and those who harassed or teased me were punished for it.
You would think that the harassment would stop when I joined secondary school, but it did not. I remember this time when some teachers accused me of using chemicals to straighten my hair, something that was forbidden. They would not believe me when I told them that my hair texture was natural. To prove me wrong, one teacher made me wash my hair under a running tap.
I must mention here that I still had not accepted that I looked different from the rest of the people around me and that I hated my physical appearance due to the negative attention it got me. I hated my nose, cheeks, and fair hair, which I started to shave so that people would stop commenting about it.
Though I had often wondered about the kind of man he was, I gathered the courage to ask my mother about my biological father in 2006. I was 26 years old. She told me that my father was Indian, and that they met when she worked for his family in the mid-seventies as a house help. My father’s name, she told me, was Karkar.
A short while after their affair started, Karkar, who was a sales and marketing person in a company that sold precious stones, got her a job as a shop assistant in the same company, located at the city centre. She continued living in the servants’ quarters at Karkar’s home. However, when my mother got pregnant, Karkar rented her a house in Karen and would often visit her.
She also told me that Karkar was not married, and that theirs was an open relationship in the sense that he did not hide it from his family. It was after she got pregnant that her family and Karkar’s put pressure on the couple to break up the relationship.
Mum tells me that after her father found out that my father was Indian, he was so furious, he threatened to disown her. He also vowed that he would do everything in his power to ensure that my mother did not marry Karkar.
There was no possibility of that happening anyway, since there was no way Karkar’s family would have approved of him marrying a black woman. She says my father wanted to marry her and that he loved her. If it were not for pressure from both families, she is sure they would have ended up together. To date, she still speaks well of him.
Despite all these complications, I decided, with my mother’s blessings, to look for my father. However, I could not bring myself to begin the search until 2011, three years ago. The shop where my father worked when he and my mother were together is no longer where it once stood, along University Way. My mother directed me to an office in Westlands, where she was sure Karkar’s former boss was still based. She assured me that he would know where I could find my father.
You cannot imagine how nervous I was as I summoned all my willpower to get into that office. The person I found there said he knew a man called Karkar, but that he was out of the country. I made many trips to the office, but they would keep telling me that he was still out of the country. Eventually, they stopped letting me in, so I stopped going.
According to mother, my father and his relatives lived on Riverside Drive, (Chiromo Road) then later moved to Muthithi Road, Westlands. Information I managed to glean in 2010 indicates that he could now be living in Runda, though I am not certain. Even if I was, I cannot go knocking on all the gates in Runda asking whether a man called Karkar lives there, can I?
My father, I am told, was short, bald, and small-bodied. That is not much to go on and, of course, his appearance must have changed significantly over the years. My only hope of finding my father, therefore, is if he happens to read this story and chooses to contact me.
Susan Kikuvi during the interview on June 24, 2014. Susan who is in her early 30 is looking for her Asian father. She has endured discrimination in her life when she attributes to her Asian look. PHOTO/JEFF ANGOTE
Maybe he would want to know a little more about me. After completing secondary school in 1997, I took some computer-related courses and later studied hair and beauty therapy as well as sales and marketing. I am hardworking and paid for these courses myself using what I made as a sales person and debt collector for a company at industrial area.
I later worked as a secretary (I am a trained secretary and have also studied front office management) at a law firm in the city centre. Later, I got a job with a church organisation, where I worked for several years before leaving. I am now studying journalism and mass communication at a college in town and will graduate in December this year.
I may no longer be a child at the mercy of bullies in the playground, but I still get discriminated against because of the way I look. I was once rudely asked why my “mean Indian” relatives could not employ me when I went to a certain office to look for a job.
I live in Kasarani and cannot count the number of times I have been asked why I live there instead of Parklands, where many people from the Indian community live.
That is not all; several times, I have been targeted by thieves, and in October last year, one of the robbers who broke into my house said he wondered why I did not have money, yet every muhindi had plenty. A second one demanded that I produce the  money I kept in the house, and when I told him I was jobless, he got angry and stabbed me three times in the right arm, insisting that mhindis kept their money at home. I was so scared, I moved.
Even those who should be protecting me from such attacks have had fun at my expense. Once, when I was going home from work in the evening, policemen on patrol asked to see my identity card. When I produced it,  one of them laughingly quipped that these days, even Al-Shabaab militants get identity cards. I protested, saying that I was as Kenyan as they were even though I looked different. They let me go.
Another time, when I went to buy meat, the butcher asked me why I was buying beef, yet, nyinyi watu (us) worship cows.
Many people call me kasupuu (beautiful) because of my hair and fair skin, a term I detest. Why not just call me by my name? It has reached a point where I feel as if my skin and hair are a curse that my father placed on me.
If you are wondering, I am not married, neither do I have a child. I do not know whether it is just my perception, but I have a feeling that men are afraid to approach me because of my appearance. A man I know once told me that he could not marry me because I would be too expensive to maintain, that only a very rich man would marry an “Indian” woman. He may have been joking, but such stereotypes are damaging.
With time, no matter how open-minded you are, you cannot help wondering whether a man’s interest in you is genuine or whether he is just passing time as he looks for the “right” woman to marry.
I want to meet my father because everyone wants to feel that they belong somewhere. I feel that after meeting him, I will finally be able to come to terms with who I am. I also want to know more about my roots. I would also want to know what my father looks like. Maybe that will help me finally have an identity. It is not enough that my mother tells me that I look like him; I want to see for myself. I would also like to hear his side of the story.
There are children who look for their parents hoping to get money or property; my motivation is different. I just want to come to terms with who I am. I am not interested in money. I am an adult and do not need anyone to take care of me.
I am prepared for anything, positive or negative, even rejection. Rejection would hurt me, but at least it would allow me to move on, to get closure.
If all goes well and my father, Karkar, gets to read this story, I would be glad if he decided to contact me. I would be quite happy to meet him. I have not dared to allow my imagination to go beyond our meeting, so I will end my story here.

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