The Unwritten With: CIRŪ NGIGI – VULNERABLE AND OWNING IT

You know of Cirū  Ngigi, right? If you are, at this very moment, trying to figure out where you know the name from, here’s a decent guess, it’s probably from Facebook.

Because Cirū is big on Facebook. She’s big on Facebook because people love her. And they love her because her posts are  inclusive, and progressive, and vulnerable, and often very hilarious.

Cirū, on Facebook, posts about almost everything. On her posts, Cirū  talks about friendships, relationships, self-love, the education system, politics, governance, religion, and, of late, she’s really been swearing by Tinga Tinga Tales (a praise-worthy musical currently showing in Nairobi, throughout the month of September).

Cirū also goes personal on Facebook, a lot. She talks quite warmly about her family, and more often, her father, famously known on her page as, “Baba Shii.”

When we got to him during the interview, Cirū said, “My dad is such a feminist. He’s the definition of a feminist. He just doesn’t know that he’s one.”

And then we talked about other personal things, like her dating life, where I asked about these proposals she’s been turning down. A total of 12 men have, in the past, made marriage proposals to her.  And she turned them down, all 12 of them.

On an even deeper level, Cirū  and I talked about mental health. Because on Facebook, she’s a mental health advocate. And, I discovered during our chat, that in real life, when she’s not working in plastics, she is a therapist.

On almost all her posts, you’ll see that Cirū gives people the room to be vulnerable, to express themselves, to just be. Her Facebook page is a safe space, and she promises to read and respond, without judgement.

So people pour out to Cirū, about all kinds of things: toxic parents, abusive relationships, manipulative friendships, painful childhoods, joblessness, addictive habits, mistakes, and even struggles with forgiveness.

However, on other days, on the days when things are not that deep, Cirū  will just talk about random stuff, like lyonnaise potatoes, or body butter. And she’ll somehow make these very random things so interesting, that readers will react with laughing emojis, and they’ll add comments to the posts.

I asked Cirū how she would describe herself to someone she just met, and who didn’t know anything about her, and she said: “I call myself ‘irreverent’ on Facebook, I think it’s the perfect description. Because it truly is who I am. I am irreverent, and I am vulnerable.”

For this interview, Cirū and I met at Riverside’s Le Grenier à Pain for mid-morning coffee. It was over some very delectable tarte aux abricots, and eclaire au chocolats, that Cirū vibrantly opened up to me.

Cirū and I talked about it all: therapy, social media, romance, marriage, hitting rock bottom, faith, and a few other things in between.

Read on for more:

***

Cirū, what’s your full name?

(Burst out laughing) Yvonne! Is this how you really want us to start? With my full name?

Yes, please. Why not?

Because people hardly ever get it right. I mean, they just don’t get it right. And I sort of gave up.

It can’t be that hard, can it?

Well, it’s Lumiere Wanjiru Ngigi. (Laughs)

I know, “Lumiere” sounds fancy, but it’s not. It’s just a name. Anyway, I use Cirū Ngigi just about everywhere.

What do you do for work? Do you have a 9-5?

No, I don’t work 9-5. I’m in a family business, we are in plastics.

Okay.

So anything and everything that involves plastic material, we provide that.

You know I have to ask this, the recent ban on plastic bags, did it affect the business?

(Shakes head) No, not really. But that’s the problem a lot of us have, our thinking can be very narrow at times.  When the ban on plastic bags was effected, people kept calling and asking me how we’re doing, but there’s more to plastics than just plastic bags you know.

Got it. 

I also sell other things on the side, and I’m a therapist too. That’s what I studied in school.

Really?

Yeah, I trained to be a therapist. And I give therapy on my own terms.

How do you mean?

It means I don’t see more than six clients at any given time. Therapy can be quite involving mentally, and, I realised I’m better off handling a maximum of six clients a week.

Do you have an office for the therapy sessions?

No, I do it from home. I used to have an office, and then, with time, I discovered it’s better to have the sessions from home.

Better in what sense?

It, quite frankly, started accidentally. I had a client who came home once, and they really liked it, they felt quite comfortable, and opened up so easily, and it’s then that I thought, “This isn’t so bad, therapy from home could actually work.”

When the clients come to your house, don’t they infringe on your personal space?

(Shakes head) No. Not at all. I like having them around. At home, they open up, they feel safe, and they feel heard. It feels like having a chat with a friend on a couch.  So it’s a win-win for everyone.

Right, I see what you mean. 

Yeah, and also, at home, I can do things that I wouldn’t be able to do at an office. For example, I could bake for you. And I do. There are times I’ve baked for clients and I’ve seen that simple gesture go a long way in making them much more comfortable than they would have otherwise been.

Wow. Okay. 

Therapy is scientific, but it should never feel scientific.

Do you find Kenyans, in general, to be appreciative of therapy?

In general? No. But, for Nairobians, I think there’s a section that’s beginning to see its importance. I think the middle-to-upper-class Nairobi, are beginning to appreciate the benefits of therapy.

A lot of therapists have their own therapists, do you see a therapist yourself?

Yes. Certainly. I have my own therapist. I’d be crazy if I didn’t see a therapist. As a therapist, you almost have to see one.

Because you hear a lot of dark stories?

Exactly. We hear too many dark stories, and if you don’t see a professional, or talk to one, you can, very easily, become cynical about life.

And that’s the challenge with the job, people almost always come to us with dark stories, when things are really bad, hardly do they come because of self care. And that’s really, what therapy should be about, it should be about self-care.

Do you ever feel like the job has taken a toll on you?

No, not really. But that’s because I’m in therapy, I’m always in therapy. And that therapy helps me a lot, it helps me off-load, and it also helps to check that everything that’s going on with me, in my head, and in my life, is okay.

For anyone considering therapy for the first time, but they’re not really sure about it, and they’re wondering if it’s worth it, and if it’s for them, what would you tell them?

Do it. It’s probably one of the best decisions you’ll ever make for yourself. Love yourself enough to take care of yourself. Therapy helps you do just that.

I also think every Kenyan, with these last two elections we’ve just been through, needs therapy. The anger is everywhere, it’s on social media, it’s on the roads, it’s in meetings, and it all stems from some of the things we’ve been through as citizens.

So we’re not okay?

We are functioning, but we are not okay. We need therapy, so that we can heal, and so that we don’t pass on that toxicity to the next generation.

Your platform on Facebook, how beautiful. That you’ve created a space for people to just be vulnerable is very beautiful in itself. 

(Smiles) Thank you Yvonne. And I’m glad people have been receiving it well. I’m glad that people are appreciating it for what it is.

What inspired it, this need for you to create such a space?

Nothing really. It’s just who I am. I’ve always been the person people come to for advice, so I started the same on Facebook. But it came so naturally.

It’s almost like a space for online therapy, right?

It’s definitely online therapy! That, it is. With no judgement whatsoever.

With so many people writing on your page, do you feel famous?

(Laughs) Famous? Gosh, no.

Actually, this reminds me, I mentioned to a friend that I’d be interviewing you, and she’s been having sleepless nights waiting for this interview to go up, she’s also been harassing me on text. She said to tell you that she really, truly, madly, loves you. 

(Bursts out laughing) Oh, how sweet! What’s her name?

Njambi.

Oh, Njambi, that’s the sweetest thing ever. (Laughs) You should have brought her with you! Tell her I’m so touched, and I’d really love to meet her too.

I will. I’ll tell her. So such things, such comments,  don’t they make you feel famous?

(Still laughing) No, not famous, I wouldn’t say I feel famous. But I feel like I have a lovely community of people around me.

I really enjoy when people walk up to me and say hi, and as soon as they tell me they know me from social media, it usually feels like we are already such great friends. (Smiles)

When people meet you, what do they do? Do they ask for selfies?

(Laughs) Oh, gosh, selfies?!

I don’t know, no selfies? Isn’t that what everyone’s doing these days?

I mean, I think you ask Oprah for selfies, definitely not me! (Bursts out laughing) No one’s ever asked me for a selfie. I’d be very strange-ed out, if someone ever asked me for a selfie. That would be very strange. (Laughs)

Are you religious?

No.

Are you spiritual?

No.

Do you believe in God?

Yes.

Oh, I’m a little confused now. You do believe in God, but you’re not spiritual?

Well, I guess if you put it that way, then perhaps I’m spiritual. I have a very close relationship with God. He and I are like very good friends.

When times are tough, do you question Him?

I do, and then I don’t. You know, some things, are just better left as they are.

What, would you say, has been your lowest moment in life, thus far?

(Pauses) I’ve hit rock bottom a number of times, but, my heart doesn’t know how to do sad really well. And I’m grateful for that, for having the kind of heart that I do.

Although there have definitely been some things, things like the death of a loved one, that took about five, or six years, for me to attain something close to normalcy. Those were extremely tough times.

How did you get through them, the tough times?

I mean, generally speaking, I was still laughing a lot, and was still happy-go-lucky, despite being in lots of pain.

(Long pause) I think what I’m trying to say is, I’ve been functionally-depressive, when things have been real tough. But you can’t rush some of these things, and I think the trick is to go through them, not around them.

Okay. Let’s get into romantic relationships.

(Breaks into laughter)

Cirū.

Yes? (Still laughing)

How many times have you been proposed to again?

12.

12 times?

12. And I actually don’t know what it is. I need to find out what it is, so that I can stop doing it.

What it is that makes people propose to you? Or what it is that makes you turn down the proposals?

What it is that makes people think, “This is my wife.”  I need to stop doing that! 

Cirū?

I’m serious.

You do realise, that there are hundreds of women yearning to have someone propose to them, so that they can get married, right?

Yeah, but look, everyone has their own set of problems. This is mine.

Oh, alright then. 

(Laughs) Look, not everyone who asks for your hand in marriage, is worth marrying.

Wow. 

Seriously. And I’m beginning to ask myself this question a lot: “Do I like this guy because I like him? Or do I like him because he likes me?”

Because I feel like, a lot of times, women like men, because men like us, and because we’ve been brought up to believe that we’re the ones to be liked and chosen. But that’s not the way it should be, you should have a say in the person you’re going to live and be with.

Okay, so is it that these weren’t befitting in your eyes, or is it that you couldn’t see them in your life four or six years down the line?

I wouldn’t say they weren’t befitting, but it’s definitely more of I couldn’t see them in my future.

All 12 of them?

Yeah, all 12. And I have the rings. I kept them. (Laughs)

Would you want to get married?

I don’t know. I don’t think I’m the marriage kind. For a very long time, I was against marriage. I had no interest in it.

And now?

Now, I don’t know. I’m on the fence about it.

What characteristics, would you be looking for, in an ideal partner?

I fundamentally believe, that love is freedom. This for me, means that, at no point, should our love for each other, infringe upon our freedom to individually be ourselves.

So, for me, my dream marriage would be, a scenario where we’re wealthy enough, to live within the same compound, but not in the same house.  (Breaks out in laughter)

Alright. This then makes me curious, what’s your take on divorce?

(Shakes head) I feel like there aren’t enough divorces. Especially in Kenya. We have too few divorces.

What?

We have too many people staying in marriages that make them absolutely miserable. And they keep feeling like there is no way out. But there is, that way out is called divorce.

With such a bold and relatively unconventional take on things, vis-a-vis Kenya’s and Africa’s general aversion to divorce, how do you handle clients who come to you with marital problems?

When clients come to see me and they’re having marital problems, I hear them out and I help them. My job is to help where I can, if their goal is to stay married, I help them; if their goal is to end the marriage, I help them.

My job requires me to help clients achieve what they want, and I do that, but some of the things I see? No, some people are just better off going their separate ways. And they should be allowed to do so, without judgement or persecution.

Okay. Looking back, what would you tell your younger self?

(Pauses) I’d tell her that I love her. That she’s a fighter. That it might take a bit of a while for her to find her way, but she will. And that she’ll love God fiercely. That loving God will be a gift she didn’t anticipate, but one that she’ll be deeply grateful for.

I’d tell her that her opinions will change, and that it’s okay for them to change. I’d tell her it’s okay to choose herself (smiles), and that she has an unmistakable gut. Her gut is spot on! She should trust it. Every, single, time.

Any last words?

(Laughs) Ah, is this it? Are we done with the interview?

We are. 

Oh no, this was so enjoyable! (Laughs) Last words? I hope no one’s looking up to me as a role model. (Shakes head) Oh gosh, I really hope no one is. Because I’m bound to disappoint them, massively. (Laughs) Also, stay true to yourself. You’re worth it.

 

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