It is Thursday: Yvonne Wamalwa has just been confirmed dead, it’s pouring with rain, and there’s an awful car accident on James Gichuru road. Also, I’m scheduled to have a meeting with Uduak Amimo, and she’s arrived before me, I’m panicking.
Uduak and I meet at the Toranj Restaurant in Lavington. With the rain serving as a backdrop for our conversation, we cover everything from death to aging to children, partners, regrets, pain, and dreams.
Uduak is a full-blown introvert. She’s also tough, and careful, and, very sassy. Her sassiness is, however, reserved for a few. If you could make her just comfortable enough, you could get to see her sassiness. The sassiness is in her words, and facial expressions, and hand gestures.
When I, for instance, ask Uduak why people think she’s very no-nonsense, she says, “I don’t know. People keep telling me to smile more. To lighten up. To be more pleasant. I don’t get it. It’s like, have you ever asked yourself why I’m not pleasant around you?”
It takes me a few seconds to think of my next question. And before I can come up with something, we both break into honest, unguarded, laughter. It wasn’t really in what she said, but in how she said it.
Although easy to laugh with in the right context, sitting across Uduak, I see a distant sadness about her. I wonder if this perception is accurate.
It is when I ask about her upbringing, that I begin to truly understand what Uduak is made of. Uduak talks to me about her childhood. It’s a dark conversation. It’s a conversation that makes Uduak say “dark” a lot. And it’s a conversation which, she requested, not to have all its details published.
“Why not?” I ask. “It could inspire someone.”
“I agree. And I’m not objected to inspiring others. It’s the reason I said yes to this interview. It’s the reason I’ve taken a break from Cheche. But this stuff is a lot. It’s intense. I’m happy to talk to people who are going through similar struggles as I did, but I’d rather share one-on-one, not online,” Uduak explains.
Uduak, born to a Nigerian father and Kenyan mother, has, in the past, travelled and lived abroad; is now based in Kenya, and is popularly known for hosting the weekly, current-affairs talkshow, Cheche.
Uduak has taken a break from the Citizen TV show to see how she could mentor or coach younger people who are keen on getting into the media. It’s a cause she’s greatly passionate about, and one which she talks about with not only her mouth, but her eyes too.
On lighter matters, in case you’d ever like to gift her, perhaps it would be useful to let you know that Uduak doesn’t take wine, she’s allergic to flowers, and although she likes chocolates, she’s dedicatedly watching what she puts into her body.
Uduak, this is a pretty sombre start to the conversation, however, we were just talking about death earlier, are you afraid of death?
Yeah, that’s quite a grim start, but I get it. I was actually at a funeral earlier today. (Pauses) No, I’ve been in some dark places myself, so I’m not really afraid of death.
I think what would bother me, is if I got to the end of this journey called life, and realised I didn’t fulfill my purpose.
Do you believe in heaven and hell?
(Thinks) Yes. I believe there’s a place for evil people, for the likes of Hitler and Joseph Kony, and I believe there’s a place for people who make the world a better place.
When you pass away, what do you hope to be remembered as?
Who would be doing the remembering?
Let’s go with family.
I don’t have a family of my own. But I hope my siblings remember me as their elder sister who looked out for them and who had their back. As for my parents, that’s a bit difficult. That’s entirely up to them.
Would you like to have your own family one day?
I’d like to have my own people, yes. I’d like to have someone to talk to at night, I’d like companionship and I’d like someone to travel with. I’d also like to have twins. (Pauses) I don’t know if it’s too late, but it would be fantastic to have twins.
Are you currently dating?
What would make an ideal date for you?
(Thinks) A date where we are able to connect deeply. It could be that we are playing, having fun, scuba diving, riding bicycles, whichever, but if we can connect deeply, that would be more than ideal.
Long walks, long talks, that kind of depth works for me.
And apart from depth, what other qualities would your ideal partner have?
A person who’s God-fearing, kind, self-aware and one who likes to challenge themselves. But really, kindness is key for me, because people can really be unkind.
If, by fate, you don’t get to have a partner and or your own children, would you be okay?
I would be fine. I would be okay. I’m sure there will be ways to occupy that space.
Adoption, yes or no?
I’ve thought about it. I thought of adoption even when I lived in London, I’ll find a way.
Would you ever consider getting someone to just father the children and then raise them yourself?
(Pauses) When I was younger, I used to think husbands and fathers weren’t quite necessary. This was because of my childhood, the dysfunction in my upbringing and the things I’d gone through. Because my uncles really came through for me, I used to think, what children really need, are uncles.
I’ve since grown to know better. So no, I wouldn’t deliberately go out and choose to deny a child one parent. Children need both parents.
Things happen, and a child is left with one parent, like divorce or an accident. But to set out intentionally to give a child access to only one parent? No.
Did you always plan to be a journalist?
No, I was going to do Law at university, in South Africa, but this was when apartheid had just ended, and they were being funny with their visas.
So I went to USIU to mark time, and by the time the visa came out, I had discovered journalism.
How is Cheche?
It’s great, but I’ve taken a break from it. I’m currently training to be a coach.
What kind? Life coach? Media coach?
The actual qualification, offered by the organisation I’m training with, is called Personal Perfomance.
But it is somewhat similar to life coaching, although for me I’ll give it a media focus, because I find that quite a number of people come to me seeking media guidance.
What advice would you give to young people looking to get into journalism?
Know why you are getting into it.
Kenya makes celebrities of journalists, especially if you’re on-air. And sometimes people think the biggest ticket to fame is journalism. If you’re not careful, the fame will destroy you. Be very clear as to why you’re getting into it.
Any other advice?
Today, with the digital space, content is king. And that – the content – should be, and should remain, the main goal.
I see people who focus on traffic, and numbers, and popularity, and trending, and that’s all fine, but that shouldn’t be the goal. If you make that the goal, you’ll only set yourself up for disappointment.
Your interviews are a good example; interview people because you like it, you enjoy it, you’re passionate about it, you find fulfillment in it and you hope to inspire readers by it. Don’t do it only because you want traffic, that’s not what journalism is for. Stay true to yourself.
Do you have any role models in the media?
I don’t really have any role models per se, but this is because I went into journalism for ideological reasons. However, I do have much respect for the likes of Christiane Amanpour.
What are some of the things you did in your 20s, that you’re incredibly proud of?
My 20s! I’m proud that I followed through with a career path that I’d never quite thought of taking on. I did well at university, graduated with Honours.
I also became more settled in my 20s, I had a sense of stability, this is compared to most of my childhood as I’d always been back and forth between my parents.
Are there things you wish you did differently in your 20s?
I was, at this time, in the US, undertaking my Masters. But I think, just because of the history with my parents, I was always in a hurry to be independent, to be on my own, and to achieve.
I could have been easier on myself, I could have gone a bit slower, and decompressed from some of the things I’d been through.
Decompress and heal?
Correct. I think if I’d have taken time to heal, I’d have been more self aware and more careful when it came to relationships, not just romantic ones, but also in terms of the people I allowed into my space.
With hindsight being 20/20, what would you tell your 26 year old self?
My 26 year old self? Hang on, what year was that? (Takes out phone to calculate) I was in the US at the time, and I’d been headhunted for a job in the media, this was supposed to be fantastic, but I was miserable.
I was miserable because I hadn’t come home for two years straight and the studying and working had gotten to me. I also hadn’t learnt yet that I was an introvert, that people exhaust me.
I would tell my 26 year old self to take time and get to know myself better. To learn who’s good for me and who’s not, what I’m good at and what I’m not, what environments I thrive in and what environments I don’t, what gives me energy, and what drains my energy. Knowing oneself is very key.
And your 35 year old self?
Where was I at 35? (Takes phone out to calculate again) I was on a mission at the time, to just leave London, and I ended up in Ethiopia. At that stage, I wasn’t very tolerant. I knew what I wanted, and if something didn’t work for me, I was out.
So I’d tell my 35 year old self to take time and be more strategic in my thinking and with my moves, especially when it came to work.
Are you afraid of ageing?
Not necessarily. I think there’s a point I’ll get to and I’ll be content, but the getting there might be the problem. The process where your knees hurt, your back hurts, your energy dwindles, that wouldn’t be too pleasant.
In terms of friendships, what are some of the biggest deal-breakers for you?
Friendships (pauses), I’ve had friendships end for various reasons: feeling unsupported, violated, misunderstood, taken for granted. Being taken for granted, this, for me, is a big one.
If we call each other friends, and for some reason, you need support and I support you, I show up, but then when the tables turn, I’m in a crisis, the sky is falling on my head and you’re nowhere to be seen? That’s it.
Do you let go of relationships and friendships easily?
It depends on the level of emotional investment. Sometimes, your head knows what to do, but your heart takes a while to catch up.
Why do you think people stay in toxic relationships, even with the awareness that life really is short and should be lived in the best way possible?
For some, the relationship serves a certain purpose. It may be that it validates you, or that you’re insecure, or that you don’t know how to stand on your own. For other people, they just don’t know any better.
What do you think of slay queens and sponsees?
I’m not one to judge. I don’t know what one’s background, or life has been like, to make them choose that path. But if you do choose it, be smart about it, think of and invest in your future.
Do you have a ‘squad’ you hang out with?
What is a squad?
People who hang out in groups, almost always have more than one camera with them, and often like to show that they are living ‘the life.’
Wow. Okay. That’s something else you’ve introduced me to today, in addition to this very beautiful restaurant.
I wouldn’t know where to start with a squad, I didn’t even know what that was until just now. Yvonne, (shakes head) my level of introversion is on another level, you wouldn’t even begin to understand.
How was the interview?
It was deep. This was a very deep conversation, which is my kind of thing. I enjoyed it.
Apart from hoping to inspire others, why else did you agree to the interview?
You could spell! I liked that in your text messages, you could spell. I immediately dismiss people who can’t even get my name right, it’s ridiculous. Also, you came across as organised, you even sent a reminder this morning, that was nice.
Uduak, are you happy?
(Pauses) I think life is a journey. I find that things like happiness, fulfillment, contentment, are not destinations, they are not an end in and of themselves. These are all by-products of alignment, of purpose. I would like to think of myself as being aligned.