Java Thika Road Mall is ecstatic on Saturday mornings; from couples on dates to directors of newly established businesses meeting for coffee to register companies, elite ladies having ginger tea after a morning run and looking through emails (but really looking through Nairobi bachelor’s profiles) and a bustling mall all over. I however am late, running inside like a mad woman only to do a clean sweep of the sitting spaces and not spot my client, so I dial her number.
Wairimu is gracious, when I finally find her at Text Book Centre getting material for her portraits, I can’t help but wonder when she got this glow up. I wanted to stare but I’m trying to be as professional as possible despite the fact that we’re actually pretty good friends. A client is a client right?
Walking back to Java she tells me her glow is attributable to inner peace which has me feeling distraught at the number of water glasses I take in a day. Wairimu is an elegant lady. She’s the kind that will use the word phlegm instead of saying kikohozi or makamasi. I really can’t say the person now sitting across me is the same person I met three years ago when we went for Spellcast rehearsals.
Wairimu has grown to a writer, published author actually but we’ll get to that, a painter, performer, artist you name it, not forgetting she graduated top of her IR class at USIU (coincidence after last week right?)
I ask Wairimu how she started painting which looks like an art she perfected overnight. She says YouTube ( I really thought she took a class). I try to see if any waitress has spotted us as I find out what stands out for her about Kenyan creatives when she candidly puts out, ‘doing so many things aside from what we are expected to do’
Seeing the waiters are swamped and no one is coming to our table I go easy on the questions and we have a normal chit-chat. ‘Glynis there’s a need to be ambitious, make yourself visible by self marketing because no one will come to you unless you go to them.’ Wairimu emphatic about Kenya’s beauty especially after her unaccompanied trip to the Mara explains how she set out to paint. ‘I wouldn’t have started painting if I didn’t take my time alone. People are like seasonal and permanent rivers. Like the Mara river, seasonal ones will come and go. Don’t hold on to people too long.’
‘What inspires your poetry,’ I pry on as the waitress finally takes our order. ‘My experiences’ she says aptly ‘I’m still getting to know stuff at 22 but at the same time I’ve had a lot of experience. My greatest learning point is getting to love myself. We are all different and need reminders because we get absorbed in things we do and lose focus on who we are. We then lie that we love ourselves when it takes effort to learn the art.’
Her passion inevitably lights up the table as I jot down pointers. ‘I don’t do this because I stand to gain something’ She continues as if she knew what I would ask next. ‘I do this because I believe in doing something from my heart. Kindness is not something people give openly but throwing roses at people who throw stones at you is a win.’
Having featured creatives before I feel there is a perfect picture painted about how the industry is booming and money is flowing. Wairimu however is alive to the challenges ‘this industry is cut throat, for photographers it’s someone who was helping you with a shoot one minute stealing your client in the next, for me it’s having to finance my art for one. People are not art conscious for instance they will negotiate for a discount because they don’t understand why art is expensive. It’s not just a hobby and artists indeed spend sleepless nights to get their content.’
The conversation is seamless and the would be tension of a one on one interview echoes away. Wairimu draws you in with how much she knows on her field. She’s ready to take on a part-time job to finance her art. It is however very unfortunate (as a friend of mine would say) that we all see her wonderful posts and don’t credit her. She’s had to deal with people sharing her poetry as their own, ‘if you quote my work on IG tag me,’ she says.
I ask on her thoughts on the #paymodelske streak on twitter and she says, ‘if you owe any artist pay their dues, you don’t get things at the supermarket on loan. Pay for the art you purchase. More so, don’t buy because you are my friend but because you believe in it.’
As though building on the UCHi Kenya feature Wairimu told me of what inspired her book, Looking For Home available on Amazon here ,self-love, ‘When you love yourself you do the things that make you happy. Even if you’re not making all the money. God’s timing is right. People eventually acknowledge and appreciate art. Consistency is key because we in our own way we are gardeners.’ As we try to figure out who will eat the now remaining bite of the chocolate fudge cake we ordered to go with a Classic Lemonade Wairimu jokes about how she barely had 1000 followers on her Instagram last year when now she’s heading to 5K. ‘It takes time before people find you. In Kenya there’s this mentality that when you’ve made it that’s it, but my friends abroad understand how important visibility is. I could ask for retweets for my book and aside from that they go on to purchase my book and add-on to their shelves.’
‘Who are you reading,’ I ask on a random thought. She says she’s reading Najwa Zebian’s Mind Platter and Alexandra Elle’s Neon Soul: A Collection of Poetry and Prose.
I let Wairimu have the cake by pretending I don’t know it exists and move on to ask how a 22-year-old goes on to write a book. She says it started as any other word document on her PC (writers tend to have a lot of these) and wouldn’t have kicked off had it not been for Virendrasingh Thakur whose memory she acknowledges in her book. Thakur from Pune, India opened up to Wairimu about how he struggled with self-love after being dispirited by a lady who led him on with no intention of making it work. As he worked on extracting himself from a relationship that did not grow him and he asked Wairimu how to find self love and in advising him she started writing for both their healing. Thakur passed on in a motor cycle accident as she found out later.From this Wairimu points out, ‘knowing when to, distinguish between people who want to use you and who want the best of you.’
No boundary is too big for her, she has friends from all over, she knows for a fact that if she left the country today she wouldn’t miss a couch to crash on in Canada or India before she gets her own place. ‘A connection won’t go away just because there’s no physical presence.’ From her interaction with Thakur who opened up about being bullied because of his appearance, she knows you can’t fit everyone’s wants and needs ‘you don’t have spare parts, the body you’re in needs to be home.’ (See why it’s called Looking For Home?)
We’ve been talking for over an hour and a half and my phone buzzes, I know I need to leave soon but not without highlighting her numerous features.
- Wairimu was awarded for best short story in 2016 from an African short story competition translated to Spanish and shared in the world over.
- She’s an editor at bymepoetry .
- She has written for a Canadian Publication, Feminal Magazine Volume 1, that looks to elevate female writers.
- She has performed her poetry on numerous platforms from USIU radio twice; here
- She has been featured on KTN News morning segment that you can find here.
- She landed a newspaper feature from her art display at JKUAT youth market expo on Thursday March 18, on the Standard. Her work has even been ranked with the likes of Tapiwa Mugabe.
Wairimu’s writing has grown from pieces that would transcend as aspect of bitterness to diverse fields that you have to follow her journey to keep up with.
As the interview draws to an end I look at all I have and say, ‘when I grow up I want to be you’ because what she has achieved is nothing short of remarkable, but she quickly corrects me and says words i’ll carry on for a lifetime, ‘the best person to place a bet on is yourself.’
Wairimu definitely is a poet to watch out for.
Find her book on Amazon here
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Thank you for the feedback I’m getting on all the features so far and those lined up. Write to me if you feel someone story needs to be told on email@example.com. Let’s support our own!