Florence Mbaya is a writer and a diplomat’s wife who chose the village which she believed she would transform over the city.
Mbaya, who has authored four novels: A Journey Within, Heritage High, Sunrise at Midnight, and the latest one The Morning After, tells me that writing can be very lonely and that only the writer knows what goes on.
Living in Sabatia, she is the chairperson of the Vihiga Dairy, through which they sell milk.
It is one of her small ways of developing her community. Mbaya spoke to Nation.co.ke.
Why did you choose to return to the village?
I did not want to be in Nairobi. I am a village girl. I had travelled with my husband. I had been a diplomat and then did not have a job. I wanted to enjoy the calm environment and bond with my community.
I wanted to just sit and write. But I was greatly mistaken.
And how was that? Was it not what you had anticipated?
I am in so many community projects, chamas, and school boards and now I am the chairperson of the Vihiga Dairy. However, I am happy because I have learnt a lot that I had missed before.
Where does your passion lie?
I am passionate about empowering women and girls, but I am not out there officially championing the cause. I do it in my small ways, besides my writing of course.
Which is that book you really wish to write?
I would like to write about my experiences, right about how I travelled. People want to know how my life as a diplomat’s wife was.
You make me curious, how was that?
When we started this diplomatic journey, I really had no idea of what it was and did not know what I was heading into. I lost out on my profession and could not hold onto a job.
I threw caution into the wind and said that whatever life God had chosen for me I would lead, hoping to find myself. It was quite an experience!
What had your profession been?
I did Government and literature in college. I was to be either a District Officer or a teacher. I was posted as a teacher, but a year later, my husband was posted out and we hit the road.
Could you not let him go while you remained behind?
He insisted to take the kids with him. I could not let them leave me behind. I asked myself what I would be without my children. At one point, I got fed up with the foreign life.
What else made you stop traveling abroad?
I came back and got a posting with the Ministry of Home Affairs, a position I stayed in for three years. The people I had gone to college with were mostly in senior positions.
I did not find it easy living with such a reality. What would happen if I kept moving around the world? Would I not come back and be the junior most member of staff?
Have you given thought to writing a memoir on the busy lifestyle you now lead here?
I have but I get so much busy and these experiences stay in the subconscious and when they start coming out, they appear different.
Even when I sit to start writing, the phone rings and I have to step out.
Does that mean you have technically stopped writing?
No! I am working on a fifth novel. A sequel to “The Morning After”. People keep asking me when it will be out and that pushes me to write on. I write, the first thing in the morning.
What made you start writing?
During the first posting, when we were in Netherlands, I tried my hand at writing. In fact, what happened was that I wanted to learn how to operate the typewriter. The dancing of my fingers on the keys aroused a curiosity to create words.
As a budding writer, what was your greatest hurdle?
My first book was rejected twice. When you are writing you believe so much in what you are writing that when it gets rejected, you start wondering what the matter is with the publisher.
The fear of rejection numbs many efforts.
What role did your family play in your writing?
My daughter insisted that I take the book to the publishers after revising it. She is the one who printed it and gave the father to give it to the East African Educational Publishers. It was approved for publication.
What was the feeling when your book got published?
I was in Dar-es-Salaam trying to practice golf when the phone call came that my book had been published. I tried phoning everyone I knew to tell them this but could not find anyone. I jumped and screamed in joy.
Who do you write for?
I write for the youth. When I submitted my second manuscript for publication, the publisher said I was the right person to write for the young people.
Why the young?
When I graduated from school, I already had my children. I moved around with them and they grew up around me. I have therefore been in touch with the young. I understand what they go through.
How well have you reached them?
My luck resides in the fact that Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development has approved all my books as class readers.
Has your passion ever creeped into your writing?
People had complained that I was writing for girls. I think it was my passion to empower girls creeping into my writing. My last book therefore tried to elevate the boy child.
How does the passion to empower women come out?
What I always ensure is that my voice is heard no matter the protests that it might provoke.
I believe no one can treat me less than who I am. It is what I tell women.
Women should not be put down because they are women. Not that women are better.
However, each person is good in their own unique way. I tell women here to speak out and be the ones at the front.
What do you think are the kind of stories people need to write now? What do you think are the kind of stories people need to write now?
We need writers who capture the present. The existing generation need their own stories.
Children of these days cannot identify with what the likes of Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote in the 80s. The events cannot exist in their imagination.
We have to write stories from which the young girls and boys will admire the characters therein.
How would you describe the ‘small ways’ through which you change the society, apart from writing?
Since the days when I used to market my books, I have gone to schools and talked to teachers, advising them at the request of the principals.
Some teachers are so lost they can’t think outside the teaching. I challenge them when I visit schools.
I speak to parents during meetings such as PTA and AGMs. I tell them how to encourage their children. I also speak to people in churches. I am a leader in church too.
I take time to listen to people and tell them what I think with a precaution that it is only how I would have dealt with their situation and they have reported back that my advice worked pretty well.
Even men come and tell me that they believe in what I say and so if it is an advice, they say they will follow it to the letter because “I cannot mislead them.”
Florence Mbaya concluded our chat by mentioning that she has been appointed treasurer in several groups because she "does not know how to eat money."