“It took all of 40 minutes for life as I knew it to change completely,” Susan Waweru starts her story. She is in high spirits when we meet for this interview. Her short hair is dyed red. She is wearing bright purple pants and an equally bright smile. She seems to have healed from the horrors that riddled her earlier life. Or maybe she just hides it well. One can’t tell.
“Memories of that day are still very fresh on my mind. It was August 30, 1996, 2am on a Sunday when I was woken up by shattering sounds. I knew instantly that we were under attack,” she says.
That wasn’t the first time that thugs had tried to break into their family house in Kiambu. The first three times, her father had been able to ward off them off. This time though, he had just been discharged from hospital and the gang of thugs banging on the doors was bigger – around 20 young men. They managed to bring down the doors and get in the house.
“I remember all of us – my parents and my three siblings – at one point, came out of hiding (because it had fallen silent and we thought it was over) only for them to ambush us. My father was the first. He was attacked with machetes and his head slashed open.”
Susan hid under a bed while the thugs beat up her mother and older sisters before taking off with their valuables. “My mother died from shock two weeks later, after my father’s funeral.” Susan was only 16 at the time.
Susan, her two older sisters and her brother were now orphans. After the funerals, their relatives went back to their lives, leaving them all alone. Those who stayed did so because they wanted control of the businesses and properties that the wealthy couple had left behind.
“By December, there was nothing left for us at home so after sitting for my KCSE, we moved to Nairobi to start life again all by ourselves,” Susan says. Things were hard for the family. Susan washed clothes and tilled farms to get by. “It looked like a dark cloud which was not moving. I cried myself to sleep for many nights.”
Then, at age 20, she had her son Emmanuel. Although her boyfriend walked away immediately she told him she was pregnant, Emmanuel gave her something to live for. She started getting her life back on track and she even enrolled for a catering course. Then tragedy struck again. “One day in 2005, we saw on television that my pregnant sister and my six-year-old niece had been hacked to death by her husband. Then he was stoned to death by a mob. We are never going to know what (caused it),” she says.
This brought back all the pain of nine years earlier that she had been trying to forget. “I got depressed. I would wake up in the middle of the night crying.” After weeks of this, when she realised that there was no one coming to help her, she resolved to dust herself off and face life again.
LOOKING FOR A SILVER LINING
“My Christian faith was very helpful during this process. It took me a year and a half but I eventually started the process of forgiving those who had harmed me,” she says.
Looking back, Susan reckons that her life experiences have made her stronger. Every morning when she gets up, she resolves to look for positivity. “I may have gotten over my experiences, but life is never perfect. There are still a million things that could go wrong every day. I go out looking for the silver lining in every situation, even the very bad ones.”
Susan acknowledges that she still has scars. For years after her parents were attacked, she slept with a nightlight on. She is still very wary of nightfall. When the sun starts setting, that is her cue to go indoors. She also hates crowds.
“I am an introvert. I haven’t gotten round to talking about my experience to groups of people (although) I know that it might help someone who is going through something similar out there,” she says. What she is great at is one-on-one therapy. She is the go-to friend that her troubled friends talk to. Having seen it all, she easily offers a listening year and a shoulder to lean on.
Susan remembers a time when she would look over her shoulder all day. Now she is more settled. She has pursued her love for cooking and now runs her own company, Sue Mobilic Chef.
“It’s hard to feel alone now. My job makes sure that I am always surrounded by people. Most of the time, they are happy people,” she says.