She talked about how she struggled with low self esteem, and how she contemplated suicide among other facets of her life that many did not know.
Here’s how the interview panned out
- Kanze is a “born tao”
“I was brought up in two different places because my mum worked in Mombasa and Nairobi. Most of the times I would go to school in Nairobi, and go to Mombasa for holidays.”
“Even my shagz – Mazeras – is a cosmopolitan area. It is an area where Methodist Missionaries camped in colonial times. The place has a railway line passing through it, and I saw Nairobi or Mombasa bound buses making their trips.”
- She is responsible – at least to those who know her personally; could it be that she is the first born?
“I am the middle child; my mother had three other kids before me and two others after me. Technically, I am the fourth born in a family of six (five girls, one boy). I was raised by a single mother.”
“My brother was way older than me; we have nearly 12 years between us. He wasn’t given much preferential treatment; only the last born was accorded special attention – my mother was very fair.”
“I was the most playful and cunning one among my siblings. I remember when I was 12 and living in Nairobi, my mother banned me from playing outside our house.”
“There was this gap in our bathroom window. I used to climb stools and jump through it so that I could go play with my friends. One fateful day, our house help got tired of seeing me sneaking out. So, she locked the window and there wasn’t any other place I could use to get back in besides the main entrance.”
“Unfortunately, that time (5:30 pm) my mum was driving in and she questioned why I was out of the house – especially after she’d warned me against playing outside. She thoroughly beat me! I even said to her: ‘I doubt if you are my mum.’”
Kanze and her mum eventually resolved their differences amicably: “We sat down and agreed that during school holidays, I would travel to Mazeras so that I could play as much as I wanted.”
- Which games did she play?
“Kode, pushing tyres, pulling toy cars, bladaa, climbing trees…I think I was up to par with my male colleagues. When they asked me to play any game, I would fit in and be ‘one of them’. I didn’t notice any gender difference when I was playing with them.”
- With that amicable relationship with boys, at what time did she realise she is different – at least biologically?
“When I joined boarding school for upper primary classes, I realised I had serious body changes. I looked at other girls whom I shared a classroom with (standard five, six) and noticed they weren’t developing as fast as I was. My breasts had developed, my hips had broadened… and men would stare at me.”
She quickly learnt that she was different – according to her, in a ‘bad’ way.
“Naturally, I have slightly bowed legs – I did not consider that my unique gait was “wrong” because no one at home mocked me.”
“When I became conscious of my development, I realised I walked differently from other girls. That is the point that I started keeping to myself. I toned down my playfulness – I was wondering what was wrong with me. Men laughed at me.”
“I’d slouch because I wanted to hide my breasts. I’d wear long clothes to hide my legs too – I used to be very shy.”
That, she says, was when she marked the beginning of her struggles with low self-esteem.
“I did not feel like I was as beautiful as other girls. The guys would always laugh at me – ‘Huyu msichana ywatembeaje?’ They’d constantly ask.”
- How did she deal with all this negative energy?
“I would lock myself in a secluded room and bury my head in books. That’s where they could not get me because we fought for top spots in class.”
“I am also a talented actor; so during drama festivals, I would act and recite poems exemplary well. I had something that everyone applauded me for. That was my escape.”
“In Embu and Eastern Province I was a well-known person! Should you ask someone who studied during my times if they remember a girl by the name Kellen Kanze, they would affirm that they do.”
“That was my world. When I walked on stage, I commanded the audience – whether I was acting in a play, dancing…It allowed me to get away from the fact that everybody would laugh.”
“Boys would come and talk to me because I had become a star! They respected my Swahili prowess and articulation. I think that was a mechanism God gave me to survive.”
“The moment drama festivals were done, I’d go back to the same cocoon and realise I am different from other people. For a very long time, I’d never allow myself to wear clothes that were fitting. I thought I had a big bust and unattractive legs.”
“When I was in standard seven, I was appointed the school’s head girl. I felt a little bit important, but still; I did not want to be different. Honestly, if I had the opportunity to enhance my looks and alter parts of my body, I would have changed the way my legs looked.”
- How did she finally overcome low self-esteem?
“It has been a long journey for me to come to terms with my body – to know that it was mere biology that played a part in my fast development, that it wasn’t my fault. By the time I understood all that, I had already ruined my posture – even now I slouch.”
“I am more victorious now than I was then. However, I still face criticism from people who think I am less than beautiful – especially women. I have encountered some who occasionally give me side-eyes because of my gait.”
- On contemplating suicide…
“Low self-esteem pushed me to contemplating suicide at one point. Right now I am in a better place. I am more victorious.”
- Ladies who suffer esteem issues are vulnerable, and they often fall for men who assure them. Did she fall for the trap?
“It happened many times. I remember receiving many letters in high school (Kyeni Girls). During assembly, my name would be called out as girls got letters, mostly from their boyfriends.”
“When I completed school, there were no men to boost my self-esteem by writing me letters. I joined college and got my first serious boyfriend.”
“Unfortunately, I fell pregnant. Sadly, after delivery, my daughter Natasha died at three months. I felt like I was a failure. I grew up during the age when pregnancy outside wedlock was treated like a very big sin! It was a battle, but I managed to survive through the pregnancy. When my daughter died, I was like: ‘Hee, hapa Mungu amenipa kichapo!’”
“The death of my daughter took me through a period of depression! I wondered: ‘Will I be the girl who everybody knows gave birth; but her daughter died? She went through all that, now she has nothing to show for it?’”
- On getting a son and losing a mother
“I joined the church believing God will surely help me. For a moment, everything seemed positive.”
Storm clouds started to gather again when she realised that she was pregnant with her son, Amani.
“The sad memories of the death of my daughter reoccurred. Consequently, I was buried in deep thoughts. I wondered if I’d make a good mother, and if I’d get married afterwards. My relationship with my baby daddy wasn’t good at that time. The period was a turbulent one for me.”
“My mother also fell sick around that time. She was diagnosed with colon cancer and she needed financial support. I was unable to support her as I had just delivered Amani.”
“Sadly mum passed away on August 8, 2007. It was a big blow! I wish she was alive to see me read news on TV today.”
Like most mothers, Kanze questions if she is the best parent for her kid. Her 10-year-old son, however, tells her that she is the best mother on earth.
“He tells me: “Mummy, you are the best mum ever!”
“That statement melts my heart! When he wakes up, he comes to my room, greets me and inquires about my health. Amani then hugs me, and tells me he loves me. That has made me feel strengthened.”
- How she landed a job at KBC…
Kanze Dena studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Foundation College of Professional Studies.
She got her first job at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) as a radio presenter shortly after completing her internship.
“One day I was going to read 4pm radio news, and there was someone who did not show up to read the television bulletin. In the process of rushing to the radio studios, the TV news producer saw me and asked me to anchor the 4pm bulletin. They handed the radio bulletin to another person – Khadija Ali.”
“It was my first day on TV; I did not know matters make up or grooming for TV… Actually, I was kind of a tomboy.”
“I read the news, and afterwards the boss called me. I had blundered a bit, but he told me that from that day henceforth I’d be reading 4pm news on TV. I was later promoted to reading 7pm bulletin alongside Badi Muhsin; I owe a lot to him.”
“I remember the first time we went on air as a pair, my voice failed me – I had panicked. It came out with a shriek. Badi read the lead story; and when we took a commercial break, he told me: ‘Nini bana, nini wewe waniangusha? Soma! Mimi hapa wazungumza nami, hebu waeleze wakenya jinsi unavyonieleza… imagine uko chumbani mwako wapiga gumzo.’”
“After that I gained confidence and he mentored me all the way; from 2003 to around 2006 at the KBC. I joined Citizen TV in March 2007.”
- Has she overcome her insecurities?
“Even now, I don’t believe that I am beautiful. People send compliments, but the damage had been done – I had already told myself I am not beautiful. I don’t have the legs that other girls have; I don’t have the posture that all the other beautiful girls have… I am definitely not that ultimate beauty! However, I appreciate that people perceive me to be beautiful,” concludes Kanze.
Courtesy: Citizen Digital