Charline Kwamboka Chronicles: The journey to a new home, career in California


By Charles Chancori


I never cared much for money. Not really. Not many people believe that when I say it, but it is what it is. I am twenty-four years old and I have never had money. I have been a student, an actor (a crappy one for that matter), a writer, and once upon a time, my boyfriend Davis called me a couch potato. So I guess I have been a couch potato too.

Thing is, I have never stayed at a job I hated. Consequently, I ended up swinging from job to job like a monkey from tree to tree. Like there was this sales and marketing job that somebody hooked me up with when I was a second year student at Kenyatta University and I hated it! I hated that job with everything I had. It entailed me showing up at the supermarket at eight in the morning and leaving exactly twelve hours later. What would I spend that time doing? Trying to convince folks to ignore one type of a DVD machine and buy another. Even though I hated that DVD machine that I was trying to sell. I didn’t believe in it. It was a crappy machine but who the hell cares, right? Just as long as I got to take some money home at the end of it all.

But then I realized that money has never been a motivation for me. It was never the reason why I left the house in the morning. So one morning I called my boss at around 3:00 am, drunk out of my mind, and I sang a song to her that sounded a lot like,

“You can keep your job I don’t need it! (Insert a whistle). Just take it back and hurl it out the window for all I care, (Insert the horn like this is Jazz and follow it up with Frank Sinatra voice), Because I hate it, I hate it, I hate this frigging job, so you can shove it…”

Needless to say, she fired me even after I had quit. I don’t know why she did that. Maybe it made her feel better as a human being. Maybe when I called her in the middle of the night (well technically it was 3am but she always had a flair for the dramatic), I pricked her ego with my, let’s face it, lyrically superior song. Well, not quite but you get the point. Besides, I was drunk. And twenty. And frustrated. What did she want from me?

Anyway, she fired me, then went ahead to tell all the advertising agencies in Nairobi not to employ me. Because apparently I was a pigheaded, hotheaded, sheep-headed megalomaniacal female who would amount to nothing whatsoever! Wow! She was intense. I felt insulted by all that and even tried to procure the services of an advocate with the intention of suing her for libel or defamation (never could tell the difference between the two) or something catchy. Like character assassination. Turns out that is not an actual tort.

But no advocate would have me because I was just a rude and broke twenty-year-old girl who felt very entitled. Like the world owed me something because I was such an awesome person. Well, at least that’s how my mother phrased it when I approached her to pay my legal fees. And that’s how my boss got away with assassinating my character.

Oh, by the way my name is Charlene. Charlene Kwamboka. I was born and bred in Nairobi’s Buruburu Estate, wrapped up my education at Kenyatta University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree (English Literature) and I have been jobless for a while now. At least that is what everyone says. Including my boyfriend Davis. He called me a potato couch! Or a couch potato! Or something! Can you believe that? A potato… Argh! I can’t even get it right.

I am sure by now you have noticed my affinity for digressing. It is a habit I am working on fixing. Well, I have been working on that for about twenty-four years now, which is just about how old I am, so I guess I am not really working on it.

When I was a little girl, I told everyone my name is Charles because I guess I always wanted to be a boy more than a girl. I rode the bicycles around Buruburu with boys, played soccer with them (people don’t like it when I call ‘football’ ‘soccer’, but then people don’t like many things), fought with them and lost most times. It always was a glorious day when I won. Boys hated being kicked around by girls but hey, these things happen.

But when my teenage years came calling, I started having visitors once a month and some lumpy painful things popped out of my chest. The whole world calls these visitors ‘periods’ and the lumps ‘breasts’. I wonder who came up with these names. Anyway, these are the reason why I dropped Charles and just accepted that I would forever be Charlene. Took a while but I got my head around it eventually and even took a job once at the Kenyan Chapter of the Organization for Women Lawyers (OIDA-K) as a public education officer.

This was a good job by the way. I got to meet many people, share something about rights with my fellow women (Gosh I feel like such an activist right now!) with the aim of empowering them, because hey, information is power. Apparently. But I hated my boss. She was really uptight, did things by the book only when it suited her, gossiped a whole lot and generally talked more than I could listen. But I will save her story for another day.

Right now, I will just share that one Saturday I woke up nursing the devil of all hangovers and I drafted a perfectly worded email (whose subject was “I Quit!!!!!!!!!!!”) to her wherein I expressed myself thus; (Yeah. I can write like a lawyer too. Thank you OIDA-K)

“Dear Hannah,

I hope this mail finds you well.

I have re-evaluated my time at OIDA-K and decided that it is a very awesome place to work. The learning experience is the best a young professional in her early twenties could ever hope for, the challenges are very interesting and I am happy to report that I am proud to have been part of the dedicated team that always came up with the solutions to the same.

(Insert Ian Mbugua’s Voice) However, you are the most terrible person any human being would ever be condemned to work under. You gossip, you never reply emails on time and you are late with deadlines which makes you very unprofessional, you never smile, your interpersonal skills suck and you commit fashion felonies every day! I really don’t like you. Like, at all. I never knew what “hate” meant until I met you. If I had to choose between working under you one minute longer and quitting, I would quit without hesitation. And if I continued working for you, I think I would live just one more year at the end of which I would walk into a shop, buy a dagger, get it sharpened and disembowel myself at Tom Mboya Street in full view of a million people. That is how much I hate you.

Consequently, I quit!!!!


Charlene Kwamboka.”

I copied her boss and her boss’s boss and hit send. Oh the glorious feeling I got when I hit send!

Then you know what she did? She tried to sue me! For libel. Or defamation. Or something. Basically, she wasn’t amused by my email. And so for a few months there, my name was on a case file somewhere in a registry at Milimani Law Courts. As a defendant! But then OIDA-K terminated her contract claiming that she was unprofessional and basically just employing a whole lot of legalese to buttress the point raised in my email. So the charges against me were dropped and I learnt a new term then. Fair Comment. Got to love lawyers. They have a word for everything.

Nobody would employ me in this country after that. Not even the fairest boss wants someone who could wake up in the morning and tell them exactly what they are in an emailed in which their bosses are copied. Nobody likes honesty. Not absolutely. Besides, people keep saying that I always blame every one for my problems but myself. I wonder where they got that from.

I have always loved writing. So when I ‘tarmacked’ for a few months without any hopes of getting a job, I tried to write a stage play and cast myself as the lead. I was booed off the stage. Whoa, that was embarrassing. I couldn’t leave the house for a month after that.

So my mother kicked me out. With a smile and a firm handshake. And the following words, “There comes a time in every chick’s life, when the mother hen has to kick her away to fend for herself. You my darling, are officially out.” Well, she didn’t say that but she got in the habit of throwing that, “Get a job” line to my face every minute of every day, so I packed a bag and moved in with Davis. Who called me something with “Couch” and “Potato” in it.

And that was when I decided to start looking for jobs outside the Kenyan boarders. I decided that even if I got a khat hauling job in Mogadishu, I would take it just to show everyone that I didn’t need them. That I could hold a job like every other adult out there. Of course every day I wondered who came up with this whole “adult” vibe and why they had to mix it up with a whole lot of responsibilities and ass-kissery. But if we had answers to all questions, the world would be a fairly boring place, would it?

By the way, how come “adult” is a good concept but if you add a few letters at the end of it to read “adultery” it becomes a really messed up but quite common concept? I mean, you would think that “adultery” is the art of being an “adult”, right? Do you know that the word “engender” has absolutely zero to do with “gender”?

I am digressing again, aren’t I?

Then one morning I came across an advertisement for this teaching job in California and I applied. I guess this is the only reason why I am seated inside this plane next to a dozing, snoring, drooling gentleman who keeps trying to lay his head on my shoulder.

I am not excited. I can’t feel a thing. I guess it hasn’t yet dawned on me that I am flying to America to teach English to children who people like calling “immigrants.” Then it dawns on me. I will be an immigrant too. I will no longer just be Charlene Kwamboka. In California, I will be “that female African teacher who teaches those immigrant kids.”

Am I sure I couldn’t have tried harder to look for a job somewhere closer to home?


Don’t miss part 2….




  1. Great piece. The digression gives it a twisted yet fresh plot. I love that it has, embedded, with it a sense of humor. Waiting for the next one.

    Avid Reader.

  2. Its awesome, keep moving and for sure you will land somewhere safe. Your stories are so captivating….eagerly waiting for part II.

  3. I love to read your story…Some thing to do with how you relate with real life that has me hooked to your writing.
    That is a nice piece and I love the simplicity with which you write…
    Keep up, in case,a book is coming out soon, you have a ready buyer.


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