By Mukurima Muriuki
Having immigrated from Kenya to America with her family over 20 years ago, Purity Ateku Waringa had dreams of one day becoming a Disc Jockey (DJ).
She would mimic KBC English Service presenter John Obong’o Jr., whom she had always admired. Although this dream is currently on hold, Purity is still living the American dream. African Warrior Magazine interviewed Purity about her journey to America.
What has been your biggest lesson while living in America?
The sky is not even the limit. There are no heights one cannot soar once you put your mind into whatever you want to accomplish. I am a living proof of that.
Describe your life in Kenya before migrating to America.
I grew up in the village in a very happy home. We were the wealthiest in my village because our family was the happiest (based on my biased opinion). My father, who is now deceased, worked as a driver for Kenya Commercial Bank. My mom has always been a farmer.
My first job was as an untrained teacher at Buru Buru High School, where I was making a monthly salary of Ksh 1,795.00 ($17.95). Later, I worked for the Bangladesh High Commission. After losing my job, I became a hawker; I would buy groceries at Marigiti and sell them door to door in the estate. I would also go to the Gikomba market, buy teddy bears and sell them door to door. It was too much of a hustle.
How was America different from Kenya?
We first settled in Boston in the middle of winter, and this cruel weather hit us hard! We had assumed that since we were going to the land of abundance, there was no need to carry warm clothes. When shopping for some winter jackets, I was shocked to learn about thrift stores. This was our new reality.
Life in America was lonely at first. I did not know many people, but I quickly built a network around me.
Talk about the career path you chose in America, and why you were drawn to it.
I worked in a nursing home for about two years as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Most of my friends chose nursing as a career, but I knew that was not the path for me. My dream was to work in Corporate America. I wanted an office job where I could wear heels and suits. I signed up with a temp. agency, and they sent me to my first assignment – Prudential Insurance and later to a permanent job at Northeastern University in Boston. I worked there for four years and then moved to Texas. I got a job at a university in Dallas where I did various tasks for 18 years. I now work in one of the Big 4 companies, and I am loving every moment of it. I also pursued a bachelor’s degree (Sociology) and a master’s degree in Organization Dynamics.
What is that one thing that people don’t know about Purity?
I love telling stories. I was always a curious child growing up, and sometimes my curiosity got me into trouble. When I write my stories, I want to download whatever I am thinking from the depth of my heart so that it’s real and original.
You are a leader at K-NADS. What does this mean to you?
This is one of my greatest achievements; not only for me, but also for almost 1,200 plus Kenyan women in North America. This number includes the diaspora returnees. K-NADS (Kenya North America Diaspora Sacco) was born on Social Media. A group of 8 pushed this dream from a single post on Facebook to what K-NADS is today. Currently, we are a strong Sacco with more than a quarter Billion shillings in capita. This is representative of the hard work and sweat of a few Kenyan Women in North America.
A poignant illustration of our purpose is summed up in the following account.
One day an old lady from my church asked me to go to her house in order for me to help her sign up. As we filled out the forms, she confided to me that she had never had a ‘bank account’ and an account with K’NADS would be her first. That was an awakening, and an affirmation of our purpose. Our mantra is, “No woman left behind.” That grandma is the reason why we exist, so that no woman is left behind.
There are growing cases of couples migrating from Kenya, who part ways a few months into the American life. What do you think is the cause?
Interestingly, there are many cases of couples that are doing so well in their marriages, but we never get to hear of them. We only hear of the couples that are splitting, the fighting ones, the drama kings and queens, the cheating husband, the wife who doesn’t submit, and so on. We forget that there are at least 5 other couples madly in love, raising amazing kids, and building a life together. Life, as a family, is not always easy – especially in America. There can be pressure from so many corners.
First of all, adjusting to a new environment is tough. Women tend to thrive faster than men because they are less choosy when it comes to jobs. The result is that the woman will find a job, and the man may be left with the kids for an extended period of time. That right there can be a challenge for an African man who may have grown up hearing that “Men belong to the workplace while women belong to the kitchen.” That’s a possible cause of friction at home.
What happens in that case is that the woman can only support her family for a given time before she begins to resent the man left at home watching Churchill on YouTube 24/7 or browsing through African Warrior Magazine (ha!). The man, already overwhelmed with frustration of being unemployed may resort to violence or alcoholism
Someone told me that Purity is hilarious. Is this fake news?
LOL… I am a happy person, and I am Purity. I am me. I wake up in the morning with a purpose to happily live the best day of my life. I say things and write things that many people wouldn’t say or do. I tell stories from a happy place, and that is why people think I am hilarious. I am. I can’t tell a joke when prompted. It must be spontaneous.
Talk about raising a family in America.
This has been the most satisfying project in my life. Our kids are now 27 & 24, each living a life of their own to the grace of God. Their dad and I decided to let them find their own place. We did not smother them to a point where they could not breathe. We encouraged them to spread their wings, to go out of state or travel so they could see other places and experience other cultures.
They have spread their wings in ways we did not even imagine. They were once teens, with teen issues like any teenager, but I always tell parents that we are the best advocates and cheerleaders for our kids. Even when they are struggling, we have to encourage them and cheer them on like they are the only child on the stage called life.
Raising kids in America is not without its challenges. For the most part, kids are confused along with the parents. We raise American kids with an African mindset, and that drives parents and the kids crazy. In our case, we listened to them. We cheered them when they chose majors and minors that we probably wouldn’t have chosen. However, we always told them, “whatever you choose, you are the one to study it.” We didn’t want to dictate. We offered guidance when needed, and we were careful to step away when not needed.
My husband and I allowed our kids to be thinkers and to find and celebrate their identity. We encouraged them to find their place, and we never wanted them to be like us. We wanted them to be better than us, but more than anything else, to be the best version of themselves.
They say everything in Texas comes in big. You live in Texas and Dallas has the highest number of Kenyans in America. What makes the state attractive to immigrants?
There are people who give Dallas a bad rap, but I will tell you, there is no place like the Big D! There are amazing people in Dallas, and great community organizations. Additionally, we Dallasites know to support our own. There are also many great opportunities and resources available for anyone to thrive. Compared to other places in the US ( for example the Northeast and California), Texas is less expensive, and there are plenty of jobs. Dallas has some of the best Kenyan community organizations, and we know how to support our own.
What do you think is the role of Kenyans living in Diaspora?
Our role is to be the best representation of ourselves that there is out there. Individually, we must make communities and improve ourselves in whichever way we can by finding opportunities where we can thrive financially, mentally, emotionally, socially etc. This is important because when the total person is empowered in the ways described above, the family will thrive which results in a thriving community, etc.
As a community of Kenyans living in the diaspora, we must find a way to make an impact in our countries of residence. Additionally, we must not forget that the motherland needs us; ours is a bigger call and the aim should be to lift up these two societies. Fortunately, we have many organizations like K-NADS, KUDS, KWITU, GOTAGBA, DFW KUGA na GWIKA, Lewisville Declaration, ABEINGO groups, etc. among others that are vehicles to achieving so much for their members.
Which Kenyan in America Diaspora inspires you and why?
Mmhhh… I am my own inspiration, and the other person is the confident Kenyan in the Diaspora who just won’t allow anyone to box them in a little corner.
If you were to give advice to a Kenyan who recently migrated to America, what would that be?
Do not settle for less! You must think beyond the people you know or your community. You must network with other groups of people that don’t look or talk like you. I would tell that person to take advantage of every opportunity there is in the land of milk and honey.
I am driven by two things: Desire (Passion) and Persistence. Napoleon Hill said, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything”.
On Persistence, he (Napoleon) said, “there is no substitute for persistence. Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel.”
As Purity, is if I want success, I have to keep fueling that which I desire to accomplish; and the means to achieving that is persistence.
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