By AWM Correspondent in Zanzibar
It is almost one year since Seraphine Mbote ‘broke the internet’ for appearing in a photo with then Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga. Seraphine, a Kenyan in Diaspora, in Zanzibar- recalls the events of that day, saying she almost shut off her social media accounts after everything went downhill immediately she uploaded photos of her and Raila standing inches away from each other.
It was a few hours after media reported that Raila was on holiday at an undisclosed location. This was at the peak of the tensions that marked the 2017 elections. Raila had just returned from USA, amidst chaos and confusion that marked his arrival. A mass demonstration, police and civilian brutal exchange, and casualties ensued. The NASA leader was said to have left Kenya to get some rest. When his photos in Zanzibar appeared online, he was with a woman – Seraphine.
“Who is that woman? What is she doing with Baba? Is that what he is doing in Zanzibar?” were among the questions that flew minutes after the photo hit the internet.
In less than an hour, Seraphine had been reduced to a meme and a trending subject on social media and blogs.
“I thank God for my parents Julius and Wangeci Mbote who stood by me and told me to be strong as people hurled insults at me,” she opens to African Warrior magazine on how she coped with the cyber bullying.
I was worried about what they would say. When dad called he said: My daughter give yourself strength. Just ignore them. Then he passed the phone to my mum who told me: “my daughter thanks for showing the world that you are strong like me,” she says.
The photo threw her from the obscurity of being a hotelier who has traversed the world looking for an excellent job to a social media sensation. Seraphine says her story and the struggles in diaspora goes deeper than that photo.
Her life has been that of rising and falling. Her climb to a top tour guide in East Africa was not easy. She has worked in almost 10 high end hotels in Kenya and abroad.
“It is never easy for Kenyans because we are too hardworking and sometimes we are attacked for that, especially if our colleagues don’t do the same. I have lost a job in the past in the diaspora having been fought so hard because I bargained a better salary,” she says.
She has been out of the country for close to a decade, and says she has experienced both the upside and downs of being away from home.
She however, appreciated the numerous opportunities diaspora offers.
“The highest moment for me was when the Residence hotel in Zanzibar sent me to France to study. They were paying my school fees of 10,000 Euros per two weeks. They had to fly Ohashi Watura, a Japanese guru and founder of Ohashiatsu international from New York to come and personally train me on the treatment called Ohashiatsu. I’m the only East Africa with the license and the fifth person in Africa to have it,” she says. She admires the value of education and training most diaspora countries put in different fields.
On the lows of being out of Kenya, she says discrimination hurts the most. She was embroiled in a fierce racism case with a former employer who she says would openly discriminate on black people and treat them like they were lesser humans. She won the case.
“He was a racist who fired junior staff illegally. I confronted him and told him straight to his eyes colonial rules are over. He fired me for that too. I filed a case, ignoring people who told me not to dare because I am a foreigner and I will not win. I was in Tanzania, and I won,” she says triumphantly.
She believes in seeking the silver lining in every dark cloud. When photos of her and Raila created a backlash, instead of wallowing in sorrow, she used the huge traffic coming to her wall to position her brand.
She used the platform to market her site Sasha Spice Zanzibar Spa.
“You have to learn how to grab opportunities even in the most unlikely places,” she says. Looking back a year later, she says she has no regrets for putting the photo online. It marked a new chapter in her social media life.