“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt

Peponi School, Ruiru is about 1.6 km from the Nairobi-Thika road. The road that accesses the school runs perpendicular to Thika road for about 800m then curves to the right at 90 degrees for another 800m. (I think I have just made my high school math teacher very proud – I finally found a suitable place to use that word – perpendicular!) My guess is that takes less than five minutes to get to school from the main road by car.

Several years ago, my friend Mercy and I visited Peponi School in search of jobs. We had recently graduated from the University of Nairobi. Encouraged by Mercy’s Dad who knew the school proprietors, we boarded a Mat and alighted at Clay Works in the heat of January unforgiving afternoon sun. I was a BotZoo major and I hoped for a biology teaching position. I had taught for a few months before joining the university, so I had some basic teaching experience under my wraps. Mercy was a BA, Sociology major and hoped for an art related position. We knew next to nothing about Peponi School, other than the fact that it was a high-end school that enrolled kids of rich Kenyans and expats. We did not know if they had vacant teaching positions or any other position for that matter, but there was no harm in asking.

I was dressed in a hand-me-down skirt suit from my elder sister and a pair of black Gemini heels, which had since lost the heel caps to expose the metal nails. I carried the obligatory brown envelope with my testimonials.

Back then, that access road was not tarmacked. It was a red soil dirt road. Walking in high heels on a lose-surface dirt road is a challenge. You have shift to your body weight so as to walk on your toes rather than landing full weight on your heels. That way, you minimize the risk of a heel coming off.

A thin layer of dust covered our legs, making it appear as if we were wearing stockings. My black shiny Geminis were now tony red. The brown manila envelope that contained proof of my employability had a damp patch from sweaty hands. I looked beat. I felt worse, and so did Mercy. We started to lose confidence and considered turning back and abandoning the mission.

Whatever little confidence we still had evaporated once the school came to view. There was no relation between the dirt road and the red brick buildings that was the school, surrounded by well-manicured grounds. It looked like elite schools that I had only hitherto seen in movies. The classes were in session. One of the classrooms looked like a computer lab, with students working behind monitors. Believe it or not, up to that point, I had never used a personal computer! And here I was, going to ask for a teaching job, to teach students who were using computers! What was I thinking?

A worker tending to a flower garden pointed us to the administration building. By the time we got to the reception area, we had changed our minds. We were not going to mention anything about jobs. We disqualified ourselves. There is no way Peponi School would have a job, any job, for the likes of us. Not even to tend the grounds. In the words of the ten spies sent by Moses to Canaan, we looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes. We were intimidated by our own minds. And, I am ashamed to say, we gave in.

At the reception, we asked to see the proprietor about some private matter. The person at the reception was extremely kind and polite. We were informed that the proprietor came to the school two days in a week. We could come back on any of the two days, or we could make an appointment to see her at her town office. We chose to contact her in the town office.

We left without another word. With our applications and certificates in the brown envelops. Without mentioning jobs. We had lied about contacting the proprietor in the town office. We were not going to. We were in a hurry to leave the school compound and wanted to put as much distance between us and the school as we could!

Would Peponi School have had teaching jobs for us? May be; maybe not. That is beside the point. What I know is that we lost the opportunity to find out. We lost an opportunity to market ourselves. We lost an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone. We had the opportunity to build our self-confidence and we blew it. We gave in to fear and intimidation. It is a day that I am ashamed of to this day.

Should a Peponi experience happen to you, do not be intimidated. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

P.S. I am passionate about helping someone who is looking for a job – whether a first job, mid-career, or in between jobs. If you need a second set of eyes to look at your CV, send me a message. And yes, it is a free!.

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