As the sun sets in Santa Monica and a notorious traffic snarl-up jams many of the streets, the Santa Monica Pier becomes a welcoming sight as I wait to meet Hesh Njeri Maina.
The horizon, to the West of the Pier, seems to be stitched with a silver line. Just as my thought process begins to reflect about my beloved Kenya and the gaping hole left in my life after my grandfather passed on a year ago, I am interrupted by the sound of seagulls squawking and squabbling for morsels provided by a little boy, who looks every bit, a rascal, and whose mom cannot control his joy drawn from knowing he has conquered the heart of the birds!
I look at my watch and it is already fifteen minutes into the agreed time of our meeting. Just as I am about to pick my cell phone and text Hesh inquiring of her whereabouts, my sensory receptors get drawn to the barbecued aromas drifting from the kitchen of hotels along Santa Monica Boulevard, with the saline tang of the sea mingled with the cuisine, adding salt to its appeal . I can feel my intestines asking tough questions. I successfully manage to send a cryptic message to my rumbling stomach that I would take care of the matter at hand-in due time. I longed to devour a Tilapia. How I wished that this part of the world could serve Ugali or matoke to accompany the Tilapia! Just as I imagined my fingers pinching on Ugali, I heard a familiar voice:
“Hey Muks. I am sorry I am late….thanks for waiting…it was not the traffic. I got late because I had to go to school and along the day I lost track of time. I am sorry…” It is Hesh. She is sincere. She does not blame the traffic, but goes for the bare truth. I can see the sincerity in her eyes, which no sculptor could have fashioned any better. I extend my hand to say hello but she gives me a ‘duh’ look and instead offers a warm embrace. I let her known of my stomach’s predicament and she concurs that something ought to be done! We decide to walk across the street to one of the restaurants and satisfy the pangs.
As we saunter through the busy streets, I notice most guys steal glances at Hesh-the mesmerizing beauty of every single step she took was heart swelling to many a men. A that point, and aware of what is going on within the environment, Hesh lets me know that her Swahili is not very good, and that her Kikuyu is limited in its finesse. I agree.
Hesh was born in Kenya and moved with her parents to Minnesota when she was 4 years old. She considers her childhood as having been relatively normal. She had the advantage of having her mom who stayed home to take care of her and 2 younger siblings, while her dad worked and brought home, the proverbial bacon. “I went to a private elementary in Minneapolis. It was as normal as it could be because I had nothing to compare it to because I came here at such a young age and did not experience the Kenyan system of education.” She offers.
We get to the restaurant and I am anxious to know how she ended up starring in the much-acclaimed video to Sauti Sol’s song- “Isabella.”
She orders lobster, and its served on a bed of watercress. I go for Tilapia, and in lieu of Ugali, I order mash potatoes. Its served with a smooth and fluff texture and this makes me yearn to ‘attack’ the dish without much further ado!! Hesh makes it known of the tenderness of her dish and the briny taste, just as she was hoping for, not forgetting the sauce which had a hint of bouquet to it.
As I engaged the sumptuous dish, my eyes kept looking for door openers to keep the conversation going in the face of the delicacy. As I did this, I noticed her pencil-thin eyebrows ease down gently to her black, beetle’s-leg eyelashes, that complimented her linear nose and sorbet-pink lips. Her Amazonian figure sat well on her wafer-thin body, which again revealed a decanter shaped waist. Her complexion has this impeccable glow which convinced me she must have bathed with soap made from a Musambya leaf.
“Currently I am a nursing student and I also moonlight as a model. My passion is in modelling, which I can only do part-time. There is a difference between a career and a passion. I have to first fulfill the requirements of my career-nursing, before I can set out to fulfill my potential as a Kenyan model. But then again, time is running out and time can only be ripe to do what is right.
You asked how I got to be on the Sauti Sol Video. Ha! It is actually a funny story. Last year during the Las Vegas edition of the Safari Sevens, I had just landed in Vegas when my good friend, DJ Slim called me and asked me to head over to the Hard Rock Café. Not knowing what was going on I stroll in at the hotel with my suit case, only to be welcomed by the sight of Slim, Fully Focus and Sauti Sol along with some other people. I was introduced to the group and next thing I knew we were talking about my filming schedule for the weekend.
The rest is history. The love that I received for my small role in a great song was overwhelming. My family here and even in Kenya were all very pleased. However, I have to contend with being called “Isabella” by people when I first meet them.
In five years, I see myself married and with possibly some children. I also want to start an African modeling agency, being that I know the first hand the struggle of being an African model in the industry. You see, as a black model in Los Angeles with a unique look, my challenges include not being selected for commercial gigs or advertisements because my looks ware not that of an ordinary girl selling a product. My agency (Pinkerton models) thought that my look was very high-fashion but I was told the downside was that I was too short. So I fell between the cracks of a high fashion model and a commercial model. As a result, I would only get booked for a gig when the client needed an authentic African look for their project. To me that was unfair.
That is why I feel there is a need for an agency that can represent African women and ensure they are not left behind.
For Kenyans who plan on moving to the America, my only advice would be to get the education part done first so that you can always have something to rely on. Luckily I have always had family who supported me in everything that I wanted to do but if you are moving here as an adult, always have that education in your back pocket before venturing into this world. Education does matter.
If you are a Kenyan living in Diaspora and would like to share your experiences in your current country of residence, write to me -firstname.lastname@example.org