Life is a Gift: Susan Wamucii Kung’u

Life is a Gift


In my first encounter with Susan Kung’u I had attended a school function where she was teaching the parents a simple song as part of the warm-up session leading up to the main discussion. Standing there, moving to the Kikuyu song that she was fluently singing, her energy was much like is captured on the cover of the book. When I later learned that she had written a memoir, I was curious to learn more about this Englishwoman who often seemed more Kenyan than I was.

Susan tells the stories of her life, beginning with her childhood in England. At 14, she listened to a Father Trevor Huddleston, who spoke about his life and work in Rhodesia or South Africa and she was hooked on the idea of coming to Africa. She knew she was going to be a missionary. No, she didn’t become a missionary. The religious fervour got left behind somewhere along the way but she remained steadfast in her desire to come to Africa.

She ended up marrying a Kenyan student, and came to Kenya, where she lived much of her life in a wooden house with no running water or electricity. She fully embraced the new culture and way of life, learning the Kikuyu language and holding her own in a rural setting. In her words “Ndī mūgīkūyū…no rangi tu.” (I’m a Kikuyu. Ignore the colour.)

Susan fully participated in life and in her community, taking opportunities as they arose. A significant part of her life in Kenya was spent as a teacher, where she got an opportunity to actualise her progressive ideas on what education should be.

This is a story of self-determination, making one’s dreams happen and choosing what will be home. All through the story it is clear how increased self-knowledge contributes to continuous growth. It is also a story of bravery…stepping out of the familiar and into a completely new way of life.

The bush buck walked on and on. Where was he going and why? He didn’t know why, but he knew he had to get out of the dark forest and feel the warm sun on his back…Then, one day, he stood at the edge of the trees, looking out on a wide, open space. He turned to his companion: ‘This is my way,’ he said. She looked at the great openness, and knew she would never go there, that bush bucks belong in the forest. She turned to tell him, but he had gone! Where he had stood was worn with a baby on her back.

A story Susan told that expressed the way she felt about her arrival in Kenya

I would have liked to learn some more about W., her husband. I didn’t quite get a sense of how she felt about him, or how she felt about herself while in the marriage. Indeed, she seemed more connected to his family and community than to him.

Final thoughts

Reading this book reminded me that my life is mine (if that makes sense) and I can steer it where I fancy, at any age. It challenges me to use and immerse myself in this gift of life that has been given to me. It had me ask myself if there are things in my life that I consider unchangeable because of my circumstances or where I was born.

At the end of the book, Susan is still creating new things and dancing with this thing called life. I look forward to her next book, I hope she writes one; I’m curious about what she will do next.

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