About Wanjiru Warama
Wanjiru Warama was born in British colonial Kenya. Her parents were peasant laborers on a farm owned by a British farmer in the Rift Valley. They were illiterate. She would have ended illiterate, like her three older half-sisters, if Mau Mau freedom fighters did not take to the forest to fight for Kenya’s independence. Subsequently, the then British Governor declared a state of emergency. Members of her Gikuyu community were forced into “Native Reserves” and crammed into camps and fenced-in villages. The colonial government, with the help of their African loyalists, turned the “Native Reserve” into a warzone.
Wanjiru’s immediate family (except the half-siblings) didn’t move to the “Native Reserve.” Instead, her family and others were ordered to move into a village about a mile from the British farmer’s colonial residence. Perhaps because the farmers in the area didn’t want the throng of their employees’ young children running around, one of them donated land for a school. The adjacent farmers donated wood and carpenters, and the villagers helped build the school.
By the time Wanjiru’s family moved to the fenced-in village, she was six years old and already a babysitter-in-training. She babysat her brother ‘Morry’ Macharia for two years. At eight, her brother Waweru was born. As her mother’s first daughter, it was only natural that her babysitting duties be extended to the newborn when her mother returned to her farm work. At nine years old, Wanjiru became desperate when her father, or Baba to his children, failed to take her to school. It took another year before he agreed to enroll her, but not before she negotiated—through her mother—that he not give her the roast meat from the goats he slaughtered and, instead, take her to school.
“Is it true you want to go to school that much?” her father had asked while he dished chunks of roast meat to his children, seated around a fire like a campsite.
Wanjiru held her breath and nodded vigorously.
“If that’s how much you want to go to school, you can eat the meat and go to school also.”
At ten years and three months’ old, Wanjiru saw a printed book for the first time when she started school at Tindaress Primary School (now Jamhuri Primary School) in Solai, Kenya. So, her chances of writing a book were slim to zero. And yet, after many years of wonderings and zigzags in Kenya and in the United States, in 1995, Wanjiru had the audacity to list “Write a Book” as one of her goals. She had read a book in which the author challenged the reader to write fifty things he or she would do if money were not an issue. Wanjiru included “write a book” just for the sake of it.
Seventeen years later, in 2012, The Friends of San Diego Public Library, Malcolm-X Library chapter, made up of about forty members at the time, appointed Wanjiru as their president. When the chapter held a fundraiser for the library on September 28, before 100-150 people she read a ten-minute article on how books had changed her life. The next morning, a strange thing happened. Her head bubbled with stories, similar to a riot, each jostling to be expressed. To clear her mind, she wrote a few stories and made a long list of the topics of stories she planned to write in future. In the process, she chuckled and sometimes burst out laughing. It was exhilarating, but she became concerned because she felt as if her mind alternated between two separate realms. Was she going mad? She wondered.
In one week, the stories dried. Even the headings Wanjiru had written became useless. Nonetheless, the unusual experience motivated her to research on how she could write a book. In January 2013, she joined a writers’ group in La Mesa, California. After wrangling on what type of a book to write for six months, it became clear that all the articles she had written pertained to her life—the book had to be a memoir.
Unexpected America is the first book in a series of memoirs starting from Wanjiru’s life in the United States.
Wanjiru lives in Southern California, U.S.A.