How my birthday cost me my dream job – Pulse Live Kenya

Despite my finely pressed suit, manicured nails and professional haircut, coupled with my stellar CV, my date of birth was where they drew the line.
I still remember the sunken my-life-is-over feeling that washed over me the first time I experienced it. Some wise guy once said that you never really forget your first and I can now attest to it.
In my short journey thus far, I had been blessed or fortunate enough to have never experienced discrimination, until a few weeks ago.
Having lost my gig as a chef at a high-end hotel in the Kenyan capital during the pandemic, the last 2 years felt like an episode from hell.
Raising rent had become a daily lesson in humility. All my finely laminated degrees in the hospitality industry were as useful as those newspapers your favourite butcher uses to wrap up your t-bone steak.
No one was flying into Kenya for leisure and consequently, I became a statistic. After 7 solid years of building my career, I was now just a number. Just 1 among the 2 million or so Kenyans who lost their jobs to this damned flu.
So there I was, an overqualified cook looking for odd jobs here and there just to keep the lights on and Peter – The fiery custodian at my 2-bedroom apartment, at bay.
He had been threatening to disconnect my power as well as the water, but my gift of gab bought me a couple of months.
However, I eventually had to accept that the concrete jungle called Nairobi had won the fight. Moving back in with my single mother in the foothills of Mt Kenya was not written down on my little book of goals, but I guess Mike Tyson was right – everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
The first few months upcountry were hellish, to put it mildly.
I found myself questioning everything, from whether spending my college years fighting onion-induced tears was the right thing, to why this damned flu wasn’t content with infecting bats, to the very essence of life.
However, I have to make a special shout-out to any mother out there. After tolerating me for as long as she could, my mum lectured me out of my funk in a way that only a mother can.
“Itabidi utafte kitu ya kufanya,” she ordered.
That was how I ended up vending delicacies on the roadside while keeping a keen eye on the job market.
It was hard at first. Not really in the business sense but more because my fragile ego had taken a pounding of epic proportions.
A couple of years ago I was out there whipping meals I couldn’t even pronounce for the who is who in Kenya, and now I was out there in the countryside vending viazi karai and kuku choma to anyone who dared make eye contact with me by the roadside.
I was soon making enough to support my elderly mum and have enough left to ensure my savings account was free of cobwebs.
Before I knew it, 2022 was here and with it came new opportunities. Prior to this, all my job applications ended up as packing materials for groundnuts was my line of thought, as I never got any response.
I kept plugging away and applying anyway…mostly due to my no-nonsense mum.
Then it happened.
I came across a job opportunity that can only be described as a dream job. My qualifications, soft as well as hard skills fit it to a tee. This was it.
I had a very good feeling about it and sure enough, I got the call asking me if I was available for an interview. Of course, I was.
However, that was as good as it got coz come interview day, things took a turn for the worse.
Despite my finely pressed suit, manicured nails and professional haircut, coupled with my stellar CV, my date of birth was where they drew the line.
This was my first encounter with ageism – a term I had never encountered until then.
I don’t know why they forgot to mention it in the job application details but it proved to be my undoing during the interview.
They were looking for a more mature person -35 and above to specific, and having just turned 29, I was 6 years too young.
Every ounce of my being wanted to vent out, but the hospitality industry circle is small and asking the interviewer if miaka ndio inafanya kazi would most likely come back to haunt me in my next interview. So I thanked them and left.
My matatu ride back home was miserable.
Anyway, that was how I ended consulting ‘uncle google’ in an effort to understand how age was somehow a measure of my capabilities. I needed to know that I was not alone…as they say, misery loves company.
This was how I ended up reading tonnes and tonnes of content around ageism and all it entails.
It was how I also learned that this year’s world international youth day’s theme is actually; Creating a World for All Ages.
It was how I found that ageism is real and that it not only affects young ones like me but the elderly as well.
It was both comforting, frustrating and shocking to know that I was not alone. Shocking in terms of the sheer amount of content relating to ageism in Kenya there is out there.
From Pulse’s interviews with other Kenyans who had been through a similar scenario, to World Health Organization content on how this little-known form of discrimination affects millions.
The youth are lazy and the older generation is too stuck in their ways to embrace change was a stereotype that featured heavily.
I may not have the power to end ageism in Kenya, but I just needed to share my story to bring it to light. If you are reading this and have been unfortunate enough to go through something similar, feel free to share your experience.
Shining a light on it is the only way forward – my mum said.
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