Over the last year, Sandra Nyokabi Chege reached out to more than 100 people and asked them to write letters to their younger selves at the point at which it mattered.
The instruction was to look into their past and identify a moment or a period where they needed to hear something that would guide them through that particular challenge or triumph.
These letters are about self, family, motivation, love, pain and release, and everything in between.
"I chose letters because of how intentional and transcendent they are.
The stories we tell about ourselves guide how we act, think, feel and create our world, shared stories create opportunities for growth and healing for both the storyteller and the audience."
How loved you are! You just don’t know it yet. You may feel you are undeserving of your dreams or unworthy of your ambition. That is not true, dear heart, the world has enough love to reward you for all that you have not yet achieved, all that you will be and all that you will love.
I know in this now moment, you struggle to be a balanced daughter in a family full of change. It is this single battle that you will return to through your life. I am still learning how to navigate this too. Please know that the family you seek to make proud is struggling as much as you are to fulfill its own dreams and get over its own disappointments. Your parents are handling their life as best as they can with the tools that they have. Let go of wanting more of them or from them. Their journey, although it may feel linked to yours, is theirs alone to travel. Also, do not compare the relationship you have with your parents to others, it is not fair to any of you. Your family is complete as it is with all its hardship and flaws.
The one thing I urge you to start to work on now (it has taken me years to realise) is the ability to know you are complete. You are a universe of your own, filled with God. You are your own happiness and you are due all greatness. Let go of judgement and anxiety, they have no place. When faced with people you love who are hurt and hurting, love them and do not try to change them or manipulate or beg them to be what you want them to be. Just love them.
In your future, you are gloriously happy with beautiful children and the love of your life (you are probably dating him now already).
I wish you more than I wish anyone because I love you most. Please remember to declare your love to yourself everyday. Yes, it is silly but incredibly important.
Be happy. Be love. Meditate daily. And leave the rest to the Universe.
Wanuri Kahiu (Filmmaker)
I did not know how important it was to know and love myself until I was 23 years into my life. I think maybe it was because until then, I had relied on my mother’s love. It was sufficient for the two of us. My dad and her had divorced when I was 12 and he had died shortly after that. She was all I had. Anything I tried, she supported. Any weaknesses I had were brushed over with love. We all know how powerful a mother’s love can be. I would never fault her for it though. I loved her love. It subconsciously prepared me for when she wouldn’t be there to give it.
A month after I turned 23, my mother died after a 10 year battle with cancer. I have never experienced such loneliness as I did at that very moment and the next year to come.
My mum’s absence forced me to sit down and get to know this being called “self”. It was a very scary journey at the beginning. My fear of being alone and getting to know myself even drove me to an emotionally abusive relationship just a month after mummy’s burial. A year into the relationship, it came to a violent end and once again I had to face the fact that I needed to be by myself and get to know myself. So the journey begun.
I started being kind to myself — putting me first.
It takes a conscious and deliberate effort to know and love yourself. We are conditioned not to. I fought to know myself, own myself and love myself. Suddenly my friends and alcohol intake reduced. Suddenly I was more driven in my career because I knew for a fact that this self was destined to be great if she wanted it bad enough. Suddenly I was ALIVE.
For 23 years I had been existing. Not conscious. Not alive. And it took death to breath life into me. Out of tragedy, I rose. To live and to be this self that I keep falling in love with over and over again.
Adelle Onyango (Radio presenter. ShewillConnect Kenya ambassador)
Being or becoming a MAN in the African culture has several stages and phases, some physical, but most just grey unspoken areas of Machoness.
Some of the more popular teachings of the Macho Curriculum are (1) MEN do not cry, and (2) MEN do not (commonly) express emotions like love.
So it has been two days now since your Sensei of these teachings was admitted to hospital. It’s not looking good. Hospitals will never look good. And he is not making it easy asking for time for you to meet alone for what is obviously the most unofficial hand-over ceremony EVER!
You are scared he will die. That you will not be able to make it without him. That you are in no way ready to be the MAN of any house. That you love him, and you are now praying he will make it out.
Yeah right! That's some emotional stuff. You’ll cry. MEN DON'T CRY.
Fast forward a couple of days that feel like they will never end! Every day is like 40 hours long. You can’t watch people cry anymore. You’ve seen MEN break this rule in this past week, I guess broken by the tears of the women around us. You have heard the advice from big brother – the DJ – who went through this a bunch of years ago. He has his advice locked pat …. THEY ARE WATCHING TODAY, DON'T CRY! YOU ARE ALREADY THE MAN!
Fast forward two years, interesting ones at that.
Things will start to change, the biggest one being THE MAN opens up the opportunity to experience and therefore define some of these rules more broadly. Filter and adapt them accordingly to your circumstance. One of the greatest things that has come out of these years is love. Lots of it. From family and friends, some more unexpected than others.
At the memorial, this story can finally be shared, and you can assume your position as MAN of the family with your first duty (two years later) being to thank everyone and just show love. You might make some people cry. You might cry. But it will help you be a man. You’re ready right?
In hindsight I’ll tell you a few things …
MEN get scared.
MEN cry. (Not all the time, and not in front of people, but they do face their fears when the need arises).
No one can make the rules for you. One of the biggest traits in the Macho culture is EVERYONE is right. Do what is right for YOU!
SPEAK your mind. IF not for anyone else, for YOU!
DO IT! Never second guess you. MEN are BRAVE. Be BRAVE.
(Try to) make your word your bond! Even just your word to yourself.
You will always be scared. You will want to cry. You will break some rules and make others. BECAUSE you are a MAN!
Porgie Rosso (event organiser)
My dearest Patricia,
It’s been very difficult writing you this letter. First of all because trying to figure out what time in your life mattered the most for you to hear this, was near impossible. Looking back, with you, all moments really do matter. Every step of your journey has been poignant, as you’ve been in a state of flux all through your life. You have always been so impressionable that random encounters, such as with a boy selling nuts in traffic, or with a stranger on a bus, would be enough to leave you shaken. I realise that all of what I’m going to tell you is the opposite of everything that’s been deeply rooted in me for most of our life.
I have never said this to you: I love you; I love you Patricia. And it hurts me to say but I haven’t loved you for a long time. I haven’t shown you the kind of love that should have come so naturally. It probably began at age seven or eight, when I’d sit in the sun with soap on my face, hoping the black would crack off of my skin. Important lesson darling: black don’t crack. You are magic, you and all your melanin.
You are as important as the people you allow into your life. You will develop a strange habit of second guessing the value that you are worth. Do not get trapped into believing that people are doing you a favour by being your friends. They want to be there. Let them.
Patricia, you are wildly creative. Create. Don’t worry about whether you’ll be the first, with your original ideas. Just do them. Bring them to life. Don’t take too long thinking about how to make your concepts perfect, because if you wait too long before you allow an idea to flourish through you, it will find someone else to harness.
Patricia, you will love. And you will love deeply, without reservation. Keep doing that. Love without holding anything back. Feel it all. You will get hurt, because not everyone you fall in love will be the right one, but the love you share will never be wrong so don’t hold back. The more you love, the more you have to give because love is the most magic of them all. You are love. And you are magic.
Dear 15-year-old Wafula,
Hey! How is it going over there? Have you adjusted to boarding school life? The cold showers in second term? New food? Harassment? Making new friends? Enjoy the next four years, they are going to be some of your best years...
As I edge close to having lived on this earth for 40 years - the dreams and aspirations you have for me, are far from reality. It is unlikely I am going to be President of Kenya anytime soon or control global financial markets with the whiff of my hand. It is the pain of disappointment that has kept me from writing you this letter, because I felt I had nothing to offer you, but apologies.
I do have a number of things to share with you
Those small habits you are picking up like cleanliness, organisation, bookkeeping, leadership, those small habits become lifelong friends. Keep them going. There is one habit you should embrace right away, the love for books, start this one early. Especially books outside of the 8-4-4 curriculum.
Life has a way of making the impossible, possible. The same goes for girls, especially her. Yes, her, the one you will meet next year. Yes her, she who will make your heart beat very fast and ignite a mini-career in manufacturing romantic poems. Well, life is full of surprises. Never take things too seriously, go with the flow. The same goes for your growing zeal for religion.
Learn new things.
I know it is never too late to start or improve on something, but you, right now, have a great opportunity to become a better Kiswahili speaker and to learn an entirely new sport; tennis. Take it!
You will make some of your best friends in the next four years. Fully indulge yourself with them, the memories you are about to create together have a way of lasting forever.
Yes, just fear less.
Your dreams are valid.
Keep those dreams alive, they continue to prod me up to today. Some have turned out well and some are still in the making. Keep dreaming. It is a fuel that keeps you moving.
Lastly, and seriously
You will achieve one of your dreams of getting to Stanford University, while there you will meet some people from a company called Google. Do whatever is necessary to get into that company and buy its stock. That is all. That will set all things right.
Much love and respect
To read more, visit www.hadithi.co.ke