Valerie Kimani is well known in East Africa for winning the first season of its most prominent reality show, Project Fame, and for her talent as a singer. In an article she wrote for True Love, a leading African Woman’s magazine, she tells about her journey to know her father and how the Landmark Forum made a difference in that odyssey.
A Time to Heal
When Valerie Kimani won the first season of Tusker Project Fame, she was desperately unhappy. But she has emerged from that dark place a happier, more positive woman.
My biological father and my mother split up when I was six years old. Six years later, when I was about 12, my mother married my stepfather. My relationship with my mum was non-existent at the time, and I really hated the whole idea of the marriage. Then never bothered asking me how I felt about it, so at first, I had very little to say to Dad, as I called my stepdad.
In high school, I felt angry and out of touch with everything. I gradually began to feel the need to find my biological dad, that if I found him, everything would make sense – that I would love myself again.
At first my mother refused to give me his number because she thought I wasn’t mature enough to handle it. Then she called him and said, “Talk to your daughter, she’s ready.” My conversation with Pa started then. I was so excited when I got his first SMS. He called me “baby girl”. He told me “I love you”, and signed off “Pa”. So this is what having a father feels like!
We didn’t meet until much later. I think it was because it was very overwhelming for both of us. He’s very much like me, introverted and melancholic, so it was one step at a time until we felt we were ready.
In my third year at university, I became very depressed. My grades started slipping, and I had no motivation for anything. My self-esteem was low, and I just wanted to see Pa. My mother saw what was wrong by analyzing my relationships with my boyfriends. I was very clingy, going from one boyfriend to another, thinking he’s the one I’m going to marry, until the next one… it was so absurd. Looking back, I can see I needed someone to make me feel complete.
One day Pa sent me a text message, inviting me to go see him in Uganda right away. I had exams in a week’s time, but I didn’t care – I was going to meet my father! I was so excited that I jumped on a bus as soon as I could. When I arrived (in Kampala), I thought, “My God, what am I doing?” I’d never been to Uganda, and I didn’t know the country. I had a little money on me, but I didn’t think I’d need money. And what if I didn’t recognize Pa? But I kept thinking, when I see him I’ll know him.
I hid in the loo of Nando’s restaurant where we were meeting for half an hour. I was sweaty after the long bus ride, and was frantically powdering my face and combing my hair. But the moment we met was truly magical. I recognized him first, and I sneaked up behind him and he turned and hugged me and picked me up in the air…We spent the entire day and night talking. For him, it was a chance to catch up on being a father. For me, it was an opportunity to discover my rich musical heritage – he’d been doing jazz music forever!
I was supposed to stay for a week, but I ended up staying a month. At some point I started getting impatient because I needed to go back and study for my exams, but he wanted me around. He seemed very “fairytale” about it. I started feeling trapped. The money I had was almost gone, but I didn’t want to offend him. I thought, if I leave, he’ll never want me back, and I didn’t want to upset him. He didn’t threaten me, but I felt I had to earn his love, that I was being emotionally manipulated.
I don’t know why I didn’t just walk out the door, or tell my mum. Pa would have given me his phone to call her, but he’d be right there, so I couldn’t say, “Help!” Mum thought I had dropped everything to go and live with Pa, which was not the case at all. So she sent my then boyfriend to go and find me.
Pa was very upset when my boyfriend turned up, and when I said I wanted to back with him, Pa los his cool. That was the first time I saw him angry. He kicked us out of the house at about 10pm, in the middle of nowhere. This was the father I had idolized, kicking me out on the street. I was so hurt!
When we got back to Kenya, my boyfriend broke up with me, and I felt rejected twice over. I could have died at that point. All II wanted was for someone to love me and appreciate me – not to leave me!
I survived by going numb. I got a job to distract myself, working as a salesgirl for my aunt at her furniture company. Thank God it wasn’t a busy place because half the time I was in my own world. I remember so badly wanting to something drastic. Then Project Fame came along and it made sense to enter – it was a wild thing to do.
Project Fame was pressure in itself, but it forced me to carry on. There were thousands of people watching, and I had to be “present”. But I didn’t have a scheme or plan…I don’t know how I survived week after week. But I had to do it because if I didn’t, I would have to go home and face my demons. That’s why I sang my heart out – I wanted to stay in that cocoon.
When I won, I faked my happiness. I appreciate the fact that people saw talent in me, but I was just so numb. I guess that’s why there were so many attacks on me: people could sense what was going on.
I decided to go back to Kampala because in as much as everyone else was saying well done, I wanted to hear Pa say it. So when he invited me, I said yes very quickly. Even after what had happened the last time, I was eager to make things right. But this time round, he was actually violent towards me.
It happened so quickly. We were arguing (about my career in music). I was saying I could do this thing by myself, and since he hadn’t been there for me before, I didn’t see how he could help me now. Pa was following me around which was very creepy, and I was trying to stay very calm and not panic. But I could see he was agitated, and he was trying to get me to listen. The next thing, he grabbed me by the neck. I kicked out, freed myself, and locked myself in the bedroom. I was shaking. Who was this man?
At 2am, he kicked me out again. Sitting on the street, I felt humiliated and vulnerable. What more did I have to do to win Pa’s approval? How could go home with the same story? I didn’t want to call my parents so I called my manager (David Muriithi) and one of his friends got me home.
My mum was so stressed when she found out. And the hardest thing for Dad was explaining it to the family. I respect him for standing by me, and giving me space to sort it out. So while it was hard, they were there for me. That’s when my relationship with Dad blossomed. Now we’re so open. Where we are right now is great.
I didn’t talk to Pa for a year – not until after I attended the Landmark Forum. There, it became clear to me that I couldn’t blame others for the state of my life. It forced me to sort out my relationships. So I called Pa. It was very gratifying to tell him, “I love you, you’re my dad and that will never change, but I am not living my life for you or for anyone else, and I no longer hold you responsible.” We spoke about the things that happened, and I now understand his struggles with alcohol and his temper.
I guess the energies I am emitting now are positive – and it shows in my relationship with my boyfriend (NTV’s Tim Njiru). For the first time, I love myself. I keep telling him he got lucky to find me in this space!
I would like to help other girls and women going through the same problem. People struggle to be loved. That’s why I have started Valerie’s Concern Foundation with my mother, Betty, and my friend, Anne Kiguta, to help young people going through similar situations by giving talks and seminars.