She goes by the name Kellen Beatrice Kanze Dena but we simply and fondly know her as Kanze Dena. Kanze speaks with a maturity that is common with people who are approaching 40 years. Having done it all and seen it all, she reeks with wisdom and carefully weighs every question I ask and not so as to be politically correct, but only to measure her words.
The TV producer-cum-newscaster with Citizen TV retraces her life’s journey to Mazeras in Kwale County where she comes from. Born into a family of eight siblings, most of whom are stepsiblings, Kanze says her she grew up in Nairobi and Mombasa.
“I completed my primary school education at Kianjokoma Boarding Primary School, now St Matthews Boarding School, in Embu. I then proceeded to Kyeni Girls High School in the same region,” she explains.
While for most people it is almost given that they would proceed for higher education immediately their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results are out, Kanze had to wait for four years and it wasn’t for lack of resources.
“I wanted to do a job that didn’t require me to sit in the office from 8 to 5 and I settled for nursing. I had an aunt – Susan Kadzo – who was a nurse. I looked up to her. I remember she used to work in shifts and it seemed she had so much time on her hands. I also admired her pristine white uniform and well made hair,” she recalls.
So each year after completing high school, Kanze applied to be admitted at the premier and prestigious Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) to no avail. She also sought space at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) as per her mother’s wishes. She got called to KIMC but since she was not for the idea, she kept hiding the letters. After trying four times to secure a slot at KMTC and receiving no response each time, it was time she looked another way.
“My mum – Jane Dena – wanted me to study journalism as she had seen potential in my voice given I used to top in shairi competitions,” she reveals her foray into media.
As she kept trying her luck at KMTC, Kanze worked as a waitress at a city hotel for about three years after which she enrolled for an IT/secretarial course. It was during this period she found out she was pregnant and the man responsible refused to take responsibility. She was on her own. The college was very strict about getting pregnant out wedlock but as Kanze explains, her physique saved her.
“It was very difficult for one to notice I was pregnant and the pregnancy showed much later just as I was about to complete my studies. Otherwise I would have been forced to drop out,” she says.
But even as she was able to evade being expelled from school, there was an even bigger authority to report to and whose clutches it would have been difficult to escape from – her mother.
“My mother was very strict. I shuddered every time I imagined what her reaction would be once she found out I was expecting. It was also an era where getting pregnant out of wedlock was unheard of and condemned by all means. I opted for adoption. But as God would have it, the adoption process did not go through as planned,” she narrates.
As expected, her mother was deeply hurt that Kanze had chosen to keep the pregnancy from her. She found her in hospital a day after Kanze had already delivered. She came accompanied by her aunt who had been told Kanze was admitted for a stomachache and were thus surprised to find her with a baby. But as they say, blood is thicker than water and the bond between a mother and her child knows no bound. Her mother recommended that she stays with Kanze’s daughter – Natasha – upcountry as Kanze waited to sit her final exams.
By the time her baby was three months old, Kanze had cleared her studies and was ready to live with her. As she made plans of reuniting with her child, she one day received a call asking her to urgently go home.
“I was apprehensive. When I reached our homestead, I was met with a huge crowd. My mother emerged from the crowd and I heaved a sigh of relief because I thought something bad had happened to her. I asked where my daughter was and I was taken to a room and there she lay, lifeless. Until today, we have never really known what killed her. I was still fairly young then and the full impact of her death did not hit me immediately. It’s only now that in hindsight I think of her and sometimes shed a tear. She would have been 16 years old now and I often wonder how she would have turned out,” she says nostalgically, a wry smile playing on her lips.