Monday 14 March 2016


You had to have the best marks in the country to go to a Kenyan University. There weren't a lot of them at the time and not enough spots for the students wanting to attend.  My big dream had always been to go to University. I remember doing the American TOEFL (Test of English as a
Foreign Language) and SAT after Form 4 and writing to lots of American universities to get information about their universities, even though it would have been way beyond what we could afford. So, when we came to Canada, I worked for a year and then started finding out how I could go to University.  My guidance counsellor, Frank, at York was amazing. He told me to apply as a mature student. I was surprised how easy it was to get into University as a mature student. All they needed was my transcripts from High School and a writing sample.

I applied to York University in Toronto for general courses towards a business program. It just seemed the easiest thing to do since I didn't really know what I wanted to study.  

1990 - York

I started University in September 1990 as a Mature student. I was 24 years old. The first courses I took were Economics, French, Math, Communications and one other course I can't remember.

I had always pictured University to be like in the movies, so much fun!  But York was not that! It was probably because I commuted and it was a long commute each way. Not to mention changing several buses in the winter when it was snowing and miserable! I didn't like the commute and I didn't like the fact that you didn't really get to know people because just about the entire 50,000 student population was commuting!

My friend Pauline from Nairobi was also going to York as a Foreign Student (she now lives in Kampala).

There were two good things that came out of going to York;

1) I took a basic French Course where I learned about a French exchange program in Quebec and
2) I quite by accident walked into a lecture theatre where they were talking about the University of Waterloo and its Geography and Environmental Studies program. 

I applied and got into both for which I am very grateful!

1991 - Waterloo

My Waterloo Student ID was 91200703! I remember that ID to this day, I have no idea why!
I went to Waterloo to study Geography. It was never something I had thought about studying because as an Indian, you don't think about fields like Geography or History... but I loved it. As Geography was part of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, I started taking environmental courses and realized I really liked these courses, so I decided to do a double major in Geography and Environmental Studies.

My first year I lived on Thorncrest Drive. It was a residential area on the north end of University. We lived in a house and each of us had our own room. My roommates were Zahra Ahamed from Nairobi and Saira Kanani from Toronto. I knew Zahra from Nairobi but we got to know each other well over that first year. The 2nd semester Saira left and we had a woman who wasn't a student as our room mate.
To get to university in the Winter, you had to dress in every piece of wool clothing you owned and had to fight winds and blowing snow and trek through corn fields to get to your classes!
Down the road from us lived Ashifa Hasham (Fish!), Ashifa Esmail and Salima Rattansi.
There was great camaraderie between the Ismaili students. We had evening prayers on campus and got rides from students with cars to the local jamatkhana (mosque) in Kitchener on Fridays. You could even get a ride to go for early morning prayers if you wanted (4-5 am). The Kitchener Ismaili community looked forward to getting new students every Fall.

1992 - Waterloo

In 2nd Year, I lived on Blue Springs Drive off of King Street with Hafsa Esmail and Laila Saleh. It was a fancy new condo and we had two bedrooms. I shared a room with Hafsa. I got to know Hafsa who was studying Business at Laurier and her sister, Fatima who was in Engineering over that year and we became good friends.

Fayyaz Vellani and Rishma, started in the Environmental Studies Program that year.

1993 - Waterloo

In 3rd Year, I lived in the Married Student Apartment (MSA) across from the University on University Avenue. Shelina Khalfan who went to school with my sisters in Nairobi and was now at the School of Optometry, was my room mate. This was the year that I became Kamadiani (lead at campus mosque) with Sadiq Adatia who was Mukhi. This meant going to jamatkhana and setting it up every day. At the time it was in a room at the Student Centre where the Bombshelter is. It was quick and a way for students to come and say a prayer between dinner and classes or studying (or partying!)

1994 - Waterloo

In 4th Year, I lived with Ashifa Hasham from Ottawa who was studying science and Salima Samji from Nairobi who was studying Actuarial Science. We lived in a walk out basement of a house at the north end of school, close to Erb and Westmount. I stayed in school that summer, so we were in that house for the entire year.

1995 - Waterloo

Thursday 10 March 2016

My First Job!

Right after High School, I got a job at a place called "Hotel Secretaries".  It was located in town righ next to the New Stanley Hotel on Kenyatta Avenue. Don't know where the name came from, but it was an office that had much going on. The part I worked at was a rental for vacation homes along the coast; Mombasa, Diani Beach, Kilifi, Watamu, Malindi, Lamu.  The office was also a temp agency and organized Balloon Safaris. I always wanted to go on one, but one balloon safari cost as much as my monthly salary... 3,000 kenyan shillings! With the current rate, that would be $39 Canadian dollars (US $29)! I just looked up what a Balloon safari costs now and it's $450! Should have broken the bank and gone then!

Inbetween my work at Hotel Secretaries, I got a two month stint working at Newsweek which was just down the road also on Kenyatta Avenue, closer to 680 Hotel. It was a local bureau office and I worked for the the bureau chief, Ray Wilkinson (I looked up the office and Ray is still the bureau chief 30 years later!) It was a fun job. The first thing I did when I got to work was to go through the evening before's newswire... reams and reams of paper coming out of this machine with news and I'd have to highlight any interesting news for the bureau chief!

I then decided I should take up accounting and so got a job as a bookkeeper at a company called C.G. Punjani on Kijabe Street. In the evening I'd go for accounting classes to Strathmore College (the sister school to my high school, Kianda). Don't know what possessed me to do accounting, I didn't like it! The office was great fun to work at though. We had Tito and Christopher who were cricket players on the Aga Khan team, Mr. and Mrs. Manji a husband and wife team, Rahim, who had recently moved to Nairobi from India and was a hoot!, Sherali, the main accountant and our boss, Janice, one of the main accountants (went to her wedding), Sangita (the receptionist), Kamalu, the salesman boss and Tajdin Nanji, of the Nanji family that owned the company. We'd get Indian tea twice a day and we'd order the most delicious pastries from a bakery down the road close to Norfolk Hotel. Often at lunch time, I'd walk to our 'Khoja' mosque that was in the centre of town and hang out at the library reading 'Woman' and 'Woman's Own'! I learned to thread the hair from my face in those Khoja mosque bathrooms!