Nisha’s Story: A Life Journey in Two Parts
creative partner and reader Inez Thorn
Early years: Aged 1-16
I was born in the beautiful city of Nairobi in Kenya. My grandparents were of Indian origin from western India. My grandfather had moved to Kenya when the railways were to be built. Indians were brought to Africa as indentured labour by the British Empire to create the Kenya-Uganda railway. I had my schooling in Nairobi. Nairobi is a bustling city, with a cool climate most of the year.
Education was strict and, in secondary school, I took nine subjects. We had a long way to walk to school and back. The road to secondary school was a mud track, downhill, then across a wooden bridge and up a hill mud path then a straight road. It took about 45 minutes. We were taught in English as Kenya was under British rule and, after independence in 1963, English was still the main language used for teaching.
In Kenya lunch was the main meal of the day and dinner was light. My parents had six children. I was second born. My father was the only bread winner and he was strict whilst my mother spoilt us. My grandparents lived with us. So, I had a big influence from them as I was growing up. We spoke Gujarati at home, that’s my mother tongue, and also learnt to speak Swahili and English.
Our social life was mostly visiting relatives and going to Uhuru Park on Sundays after 4pm. In Nairobi everyone went to the park in the afternoon after 4pm. Occasionally, went to the cinema. We had a radio which only went on at lunch time and evening for an hour’s news. We did not have a television until I was fifteen. We listened to music on a tape recorder.
I worked hard and achieved good ‘O’ levels and made a decision to come to England for further education. Many people told my parents not to send me but my grandfather said, if we wanted to go, we should go.
Aged 16 onwards
1973 is when I took the plane from Nairobi to London. It was my first flight and I was excited. I had applied for nursing from Nairobi but, as I was too young, I applied for a foundation accountancy course in Aveley College, part of Grays College. Aveley is in Thurrock. I stayed with my aunt and her family in Southend and travelled daily to Aveley by train to Grays. Then, I took a bus to college. The two-hour journey made the day long. The train was at 6am and I got home around 7pm. That first winter of 1973 was bitterly cold. I saw snow for first time.
The cultural shocks were huge. Speaking mainly English all the time and also the food in the college canteen. In those days, people did not hear much about vegetarianism. I ended up with chips and baked beans but at least it was hot food.
My first year at Christmas, there was a college dance. I got permission from my uncle to go there as it meant having to stay away that night with a college friend.
College days were fun and I made a few friends. I found a place in two weeks from a couple who rented out rooms and made me English dinners every day. We sat for dinner together. I was a bit scared of the husband but they were always nice to me. I had to ask permission to use the shower, I don’t know why. Perhaps they did not want me to use the hot water. I had a very small room but it was enough for me.
The following year, I got admission for nursing in Guildford. And so I started my NHS career. Those days of nursing were hard work but fun too. We lived in a nurse’s home, with a long corridor, and rooms on both sides. I qualified in 1979 and went to Somerset for midwifery training.
In 2016 I found six of my nursing colleagues and we celebrated our 40 years’ reunion in Guildford. How that town has changed! From just being a cobbled high street, it’s now a busting big city which is a long way from the mud roads of Kenya.