Sherry, The Village Doctor
I have interviewed several outstanding young women so far on my blog. While obviously the number suffers the bias of representativeness, there’s one thing they all have in common that makes them outliers. They are passionate and do not conform. Dr. Sherry Priscilla Ng’ang’a, a 29-year-old paediatrics doctor was my recent subject and she is no exception to this rule.
Usually when I’m curious about someone to the extent of wanting to share their story on my platform, our interactions tend to fizzle out after the story runs. But not with Sherry. After chatting for over four hours, she made me want to go back to being 21 and live my life with half her zeal and focus. For a minute I toyed with the idea of moving in with her, but then I remembered I was already spoken for. If Sherry was a drink, she would be a luxury champagne. Veuve Clicquot if you may. She’s bubbly and cheerful and her energy rubs off easily on those around her. Also, she has the kind of positivity that David must have had while facing Goliath.
Our first encounter was during my first run of 2018, 18th January to be precise. I was with a group of running enthusiasts, struggling with the unforgiving hilly section. There was nothing enthusiastic about the run as our bodies were committed to punishing us for all the December indulgence. As we were cussing and rethinking our choices in life, Sherry zoomed past us with enviable speed and grace, as if she was training for Boston Marathon. I rolled my eyes.
Miraculously, we survived the 10km loop and dragged ourselves to the field where we joined a group of runners who were stretching. Sherry was one of them. The leader, a tall bulked up guy whose muscles begged to rip his shirt apart, took us through a series of stretch exercises. He later asked us to take turns leading the team through one of our favourite stretches each.
Sherry decided to take the lead. She demonstrated a move where one squats and then grabs their heels by extending their arms from the front then behind the calves. I almost died while running, I wasn’t going to die over a stretch! I seized my phone instead and recorded an insta story video with the caption “After the run we stretch” much as the only stretching I was doing was of my right hand as it extended to get a good angle of the video. Sherry later walked over to me and mentioned that she had been following my IG page for a while. She commended me for sharing my run statistics and added that she drew inspiration from them. I was embarrassed for not exerting myself at the field.
We became IG friends. Her run statistics inspired me as she was already doing the beginners goal of 10kms in under an hour. At the time, I covered 10kms in one hour and ten minutes. We bumped into each other a few times while running in our neighbourhood and urged each other on. Those encounters were short-lived as she shortly after moved upcountry for work, something I found out from her IG page. But even in the village, her passion for running was unwavering like the Tower of Pisa. Not even the foggy seven degree weather would deter her. She once mentioned during our random IG chats that her running was born out of the fear of being obese again. I couldn’t imagine her fat, let alone obese. I later discovered (also from Instagram) that she was a paediatrician.
“Slow down, girl!” I thought to myself.
What kind of young person, no less a paediatric doctor, opts to live in a village? What was her driving force? What could she possibly be running away from?
I needed answers (like every entitled social media follower haha ) and I wasn’t going to wait for the next episode on IG, so I finally hit her Instagram DM and asked her out on a date.
“Can we chat on phone sometime? I know you love running, I know that you live in a village in Kinangop and now I know you are a paediatrician. I smell an inspiring story.”
The truth is, I suck at making friends which makes me smother my few friends. At a cocktail, I’ll walk in and do a quick scan looking for familiar faces and if there are none, I’ll be the introvert standing at the farthest corner holding tightly onto my glass of red wine or single malt, watching everyone and everything unravel. I am also very guarded and I hate small talk. So, this was a long shot for me.
My message went unread for an hour. I was nervous, because rejection ranks high up on my list of phobias. But finally, in line with her genial nature, she said yes. She was quite the team player, even going as far as suggesting that we have a fitness date, which unfortunately didn’t work out.
So instead, we opted to do what I loved best, talk over dinner and Sangria on a quiet Saturday evening at one of my favourite restaurants (and hers too), About Thyme in Westlands.
I back up my car at the gravel parking lot, a small space enshrouded by trees. The clock on the dashboard reads fifteen minutes to our agreed meeting time, six O’clock. I am happy with myself for keeping time and I am secretly hoping to be the first one to arrive. I had called to make a reservation earlier on, so when I get to the reception, the hostess ushers me to our table at the terrace. To my surprise, my date is already there, looking all glamorous in her silver sweater and glistening silver earrings.
“I was secretly hoping to beat you.” I confess.
“That’s almost impossible. I am a stickler for time, sometimes arriving at a meeting place half an hour before the agreed time, which means I am almost always the first one.”
“Shall we toast to keeping time then?” I tease. She giggles.
I take my seat and look around, delighting at the spell binding place that is About Thyme. The terrace is my favourite spot. It overlooks the lower section which has a cocktail of trees and creepers sprouting from everywhere. I marvel at the symphony of lights made possible by the bronze lanterns hanging from the wooden sheds and gazebos and sparkling candles holed in glass vases that rest on the tables.
Sherry looks up from the menu and asks if I would like to share a sangria with her. I make a fuss about how hard I’ve been working at the gym, and how scared I am to lose the abs that have just started to peak. Not to say that I am not up for a drink, but I am hoping to have one with fewer calories. Before I can protest any further, Jeff, our waiter looms over me with a pitcher of red sangria. We toast and sip. The sangria is worth every calorie and quickly finds its way to my best sangria list (The Arbor, Talisman and Tapas have excellent ones too).
I pull out my phone to set the recorder on. She protests, claiming that this is meant to be a girl’s hangout where we could talk about anything and everything without worrying about the police getting hold of some recording, many moons later. I laugh and dismiss her, but she is relentless. I plead that I have gold-fish memory and she promises to refresh it, should I need help later on. Trying to have your way with Sherry is an exercise in futility, I quickly learn.
“At 29, you are possibly the youngest paediatrician I know off. Why paediatrics?”
She tells me about children being the future of the world and how if we ensure their well-being is not compromised, then we automatically ensure continuity of humanity. She adds that growing up, she always wanted to have 11 kids of her own, a number that she continues to revise downwards because with age comes wisdom.
She became a doctor at 22 and a paediatrician at 28 after completing her masters, a program that ran for three years. Which means she enrolled for her master at 25. At 25, I was busy painting the town red at least twice a week. I imagined I was the richest 25-year-old, thanks to my Ksh 35,000 monthly salary. At 25, I lived for the moment. Oh, the folly of my youth.
Jeff walks over to our table and asks if we are ready to order. I haven’t had a chance to look at the menu, so we promise to be ready for him in five minutes and we dive straight back into Sherry’s life. I ask her if she’s always been that structured, and where she picked her drive from.
“I have always been the youngest. At home, I am the younger sibling with an age gap of three years between my sister and I. When I started my primary school education, I went to class one for one term and moved to class two for the remainder of the year, which earned me the youngest in class badge. I graduated from high school at 16 years.”
“Does this mean that starting school early gave you a head-start in life?” I dig deeper.
“Being young has its advantages. You become super competitive as you want to prove that you can do what the older kids can do even better. Also, having an older sister who I always admired contributed to my focus in life. Everything she did, I wanted to do. Finally, we were brought up by a single mom who is the most industrious human being I know. She gave us the best within her ability, and I always wanted to make her proud.”
Jeff comes back and I am forced to rush through the menu. Sherry already knows what she’s having. She goes for Chicken Pot Pie, a meal she swears by as it’s what she had the last time she was here. I want to have something light given that the calories from the sangria are sinful enough, so I settle for paprika and lemon chicken breast with Mediterranean vegetables.
“What was your most frustrating time in med school?” I inquire.
She informs me that the period during her masters was bleak, then gives a heavy sigh as if the memory of it is equally dreadful.
“I almost threw in the towel. I barely had time to rest as I would be studying all day and I had ward rounds at night. This was at Kenyatta National Hospital, and you know how busy Kenyatta gets. Most mornings I would be forced to catch a wink in my car then head to class. I did not know what was a bed. This is also when I lost the bulk of my weight. I barely found time to eat.”
She navigated through school and work with the strength and stoicism only Sherry can master. At this point she started taking walks in Karura whenever she had a free Saturday. This was her cathartic release. And when her sister Wanj whose son Junior was a few months old then decided to go to the gym, Sherry made it a habit to accompany her whenever she had a window. She mentions that some people thought she was Junior’s surrogate owing to her flabby body. Initially, she targeted to run on the treadmill through one song. Music became her inspiration, and soon, she was able to run trough two tracks then three and soon enough, she was doing a 10km loop in Karura without any stops.
Our meals arrive. I watch her plate with envy as some gooey creamy sauce breaks free from her chicken pot pie the moment she slides a knife through it. She forks some of the crusty bit and places on my plate. It tastes as decadent as it looks. I dig into my lemon chicken breast with little zest but I am pleasantly surprised with the flavours. It’s not your typical grilled chicken.
She gets a call and whispers that she has to take it. “Its Nancy, she whispers.”
In case you are wondering, Nancy is her mom and yes she calls her by her name.
“Did you find him? No? You only had one job!” She says while giggling, then informs the mum that she’s having dinner with her new best friend and promises to call back. I smile in awe of their relationship.
Just as she puts her phone down, her sister Wanj calls. I take the chance to visit the washroom as I leave the two to catch up. She later tells me that her mom, sister and nephew are her world, and she’s protective of them as she is of her inner peace.
“I’m curious to know how at 30, you found yourself heading paediatrics at a missionary hospital in a small village in Kinangop.”
“After my masters, I had an option to work for a hospital with a big paediatric division in Nairobi but I turned the job down. I needed an opportunity to be more impactful.” She offers.
“I have been able to put up systems and structures in place at the mission hospital that ensure things work seamlessly and that kids at the village get the best care possible. This is a continuous process as I still want more for my unit. I feel like my contribution is more meaningful, as opposed to if I plugged myself into a hospital where everything has already been laid out.”
She is clearly fascinated by kids and evidently, she loves her job. I am curious to know how she deals with losses, if any. I press her for an answer.
“I give my all in every patient I handle. No matter how awry my day might be going, or how badly a situation might have unravelled, every patient gets a clean canvas and I pour my everything into their case. That way, I never fault myself for however things turn out afterwards. I pick myself up and move on.”
Like a thief in the night, Jeff reappears to take our desert order.
“The sangria, which by the way is excellent, is our starter and dessert.” Sherry offers as Jeff refills our glasses with the last bit of it.
I ask her whether she plans to retire in the village, perhaps get married to a farmer with a hard body Nissan pick-up in Kinangop, who will make her dream of having 11 kids come true. She chortles.
“Marriage is not something I think about actively. Like I told you, all my friends are older and most of them married, and I have had a chance to live vicariously through their lives. I am not in a rush. I am curious to know, are you happily married?”
Her question catches me by surprise. I gulp my Sangria before responding.
“Most days I am, others I am not. I love my family but I miss my space. You know the days when you can just leave work and not have to talk to anyone for the next 12 hours? I miss silence.”
Wanj calls again and as she receives the call, I decide to check my WhatsApp which by the way, I haven’t done in a record four hours! There’s nothing important save for a message from the mister informing me that Xena’s tooth has come out!
We hustle over the bill for a minute but then I give up when I remember her fiercely relentless trait. We say our goodbyes to Jeff and leave him a handsome tip then walk towards the reception, past a scintillating Christmas tree. I mention how I much I obsess over Christmas, then ask her how she plans on spending her day..
“I will be gladly and deliberately working as I don’t like Christmas, so much so I believe I might be the Grinch.”
Christmas might not move her needle, but kids do, and she’s off to get some sleep then head back to the village where her magic touch is much-needed.