HOW KAMAL KAUR OVERCAME CHALLENGES IN LIFE INCLUDING SURVIVING AN ABUSIVE MARRIAGE AND A TERRORIST ATTACK
by ASJAD NAZIR
TODAY Kamal Kaur has a flourishing radio career, is making her name as a painter and regularly wins over social media users with her sense of humour. The Nairobi-based mother of two has a contented life and is looking forward to even more happiness in the future. The popular Kenya-based radio host has gone through immense pain and challenges to reach where she is today including an abusive marriage and being caught in the middle of a horrific terrorist attack.
It started off when as a 21-year-old she had an arranged marriage. Instead of having her happily-ever-after she was separated 14-years and two beautiful children later from a man who turned out to be a very violent alcoholic.
“Despite going into rehabilitation and receiving counselling, he decided that he didn’t want to make it work. For me, the last straw was when he hit my kids. I had enough and walked out without a backward glance,” explained Kamal Kaur.
An inner strength is very apparent when Kamal speaks. She isn’t running away from her past and hopes others can gain hope from the journey she has been on. After leaving her marital home she had no job or money, but did have two small children aged five and one.
“My kids gave me the reason to get up each morning and force myself to live and make it work. Not for me, just for them. They didn’t deserve to be pulled into all that was going on and certainly didn’t ask to be mistreated because someone couldn’t handle their alcoholic tendencies,” she said.
The violent abuse had sapped Kamal’s emotional and physical strength, but like a warrior she rose up and got a job as a radio host at Nairobi based East FM and a local newspaper. The two jobs were like rays of hope that enabled her to take the first steps back towards the light. She grasped both opportunities and worked hard. “Life did turn around for the better, slowly but surely, after I started working. Having a strong support system at work and teammates like family had me growing strength to strength,” she said.
Although things were looking up and she managed to get a divorce, Kamal’s ex-husband kept up the abuse with constant text messages and drunken phone calls. He harassed Kamal and her two young children. “I kept getting told to change my number and asked myself, why should I do that? Why can’t he be the one who stops this harassment? I never changed my number and eventually these messages were used in court to prove his targeted bullying.”
Kamal received counselling and eventually forgave her abusive ex-husband not because she had any feelings for him, but to move on in life. Reading up on alcoholism made her realise it was a disease. She was also determined that a painful past wouldn’t hold her back from moving on or define the future. “I would never have been strong for my kids or myself with hatred in my heart. Yes, I was very hurt because this is not what I had signed up for in life. I just wanted a simple life and to get on with it. In hindsight, I am often grateful for his presence in my life because had I led a pampered life, I know I’d never have had the get up and go to achieve things I have done today. I guess he taught me how to fight.”
Just when the hardworking single mother and her two children had settled down to a life of normality their world was rocked by the terrorist attack that took place on September 21, 2013 at Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Her radio station, East FM had organised a children’s cooking competition at the shopping centre and Kamal was there with her family. “What happened from noon onwards on that day has changed our lives forever. The attack wreaked havoc in our lives. My kids, especially my daughter still has shrapnel embedded in her legs. Four years on, she still needs physiotherapy to help her out. My son is a jumpy and nervous child. We are still wary about going back into any type of mall. Loud sounds scare us until we have identified what they are four years on, including a door shutting loudly, metal dustbins falling over or even fireworks in the distance. We constantly look for an exit point anywhere we go. It’s become ingrained in us now.”
Kamal admits she would get cold sweats whenever she heard a helicopter in the aftermath of the attack and couldn’t figure out why it scared her so much because there were none there at the mall that day. “Eventually I realised I was scared of helicopters because we were all huddled in a corner of the parking lot at the mall where the building’s generator was and that was the sound I was associating with.’’
Although there are days where loud noises and sounds of a helicopter quicken her heartbeat, surviving a terrible terrorist attack is another challenge she has negotiated in life.
One of the main things that has helped her heal a second time has been art. She is not trained, but has used art to help her put wandering thoughts at rest. Whether it is doodling, drawing, sketching, painting or creating, art has become a form of therapy. The works have received acclaim including praise on social media. “I’ve always been artistic and creative, but in the past my efforts were always mocked or laughed at so I gave up on doing something I loved most. Isn’t it amazing what people can do to your selfesteem if you allow it to happen? Slowly but surely, I started indulging in my creative side. I listen to my favourite music while indulging and I’m at my happiest when painting.”
The attention and subsequent demand for the artwork Kamal was producing led to her first exhibition earlier this year. She never painted for commercial reasons, so was surprised by enquiries from people wanting to purchase the work. “I was quite stunned at this. To have someone want to buy my artwork was a big deal for me because I still don’t think I’m good enough.”
Eventually she did sell some pieces and gave 100 per cent of the proceeds from the sale to The African Girl Foundation. A charity close to her heart, it educates young girls on the menstrual process and provides reusable sanitary pads to young girls who can’t afford them so they can stay in school. “I am very pleased and honoured to say that all proceeds from the first sale went to The African Girl Foundation. I have pledged to continue to keep giving to them as it is very important to educate the girl child.”
A growing confidence in herself combined with demand from friends has led to Kamal giving basic art lessons in her studio. The money raised from the classes also goes to The African Girl Foundation. “I have up to six students at a time, and provide all the materials to them. I brew some fresh Kenyan coffee and make cupcakes for them so it’s a kind of a fun coffee meet up.”
The radio host now sees art as the gift that keeps giving and something she really enjoys. “I had never in my life thought that I would be capable of teaching anyone anything, and yet, here I am, teaching what I love doing the most. There is so much happiness in all this that I often take stock of the past few months and ask myself why I didn’t start this off sooner.”
Kamal feels rightfully proud of how far she has come. Her key message for others going through hardship is not to give up and she says there will always be an inner source of strength to get you through. For Kamal it was her two children. She sacrificed a lot on the way, but ultimately succeeded and taught her children the value of hard work. “Life will throw a lot at you. You either sink or swim. I was told I would amount to nothing and that I’d end up ruining my kids’ lives, but here I am telling you about my life and still looking for ways to keep on moving onwards and upwards.”
Kamal smiles and finishes off by saying, “I’m not going to end this with a cheesy quote as much as I’d like to, but do believe in yourself even when no one else will. You matter the most in your life. Love yourself enough to get up and start again if you ever get knocked over.”