MEET CLEOPA­TRA

Sci­en­tist talks about money, work, fun and mar­riage

Business Daily (Kenya) - - LIFE -

There are two of you; and one seems to con­flict the other be­cause sci­en­tists aren’t known to be ex­actly the life of a party like you are.

There’s a big mis­con­cep­tion about sci­en­tists, but we are a lot of fun. You think we’re book­ish, some aren’t. In fact, I wasn’t an ‘A’ stu­dent in school. A lot of ‘A’ stu­dents don’t ac­tu­ally end up in sci­ence...

So where do those ras­cals go?

(Laughs) They are the ones run­ning banks maybe. (Laugh­ter) Any­way, se­ri­ously, you have to have some ap­ti­tude, but I think sci­ence is more about cu­rios­ity and dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion. Grow­ing up, I was both sci­en­tif­i­cally and ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined. I en­joyed art, but my par­ents – as many African par­ents are – were like, “you can do art, any time, but you need a ca­reer.’’ (Laugh­ter) So I be­came a sci­en­tist and in my spare time I like to paint, ab­stract.

Who would you have din­ner with, Cleopa­tra the artist or Cleopa­tra the sci­en­tist?

(Pause) Cleopa­tra the sci­en­tific artist. (Laugh­ter) As a sci­en­tist we’re told to ques­tion and it drives through ev­ery­thing in life. I would say my favourite evening would be a di­verse group of peo­ple with dif­fer­ent opin­ions, peo­ple who are will­ing to chal­lenge them­selves men­tally, think out­side the box. That does come from sci­ence — cu­rios­ity and in­quis­i­tive­ness.

What are you most cu­ri­ous about right now?

Peo­ple. Why do we do what we do? Why do we be­lieve what we be­lieve? When you hear some­one say some­thing, good or in­flam­ma­tory, I al­ways ask my­self, “why are they do­ing that?

I’d like to man­age re­search that has more to do with so­cial sciences, be­hav­iour. Why do peo­ple do what they do? But also with the health as­pect. So I started man­ag­ing re­search to do with HIV pro­gram­ming.

HIV is a dis­ease that’s caused by emo­tive be­hav­iour and a lot of choices. So I’m very cu­ri­ous about the choices that peo­ple make.

I’m also do­ing re­search on gen­der, about women. Why do women in­ter­act with so­ci­ety the way they do? How can we be­come more em­pow­ered? So all about life; learn­ing, cu­rios­ity.

What do you think has em­pow­ered you the most over time?

(Sighs) Ge­net­ics and en­vi­ron­ment. I have a very em­pow­ered mother and a fa­ther who is very em­pow­er­ing. I would call him a fem­i­nist. He has three daugh­ters, and so all of us were taught to go for what we want and to work hard for it.

Then en­vi­ron­ment be­cause of be­ing ex­posed to dif­fer­ent ideas, dif­fer­ent so­ci­etal norms, man­ag­ing to study in all sorts of places out­side of Kenya, in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple when I was do­ing my PHD from all so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds.

When do you think you started be­com­ing self-aware of who you are?

That’s a very in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. I’m go­ing to ask you; Biko, when did you be­come self-aware?

At 34, 35. It’s a mix­ture of en­vi­ron­ment and in­ter­ac­tions with peo­ple. But I also think it’s time. Some­times if you’re not ready, you’re just not ready.

Yeah, I think so too. It’s some­thing that hap­pens with age. I’m not very old. I think I’m still young. I of­ten use the phrase ‘when I grow up, I will…’ (Chuck­les) with all th­ese grey hair… So when did I be­come self-aware? Gosh! I don’t know. (Pause) I can’t de­fine it.

What are you re­grets, but be­fore that I was told you lift men in gyms, what’s that all about?

(Laughs) Oh yes, but it’s not like I go around lift­ing men in gyms! I lifted this one guy who was a lawyer. I asked him “how much do you weigh? I can pick you up.” He said, “yeah, right.” So I picked him up and put him in a fire­man’s hold over my shoul­ders and I did 10 squats with guys in the whole gym count­ing.

He was about 70 or 80kgs. After I put him down I said, “how do you feel?” He was like, “I have to ad­mit, I feel slightly emas­cu­lated.” (Rau­cous laugh­ter)

I feel emas­cu­lated just lis­ten­ing to this.

(Rau­cous laugh­ter) Re­grets? (Pause) I re­gret not tak­ing as many chances, or not be­ing as ad­ven­tur­ous when I was younger. I could have been a lit­tle more free and re­laxed, trav­elled more when I had the chance.

But I made up for it when I de­cided to take six to nine months off and re­lax a year ago after the stresses of work. I won­dered, what am I work­ing hard and sav­ing for?

Tak­ing off felt very em­pow­er­ing. It takes you back to who you are, so I started paint­ing again.

What’s your sci­ence —and I’m us­ing the word sci­ence very loosely here — what’s your sci­ence be­hind money and wealth?

I think many peo­ple want to be rich, they want money but ac­tu­ally, what they don’t know they want are choices. Money gives you choices. They want the choice to be able to say, I can live here, or there.

I can take my chil­dren to this school or that school. I can de­cide to do this or that, or eat here or eat there. I mean, if you’re go­ing to have a lot of money, and live in the same place, and do the same things than not open­ing your­self to new ex­pe­ri­ences, then what’s the point? But money also isn’t the end of things.

What is the big­gest mis­con­cep­tion you have of your­self?

I don’t ac­tu­ally think I’m very smart. I keep be­ing told I’m smart.

So not mar­ried and no chil­dren. Do you ever want to get mar­ried?

I don’t have any­thing against mar­riage. (Laughs hard) In fact, I’m a prod­uct of a very happy mar­riage that’s still go­ing strong. No, I don’t rule out mar­riage, but the right per­son has to come along. And then the right per­son has to ask to marry me.

You sound or seem like a kind of per­son who can ask. Would you ask?

(Laughs) This is go­ing to be in the in­ter­view? Oh boy, the gen­der norms of the day. (Pause) I think it would de­pend on the per­son and our in­ter­ac­tion. (Pause) That is the most out­field ques­tion I’ve ever been asked.

--PHOTO/DIANA NGILA

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