'Aunty Judy', that's the name I grew up calling her. Her real name is Judith Elisabeth Cochran, an American woman with a heart of gold.
Why is this Texan woman so important to me?
Because I couldn't be where I am today without her. She lit up my world. Saw greatness and goodness where most people saw mediocrity. She gave me an unconditional love I once thought was humanly impossible. And through her, most of my childhood experiences are worth reminiscing.
I first met Judy in 1997. She had come to Mbita, a small town in the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya, to volunteer at the school where I went to. I was only 5 years old then. Before her, I had only seen two white people. She was the third, and my teacher. To say I was fascinated may be an understatement.
My fascination was a little to the extreme and she reminded me many years later about how mesmerized by her foreign accent, I would imitate every word she spoke as she taught. All the other students would just stare at her in awe. Confusion maybe. My confidence, childish naughtiness, and eagerness to learn made her take a liking to me.
Over the years, Judy has been like a mother to me-protective, helpful, always wanting the best for me. Growing up in a chaotic household where I was subjected to a lot of bullying, she became the refuge I would run to. When the bullying continued into my adult years, I still ran to her. She listened, she advised, she stood by me and most importantly, she loved me through it all.
Growing up, my parents never paid a shilling towards my education. Not because they were irresponsible, but because Judy took up that responsibility. From kindergarten right through high school, she paid every shilling of my school fees without ever mentioning it. I am ashamed to say that I wasn't as grateful as I should have been. Several times, I took her for granted. Do you know what her response was to my teenage arrogance? More love, more patience, more forgiveness. Sometimes I think she might have contemplated dropping all the support she was giving me. I have never asked her. One day I will.
In the most recent years, Aunty Judy has remained the wonderful, gracious and loving woman that she was when I met her 22 years ago. She is amongst the first people I call with good or bad news. I am convinced now more than ever that her love for me is as pure and genuine as can ever be.
When my new friends ask me about her. I tell them she is my mentor. However, my old friends know her as my second mother. They call her "my white lady" sometimes. I don't mind that. And I'm sure she won't if she finds out. Over the years Judy's presence in my life has been a breath of fresh air. I look up to her and I am convinced now more than ever that when I grow up, I want to turn out just like her.