The Long Road Home
The Long Road Home
Perseverance is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Cate Nyambu. Just a little more than six years ago, she would not have imagined her present life so happy and fulfilled. In fact, if you had told Cate she would become a yoga instructor, she would have laughed at the mere notion. Detours, she says, have a strange way of showing us the path we are meant to follow. For the past five years Cate has taught yoga in Kenya, Africa. She also has traveled several times to the United States as an instructor for the Africa Yoga Project.
Cates journey began towards the end of her high school education. She took sales jobs where she was required to walk countless miles in order to sell varied products such as toothpaste and SIM cards. The pay with these companies was never delivered as promised, so she hardly earned anything at all. Cate explains that there is little employment opportunity in Kenya, and she felt that going to a University after high school wasn’t an option. “My parents paid for me to go to high school, and they still have to afford my younger siblings attending high school. I didn’t feel that continuing my education was fair for my siblings and family.”
Cate worked these types of jobs for about five months, with hardly anything to show for except the toll it took on her body. “My mom didn’t know what to think because I was so skinny. I wasn’t eating enough while I was out working because I was making so little money. She was worried and very angry with me because no one was forcing me to work.” Cate desperately hoped her work would eventually be fruitful. “I just wanted to be a good supporter for my family. I would lie to them and leave the house in high heels. When I got far enough from home I would put on regular shoes to walk far distances for my sales jobs.”
Her mother finally made Cate quit working, and told her the right job would find her. It seems fate only takes us so far though; inevitably Cate’s curiosity and natural tenacity are what led to her yoga career. “I was bored at home, and I started to notice my neighbor and her sister leaving and then coming home each day happy. I thought, ‘If they are going to work, I really need that job!’” she laughs. Her neighbors told her that they regularly practiced yoga at the community social hall.
“At first I thought, ‘What?’ There is no way I am doing that! At the time I only associated yoga with India and their religion.” After some reflection, Cate decided to check things out. She scoped out the local classes with trepidation initially, only glancing through the windows. One of the instructors noticed her repeat visits and said, “Either come in and take the class, or go home and stop peaking.”
Cate obliged. “I followed along as best I could. As I was walking home after, I thought, ‘If this thing is religious, then why am I sweating and feeling pain?’” she laughs. “After my first yoga class, I went home thinking I wouldn’t go back because I was so sore. Suddenly, one week later, my body was yearning for more yoga. I thought it was funny I wanted to practice again. I sensed some of my body parts open up and it felt so good.”
After a year of daily practice, Cate ventured to the Shine Yoga center where Africa Yoga Project is run. “There were three hundred people practicing yoga together there. It felt like such a good community and everyone was so friendly. It was like I was empty before, and something was being filled.” Cate got into the routine of attending class at the Center, and soon applied for the teacher training program. When she finally got news of her selection, she was ecstatic.
She began her training enthusiastically, not knowing what huge obstacle was just around the bend. A little over a week into her teacher training, she was involved in an accident while stepping down off a bus she was riding. “While I was standing in the doorway about to exit, the bus took off abruptly. I fell onto the road hard. Cars were actually speeding past me and over top of me. People rushed out to help me up and I told them, ‘I’m fine, really!’” As she walked home the shock wore off and the pain set in.
“When I got home my mom was so scared because of how much my knees were bleeding. She took me to the hospital because they were cut and split badly, with dirt and gravel stuck in them. My mom told me not to do yoga anymore. Since we were Christian, she still thought yoga had to be something religious. She was somewhat against it from the start. She was trying to make sense out of me going to training for one week, and then having an accident. She thought it was a sign. I tried to explain it, but I also didn't want to push the issue and argue back too much.”
Cate’s mom was adamant she wasn’t going anywhere. After three days of rest, Cate snuck out of the house to continue with her training. When she returned home, her mother was furious. It finally took Cate and other neighbors to further explain that yoga was not something to be feared, and that it did not compromise their own religious beliefs. “Finally, my mom conceded. She said if this was what I wanted then I should go for it. I think she was tired of trying to control me” she explains with a gentle laugh.
Convincing her mother turned out to be the easy part. When she returned to her training, her instructors and friends questioned if it was wise continuing given her physical condition. “My one friend was worried for me to practice with my bandages. I said, ‘I am doing it.’ My knees were badly hurt, it was painful walking and squatting. I went to the front row and finished the class through the agony. I was crying on the inside. No one knew the extent of the pain I was experiencing. Even after the first class was over, the pain kept calling out. For four months I practiced with my knees hurting and still bleeding. Then, all of a sudden, they were okay.”
Cate correlates the physical pain she endured to the emotional healing she experienced throughout her yoga journey. She shares that she had a high school boyfriend who passed away back in 2011. One of Cate’s friends delivered the devastating news of his death. “I don’t know all the details of what happened, but a friend of his actually shot him while they were playing football (soccer).” She simply says, “Where I live, they are shooting each other over their quarrels.”
Traditionally in Kenya most girls are not allowed to date, so her relationship was somewhat a secret. Since her parents weren’t aware she had a boyfriend, she concealed her loss. She confides, “I’d go to the washroom to cry there. It was hard to hide my grief and sorrow.” Cate affirms that through her yoga practice, she was able to release not only the physical pain of her injury, but also the emotional pain of losing her boyfriend. “I am grateful for my teacher training. I was able to make it through with my injured knees even though I still have scars. Now I compare that to my life. Nothing is impossible.”
Aside from her emotional healing, Cate credits yoga with strengthening her confidence. “When I first began I was so shy I couldn't talk in front of anyone. But during that training I stood up in front of almost two hundred people and shouted, ‘I am not shy anymore!’” she shares with a deep laugh. Her profession also helps support her family, and pay for her younger siblings’ school tuition. Additionally, her yoga career led her to meet her boyfriend of five years. “He is also a yoga instructor, and we live together. My parents are happy for us. I don't have to hide anything anymore, which makes me happy.”
Cate aspires to have her own yoga studio, and children of her own one day. For the more immediate future, she and a small group of friends want to work with educating the youth in Kenya, especially young women. “Many have experiences with prostitution, early marriage, and young pregnancies. They don’t have much direction in life. Not just young women, but young men too. I want to be able to support and help others realize they can live a better life. There are ways to avoid early and unplanned pregnancies, and other ways to make a living.”
Cate’s faith in God is also something else she hopes to illustrate to the young men and women in her community. “I go to church every Sunday and every Friday we have Fellowship. We share how God has worked in our lives and pray together.” She says from her perspective, being Christian ultimately means forgiveness and acceptance. She says, “Deep down people are not much different, even if their religions have different details. I feel we all believe in the same God.”
She praises her faith and yoga as two main pillars in her life. “My experiences have created more awareness and openness in my heart. I can't cut people out of my life because they don’t believe as I do. I don’t judge people by how they look or what they do. I don’t compare myself to them. You can't change people from what they don't want to be. I can still work with these people and make a difference with them.”
With yoga gaining so much momentum lately, I ask her what she feels are its’ most transformative aspects. She acknowledges the mind, body, spirt connection as a main component, but says there is something else simpler it has to offer. “The biggest gifts that yoga has given me are community, authenticity, and integrity. I think that you need those three things in life. Yoga gave me something that I was looking for in my heart. Maybe without it I'd still be the same kid that was looking for jobs that are no longer there.”
What is most striking about Cate is how a gentle warmth radiates from her, right alongside her fierce resolve. A light shines within her despite the pain and difficulties she has endured. I ask her if she thinks the detours and “wrong” decisions are part of a greater design after all. She agrees saying without them we wouldn't have the lessons that lead us towards greater experiences in life. “When I think back to rough times, I realize maybe it was all part of the plan. Now I look back and I can appreciate where I am. I believe God has a different part for each one of us. When you're almost giving up, that's when God shows up in your life. That's when things start going the way you want. But you have to keep on moving, you don't want to give up in the middle. Things take time, and don't always go smoothly.” She looks out the window, smiles softly, and repeats, “It takes time.”
Click HERE to view Cate's complete portrait gallery.
Click HERE to view more of Cate's portraits and be sure to visit www.africayogaproject.org to learn more and donate.