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Still Alive

By Abigail Mwailenge

In the words of Maya Angelou “The world had ended, I was the only pet who knew it.” (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, By Maya Angelou). People walked along the streets as if the pavements hadn’t all crumbled beneath their feet. They pretended to breathe in and out the whole time, I knew the air had been sucked away in a monstrous inhalation by God himself. I alone was suffocating in the nightmare.

The thing about heartbreak is no one ever prepares you for it. Nothing in your life, education, or diverse experiences can prepare you for each heartbreak is different. Like grief you eventually learn to adapt or shelf your feelings. Do we ever heal from heartbreaks? I wonder.; Is there a dimension that hosts people in pain and keeps them captive, because the feelings of loss, the realm of pain, the emptiness you feel when you are in that inferno is the most hopeless you can be.  It is almost as if you are stuck with dementors (the kind that punishes prisoners in Azkaban and the wizarding world), they continuously suck the life out of you in a cold grey desert, but then again it can’t be a desert because deserts are warm despite the threat of a heat stroke the warm feeling is a promise of life. Well, if you get sunburnt then you are feeling something right. The heartbreak inferno is a state of purgatory, you're on pause in a dark place and it just takes and takes from you until you give in.

I have been in this place a couple of times, unorthodox actually because my realms of heartbreak are the ones everyone dismisses and downplays to say they actually shouldn’t be termed as heartbreaking. Society has set a standard for what pain should or shouldn’t be and as such we walk around in the streets and pretend to be fine while the dementors suck out our very souls.

I am a hopeless romantic, I make love with my mind and I romanticize everything. I fell in love with my career and the businesses I run are no exception. I have loved with passion, many times in different versions of reality.  I’ve always felt there’s no shame in loving something even when it all comes crashing down you would have experienced something meaningful.

I remember sitting on my bedroom couch, reading, it was almost 5 pm, and it was just another unfulfilling day in my not-exciting world. I got a call from an unsuspecting caller, I had applied for a job some years back and by some divine appointment, my application did actually find its way to the right office. Surprising right? (especially in my country where applications are shelved or discarded by the gatekeepers). At this point, I had worked and quit jobs in places that were not related to my field of study and I finally found some balance in a mundane government job that provided stability and a source of finance to fuel my business ideas. Boom, my dream job was handed to me, three days after the interview I was expected to start work.

This was no low-level position. It was middle management, in which I was brought in to manage a sensitive project that bordered on political conflict. My new workplace was alluring, it was everything and more than what I had desired, there was no mediocrity, and everything was set for excellence. I got leave from my government job and decided to test the waters with this new opportunity and oh my was I in love, and just like that I was smitten. I would like to think of this chapter of my life as an awakening, some form of eureka moment that just unlocked my brain. I was fortunate to be led by a true mentor and great leader who settled for nothing but the best. 

The first time I met my boss, we had a conversation, I was told he loves to have these one one-on-ones with every new employee. What stood out for me out from this, is that he was no mere boss, he was the CEO of a quasi-government unit, he did not have to sit down with employees let alone those at the level I was. But regardless he took the time. He broke down the project I was brought in to manage in ways I never would have processed on my own. My colleague, Ben and I who were to co-manage this project were passionate and hungry to succeed, we like to think of ourselves as trailblazers, change makers. We behaved like newborns, hungry for life, it was no secret to everyone around us that in our minds we were love-struck teenagers in love with the job. There were no lengths we were unwilling to go to get things done, ours was an impossible project where everyone around us even wondered why we were so confident and passionate.

Abigail onsite during the installation of a gold

processing plant at her dream Job

Ben is a seasoned engineer, though quite young he had been through the school of hard knocks and had his fair share of mediocrity around him, feelings of not being appreciated in previous jobs, and you name it. The thing about him is he is a very brilliant mind, I remember meeting him when we reported for work, and he was smartly dressed not in the way I would have expected. I remember thinking how is he this insightful, I rarely feel this way about workmates especially those in my field, it’s almost as though this career limits people to a box in which they can’t think beyond it. 

Together we made a great team, Ben was the sanity to my chaos, he was technical I was the marketer. We are both engineers but we allowed ourselves to draw from our strengths and bring out our genius. I learnt a lot from him. Unlike Ben I had no experience in my field at all, what I brought to the table was theory and street savvy from my entrepreneurship world. He on the other hand had a whole wealth of experience. We put our genius together and we were unstoppable. In just a year we developed two bankable business plans that were board-approved and on the verge of being funded, we set up a first-of-its-kind operation which had it kicked off would have made history.

Travelled to different places on her dream job

Then BOOM!!! like everything else in my life that is too good to be true, my dream job just flew away like a weightless feather. Government red tape, politics and a whole lot of unexplainable events put our project on hold. In every transition lies three phases;

  1. An Ending

  2. The Wilderness

  3. A New Beginning

The ending is always hard. Mostly dominated by denial you search for answers and coping mechanisms, and you fight to change the situation. You actually believe the situation might change. Ben and I really believed this wasn’t the end. We had worked too hard, we were trailblazers this could not happen to us. We used every other known channel to see if there was some form of salvation. But it ended. Just like that, like we were never there. For months we stayed glued to our phones, for a glimmer of hope that never came, and reached out for assurance that never materialized, until we eventually stopped looking forward to it. We died inside, while the world moved on. The wilderness can be heart-wrenching.

I always use the phrase “heartbreak ibaba”(heartbreak hurts) with my friends. I have had my fair share of them. They may not be the conventional heartbreaks the world is accustomed to. Like the pain of death, or an ended relationship. My heartbreaks are heartbreaks regardless and I choose to recognise them even if they do not get public validation. Losing my dream job at age 33 almost killed me, to date this for me has been the most humbling and painful experience. I went through days without leaving my room, or my bed, I had moments when I just wanted to be asleep because then I didn’t have to feel the pain. Sleep gave me comfort on one hand an escape from my reality and on the other was the promise of the possibility of waking up to news that would change my current state.

Insignificant as they may be, we all have walked through infernos that have brought us to our knees. It’s the simple things that usually matter and hurt the most. As if losing my job wasn’t a major blow, I recently experienced another kind of loss on a business trip. I had stayed up late reading, a habit I need to curb as it leaves me sleep-deprived on some days. I was on a business trip in unfamiliar territory. I was overwhelmed tired and anxious. It was time to leave and go back to my Air BnB, I remember chatting with the Uber driver on the app, and I remember making an atm withdrawal for my Uber charge, what I do not remember is whether I got into the Uber with my bag or in my overwhelming moment left the bag in the bathroom or at the ATM.

I got to the Air BnB, and offloaded my luggage after a long fulfilling business shopping spree, for some reason I had cash in my coat which I used to pay for Uber. Later in the night, we ordered pizza, and when the delivery guy brought our food I wanted to pay for it and realized I didn’t have my bag. I was in a foreign country. My bag had my two phones (one contained all my pictures, mostly my children’s pictures, the other was my work phone and had a lot of history especially from the one year I spent on my dream job), my passport, my national registration card, my power bank, my purse, my bank cards and other mementoes.

After a day of shopping unaware she had

lost her bag with all her belongings

BOOM!!! It happened again. What I loved was taken away from me, it was another heartbreak all over again. I have mourned this loss, I am not sure I have healed from it yet. I lost my entire life in that bag. Memories I can never regain and each time I allow myself to think of it, it hurts like I am physically being stabbed in the heart. I have walked the wilderness of checking the “Find My Phone” option on my Apple ID, and for some time my phones were visible and would give a last-seen ping. I often wonder who got my bag. Was it an innocent person who picked it up or was I robbed by the Uber driver? Did the person that found my bag go through my stuff, surely they would have seen my business cards that had my contacts on them. If they had my phones I had reached out countless times, they could have at least responded and maybe by some sheer luck returned my things. I shelved this heartbreak too and moved on or pretended to move on.

As a tech-savvy marketer or at least I’ve always looked at myself this way, being off socials is not something that has ever crossed my mind. The businesses I run heavily depend on good social media engagement hence my connection to my social media is what fuels my business. Imagine the devastation I felt when I was shut out of my own social media profile by hackers. I have always bragged about how I use only one password for all my sites and like to keep things simple so I do not complicate my life, well and here we are now!!!

There are a lot of things they don’t teach you in business school or entrepreneurship masterclasses, some things you learn the hard way and it really sucks. I have spent the last two weeks learning cyber security, learning tricks, changing passwords, and adding two-factor authentication to all my apps but it’s all too late. If only I knew then what I know now. My gracious hackers are holding my business page hostage, and I helplessly watch like a visitor in my own life. I possess a front-row seat to their tyranny as they stay silent but hold full controlling rights to my business account. Like all my other heartbreaks I have walked the denial stage, believing this is just a nightmare that will go away, wandering in the wilderness but my reality lingers and stares me in the face utterly unravelling, my current situation is beyond surreal.

Social media business accounts hacked

In Chimamanda’s “notes on grief”, I borrow the words, that the African approach to grief is (in her context the Nigerian approach) people are so quick to tell you to move on, the funeral went well yes, but after the funeral that’s when the grief begins, you suddenly realise you do not have the distraction of planning a funeral, or in my case, after losing my bag I was consumed with replacing my Id, my phones, etc with the hacking I was consumed with trying to gain back control, but when all else fails, or when all is lost, the grief begins and no one around you gets it. You are often faced with comments that you cannot cry over spilt milk, you will get another job, and there is plenty of fish in the sea. 

When it comes to grief, we need to be alive to the fact that we all hurt, and the belief that we have to be strong is overrated. The compliment “you are so strong “is not always welcoming, my life just fell apart, why should I be strong? Our spirits and our lives should show that we lost something meaningful and we should be allowed to grieve accordingly. 

A new beginning; do we ever find our way back after loss?  I wonder. Do we search for a new beginning and find it? At some point, everything comes to an end and we owe it to ourselves to grieve but still find a way out of the darkness. Heartbreaks come but they are teaching moments, a chance for moulding into something better. I have always said there is no shame in loving and no shame in loss, I will continue to love and to lose for at least if I can feel then I know I am STILL ALIVE.

Abigail Mwailenge, mostly known as Abby The Marketing Guru is a creative relentless force of nature, like the element titanium she is utterly unstoppable and is an overachiever obsessed with getting things done. is the founder and CEO of #Mommiesandmunchkinszambia a baby brand for maternity and baby clothing and #luminousmetallurgy a mining firm that supports artisanal and small-scale miners. Connect with her on facebook @Abby TG

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Edited by Bwalya M Mphuka

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Sending you hugs Abigail! Thank you for sharing this very relatable post on grief 🫂


Very good write up

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