She once loved to cook and came up with different recipes, but now, spending the day with corpses is what puts food on her table.
Sarah Nyambura, 35, developed a passion in human anatomy after visiting a mortuary to collect the body of a close cousin.
She was born in Thunguma village, Nyeri County but while she was still at a tender age, both her parents died, leaving her siblings in her hands.
“Life was challenging and we were forced to learn to do house chores on our own. Being the elder girl, I took over and cooking for my siblings became part of me,” said Nyambura.
After completing high school, Nyambura studied food production and catering, a course that helped her secure a job in a Nyeri hotel.
“It was like a dream come true. I worked passionately and held the job so close to my heart although I wasn’t earning much,” she recalled.
But things changed when she lost her cousin who had been sick for a while.
“Family members paid me a visit when I was at work and requested that I accompany them to view the body. I was completely put off upon seeing how awful the body looked like. It had been left on the floor and the whole mortuary was just a mess,” narrated Ms Nyambura.
She said that when she looked at how bodies had been badly preserved with some rotting on the floor, she quickly thought of correcting the situation.
But Nyambura’s thoughts on a change of career did not give her peace of mind and even when she was expected to do her best to keep the catering job, she never felt settled.
Her salary was not enough to help her pursue another courses but a good Samaritan she met helped her and later became her fiancé.
She studied mortuary science at the Chiromo Mortuary which is run by the University of Nairobi’s School of Human Anatomy.
And despite criticism coming from all corners, Ms Nyambura focused on completing her education.
“I just had to accomplish my dreams,” she said.
Upon completion of her studies, Nyambura got a job as a mortician at Chiromo Mortuary where she worked for one year before shifting to Nakuru Level Five Hospital mortuary where she has now worked for five years.
She says she will not be leaving the job anytime soon.
Being the only female mortician, her male colleagues admire her courage.
“When you are sharing a shift with Nyambura, be assured nothing will go wrong. She is always ready for anything,” observed Mr Erick Odhiambo, Nyambura’s colleague.
John Maina, another colleague, said Nyambura is an inspiration to many and for several occasions, they have received hundreds of families who come back to appreciate their services done to their loved ones courtesy of Nyambura.
“Anyone who has never interacted with Nyambura will tell you she is kind-hearted just from the way she carries herself,” stated Mr Maina.
He added that the courage that Nyambura carries with her, not even some of her colleagues have.
“She is generally passionate about what she does. Her fascination with the dead always see her work beyond required timelines,” Maina added.
According to Nyambura, being a mortician does not make one different and that a job in a mortuary is just like any other.
“Being a mortician, I feel the same I did when I was a chef in a hotel. The only difference is the environment,” noted Nyambura.
According to her, there are risks in her job but she has slowly learnt to cope with them.
For instance, Nyambura said the chemicals used in the mortuary on the bodies for embalming are very strong when inhaled.
The chemicals comprise of a variety of preservatives, sanitising and disinfectant agents and additives to temporarily prevent decomposition and restore a natural appearance for viewing a body after death.
“A mixture of these chemicals is known as embalming fluid, and is used to preserve bodies, sometimes only until the funeral, other times indefinitely. Typical embalming fluid contains a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, humectants and wetting agents, and other solvents that can be used. When carelessly handled they can be harmful for the respiratory system,” she noted.
Other risks include accidents caused by sharp objects especially during post-mortem, fluids that may splash on the mortician’s skin during cleaning and transfer of bodies from one place to another.
“I have found myself dashing to get post exposure pills to prevent being infected with the HIV virus after encountering accidents during post-mortem exercises,” she said.
Apart from her normal duties, Nyambura offers free counselling to the bereaved.
She talks to them and mourns with the families.
She encourages other women to venture into the profession as it is a career like any other and that they should not fear it.
Nakuru Level Five Hospital Medical Superintendent Joseph Mburu said the mortuary has a body refrigerating capacity of 84.
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