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In The Cottage With: Claire Oneko – Living beyond the political name and making it in Creative Arts

By Yvonne Aoll | Wednesday, May 25th 2016 at 11:40
Claire on the right with Yvonne during the interview

Claire Oneko is a film producer with extensive South African education and work experience under her belt. Her work has over time involved  some very impressive clients, this including KFC, the fast food chain.  She’s also a blogger who documents most of her tales as a young mother on her site: Why “Cashmere?” She likes the fabric. She likes its feel. And she likes fashion too.

On the day of her interview, she arrives at The Carnivore right on time. It’s mid-morning and she tells me she needs to get back home in good time because they’re having a family gathering with her in-laws. She would also like to beat the rains.

As we walk into Carnivore, I ask about her surname, seeing as on her blog and on emails, she’d interacted with me using her brand name: Claire Ash Meadow, a name I found interesting.

She reveals, to my surprise, that her full name is Claire Ashlee Oneko. She is from the famous Oneko political family, and Achieng Oneko, he who was a member of the historic, heroic and admirable Kapenguria Six, was her grandfather. So why doesn’t she use her surname? She promises to explain once we are seated and settled.

We talk about a few other things that incidentally lead us to Love. This prompts Claire to ask if I know anything about the Five Languages of Love. I do not, I admit. She says it’s a concept that teaches one how to give love. It explains how most of the time, we give love the way we know how to, but that’s not how our loved ones need to receive it.

“The Five Languages of Love include: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch and Receiving Gifts. Those are the five languages of how people receive love. Make time and look for them. They’re worth reading about,” she advises. I tell her I will.

I then ask her, now that we are on the topic of love, of the one thing she would say to the one person who hurt her the most. Claire, unreservedly says: “F… off!” We laugh.

I ask her if she’d like me to omit the cursing in the article, and she says: “No, why would you do that? Put it in! Make sure you put it in.” We laugh again.

Claire is sure of herself. As she speaks, she comes off as someone who has no time to live anything but her truth. To be herself. To run her own race. And to find people who embrace her as she is.

As the waiter arrives with Claire’s order and she sips on her Dawa at Carnivore’s beautifully landscaped Beer Garden, she looks at me and the camera crew and says: “Please don’t judge. It’s past 10 a.m, isn’t it? I can have alcoholic Dawa.” She takes another sip.

Claire is confident, free spirited and self-assured. She remembers what we were laughing about before the waiter arrived and then says: “But you know, time really is a wonderful thing. In the beginning, I would have definitely cursed the guy out, but now, I’m in a good place. I’d tell him, thank you for putting me in a situation where I had to depend on myself, and for making me realize that I had enormous strength within me.”

Here’s the rest of what Claire Oneko warmly shared with me:


Your surname, why won’t you use it?

I’m the first one in my family to venture into film. I’m the one who isn’t a doctor or a lawyer or a politician. As a result of this, I felt the need to have a name or brand that was detached from politics.

Okay, so how did Claire Ash Meadow come about?

Ashley, my middle name, is Old English, It refers to a meadow of ash trees, and I figured “Claire Ash Meadow” would be a great play on the name.

Apart from being a creative artist, is there any other reason you don’t prefer to be politically associated?

From a very young age, I was treated differently. In school, at the playgrounds, everywhere I went, people would walk on egg shells around me based on my name. There’s a certain respect that’s given that’s completely unwarranted, that’s not what I want anymore.

Do you think this is a Kenyan mentality, the respect for anyone with an influential name?

Yes. Kenyans and Africans are like that. It’s all about who you are and what you have. I had a similar experience in high school.

Where did you attend high school?

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