THE PORTRAIT

SELF PORTRAIT

The Agony and Anguish as my wife ….. with another

“I cannot draw in picture form, but can draw a portrait with words. I see one side of his face being the moon in a storm.  The moon trying to smile but covered by the storm of sorrow, thunder of anger and floating in helplessness.  The other side of Peter’s face will be the soft gentle light-yellow sun, smiling and warm, full of love, hope and brightening our lives.”

“Every day I know, she has to be intimate with another and I must look the other side; cry in darkness and embrace her in the morning” says Peter*.

“I am ‘deceased”’ says John* in another session.  Joyce and I quickly glance at each other smiling almost bursting into laughter.  At first we thought it was a misplaced word.  Then it slowly sank, and my heart sank with every word I heard.

In a day’s work, I laugh, I smile, I feel victory and sometimes I cry.  There are times I am as helpless as my client; but I purpose in not to leave him/her the same.  For the past 2 days I have gone through emotions that I can’t describe.  The story of a group of husband turned women.  This has given me sleepless nights; how do I change their lives? That is the question!

The story of PEV (Post Election Violence of 2007-2008) victims has never been said this deep, has never been this emotionally draining…

Peter a thirty four year old man continues, “Every day I die another death, I die in my heart because the duty God gave me I can no longer perform, my manhood was taken away from me.  The children called by my name, belong to another.  I watch as she makes herself more beautiful than she already is.   Her dressing is perfect, she’s preparing to leave.  She’s particularly excited, singing her beautiful voice filling the air. I am here with her, yes! But I am far away in my mind.  Dear God, should I be grateful, should I be angry? Why didn’t I die like the rest? I wonder.  I am a woman in a man’s body and every day, I am reminded of that.” As we talk to him, some three young children between the ages of five to one come in, “Baba” they call.  He looks at them in a way I have never seen before.  He is in anguish, he tenses up with every call as he sends them out to look for their mother.  The anguish in his voice tells a story of a man who has conflicted emotions where the children are concerned.

John on the other hand says “I wish I had died, she (wife) would have buried me and moved on with her life, now I am just there! I am useless to her and her children”, he says this as he unconsciously touches the part that seem to be the problem.  He repeats “I am deceased” and this time we know he is not joking.  Looking at his face and body language, we see a man who has lost it all.  He is living amongst the living but he died, spiritually, emotionally and physically though still breathing and eating.  That part of his manhood died.  He jokes “you know I died as a man and resurrected as a woman” he laughs bitterly, we are so dumbstruck we can’t even afford a smile.

Mzee another husband looks at a distance, his eyes telling a story of hurt that I have never seen.  He remembers how his wife of 18 years died of frustrations after going through a rape ordeal, losing her property then losing her ‘husband’. “I feel helpless” he quips.  His newest fear is losing his new wife of 2 years, he fears that other men may take advantage and have a field day, he breaks down as tears fall down his haggard cheeks.

Joyce Wangui and I are dumbfounded.  We take a breath as we take moment. Joyce and I met through a good friend Betty who thought we should take the story and counsel at the same time.  Joyce Wangui a journalist had come to get their story, while I tagged along as a trauma counselor.  We were not prepared for what we were to hear.  As we got deeper into exploration, the untold story of emotional distress came out, the story of the living deceased was clearer.  We now understand why, they die in their hearts every day; they are the ghosts of PEV.  We had heard of forceful circumcision we thought that was terrible.  In fact the victims themselves start by telling you they were “forcefully” circumcised.  This is a more acceptable and everybody just assumes that it is just the removal of fore skin.

But….

The story is deeper! Many have suffered the same fate; I am talking about the story of penile mutilation, the penile stump.  The meaning this brings, the anguish, the tears only a pillow can tell and the agony that make a man wishes he died.  Peter asks “how will this justice be done? Who will replace my manhood?” while Mzee quips as he stares into space, “nothing will restore my dignity; nothing will make me a man again.” John on the other hand wonders “how much money can bring me back to life?”

By now we are both traumatized but we must rise above our feelings do our respective duties.  Joyce must write a story she’s never written before while I must do some counseling that I was never taught.  One thing we both promise is, we will never leave this people where we found them.  We have started a journey, we will hold their hands and hearts for a while but we will never forget their plight.  We recognize the fact that these people are waiting for justice and compensation from the government but what are we doing as a people to help them take care of their families, they have been robbed of their manhood and livelihood, what are we doing to make their lives better?

Before we called it a day, we thought it was good to take the contacts of the women in their lives and one day hear their side of the story. After a few days, I went back to find out what is it exactly they feel? My first stop was Mrs. Peter.  After we had settled down, she’s started talking to me shyly at first, unsure but later opened up.  After the pleasantries, I asked her a question, “What portrait do you paint of your husband?” Mhhhhhm she took a deep breath and I immediately knew that we had a long session. “My husband is a very nice person, he feeds me and my children.  You know we have four children now but you know they are not his biological children.  I am also three months pregnant.” I look at her, “wow! Tell me more.”

I got married to Peter nine years ago at a young tender age of nineteen years and Peter was twenty four years then.  Our life started out so perfectly, he was a carpenter at Burnt Forest while I started out tailoring classes.  Our love life was perfect too, he was a strong man in all possible fields, financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically.  We had a bliss, but our forever ever after, was destroyed by Post Election Violence after only six months.  On the fateful day, Peter came running to the house and told me to dash quickly and go hide in the outside toilet.  He instructed that I should not make a movement or sound no matter what I hear.  He told me whatever happens he will fight as a man.  I ran to the toilet as instructed and before seven minutes were over, I heard many footsteps running towards the plots we were staying in.  After a few minutes I heard groans and screams that I had never heard in my whole life.  I froze in fear, I was immobilized by fear and could not even move.”  At this point, she was in tears and took a moment to blow her nose. “It took hours before I could come to.  On coming back to my mind everything was quiet, no movement then I heard a groan faint but sounded like my husband.  I gathered courage and sneaked out of the loo and ran towards the house, what I found was a scene that cannot be forgotten.  There was blood everywhere, Peter was lying in that pool of blood.  I looked around in darkness afraid to switch on the light lest the perpetrators found me.  I touched him until I found a stump of what used to be Peter’s manhood. I found the source of blood.  I tore a piece of cloth and tied the remaining stump hoping to stop the bleeding.  I then cleaned up as I wait for the morning to find out what to do.” She takes a pose as she takes a long breath, I too take a long breath as I move closer and hug her.  She then continues, “The next day in the morning an army truck came and picked all survivors and dropped us at Awasi.  That was the longest journey I had ever had. We later sort treatment and Peter got well.” “NOTHING PREPARED ME FOR THE REST OF LIFES JOURNEY” She quips almost shouting.

 

We take a break, as she goes in to warm for the children something to eat.  She leaves me in deep thoughts, in my mind I wonder “what are her coping mechanisms?” As I wait for her to finish her chores.  At a certain point she calls out to me to help her serve.  Which I do with pleasure.  We laugh and sing I must admit she has the voice of an angel.  She says “it helps me cope.”  As we eat our lunch we talk lightly for a while as I truly take notice of her worn-out look, she looks much older than her age and paints a picture of still waters of pain.

We settled down after washing the plates and continued.  “I know you must be thinking I am heartless to keep having children with another man as my husband literally watch?” I am visible taken a back, I had severally wondered about the same. “You know, a year after we got integrated amongst our people, our parents, mine and his, had a secret meeting and it was decided that we are both young and I in particular was too young to be left without physical contact with a man.  My father had wanted to return the cows and I be set free.  According to him BWOCH (a man who cannot sire children) cannot be allowed to marry.  It pained me a lot when I heard my father say that word ‘bwoch’, it sounds so degrading.”  She says as her voice trembles and she starts crying again. “At that point I stood my ground and pointed out that I will never leave my husband no matter what.  She continued.  “At that point my father in law intervened and said that according to Luo custom’s if a man was unable to have children, a woman was allowed to pick any of her in-laws to help out ‘youro lau kwach’ it is said.  There was a lot of haggling here and there, after almost an hour it was agreed by both parties that I would have an affair with my younger brother in law.    As Peter agreed to this I could see tears in his eyes, helplessness and I knew I couldn’t accept such a thing.  He could not take my refusal lightly and insisted that I would only stop the affair after having six children.  Peter words, he asked me to hide his shame.  You know how bwoch is viewed in our community.  I don’t want to be an outcasts where my fellow men are concerned.” At this point I had to allow her to cry the more.  Somehow I was glad all these was coming out and the end of the day, she will find some relief.  At the end of the day a problem shared is half way solved.

Emotionally she says that the guilt is killing her.  How does she cope?  “I cope by singing, every time I feel overwhelmed I sing.  You will be surprised that I have become the best tailor around the town.  When guilt, when helplessness, when the negative feelings threaten to drown me, I take solace in my tailoring work, sew the whole night as I sing.  That’s the only place I know. I have never really talked to anyone about how it feels, I feel a bit relived, it’s like a load has been moved off my chest.”

“So my dear if you could paint a portrait of your husband what would it look like?” I ask.  “I cannot draw in picture form, but can draw a portrait with words. I see one side of his face being the moon in a storm.  The moon trying to smile but covered by the storm of sorrow, thunder of anger and floating in helplessness.  The other side of Peter’s face will be the soft gentle light -yellow sun, smiling and warm, full of love, hope and brightening our lives.”

So dear Kenyans, as you abuse each other and go tribal remember the above can happen to any of us, the best we can do is to avoid it at all costs.  Our leaders have a life and just use us for their selfish gains.  Never again should we kill, maim or harm each other for political reasons.   Violence changes self-portrait.

 

By Lynette Odidi Yogo

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