By Ochieng’ Ogodo
[NAIROBI] Tears welled in her eyes as she narrated what turned out to be twenty five years-that was in 2005-of agony encapsulated in intense physical, emotional and verbal abuses in the name of marriage.
Alice Wanjiru said she had not only known nothing about peace in marriage, but was also abandoned by her husband and was forced to take care of their four children after they were ruthlessly evicted and taken to her parents’ original home.
Her story is a chronology of marital violence and typifies that of the many women suffering similar fate but remain hushed.
Wanjiru says, ‘When he came to my home in 1984 and everything was transacted according to Kikuyu customs, I was happy to leave my parents to go and start a new life with a husband,’ she reflected.
In 1985 they were blessed with bouncing baby girl, Susan Wairimu, but soon after violence, which has tenaciously stuck to their marriage, reared its ugly head.
According to her the man showed her the door when the girl was only three months old. And with the child tucked in her back, she picked her way to Saba Saba in Muranga, her birth place. As she was about to reach home he appeared and convinced her into coming to Nairobi.
When their first born was bout to join primary one, the wild beast in his husband exploded again and she found herself on the way to her parents’ home. But this time she left the kid behind. This was in 1992.
Even the prospect of another baby in 1987 did not insulate her against the beastly acts. She ran away two months to delivering Francis Macharia to escape the incessant quarrelling and physical violations.
Wanjiru was to stay at her home until 1989 when she came back to him. It was in the same year she gave birth to Mary Wambui. But when the kid was five months old she was chased again by the husband and had to spend the next three months with her parents. The husband visited her home and after a meeting with his in-laws, agreement was reached and both came back to Nairobi.
But this was not the end to the agony that their marriage had now been steeped in.
In 1993, three months pregnant, she was chased away again. A week to delivery the husband visited their home incognito, and at the ungodly hours of the night. They thought he was alone. It never occurred to them the man was up to something nasty. With him were other men who stood at strategic places in the darkness within the compound.
It was a trick
After his pleas to her parents about his desire to have her come back, he asked her to escort him up to the gate. Once she set her foot in the darkness she was lifted up and spirited to a vehicle he came with.
‘He called me out and pretended he wanted some information on certain documents he could not trace in the house ever since I left. It was trick,’ she said.
Her mother who was making tea got alarmed and on coming out in her defense she was pushed to the ground as they sped off. On the way her husband remarked, ‘this dog has been disturbing me for long. I am going to kill her,’ she remembered.
Incensed by what happened, her parents arrived In Nairobi the following day and after lodging a complaint with the chief went to their house and declared the two unwanted in their compound as what they had done was an abomination.
In 1995, after several pleas, they defied the ban and went to her home. That matter was deliberated upon and the ban was lifted. But the violence that ruled their house continued and reached boiling point in 1999. On February 17, 1997 the man married another woman and rented a house in their neighborhood in Mathare B.
At this time they had a kerubo (local brew) club where he operated from the second wife’s house on daily basis. On 17, February 1999, he went to her house and demanded food. “For about three months he had not stepped into my house,” she said.
He stabbed her
A quarrel ensued and he stabbed her on the upper part of the left arm. A few days later chased out of the house. Like before, she went to her home where she was to stay for months.
On December 23, 2001 he sent all the children to her grandparents place. He told them to stay for two weeks and come back with their mother.
Two weeks later a woman who took the kids to their grandparent’s home appeared saying she had been sent by the man to collect them and their mother.
Wanjiru budged and they trooped back to Nairobi, the children in her tow. A semblance of peace existed for some months. In June 2002 he started campaigning for a civic seat and left Wanjiru to run their local brew pub.
He requested her to look for Sh.20,000 from her merry-go-round group and pump it into the business. But, once she got this money he diverted it to his campaign. From kerubo proceeds she was able to refund the money. Elections came and he won. But with the victory came another dimension, the man of the house was mostly coming home to change clothes. Sometimes he sent a girl he employed at the civic ward’s office to collect for him some clothes to change.
Incidences where he could pop in the house in the middle of the night with a woman and order her wife out of their matrimonial bed for them, she said, dot almost the entire marriage life from consummation.
‘It was quite humiliating but what could I do. I have children I wanted to take care of under their father,’ she stated. In 2003 May, she was shocked when the office assistant became plain that her husband had proposed to her. A few days later she was confounded by her husbands surrendering one of his cell phones to the office help when he was away in Mombasa for seminar. ‘I cried to God, why me.’
Accused of peddling her body
Come October 2003, he ordered the kerubo club locked allegedly because she had turned it into a place for peddling her body. ‘He told me to go and sell my body somewhere else but not in his club,’ Wanjiru reflected painfully.
She said he now could disappear from the house for days. Also stuck in her minds is October 20, 2004, when he strangled her almost to death and it was by the grace of God she is still alive.
The eve of 2004 Christmas saw him call the house and ask everybody to prepare as he was taking them somewhere. For a family that lived in fear from his brutality, they looked at each other wondering at what it was. He came home and asked them to get into the car. A few meters a lady appeared from the roadside and the man braked. She was asked to get in. The wife reacted coldly and this earned her severe verbal abuse before her children.
“Referring to me as prostitute, he asked why I was not greeting people properly,” she said. They drove up to town and she was given Sh.8000 to do some shopping. They were driven back to the house. Surprisingly after what looked like change of heart, the man decided not to talk to anybody in the house save for the last born. Well aware of the fact that the wife was not doing anything substantial. He asked her to pay school fees for their two children in secondary in January 2005.
“He asked me and my elder daughter to look for money whenever we could even if meant selling our bodies,” she said. The man even stopped eating anything from her for fear she may poison him.
Hoping against hope, she was on May 29, 2005 chased out of the house and the office assistant who by this time was staying with them was instructed not to allow her into any of the rooms. The husband locked all the doors. She relocated to her daughter’s bedroom from where he ordered her out on July 07, 2005. As if that was not enough the man sent all the children away with a promise he will never educate them and they went their grandparents place.
Her daughter, Wairimu, remembered the many incidents of violence their parents had. One such was in November 2003 when her mother bled profusely from a beating. She has not been spared either and has had to drift from one relative to the other to escape the wrath of the man. At one time the father accused her of swinging her back in the estate for men to see and that she was a hopeless creature.
‘Currently I am staying with my uncle after my father chased me away on July 7, this year.
In the past he had hit her sometimes even pulling her hair strands but on this day, after quarreling he went into her room and started removing his trouser. ‘I wasn’t sure of what he wanted, I got scared, probably he wanted to curse me,’ she said. That was the agony they had to endure.
The writer is the winner of the English-Speaking Africa and the Middle East region for the 2008 REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org