Cry of a mother whose children’s survival is no guarantee

Cry of a mother whose children’s survival is no guarantee

By Monicah Mwangi

The rugged but spectacularly beautiful hills of Murang’a are tiered like giants staircases. The dirt paths between Kangare and Makomboki are rocky, and where there are no rocks, the mud is ankle-dip. It is rainy when we arrive to our destination in a small village in Kigumo constituency.

The place is busy; a shoulder to shoulder pedestrian, most of them barefoot with some fascinated in different activities; some picking tea while others tilled the land.

We found on our journey, as well as in the place where we stopped that those people are caring; they treated us with as much confidence and good-will like they had known us all their lives.

The place looks very great, houses stand in good order, one close to the other. The place is enviously green with different types of plants with tea estates dominating most of the land.

Anastacia Njeri with son Peter Macharia who suffers from a genetic condition called Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

At the heart of Gituru sub-location stand Anastasia Njeri’s home which we are interested in. Its late evening when we arrived and children are home, all of them bare-footed, captivated by their creation – their own-made games.

Anastasia is not home nor is her husband; a young girl leads us to the sitting room where we wait for her for about thirty minutes. Pictures of her three sons who passed away from a genetic condition called Duchene Muscular Dystrophy hang loosely on the wall.

Its 7PM when she walks in with a bottle of milk, children are quiet now and we later learn some of them were from the neighboring families and had come for tuition done by one of Anastasia’s son for a fee.

After a short introduction she leads us to a small room where I immediately start the interview which, despite the time constrains went on for about an hour. She is in her late forties and has never had an easy time since she was twenty. Her firstborn son, Mwaniki, who was eight by then started having complications, “At eight a child is big and walking and so was my son but slowly his legs became weak and as any mother could, I decided to take him for a check-up,” she says.

She took him to the Nyeri General Hospital where they were admitted for two weeks, “by this time”, she says, “the situation had deteriorated and the boy was supporting himself with the toes.” She says the doctors almost broke her heart when they released them and said they could not do anything since the condition was genetic. “They said there is nothing they could do about my son since the condition was genetically involved. With lots of doubts, I had to leave the hospital.”

Her dissatisfaction made her seek assistant elsewhere and she ended up at Kenyatta National hospital, “the story was the same here, they even told me all my children could have the same problem and advised me to stop wasting money on hospital,” she says amid tears.

At twelve, mwaniki had to drop out of school and by the time he was fifteen he could not do anything on his own; the mother had to do everything for him, including washing and taking him to the toilet. He was on wheelchair for six years until he passed on at the age of twenty one.

Since then, Anastasia’s biggest task was to take care of the other two brothers who had developed the same problem but they eventually died before they got twenty five. Anastasia who was a mother of nine now remains with six children and two of them have this condition.

Sometimes life becomes even harder for Anastasia when her husband becomes non-supportive. “There was a time he wanted me out of this home since I was thinking of not having more babies.” Though we left the place without his sight, Anastasia says he has since changed and he sometimes cooks for the children when Anastasia is not home.

Doctor Evans I. Amukoye,

Dr. Amukoye
Doctor Evans I. Amukoye, a general pediatrician in Nairobi who says nothing can be done about the condition since its genetic. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

a general pediatrician in Nairobi says there is nothing doctors can do about the condition. He goes ahead to say that the gene which causes the problem is carried by the X chromosome (carried by women) hence it only affects boys and runs in the family. “If those boys happen to marry, all their sons will be healthy but all the girls will be carriers so their next generation will get the problem,” says Dr. Amukoye.

Though all the girls in that family are healthy, Amukoyes says half of them are carriers and it’s possible that their sons will have the problem. He encourages exercise but advises those with the problem to seek medical attention to avoid exhausting themselves. “A doctor should decides who should do exercise and who should not since some of them are usually too weak and could end up doing much than the body requires.” The condition can be detected long before a child is born but Amukoye says all they can do is advice the parents to avoid getting boys.

One of the affected sons, Peter Macharia is twenty three. With a lot of sacrifice and pupil’s support; he is the only child with the problem who has managed to finish his education up to secondary school.

When we caught up with him, he was sitting on a wheelchair busy doing what he does to earn some cash; teaching. With his strong mellowed voice, he tells us how he walked for 1 kilometer for three hours everyday to get to their neighboring school. “I knew education is power and I was determined to go for it no matter what,” he says.

When he joined Githumu High School in 2004, he knew he wouldn’t do much on his own. “I depended on students to do most of my chores like washing cloths; hanging them, helping me bath sometimes and even supporting me walk. “Were it not for their support, maybe I could have dropped out,” he says. With the help of the current Member of Parliament for Kandara, Maina Kamau, he acquired a

23 year old Peter Macharia who suffers Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

wheelchair when he was in form two. “We shared a wheelchair with my brother back at home and I had to leave it for him when school opens.” He cleared last year and managed to get a C- (minus) and his mother gives a lot of credit for that.

Though he tries to practice a lot, the much he can lift is a five kilo weight. Peter beliefs he has a talent in music and has written up to ten songs but have not recorded any for lack of finances. “I teach three children every night who in return pay Sh20 which I am trying to save to help me record at least one of my songs.” He has a positive attitude that he will one day stand on his feet and be able do everything for himself. “I belief I will get well even if its not tomorrow or the day after but in the near future,” he says

His brother Simon Nganga is very shy. He is seventeen and dropped out of school in class three due to the same condition. Maybe he hasn’t seen new faces in a long time why he may have decide to remain silent. It’s at this point that the mother intervenes, “he talks less but he is ok,” she says. She reminds us that the problem does not pain, a thing which Dr. Amukoye confirmed. “Legs are the most affected parts but eventually hands and joints get weak but there is no pain, at all,” he say.

As his music dream visits his heart, he believes that one day, he will march through the obstacles, and become a musician who will preach the word of God. As we left, he called his students back to his room where he do the teaching.

 

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Unmasking the underworld of Male Sex Workers

Unmasking the under world of male sex workers

By Monicah Mwangi

Dressed in tight fitting t-shirts and jeans, two young men are busy exchanging pleasantries at a corner in one of the night clubs n Nairobi. It is 10PM, the two seem too groomed for men. You can tell their faces have been heavily powedered, their lips evenly glossed and nails pedicured, but this two men are not bothered by the revellers who keep throwing glances at them.

This is what they do for a living ‘selling their bodied’. Gay commercial workers are taking the night life in Nairobi, Mombasa and other major towns in the country by storm. However, many people discuss the issue in hushed tones because it is a foreign concept that is ‘illegal’ and ‘immoral’.

A night out in the city revealed that these breed of young and energetic men have perfected the art of “selling their bodies”, to make a decent living. I approached the two men who, after long persuasions, agreed to an interview on condition that I use suedo names to conceal their identities.

We organised for an interview on a Monday evening a few weeks ago, we met in a restaurant of their choice in the CBD. I made my way to our meeting point not really knowing what to expect. I was anxious but my curiosity kept me going. At one dark corner of the club sat Mark and Ian (names withheld). We exchanged pleasantries and after a short while of ice-breaking, we got down to business.

men who have sex with men parade during last years world Aids Day

Mark told me he grew up in the village, not far away from the city and since his teenage years, he knew he had strong feelings for boys and he tried to suppress his feelings because he did not know what people in the village would make of his behavior.
“I feared being discriminated upon and at times I thought I was not normal. When I came to Nairobi, I realised there were many people of my kind and because I come from a poor background, I knew I had to make a living no matter how. There is a high demand for same sex affairs in Nairobi and a friend of mine once offered to take me to an upmarket gig. On that night I got a client and made some good money,” he says shyly.
That was Mark’s ‘initiation’ into the world of gay commercial worker and with a broad smile he says, “I have been in this business for years now and it has earned me a good living. On average, I make between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000 per a two hours session. On a busy night I have at least more than one session and the price also depends on my negotiating power.”
Mark doesn’t have a day time job. He wakes up at 6pm especially on weekends, does his makeup and heads to Westlands, where he mostly operates. He makes me know that many of his clients are based in Westlands and other affluent estates within Nairobi.
His job, like any other, is met with a myriad of challenges. “I understand the importance of protecting myself from sexually transmitted diseases but there are clients who insist on not using protection. They offer to pay you more if you don’t use a condom. When things are tough, I am left with no option but to take the risk,” Mark says with a blank look on his eyes.

some of the materials given to Men who have Sex with Men by Ishtar. Picture/Monicah Mwangi

All this while, Ian does not say a word and as the mood on the table tenses up, maybe reflecting on the dangers they are exposed to, the stigma from the society and discrimination, he breaks the silence.
“Look at me. I am not so well educated and when I realised I had to fend for myself, I started out at downtown Nairobi. Let nobody lie to you that gays are rich people. Even low status people in society have gays. It is especially tough dealing with them because some refuse to pay you. You cannot report them to the police because this is an illegal business and others even beat you up when you aggressively demand for your money. So you see, there are so many difficulties but that doesn’t mean one should give up,” he says.
According to Peter Njane, the Director of Ishatar (a programme under Gay Kenya which deals with the health and social well-being of Men who have Sex with Men – MSM) the issue of gay sex workers is real and should not be ignored.

Denis Nzioka, Steve Nemande and David Kuria

Though no research has been done to determine the number of gay sex workers in the country, Njane says a general plea was made for these group of people to register themselves and in six months, about 100 gay men had registered.
Njane says Ishtar, which is situated in Industrial Area, Nairobi, has 300 registered members. The organization gets funding from Western countries mostly the US.
“The funds we get are channelled to workshops to empower our members, counseling services because there is a lot of stigma in the society, we buy condoms and lubricants from South Africa which is very expensive. We encourage men who have sex with other men to do it safe,” Njane says.
Njane says apart from Nairobi, Mombasa has a high number of gay sex workers who need to be reached and encouraged to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/Aids. “As much as these people are looked down upon in society, they need to be encouraged to stay safe and protect themselves from diseases like Aids. It is also wrong for people to treat them inhumanly. We have had cases of police officers and council askaris beating gays and sexually assaulting them,” Njane says.
Njane, who informs me that he is also gay says Ishtar is working on a project to conduct counseling programmes for the members. This he says will go a long way in knowing how to protect themselves and leading a normal life.
“Due to the high rise of HIV infection by men who have sex with men, Ishtar is working hand in hand with the National Aids Control Council and they give us condoms and also do workshops to empower gay people on the importance of having safe sex. “We were happy when the National Aids Council recognized the vulnerable situation with our people and they agreed to work with us. This is a big leap forward,” Njane says.
According to Njane, the most difficult part of life for any homophobic/ heterophobic person is to break the news to his/her family.
“When I came to Nairobi, I did a lot of research on gays and I joined the Gays movement and in my activities, I one day appeared in the newspaper.
“My mum, who is a staunch Christian, called me confused and not able to speak. She asked me what was going on and I had no choice but to tell her the truth,” he remembers.
He says it took a long time for her mother to accept that he was gay and she may have been disappointed in me but she never disowned me. She however warned me never to expose myself to the media and “that’s why you are not going to take a photo of me for the sake of my family.”

I met Dennis Nzioka, a vocal and a force to recon with in the fight for rights in the ‘gay world’. Nzioka is the spokesperson of Gay Kenya
Just like Njane, his parents knew of his gay status through the media. He says for his family, it was not much of a surprise because his strong feelings towards boys had betrayed him when he was growing up. “Unlike boys my age who teased girls, I was always fond of boys.

Gay Kenya spokes person, Denis Nzioka, Picture/Monicah Mwangi

As a teenager, I never introduced a girlfriend to any of my family members. I guess that gave it away,” Nzioka says.
He says the older generation reacts differently to same sex relationships, what can be called a new and Western trend in the African culture. He tells me his grandmother has been supportive and she has never treated him like a lesser person.
According to Nzioka, his family’s main concern was what their neighbours were going to make out of his “wayward lifestyle.” He says perceptions differ and the best the society can do is to be accommodative of homosexuals.
Nzioka says during Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s vetting where the issue of him being gay was openly discussed, it provided an avenue for the homosexuals to be heard and not being treated as abnormal people. “We want people to know that we are human and we should not be judged by our sexual orientation,” Nzioka says.
A few months ago the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on violence and discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. It was the first time the UN had adopted a resolution on LGBT issues.
Nzioka says Gay Kenya was in full support of the petition though he agrees the government of Kenya did nothing to ensure the resolutions were adopted. He says the government needs to decriminalize homosexuality in Kenya or the resolutions will not be binding.
“Gay Rights are not new nor are they special rights. They are the normal rights enjoyed by you and the rest of the people,” he says adding that people homosexuals live a secret life for fear of being discriminated against or being treated like a criminal.

Spiritual Investment worked for her

Spiritual Investment worked for her

By Monicah Mwangi

In 2003, Ms Wamucii wa Kinyari was hawking male socks in Nairobi.

City Hall askaris’ raids pushed her out of business and she sought
employment in a backstreet hotel where she was assigned to washing
dishes.

She had graduated in 2002 from Kariti Girls High School in Nyeri and
her childhood dream was to join the media as a journalist.

But her father contested her professional desire saying Journalism was
not for ‘serious’ people.

Faced with no alternative she moved in with a female friend in Nairobi
and commenced a job hunt.

Wamucii Kinyari during an interview, spiritual investment worked for her. Picture/Monicah Mwangi

As life became harder, she approached a relative who gave her a credit
of Sh200 which she used to purchase male socks at Sh10 a pair.

“I would then sell the same pair at Sh50. In a good day, I would make
Sh100 profit,” she says.

A brush with City Hall askaris found her spending nights in police
cells and would only be released after paying bribes.

But her turning moment came in 2005 when she asked herself a simple question
thus: “Was I born to be a hustler?”

And her answer was an emphatic “no.”

She says she composed herself and decided to first invest in spiritual
belief that indeed God created her to excel in life and not be a
victim of ill luck where she was hustling to get her basic needs.

“It was after I reconciled my soul with God that I started viewing
life in a more optimistic manner. In any hardship, I would see a
silver lining. This helped me discover my potential,” she says.

Without any form of skills, she struck out to utilize her inborn
creativity and is today the proud owner of her own small investment
firm—God’s Surprise Productions.

In what she calls her Spiritual Investment returns, in 2006, Geisha
promotion advertised 10 positions for freelance marketers.

“I succeeded and the job blew open the lid of my other talents,” she
celebrates.

Through her spirited marketing drive for the Geisha products, she
landed a job in a local radio station which incorporated her in its
marketing department.

“Through the marketing jingles that my job entailed, many told me I
could sing. I took up the challenge and the results were what I am
today—an independent single lady looking forward to start a family,”
she says.

Today, she offers deals in events organization, marketing consultancy
and also to record and sell her music. To widen her horizons, she is
also a cake matron and a Master of Ceremony (MC) for hire.

“As a composer, I rake in Sh40, 000 on a good month, Sh10, 000 as a
Master of Ceremony, a further Sh10, 000 as a cake matron and Sh15, 000
in live events,” she prides.

To add value to her prospects, she is currently pursuing a degree in
Arts at the University of Nairobi.

At 28, she attributes her success to principled self assertion in taking risks.

“I never shy off from taking affordable credit. Added to that is the
fear of God and being optimistic that things will work out for the
better,” she tips.

She says her journey through life so far has taught her that there is
no small beginning in life.

“All that is required of you is focus on what you want to achieve, do
not fear to borrow credit to finance your growth and in all that,
trust in God that things will get better and pray that He gives you
wisdom to prudently manage your returns as you reinvest in diversified
opportunities,” she says.

To the hustlers, she advises them to not rely on the unpredictable job
market, rather exert determination and patience as they commence their
search for success from their strength within.

“Once you get started, manage well the proceeds of your labour and
invest in personal progression through education and investments,” she
tips.

Scenes from hell-

Doctors attend to a man with multiple injuries got from the Sinai fire tragedy at the Kenyatta National Hospital. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

Kenya Mourns-Sinai fire tragedy

A survivor of the Sinai fire tragedy which is said to have claimed upto 120 people fight for his life at the Kenyatta National Hospital. The fire was caused by a spilled super petrol which broke into frames. Photo/Monicah Mwangi