Stones rain down on the iron sheet roof of Gakii’s house as boys from the neighbourhood call her names and threaten to kill her chickens.
“I am like a curse in my village. They always tell me I am better off dead than alive because I am not adding any value to the community,” Gakii says drily.
Her 16-year-old son leaves school early to help with household chores like fetching water and firewood, and caring for his seven-year-old niece. These things just pile onto the ridicule with which his peers and neighbours treat him.
“I protect my mother because she is very vulnerable. Every minute, villagers are harassing her. Even with her disability, she is still my mother and I love her,” he says.
He shares the house with his mother, an oddity for a boy his age, but has big dreams about becoming an actor, a driver or a police officer. He is in secondary school and although educating him has been a huge challenge for her, accumulating huge debts, a sympathetic principal allows him to study. Although he scores good grades in class, he is not safe.
“People bay for my blood here. This has affected my education,” says the boy.
Gakii’s needs come last. She sleeps on the floor with her granddaughter and a cat while her son has the lone bed with its worn mattress.
Food in her house is a rarity. All her adult life, she has been picking tea and earning little from it. She tells me her employers discriminate against her because of her disability.
But so does everybody else.
She is almost abandoning her anti-retroviral drugs because it’s becoming increasing expensive to get them. She has to walk almost five kilometres from her house to a clinic in Keroka town on an empty stomach to get the drugs.
“It is not guarantee that I will come home with the medicine.”
She says her heart bleeds for her granddaughter, Mkimbizi, named for refugee in remembrance of the time she and her family fled at the height of the post-election violence seven years ago.
“I have no food to give her. She has become accustomed to sleeping hungry.”
Gakii’s hand goes up when the official presentation at the private session for women’s experiences from the post-election violence ends.
A hushed silence descends on the room as the microphone passes to the 37-year-old woman at the back of the room. She begins to speak slowly.
Over 300 eyes are riveted on her as she tells them about what happened in Kericho at the height of the post-2007 election violence. Since she was two years old, she has only had one hand. A fire incident in which she nearly lost her life saw her lose left hand.
Before the violence, Gakii and her family of three children lived in a village in Kericho, near Kisii, where she worked on a tea farm in Manaret area of Cheblatet. She would commute from a village on the border on Bomet and Kisii counties.
“We saw boys with rungu (clubs) coming towards us. They wore shorts and their faces were painted in white chalk.”
Her disability prevented her from running as fast as everyone else. The group caught up with her overpowered her. At the time, she had also lost sight of her [12-year-old daughter.
When the men spoke to her in Kalenjin, she answered back but her accent gave her away.
They asked for her name.
“Before I could tell them my Kisii name, two of them roughed me up, saying, “Huyu ni madoadoa [This one is an unwanted foreigner].”
Even before the violence, local residents had coined a phrase madoadoa (spots) to refer to people not born in the area.
It is a derogatory term used in Rift Valley to describe members of the Kikuyu and Kisii communities living and owning land in the area.
“They raped me continuously, all the while calling me names.”
They jeered at her, telling if that if her one hand could not spare her, even God couldn’t. They made fun of her disability, mimicking her.
She cannot tell how many they were, because she lost count after the fifth rapist. Her attackers, who spoke in Kalenjin, said they had been told not to spare any non-Kalenjin they encountered.
When they were done, they debated among themselves whether to kill her or spare her life. “One of them persuaded them to spare her life because of her disability.
Her daughter, who was barely in her teens, was also gang-raped and became pregnant.
Gakii was infected with HIV.
Her daughter is still too traumatised to come out.
“She has never told anybody. That thing happened to her when she was too young to comprehend.”
Her daughter’s pregnancy was fraught with so many complications that Gakii feared for her life.
“We could not even think of abortion because we were looking for shelter. That was our priority.”
The violence separated Gakii and her children. She was to reunite with them months later. As they fled the violence, they pitched tents in several places.
“My daughter’s private parts were so severed, she bled endlessly. She could not walk.”
Neither of them sought medical attention – a situation that has not been redressed to date.
“Will I start thinking of my rape ordeal or how I will feed and educate my children?”
Brutalised and carrying the secret of the violations mother and daughter had undergone, the family wandered from village to village until they settled in Borabu constituency of Nyamira County, where Gakii’s husband had family and property.
During the post-election violence, her husband had disappeared without trace, only to be discovered headless, months later.
She did not even bury him. “I only heard from close relatives that he had died and had been buried.”
The organisation that is supposed to register her as a widow does not take her plight seriously.
“I did not bury my husband when he died during the post-election violence, so I don’t have his death certificate. I don’t have money for that document,” she adds.
In her husband’s village and home, Gakii was an unwelcome impostor whom neighbours said they didn’t know. “I was a stranger in my own husband’s land.”
Unable to access cash transfers for widows and the disabled, Gakii continues to make strenuous effort to provide for her three children. She relies on occasional tea picking jobs which earn her Sh6 a kilogramme. In a day, she picks up to seven kilogrammes – far below the average 20 kilogrammes for an able-bodied person.
She shows the women her only hand, scarred, blistered and swelling in callouses. It is also the hand she uses for all her chores, including fetching firewood and water for her family.
“I have walked for days begging to be registered as a woman with disability, so that I can be assisted at least, but nothing is forthcoming.”
Gakii does not shed a tear, but her speech makes more women in the room to open up. Tears of solidarity flow down the cheeks of many women survivors meeting separately to talk about their experiences at the hands of gang, police and individual rapists.
When they cry, their tears are as much for Gakii as they are for themselves, for they too have suffered the same injustice. They, too, have been forced to carry the consequences of rape, including HIV, rape babies and scarier, the unseen scars from the mental anguish the each battles every day.
Women not only endured gang rapes but were also forced to watch as their husbands were hacked to death. Others were forced into sex with their sons.
One woman told the meeting how her husband and children were forced to watch as she was gang-raped. Others are victims of police shootings and are still living with bullets in their bodies.
Many survivors joined support groups to help them in their healing process, Gakii still bottles up her trauma.
“I have no one to talk to. People in my area hate me because they say I am a ‘refugee.”
She also says her disability relegates her to the bottom of the social ladder.
“When women are meeting the local leaders to deliberate on developmental issues, I am never told.”
*Gakii feels like she is carrying the whole world on her back. Every day the load gets heavier and she fears she might not bear it for much longer. “One day, I will just collapse and die.”
Since 1999, Gakii has been visiting an office in Masimba in Keroka town which caters for women with disabilities to no avail.
“They are very discriminative; first because I am a widow, second because I am least in the ladder of people who matter,” says Gakii.
While most women who suffered sexual violence are slowly coming to terms with what happened to them, Gakii has developed a defence mechanism.
Post rape care experts say that denial or shutting out the worst parts of the assault from memory allows the victim to avoid the immediate distress associated with it.
Gakii’s priority needs include counselling for her and her daughter, health care, education for her children, training in life skills and integration into a support group to help her and daughter through her post-rape trauma.
As the meeting of the National Victims and Survivors Network wound down, many felt that efforts to redress past wrongs were taking too long.
The meeting was convened to review progress in implementing recommendations of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report and rollout of the Sh10 billion Restorative Justice Fund announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta in March this year.
Victims said they felt let down by the government because it was yet to device structures to support and compensate survivors of sexual violence.
The TJRC report has been awaiting debate in the National Assembly for over two years.
First published in the Star Newspaper here