When it appears that the world is trying to destroy you, you have two options. You can let it, or you can fight back. Even in times when it seemed like nothing would ever go right in my life, I didn’t let my spirit die. I continued through life, knowing that things could always be worse. Everyone goes through hard times, but few remain hopeful. I rose above the flames knowing that I had strength enough to soar.
I was one of nine children and spent the better part of my childhood living in Nairobi city in Kenya with my mother and siblings. I enjoyed my city life, until my younger brother and I were taken to the village in Kano, Nyanza Province to live with our father when I was 15, leaving the rest of the family in Nairobi.
In eighth grade, my father got married again, and life took a turn for the worst. Communicating with our mother in the city became a hurdle. My father withdrew his financial support and refused to pay for my education, forcing me into hard labor to support myself and my asthmatic brother. Often, we would visit a nearby slaughterhouse to get free animal blood to prepare food while my brother would beg for flour for us to have a ‘decent’ meal. This poverty was forced upon my brother and me, but we resolved to survive on our own.
With the little money I raised from selling sugarcane, I completed my primary school in 1996 with good scores. I got offers from eight secondary schools, but my father was determined to block my access to education. He still refused to help with my school fees and ensured that no help would reach me. One of my primary teachers offered to help further my education, but my father chased him and said he could not educate a girl. Instead, he consistently pushed me to get married. I was not given a choice. It made me feel like all my hard work had been meaningless.
After two years of waiting for my father to aid my education to no avail, I married a man I neither loved nor cared. This was my greatest regret. My intention was to escape the constant pressure and humiliation my father put me through. With such motive, the marriage began on the wrong footing. I got pregnant, and instead of joy, I felt the opposite. My husband argued that he was not ready to manage a wife and a child, and he threw me out. No one I called upon wanted to take in a shameful pregnancy. Eventually, my mother found me and took me to her home village.
I gave birth to a baby boy nine months later and left my mother’s village. I felt like I was out of options, and reluctantly decided to head back to my father’s house. I knew my father would accept us in his home because he craved a second boy in the family, even if he hated me. I was right. But as much as he appreciated my son, he never bothered to hide his disdain towards me. One day, when my son got very sick, my father dug a grave and left, telling me to bury the boy, should he die. He enjoyed seeing me suffer more than he loved my son. On his return, he found my son still alive, so he kicked us out.
My mother then sent us to Nakuru city to her brother. Unfortunately, my uncle had shifted houses and I could not trace him. A neighbor took us in.
With the help of the neighbor, I remarried and moved. I knew I needed to lean on someone else for help. Little did I know my second marriage would turn out worse than the first.
My new husband took to drinking when I got pregnant with my second child in 2000. He would beat me up, but with nowhere to go, I stayed. His mother and sisters took us to their home in the village after my daughter’s birth, where I did menial jobs to get by. My mother had just died, and I welcomed my in-law’s help.
In the darkest of times, I found an opportunity to help others. The village seemed to have a break-out of skin disease, and with prior knowledge on skin ailment, I volunteered to provide my assistance. The villagers flocked our homestead to get treatment, and graciously left me gifts of livestock as a token of appreciation. These gifts help get my start in farming, all the while I was living in my mother-in-law’s kitchen.
After my husband’s brother unfortunately passed away, my mother-in-law seized my husband’s vulnerability to convince him to build a house for me. I sold two goats to get the grass for the roof thatching, and when he left for Nakuru town for work, I had my own house. I used this new sanctuary I was given to help others in the village. I had begun a self-help group of 10 women, cultivating other people’s farms and assisting in treating village ailments. My life started to stabilize.
• • •
After six months with the new house to myself and my two children, my husband came back. He was dragged into our home by his friends, drunk and unable to recognize himself. Although my husband had been working a contracted job as a mechanical engineer, he had nothing to show for his long stay in Nakuru. He had no money and didn’t carry anything except for the clothes he was wearing. When he woke up, I was in tears, overwhelmed by the instability of my life. He saw my pain and decided not to go back to the city. For a while, my husband was helpful, and life was good.
Unfortunately, the bliss was short-lived. He reverted to drinking and started to complain about my son. I never knew how bad his hatred was until he sent me on an errand one day so that he could set my son on fire. I was devastated. The thought of my burning child choked me with anger.
When I confronted him, he shifted blame, but my son knew exactly what had happened to him. I intended to leave him for my child’s sake, but I had to backtrack on my decision after realizing I was two months pregnant with my third child. The elders in the village advised me to be patient with him. When my labor set in, he forced himself on me and my water broke. I gave birth to a baby girl. When he returned in the evening demanding more sex, I pointed to the infant, fuming with anger.
Two weeks after the incident, he came home drunk again, threatening to kill me for not buying him a cigarette. He started sharpening a machete next to the house. Panicked, I packed my infant in a bag and passed my other daughter through a window to escape imminent death.
He caught up with me and tied me to a bed. Luckily, he stepped out long enough for my son to rush back and cut the ropes, setting me free. We were on the run when I suddenly remembered my baby. When I heard a child whimper in my bag, my heart sunk. Thankfully, she was unharmed. A neighbor sheltered us from the pouring rain and shielded us from my irate husband.
• • •
The next morning, I returned to my own village for my safety. Three months later, my newborn baby girl passed away. The pain was raw. It felt like it would never end. But I continued to stay hopeful, for I still had two children to lead and protect.
I went to Kisumu to be a house servant. There, I met and married my last husband. We shared our stories, and he accepted me and my two children, despite disapproval from his family. He was impotent, a reason he did not have a wife. Regardless, our little family was very happy for a short while. In 2005, he got seriously sick and was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and TB, yet he refused to take any anti-retroviral drugs. He did accept the TB medication, which improved his condition.
In 2007, during the election violence that rocked the country, my husband’s brother was injured. Since he was not married, I offered to nurse him. Unfortunately, he already had kidney stones and developed complications. He died. I was blamed by the family for his death. I was forced to apologize to the family, but after counselling, my husband absolved me of the blame.
• • •
A year later, my husband relapsed in his sickness as the TB medication had weakened. My mother-in-law refused to help convince my husband to take medicine, insisting that I was the cause of his ailment. I was forced to have my two children tested for the virus and the results were negative. I, however, tested positive, giving my in-laws more reason to blame me.
In March 2010, he was admitted to Jalaram Hospital in Kisumu, severely sick. When I visited him, he asked me to go home and take care of the children. That night, my in-laws convened a meeting and decided to take all our property from our rented house in Kisumu. My husband swore he was not a part of that decision and kept saying that he was tired.
I left the hospital and took my children to my sister’s, as I had just landed a job as a watchman with a private security company. I would sleep at my assignments and visit my husband during my time off. My in-laws would not allow me to visit my husband. I depended on calls from his workmates, tipping me when he was alone. I didn’t give up. I wanted to be there for him the way he was there for me. When he was discharged, I went to see him but left when my mother-in-law started throwing stones at me. I stayed away for longer this time.
• • •
In July 2010, my sister-in-law called to inform me that I had been successful in killing her brother. I mourned. When my children found out, they were inconsolable. I had to bribe the morgue attendant to allow them to see their father.
On the day the body was to be removed from the morgue, a stranger approached and warned me that the family was intending to harm me. They had carried crude weapons and were waiting for me. I heeded the warning and kept off.
On arrival to the village, my husband’s body swelled so large that the family called and begged me to attend the burial. It is a belief that when a dead body swells for no apparent reason, the spirit of the dead is unhappy about something. There was no guarantee for my safety, but I went anyway. A section of the family had plotted to kill me, but another vowed to protect me.
At the funeral, my brother-in-law struck me across the face while my mother-in-law screamed that her son’s killer had arrived. The friendly section of the family took my hand and allowed me to reach the coffin. I was able to state my peace and bury my husband. I left shortly after the burial, as I did not want to risk my life any longer. There were difficult times being his wife, but I loved him and am happy for the time we had together.
I have raised my children through my security job. We have struggled and cried together, kept a strong bond, and thank God for every new day. I have found salvation and found the courage to forgive my in-laws. I am now a community mobilizer, identifying and counseling people with HIV/Aids. I encourage them to take ARVs and monitoring their progress, as this would improve the quality of life they are leading.
My life has been a painful journey, one that seemed to have no hope. The truth is, everything hardened me and taught me the greatest lessons of life. I am a better person, attentive to peoples’ pain, and willing to help whenever I can. I do not wish to remarry. I feel proud raising my children in a peaceful and safe environment. I have learned to smile through my problems, turning my experience to strong anchors. I appreciate friendship instead, and the joy of forgiveness that comes with salvation. I will continue to rise above.
—This is the story of Susan Akoth—
Susan is a 38-year-old mother of two, both in secondary school. She currently lives in Kisumu, Kenya and works in a private security firm that gave her a stable source of income. She believes she has seen hell and lived to tell about it. She hopes her community mobilizing role will save many.
This is the 53rd story of Our Life Logs.
This story first touched our hearts on April 5, 2018.