Bed of Thorns

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| This is the 397th story of Our Life Logs |


A bunch of wildflowers left my hands and dropped upon his grave. It was clear that the goodbyes were final. I was burying my husband. For six months, he was bedridden, unable to even perform basic functions like eating and drinking on his own. As his wife and partner, I cared for him relentlessly. And now, he was gone.

Coming from a background of bizarre culture among which wife inheritance, where a widow was forced to marry another man to care of the homestead of the dead man, was the norm, I knew I was set for a rough ride.

My mind wandered off to my life and it seemed more riddled with distress for a lack of a better word. Back to where it all started.

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I grew up with no grandiose dreams in my childhood like the ones I hear people quote.  No, I was born in an era where work was emphasized above education. My fishmonger father doubled as a bird trapper, and my mother worked hard in the farms.

I was their rainbow child, born in 1969, in the remote village of Agoro, Siaya County in Kenya. My parents told me that I brought back hope after the loss of their baby girl, my older sister, who had died shortly after her birth. After me, my mother went ahead to give birth to eight more children. My father had three other children with a second wife. Our family was therefore large and chores were shared. Despite joining a school, we still had to offer manpower to our farm where we grew different crops for food. A bumper harvest meant life was at its best.

We knew our parents loved us, but with our large number and with little income, they had bitten more than they could chew. We often made do with just one meal per day, and when we were older, we did manual jobs to afford our own basic needs like sanitary towels and soap.

My parents had little choice but to give some of us up to live with relatives. This method eased the pressure off our parent’s financial status and allowed those left behind to continue having at least a proper meal and go to school.

While I missed my family, I was also excited. In fact, it was pure luck and bliss when I registered to sit for my examination for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 1987, the reason being that I had been “donated” to live with my maternal aunt who lived some kilometers from our home. Life was looking up.

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As my entire life had been a competition for food and our parent’s attention, I melted when young David, a boy at my aunt’s village, started showing interest in me. I was so immersed in his charms and sense of humor and soon I found out I was expecting his child. My baby was due just when my final KCPE exams were given, and the nightmare I went through sitting for that exam paper was enough punishment.

Unknown to me, I had set in motion a cursed trend that would alter all my siblings’ lives. Almost all of them would walk right into my footsteps and drop out of school to raise children.

My charming David disappeared on me, claiming his parents did not want to hear anything about a grandchild. I realized then that I was set for a rough life. I would need all that I could master to push through because I was breaking inside.

But what was I to do? I had a vulnerable child depending on me. I had no job, no hope for further education, and a background full of siblings snatching food out of my parents’ mouths. I was messed up and I knew it.

I had choices. I could either lay in my bed of thorns or I could “woman up” for my baby and make the best out of my situation. I chose to wipe the dust from my fall and forge ahead.

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Luck knocked on my door when another relative came calling. His wife had just been put on bed rest and was set for surgery due to some birth complications. I jumped at the opportunity to offer house help. I didn’t care about the pay. What was important to me was to have a roof over my head and my baby and I clothed and fed. End of story.

Life became a little bearable. We lived in harmony for a very long time. It must have taken my mind off my struggles because, like a warthog, I soon forgot that I had passed through fire. Soon enough, I had another baby in 1990 with another man who showed the potential of being a good husband. I was broken to learn that he already had a wife and I had no place in his life.

My relatives remained supportive, but I was so frustrated with myself. I knew this path so well. I felt sick at the pit of my stomach knowing what laid ahead.

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My uncle’s mum hooked me up with John just eight months after the birth of my second daughter and vouched that I was a girl of sound character and hardworking. I agreed to this matchmaking out of desperation, not really believing my life would change.

We lived peacefully and grew to respect and love each other. He genuinely cared for me, and life looked up for the first time in a long time. We farmed to sustain our family, together. With him, I felt my world expand. With him, I was happy.

Marriage came with its challenges as I suddenly lost our child just three years after birth. It was even more painful because she was never sick, and her death left me paralyzed with hopelessness. To add to my agony, I suffered two miscarriages later on and started to wonder if I’d ever give my husband a child of his own.

Fate seemed to hand me the answer to my question, but it was not the answer I wanted.

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One day in 1995, my husband and I had gone to our farm only to step on some water that seemed to have been sprinkled on the ground. It was odd, but I did not think much of it. But suddenly, my husband screamed out in pain. I rushed to him only to find him lying on the ground near the wet ground, writhing in pain unable to move. I panicked and screamed for the neighbors to help us.

We managed to get him home and, since the hospital was far, we sought the help of herbal healers to find out what was wrong with him. Just two days after the incident, my husband could not move his left side of the body. He was slowly becoming paralyzed and there seemed nothing we could do. I whispered prayers while I looked at my husband’s face. I could not lose him.

When we finally managed to get him to the hospital, the damage seemed to have already done. The medical facility had no capacity had no means to give a diagnosis, and suggested we take him to the city, where equipment was more advance to offer better diagnosis. Such undertaking was way beyond our means, so instead, we headed right back home, knowing full well what was to come.

Without knowledge about modern medicine, most people started claiming that he had been bewitched by someone who wanted ownership of our farmland, that there was black magic at play. I didn’t know one way or the other, and honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered either way. Pain cannot begin to describe watching helplessly while the person you love struggles to chew their food or express themselves. I watched, day in and day out, as my husband withered and lost himself, until one morning, he gave up the ghost.

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So, as I threw the bunch of flowers over his freshly dug grave, I sighed with relief knowing he was no longer in pain. But then, my struggles were just about to unleash.

I went through all the cultural norms of being inherited by my husband’s relative. I was soon stripped off all the little property we could survive on, and taken in by an abusive drunk.

He would beat me up when he came back home from his drinking escapades, demanding food and getting provoked at anything I did. I lived in constant fear for myself and my children. To survive, played to his tune as I racked my mind of how to escape from this beast. I ended up giving birth to a baby boy with my inheritor, but his childhood was riddled with sickness it almost seemed like he would never survive.

When my life seemed like nothing was ever going to be right, I decided that I would have to take a risk. I would carve out a tunnel to escape the cave I lived in, and I would keep digging until I saw light.

One evening when my sisters visited me, and my inheritor was drinking in his den, I packed a few of my belongings, took my children, and fled. I knew he’d have no reason to follow me; after all he had already taken away everything I had. That was a life-changing moment. My daughter was taken by the relatives I spent most of my life with, my second daughter was with my parents, and my sick son and I lived with another different relative, as I helped doing manual jobs for them.

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Things have not been easy, but years have passed and my boy has grown into a young college boy. I am remarried and, despite the challenges I face, I have now matured and taken control of my life. No one was ever going to save me unless I left the inheritor and looked for a better way to raise my children. My two daughters are now adults, living their lives and supporting their brother through school. They have also been supplementing my meager income when finances allow.

Hellen with her 2 daughters and young son, her current husband and his son.

I am more peaceful now. Trusting God for providence and living life the best way I can. What has been important for me is to have my children go to school, even if that meant I had to give up living close to them and letting willing relatives educate them. I consider myself lucky to have walked away from pain and hopelessness that riddled my life. I learned the hard way, and I am lucky I lived to tell it all.

Hellen with her daughter in 2011
With my eldest daughter at her graduation.

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This is the story of Hellen Auma

Hellen lived a life of hopelessness after being born in a polygamous family of many siblings. Without proper education and competition for the limited resources and attention from her parents, she was given away to stay with a relative. Fell in love and had a child only to be rejected to raise the child alone. She soon realized that limited for choices; she would live with her relatives and help in the house chore. She married, suffered miscarriages and loss of her husband. When all seemed lost, she decided to walk away from everything and start her life afresh, giving her two daughters to relatives to offered to educate them and raising the last-born son from her hard work.

She has endured sacrificed a lot to ensure that her children are in school and able to afford their own lives. She is proud of her sacrifice and is now a chairperson at a local church where she offers voluntary services to church operations while living a peaceful life with her current husband.

Hellen with her first born daughter, husband and relative who took her daughter in
Hellen, her husband, and the relative who took her in at her first-born daughter’s graduation ceremony.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on June 25th, 2019.

| Writer: Opondo Maureen| Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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