“The silence was killing me. And that’s all there ever was. Silence. It was all I knew. Keep quiet. Pretend nothing had happened, that nothing was wrong. And look how well that was turning out.”
― J. Lynn
Dandi’s #MeToo Story
Morning announced its presence in all manner of sounds at Kiambiu slum, tucked well behind BuruBuru phase 1 estate, snuggling between Kariobangi and Huruma estates.
Roosters cried in unison.One after the other. Mothers chided their children asking them to rush off to school. Several wooden doors slammed shut, padlocks securing several household commodities, their owners dashing off to start their day. Matatus hooted at a distance, rudely announcing their departure to the city. Dandi could even hear distant conversations between the women of the kiosks, back from the Marikiti farmers market arms laden with vegetables ready to be unpacked and repacked.
She yawned lazily and grabbed her broken black strapped wrist watch from under her makeshift pillow of old clothes, angling it towards the morning light pouring in from several holes through the mabati in her and her mother’s tin hut.
6.55am, it read, the old broken face staring back at her.
The welcoming smell of mandazis being fried behind her home made her stomach growl. She had accustomized herself to going without three complete meals but today of all days called for two mandazis and black tea. With sugar.
Her mother was away on a mission. Not the church or military kind, but those of a dark nature. The kind that people went on when they had problems. Earth shaking ones that prayers could not fix. She had however promised to be back before 3pm which was when their guests were meant to arrive. Dandi had a lot of hours to kill so she switched on and tried to tune the small transistor radio on the shaky wooden stool next to the sisal mat they called their bed. The radio waves could not allow her to tune to her favorite fm station so she just sat on the mat resigning herself to the endless ‘ssshhh’ from the radio and zoned into her thoughts…
She was her only child, from an unknown father. Her quests to find out more about him one day after school a long time ago were silenced with a thorough beating using a gas pipe. One that Dandi’s mother had retrieved from the huge mountain heap containing all manner of garbage that kept growing by the day 300 meters from their house. On a good sunny day such as this one was promising to be, the stench from the mountain was not too bad. It was tolerable at the very least. But on rainy ones, the stench of rotting vegetable waste, animal carcasses and human waste mixed with the Nairobi river ‘water’ flowing through the open sewers was extremely nauseating.
Dandi had long since forgone the thought of fatherly love. A love that she often craved on a day such as this one.
What use was it to her anyway?
Where was he when she was repeatedly chased from school because of school fee balance?
Was he sleeping hungry on most nights as they were?
Her head was full of unanswered questions that her 22-year old mind could not possibly begin to process. She had read stories on unrequited love that hurt to the core. Those writers did not know about abandonment. Abandonment was another matter altogether. It was the mother of all heart break. It gnawed silently on most days while on other days it burned slow, orange and steady such as today. It was incomprehensible how her mother had chosen to go on a mission today of all days on the day that Juma was to pay her bride price.
In a way, the only thing she was ever truly thankful for was for being named Dandi, short of dandelion. It was a wonder how a witch doctor could possibly come up with a beautiful name for her daughter. One that suited her delicate and beautiful features just like a dandelion flower.
It was now dusk and nightfall was soon approaching. Their guests had been there for a while now.
Only three of them could be bothered to escort their son Juma to get a wife from one of the largest sprawling slums in Nairobi.
She had shook their hands when they came, being extra careful not to look right into their eyes, so she could be passive and agreeable just as her mother had taught her to be.
To the dowry payers, slum dwellers were unworthy citizens – only useful to politicians to mete violence to innocent Kenyans during election time. They did not particularly voice this, but Dandi had seen it written on their shiny round faces.
Dandi sat outside their one room house and kept stirring the fish she was preparing.
Sweat pooled in her eyelids and her ears, the heat and smoke from the green kerosene stove becoming unbearable by the minute.She long day dreamed about having a proper kitchen. One with flowing tap water, electricity and a proper cooker where she would bake, grill and cook from to prepare amazing dishes for her family to be. Her daydream was interrupted by mosquitoes buzzing next to her legs. She would soon have to light the kerosene lamp and take it inside where the guests -Juma’s kin, her mother and uncle were sealing her fate.
She shook the colorless 2litre soda bottle that stored their paraffin. It had just a little paraffin for the night. She would need to go fetch some more from the kerosene vendor, but maybe her mother would be the one to get it. She swatted the buzzing mosquitoes from her legs and wondered why the pesky mosquitoes could not instead feed on the droplets of sweat gathering on her forehead and not draw her blood.
Summoned, Dandi and her mother walked in with two bowls each of omena and ugali for the bride price paying guests. This symbolized that all negotiations had been finalized.
She started to set out one of the bowls of hot quon before her uncle Matata but he hastily stopped her with a smile and a wink as he took off his signature black woolly sweater.‘You must serve Juma first so he can see first hand how wifely you are’ he started. ‘Sorry’ she mumbled and set the bowls before Juma instead and quickly walked out her cheeks flushed.
Dandi often wondered how it would have been had she proceeded to secondary school after they completed their KCPE. She was grateful that Juma’s love for her had never fizzled out from their primary school days even after she had had to drop out because the money her mother made from her sorcery expeditions was not enough to feed, clothe them and educate her too. He had vowed that he would marry her while they played in the long grass in the field, braiding the grass during break time. She was 10 and he 12, but he never forgot their promise.
Dandi had never, until that day, known that omena had an English name until Juma thanked her mother for the deliciously prepared silver cyprinid just before they left to uncle Matata’s, who had invited the men back to his house to partake some traditional brew. She later tried to pronounce the English name for omena as she put out the kerosene stove but Spiri is all she could remember and this made her sad.
Uncle Matata’s house was a large one compared to theirs. It, unlike theirs comprised of three tin rooms adjacent to one another. One was a room where she and her mother slept when they went visiting to his house. Of the other two, one was Matata’s sleeping quarters and the other the living room which also doubled as the kitchen, only separated by a brown curtain.
Matata was her mother’s brother, the only significant male figure in their life. Matata had bought the four men including Juma enough local brew to drown themselves in as was the customary requirement during a bride price payment ceremony.
Juma eager to impress Matata his in law, drank close to half a jerrican full of the brew and soon passed out on the shaky wooden bench outside the main ‘living area’ room with a little vomit on his shirt sleeve. Soon, the rest of the three man party seemingly nodded off where they sat, highly intoxicated from the drink and passed out cold.
Dandi came out to collect the metal tin cups strewn all over the ‘front yard’ placing them in a metal basin next to Juma’s feet so she could wash them before calling it a night.
She placed the metal basin next to the door and walked inside the living room to fetch a yellow jerrican that contained water for washing the stinking cups. She had never understood what excited men about drinking something that stank so much.
Lost in this thought, she suddenly felt a pair of hands pressing her bottom, roughly pulling her frilly skirt upwards. The pair of hands felt urgent as they grabbed her waist and bent her forwards.
How could Juma even think of having her way with her in her uncle’s home?
Surely couldn’t he wait till they got to his house to consummate their matrimony.
It was only when she touched the man’s arm to steady herself that she felt the woolly sweater. Then she felt sick to her stomach.
Not when Juma her brand new husband lay outside, passed out cold.
She tried to scream. Perhaps her screaming would rouse Juma from his drunk sleep.
But as if sensing that thought, one of his grubby hands muffled her mouth tightly and the other roughed her up as she fought hard to release herself from his embrace.
Physically stronger than her, he soon out powered her, his fat fingers choking her all through.
Dandi will forever be haunted by one thing and it was certainly not his audacity to perform such an incestuous act on her, but his gruffy voice whispering in her ear, in not so subtle words that she should relax; he was after all paving way for her useless man outside who dared to embarrass himself at his in laws.
Everyday, millions of women (and men), young and old, bear the brunt of being sexually abused, assaulted and exploited. Some survive, others are not so lucky. #MeToo is a viral digital campaign that encourages wo/men to share their personal stories of sexual harassment denouncing and drawing attention to widespread hate and misogynistic behavior meted on wo/men everyday. With this two word digital campaign, we can strive to change global societal views on sexual entitlement, talk about gender based injustices and engage in the #MeToo conversation.
image credit: momsinstyle.net