Elata is a feisty 22 year old wife and mother of two. She’s from the Pokomo tribe of Coastal Kenya and is the middle kid in a family of 7 children, she ranks 5th. We met Elata outside their group of about 12 community mud houses that they build on any empty pieces of land they find. In Hola Town, and I suspect Tana River as a whole, they rarely own the land they live in, nor do they have to lease it, they simply find empty tracts of land and build their respective houses on it. If that’s not an indication of how little their population is, I don’t know what it is.
Elata got arrested when she and her husband tried to leave school at 15 years old. Their teachers were not having it when she got pregnant and tried to quit school, so they threatened them that if they got married underage, they would be arrested. They did it anyway. Typical. They were teenagers in love, hence stubborn as hell.
The two stubborn teens were hearing none of it, so in an attempt to get them to ‘think straight’, they arrested both of them and they slept in jail for a night. Needless to say, they got married and have two children to show for it.
With a marriage of 7 years under her belt, we asked her how she was handling it, and explained to her how rare that is where we come from. In their culture, marriage is an aspiration that needs to be achieved at a certain age, for both sexes and is an embarrassment when it is not achieved. All her 7 siblings are married, she said with pride in her voice. But, like most marriages, and like our mums and aunties like to say in high pitched voices, their fingers wagging, “marriage is not a bed of roses.” “We fight like dogs,” she said amidst our laughter. When we asked her what causes a majority of their rifts, she repeated what we’d heard from a lot of the women in Tana River. “He spends a lot of his days drinking and chewing khat ’miraa’ and who knows what he does with other women while he’s drinking?” So he gets home and they fight, “see this scar on my foot?” she gestures at a scar that runs across her foot to between her toes, “we were fighting and I threw a panga at him, it bounced back and hit me on the foot,”
Her two children give her a reason to work hard on her small plot of land where she grows beans, peas and potatoes. They’re about to start school and the expenses will start rolling in, she cannot rely on her husband to provide the financial support needed to take her children through school, none of the women really can. She has ensured that two children is all they have, because unlike her parents and a lot of other women in her village, Mikinguni, she has learnt the hard way, what it means to hold down the forte for a large family with limited resources.