When we met Nashehe, she was surrounded by eight of her children, on the concrete floor of her mud house. I quickly glanced around the house to and tried to hide the dubiety on how her and her brood of children would possibly fit in the one roomed house divided to have a kitchen with a mat, where we sat, and a sleeping area behind the piece of cloth.
Nashehe got pregnant when she was 13 years old in class 7, and dropped out of school to get married. She gave birth to her first born, a boy at 14 years old, shortly after that, she gave birth to her second son. She was just getting used to married and family life when the father of her child passed away suddenly from a short illness in 1997.
A year later, she got married again to a man she had known for most of her life, and had grown to become a player. He told her he had been in love with her since they were kids, she knew his kind and ignored him. He charmed her, didn’t stop until he wore her down and she agreed to marry him. It wasn’t long after they got together when she fell pregnant again and got their first daughter, who was seated down with us. A beautiful girl in her teens with smooth light skin, soft curves, neatly braided hair and henna on her fingers, who did not look like she belonged in Hola, or anywhere in Tana for that matter. She was seated beside her mum, while we interviewed her, contributing to the conversation in bits and pieces, but mostly quietly listening to her while she spoke.
She soon fell pregnant again, and her new husband disappeared to take on 4 other women and would resurface after weeks of disappearance, to start a fight to justify his next disappearance and abuse her both physically and verbally abuse her. It became a vicious cycle, twice resulting to her losing her pregnancies at a late stage. She moans those lost babies till today.She gave birth to 6 other children; four of them part of two sets of twins. Finally, he kicked her and her children out of the home he had gotten as their marital home so he could have it for his most recent wife. She was out of their home with 7 children and an infant with little to no source of income .The charming man who had wooed her scepticism about him away, had now become her worst nightmare.
As we talk, her children behind her, two boys who seem so close to age they could be twins, (they’re not), start a scuffle, and she distractedly thwarts her hand in their direction to shush them. She took up farming and began to sell her produce at the market, with the help of her eldest daughter, and two sons from her previous marriage. Thankfully, in Hola, building a house or farming does not require you to have purchased a piece of property; the chief is merely informed of your intentions to build a house and once he approves a piece of land is allocated to you. With the proceeds from the farm, they were able to build the house we sit in now and have a roof over their heads.
Her eldest daughter got through till standard eight and sat for her Kenya National Primary Education papers, getting good enough grades to have her accepted to a good Provincial school, Meru Girls. Filled with pride at her accomplishment and fruits of her hard work, she informed her father of her hope to attend secondary school and begin to make a life for herself. He told her was not willing to waste money on a girl’s education and sent her back to her mother. She had to make a decision on what to do with her life, and so she did the best she could, so she got her a job as a house manager in Garissa.
Her third born son has been one of her greatest blessings, he was born with a natural knack for picking up and absorbing information fed to him both at school and anything he read. He has been top of his class since his parents could afford to take him to school and despite his constant absences because of a recurring infection to an injury on his leg that was wrongly handled. Between his constantly swelling leg and school fees trouble, her son has managed to top his class. Last year he only made it to school for the last term and much to his teachers’ and other students’ astonishment, (some dismay), he ranked 5th overall in the final exams.
We watched said son come in with to ask his mother what time she wanted him to bring in the water he had fetched on his way from tending to the farm. Tall and dark, with sharp features, his defined cheekbones, strong, wide nose and attentive, kind eyes resembled his mother’s. My heart went out to Nashehe and her family, and I wondered again, how different their life would be if they lived in Nairobi. Any part of Nairobi would have better opportunities, and better chances than they have in Hola Town.