Gladys Karhayu

I was drawn to Gladys by her calm and peaceful disposition. From talking to her, one can tell that she has been through it and that she has accepted the curve balls life  has thrown her way in a graceful way that’s almost biblical.

Gladys grew up in the farmlands of Wachakone with six other siblings, going to school and helping her mother in the kitchen, while her brothers helped their father breed the cattle they owned and in their farm . Her dad passed away just as she was getting to third form and she had to stop school and deal with real life. She took on several odd jobs and saved money to study dressmaking so she could make some income to help her mum and siblings with their dad having passed away. She would also travel to Garissa town, five hours away, to get material, clothes and shoes to sell at home. When she was 18 years old, she met her husband, a young Christian man, not much older than her. They fell in love fast and soon got married. She converted to Christianity and they lived happily for 5 years despite the fact that she was unable to bear him any children.


Unlike other more traditional men, he didn’t care that she was without children, so long as she was who she was, he was going to be with her. On their sixth year of marriage, he contracted a bad case of Malaria that had them making several trips to Garissa with little improvement. The constant sickness took a toll on his body leaving him weak and unable to work. The day he died, he woke up and asked for tea and uji (porridge), something he rarely had the energy to partake of and her heart flattered with hope, that he was finally getting stronger after eight (8) months of fevers, and a weak stomach that rarely accepted even water. He lay down to rest for a few hours, she went about her business in the house, went to the bed to check on him, and fell on her knees, screaming. He had stopped breathing.


She mourned him for five (5), the length of time she had been with him.  But a girl like her wouldn’t stay single too long before one of her many suitors caught her eye. A tall, soft-spoken, charming Muslim brother, from the Pokomo tribe with a similar upbringing as hers, pursued, charmed her and finally wore her down. They got married within the year and again tried to get children and failed. Within the first three years of her marriage, her elder sister was taken ill and was soon hospitalised along with her husband. Nobody at the hospital would tell her, her siblings or their friends what they were suffering from, all they saw was that they were dying and no amount of medical care was helping them. It later came to light that they were suffering and dying from AIDS.

Her sister and her husband left behind five children, all of whom Gladys and her husband took in as her own and made sure they were taken care of and educated, even when it meant taking loans for their school fees. Together with her husband, they took their five adopted children through till fourth form and are now all self-reliant with different businesses and two of the ladies are married. Her husband works for a security company in Mombasa as a watchman, and while they visit each other every so often, she holds down the fort at home by farming ‘pojo’ (peas), maize and rearing chicken, which she uses for eggs and food.

Her personality inspired me, it would be so easy  for her to curl up in a ball of self-pity but she got up from her first husband’s death, found herself a second husband, took on all her sister’s kids, struggled to educate them and succeeded and is now living off her farm produce and her dressmaking.

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