Sunday, 8 February 2015
By Verah Okeyo
Halloooo. verahokeyo.com is on this new platform. I moved from WordPress for simplicity.Despite my high IQ, technology has never been my cup of tea. I am sincerely happy to welcome you, my dear reader, to my new blog. In here,you are free to communicate with me without the confines of editorial policies and rules of language that I have to adhere to as a journalist. Be that as it may, I will remain a journalist who tries to be the educator, the one who informs and entertains.
So let me tell you a little story of some crazy stunt I pulled last week on Tuesday. I was in a bus headed home from work around 9pm. I was seated near the door of the 14-seater vehicle. As the drunk tout started collecting the fare, he kept brushing his arms on my breasts even when his hands stretched farther from me. After three instances, I asked him in Kiswahili not to do that. His reaction? “You think you are the most beautiful woman? You are very ugly I cannot want you”, he had blurted out. I was not in the mood for the verbal exchanges. It had been a very nerve wrecking day I just wanted to get home and sleep. The man did not stop. He went on offering his unsolicited opinions to the passengers on why Kenyan women do not have husbands these days. "No wonder they can report home at this ungodly hour and if you investigate properly they are not from work, they were just drinking and sleeping around in town”, he said.
He threw the two notes on my lap. I took the money and continued listening to music. Near the University, the man reached out to pull the earphones from my ears, shouting “You I am talking to you!” I think that was how far my patience—something I am not known for by the way—could be stretched. As the vehicle slowed down to allow two passengers from behind to alight, I punched the man’s nose pushing him to the gravel outside, quickly reaching out my foot to step on his groin while he was in the ground.
As the rest of the passengers watched in horror, and the tout terrified and sobered from the turn of events, I told him calmly in broken Swahili: “Kaka unajua chali yangu alingojea miaka tatu kunihug tu, na wewe unataka tu kunipata hapa kwa mathree alafu ushike mwili yangu bila ruhusa yangu alafu nikikataa umenitusi hii safari yote na sijakufanyia kitu. Ungefurahia kama ni dada yako au bibi yako amaefanyiwa vile umenifanyia leo, ungefurahi?”(Brother, you know my boyfriend had to wait for three years just to hug me and you want to find me in a bus and touch me without my permission, and when I say No you insult me throughout this journey when I have done nothing wrong to you. Would you be happy if your wife or sister was treated the way you have just treated me, would you?”). He nodded a ‘No’ to my question.
After I had picked my paper bag from the vehicle to walk the rest of the three kilometres home, I saw him get up and board the bicycle. As I walked in the darkness, I thought of posting what I had done on Facebook. That was not the first time I reacted like that to sexual harassment. In college, people had seem me take men on, branding me the aggressive angry woman, and I hated that. “There are better way to solve things Verah”, that is what Steve James, a chairman at the Christian Union in college had told me.
I wondered, how do I talk sense to a man who wants to undress me in public? They are usually drunk, most people say, yet this beer that clogs their judgement is also wise enough to tell them to pick on women not men, to target young women not older women. I could not understand, also, why people kept quiet as they watch women get humiliated never worrying that their daughters and wives would fall in the hands of such bohemian savages. If they had the courage to pull such stunts in public, what would happen if they found a girl alone in the alley going home from school?
As Kenyans bear the tag ‘angry aggressive women’, the whole world has been an audience to the atrocities that women have faced in this country. A woman can be stripped in public for ‘improper’ dressing—I wish there was a single standard to define what is proper dressing and what is not— and people would take time to record that humiliation on their phones and share it on the social media. The woman, of course, is apportioned the biggest chunk of blame for that intrusion. It is in this very nation that a teenager would be raped and dumped in a hole and the punishment for the perpetrators of the crime would be mowing the lawn. I am never surprised at these blood curdling cases of gender based violence. As a young girl growing up in the flower farms in Naivasha, I saw defilement of girls being summarised over a cup of tea or beer with the statement ‘we will reprimand our son’. It would be unfair of me to let the man hog all the blame for all the abuse that is meted against the girl child and women because in the cases of incest that I have written about, women protect the perpetrators because ‘it is her duty to keep the family together’. That is just dumb and lame, right?.
In my early twenties, while in college in Maseno University, I saw men standing at bus stations in Kisumu town in western part of Kenya, insult women for not boarding their vehicle. So I kept wondering, should a woman just board your vehicle to an unknown destination to have peace?. In extreme cases, the men would fondle the scared woman and the other men standing by would make snide remarks like ‘She is too skinny’, 'she would make great food for tonight'... it is terrifying to say the least. I reported a case where a bike rider had asked me for a tip and after saying that I did not have the money, the man slapped my butt and shouted at me in my dholuo mother tongue ‘Seche ma ichodo penj ga chuoge ni go omedi pesa mar ngeso jo boda bod aka ok ginyal teri kumaidhiye’ (When you are busy whoring your body, ask for more money for tips for motorbike riders if your clients cannot drop you wherever you are going). To my surprise, I was told at the police station that ‘women these days do not know how to talk to men and dress badly’!
Over the years, Kenyan women have lost the trust in men to treat them humanely, in the system and society to protect them when they are violated that they have taken matters in their hands: they have learnt to fight , sometimes with near fatal results. Women have founded more than 153,000 organisations meant to empower girls, according to Kenya’s economic survey 2014. Women have also gone out of their way to mentor young girls on life skills. While I do not have data to support this, I can say anecdotally that the organisations meant to help young men are less than 10,000 in this country.
Presently, the number of single mothers in Kenya have escalated and studies have shown that, unlike in other African countries, where women become single mothers because of the death of a partner, Kenyan women become single parents out of choice and the unwillingness of men to be responsible.If men do not get involved in boys’ lives, women will have more problems, and those problems will be men.