My sister’s boyfriend killed her, and my education...now selling eggs keeps me afloat
Covid-19 will always be a reminder of loss and agony for Mary Lawrence.
She lost her sister, Juliana Wanza, in the dead of the night at the hands of her boyfriend, just a few weeks after the country recorded its first Covid-19 case.
It was also the year when, just aged 20, she suddenly became a mother of three and had to abandon her dreams of getting a university degree.
The days often seemed longer than the nights, and she often wondered how life would have been if her sister were still alive. Her elder sister and her fiancé had dated for more than 10 years; their love brewed during their evening trips in Dandora matatus. They had three children.
Mary, who lived with her sister, recalls that the man would visit them every time Juliana was off work, but he never spent a night in the house until that fateful night.
“During the Covid-19 period, people were not going to work, schools were closed, and my sisters' children came home. We would stay indoors the whole day. In March, she started complaining about him, saying she no longer wanted him in her life. He once texted me saying that my sister didn’t want him to visit her, but I advised him to sort out his issues,” says Mary.
During Easter, he visited and stayed the whole day, prompting Mary to think that the couple had reconciled. The following day, they both arrived home at 5.50 pm.
Because it was almost curfew time, and he had never spent a night at the house, Mary asked Juliana why her boyfriend had accompanied her. JUliana said she didn’t know. They all had supper, and for the first time, went to sleep without saying prayers.
“Around 2 am, my niece woke me up, saying her mother was being beaten. At her door, I heard her calling for help, her voice getting weaker. The door was locked from the inside, and I begged her to open the door but she did not. The youngest child, who was with her, was crying uncontrollably. We went outside to call the neighbours, but they did not bother to help,” narrates Mary.
“My sister was still crying, telling me to help her. I begged the man to open the door, but he refused. He was just hitting her, telling her he would kill her. Helpless, I called 999 and luckily connected to Buruburu police station on the first ring. I then gathered the two children, stepped out and locked the door. As if on cue, the man came to the door a heartbeat later, seeking to escape. Unable to get out, he went back to the bedroom. A few minutes later, the police arrived,” recalls Mary.
She accompanied the police into the house and found the bedroom door still locked. The child eventually opened the door.
“I stepped in, and without looking around, picked the child and walked out. I heard a female police officer say “Huyu jamaa amefanya kitu mbaya (this man has committed a heinous act) because the woman is no more.”
“The man, who had drunk acid, was picked up in an ambulance and rushed to hospital, while the police took my sister’s body to the mortuary,” says Mary. He died in hospital.
That night, at a neighbour’s house, she called her siblings and told them that their sister had died. Then she called their mother.
“We buried her within four days, with few people attending. After the burial, I was told I had to go back to Nairobi to figure out how the children were going to be fed, how they would go to school and how rent would be paid. I had never worked a single job, and I was still at university.”
She started by visiting the place where her sister used to hawk soda, biscuits, and sweets, among other snacks. She reopened the business, cleared the stock, and then realised she needed something else to do. A friend of her sister’s, who used to supply her with eggs, gave her the first tray, and allowed her to keep the profits. He also taught her how to run the business and serve customers.
“I couldn’t take myself to school because the money I was getting wasn’t enough. I would leave home every morning at 4.45 am. I couldn’t depend on our mother because she was not able to. Sometimes I felt like I was suffering deeply, and wondered why it had to happen that way. In a day I would sell more than five trays of eggs and smokies, making about Sh2,000 profit, topped up with the money from the soda business. When the children resumed school, I realised the money was not enough and I needed to get a better job. I sent my CV to some job and was taken.”
“It wasn’t well-paying, but I figured that if it was enough to pay rent and buy food and necessities, our mother would run the eggs business to pay school fees. I remember one day at work being asked where I take my money, and I lied that I was saving. Last year, I found a better-paying job. I have never gone out with friends because I take myself as a mother with children that need providing for.”
She explains that even though the children have not been able to get professional therapy, they were taken to church for spiritual nourishment. She feels lucky that the children are always willing and ready to learn, and that they have not struggled to adapt, because they were in their grandmother’s care before their mother could stand on her own feet financially.
“My biggest worry was the children living a life without the things they were getting before. I used to dread going home empty-handed. But I believed that God would provide. The children’s love also strengthened me.”
Like any other hawker, her biggest challenge was dealing with county askaris, who are famed for confiscating goods of hawkers found on the city’s streets. On a bad day, they would seize all her stock, and she would go home empty-handed.
Her sister’s eldest child, who was in secondary school when the mother died, is now ready for college.
“I miss how my sister loved me and the children. At work, she often introduced me as her firstborn. I'm the last born, and I respected her like my mother. She always corrected me lovingly, even though we also argued a lot sometimes.”
“She was very hardworking, and proactive. She would wake up at 4 am, and get back around 9 pm. She also made sure to come home with something because her children depended on her. However, there are days when I wake up and wish she was here. I would have finished school and gotten my certificate. I am, however, grateful to God that He has given me strength and ensured I understand that He does His things in His own time. I miss her very much, but I will continue raising the children she left. Watching in heaven, I am sure she is happy.”
According to the Ministry of Public Service and Gender, a total of 5,009 gender-based violence (GBV) cases were recorded between January and December 2020, up from 1,411 cases recorded in 2019. These cases were recorded through the national GBV toll-free helpline 1195.
“Due to increased cases of GBV during the Covid-19 pandemic, the President (now former President Uhuru Kenyatta) directed the National Crime Research Centre to carry out a study to establish the causes of the increased cases of GBV. The findings of the study established that; the number of GBV cases recorded between January and June 2020, had an increase of 92 per cent, compared with the previous year (2019) period,” said Prof Margaret Kobia, then-Cabinet secretary for Gender.
She added: “The study highlighted factors contributing to GBV as alcohol, drug and substance abuse; poverty; family/domestic disputes, retrogressive cultural beliefs and practices; poor parenting/upbringing and moral decadence; identity crisis among the youthful population; and inadequate support system. The most common forms of GBV identified in the study were, physical assault, rape/attempted rape, murder, sexual offences, defilement, grievous harm, physical abuse, child marriages, psychological torture and child neglect.”
To end GBV, UN Women recommends that people “listen to and believe survivors, educate younger generations about gender, respect and human rights, teach and understand consent, learn the signs of abuse and how to help and stand against rape culture among others.”
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.