Monica Kamene Leshampta got married when she was 19 and was already a widow at the age of 23. Her son from the marriage died four months after her husband’s death and a string of other mishaps left her a social reject, a bad omen. Monica soldiered on, learning important lessons along the way. The graduate teacher shared her experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.

I was in form one at the then mixed Ofafa Jericho Secondary School in Nairobi in 1981 when boys from the neighbouring Aquinas High visited our school for a volleyball match. One of their teacher’s, John Leshampta, who was in charge of the boys, noticed me as we played the game. He became very friendly and warm.

Going to school each morning from our home in Bahati Estate, I passed by Aquinas High and John would somehow appear and chit chat with me. At 16, I didn’t understand this was the genesis of a relationship. It was not in any way a distractive relationship and I assumed he was just friendly. However, such a friendship between a student and a teacher raises eyebrows however innocent it may be. Ours was no exception.

My father, then a teacher at St. Patrick School in Nairobi, learnt about it from the grapevine. He and mum became very protective. I shockingly overheard them say that since I had started relating with men, a boarding school was the solution to safeguard my future. They said the further the boarding school was, the better.

As far as I was concerned, there was no relationship between us but all the same I was disheartened to move to a school far away from him. Not to be outwitted, I introduced my elder sister and closest sibling to John so that she could be our contact person. In 1982 I was enrolled at Kaplong Girls High in Kericho.

The school administration barred non-relatives, and especially men, from visiting students. To circumvent this rule, John used to accompany my sister, a university student at the time, to visit me until I sat my final forth form examination in December 1984. By this time, a strong bond had developed between us and I moved in with him in Umoja Estate, Nairobi. My newly employed sister was living alone and my parents assumed I was living with her.

Meanwhile, my father was making arrangements to enroll me in a teachers training college. I was interested in a secretarial course and joined Kianda College with help from my sister and John, who was now my boyfriend. My incensed dad forced me out of college. As if to mock his spirited efforts, I conceived in February 1985. My boyfriend accepted responsibility and offered to marry me. My dad was infuriated arguing that at 19 my focus should have been to get a profession and not marriage. My boyfriend offered to take me to a teachers training college, as was my dad’s wish, although dad was adamant that I wasn’t old enough to make major decisions about my life such as marriage.

Between February and November 1985 when I gave birth, there was a lot of tension between the two men in my life and I wasn’t spared. I developed high blood pressure. Consequently, when I was due, I slipped into a coma. I was rushed to and admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital. The doctors performed an emergency Caesarean Section and when I came to six days later, I was a mother to a baby boy – Joe Leshampta.

On discharge from hospital, I officially moved in with my boyfriend against dad’s wish. I sincerely longed for my parent’s blessings and with help from the father of my son, I applied for training and secured admission at the Meru Teachers Training College in may 1986. At the same time, my boyfriend applied for and got the post of Inspector of Technical Schools. He was posted to Mombasa. He left for Mombasa and took care of our eight-month-old son when I joined college. I was so intent in getting married to him officially that I adopted and registered in college under his names.

A marriage that never was…

We planned for a civil marriage and I sought permission from college one weekend and traveled to Mombasa for the marriage ceremony. On the morning of the D-day, just before we left the house for the civil registration offices, my husband momentarily lost balance, staggered and fell in the sitting room. I rushed to his rescue and managed to hold him before he hit the ground. Nonetheless, he hit his head against the table and lost consciousness. When he came to, he confessed to have experienced dizzy spells followed by mental blackouts before this incident. I took him to hospital eager to seek medical intervention as this posed a great risk to his life. The incident spoilt the plans for the civil marriage ceremony.

Before I went back to college, he promised we would get married in December 1987 during the Christmas holidays. I started experiencing morning sickness and other pregnancy symptoms and when I went for a pregnancy test in Mombasa during the December holidays, the test turned positive. He jokingly said it was going to be a girl adding that in effect, I had two children out of wedlock.

To appease my parents, we resolved to have traditional marriage rites before the civil wedding. My boyfriend took a delegation of family and relatives including his father to my parent’s Machakos rural home for this purpose on December 20, 1987.

Losing my love…

We were enjoying the Christmas holidays at my husband’s Taveta home in Coast Province, when John traveled to Nairobi on December 22to pick his salary. He was to sleep over at his cousin’s place and return home the following day. The next morning he had another attack and this time the blackout lasted for a long time. When he regained consciousness, he complained of a severe headache and blurred vision. He wasn’t fit to travel and had complete bed rest throughout that day and night. When they attempted to wake him up for breakfast in the morning they found him lying facedown. He was dead!

An indescribable emptiness engulfed my life. There is no time fit for a loved one to die, but this happened when life was just beginning for us. I was in distress. The tears, wallowing in self-pity, the deep loss and the vision of a blank future enveloped my life into one painful trauma. You need not ask me how that particular Christmas was. I had lost a friend and a partner in the midst of a deeply traditional Taita community of Chara village at the shores of Lake Chara. I had hardly understood their customs and beliefs. Witchcraft and other beliefs were rampant and run counter to my deeply religious background. I was thrust in a wilderness where no one seemed to understand me. It was a double tragedy. I just went along with burial arrangements and laid him to rest on January 5, 1988. I was in effect widowed at 23.

I was expecting a child in July of the same year. It was too much to handle and I was almost going berserk.  My family sought counseling services for me from a very effective professional. He based his counseling on value system and imparted in me many values such as honesty, integrity, sharing and being strong. He guided me towards becoming a possibility thinker with a positive mental attitude. He helped me understood that nothing is permanent in this world. By the time I returned to college, I had started learning to live with the loss of my husband.

Then my son…

I left my son under the care of his grandmother in Taveta for the next three months to allow me do my last term in college before graduation.

To my surprise when I went back home, my son appeared sickly and malnourished. On the third night, he contracted cerebral malaria. He convulsed and threw himself on the ground incessantly. I was extremely anxious as I sought medical attention at Taveta District Hospital. He was treated and discharged but his health deteriorated by the minute. I took him back to hospital but sadly he died while undergoing treatment, barely four months after his father’s death! This time I literally went berserk tore my clothes and walked from the hospital to our home naked. When I regained composure, I had not only to deal with the loss but claims that I was a bad omen for having lost my husband and son.

And dad too…

According to Kamba tradition, there was no functional marriage between my late husband and I.  My father argued that since I was very young and the loss too great to bear, I was better off living with my parents. I really needed a shoulder to lean on and resolved to give the issue a serious thought. Meanwhile, on July 30, 1988, I gave birth and just as my late husband’s prediction, it was a baby girl- Cynthia Naingodutu. As I brought this new life to the world alone, my dad passed away. My relatives kept it from me until about a month later when I was discharged from hospital. It was a devastating blow to me.

I resumed my teaching job in November 1988 in a local school in Taita I had been posted to. Life within a superstitious community that viewed me as a bad omen was very challenging. I longed to live with my siblings in Nairobi to help me cope. Many people discouraged me from living in Taveta with my in-laws since, as they put it, there was no marriage to look forward to. I decided to take my late dad’s offer and moved out.

I owned a plot in Ruai, Nairobi, where I planned to put up a home after the death of my husband. I therefore sought and was granted a transfer to Ruai’s Ngundu Primary School in November 1991. I was still finding it very difficult to accept and cope with the loss of my three loved ones. No one seemed to understand what I was going through. I became a very difficult teacher, hardly relating with the head teacher and staff. After three months, I was transferred to Kayole Primary School where I worked up to 2003. Meanwhile in 1995, I delivered a baby girl -Veronica Wayua and in 2004 a baby boy – Gift Kavisa, both from another relationship.

Strange illness…

I sadly watched as my three brothers in our Ukambani home developed mental illness. One of them lost a senior job with the government as a result. Their care and medical attention fell squarely on my elder sister and I. I was blamed for casting a bad omen on my family allegedly evidenced by the deaths of my husband, son, and dad and now haunted by my brothers’ mental illness. The witch hunting went a notch higher when our youngest and most promising brother who was studying in India died when his food was laced with poison in 1997. To some in the community, I had put the final nail in my family’s coffin.

My sister and I decided to attend deliverance classes offered by our church to be well armed to cope with the struggles in our family. The knowledge imparted a lot of faith in my heart and I managed to argue eloquently against the power of witchcraft and superstition at every forum.

Picking up the pieces…

I felt I needed to be more focused now that my children were growing up and solely depended on me, just like my sick brothers did. I enrolled at Catholic University in 2006 for a Bachelor of Education degree. Thankfully, I graduated four years later in October 2011. I was posted to Muthaiga Primary School in Nairobi on promotion as a senior teacher and later made deputy head teacher in May 2010.

In may 2011, my elder sister who was my close friend since our childhood and who helped me care for my brothers was diagnosed with cancer, operated on in May 2011, but lost the battle. I’m taking care of my sick brothers and one of them is confined at Mathare Mental Hospital, while two others are outpatients. I buy them drugs, food and cater for their transport to the hospital once in a month. Despite all the misfortunes, I believe that when one loses a spouse, child or close family member, it’s prudent to appreciate that God also loves to pick the best of us. We should therefore all strive to be the best.”