Rosemary Akinyi’s life has been marred with poverty. To survive, she started engaging in vices such as prostitution and drugs from a tender age. Through God’s grace, Rosemary’s life has turned round and she now uses her experience to inspire others. She shared her experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.
“I was about nine when my siblings and I relocated to our rural Kisumu home in Kaila village in Maseno to be taken care of by our new step-mother. Dad remained in Kisumu town where he worked for a local bank as a messenger. He was the only parent I knew since he separated with mum when I was a toddler. This new living arrangement was quite difficult for us. Not only was the rural environment harsh, but also my stepmother didn’t love or care for us. She was un-accepting and intolerant of us.
We wore tattered clothes and resorted to begging for food from our neighbours. Soon we became the laughing stock of the village. Neighbours monitored our movements, apprehensive that we might trespass into their homes to steal. We were in and out of school for lack of school fees and other necessities. In spite of this, I was a bright girl and performed excellently all through primary school.
Whenever dad punished us for being disobedient to our stepmother, I bore the blunt of it. I seemed to remind him of my mother and for that he verbally abused me and vented his frustrations on me. My young heart was badly wounded and I internalised the abuse with dire consequences. My stepmother didn’t help the situation and I blindly groped through teenage life with self-esteem issues as I strived to fit in among my peers. I didn’t have anyone to guide me through my teenage crisis.
Being a beautiful and strong girl, amorous men seemed to understand my needs more than I did. At only twelve, one of them cast the first dice. I was walking home from school one day when I innocently commented how hungry I was to a man friend. He offered to buy me mandazi in exchange for sex. I was too hungry to care and without much thought went for the dangled carrot. That was my first sexual experience.
The second man I had an encounter with was more generous and bought me enough food to share with my siblings. Starvation was our staple and I realised selling my body saved us from it. I became more aggressive to get money and food in exchange of sexual favours, not fully conscious how dangerous the journey I had started was.
My stepmother soon got wind of my behaviour. She didn’t condemn me, as it was a confirmation of what she and dad had always thought and labelled me – a prostitute. In 1998, just as I was about to sit for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations, I conceived.
The painful rejection…
The man responsible for the pregnancy humiliated and rejected me. In addition, my dad and stepmother isolated me while my peers were cautioned by their parents to keep away from me because I was a bad influence. The traumatising journey of loneliness and alienation at home and school had just begun.
More often than not, I was hungry with no food and too sickly with no means of going to hospital. Some of my relatives brought in old suitors to marry me off in a bid to cover up the shame I had brought to my family. My strong belief in getting a second chance gave me hope that I would return to school after childbirth.
My biological mum, whom I had not seen since she left, returned home distressed about my pregnancy at that young age. Although she sympathised with my situation, she had no resources to see me through the pregnancy. An angry dad abandoned us and settled in another piece of the family land.
Life as teenage mother…
Despite the myriad of health and social problems that I had, I carried the pregnancy to term. Since hospital services were beyond us, a traditional birth attendant helped me deliver a healthy baby girl. We couldn’t afford her Kshs 250 fee and she detained us for several days but eventually let us go when it became apparent the fee wasn’t forthcoming.
I did casual work for two years to support and care for my baby but the money was never enough. In desperation, in 1999 I left my baby with my mother and went to Bungoma town in search of a better paying job. My host, a cousin, didn’t trust me considering my past history and threw me out of her house one night. The street prostitutes in Bungoma town welcomed and initiated me into the trade. We frequented different nightclubs and drinking dens in search of customers.
One night, a potential customer gave me money but refused to sleep with me saying I was too young. He advised me not to waste away my life in prostitution after I opened up to him about my life’s predicament. Although he offered to secure me a decent job, at the time I felt rejected by him when he refused to have sex with me and declined the offer and his wise counsel to keep off the streets. My arrogance cost me dearly.
Several nights later, another client approached me with an offer to marry me. I quickly accepted the proposal hoping that it would save me from my situation. He took me to Mumias town where he lived and worked and invited me to what I assumed was his home in a slum in Mumias nicknamed Baghdad. After using me for the night he left for work in the morning and that was the last I saw of him. Instead, the following evening another man turned up in the house claiming to be the owner of the house and that he had let his friend spend the night there while he was away.
Confused and unaware of where to go, I gave in to his sexual demands in exchange for shelter and food. Without money to facilitate my escape, I was stuck in the dingy room. After two months I conceived again. I felt trapped and helpless. Resigning to my fate, I decided to settle down with the man. To conceal my past, I lied to him that I was an orphan unaware that this would work to his advantage. He started mistreating and battering me. He often came home in the evening drunk and took drugs in my presence. When he was intoxicated, he would demand for sex even when I wasn’t up to it. Since I had no one to share my predicament with I became depressed.
Baghdad harboured armed robbers, drug peddlers, drug addicts and prostitutes. I eventually took to the culture of the slum. Taking drugs to quell my internal pain became a norm. I sniffed petrol and kerosene before graduating to smoking bhang and taking hard drugs. To finance these habits, I returned to prostitution. The drugs triggered brutality and anger in me that made me face my violent live-in with equal measure. Neither did I spare men who refused to pay for my services, women competitors in the prostitution business, nor police officers that attempted to arrest me for being drunk and disorderly.
A child of two worlds…
In the rare moments of sobriety, I shed bitter tears for running away from poverty at home and getting into a worse situation. I knew that I was a talented singer since my childhood, and often belted gospel songs whenever I was sober. Some Christians in the neighbourhood made spirited efforts to win me over for Christ. I was tempted to but was too immersed in the underworld. However, they never gave up on me. In the late stages of my pregnancy and when I delivered a baby boy in 2001, they provided me with food and other basic necessities. I was very appreciative and contemplated turning over a new leaf though drug addiction is not a habit one can kick off in a day.
I was arrested and charged with smoking bhang at one point but the brethren bailed me out. This gesture of kindness won me over and made me look for solace in the church. I became an active member of the church and soon took leadership of the praise and worship team. Despite this, it wasn’t easy to cut off from my previous lifestyle and I mixed church, drugs, alcohol and prostitution. I became a born-again Christian in January 2003 but my dark side was still with me.
Regrettably, I had no spiritual mentor. I concentrated on ministry work at the expense of my family, which irked the father of my baby. Occasionally, he forcibly took me away from church and beat me all the way home. In 2004, I conceived again and later gave birth to a baby girl.
My live-in then decided to introduce me to some of his relatives, as a sign of acknowledging me as his wife. However, we didn’t get along well with some of his relatives. At the same time, I had problems with some church members after they discovered my other lifestyle. I was depressed and felt hopeless and rejected by society and seemingly by God, too. Regrettably, in 2007, having no peace at home and in church, I threw in the towel.
My live-in and his relatives chased me away and took custody of our two children. With no one to turn to, I vowed not to engage in prostitution. I lived in the streets for six months begging for food. I later met with a lady from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who invited me to live in her house in Nairobi’s Ongata Rongai estate. Soon after, the father of my two children succumbed to liver cirrhosis. I wanted to care for my children but needed help to secure them.
Much as I was embarrassed about my life, I had to face my family. I shudder to relive the experience of returning home. Suffice it to say, like the prodigal son, I was welcomed back and a few relatives accompanied me to attend the burial of the father of my children in Mumias.
A hostile reception awaited me amid claims of being irresponsible. During the burial ceremony a fight broke out between the deceased’s brothers, and I took the opportunity to quickly huddle my children and flee to Maseno.
The turning point…
My past haunted me and I was too embarrassed to stay in our home. I chose to return to Nairobi. However, my host kicked me out. I prayed and confessed to God that I had reached the end and needed Him to take over.
One day a pastor I had interacted with invited me to sing at a gospel ministry launch at the University of Nairobi. The congregation was elated by my personal composition of gospel songs. A lady from Britain, who was part of the congregation, was so impressed. I told her about my life and she was very sympathetic and assisted me with some money to cater for my accommodation.
Since I had learnt hairdressing at some point, I took up a job in a salon and earned a decent living. With my little earnings, I picked my children from our home in Maseno, brought them to Nairobi and enrolled them in school. Life was tough but my faith in God kept me going. I learnt the value of hard work and spared time for God’s work.
I used my singing talent to record my first album Ahadi Ya Bwana, which I released recently. I’m determined to raise my children enjoying the parental love and care that I never had. Wherever I’m invited to sing in places, I share my life’s experience in order to inspire and help others. I have since learnt to forgive and I can without a day I am healing from my past. I have reconciled with my parents and my life is slowly take shape, as I consciously work on mending it with God’s help. ”