Peter Ruto Cheboi, an administration police officer, had a short-lived marriage and his second bride was abducted on the eve of their marriage. Frustrated at the turn of events, he went on an indiscriminate sexual adventure and got more than he bargained for – two wives and HIV infection. Now living positively and helping fight the spread of HIV in his Baringo North district, he shared his experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.
Peter Ruto Cheboi is jovial and kept smiling for the better part of the interview, often presenting serious issues with great humour. For instance, when his first bride vanished soon after their wedding, he consoled the distraught family with four words: ‘it wasn’t to be’. It has taken great courage for Peter to handle difficult situations in his life, but the most challenging was accepting his HIV status and dealing with it.
His parents were in the business of brewing and selling busaa and were so engrossed in it that they gave little importance to their only son’s education. Ruto was academically weak and repeated the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) five times in two different schools. In his fifth attempt he scored 19 out of the 36 points and secured a place at Kasisit Secondary School in Kabartonjo, but he didn’t join the school and instead opted to join the local Baringo Village Polytechnic in Kabarnet in 1990. He graduated with a grade three masonry certificate.
He enthusiastically took up construction work and built many houses in his Kapchepkor village in Kabartonjo division of Baringo district. He was under great pressure from his parents to get married after he put up his own house, despite being very young. In 1984, he identified a girl, a teacher in a local school, and informed his parents. Ruto prepared a large delegation of relatives, family, friends and village elders to the girl’s home for the engagement ceremony, which would see him take his bride home to start their marriage.
However, this girl had an ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t let go. On the eve of the engagement he impersonated Ruto and wrote a letter to her postponing the engagement and sent a similar one to Ruto impersonating the girl. Ruto still went ahead to take his delegation to the girl’s house where he found an angry family wondering why he had to shame them by postponing the occasion. He showed them the letter he too had received and they all realised there was someone with an evil plan behind the letters. The ceremony went ahead and he took his bride home.
So near, yet so far…
Activists of a non-governmental organization display red ribbons, symbol of HIV-AIDS awareness, as they pose for photographers during an awareness campaign on World AIDS Day, in a business district of Bangalore, India, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. UNAIDS lists India as third worst Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) affected country with about 2.5 million infected people after South Africa with 6 million and Nigeria with 2.9 million. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Ruto and his wife started their marriage in a good place since they both earned a decent income. No sooner had they started settling down than the jealousy consumed ex-boyfriend organised a gang that threatened to kill his former lover unless she left Ruto. Giving in to the threats, she told her seniors in the education department that her life was in danger and received an immediate transfer to an undisclosed location. Ruto’s painstaking efforts to trace her were in vain. After giving up the search, he told his worried family members “it wasn’t to be,” and moved on.
After this short-lived marriage, Ruto was recruited to join the Kenya Police Force. However, in his Tugen culture, an only child is considered the head of the family in waiting and wasn’t allowed to go to war in case he perished. Joining the police force was similar to going to war and the local chief, under pressure from family members, did everything possible to stop Ruto joining the force.
Ruto was disappointed but no tradition was going to stop him from pursuing his life as he wished. He tried joining the army and the general service unit, but the chief sabotaged these efforts as well. He was losing hope as he was approaching the age of 25 that would lock him out of the armed forces recruitment. However, he gave it a final chance and attended an interview for administration police (AP) officers. His father got wind of this and tried to stop it as well, though Ruto had passed the interview and was required to travel to Embakasi Training College in Nairobi.
He found his way to Embakasi and produced his appointment letter and explained himself and was allowed to join other trainees. He began his training in 1986 and graduated in 1987. All this time his family was not aware he had joined the forces. He only informed them after he got his first posting at Kibish in Turkana. He didn’t want to give them another chance to sabotage him.
Initiation into prostitution…
Now well settled into a career, Peter decided to get married and finalised all plans with a girl he had fallen in love with. But on the eve of their marriage, a former boyfriend who worked with the army in Nakuru abducted the girl. Peter went through a very embarrassing situation a second time. He had no words to explain to his equally embarrassed family what was going on. It was like he was cursed.
Out of anger and frustration he decided to make the next woman he met his wife. “I didn’t care who the girl would be, all I wanted was to get her pregnant and make her my wife,” he explains. Looking back he says it was a foolish decision because he went on a mission to have sex with any willing partner, hoping one would become his wife. He can’t recall the number of women he went to bed with before the consequences started to catch up with him.
First he impregnated a form two schoolgirl, an orphan whose school fees was paid by the community and was housed by a prominent local leader. He risked dismissal from his job and the community’s wrath for making such a young girl pregnant. He pulled her out of school and took her to his home to be taken care of by his family. She became his wife. But he was too deep in his indiscriminate sexual behaviour that he continued to have sex with different women including prostitutes. He impregnated a shop attendant in Turkana where he worked and this was the wake-up call that he had to stop this sex tourism. He married this girl, too, making her his second wife.
“With two wives, my family started expanding. Little did I know that sex addiction is not something you wish away easily. Two wives were not enough for me and I continued seeking out other women,” he says. His first baby from his first wife died soon after birth in 2000, while he was away on duty in Kampala, Uganda. He assumed it was just bad luck.
In one of his many sexual escapades, he befriended a student at the Medical Training Centre, Nairobi who insisted on an HIV test before having sex with him. Oblivious of his status, he went with the girl to take the test at Kemri Centre. She turned negative while he tested positive. He was shocked and convinced the results were wrong. He took another test at Nairobi’s Matter Hospital, which confirmed the earlier diagnosis. The girl walked out on him.
In spite of his promiscuous life, Ruto never expected to be HIV positive and this news devastated him. He was in denial and for almost three years and refused to seek treatment. He did not disclose to his wives that he was HIV positive and continued having sex with them and fathering their children. Ruto has nine children in all – four from his first wife and five from the younger one.
When his health started deteriorating and he lost a lot of weight and got painful mouth sores, he believed he was dying and asked for a transfer to be close to his family during final days. He was assigned to the home of a member of parliament in Kabartonjo. His health continued on a downward spiral and this time he sought treatment. He was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital with a myriad of problems including breathing difficulties and a blocked food pipe. He was supposed to undergo an operation but he refused, believing it would kill him. He retuned home in a wheelchair unable to walk and was hospitalised at Moi Education and Referral Hospital severally.
By 2005 he was so sick and weak to the point of thinking of ending his life. He wrote his will and gave various instructions to his wives. He made an attempt to end his life through choking and when it didn’t happen, he decided to come to terms with his HIV status and seek specific treatment. He disclosed his status to the doctor and was put on medication and a diet routine. After three months of medication, proper diet and physiotherapy he started regaining his health. He also became born-again and surrendered his life to Christ. He was determined to live positively. He encouraged his wives to take a HIV test. His first wife turned positive and the younger one negative. His children were also tested and all turned out negative.
Ruto went public about his status despite the stigma that came with it but he was determined to get on with his life and use his experience to help the fight against HIV&Aids. He requested for a transfer to Kabartonjo Health Centre where, in addition to his normal duties, put up a desk to counsel patients who tested positive. He was attached to the public health office with an office adjacent to the VCT Centre. Ruto is today living healthy and happily doing his counseling work at the hospital and also within the community.
Living true to the mantra that charity begins at home, Ruto formed Baringo Utawala Support Organisation for administration police officers in his area. In 2005 he started Jipe Moyo Support Group for people living with HIV&Aids in Baringo. It has since given rise to several other support groups deep in rural Baringo, for instance, in Barwesa division, Kabarnet town, Upendo Support Group in Sereman Division and Kambi Ya Samaki in Lake Baringo.
Ruto is also a common figure who is seen in full uniform in the entire Baringo North district addressing local barazas, church groups and on the streets creating awareness about HIV&Aids and distributing condoms. He also visits schools for advocacy as a living example of someone living with HIV&Aids, starting off with the schools that his children attend. He trains youngsters on the importance of abstinence till marriage.
Published in May 2013