Thirty-four-year-old Lucy Ngorobi is a beautiful lady by all means. She is also well groomed and well dressed but that’s where the good news ends. Every time Lucy steps out into the world, she faces hostility, ridicule and rejection. Hers is a rare problem – a pungent foul smell that gives her away at a close distance. It’s beyond her control and the best gynecologists have tried and failed to provide a solution. She shared her disheartening experience with MWAURA MUIGANA.
What would you do if despite using expensive and strong-smelling soaps, perfumes and deodorants, and always having deliberate, long, warm baths, and putting on clean attire you still elicit a stench as if you haven’t had a bath for days? This is Lucy Ngorobi’s life. The stench she carries has defied most locally available modern medical technology, making her live a life of humiliation and gloom. She narrates the genesis of her uncomfortable life.
“It all began in January 1988 at around 3pm. I was only nine and in class five at Muthinga Primary, in our hometown in Nyeri, Tetu division. I was on my way home after a trip from my uncle’s place to fetch water and was walking on a dusty stretch between two shambas. Suddenly, a distant cousin, who was then about 25 years old, blocked my way. He grabbed the two 5-litre jerry cans of water out of my hands and tossed them aside. I thought it was just a bad joke.
He then grabbed and forced me into the shamba warning me of dire consequences including death if I raised my voice. He tore my clothes, raped me and when he was done, he reiterated the death threat. I was left bleeding profusely from a deep rupture and remained numb with pain for what seemed like a long time. I later gathered the little strength I had and painfully trudged home feeling dirty, angry and scared at the same time.
A neighbour who was passing by identified the abandoned water containers on the pathway as mine, since I often fetched water with them. She took them home to my mum. Mum was worried. When I failed to account for my whereabouts, she thought I had become rebellious, and gave me a thorough beating until I opened up. She was stunned.
She immediately reported the matter to the village elders, who unfortunately intimidated and prevailed upon her not to report the matter to the law enforcers. Instead, they suggested that the matter be settled amicably within the family. The abuser walked away scot-free.
Onset of the smelly episode…
The biggest omission however was failing to seek proper medical treatment soon after the ordeal. Mum opted to clean the rupture with warm salty water and apply jelly. Three weeks later I was declared well enough to walk to school. At that tender age the feeling of violation was stuck in my mind.
I felt used, stained, incomplete and guilty as if there was something I could have done to prevent the rape from happening. I didn’t want to interact with my peers but mum kept encouraging and supporting me. Todate, she remains my greatest support system.
At the onset of my teenagehood, my menstrual periods began and turned my world upside down. The periods were accompanied by a pungent smell that disgusted people. I was greatly embarrassed especially in the presence of my classmates. I thought this was the norm during that particular time of the month but even at the end of my periods the foul smell persisted!
I was confused, because I had been very particular about my hygiene. I used to wash the only pair of uniform I owned, twice a week, took a shower every morning and put on a clean pair of underwear, thus I didn’t understand where the smell came from. I compared notes with my best friend in school who had started her periods, but she was surprised because nothing like that had ever happened to her. I shared with mum who had since become my confidant. Concerned, she escorted me to the local clinic, where it was apparent that something seemed to have gone wrong when I was raped. I had a serious rapture that was never treated. I was given a prescription.
With continued treatment and the strong smell subsided but always burst out during menstruation. I became a laughing stock and was mocked in school. Only through mum’s encouragement did I manage to endure this. I joined Kangubiri Girls High School in Nyeri in 1992 and felt insecure away from mum’s protection.
I invested in a good perfume that psychologically helped me face the mockery and ridicule from some of the insensitive students. When the problem intensified, my elder sister took me to a gynaecologist in Nairobi, who ran various tests without any diagnosis, except for a bacterial infection that was treated. As a young lady I was traumatised and the only flicker of hope was my faith in God after becoming a born again believer while in form two.
Interference with my daily life…
On completing my secondary education in 1995, I stayed home for about three years before enrolling at Temple College in Nyeri town for a secretarial course. The problem was mild and luckily I managed limited public interaction. The first thing I did when I got my first job in 2004 was to buy expensive scented perfumes and bathing soaps. I deliberately took long baths in the morning, applied the perfumes and put on sparkling clean clothes. However, as if to spite me, all the grooming notwithstanding, the bad body odour only intensified.
My colleagues didn’t understand and assumed my personal hygiene was wanting. I was afraid to tell anyone of my ordeal. Here I was, a professional woman dying to carry myself with dignity, self-pride and confidence, yet this problem reduced me to disgrace.
My interpersonal relations nose-dived. I became hostile towards those who had little regard for me. Consequently, I was served with several warning letters at work to improve on my interpersonal communications or have disciplinary action taken against me. My performance was negatively affected by my condition, and eventually, in March 2012, I lost my job.
It was the same scenario in my neighbourhood. There were those who were hell-bent to break me down with their mockery. The pungent smell robbed me of my self-esteem and the joy of being a woman, and had me often wishing I were a man. Unable to contend with the judgmental lot who cared little to understand my predicament, I became withdrawn and apprehensive of human interactions. I nurtured a hostile attitude as a defense mechanism against those looking down upon me and when it became unbearable, I developed chronic stress in 2004 that graduated to severe depression.
In search of medical treatment…
I saved enough money and consulted a gynaecologist and obstetrician who operated a clinic along Ngong Road in Nairobi in 2005. He was very empathetic and offered to treat me first and settle the fee once the problem was over. Despite him doing his best for one year, the condition didn’t improve one iota.
I frequently called Hope FM, a Christian radio station, with prayer requests for the problem. Due to the constant calling, Catherine Wachira, one of the presenters, referred me to a Dr. Nancy Kidula. Additionally, she paid for the first consultation in 2006. I visited Dr. Kidula’s clinic and went through various tests including higher vagina swap (HVS) and a pap smear to test for any traces of cervical cancer. I was given a clean bill of health, save for a yeast infection that cleared after treatment.
The strong smell persisted all through the one-and-a-half-year treatment and in January 2007, the doctor threw in the towel. ‘I have done my best without any success and have now left the case in God’s hands,’ she said sympathetically, promising to continue praying for my healing. I was extremely disappointed and stressed.
In the depth of despair…
I sunk deeper into depression and resolved to end my life through a drug overdose. An urge to call my mum just before I swallowed the drugs saved the day. It was in the midst of our short conversation that I poured out my desperation and had a slip of the tongue that let my mother know of the action I was about to take. Mum cried and implored me not end my life, promising to do her best to find a solution for me.
I subsequently consulted gynaecologists from different private and public hospitals for the next two years without a solution. In spite of the challenges, I was determined to improve my life. I enrolled at the Kenya Institute of Management for a course in business management and successfully pursued a certificate, diploma then higher diploma and graduated in 2008. Later, in September 2011, I enrolled at Mount Kenya University for a bachelor’s degree in business management, a course that I am still pursuing.
In the same year, Catherine, the Hope FM presenter, referred me to a renowned gynaecologist who handled my case for over a year. Luckily, at the time, I had a good insurance cover through my employer so the bills were taken care of. Blood, urine and many other tests gave me a clean bill of health but the smell was always there, day and night. I hit a dead end again only to be referred to yet another reknown gynaecologist. I kept digging deeper into my pockets but the smell just wouldn’t go away. The cost was unsustainable and since there were no results I stopped seeking medical care in 2012.
I still recall one Saturday in 2012 when I lost control and contemplated suicide yet again. My sister Njambi called me just in the nick of time. She realised I had been crying and was very concerned as I had a history of attempted suicide. Accompanied by her two friends, she drove to my house, while they engaged me on the phone in turns to distract my attention. I was admitted for severe depression treatment at the Chiromo Lane Medical Centre in Westlands, Nairobi under Dr. Frank Njenga. I was discharged after three weeks and continued with medication and therapy at the centre.
Since June 2013, I have been on therapy, counseling and medication at the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Patient Support Centre. Initially, I couldn’t accept my situation, but through counseling, I am learning to accept and love myself as one who is beautifully and wonderfully created in God’s image.
It pains me that many people do not understand my condition. I’m considered a young woman who doesn’t take proper care of herself yet no self-respecting woman can walk around with a stench if she can help it. I have learnt to ignore those who mock and ridicule me and walk with my head high. Despite it being a very tough journey, God has been my pillar of strength. I have faith that He will send along a gynaecologist to help clear my problem.”
Editor’s note: Anyone who may know how Lucy Ngorobi can be helped can contact the editor at …… or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in September 2013