10th Feb 2018
I get late, and I’m made to believe that it’s terribly late. The kind of late you would not be forgiven for, or which can send you to hell. I was six minutes late, yes, six. I’ve never been to the restaurant, so I call her from outside to know where to look, and she calmly says “You will see me when you walk in”.
The restaurant is scantily packed, a couple here and a group or ratchets probably discussing their next party on a distant corner. Almost everyone else is coupled up, so I easily pick out Joyce. She sits at a table next to this weird looking middle-aged man, who is busy punching into a girly laptop (the pink ones with butterflies stuck on the back). He has earphones plugged in, and a mug of coffee lays there abandoned. Joyce sits facing the entrance, and above her hangs a huge ugly wall painting, which had two really fat women sited on a bench displacing a slender man, who has a harp laying by his side. On their left are a river and a pavement which somehow sprouts from the river and leads up to some other fellows who the artist was too bored to give legs. I put it behind my head to ask Joyce her thoughts about the painting once we were finished.
“Hello, Joyce,” I say warmly as she reaches out for a tiny hug.
I settle on the opposite chair, which is surprisingly comfortable despite its rustic look. The tables are deep mahogany, and you can feel the cutter’s axe on every curve. Far away, Ed Sheeran calmly oozes from invisible speakers. With all that calmness the place is a delight. I contacted Joyce on Facebook, after reading a number of disturbing long posts on her wall, and she agreed on a sit down.
“Talk to me, Joyce,” I tell her after we have made our acquaintance and orders. I notice wrist piece with the indent ’15/06/11 Survivor’ and imagine it’s inspired by some action movie.
“It depends, whether you want the edited or raw version”
“Don’t leave a thing out…” I say, and we both smile.
“The day was Wednesday, June 15th, 2011. I had just joined campus, in my first year first semester. We were home with my mum and elder brother. The night was darker than usual, and as usual, we went to bed at around 11.” She paused and looked into my eyes to confirm if I was up for it, I nodded her on.
It was raining outside, quite heavily, so sleep came easy. At around 2.00 A.M in her estimates, she got up and switched on the lights so she could trace the phone charger and switch it off. As she was hopping back to bed, her door was banged severally like someone was trying to break in. At first, it felt like a dream, but then the door gave in and two men budged into the room. She sat there, too scared to move or scream, at first thought she was having a crazy nightmare, but once Man A talked, she realized it was real.
‘Where is the laptop?’ He asked.
‘It’s downstairs in the living room.’ She barely managed to answer. By now they had already switched off the light and were using torches. She had two phones, the smartphone on the dressing table, and a simple phone below the pillow. They picked the smartphone and dashed out, and all she could think of was switch off the other phone and dig it deep between the mattress and bed. She could hear them banging on her brother’s door, which was next to hers, till it broke. She was scared for him and could hear them shouting, then everything went silent.
A huge security light shone through her window, and she saw their outline as they rushed back into her room, looking angry. They were arguing.
‘She must have seen our faces’ man A exclaimed.
‘We must finish her, I’m not ready to go in…’ Man B replied.
‘Go get a knife as I wait here’ man A who was obviously calling the shots ordered. Joyce could now see the face of death, as the guy walked out to fetch the knife, but was stopped as he almost crossed the doorstep.
‘Maybe we should do something to her that she will never forget’ man A said.
‘Of course, we should, she always ignores us when we greet her anyway’. Her fate had been sealed. She noticed a large pair of shears in the hands of Man A. With his soiled shoes, man B climbed onto her bed, slapped her severally till her face felt numb, his strong hands too much for her, and pinned her down. Her world crashed, she wished for death in the minutes that followed, cried and prayed for it until all the fight in her was lost. She was too scared to fight back, with man A standing close by in case she tried something.
She pauses, and I can see a fire in her eyes, not a fire of regret, but determination. I take a sip of juice.
“After he finished raping me, they both ‘inspected’ me, like a gynecologist would, and that almost killed me. It felt like I was some sort of an object for their liking, at their mercy. I had and have never felt that humiliated, they were practically stripping me of my dignity.
They left moments later, and I was still confused on what had just happened. My mum called me, and I just walked out absentmindedly. Our first instinct was to check with my brother, who was not in his room, with his balcony door slightly open. I remember being so scared, not sure what they had done to him.” I notice some wetness in the eyes, but she brushes that away with a smile.
“As we stood there confused, we heard some noises from downstairs, and thought the bastards were back, so my mum ran back to her room and so did I, but we realized it was my brother who had managed to run out and fetched cops.”
“Actually…” she continues, “…he had managed to jump down from his balcony and run barefoot to a petrol station near the highway. He explained to the guards what had happened and they called the police who met my brother a few meters from the house.”
“Phew, at least tell me the cop helped out,” I said, desperate for some good news. She just shrugged.
“The cop was drunk, he staggered around with his dim torch checking all rooms, and when he was done, turned to us and announced ‘I don’t see anything to worry, just get back to sleep’. Just like that he left. That is the time it hit me what had happened to me, and I just broke down, and man I cried.”
“You told your mom what had happened?”
“Something told her what had happened, and all she asked me was whether they had touched me, which I answered affirmatively. She was crushed, tried to hide it but I could see her heart falling. We both knew I had to get to hospital fast, and my dad was away at work, so we went to some neighboring flats where, with the help of the caretaker who is a friend of the family, a tenant offered to drive us to Kikuyu Mission Hospital, where we were referred to Nairobi Women’s Hospital as the latter is better equipped to handle gender violence cases. There we were driven by the same tenant, a guy with some golden heart, together with the caretaker for the flats.”
“How was it at the hospital?” I ask after some soul-searching. All the questions I had have vanished.
“I was given PeP medicine,
PeP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) are retro-viral medicines (ART) administered only in cases of emergency but should be taken before lapsing of 72 hours of a possible exposure to HIV. For people with a continued risk of exposure, PrEP (Pr-Exposure Prophylaxis) should be discussed with a health officer, and it is taken in higher and more frequent doses for it to block an infection. – hiv.gov
According to The World Health Organization , the efficiency of the PeP depends on how fast the victim takes can access the medication, but generally has a 99% success rate when taken well before the lapse of 72 hours.
“What about the HIV tests, how did it go?”
“I took an HIV test that very day, another in mid-July, and the final one in November of the same year. They were all negative, thanks to the 28-day PeP treatment. I also got a Hepatitis B jab on the same day, again in July and a final one in November.”
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus.
The virus is spread when blood, semen, or vaginal fluids (including menstrual blood) from an infected person enter another person’s body.
The vaccination schedule most often used for adults and children has been three intramuscular injections, the second and third administered 1 and 6 months after the first.
“How was the counseling?”
“I will surprise you, I never had counseling in any of the hospitals I visited.” Her glass of juice sits there listening, undisturbed, next to a bowl she had ordered, of a fruit salad covered in some kind of yogurt.
Ed Sheeran has faded away, and in his place is a beautiful harmonica rhythm, which plays with no end, filling the restaurant with melancholy. I get attached.
“Why would you fail to have counseling? It helps a lot in healing you know.”
“The two times I tried counseling, the counselors said one thing which irked me, ‘I understand’. I was angry because I didn’t know what they were saying they understand, so I choose to do a lot of research instead and look for people who have been through the same, at least those would understand how it felt.” She went online and joined a Facebook page, (she requested I don’t say the name of the page, to avoid people spamming it, though you can email us for details if you need it) the page is made up of rape survivors, and she met people who have been through worse rape ordeals, which played a huge part in her healing.
“What happened with the culprits, were they ever arrested?”
She laughs a very short sad laugh. It lasts shorter that saying ma-ma.
“Nobody broke into the house, they opened the door with our key, like you do when you go home.” She goes silent, for a second, then two, and longer. She lets it sink, and I let her go on. “There is this guy who used to work at our place, who was the main suspect to have led them home. Word was he had traveled a day before the ordeal, so when my dad went to his place, he only found the brother, and surprisingly, a key to our front door was in his bunch of keys.”
“That must have been enough evidence, clearly.”
“Well, it should have been, it was presented to the police, and we obtained an OB number, after which, it has been an in and out of court affair. Right now, I have papers for around 15 hearings collecting dust on a shelf, and the case is still ongoing, though we don’t think it will last long”
“Why so?” I ask.
“The last time we went with my brother for the hearing, the initial key was changed, and they now had another key and padlock. When we asked, they claimed that is the key that was in the evidence box. I was so mad at everyone, and realized all I was doing was wasting our time.” Apparently, the case has been in the hands of 6 investigating officers, and she believes justice will be a hard target.
“And what do you feel about the two men?”
“They were at least four men. The two who were moving from room to room, one who was permanently at my mum’s door during the entire ordeal, then the other one who was watching outside the house. I really want justice, though I can’t say I hold a grudge against them. I hope that one day I can look into the men’s eyes and ask them why they did it.”
“Did your experience change your perspective about men?”
“Not really, I don’t like generalizing, okay, there are the rotten ones, but then in the same line there is the man who offered to drive us to the hospital in the middle of the night.”
“When I decided to contact you, I saw your posts on Facebook, they were a vent, some sad, some angry with cursing words, and most assured of a light somewhere. When did you decide to go public about your experience?”
“My family and very few of my friends already knew about it, but there is this one day I was invited by a friend to a poetry session by Anika254 in August 2015 and they were doing a piece on sexual assault. One guy gave his story, and I felt compelled, so I just picked the mic and for once I said the words ‘I am a rape survivor’. In April 2016, Anika254 had yet another forum on Sexual Assault #BreakTheSilence and the friend who’d invited me to the first forum asked that I be the guest speaker. It was difficult talking about it in public but I pulled through. From then, I just felt the need to do something about the ignorance people have on sexual assault.
On 15th June 2016, I went public again, this time by a Facebook post. It was my 5th anniversary and I had long decided going public was what I’d do in celebration of my survival.”
“How was the reaction to the post?” I ask, casually.
“To begin with, at the 5-year mark I was at a point where I did not care for what other people’s reactions would be. It was my story, I owned it. Most people bombarded me with apologies for having been raped, some commended me for my ‘courage and bravery’. But really, why should it be brave for a survivor to break their silence unless we’re all too aware of the stigma they normally face?” She gets emotional, and I tilt the story a bit to the left.
“I’ve read about people having side effects from rape, some of which live with the victim. Did you face any, or are you still facing any side effects, physical or psychological?”
“Of course, they must be present, some fade away with time, but some stick for life.” Joyce is now relaxed, and she stabs a spoon into the yogurt, dishes out a piece of pineapple, plays around with it, drops it and picks a mango piece. Poor pineapple.
“I have had panic attacks, where I just freeze and feel like I’m having a heart attack. I get super scared, unable to scream or run. There is a day I decided to use a lift while going to a work meeting and these two men came in after me. As soon as the doors shut I went into panic mode. I held onto the railing, since I could feel my head spinning until the lift stopped and they alighted and left me there, trying to compose myself. I also have phobias, like when you walked in, I hope you noticed I’m sitting facing the entrance. I never feel comfortable with an entrance behind my back. What may be normal to most, like sitting at the front or the back right of a 14-seater matatu, using a cab, sudden touch regardless how ‘harmless’, using lifts, rainy nights…send me into panic mode. It has gotten better over time though.”
The weird guy to our left, the one on the feminine laptop yanks out his earphones, puts them into his backpack and pulls out a pair of Beats by Dre headphones. For such a poor choice of laptop, he has a great taste in headphones!
“How have these phobias affected your life?”
“I think most have affected me positively, since I’m more cautious now, though it’s a negative effect socially since I sometimes get paranoid and very reserved.”
“Well, am not sure about this question, but have you seen someone, you know, a relationship since then?”
“I once broke up with a guy because he had a ‘you should have gotten over it by now’ attitude towards the whole thing. Another couldn’t talk about it and I don’t blame him. However, we females never forget how a man treats us when we need his support the most. I have not lost hope in an intimate relationship with a man.”
“When you find him, will you tell him about your past?” I ask. She puts down the spoon, carefully, like girls do, and take a sip of her now bored juice. She thinks for a moment and smiles.
“Yes, definitely. At the onset of the relationship. He rather knows then than later so he can make his decision to stay or leave well in advance. I’ll also tell my children when they’re of age.”
“How has rape changed you as a person.”
“Rape has changed me, but it has not made me who I am. I am who I am today because survival was all I had to do, not something I had an option on. You see when at rock bottom, the only way you can go is up. There were so many times I wanted it all to end, not to die, but to ‘be at peace’. I sank into depression without even realizing it. If a car had come my way, I can’t assure you I’d have moved out of its way. The nightmares were bad, coupled with the effects of PeP and the stigma society places on rape which made me feel very alone. I was once a victim, but today, I am a survivor. My relationship with God also improved a lot.”
My skin crawls when she discusses the suicidal thoughts so casually, like ‘I can’t assure you that I would have moved out of the way’.
“What would you say has helped you through this journey?”
“God. I would not be where I am if not for him. I have done a trial-and-error kind of healing…or self-counseling for that matter, and it made me know my strengths. Reading widely on survivor stories and interacting with other survivors has also benefited me a lot. In June 2017 I gave counseling another try and thanks to my counselor, one Victor Macharia of Nairobi Women’s’ – Hurlingham, who actually agreed to sacrifice some Sunday mornings for a session with me, I feel I have taken a step forward. Having friends whom I can talk to freely about rape has made me feel supported. In the beginning, I used to write a lot. I’d vent on paper then burn it, and somehow I’d feel better.”
By now, my watch points to a few minutes shy of 6.00 PM, and she shifts in her chair, trying to suggest that I was now eating into her evening. I read the signs.
“Cliché but, any parting words?”
“To rape victim/survivors, it was not your fault, it is not your fault, it will never ever be your fault…regardless of what you were wearing, who you were with, where you went, that you were drunk/high, that you trusted the person, that you changed your mind on consensual sex…you are not to blame! I think one thing that causes victims to not speak out is the shame and guilt associated with rape. But, I believe that one person’s story could be the glimmer of hope another is looking for. Nairobi Women’s – Gender Violence Recovery Center offers free counseling to victims of gender-based violence in case they need assistance. I may not have started counseling early but the sooner one goes the better. As to family and friends of victims, be there. I know it’s hard when a bad encounter happens closer home but that is when we need you most. We notice when you start treating us different but pity is the last thing we want. Also, cultivate open relationships with those close to you so they can have someone to confide in. To society, rape knows no age, race, gender or whatever, it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. I think the moment we start looking at rape as such as opposed to something that only happens to ‘those ones’, the stigma will be reduced. Don’t wait until it happens to you or someone you know to act. Everyone should listen to Till It Happens to You by Lady Gaga. My rapist may have taken my dignity, he may have taken my sense of security, he may have taken my peace of mind, but he did not take my spirit and my voice. I am yet to get justice but by the look of things, God will have the final say.” She chews through the last pieces of pineapple, and I silently trumpet, knowing how angry my lady in shagz frowns when you leave a thing on the plate.
We head to clear our bill, well I won’t say who cleared it lest my reader gets jealous, but as we waited for the balance, I pointed back to the large painting. It was the moment of truth.
“Tell me, with all frankness, what do you think of that painting?”
“Aaaah, that one? Tell me, why would they make a drawing full of fat women squeezing a thin fellow?” She asks, almost sneering at the painter.
“I think the painter was not fully paid, and he sneaked back and added some weight to the women” I chuckle.
She laughs, for the first time, “I think its ugly.”
“Me too,” I say grinning childishly.
When I get home, I find a text message from her lying in my inbox simply saying “Butterfly with the teal Ribbon”. I smile.