Today I will deviate from my Kdrama addiction to talk about a Kenyan pastime. That is to say a pastime of prominent kenyan men.
THE OTHER CHILDREN
When a prominent Kenyan politician or persona passes away it is the norm for previously unknown wives and children to emerge from nowhere claiming to be members of the dead man’s family. During such sideshows society tends to either laugh off such happenings as the ways of men or even dismiss the women and children in question as gold diggers. No one seems to take account that these “other” children as they are so laughingly labelled are human beings with feelings and are as bewildered and stressed about their situation as the members of the legitimate or socially recognized family of the deceased. The existence of children born out of extra-marital unions has become so common in Kenya that no one even gives a second thought to their existence. They are considered as mistakes, which should not be acknowledged at any cost. They are made to pay for the sins of their parents along with their mothers while their fathers are forgiven and let off Scott free. Even congratulated as noble, if they choose to support their extra families. If they decide to walk away no one holds them to account and they are allowed to continue in the adultery siring more children as long as they are discreet about it and don’t embarrass their wives.
Society has a tendency to look down on these children as the offspring of home wreckers who deserve the minimum of sympathy and should be confined to the very corners of hell along with their mothers.
One such child, Jane Kanini (now 28 years) narrates her experience. “My early years were blissful as I had no clue that my father was already married. His appearances were a brief weekend affair where he brought lots of presents and took my mom and I on outings. I was too young to really question where he disappeared to for weeks on end.” It was only until Jane went to school and moved to a larger sub-urban neighbourhood that she began to notice something odd about her family.
Other children began to question why her father did not live with them and only came by on weekends. “I began to feel ashamed of my self because I sensed something was not right about my family set-up.” Owiti, an accountant also an offspring from an extra marital union identifies with the shame he began to feel for existing, as he grew older. “I had gone for a visiting day at a local girls high school with an aunt and as we left in my aunt’s Peugeot, she frantically told me to duck down and hide. When I asked why, she thoughtlessly explained that my father’s wife was nearby and she did not want her to see me as it would annoy her to meet me.” Owiti says the knowledge that he is a symbol of someone’s infidelity rankles to this day and he resents his parents for letting him grow up with such baggage. “To this day I constantly feel as if I have to explain and justify my place in this world. When I was in high school I use to lie that my parents were divorced just so as not to face what I felt to be judgemental glances from others”
Another reality is that most children from such unions have to live with the knowledge that their fathers have other offspring whom society considers more legitimate than they are. Jane narrates her shock at discovering that her father had another family with whom he spent more time with. She met one of her brothers during a high school function and discovered that she had two brothers and a sister. She made an effort to track them down and get to know them. “At that time I didn’t even know my father was such a wealthy man living in Karen, while he housed us in Olympic estate” She spits bitterly. Jane went to her father’s house where she was received by her stepmother at the gate, the pain in her eyes is obvious as she recounts the incident “She stood at the door of the house blocking the entrance with her body, she already seemed to know who I was and made it clear that I was not welcome in her home to interact with her or her children.” Jane left feeling bitter and ashamed but says now that she is married she can understand her stepmother’s resentment “ I know that to her I must be a reminder that her husband never loved her enough to be faithful and because of that I forgive her, she is just a victim like I was”.
Owiti also laughingly narrates his experience with his siblings “only two brothers acknowledge my existence as for the other two girls they can even walk past me in the street like I do not even exist,” he shrugs tiredly and says “it’s their problem not mine I didn’t choose my parents any more than they did.” Both Jane and Owiti own up to the fact that they feel resentment that these siblings seemed to have a better standard of living than they did. Jane says “I grew up in Olympic estate while they grew up in Karen, my mother had to beg him for every cent just to provide extras which he considered inessential for me but which he would willingly provide for the ones he really considers his.” Owiti agrees with her sentiments “the only thing my dad provided for willingly was my education but to get anything else out of him was just a humiliating experience in grovelling yet my siblings never had such issues, his wallet and his time was and still is more easily available to them than to me.”
Children born of extra-marital unions also face the added disadvantage of never really knowing their father’s extended family well enough to even consider them as relations. Jane explains “ To this day my father has never officially acknowledged me to his siblings or even his father who is his only surviving parent. Two of his brothers have made an effort to at least get to know me but his sisters couldn’t care less. I can’t even call these women my aunts because in all reality an aunt is someone involved in your life.” Owiti’s view on this matter is that his father’s extended family is just a bunch of two headed snakes with strong survival instincts. “ My dad is a wealthy man and most of them want to be on his good side, as my stepmother is the stronger influence they tend to be on her side but far away from her they act as if they are best friends to my mother and I, these are not people I would publicly acknowledge as my relatives.” However both Jane and Owiti admit that there are some relatives who are genuinely interested in them but that those they view as their real relatives are those from their maternal side. As for the existing grandparents their reactions are the same bitter identical reactions, “ Those are not my grandparents they are my father’s parents, if they really wanted to know me or cared don’t you think the would have made an effort to know me? Owiti asks angrily.
For children of such unions their relationships with their mother’s tend to be difficult. Jane says “ I was filled with so much resentment towards my mother all I could think of was that she was a home wrecker and she had stained me with that reputation too.” She says that her early high school years were those of low self-esteem and self-loathing and this manifested itself in hostility and ill behaviour targeted to hurt her mother as deeply as possible. “ The crazy part was that I never really blamed my dad until I was done with high school then I secretly began to hate him but I couldn’t show it openly as I still depended on him to pay my tuition fees. Now I have graduated and have a job I have as little to with him as possible, I don’t really like him.” Owiti acknowledges that he also made his mother’s life miserable as she was the nearest available victim on whom he could inflict the same pain he felt he had to live with. “ But as I grew up I realized she was suffering the consequences of her mistake even more than I was and the fact that she did not resent my existence and loved me and did the best she could for me made me change my behaviour towards her.” Owiti says that some mums are not so lucky as he knows some people who never forgive their mothers as long as they live.
As for his relationship with his father, Owiti says he takes it one day at a time “ He educated me and I am really grateful but the truth is a part of me will never stop disliking him. I want him to be proud of me to some extent but if I ever become like him and cheat on my wife I hope someone shoots me dead.” Owiti also labels his father a hypocrite, “ he is really a prominent person in society and he continually tells people he has four children by his first wife yet I know for a fact that I am not the only child born as result of his adultery.” Owiti adds that it is a constant source of amazement for him that the local church which his father attends even accepts him as a respected member of the church yet none of the clergy has ever censured his behaviour “perhaps it is the large tithes he contributes” he laughs
Jane and Owiti are just a small fraction representing the population of children born out of extra-marital unions in Kenya yet their stories are surprisingly similar. Most of those born under these circumstances find their lives made extremely difficult and they live under burdens of guilt that are not of their making. Society at large and even the betrayed wives of these men should put aside their prejudices and realize that these children are not monsters but victims of circumstances just like them. As for these men perhaps they should either just practice outright polygamy rather than keep their own children as a shameful secret from the society. Better still they could just start taking all the abstinence campaigns going around more seriously so that the rest of the planet does not have to live with the consequences of their self-indulgence and self-gratification.
Images courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com/