NANYUKI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS) — “It is better when I am in school” is a phrase my neighbor and friend Wendy tells me often when we are together. She lives with her parents in a fenced homestead just a few meters from my home. Her local name is “Duto Nitie,” which means “All Present.” She is called this by the local villagers because all sorts of people are present in her home — plump, thin, tall, short, young and old.
Wendy’s father is a polygamous man. He has four wives of which Wendy’s mother is the third. Each woman has more than three kids. In Wendy’s house she is the first of five girls. She is preparing for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, which she will take in mid-October.
Wendy likes school better than home because there are no boys in her family. Her father is a drunkard who occasionally comes home staggering and smelling terribly after consuming the local neighborhood liquor. He hurls abusive words at anyone in sight and sometimes beats up anyone he finds at home. Wendy’s house is always a battlefield. Her father beats her mother so that she can give birth to boys — not just girls, who eventually get married and have nothing important to contribute to the family.
Men enter polygamous marriages for various reasons, according to the “Christian Religious Education” course book we use in school: their wives are barren or to prevent their own unfaithfulness. The book condemns the practice but President Uhuru Kenyatta made it a legal practice last year.
But from Wendy’s eyes, it is not something that should be allowed.
“I do not always have the courage to stand the piercing pain in my mother’s heart whenever she has been beaten and abused,” Wendy told me recently as we were sitting on my veranda. She reflexively chewed a blade of grass as shadows of sorrows appeared on her face. “The fact that my mother is sonless in a polygamous marriage does not make her less important,” she insisted.
The boys in her family are not in school and are trouble for their mothers. “My stepbrothers and stepsisters all have had chances to go to school,” she said. Most of them are in lower classes and get good grades, to which her own marks are often compared to.
In Wendy’s home majority rule is the order of the day. As long as you have a boy child under your roof, you qualify to join the “adorable group;” a group that has the authority to affect a policy in that homestead. The atmosphere in this home is always charged with enmity and jealousy as people compete for attention: wives and children trying to draw the attention of the man. Neither Wendy’s mother nor her children take part in this struggle because their house lacks the most important mark: the boy child.