In a tiny village in Murang’a’s Makuyu, two sisters engaged in a vicious fistfight over what one of the sisters termed as the deliberate misleading of her children whom she had left under the care of her mother when she left for Canada for work. It took the intervention of the area chief to separate the two who had fought for nearly twenty minutes, ignoring calls from neighbours to try ad solve their differences amicably.
The story goes that in the year 1999, Susan Gakuru left her teenage girls Florence Wambui and Nina Wairuku, under the care of her mother, Wanjiku. Susan kept her promise of sending money to her mother every month to make sure her girls were well taken care of.
“I was working my ass of for my girls,” a tearful Susan said. After three years, her sister Wairimu picked the girls from her mother’s home arguing that she would take care of them. Susan was a bit uncomfortable because she trusted her mother more but then her mother assured her that she would make sure that the kids were okay. So instead of sending money to her mother only, Susan began sending to her sister too since she was now the one taking care of her girls directly.
The first shocker came in 2005 when Susan was informed that her younger daughter, Nina, was pregnant. Susan was livid. How would her daughter get pregnant? What was going on? She made a long phone call and asked both her mother and sister what had happened, but her sister brushed her off saying girls were getting pregnant all over and it was nothing to be worried about. The problem is that Wairimu’s two daughters were pursuing their studies without any interruption.
A furious Susan made an emergency trip to Kenya, paid for a risky procedure that saw the pregnancy get terminated. She then decided to jet back to Canada with this one daughter who had gotten pregnant. Before she left for Ontario, she beseeched her mother to keep an eye on Flo, insisting that she did not trust her sister Wairimu. She wanted Flo to move away from her aunt’s place, but the girl’s granny said that was not necessary as she would watch over her. Susan agreed, halfheartedly. At the back of her mind, she knew her mother was getting old and obviously she had difficulties making numerous trips to Wairimu’s place to check on Flo. She promised herself to save some money and come back to Kenya and take care of her kids. In the meantime, she kept sending money for the girl’s needs. She also sent extra for her aging mother and some appreciation for her sister for taking care of Flo.
The other shoe fell in 2007 when on a Saturday morning Susan got a phone call, she says sent her blood boiling. Her daughter Flo would not stop crying during the phone call that she made from Turkey. What was her daughter doing in Turkey? As far as she was concerned, Flo had married Sphinx, a young man in the media industry in Kenya, and despite his randy manners, she had described as “the man of her dreams.” They had their first kid, a boy, just five months after moving in together, meaning that she had conceived way before they started living together. Susan was aware of this and did not have any issue with the man her daughter had married. In their phone conversations, she would tell that he was extremely intelligent, had tremendous respect for his parents who resided in their rural home in Kisii, and extended the same respect to her.
In the phone call, Flo narrated to her mother her aunt had introduced her to a Turkish man who promised her heaven and quickly organized for her travel to Istanbul.
“Mom, I did not have time to think through it,” Flo told her mother.
“Aunt Wairimu told me all would be well, and that the man I had married was mistreating me and I needed a different man. I am sorry I did not tell you,” Flo added. Susan learned that within four months of her daughter landing in Istanbul, her young grandson was treated like an animal. He would be rebuked and even get beaten for simple mistakes that children make out of innocence.
“Mom, the man was treating my son nicely when we were in Kenya. He just changed when we landed,” Flo told her mother.
Susan flew to Istanbul within three days of learning of what had happened and organized for her daughter’s return to Kenya. After she landed and traveled to Murang’a from Nairobi’s Buruburu Estate where she had bought the family a modest house, she embarked on a fact-finding mission that made her burn with rage. She got to learn that her sister Wairimu, out of jealousy, had started competing with her niece (Susan’s daughter). Anything Flo did or anything her boyfriend and later husband did for her that Wairimu viewed as “classy” made her angry. Susan got to learn from her sister’s close friend-turned enemy, Nimo, that Wairimu always criticized Sphinx, the dad to Flo’s baby, and that she felt he was wasting money on trivial things such as pedicures. The truth, according to Nimo, was that Wairimu felt that her niece was outshining her.
In Nimo’s words, Wairimu did not encourage her niece to marry a Turkish man because she wanted her to progress. She simply wanted her to get lost. She was killing competition. Flo who was able to talk briefly to the media revealed that she had known the Turkish man for only three months before her aunt convinced her that it was okay to fly to Istanbul with him. She did not take time to think about what would happen to her young son in a culture that was radically different from what she and him were born into. It is after she got to Istanbul that the man’s family members insisted that the boy had to start attending madrassa, and that she too had to convert to Islam.
“He did not have an issue with my Christian religion here in Kenya but when we got to Turkey, he would not come to my rescue whenever his family members coerced or forced me to convert. And then there was this open discrimination against my son that really broke me down. He is just a baby, only three years. He is my baby,” Flo tearfully stated.
Susan had no kind words for her sister. Nina was also bitter that her aunt had knowingly misled her, but she also blamed herself for being naïve. “I had a man who loved me and loved his son to death. I just made a stupid move with encouragement from my aunt. I remember how she encouraged my sister to have a boyfriend at 17, when she would not allow Tori and Laurine, her two daughters, to date. I now know she did not wish us well. I am glad my son’s father has accepted him, but I have lost because he got married as soon as I left for Turkey.”
As the chief sent the two sisters away, she warned them against fighting and told them to show up in his office the next day.
Cases of aunts being jealousy and competing with their nieces are very common. They are especially common where the aunt and the niece are close in age, and in most cases, the aunt, out of jealousy, forgets that the niece is like her own daughter. There have been cases where aunts accuse their nieces of trying to snatch their husbands as a pretext for slander or even physical assault.
Pastor Kitoto, a psychologist, advises nieces to be smart. He says that if the niece needs advice, she should always go to her mother if she is alive. Otherwise, any piece of advice from an aunt must be scrutinized and thought through. Brenda Jepkorir, also a psychologist, agrees with Kitoto that it is important to think over what your aunt tells you. She also advises that nieces must study their history with their aunts before they use their advice.
“If your aunt has used you before or not helped you when you really needed her, she might give you the wrong advice to knock you off your feet so that she can get her evil win. Jepkorir states that it is extremely odd that aunt Wairimu would let her niece, a Christian, marry a Muslim from Turkey, after knowing him for only three months, and failing to make a simple phone call to Canada to inform her mother. But she also blames Nina’s mother for not communicating with her daughter frequently. If she was in constant communication, she would have known that Nina had stupidly left her Kenyan man and flown to Turkey with a “stranger.”
In Kitoto’s opinion, these aunts with such behaviours feel that nieces should be below them in life and when they appear to be doing better, they turn green with envy. They usually feel that their kids should go to the best schools, have the best parties, and wear the best clothes, and whenever the niece’s kids seem to be doing better, they scheme to destroy that. They can destroy relationships of nieces and in some cases, most of them in Central Kenya, some aunts have caused bodily harm to their nieces. Both Jepkorir and Kitoto concur that mothers should always protect their daughters and that the nieces must be smart around their aunts.
“It is especially risky that Flo jumped into a union with a Muslim without understanding the consequences. For example, a Muslim abandoning Islam for another religion (apostasy) is supposed to be killed in most countries, whereas Muslim daughters are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men in nearly all countries around the world.”
Which Christian parent wants this for his or her kids?” Jepkorir wondered.