Burnt and disfigured,Kenyan woman tells of life after poll violence

In 2007, Joyce Chepkemboi Cheruiyot was a happy mother of two, anxiously planning and looking forward to the birth of her third born child, together with her husband Wesley Cheruiyot.

The then 28-year-old small scale farmer was running a small grocery shop in the village with the help of her husband which was enough to sustain their growing family.

This was before the events of a chilly December 2007 morning in Kuresoi when all hell broke loose and the world as she knew it ground to a halt. Today, five years later in another village in Londiani area of Kericho county, even while the rest of the country adopts an ‘accept and move on’ attitude, Joyce’s small family is yet to move on from the events of that day.

It was after the announcement of the presidential election results on December 30, 2007 and Joyce was huddled round a fire with her husband as they listened to the news on their small radio.

Her two daughters were playing at a neighbour’s home when Joyce saw their door knocked down before a gang of close to 10 men raided their home.

She had heard of attacks all around Kuresoi and the neighbouring Molo days before and immediately after the elections but there had been no such events in her Mawingu village.

The gang went for her husband first and made a spectacle of his murder while forcing her to watch.

“They mutilated my husband joint after joint as I watched, starting with his fingers then limbs before they cut off his manhood,” she says.

Her screams and pleading did little to deter them and when they were finished with her husband, they pounced on the four-month pregnant Joyce.

They stoked the fire that the family had been using to warm themselves before dipping her face in the scorching flames. Joyce also suffered machete cuts to her neck and hands before they left her for the dead.

Joyce would awake several days later at the Molo District Hospital to find that her husband had died.

She however sensed trouble when none of the doctors and nurses would allow her to see her face, all bandaged up. Lucky for her, the attack had not affected her pregnancy but the doctors said she would have to spend the next five months in hospital to monitor her.

All through the attack, pain, the loss of her husband and subsequent hospitalisation, Joyce vowed to remain strong but an incident a few weeks later broke her heart.

Her heart remains broken to this day, Joyce says with tears in her eyes. When the neighbour who had taken in her two daughters after the attack finally brought the children, then five and three-year olds, to the hospital to visit their mother, they did not recognise her.

“They rejected me immediately and started crying. “You are not our mother,” they said. The younger one (Maryanne Chemutai) asked why I looked like an animal. To this day, my heart remains broken,” she says.

Five months later, Joyce gave birth to a healthy baby boy and named him Brian Kiplang’at. The five-year-old boy has to this day never understood why his mother does not look like all the other mothers in his village.

Joyce’s life after her release from the hospital would only get worse. When she returned to her husband’s home in Kuresoi where her husband’s remains had being interred, her in-laws were not looking forward to taking her in. “Go back to your home and we will come for you after a few weeks,” they told her.

That was never to be and when she next tried to go there, they chased her away. Joyce’s mother had passed on a few years earlier so with nowhere to go, she went to an IDP camp in Molo before she was transferred to another in Kericho.

“No one wanted me near them, when I would go to the Special Programmes office seeking compensation, they would look at me in horror before telling me to wait outside. I never got a penny,” she says.

She understands this reaction in people but wishes they were more sensitive. She recalls of an incident where she boarded a matatu in Kericho and everyone in that matatu alighted at the sight of her face.

Intervention from well-wishers in Kericho where she was living in an IDP camp saw an impromptu funds drive that raised some money which Joyce used to purchase the small piece of land in Londiani where she now lives with her youngest sister and aunt.

She needs these relatives, she says, because she can no longer perform even the simple task of cooking for her children. Fire terrifies her.

Joyce says that she has almost become accustomed to living in pain. Sometimes for days on end she cannot close her eyes and even though she has been told of a hospital in the United States of America which can perform plastic surgery on her face to ease her suffering, she cannot afford the Sh500,000 being asked. This money is not inclusive of traveling and accommodation expenses.

And despite all this suffering, the 33-year-old woman says she has forgiven her attackers. “I did not know who these young men were. If I meet them today, I probably wouldn’t recognise them but if this attack did one thing for me, it brought me closer to God and as a Christian, I know the right thing would be to forgive them. It took me close to two years to arrive at that decision but it is better than living with bitterness in my heart,” she says.

Joyce is now involved in peace caravan campaigns throughout Molo, Kuresoi, Kipkelion and Kericho areas. She also speaks to high school students and church groups on the need to maintain peace and was instrumental in peace campaigns before the March 4 elections.

“I tell them that I have seen first hand the ugliness that comes out of hate and incitement and that peace is precious and must be guarded jealously. I have moved high school boys to tears with my story and though I feel vulnerable at those moments, I am happy if something good can come out of my suffering,” she says.

However, the mother of three feels it is now time to get on with her life, but she cannot seem to do so however hard she tries due to the gravity of injuries and trauma suffered in the attack.

“If I can get the treatment I need, I would like to go back to living my life the best I know how – through doing small businesses, farming and raising my children,” she says.


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