I recently met Stella on Facebook….it’s normal for Kenyans to meet people that way! Stella is a beautiful, positive and very helpful person who I bonded with.
She has an amazing sweet spirit which I love. We have even had Skype Sessions where she has taught me a thing or two on the technical front and we talk almost daily now.
I don’t know how the idea to interview her came about but when I read her answers I was shocked and so saddened. She is a strong woman and has overcome so much. She wanted to share her story in the hopes it would help another woman in a similar position somewhere.
- Give me a brief history of where you are from in Kenya, where u went to school and so on?
I grew up in Langata; a suburb in Nairobi, Kenya. I completed primary school at Langata West Primary School. Both my parents were bankers. My father worked at Grindlays Bank now known as CFC Stanbic Bank and my mother worked at the Kenya Central Bank. I had a normal middle class upbringing. I went to high school at a Catholic boarding school in Kiambu called St. Anne’s Lioki Secondary School.
- How and where did you meet your first husband?
After high school, my parents did not want us sitting around waiting to see which universities we would be joining. (Stella has a twin sister) so I decided to do what I like doing best which was hairdressing at Unity School of Hairdressing in Buruburu; which was against my parents will since they would have preferred I do what everyone else was doing, computer lessons, foreign languages etc in preparation for university.
In 1999, my sister and I were accepted at a university in Pennsylvania called Edinboro University. That is how we ended up going to the U.S. But like most Kenyan students who were sent abroad back then, we had to find a way to pay our own tuition fees, which meant working two jobs and going to school. I quickly got tired of that life since it never seemed like I was achieving much academically or saving money.
Towards the end of my stay in the U.S I discovered internet dating and that is how I met my first husband. I had talked with a few men online and learnt a lot about internet dating. I always say, as much as most people have a phobia for internet dating, it’s not really much different from sitting at a bar and chatting with a man, except with internet dating there’s no alcohol involved and you get to know each other more before you finally meet.
We planned to met in Kenya because I left the USA in June 2003. He came to visit me in Kenya in September 2003 for three weeks.
- When did the violence begin?
At first, everything was nice and dandy in the relationship and I even visited him and his family in The Netherlands from Dec, 2003 to March, 2004.
He had two sisters and both parents and my first impression of all of them was that they were dysfunctional but his father seemed to be a good and decent man.
I finally moved to live in the Netherlands in the summer of 2004 but this was not a permanent move. My ex and I had plans to relocate to Kenya and I was happy about it because I never seemed to feel at home in the Netherlands. But he had a lot going on; so moving was not going to happen overnight. In the process of living in the Netherlands we got our first daughter (Julia) in the summer of 2005 and later moved to live in Kenya in 2007. When we moved to Kenya we opened 2 businesses in the ICT sector and had offices in a building called Vision Plaza on Mombasa Road, Nairobi.
Before we moved to Kenya, I noticed how violent he got when he got angry but I paid no attention to that. I thought it was normal in relationships for people to have misunderstandings, but he would scare me when he got angry.
One time he pinned me to the floor and I honestly don’t remember why.
I remember that I packed my bags and threatened to leave but of course I did not. What would my family back home say? They know you moved to Europe and started a new life with this man that would later be your husband, so how do you pack your bags and start going back home? So I stayed.
The obvious signs came to the surface in Kenya when he started seeing other Kenyan ladies on the side. The first real beating happened when I was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter Isabelle after I found some text messages between him and a girl working in the office. Things escalated to me being strangled outside our apartment in the hallway.
The worst beating was over a year later in 2009 when he beat me up in public at Hurlingham, Nairobi in front of people. Yes, the beatings had now moved from the house to open public places.
- What did your family say or do about the violence
I did not tell my family about what was going on for a very, very long time. I acted as if everything was fine to all outsiders. However I could not lie to my neighbors’ who heard everything at night. I turned to alcohol to soothe the pain I felt inside, trying to understand how a man can turn to be the biggest enemy you know.
My family finally found out when I was beaten up in public at our offices in Vision Plaza Mombasa Road in the parking basement. He beat me up and drove off the scene although a mob tried to stop him but he got away. After the incident, I called and told my parents.
Finally, it was no longer a secret. In the beginning you think your family will understand and I genuinely believe that some members of the family felt my pain. But it shocked and hurt me when my mother continued talking and listening to him and not taking my side.
I think in the process she believed a lot of the lies he was feeding her. And funny enough, while most family members washed their hands off this man, my mother used to ask about him and was actually meeting with him behind my back. Out of love for her daughter? Out of just being naïve? I am not sure, all I know is we all asked her to stop meeting with him, but she never did.
- Who are the people you turned to for help?
Actually, I never turned to anyone for help. I had some good neighbors’ who used to come and see me daily to make sure I was eating properly. They even warned my ex never to hit me in that compound or they would evict him. That’s why he started beating me up in public places.
For that I will always have a strong bond with my neighbors’ at the time who lived at the Millenium Gardens Apartments’ in Valley Arcade, Nairobi. I believe God put them there for me for a reason; we cried and laughed a lot together.
The only other assistance I got was physical care given to me at the Nairobi Womens Hospital after the major beating in Hurlingham. Since it was a domestic violence situation they sent me to see a psychologist who helped me understand a lot of what was going on. To be honest the decision to leave my ex started during the conversations I had with the psychologist.
Please tune in tomorrow to read part 2 of this interview…..cue suspence music. How does it all end?