It was International Women’s Day on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, I spent the better part of the hot, dusty morning in the company of almost forty women. The location was a bare patch of ground overlooking the infamous Mathare Valley, where the lines between what is legal and illegal are blurred. Where indoor sanitation is a luxury that most people know from the movies; too many of the children being brought up here will ridicule you if you told them you lived in a house which had not one, but three toilets indoors. You would be hard pressed to explain why you needed so many!
I was taken for a guided tour by a coordinator and was shocked by the scale of business and how they are so closely related. There are those pulling Mukokotenis (handcarts) bringing in pieces of timber to sell. The buyer chops them up and sells them to those brewing chang’aa in the actual valley. It is explained to me that the yellow containers of water form a conveyer belt, endlessly supplying those turning water into cheap, potent liquor. As we get closer, my guide asks me not to stare but I cannot control myself. I stop in mid stride as I notice one soot covered drum after another, as far as the eye can see, up and down the river on either side. Each drum is attached to pipes drawing murky, pitch black liquid from the river; forming part of a rudimentary heat exchange mechanism to assist in the distillation process. The police post is perched up on the hill and one cannot help but imagine the constables looking down at their minions, discussing modalities of collecting ‘taxes’ over a couple of bottled beers.
But I digress. We went to Mathare on Wednesday to train women on something very important- self defense. On this day our role was to give a few tips to the defenseless, in the hope that one of them might one day remember how to extricate themselves from a certain hold, or pick an item from the ground and turn it into a weapon, or view that vulnerable part of the male anatomy as the ticket out of a bad situation. I give it up to these women, living with the daily risk of getting raped while going to the toilets or being forced to hold it in all night. Hearing them talk openly about what they go through made me a tad, okay not a tad- very, embarrassed to be a man. I could see the faces of my daughters, my wife, my sister and my mother as I looked and listened.
I applaud these women. I applaud their courage. I applaud their resilience and their never say die spirit. These are not just women of substance but of unmatched character.
Makofi Jameni Makofi!