Judy Waguma of African Woman and Child Feature Service went into some of the roughest and poorest areas of Kibera last week. She brought back this story of a woman who was shot by a stray bullet during the post-election violence.
Shattered by a bullet
The road leading to Mashimoni village in Kibera is long and rough. Sewers stream like small rivers under handmade wooden bridges.
Pamela Aoko Ndhiwa has lived here for the last three years. She seems oblivious to the the sewage just inches from her plastic sandals as she crosses the small bridges leading to her house.
Ndhiwa walks slowly along the winding route home. She passes dark bars where, at mid-morning, men are deep in discussion over a local brew called busaa. Children are playing in the footpaths. Women are washing clothes, cleaning houses and plaiting one another’s hair.
Ndhiwa does not talk much. Her hands are shoved into the pockets of her grey sweater. Every few meters, she stops to catch her breath.
Her home is one of several mud houses facing each other across a hard-packed footpath.
Ndhiwa and her three children live in this single-room mud house. There is one bed, three stools and a small area for cooking.
Ndhiwa has been married and separated. Two of the children she is raising are her own. The third was orphaned when Ndhiwa’s brother died.
Ndhiwa says all three of her siblings have died. She says she does not know whether they died of HIV/AIDS or its related infections. At the age of 21, she is the only person left to take care of her family.
“Despite everything, I have managed to look after my children and family well and take the kids to school,” she says.
Ndhiwa was born and raised in Homabay. She says, when she was a child she wanted to be a nurse but dropped out of school in standard eight. Her parents could not afford to pay her secondary fee education.
“I met my husband almost at the same time I dropped out of school. We then got married and he brought me to leave with him in Nairobi where he worked as a mechanic,” she says.
She conceived her last child after being married for two years. Ndhiwa says after her youngest child was born, both she and the baby got sick.
“My baby would get sick frequently, but I brushed it off as a common ailment for babies and that she we will get better” says Ndhiwa.
She says that her husband was involved with a woman whose health she questioned. When Ndhiwa’s illness persisted, she decided to get testes for HIV/AIDS.
“The results came positive,” she says. “I could not believe it. I went home and pretended that things were fine. My CD4 count was 200 at the time.”
That count measures immune system activity. A low CD4 count indicates a depressed immune system. Ndhiwa says she ignored the test results until her health worsened. Then she went back to Medecins Sans Frontiers, a medical aid agency in Kibera, where her HIV-positive status was again confirmed.
“My CD4 count had then dropped to 90 and they had to put me on [anti retroviral drugs],” she says.
After counseling and nutrition training from Medecins Sans Frontiers she says was able to come to terms with her status. She resolved to try to live a long and healthy life so that she could care for her children.
During this time, she says her husband disappeared. She has not seen or heard from him since.
In her determination to make things work, Ndhiwa started a small shop where she sells various drugs. She also sells fingerlings on the side to support her family. She says business was doing well until the post-election violence erupted. Her small shop was looted and claimed by rowdy youths in Kibera.
Facing the loss of her livelihood, Ndhiwa’s life was endangered on the 31st of January, when a stray bullet hit her left breast.
“I must admit that God loves me, because the bullet missed hitting my baby’s head by a whisker as I was holding her in my arms,” she says.
At around 8 o’clock in the morning, she says, “I was seated in the house holding my baby in the arms thinking of what I would do for the children this new year.”
Ndhiwa could hear fighting and gunshots outside her house. She was cuddling the one-year old baby when suddenly she felt something hit her hard. The next thing she remembers she was lying on the floor.
“I had no clue what it was. But I saw blood oozing out of my chest. I got more frightened when I heard people rushing to my house and making a lot of noise. On seeing me lying on the floor they started screaming that I had been shot.”
Ndhiwa says she lay on her floor for close to 30 minutes. Her neighbors called for police to take her to the hospital.
Ndhiwa was taken to the Kenyatta hospital, in Nairobi.
She says that when they got to Kenyatta hospital at around 9 in the morning, she waited for hours in the casualty department before being attended to.
“I was in so much pain. I sat there from 9 in the morning to midnight, when a nurse sympathized with me and took me to the ward.”
For three days, Ndhiwa stayed at the hospital without treatment.
“No doctors were attending to me,” she says.
She says that there was serious discrimination in the hospital because she is Luo.
“I could hear some nurses saying that I was shot when I had gone to collect stones for my husband,” she says.
Lady Luck shone on Ndhiwa when a doctor sympathized with her and looked at her case.
“He wondered why I still had the bullet lodged in my body,” she says.
There were many patients at the hospital, Ndhiwa says. Hse was told that she could not go to an operating theatre since it was busy. The doctor took her to a different ward and covered her eyes with a piece of cloth. He gave her an injection and removed the bullet without general anesthetic.
Tears roll down her cheeks as Ndhiwa remembers the surgery. During the procedure she removed the cloth from her eyes. She winces as she talks about the agony she went through.
“I was in so much pain. It was unbearable, I could not even scream,” she says. “I cried slowly, biting hard on my lips. He gave me more injections several times and continued to remove the bullet until it was fully out. All this time I could see everything he was doing.”
The bullet was successfully removed. The hospital bill was ksh 6035. Ndhiwa says she could not afford to pay since she had lost her business.
Ndhiwa and the doctors agreed that she would pay ksh 500 until her debt is paid off. But still, she has not fully recovered from the wound and the surgery.
“My health is not good. Now with the bullet wound, I cannot work as hard as I used to. I get weak all the time.”
From being strong and hard working woman, Ndhiwa I snow forced to beg for food. She is relying on her neighbors to take care of her children.
Despite her struggles, Ndhiwa considers it a blessings to be alive. She knows she could easily have become one of the 1000 or more Kenyans who have been killed since Kenya's disputed presidential election. -Judy Waguma