By Mukurima X Muriuki, Los Angeles.
“My name is Gilphine Muchinyi. The journey of my life begun in 1996. This was the year that my husband lost his job. He was working as an engineer with the Nairobi City Council. My husband was a very hardworking man. Being the fourth born in a family of 9, his determination and perseverance had eventually elevated him to the role of sole bread-winner for the family.
Unfortunately, my husband lost his job as a result of an investigation that was going on at the City Council. He became implicated in a fraud scandal and while he was innocent, the investigations required that he take an administrative leave. As a result, he was on half pay. By good luck, this did not inconvenience us as much, in the short term, as I was working as a Registered Nurse (RN) at the Nairobi Hospital. Besides, life can throw you a curve ball! The vows that we had made on our wedding day meant we would be strong for each other in times of sickness, in times of health, in times of much, and in times of less!
Eventually, my earnings could not cope with the demands of our family expenditure. We had such a huge responsibility granted that we had to pay schools fees for our children: 2 of our children were at St. Mary’s and another was studying at Loreto. My husband also had a son from a previous relationship and we were raising him together.
Our financial situation was not helped by the fact that we were still servicing a loan of Ksh 14 million sourced from a local bank, with which we had bought and developed a plot at Tasia. We were also servicing another loan of KS 2 million with HFCK. The extended family was relying on us for financial support, you know how it is with relatives! I do not have to mention that our sugarcane farming in Mumias was not doing well. Within six months, the situation was exacerbated by the fact the City Council froze my husband’s salary.
We had to think of a way to salvage the situation. I shared our predicament with my cousins in America and one of them floated the idea of me trying the American job market. She noted that with my Registered Nurse credentials, I could do very well there and make extra income to help mitigate the financial conundrum our family was facing. In 1997, I decided to give this idea a shot. My husband and I talked about this, examined the pros and the cons and eventually, we agreed it was a risk worth taking.
I was on my way to America, on a student Visa.
In America, a friend took me in and after a week or so, I started working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). I did this job for 6 months. I was working my butt (sic) off and every dime i was making, I would send back home. It was enough to help us pay off the loans. With my husband engaging the City Council in a legal battle, he needed a good lawyer and and I provided the money to pay this legal fees. With what I was making, I could also be in a position to take care of our kids as well as meet the needs and demands of the extended family.
After 6 months working as a CNA, and granted that I was a trained and experienced RN in Kenya, I decided to challenge the RN equivalent in America. This requires that one has to sit for a tough examination. Getting certified as a RN was the best avenue that I had to making a decent living in America and helping my family back home. This is a tough and taxing examination and people who have gone through this will attest to how exhausting it is. I bought a few text books to prepare myself for the test, but I did not have the time to study.
I told myself that I would use all the knowledge and experience I had acquired from my job and education in Kenya and make an attempt at the exam. Besides, I convinced myself that should I fail, I would use the failure as the motivation and incentive for the next attempt. But God was on my side. I passed the examination, and was certified as a RN. With the RN license, I was in a position to petition for a Green Card based on my skills and work. I roped in the services of a lawyer to process my application, and he advised me that I could also include my family in the petition so that they could join me later on! Yay! All was looking good and the future could only be brighter-or so I thought.
Meanwhile, back in Kenya, my husband tried to get a visa twice, in order to visit me but his attempts were futile. It would get more demoralizing. When I made the Green Card application, I had also applied for a ‘Parole,’ which is a document that allows one to travel without restrictions while waiting for the Green Card. However, since I had overstayed the period provided for by the student visa, I could not travel! Finally, in 2002, my Green Card went through. I was excited because now I could go visit my family back home. May I note that in 1999, I had managed to bring my step-son to America after his forth form, and took him to college here! He is married now.
Suffice to say, I had missed my husband. He was the rock of my heart. I remember looking in his eyes the first time we met and I dare say it was love at first sight. We had been married in 1982 and lived a happy life. It looked like the righteous winds were blowing on the direction of our family, because a year before I got my Green Card, my husband won his case against the City Council and got his job back.
With the money I was making as a RN, I managed to finance the purchase of one hectare of land in Karen. You see, working as a RN in America, you can easily make very good money. In the year 2001, we begun construction of a house on this piece of land. I had a mortgage for a house I had bought in Palmdale, California and I refinanced the mortgage and used the money thereof, to finance the construction of this house. I also withdrew my savings from my 401K insurance plan and this went into the construction of the Karen house. In addition, I also financed the purchase of plots in Kitengela and Athi River. When I visited my mother -in law in 2001, she had specifically asked me to move her from Busia to Mumias. This is another project I financed, after agreeing with my husband on the proposal. I built her a house in Mumias.
So far, things looked okay. However, I would soon be caught by surprise. In 2005, when I visited Kenya, I was met by some good news and bad news. The good news was that the Karen home was now complete. The bad news was that things looked fuzzy. You see, on previous occasions when I went home, my husband and I would spend time together and do things as a couple would. But this time round, he seemed elusive, not wanting to spend moments with me or sparing time so that we could work on our projects together. My spirit was telling me soldier on, but my gut was telling me all was not well. If this was the whisper, I was in for the scream later on.
Part of what we had planned for that year included relocating to America. It seemed though, my husband was started to elude this idea, yet we had all along agreed to it. I begun to sense that there was something amiss. Call me smitten, but I would justify his behavior with every flimsy excuse; ‘maybe he is tired, maybe he is stressed, maybe he is afraid of flying, maybe this, maybe that….” In fact, I remember him telling me he could not travel at that time to America because he was supposed to go to Israel on a work-related trip. He suggested he come at a later date with the children. I agreed. I however, would be surprised a few months later to see his brother bring the children! He did not inform me of the change of plan. Was this the sign I needed?
In December 2006 when i visited home, I found out that my husband had moved in with new woman in our Tasia matrimonial home. At first I was shocked, lost for words. I felt betrayed. I composed myself and decided to be as calm as I could. I was very close to my mother in law, and when I informed her about what I had discovered, her advice was that when men begin doing ‘such things,’ they do not change. I listened to her. I decided to accept the reality and move on. But what i found obnoxious was the fact that he was going against the very Luhya culture that he swore by. According to Luhya customs, a man cannot take another woman to the room or the house of the first wife. I informed her mom, uncles and wazees about this cultural misstep my husband was undertaking. They all talked to him and he listened. He moved to South C, but I think he became bitter that I had reported him. He reacted by filing for divorce, which I never signed.
I could not stay in Nairobi for long. I had to move back to America because of work and other commitments. I left my husband with the message that if he decides to join me in Diaspora, he was welcome at any time. He however, chose to stay in Nairobi. I did not have a problem with that. As long as the children were okay, I had my inner peace. The fact that I was not over-reacting seemed to anger my husband. I had decided that I would not try to antagonize his life and his choices.
As Dr. King would say, the world rolls on the wheels of inevitability. My husband passed away in 2011. That in itself, marked the beginning of battles I never expected I would fight. When my husband passed on, my brother in-law concocted a ‘will’ which purported that my husband had done a division of property, and which against all odds, bequeathed everything to him. At that point, I got a lawyer in order to straighten things up.
I thought this case would be easy. I had all the evidence to back the fact that this was my husband, and that it was my money that had bought the property that my brother in-law was claiming. When sending money back home to finance all these projects, I would make bank-to-bank transfers, meaning I would retain a trail of everything single cent I had sent home.
What is strange though is that since the case begun in 2011, my opponents keep postponing the case for their own reasons. I am facing off with 2 lawyers, one for the will and another one representing the girlfriend. I am surprised that the two lawyers were able to get a court consent that bars me from going anywhere near the Karen property. How could that happen yet I am the one who bought this land and even built the house, why was the consent given an okay n my absence, without hearing my side of the story?
The surprises do not end there. In 2011, when the first hearing of the case came up, I had to fly from California to Nairobi. However, at the eleventh hour, girlfriend’s lawyer informed the parties that his father had passed on. This I could understand because death has no manners; It can happen to anyone, at any time. After 3 months, another date for the hearing was set. I traveled from California to Nairobi, again. This time, the lawyer for the Will said he was not feeling well. The hearing was postponed.
The following year, in 2012, my lawyer called me and told me that a date for the hearing had been set. Again, I traveled from California to Nairobi. On this occasion, the court said that it could only cater for 4 cases. Our case was not among the 4 that were heard that day. This time, it was the court postponing my day in court.
After 3 months, another date for the hearing was set. Again, I boarded a plane from California to Nairobi. When we got to the court, my opponent had an excuse that saw the postponement of the hearing. This has been the pattern. It is either the court or the lawyers postponing the hearing. In total, each year, since 2011, I have made 3 trips each year, ostensibly for the hearing, which is postponed at the eleventh hour, without prior warning or notice. We are talking about a distance of 10,000 miles from Los Angeles to Nairobi. Three times a year, that’s around 60,000 miles in total. I am also the one paying for these flights. In a sense I feel like a woman who is being fought by so many forces. I have made over 15 trips to Kenya since 2011, just for this case, just to get a hearing, which has never materialized.
All this has taken toll on me. I had to resign from my position at work as I could not cope with the demands of work, made worse by the disappointments and frustrations of the court process, including the futile travels. At this point in time it looks like all the investments I made back home will never mean anything to me. I now understand why some Kenyans in Diaspora are not keen on investing in the motherland and would rather put all their resources here in America or in their current country of residence. I worked hard when I could. I never knew it would come to this. I cry every day and every night hoping that all would end well for me. Even though I am a Christian and I know the power of prayer, sometimes I do not have the energy, the will and the desire to keep pushing. It is all energy consuming.
I do not receive any single cent from my property’s rental income. What motivation would a person have to invest back home? I thought I could use this income to put my kids through college. 2 of my children are in medical school here in America, while another one is in college. They do not work because of the enormity of school work, and as a result I have to foot their bills. I also have to service the mortgage that I had refinanced in order to get money to invest back home.
In as much it is disappointing, I must admit that some of my in-laws have been very supportive. My mother in law was very distressed with this issue to the extent she called my husband’s cousin, engaged a lawyer and drafted an affidavit on my behalf to correct any lies and innuendos that may have been fronted by my husband’s girlfriend. But she is no longer with us. She passed on in 2011 and always yearned for fairness. Her prayer was that one day I will get justice. I am not bitter with my in-laws. The exception has been my two brothers-in law who have decided to fight a woman, a powerless woman. I took care of 14 siblings from my husband’s side, lived with over 10 of them and employed 6 including the one fighting me.
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