Physical Boundaries and Consent
I've been in Kenya for 10 days now. It's been a totally different experience from the last time I was here. When I was in Kitale in 2012 I lived out at InStep Children's Home. This time I am staying in Kitale at a guest house and taking public transit out to InStep every day.
Every morning I walk into the heart of Kitale to get a taxi out to the small village of Sibanga. Then from Sibanga I take a pikki pikki (motorbike) to InStep and the same thing on my way home, except instead of walking home from Kitale I take another pikki pikki. It has been such a different experience being in town every day and interacting with the locals....an experience that I am not totally enjoying.
Every single day when I am in town, men yell at me “mzungu mzungu” (which essentially means “white person”) or, “baby,” “beautiful,” “I love you,”....the list goes on. And, yes, being yelled at is annoying but it really doesn't phase me. But what really tests my patience and limits is being grabbed and having my physical boundaries pushed almost every day.
Having my hand, arm, or shoulder grabbed is a typical occurrence, and it doesn't bother me that much because I don't feel threatened by it. But the other day, I was on a pikki at the end of the day, going from Kitale to Karibuni, and was nervous and creeped out for the first time on my trip.
My pikki driver and I were riding along, as per usual, when another pikki with a couple guys pulled up behind us and stayed right on our ass for quite a while. I could hear them laughing and talking and I assumed they were laughing and riding so close behind us to stare at my tattoo on my lower back. It is dry season here right now and the dust is insane so I pull the top collar of my t-shirt up a bit to cover my nose and it hikes up in the back, just enough to show a bit of my tattoo. My driver kept checking in his rear view mirror and when he got the chance he sped up quite a bit. The guys stayed on our ass the whole time, then my driver slowed down a bit and the pikki with the guys pulled up right beside us. Their pikki had three guys on it. They pulled up right along side us. We were still driving and the guy on the back of their pikki grabbed my low back. It felt like forever that his hand was there. I turned my head, looked at him, and just sat there stiff, and then the three guys sped away. After they drove away, my driver asked me if he tried to steal my bag and I said, "No, he just put his hand on my back." My driver shook his head and said, "bad guys." My nerves were a little fired up and I was creeped out but I made it home safe and sound. The next day when I got to InStep, I borrowed a pocket knife from Carla. I am spending a lot of time travelling alone in Kenya and it makes me feel a little safer because I know I can take care of myself if I need to.
Jump ahead two days and I am at the market buying some avocados and oranges. I am at this old mama's stand and she is helping me pick out some good avocados when this old beggar comes up and puts his hand in my face asking for money. I said no and went back to my avocados. He kept bugging me, saying “mzungu mzungu” and god knows what else in Swahili. Mama kept telling him to go away and to not bug her customers but he didn't listen. I just ignored him and bent over to pick up an orange. The next thing I knew his hand went right up my ass crack and grabbed my ass and vagina. I couldn't fucking believe it. I jumped up and yelled at him, "DO NOT TOUCH ME - GO AWAY!" Mama yelled at him again and he just laughed with a nasty, creepy dirty look on his face. I quickly gave mama money for my stuff and went to the first pikki I could find. He was following me over to the pikki and kept saying “mzungu.” I jumped on the motorbike and the driver just sat there, so I yelled him to get going. If that old man would of grabbed me again, I would have punched him in the fucking throat, I was so mad.
Being bombarded with rape culture daily is really exhausting. I've only been here 10 days and it feels like months. It is such a disrespectful, helpless, and disempowering feeling. I can't even imagine what it feels like for the girls who are actually being raped.
I don't want to paint the picture that all the men here are horrible rapists because that is not the case. Rape is just so much more prevalent and in your face here. You cannot ignore it. You can't stick your head in the sand, completely ignorant to the dark side of the world, like you can back home.
Whether it's having my personal boundaries completely ignored in town or when I am working with some of the babies out at InStep that have either been raped or are born from rape, it is an issue that needs to be brought into the light. It can no longer be ignored. And, yes, you read that correct - babies that have been raped and babies that are born from their mom's being raped.
"For every woman and girl violently attacked, we reduce our humanity. For every woman forced into unprotected sex because men demand this, we destroy dignity and pride. Every woman who has to sell her life for sex, we condemn to a lifetime in prison. For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women. For every woman infected by HIV, we destroy a generation."—Nelson Mandela