I toiled in Saudi Arabia only for my husband to use my savings to get new wife – Chepkemei

Mercy Chepkemei speaks at her rented house in Kuinet centre, MoibenUasin Gishu County. March 16, 2022. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Off a dusty road in Kuinet, Uasin Gishu County, sits a rental house where a visibly distressed Ms Mercy Chepkemei has called home for the past two months.

Ms Chepkemei travelled to Saudi Arabia in October 2019 where she worked for nearly two years and sent all her earnings to her family back in Maili Nne, Eldoret town, but got a rude shock when she returned in July last year.

The over Sh600,000 she sent home didn’t build a house, start a business or even pay school fees for her children. Chepkemi claims her husband of 25 years, Hosea Maru, used the money to pay dowry for his second wife.

“To my utter shock, I returned to find money and four sheep that I inherited from my parents had been used to pay dowry for another woman, who is now a co-wife. I toiled for a better life only to return to even more misery,” she said.

Before she made the decision to travel to Saudi Arabia, her family was in a financial crisis. One of her daughters, she says, was in form three and her son was studying at a private university in Nairobi. Thus, when the opportunity to fly to Saudi Arabia for a casual job came, she took it with open arms.

Aboard a plane to Saudi Arabia, she knew too well the risk of travelling to the Gulf to work as a domestic worker. However, she opted to try her luck and resolved to endure hardship in a foreign land to uplift her family’s economic status in the hope that she would enjoy life in her 40s. 

In Saudi Arabia, she worked for three different families after running away from what she describes as harsh working conditions and earned between Sh25,000 and 40,000 a month to help her husband pay school fees and support him in building a decent house in Maili Nne.

Sh5,000 was to be kept in a fixed account to help her venture into agribusiness and pay school fees for her daughter, who was preparing to join Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC).

“I regret going to Saudi Arabia. My life is worse than in 2019. I returned to find a co-wife and my money was gone. I hope to get justice,” narrated a distressed Chepkemei who produced Western Union Money transfer documents to prove she transferred money to her husband.

Mercy Chepkemei at her rented house in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

She says she suffered frequent beatings at the hands of an abusive employer in Saudi Arabia, who she claims broke one of her toes.

“I would sleep on the floor and with long working hours. Fatigue was devastating. I thank God because I had a good agent who organized my transfer from one employer to another,” she added.

While working for the third employer, she says, she got a salary increase after taking good care of an elderly woman.

“But I could not enjoy the good salary for long after I got poisoned. My stomach started swelling. Someone would think I was expecting a baby. I was later thrown out, and a well-wisher rushed me to hospital. In the hospital, I was told I had contracted Covid-19, and I was isolated,” she explains.

About a week ago, eight months after her return to Kenya, and after finding that no house had been built, she says, she asked her husband for a bank statement for the fixed account but discovered there was no money.

“I don’t know that I was in for another rude shock. He said he would give me the money after recovering from a Covid-19 jab and requested for two days. After two days, he came home, confused. I asked him for a bank statement, but he started looking for it inside books that were shelved in 1996,” she said.

She added, “I watched in disbelief as he scattered the books on the floor, searching for a non-existent bank statement.”

She says after speaking to her paternal uncle, she decided to relocate and start a new life with her children, but she still feels distraught.

Chepkemei claimed before heading to Saudi Arabia, she had sold a two-acre piece of land she had inherited from her parents to start a family business that would be run by the mother of four and her husband.

Mercy Chepkemei and Hoseah Maru's certificate of marriage. [[Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

When contacted, Maru did not refute the claims, but said the money his wife sent while working in Saudi Arabia was utilized in providing needs for the children.

“I have taken care of them (the wife and the children) for 25 years. My wife went to Saudi Arabia for less than two years. If we quantify what she sent for the period she was in Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis what I have provided for 25 years, can it even be comparable?” Maru posed.

Maru, however, dismissed the claims of using his wife’s income to pay dowry for a second wife as rumours, but noted that he was free to remarry after his separation from Chepkemei.

He added that Chepkemei was, also, free to move on with her life as he begins his own, afresh.

“Elders met and allowed us to separate. I am not old. I can still marry and have children. My children are free to visit me any time they feel like,” Maru said.