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I watched my husband die, had my face burned during post-election violence

TURNING POINT
By Jael Musumba | December 5th 2021

JOYCE CHEPKEMOI watched as her husband got killed in the 2007/08 post-election chaos in an incident that left her face disfigured. She tells JAEL MUSUMBA how she escaped death twice:

 

How did you find yourself in a morgue?

In 2007, before the elections, I was very sound and healthy. I had a family of two daughters and a husband, and I was eight months pregnant. Immediately after the announcement of the presidential election results, the mood changed across the country. People became inhuman and turned against each other. Armed men attacked us at our home in Molo at 11am.

When they got in, it was just me with my husband at home. My two daughters had gone to play in a neighbouring home. At first, we thought they were job seekers who were in search of casual jobs but when we inquired from them, we were shocked to learn that they were enemies who had come to finish us.

What did they say?

When I asked them what they were looking for, they boldly responded that they were there to kill us. Before I could make any further inquiry, one of them removed a machete and chopped off my right-hand fingers. My husband also got cornered by the other two attackers, who chopped off his fingers one by one, then manhood and finally slit his throat as I watched. Writhing in pain, he fell down and died on the spot.

At that point, I knew it was the end of me. So, to save my daughters I screamed to alert the neighbours to run for their safety. Outside, I had a flaming jiko that was boiling githeri. They removed the boiling pot from the fire and pushed my face into the flame. At the same time, the other person who had killed my husband started stabbing me on the side of the abdomen. He then stabbed me twice in the neck and I passed out. 

Did you later gain consciousness?

No, I didn’t. I had lost a lot of blood. That evening, Molo area lost a lot of people, and a vehicle from Molo Hospital was dispatched to collect all the bodies and drop them at the morgue. That’s how I found myself lying amongst the dead for three good days.

How did you react when you woke up?

When I gained consciousness, at first, I thought I was in a maize store, but when I looked around, I realised I was naked and lying among people who were not moving. That’s when it hit me that I was in the mortuary. Shocked and scared, I shouted for help.

What was the reaction of the morgue attendant when they learnt that you were alive?

Instead of helping me, one of them exclaimed to his colleague that, “I heard you saying that today we have a good number of customers, come and see one of them has woken up.” The other guy upon seeing me moving took a piece of metal and tried to silence me up. Fortunately, however, I gained courage and slithered through his legs and that’s how I managed to cheat my second death.

What followed next? I was rescued by some doctors who were standing outside the hospital. They were also hesitant at first but after confirming that I was really not dead, one of them rushed in, wrapped me with a bedsheet, then I got admitted to St Joseph’s Hospital.

You mentioned being expectant, did the baby survive? Miraculously, he did and I had a normal birth of a bouncing baby boy whom I named Immanuel.

How long did you stay in the hospital and did you find your other kids?

It took me more than four months before I gained my full senses. That’s when I remembered that I had two more children, though it took almost a year before I was discharged from hospital. I informed the doctors who were attending to me and the kids were traced. They were being housed by my neighbours.

Did they visit you at the hospital?

They did but when they saw me, they painfully rejected me, describing me as a monkey. They then lived with my neighbour for three years before they eventually agreed to return home.

How was your healing journey?

It was traumatic. Nobody wanted to associate with me. Both friend and family abandoned me. My kids were another avenue for torture; despite agreeing to stay with me, I didn’t share meals or utensils with them. They even refused to sleep with me on the same bed. When I went to stay with my father after my mother-in-law rejected me, my father went insane when he saw me, and he has never recovered.

How did you cope up with all this?

I prayed as I remained hopeful. I knew one day, things will work out and slowly by slowly my kids started accepting me, neighbours also started getting used to my physique. In no time, I went back to my normal life, though financially it wasn’t normal but I thank God for the far he has brought me.

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