Forget the good-old gatherings where women congregated to discuss money matters. There are some that are destructive and toxic to relationships. MAUREEN AKINYI explores them
There was a time when men used to complain that their women were so attached to the church, it was like their next home. The women pledged more allegiance to the pastor than to the man of the house.
If you missed her in her house, she was bound to be in church. Not anymore. With changing times, widening democratic space and increased opportunities, the woman has found a new hideout — chama.
Nowadays, come Saturday afternoon, many women are likely to be found — not in the house, nor church or in the market — but in a chama somewhere with fellow like-minded women discussing everything ranging from money, their children …. you guessed right… husbands and boyfriends.
Chamas have become such a force to reckon with that for some, their lives revolve around these influential groups. While some wield positive influence, others are ruining stable relationships.
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Forget the life-changing investment chamas, which have seen women amass insurmountable wealth and inspired banks to establish chama accounts, buy plots from Kitengela to Kitale and start businesses.
Our interest is in those small-minded chamas whose agenda is wild partying, muchene (gossip), brainwashing each other, competition forces and guises for illicit affairs. These are the chamas comprising women with a negative agenda.
The brainwashing chamas have the final word on how the members run their lives.
Picture scenario one: John has a major fight with his wife Jane on a Monday and she goes silent on him for a whole week. Come Saturday afternoon, Jane is attending the usual chama meeting and updates the group on what transpired in her house.
"How could he do that to you, he must pay for it," roars the chairlady.
"Yes we must teach that man a lesson. He cannot do that to a woman," offers another member.
The universal solution? "No sex until he buys you a new Vitz. The one you have is too old."
And as a faithful member, Jane goes home and implements what she was told to the letter. It’s sex desert in the house.
The man tries to reach out to his wife to resolve the conflict in vain. He has no idea there’s a third party in the conflict. The woman cannot agree on anything the man says until she consults the chama.
Picture scenario two: Susan’s husband wants them to buy a plot in Kitengela because they are more affordable. But Susan has other ideas thanks to a brainwashing session she got from her chama members the previous weekend.
Listen to the chama’s deliberations: "Ati he wants you to settle in Kitengela with all that dust. Will he afford to take you to the salon every week? Tell him to get a plot in Kitisuru or Runda. If he can’t afford it, tell him to take a mortgage."
Plots in such posh areas are damn expensive and Susan knows they cannot afford it, so she sticks with the second idea floated by her chama and forces it down her hubby’s throat.
"I can’t live in Kitengela, so it’s a mortgage or we continue paying rent," she tells her husband with finality.
To add on to the errant list, there are some chamas that are used as a scapegoat for women to run their sexual escapades.
"A woman who is having an affair may use the chama to fool her husband or boyfriend. She will lie to her man that she has gone for a chama yet she is cheating behind his back," explains Rahab Wangui, a relationship expert.
While most chamas prefer to congregate in the women’s houses, there are some that meet in pubs.
"I think the home or a restaurant is a more conducive environment to discuss development issues as opposed to a pub, which is noisy and has distractions. For those who meet in pubs, it’s mostly a good excuse to go drinking. You just lie to your hubby that you are going for the chama. For those who meet in pubs, it’s normally a drinking galore," Rahab cautions.
There are some liberalised chamas that which offer the enlightened members — mostly the unhappily married or engaged — opportunities to flirt and have some fun with available men. And this is how powerful and influential these chamas are.
The brainwashing chamas are the invisible force that control major decision-making in some homes.
According to University of Nairobi’s Conflict Management lecturer Ochieng’ Kamudhiye, indeed some chamas are the powerful invisible actors in some conflicts in relationships.
"In a conflict, the man and the woman are the visible actors, but some chamas members are the invisible actor, who fuel a conflict from behind the scenes. For such a conflict to be resolved, the invisible actors must be involved in the conflict resolution," he explains.
Millicent Omukaga marriage counsellor and author of The Secret of a Tight Knot, agrees that there are some chamas that have a negative impact on women’s lives.
"I don’t encourage women to discuss their husbands or major family decisions in chamas. If this must happen, then the discussion should be building not injuring a relationship or marriage," says the counsellor.
Millicent says women should belong to progressive chamas with a strategic direction and your partner should know what you are doing. "I am in a progressive chama where we meet to catch up on each other’s lives and inspire one another to greatness. We also discuss important things like investments."
Now that chamas are slowly becoming a central part of women’s lives, as a man, it helps to have an idea about the chama especially if your partner is a member of one.
Here is a smart way to establish whether she is in a genuinely focused chama or a damaging one:
The type of chama
Most men have no idea what kind of a chama their wife or girlfriend is in.
She may be fooling you that she is in a development chama yet she is in a group where you are the constant subject of debate. So it is always wise to ask her what kind of chama she is in. Is it based on family, investment, bonding or just muchene (gossip)?
Do not just assume that she is meeting at a member’s house. She may have told you she is at Angela’s house, yet she is drinking herself silly at a local in Kitengela. It is always smart to offer once in a while to drop her off at the venue of the meeting.
‘Meet the members tour’
Do you know her chama members? Once in a while when you drop her at the venue, you can walk in and get acquainted with them. After that, leave immediately lest your presence causes unease. If she has nothing to hide, she will allow you to meet the members when you drop her at the venue of the meeting.