Monday, June 21, 2004

Speaking With My Three Sisters About Abortion

This piece is not just about abortion. It is also a celebration of all the women, Kenyan and non-Kenyan, who have touched my life in very significant ways.

I literally grew up among a multitude of women.

My paternal grandmother, Doris Awiti, was one of the most energetic, assertive and opinionated free spirits I have ever encountered. She was part of my life until the day she died on Thursday, November 27, 1996- a day after my dad's own demise.

My maternal grandmother, Trufena Wandolo, with her infectious sense of humour, was a generous woman who loved her dozens of grandkids equally. When I remember her unique chicken dishes, my mouth waters with nostalgia.

My own mother, Jennifer Siare, was a hard working, kind, morally upright, bold and courageous protector who did not think twice about digging her own pit latrine, all by herslf, because of her fierce sense of independence and self-reliance. She was such a treasure of good cheer, optimism and sincerity right up to the day she died on December 9, 1980 from breast cancer.

She was born with three sisters from the same mother and about four other half sisters from her father's junior wife(a rambunctious friendly soul who was the very anti-thesis of the mythical evil step mother-she never lost her heavy Luhyia accent from her Mumias origins).

My father had four sisters. Three of them were teachers, including Auntie Alice who was my very first teacher in the mid sixties at a nursery school in southern Nairobi.

I cannot even count the number of female cousins, nieces, in-laws and other relatives from all sides of my family who are scattered all over Africa, Europe and North America.

I went to co-ed (called "mixed schools" in Kenya) educational institutions from kindergarten to university and therefore had girls and young women as my best friends, academic rivals, girlfriends and study partners. And when I joined the world of employment, I have of course counted women as co-workers, supervisors, clients and customers.

Ever since I entered the world of romance over a quarter of a century ago, (yes: I am not forgetting my puppy love, especially my puppy love where I got my very first kiss!) my life has also been enrichened by girlfriends, lovers and more than one long term, live in companion.

Many of my most enduring political mentors and comrades are militant and progressive sisters like Micere Mugo, Kathure Kebaara, Njeri Kabeberi, Wangari Muriuki, to cite just a handful. And people like Nimo Gulleid, Ida Hersi,Sibongile Booi, Denyse Stewart, Readith Mwila, Ijose Benin, Terriann Lewis, Anne-Marie Grant are a few of the women who I can count as very close platonic friends. Today, when I venture online I find that the most intelligent and serious contributors in Kenyan cyberspace forums are predominantly female-and this is NOT to knock the dozens upon dozens of Kenyan brothers who rise far above the frothing juveniles prattling and trash talking on RC Bowen, Kenyaniyetu, Mashada, Kikuyu.Com and elsewhere where Kenyans congregate digitally...

Among all those women, my sisters occupy a very, very special space in my life.

One of them, Beatrice Lillian Ombiro Oloo, is no longer among the living-having been killed by her abusive husband on October 1, 1999. She was 32.

My three surviving sisters- Janet Adhiambo Okeyo, Sarah Akinyi Oloo and Ruth Awuori Oloo continue to provide three of the firmest pillars of my existence; all three form part of the close knit bond that has kept our family together and has enabled us all to survive a series of tragedies in the last ten years. They are funny; they are intelligent;they are resourceful and of course they are all gorgeous.

Together with all the other women I have mentioned, my three sisters have always provided the reality check to my sexist socialization, never hesitating to call me on my patriarchal shit- and I know that this has been frequently a much needed boon.

That it is why it was a no-brainer when it came to looking for three Kenyan women who would share with me their candid and sincere opinions on the explosive hot button issue of abortion.

For the last month or so, the religious right in Kenya have been on an onslaught in a very determined quest to block the legalization of abortion in that east African country. Following the "discovery" of 15 fetuses conveniently next to a pro-life Christian centre in Nairobi, the anti-choice forces have orchestrated a rabid media circus that has seen otherwise sober Kenyan journalists screaming about "Killer Moms" and culminated in the arraignment on MURDER charges of one Kenyan doctor and two nurses on accusations that they "killed" "two infants."

Meanwhile, 700 illegal abortions take place every day with one of the country's largest hospitals- the Kenyatta National- reporting 40 to 60 cases of botched abortions every day. Hundreds if not thousands of Kenyan women(many of them barely out of their teens) die from these botched abortions. And no one is speaking of the women who carry their pregnancies to full term, give birth and literally dump their brand new borns in the streets of Kenya's main towns.

My three sisters- Janet, Akinyi and Awuori all live and work in the KwaZulu Natal coastal city of Durban. And they have three different opinions on abortion. One is militantly pro-choice; one is adamantly pro-life and one navigates a middle of the road position on this contentious debate.

So when I called them long distance from Quebec on the afternoon of Saturday, June 19, 2004, I was guaranteed to end up with a very robust, heated as well as humour filled three way exchange. And yes, I do express myself at the end- and one of my sisters does not hesitate to pounce on my own pro-choice views with a take- that I am not going to give away.

Anyways, without further ado, I hereby present my three lovely, intelligent, spirited and humorous sisters holding forth on one of the hottest discussion topics taking place among Kenyans at the moment. By the way, as a prelude we talk about the Magdalene Laundries in the Republic of Ireland. What is that?

Well, find out:

Press here to listen in on the conversation with my sisters