Rose Kwamboka pokes around the closets in boarding school dormitories and files a story on teenage sexuality that many parents and teachers would rather sweep beneath the carpet
â€œI have had it with men. I donâ€™t know what to do.â€
My friendâ€™s statement didnâ€™t surprise me. She had just parted with her latest boyfriend, the third in one year. It is what she said next that got me speechless:
â€œHigh school ruined me. If I had been in a mixed school, I would not have problems relating to men today. What I imagined was an innocent pastime seems to have changed me forever…â€
She attended a school where a large percentage of the population comprised of students from Nairobi. Keep in mind that this is a school hidden deep within the Rift Valley. It had the most â€˜absurdâ€™ rules, was renowned for its high level of discipline, was run along strict religious lines and had other characteristics that endured many parents to pull strings so that their children could be enrolled.
It is here that she became a lesbian.
When she initially heard of girl-to-girl relationships, she thought such friendships were of the BFF (Best Friends Forever) kind. But when she was in Form Two, her â€˜school mumâ€™ â€” a euphemism for peer guardian or protector in girl schools â€” who was then in Form Three, initiated her to the lesbian world.
After night preps, while the others were deep asleep, her school mum would ask her to join her in her bed for a talk, which she naively did. They then cuddled before they fell asleep. This continued for a while.
Since sleeping together had been banned in the school and attracted serious consequences, she would ensure she was back in her bed before other students woke up.
Over time, the cuddling slowly transcended to what would â€˜replace men foreverâ€™. First, it was bananas and carrots stolen from the dining hall. Then chemistry became her favourite subject as test tubes started making mysterious disappearances from the lab after experiments. And more cuddles.
In her mind, she knew it was not right, but she kept justifying and telling herself that what she was doingÂ was okay because it would neither make her pregnant nor expose her to sexually transmitted diseases. She had seen the look of shame on the faces of two girls who had been sent home when they failed the pregnancy test at the beginning of term. She wanted none of that, at least not before she cleared school.
But with time she got addicted, just like a cocaine-addict gets hooked to drugs and alcohol. She couldnâ€™t sleep at night without pleasing herself.
Jane adds that some affluent students did not have to go the risky way of stealing bananas, test tubes and carrots. They had battery charged vibrators. When the batteries ran out, unsuspecting teachers would be sent for more, with the students claiming that their alarm-clock batteries had run flat. Imagine the overwhelming joy a teacher would feel thinking that his or her student was so eager to learn that she was ready to wake up in the wee hours of the morning.
At times, parents would be asked to restock the batteries on visiting days or other such occasions. All this time, the alarm clock stood mute on the dormitoryâ€™s windowpane, like a museum artifact.
Schools that checked their studentsâ€™ luggage and thoroughly searched them to ensure no illegal stuff passed through the checkpoint did not go unscathed. Some of the prefects who were usually assigned that task were also part of the lesbian circle. They, therefore, knww their own and would usually let them through without a word.
In cases where the checking was done by matrons, prefects would offer to hide the devices for their partners in crime since their luggage was never checked as they were considered to be of high morals, responsible and disciplined. After all, is that not the reason they were elected to be school prefects in the first place?
In case one was caught sharing a bed with a fellow student, the immediate form of punishment would be a two-week suspension, a period within which the administration hoped they would get â€˜professional counselingâ€™ â€” in essence severe beatings from their parents. Upon return, they would first be prayed for and the demons in them cast out, as it was believed that lesbianism was a curse, before they embarked on more punishment.
Getting into lesbianism, she thought it was a safe but transient solution to her sexual desires while locked up in high school, something she assumed she would outgrow once she was in the â€˜outsideâ€™ world where men were available. Little did she know that long after, when she wanted to dispose of the gadgets and get into a relationship with a man, reality would check in: No man could match up.
She is among thousands of young women today who have boyfriends for show but are in effect gay.
â€œI have a boyfriend for appearance sake â€” I hung out with him at parties, he takes me out, buys me stuff, but the reality is that he can neither satisfy nor make me happy.
Hers is a story all too familiar to many Kenyans, except that no one talks about it, least of all parents. In a society where many mothers find it difficult to discuss menstruation with their daughters, lesbianism is the big elephant in the room that no one talks about in boarding schools and homes.
So when innocent 13-year-old girls report to Form One, â€˜school mumsâ€™ take over and lead them down a slippery path from which some never turn.
When the dark secret eventually emerges, teachers are at a loss on what to do. Do they suspend or expel the â€˜culpritsâ€™ from school? Do they pray for them?
In February this year, a school at theCoast was in the headlines when 12 of its students were sent home for lesbianism. The school principal was quoted saying she had asked the girls to fetch their parents in order to enable them receive joint counselling to prevent them from becoming psychologically affected (by their lesbian behaviour) â€” a pointer to the fact that in Africa, unlike the West, homosexuality is viewed as a mental illness.
Not that boysâ€™ boarding schools are any different.
â€œWe used to see them cuddle in the corners or by the corridors at night. You could even easily pick them out just by the way they carried themselves,â€ says an unnamed source who schooled in Mombasa.
â€œWe did not know what to do apart from being mean and rude to them. They scared us.â€
In other schools, whenever there is suspicion that a boy is acting in a manner likely to suggest an inclination towards the same gender, fellow students beat him up mercilessly. The administration rarely gets itself involved in such issues and lets the boys sought it out amongst themselves.
In a certain Nairobi school, for instance, a Form Four student who made advances on a Form One roommate was beaten so severely that he was hospitalised.
Cases have also been reported of Form One students being savagely beaten by seniors with homosexual tendencies for refusing to join in.
And while this is going on, not that other boys just sit buried in books, despite munching paraffin-flavoured githeri to lower libido.
Last August, boys from a school in Kisumu County sneaked into a girlsâ€™ school ten kilometres away for a nightlong rendezvous with the girls who were waiting for them.
Lots of hormones rage all over the school dormitory. But no one has the guts to talk about it and students, someÂ barely in their teens, are navigating the jungle on their own with lifelong repercussions.