Sarah Akinyi is not your average 24-year-old. While most would rather be caught dead than be bogged down with responsibilities, the young lady not only takes care of her own expenses courtesy of her IT job, but is also “mom” to her niece and nephew, whose mother is currently too ill to do so herself.
The young lady’s typical day begins by dropping off the older child, who is seven years old, at his school and the younger one at a day care centre before making her way to work. Her evenings are spent rushing home to pick up the children and prepare their evening meal.
Sarah, who was born Nancy Karimi on the sixth day of January 1991, counts herself blessed as she has known the love of two fathers in her lifetime.
NEVER KNEW HER MOTHER
“I never knew my mother. I am told that she left me when I was barely a month old. She named me Nancy Karimi. I was brought up by my aunt and grandmother, who did everything they could to make me feel loved,” she recalls.
Her grandmother fell ill, forcing them to move in with relatives to Mukuru kwa Njenga, in Nairobi, where her grandmother sought treatment. Her grandmother died, with her aunt following a month later.
Life in Mukuru kwa Njenga proved too harsh for the little girl in a new family that was already straining to provide for their own nuclear family, prompting her father Patrick Lumumba to resign from his job in the military so that he could be the primary caregiver to his daughter.
“I had never really spent much time with him, up until when I turned six years old when I went to live with him,” she says.
“In retrospect, I think it was one of those ultimate sacrifices that a father makes for his daughter. I do not know, to date, how he planned to survive but his primary concern was my well-being. For that, I appreciate him,” says Sarah, tears glistening in her eyes.
There is nothing that had prepared the little girl for her father turning against her. Her father, her sole source of love, became a source of pain and anguish. Apart from physically abusing her, he also molested her sexually.
In the six months that she lived under his roof, she tried to run away three times (he would always trace her back to her aunties houses).
She eventually took refuge in the streets of Isiolo.
Sarah bears a stab wound, burn scars on her hands and feet and painful memories of the physical abuse she underwent in her father’s hands.
“Once, when he stabbed me right under my left breast, a neighbour saw me and alerted my aunt, who lived nearby but was too afraid of my father, the military man, to intervene, rushed to my rescue, performed some first aid and left me in his house.
The last straw was when one day, he asked me to arrange the firewood so that he could split it. I saw him aiming for my neck, and that is when I took off. I did not even seek refuge in my aunt’s house as I had done two times before, because I knew he would find me there,” she explains.
Lumumba, whose mental illness had gone undiagnosed, later himself moved to the streets and made garbage pits his home and source of food and nourishment.
LIFE ON THE STREETS
In 1999, and at only eight years old, she abandoned her father’s house for the streets of Isiolo, spending a year there before finding her way to Eastleigh by hiding in the boot of a Nairobi-bound bus.
“I spent a total of three years in the streets. I went through everything from bullying, drug addiction and sexual harassment. I remember dressing as a boy most of the time, because as a girl, I was more vulnerable,” she recalls.
Come 2002, the Kibaki government came into power, and all the street children were picked up for rehabilitation. That is how she found herself in the now-defunct King Baodoine children’s home for the Sisters of Mercy.
“I underwent six months of rehabilitation before I could join the rest of my classmates,” she recalls.
She had spent a total of three years on the streets, which saw her go through everything from bullying, physical and sexual abuse, and drug addiction.
“I started receiving counselling after the nuns at the children’s home noticed that each time a male teacher would walk into the classroom, I would walk away from class.”
The sisters realised that the 11-year-old former street girl had never set foot in class and that her attitude towards male teachers was as a result of what she had gone through not just through her father’s hands but also through the hands of the harsh life she was subjected to in the streets.
“One nun realised I could not even hold my pen right, let alone write my own name. So that is where my schooling started. I would spend all my evenings sitting by her side, learning how to write.”
Her score at the end of her first term ever in school was 1 mark out of a possible 500 marks. At the end of her three years of primary schooling, she managed to score 286 out of 500 marks. “I was proud of my KCPE results and was very keen on continuing with my education. I wanted to go to secondary school. I knew it was my ticket to have a good life even though the sisters wanted to take me to a vocational school to study hairdressing,” she explains.
Her pleas eventually bore fruit, earning her a place in Consolata Girls, Meru, where she studied up to Form Two before being expelled.
“I was a teenager, struggling with my identity, and made some bad choices which led me to be expelled. I was too ashamed to go back to the sisters. I pleaded with the school to keep my bags, promising to go back for them later. I thought my schooling was over and needed to find a way to survive,” she says.
She remembered an old high school friend who had mentioned that her family lived in Isiolo and decided to pay her a visit, not knowing how long she would be staying or if they would accept her.
“I went back to Isiolo because I had also heard rumours that my father had become a mad man and I wanted to see for myself as I could not believe it. Luckily, my friend’s family welcomed me with open arms. I shared my story with the host mum, who asked her daughters to accompany me to the market to look for my father,” she adds.
UNDER ALL THE FILTH
Find her father she did, but she could not recognise him under all the filth and his dirty clothes. He, however, called her out by name.
“By sheer coincidence, he was the first “madman” we approached to ask if he knew my father. It just happened to be him.”
It was only when she sat him down for a meal and he started talking that she realised he had completely lost touch with reality.
“He kept saying that my mother had stolen me from him and that the white people that had taken me in were treating me well because I looked very well. That is when I knew that I was not speaking to a sane person. However, he was still my father and I loved him,” she recalls.
True to her industrious self, Sarah found a job at a local salon and settled into a life of earning commissions from braiding hair whilst helping out her dad, who would often come to the salon door to ask for money and food.
Her father would later die of what they suspected was food poisoning, and Sarah saw to it that his final resting place was Siaya.
As fate would have it, a matron from her old high school stopped by and on finding a former schoolgirl working there to provide for her father, decided to personally recommend to her old principal that she should be reinstated.
“In the re-entry interview with the principal, I bared it all to her, even expressing my wish to know my mother. I had managed to get her mobile number from an aunt but had never mustered the courage to call her,” she says.
To her surprise, the principal took the number from her and made the call that she had thought would change the course of her life.
“My birth mother came to the school the next day and the first thing she asked me was if my father was dead? And if not, why was I looking for her?”
Sarah was shocked and heartbroken.
“I had hoped that that she would ask me for forgiveness, or even tell me how she regretted leaving me at only 22 days old. At the very least, I expected a motherly embrace. None of these things was forthcoming,” she says.
She would later see her mother while living with her aunt during her school holidays. Her mother, who lived in a house opposite her aunt, made no attempt to create any sort of relationship with her, but called on her one day to ask her to accompany her to town, where she met a strange man at a garage.
“My mother and I later sat down for lunch, when she casually told me that the man I had met five minutes earlier was actually my biological father, leaving me to deal with the impact of that statement,” she recalls with sadness.
It seemed to her that the life she was living had been a lie.
“I later learnt that my mother, in a fit of anger, had lied to my biological father and then husband that I was not his and stormed out of her matrimonial home into Lumumba’s house, and that is how my name changed from Nancy Karimi to Sarah Akinyi,” she says.
She chose to move on and stop feeling sorry for herself when she discovered that her mother had given birth to nine other children after her and left them the same way she had left her.
“I realised that I was surely not that special, and that if my half-sisters and half-brothers could make it without her, so could I,” she says.
Sarah chose to accept that she had two fathers. She went to see her biological father before reporting back to school, seeking not just to start a father-daughter relationship with him, but also to have him chip in her school fees.
“The father that I knew could hardly help himself, so I knew there was no way he would be able to help me, so I went to this ‘new’ father looking for help. I feared rejection, definitely, but he reassured me by telling me that he knew I was his the minute he saw me walking in with my mother because I looked almost exactly like his youngest daughter from his second marriage,” she says.
Her biological father embraced the second chance fate had given him at being her father fully.
Sarah is still getting to know her biological father and is enjoying getting to know his side of the family.
“My father has become my best friend. I hardly ever make a move without consulting him,” she adds.
Sarah, who undergoes counselling to date, is at peace with the path of forgiveness she has chosen and is forging on in life, carrying only the beautiful memories of a life with two fathers.