From Kenya, With Love
Skyler Drevan


Michael Ouijibi was born in a poor family in Kenya. Because of his family’s lack of stability and funds, Michael and his nine brother and sisters were restricted in fundamental privileges we take for granted such even mediocre medical care and housing. His schooling was shortened due to an outbreak of an unknown bacterium when he was just twelve years old. At a very young age, Michael knew his native Kenya wasn’t where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. At seventeen he traveled to South Africa to visit one of his childhood school mates that had moved in with a very well to do white family. Michael became jealous of the lavish lifestyle his friend Mkumbu had been privileged enough to happen upon. He saw the big screen television and air conditioning system and he wanted that stuff as well.

When the opportunity to leave his native Kenya presented itself, Michael seized it and left his family and started on his new journey for a better future. Michael wanted out of his home town/country for many reasons. He wanted a better life, yes, but he also wanted the opportunity to freely be who he was on the inside and rarely presented to others outside. Michael was gay. Being gay is enough of a hardship in this world, but it is nonetheless, harder still when you are gay in a place like Kenya where if you even told anyone about your sexuality, you will have to suffer the persecution of their dictatorship, a government of oppression and hatred.

In the United States, Michael recounted memories of droughts and massive flooding during the regular rainy seasons. He remembered with vivid details his parents trying to rescue his little sisters from a massive hole near home as it flooded over. When Michael thought about all the things he wouldn’t miss about his homeland, he also thought about the things he would miss like his parents and siblings and the one and only lover he had in Kenya.

Michael met a boy named Kinyambi during the spring of 2002. Kinyambi (or Kenny for short) and Michael had been dating for three months and two weeks before anyone found out. Kenny hailed from Nigeria and moved into a home not far from where Michael lived. After becoming fast friends, Michael and Kenny learned that they shared a common bond and what could be a deadly secret. They both almost simultaneously realized that they were gay when they quite coincidentally caught each other starring adoringly at a young man who was jogging by. Realizing by that fluke they had one thing in common that they had shared with only each other, Michael and Kenny decided they would try to have the kind of relationship that is forbidden in Africa. They began to date and be a constant reminder to each other that there are people out there who are just like them but cannot reveal their true selves because of the certainty of great harm and unbearable punishment.

Michael and Kenny knew of the dangers of unprotected sex and always performed safe sex. Kenny was well educated thanks to an exchange student program to the United Kingdom he was fortunate to have been granted throughout his high school years. It was a good thing that at least one of the two knew to use protection because Michael; though not a stupid man, really wasn’t aware of the AIDS epidemic that had ravished Kenya. In a country that has an estimate of thirty two million people, there is an estimate two and a half million people living with AIDS or the HIV virus.

The relationship between Michael and Kenny was one of true love. They were relieved to have found one another and even more relieved that they were not suspected by anyone as being gay. A majority of Kenyans are Christian and are not in any way gay sympathizers. Just the mere suspicion that one is gay can lead to a trial and conviction from The Republic of Kenya. The two lovers kept a tight lid on their relationship until the twelfth of December of 2002.

On Kenya’s Independence Day of last year, Michael’s mom (a devout Muslim) discovered her son holding hands and kissing Kenny on the outskirts of their town while she was scavenging for food in preparation for the next flood that was heading their way. When she caught the two lovers in the act of “sinful behavior,” she screamed out her sons name and Kenny ran from fright; never to be seen again. After Michael’s mom, Sonjiu, grabbed and slapped him around for several minutes for committing such a sinful act, she then settled down and decided what she had to do to protect her son.

Sonjiu cried and cried feverishly for hours while trying to think of a plan. She loved her son and though she was a Muslim, she couldn’t bare to see him suffer the unjust penalties he would undoubtedly face should his deadly secret come to light. Sonjiu began to recite the words from her holy book and pray for Michael’s soul. Sonjiu blamed herself for what had happened to her son. She thought all his problems had stemmed from her trying her hardest to work to feed her children. She blamed herself for not being able to find a decent job to help her husband support the family and she blamed herself for overprotecting Michael as a child and breastfeeding until he was three and a half.

Kenya is very poor. The population below the poverty line is 50% and the national unemployment rate is 40%. Her problems weren’t hers so much as it was the state of the devastated economy. But she did what many parents—particularly the mother—do when they learn their child is gay or lesbian; she blamed herself.

Sonjiu hurried her brain to figure out a way to get her son out of Kenya. She wanted him to leave his sinning ways behind but she also wanted him to be happy. This was a shocking revelation for Michael. He though that his mother would react totally different than she had. He assumed that he would be facing a fate like his father; a devout Christian priest. Sonjiu was protecting him from his father, Michael soon learned. She knew that if it were suspected he was gay, his father, Mbkunki, would beat his son to death with his own bare hands. What was a mother who loved her son regardless of his sexuality to do? Send him to the United States of America.

Sonjiu worked hard and borrowed money from anyone she could to get her son to the US. While working for months trying to earn the money to send Michael away, Sonjiu grew ill but kept Michael in seclusion. He was ordered not to see or write Kenny at all. While Michael and Sonjiu worked towards a VISA to the US, her health began to fade. She was eventually diagnosed with liver and throat cancer and ordered to stop working and prepare for her funeral. That was not an option to Sonjiu. She needed to help her son. She couldn’t die knowing the fate that would be upon him if he remained in Kenya for too long. The only way she could rest in peace would be knowing that Michael was in the US where he would be free.

After seven months of working hard and saving every penny, Sonjiu had finally accumulated enough money. He arrived here on a work Visa on July twenty third. Michael felt guilty for leaving his sick mother so when he found a job working as a janitor at a very prosperous NYC private school, he sent for her to visit him. He mailed her money to fly to the states and visit his Jersey City apartment. Michael came to the United States from Kenya with just under three hundred dollars in his wallet but after working for some time and saving every penny, he had enough to send for his ailing mother. Although his living conditions were precarious, he thought anything was better than where he had come from.

Sonjiu arrived in the states on November ninth. She and Michael stayed up all night the first day of her arrival. They were talking about conditions back home and Michael’s new life here in the United States. They also spoke of Michael’s father who frequently asked about his son. Sonjiu never told him about Michael’s sexuality because if she had, she would have been severely beaten for lying and aiding his “sinful ways” and he would never be able to return to his birth land again.

Three days into her visit with Michael, Sonjiu was hospitalized and treated for her cancer. By that point it had spread throughout her body. The next night Sonjiu died while holding her son’s hand. She repeated the words “let me go” in his ear and when he finally said it was time, she closed her eyes and passed away. Michael did not want to send his mother back home to be buried so he arranged for a nearby church to have her buried in a cemetery plot nearby where he lived. This went against Muslim traditions and his family’s wishes but it was something he felt he had to do in order to be close to his mother.

Michael didn’t work for a week after his mother’s funeral. When he finally returned to his job, he met a man named Jason Beaks who was a photographer taking pictures of the school he worked for. Michael and Jason eyed each other before they began to talk a little. Before conversations got too deep, the two separated and went to their jobs, until the saw each other again two weeks later. TO BE CONTINUED….



Copyright © 2004 Skyler Drevan
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