Extremes of Experience

Joyberl Abwao

© Copyright 2020 by Joy Berl Abwao

Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash
                            Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash

My heart is a ghost town, with owls, ravens and jackals. Once beauty, now only serpentine. Its magnificent now in its place ophidian. Silhouettes of vampire ghosts. It is burning, but still covered in frost. A hounded heart, a ghost town. It all goes back to the November of 2019. Three months heavy and happy. When I first told him that I was expecting his child, he was overwhelmed and excited. Asked me to keep it, and together we built castles in the air of how we would raise our child. He promised me heaven. How would a string of words make a person ache for a place she did not know? But in that moment, I could not help it but see a happy future of my baby walking hand in hand with its parents.

The first two months of the first trimester was peaceful. He provided all that I needed and did not. He loved me. Or so I thought. Then came the third month and something in him snapped. He started loving me fiercely, violently, and madly. He loved me in punches and bruises. In his own painful way, he loved me and I convinced myself that this was the only way he knew. He loved me and I bore the scars to prove it. Beauty is pain but love? Love is torture and I was loved until I was not. Until the very scars that I had worn with pride revolted him and he sent me away packing.

Toyed and lied to. Hanging on a thread; a shattered heart and a broken soul, he killed me. Just like that, in broad daylight. He was in the army, I was a student. My parents did not know that I was expectant. I never had the courage of letting them know because of how ashamed and disappointed they would be at me. There was no way I was going to raise a child without a father and no finance. And thus had to make a dreadful choice. Loaned money from my friends to be able to afford the hospital bill. A big black sky was over me as I lay in the hospital bed that evening awaiting my fate.

The start of dusk, the beginning of misery. I was given the first shot, to trigger labor pains. The first rose on my rose tree; budded, bloomed and shattered. By midnight, the sac had ruptured and out came the amniotic fluid, and then what would have been my baby. Two things died that night, my love for life and my love for humanity. It seemed like nothing until the hurricane hit.

Who knew that with pregnancy loss came along depression? Memories were tragedy because of my brain. The things that clouded my thoughts were worse than what is in the abyss. Nights came that I could not hold back and were on the cold floor seeking out true freedom from within for my soul to be as light as feathers. I was slowly falling into a pit hole yet no one noticed. I wanted to be mad at everyone for not seeing my pain, or rather for seeing and choosing to ignore. I became a visitor in my own mind. I was like a rose in the desert; afraid I would burn in the scorching sun and get blown away.

It was a call that I received from a nurse who checked on me at the hospital that got me on my feet. Apparently, some officials from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) were doing a research study on reproductive health. The research study was on finding and understanding how best to deliver services to young women that could protect them from contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The study was sponsored by the University of Washington in the USA, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation in the United Kingdom, in partnership with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in Kenya. The name of the research study was Evaluation of Pre-exposure prophylaxis Delivery Integrated with Reproductive Health Services for Kenyan Adolescent Girls and Young Women,( The PrEDIRA Study).

The research study included young men, peers, mothers, fathers and reproductive health providers from the community. Group discussions were held where views and ideas were shared of how helpful Pre-exposure prophylaxis ( PrEP ) would be to young women to prevent HIV. The purpose of the study was to understand whether it was a good idea to offer Pre-exposure prophylaxis as part of the services that are available to women after pregnancy loss, and combine the Pre-exposure prophylaxis delivery with an offer for contraception. True to the idea, almost half of young women who get pregnant and experience pregnancy loss are likely to be pregnant again within one year. Women receiving post-pregnancy services would want to know about how to prevent HIV at the same time.

At first, I would sit through the discussions mum. Afraid, ashamed and hurting. Trying so hard to hide my pain. Sometimes people hide because they do not know how to express themselves. Sometimes people hide because they have scars. In my case, I hid my pain because it was the only language that I spoke fluently. But as I sat and listened to girls narrate their experiences, I started warming up to them and saw it as more of a help group. I soon found my voice, for my memories had taken it away. Slowly, the safe space created there helped me climb out of the pit that I had fallen into. Every day, I would make a choice to put one foot in front of the other. Until finally I overcame.

Now back at school, strong and empowered, I decided it was time to make change. Most schools, primary and secondary, and institutions of higher learning do not offer any talks on reproductive health and sex education to their students. Would it not be better for a girl or boy in school to know the end results of involving oneself with the other? With support from a few friends , we decided to equip ourselves with all the information on reproductive health and sex education. We researched and visited health centers to ask questions and arm ourselves with information. Two weeks later, we started holding forums on whatsapp groups and university halls to our fellow students. Later, we extended our hand to neighboring primary and secondary schools that approved of us. The open forums that we held opened the eyes of many since most of the youth do not get to have such talks from their parents, guardian or teachers.

It is easier and freer for a group of peers sharing and exchanging ideas on reproductive health rather than having adults talk to the youth. Therefore equipping a group of youth volunteers with all the needed necessary knowledge on reproductive health and sending them to schools and institutions to empower their peers is more effective. The idea of the government just issuing out free condoms does not entirely help avoid early pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. This is because most people do not have the courage to walk into hospitals and get them.

Introducing reproductive health and sex education talks in the syllabus as a bonus non-examinable subject helps spread the gospel faster like bush fire. Let them be educated on their bodies as spiritual organs, and why the body keeps score and conscious relationships. A wide range of the youth would be empowered. Some would argue that this idea would only push the younger generation into engaging in the act, but are they not already curious? Is it not better going to war armed rather than armed? If they learnt that with sex comes along early unplanned for pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis among others, would they then not choose to abstain?

In addition to that, creating toll free lines for guidance and counseling would also be of positive impact. The lines would be operated on by friendly and understanding qualified reproductive health officers. This way, one would have his or her doubts confirmed and questions answered. Rather than blindly following the masses, the youth would be able to ask for guidance on issues touching on reproductive health. Parents who feel uncomfortable talking to their children on this topic would be unburdened.

Introducing programs that apart from offering sex education also gives students from humble backgrounds the opportunity to practice income generating activities. Statistics show that most students who end up pregnant are those from poor homes. These students are easily lured into having unprotected sex by bodaboda operators and matatu conductors. This is in the case of a student in a day primary or secondary school who has to trek for kilometers in order to get to school and cannot afford fare every day. A bodaboda operator tricks her into a habit of free rides to school in exchange of sex. A desperate student will walk into this situation with or without knowing the end result. However, having a program during the weekends and school holidays where these students come together harness their talents in weaving ,beading, basketry among others and then earn some money will at least not make them fall prey to these traps. During this period, the students have a session with reproductive health officers who talk to them on the dangers of transactional sex for the few who engage in sex for free rides to school. You will find an operator luring and engaging in unprotected sex with more than one girl thus increasing the chances of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. It becomes a cycle. It should therefore be wiser for them to know what they are getting into and abstain and treat their bodies as spiritual organs.

In summary, most of the youth especially young women and adolescent girls are at a high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases out of mere ignorance and thus the ideas mentioned above help create awareness to them. It is in my opinion that once these ideas are implemented, there would be a reduced number of cases of early unplanned for pregnancies among students and lower the risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections and, or sexually transmitted diseases.

I am Joyberyl Abwao. I'm a 22 year old who lives in Kenya and  currently a student at the university. I'm a poet and a freelance writer.

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