Francis Makonjio, 25, grew up watching his parents exchange blows on a daily basis. He couldn’t do anything at the time, not even let out a yell, for he was young and had gotten used to it.
Born in Kibera, Kenya, to a father who was a carpenter and a mother who worked as a janitor in Kilimani, Francis’ childhood was one replete with unpredictable days. Each day unfolded a new pandora of drama.
In 2001, political wars erupted in Kibera which forced them to relocate. It so happened that around the same time, his dad had backslid from his tang religious faith after being whipped by the famous Mary Akatsa, a female preacher who whips her congregation when they don’t abide by her teachings.
His paternal grandmother, who was said to be a witch, was expected to visit them and hand over the powers to his father. As per the traditions, Francis’ father was the chosen heir of the witchcraft. However, It didn’t turn out as planned and instead, the dad became a serial drunkard and left his faith to flash down the drain.
Francis’ mother was wholly against the idea of the father becoming the heir of the witchcraft. They got into frequent confrontations and eventually parted ways. Francis and his siblings went to stay with their mother in Kawangware as their father found refuge at Gachie where he went to cohabit with his sister.
“Life was not easy, living with a single mom who was solely the breadwinner taking care of seven kids was quite a burden to her. She struggled to make ends meet for us. We ensured to work hard in school so that we may at least change this situation someday,” Francis says.
Months later, the parents reconciled after a pull and push negotiations. The father was burried deep into alcohol, had lost his job and the witchcraft initiation had morphed him into a miserable man.
“Since dad had no job at the time, and mom was the one providing and paying the bills, there was hardly respect between the two,” Francis recounts, “sometimes dad would come back home drunk and make the house a battle field, oblivious of our presence.”
They would fight in front of them and utter abusive words, without caring whether Francis and his siblings heard or didn’t.
“My mom could spit out all sorts of insults to my dad, and expose his negative traits. Of course, dad would not just sit there and look as he’s being tormented, he’d get violent and turn everything in the house upside down,” he recalls.
Francis and his siblings would hide behind a couch for safety till the dust calmed down, lest something heavy falls on one of them.
“They were both strong. It even helped that most of these fights happened when dad was drunk and would hardly harm each other to extremes of going to the hospital,” he says.
The whole situation painted a negative picture in the neighborhood.
“We couldn’t even interact with other kids because they would eventually want us to tell them what was happening yesterday in our house,” he recalls, “we were always the topic in gossips around the neighborhood and there was nowhere we could hide our faces.”
The more this happened, the more the father drowned in his drinking spree. He would use all the money on alcohol and sometimes would start selling household items just so he could get some cash to go and have a glass of beer.
“We suffered rent arrears. Sometimes we would be locked out of the house or forcefully vacated in the open daylight.”
Even though Francis and his siblings were bright in school, school fees was a big challenge. They would be sent home frequently for fees.
“Staying at home was traumatizing, we felt more peaceful at school, but we couldn’t even be allowed in the compound because we couldn’t afford the school fees,” he narrates, “at least we were sure of getting porridge at breaktime and githeri for lunch in school. At home, there was nothing, only embarrassments and exchange of blows.”
They depended on scholarships and well wishers who noticed their good performance in academics. The situation at home messed with their mental health, the only place where they found peace of mind was at school.
Aguvusa Juliet Kavula, a psychologist and founder of ReachOutKenya, says: “Domestic violence may affect a child both physically and emotionally. For instance, a child may get himself involved in the fight trying to defend one of the parents and in the process get severely hurt.
“Emotionally, the child may grow up with the trauma and perceive the only way to solve misunderstandings is through violence.”
Aguvusa asserts that most children who grow up in violent homesteads end up with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which affects the interactions they have with others. She says, “such a kid should atleast get counseling or someone to guide them. These violent traits may easily show up in them in future when they get married, since that’s how they grew up seeing their parents solve family feuds.”
Watching his mom struggle to provide for seven kids, Francis admits that they grew up hating their father. They hardly saw him as a parent and wouldn’t even want to get associated with him at all. He recounts of a time when his mom lost a job and had to relocate back to the village. Since they were still in high school, they stayed back, living with well wishers. His father was not in the vicinity at that crucial time, no one knew where he was.
Despite the lemons that life threw at Francis, he picked them one after the other and squeezed them into a lemonade.
“Personally, I learnt a heap of lessons from those childhood experiences. They have shaped me into a responsible adult. Even though I grew up traumatized and hating my father, I have grown to make peace with the past. I don’t take alcohol nor use any substance, I have seen what they can do to someone and I choose to avoid that path,” he concludes.
Ian Elroy Ogonji is a journalist and editor for the Western Kenya Times. He has published work in The Star Newspaper, The Standard, Business Insider South Africa among others.