He grew up around the church, Seventh Day Adventist, to be precise. The family spent long hours in church. His parents were committed church members. He remembers a childhood filled with rotating doors of people coming in and out of their house for prayers and food being prepared for these church people. Lots of hot chocolate, soya, buns and buttered bread. He remembers staying up late on some nights, falling asleep on the sofa, overwhelmed by the words and hum of voices praising and evoking and the singing. “I had a very happy childhood,” he says. His parents were the picture of a loving marriage; committed, loving, attentive, generous. They were a tight family; they prayed together and stayed together. His father was in the contracting business and his mom a nurse. They were not rich, but they got by. They went for the occasional holiday as a family. “We didn’t lack for anything.”
Church remained a big thing in his life even into his teenage. He loved it and he loved the church community around where they lived. There was a sense of kinship, of community. Then he went to college. You know how college is; but he was a moderate. Girls? “Well, I had a few girlfriends but they never lasted long. When it got serious I would shy away out of fear.” When he graduated he packed a small bag and told his parents he was leaving. They asked, “What? Where to?”
He said, “Migori.”
“Wait, isn’t that somewhere in Kisumu?” his mother asked.
“South Nyanza, actually,” he said, matter-of-factly.
They stared at him like he had gone cuckoo. They had just had dinner. His father dropped his napkin onto his plate and went to the living room. His mother looked at him like, “Are you just going to walk away from this? He is going to Migori!”
“What are you going to do in Migori? Aren’t you going to find employment now that you are done with college?” asked his mom.
“I don’t want to find employment, at least not just yet,” he said, “I want to go help humanity.”
She paused and studied him. Was he taking drugs? He had studied business and hospitality and now he was going to run off to God-knows-where to help humanity! She said, “Come.” So they went to the living room where his father was seated legs crossed, watching the TV, nonplussed. His mom said, “Do you mind shutting that off for a second?” It seemed like a question but it was a command. He pointed at the TV with the remote and it went black.
“Tell us again, what is this? What’s going on?” his mother asked.
“Nothing is going on, Mom. I just feel like I need to go help somebody who needs me.”
“And they need you in Migori?”
“Yeah. Humanitarian work. I want to volunteer.”
“Who do you know there?” his father asked.
“I don’t know anyone, I applied and they accepted.”
“Who are they?” asked his mom.
The parents stared at each other.
“And this place is in Migori?”
“What do they do?”
“It’s a church organisation that helps the orphans of Migori. They also have a hospital. I want to help these children.”
The parents were silent for a second. They were in a dilemma because they had raised their children to be humble, generous and faithful in the work of the Lord. What they hadn’t anticipated was that they would go all the way to Migori to be faithful, humble, generous and faithful in the work of the Lord. Hell, they hadn’t even been to Kisumu leave alone Migori. Would he be okay there alone? They had little choice. He was an adult of free will. So they prayed for him and grudgingly let him go.
I don’t know if you know where Migori is. I haven’t been there myself but I know where it is. So you take a bus, probably at Machakos bus terminal, that will pass through flat and charismatic Narok, passing places like Ololulunga, Longisa, the lush and nippy Sotik then Bomet (pronounced ‘Pomet’). Then the soil starts getting really red and the hills rise and fall in the rhythm of nature and when the clothing starts becoming more on men and women you know you are now passing Nyansiongo, Kisii land. You will then check into Keroka, a small town, then Kisii town a bigger town. The bus will stop and if you are naive enough to open your window, tons of bananas will be thrust through it, hawkers speaking fast, urging you to buy at “sigisti bob, ebo!” You will buy a bunch of sweet bananas and maybe a bottle of mineral water. The bus will start moving again, past a rumbling Suneka town, and then you will notice the vegetation changing outside and the language in the bus changing from fast and shrill to boisterous and loud. You will know you are getting into Migori County.
You will first get to a town called Rongo. The bus will stop and through your window will be thrust more roast maize and maziwa mala and potatoes and a live chicken with pleading, blinking eyes. Don’t be too surprised if the hawkers here speak to you in English. Because they can. The driver will jump out and disappear into some shops, leaving the bus idling. It will be hot. A cocky young man with baby dreadlocks will take the driver’s seat. He will constantly rev the engine but the bus will not move until the real driver is back. More people will come into the bus to take the empty seats. Hawkers will walk down the aisle selling padlocks and ‘Guci’ sunglasses, medicine that can treat both amoeba and diabetes. Don’t lock eyes with this fella because he will come to you and whisper, “er, na pia niko na dawa ya kuongeza ngufu ya kiume.” Then another fella shows up selling small transistor radios and a pack of four petticoat, otherwise known as Kamis and a preacher shouting himself hoarse above this din, urging you poor passengers to change your evil ways or the Lord shall not be too pleased with you because He might be a patient God but He is also a wrathful God. Nobody listens to him but he’s undeterred and ploughs on through this wall of group indifference. A baby, uncomfortable in the heat, cries constantly. He is also ignored. Your new seatmate will be a man happily enjoying his mandazi and maziwa mala. He’s a teacher in a local school. Teachers are the ones who hold court in these neck of the woods. If he sees groundnuts he will rudely lean across your open book, stick his head through window and whistle at the hawker. “Ne, omera! Njugu no pesa adi?”
The bus will start moving again, past Kabola, Sare, Diangah and a place called Stelah, which I’m sure has a great backstory perhaps of the most beautiful woman with big gorgeous eyes who killed many a man in that village with her gappy smile. The baby will continue crying. The bus will be smelling of boiled eggs and old socks. The guys in the front seat will be engaged in an animated conversation which you are struggling to listen to over the sound of everything else. The bus will finally stop at Migori town, seven hours after leaving Nairobi.
He settled at Kenya Relief.org, living in a three-room house. The other rooms would always be open to visiting missionaries, doctors and teachers. He had a cook called Samuel. He worked with orphans, blended with them, served them. “I believe it was God’s plan for me to go there,” he tells me. “ It opened my eyes to what God was doing in that area. They had a hospital and school. I loved working with those children, I really did. I mean, there they were with nothing and yet they were so happy with life. I had a family, I had led a decent life yet I wasn’t as happy as these kids were. It changed my perspective on life.”
“That you don’t need much to be happy. You need very few possessions.”
“What do you think drew you there, to work with these children?”
“Well, I didn’t know this then, I only discovered it much later when I spoke to a therapist, but I think I wanted to do something that had nothing to do with me and my needs. I wanted to be selfless. I was running away from thinking about what I wanted and what I should have been.”
His contract in Migori ended after two years. He came back to the city. The city was now strange, of course. “In the village, your needs were few, you had few choices. All of a sudden I was confronted with choices, and I think choices make one miserable.” Having mobile network was a shock, he says. In the city he reconnected with a chick he had a close friendship with before Migori. They started hanging out. She got him. She was smart and had long, beautiful legs.
At the same time, he connected with and started talking to another gentleman he met online, who had also volunteered at a place called U-Turn For Christ in Kisii, another faith-based American organisation that helps young people get free from drugs and alcohol. Their website says that they are , “…a residential, non-smoking, drug and alcohol program dealing with men seeking restoration from drug and alcohol addiction through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He felt that his story and this other gentleman’s story – let’s call him Rick – echoed from the same place. They both came from relatively privileged backgrounds and they both found themselves in the remote parts of Kenya doing humanitarian work.
He says, “ I chatted with Rick for a year before we met, just sharing ideas and whatnot.”
When they finally met he realised they had so much in common, backgrounds, career, likes etc. Ricky,who was younger than him (he’s 29 now, Ricky is 27), was engaged. Later they had a double date and introduced their girlfriends. Their friendship went on smoothly.
One day they met for lunch in a café. “We were having one of the very deep conversations that we usually had. We were talking about what it takes to be a very bad person and I told him that for me honesty was key in all areas of my life and he said, ‘There are things I would never tell anyone in my life’ and it’s the way he said it that I knew that he was like me. I said, ‘ You are talking about your sexuality. You are also a homosexual.” He then asked, knowing the answer, ‘How did you know?’ I said, I just did. I felt it.”
“Yeah…that’s the day we both acknowledged our sexuality. It didn’t come as a surprise really but more like relief because before that, there were many subtle hints that we sensed and ignored -”
“So did you have a relationship after this revelation?”
“No, but it was relieving. We felt that our secret was out. It felt great that we had both acknowledged this.”
So they continued hanging out as couples, doing couple things like movies and dinners and things. The girls had no clue, of course. Or maybe they did but thought this was just a boy’s thing. One day Rick told told him that they had set a wedding date. “I felt rejected and uncared for. I didn’t have a right to feel like this because I had known they would get married. It had always been a topic of discussion amongst all of us, as you would talk about a wedding amongst your friends.”
The day of the wedding was difficult. He woke up with a heavy heart. He wore a swanky-ass suit he had a bought for 35K. A heartbreak suit. It was a church wedding. A beautiful church wedding. Almost everybody they knew came. He drove out with his girlfriend, who was wearing something terrific that showed off her shoulders. Ricky – up in the pulpit, waiting for the bride – looked like he was the lead in a spy movie about a man who drinks martinis and waits for his contacts in street corners, a burning cigarette lighting up his profile. A man who keeps a small pistol strapped on his leg. He said “I do.”
“I was jealous. Of course, I was jealous,” he says. “He looked extremely happy, like anyone would on their wedding. It was a very confusing moment for me. A supernatural moment.”
“Did your girlfriend not notice that something was off?” I ask.
She did, he says. And she kept asking him if he was okay and he told her that he was fine. They gathered together and took a photo, the four of them, in a garden somewhere. The cake was cut, a big cake, rising five tiers to the chandelier. Then everybody danced and although he danced, he didn’t get into the music. The music went right through him, like he was made of fog.
“Did you talk to each other during the wedding at all and what did you say?”
“He asked me at some point if I was okay. I said I was as okay as I could be,” he says. “It was awkward.”
After a while, he couldn’t take it anymore, so he went to fetch his girlfriend from where she was, holding a glass of champagne and laughing with a clutch of ladies. She finished her drink, they congratulated the newly-weds and left. It was dark outside, maybe around 9pm. He had to drop her off to her house on the other side of town. In the car she immediately blacked out and left him alone with his thoughts, following the two beams of his headlights. “I sobbed the whole way,” he says. “Looking back it seems like it was incredible grace from God that I was able to make it through that day…thinking about it…[Pause]….thinking about it….I’m sorry.” He is tearing up. I never know what to do with a crying woman, now imagine how it is with a crying man.
“It’s easy. Let’s take a break.” I tell him. He composes himself and apologises about 2,000 times, and I say, it’s fine about 2,000 times.
After the wedding the dynamics changed. “Everything got so confused,” he says. Rick’s wife got pregnant soon after. He started seeing a counsellor. “She made me face tough realizations about who I am and what I want and what I can’t have because of what I believe is right and wrong, religiously. Mostly she walked me through my feelings,” he says. “I discovered that my leaving to work in Migori was me trying to run away from confronting my sexuality. I was blocking it. I think there is need for these kinds of things to be voiced. Too many people like me are alone and hurting, thinking that there is no one like them. After a while she told me that I had to be honest with my girlfriend.”
“Yeah. I told her,” he says. “She was obviously very taken aback. She was also confused about it. But this is not a conversation you have at a go, it’s a continuous conversation. She was very understanding eventually, just confused by it all. But we worked through it.”
“Did Rick have the same conversation with his wife?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “He had to.”
“So both these ladies know you guys are attracted to each other and yet are with them?”
“Yes.” He laughs. “I know, it’s complicated.”
“What’s their motivation to stay in these relationships then?”
“They love us, they see God’s work in us and with us,” he says so simply that I laugh, which might have been or might not have been rude.
Anyway, a year later, he took his girlfriend for a holiday to the coast and at the beach he stuck his knee in the sand and proposed to her. The sun was dropping and the ocean was restless. The beach was empty. She could have run off with her sandals in her hands and screamed in the breeze, No, you love Ricky, I want a man who loves me and only me. I’m a jealous lover. And she would have disappeared, swallowed into the sunset. Instead she said yes! The yes with an exclamation mark. Affirmative yes.
Wedding plans ensued and less than a year later, he was the spy in a swish suit at the pulpit and Rick was there in church with his wife and daughter, looking crestfallen. “I could tell he was going through the same feelings I went through when I was getting married,” he says.
“How did that make you feel?” I ask.
“I understood why he got married. It was a sense of responsibility. After the wedding we were back on the same page,” he says. They often hang out as a couple, he says, doing couple things like Sunday lunches and birthday dinners and holidays.
“Is it not awkward?” I ask.
“Not at all.”
It has been three years now.
“Are you and Ricky in a sexual relationship?” I ask.
“No. We are not. But we have deep feelings for each other,” he says. “I think some of the most poignant conversations that we have ever had were about marriage. We have gone in depth to try and understand why our world seems to place marriage as the highest relationship, and we just don’t think that is Biblical. The Bible is littered with incessant tales of people who were never married but had found their deepest relationships elsewhere. First was Christ who confided in twelve men before anyone else. There is David and Jonathan who many people believed might have had sexual relations, I personally don’t think they did but it’s explicit that they loved each other more than any of the women they were married to. Ruth and Naomi, taking vows together…so many examples, Jesus himself said, “There is no greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend! He could have said than one’s wife. But He didn’t. We are meant to live in a community of love.”
I chew on that like a cow would chew on cud. Thoughtfully. With a glazed over look.
“What do you think God thinks of your marriage?” I ask.
“I think my marriage honors Him. It’s honest, real and loving. I sacrifice for her and vice versa. I think it’s a unique and different marriage, yes, but I also think it’s Biblical.”
He pauses. He’s still on a wave, and I don’t want to interrupt it so I let him catch his breath. “I honestly believe that we have something special, me and him, but I wish we didn’t. It’s incredibly difficult to live the way we do and we often discuss giving up. We fight with our wives, as everyone does. Things get hard, we’re selfish, they’re selfish, but we always circle back around to the distinct privilege it is that we have to live this unique life, to be called to something more than just what we want.”
“Do you enjoy heterosexual sex with your wife?” I ask.
“Well, I’m okay with it.”
“Okay with it?”
“Yeah. It’s not my preference, if I can put it that way.”
“So you do it for her, not for yourself.”
“You want kids?”
“One day, yeah.”
“Do your parents know about your sexuality?”
“No, they don’t but lately I’ve been feeling the urge to let them know. It’s always better to have a larger support group in life.”
I want to end the conversation now because I’m tired of talking and my attention span is always an hour and a half and it’s been longer, but I have a feeling I haven’t asked many more questions. Plus he’s easy to talk to; very eloquent and inward looking, as if he’s reading from a book.
“Do you love your wife?” I ask.
“Yes. I do.”
“And what feelings do you have towards Ricky?”
“I love him. And I’m physically attracted to him.”
“So you love your wife and you love Ricky.”
I sigh. “Wouldn’t it be much easier to just divorce your wives and live your lives?”
He chuckles. “Life is not supposed to be easy, we shouldn’t all choose the easy way out. Life is about sacrifice, perseverance and deliverance. I think it will be worth it at the end. I think my lesson here is that if you trust in God He will give you a way to live an abundant life.”
I honestly don’t see how, but I stay silent. This is not my forest, neither is it my monkey. Actually I don’t have a monkey here, I have a donkey, which is not even in the family of primates. I realise that I’m not equipped to understand this situation. There is so much I don’t understand, so much I will never understand but lately I have come to accept that you don’t have to understand everything in life. And more things will keep coming at me. Quick story. I was once in a subway in New York, I was coming from Harlem in the night. Standing right before me was this guy. He had on something that looked like a dress or a long shirt and pants. All black. He reminded me of the Matrix. He had a charismatic long face with sharp facial bone structure. He didn’t look male or female. He just looked like a black person. Like everybody else in the train he was on his phone as it rattled through the boroughs. At one point I was convinced he was a chick, but then when he turned and I looked at his side profile, he looked like a man, it’s how his jaw sat. He had something that could pass for a man bag but had the colour of a purse. He was beautiful but in a manly way. I didn’t want to stare. It’s rude to stare at people. And especially you don’t stare at people in New York, they will growl, “The fuck you lookin’ at?” But I couldn’t help it. I was fascinated by him. I told a friend in New York about this experience and they said “Oh, that was a They. They don’t subscribe to any gender.” I didn’t understand that. There are so many things I will never understand.
“So, what exactly is your sexual orientation?” I ask him.
“I’m a homo.”
“I’m a homosexual but in a heterosexual relationship. It means I would rather be in a homosexual relationship but I am in love with a heterosexual woman. I do it because I love her. Because of what I believe in, I have only two options; one, live celibate or two, live married to her, someone that I love.”
“What’s the plan going forward with this marriage, with your life?”
“I plan to stay married as long as I can.”
“Are you happy?”
“Yes, I am.”
“What makes you happy?”
“That I’m able to sleep at night knowing that I’m doing the right thing. I believe our marriage is more difficult for us than most marriages because of my sexuality. But everyone has their thing, we all just have to choose what thing we want to deal with in a spouse. She chose mine.”
Two quick things. I wrote a play called IMPERVIOUS. I think it’s a solid play. It’s showing this weekend- Friday 10th to Sunday 12th. Book and come through if you aren’t too busy. The poster is up there.
Registration for the 19th Writing Masterclass is now open. It will be – tentatively – on June 5th to 7th. To lock down a slot kindly email [email protected]
Lastly…okay, maybe there were three things…
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers reading this. You are the very lungs of this world.