47 year-old Evalynne Nekesa is a primary school teacher in Bungoma County, Western Kenya. She is married with four children. Evalynne enjoys motherhood and all the responsibilities that come along with it. This is evident in the way she talks about her children, with such love and passion. However, beneath the radiant smile on her face lies an experience of pain and secret shame, brought about by -ironically -her birthing experiences.
She traces the start of her agony to the birth of her second child in 1996. When labor came, she was at home with her husband. With the contractions increasing by the minute, it greatly worried the young couple because it was late in the night and they did not have a vehicle or any means of transport to get them to the hospital, which was a distance of 14 kilometers away. It however soon became clear that they would not make it to hospital, prompting her husband to dash out of the house to fetch his mother, who lived about 100 meters from their house. An experienced woman, they had no doubt that she would help them birth the child.
However, by the time Evalynne’s husband returned home with his mother, Evalynne had already given birth –alone. The following day, a neighbor who was a nurse, came and checked on them and after certifying that they were both okay, she left.
However, two weeks later, Evalynne noticed she was leaking stool and informed her husband about it. Concerned for her health, the couple yearned to see a doctor, but were nevertheless constrained by their finances. She never sought treatment, and leaking stool would define Evalynne’s life for the next 10 years.
One day in 2006, she met a doctor who told her that her condition was treatable through surgery. It would however cost Sh40,000 –a huge amount that would clearly be difficult for her to raise. But eventually, after almost a year, she raised the money and recalls the day of the surgery.
“The doctor’s clinic was a small office in the rural town center. The room where the surgery took place was not a theatre, but just a small bed which he asked me to lie in. He began the ‘operation’ at 10am, and I did not wake up until 5pm.”
But her agony was far from over. It was not an in-patient clinic, and so Evalynne had to return home -a distance of 14 kilometers aboard a boda boda (bicycle taxi) since she could not afford any other transport means.
“I had to sit on the bicycle all through the rough and dusty road. It was a most grueling, painful experience,” she remembers.
However, her joy was short-lived. She had expected to stop leaking stool after the surery, but became disappointed when the problem persisted. She suspects the arduous bicycle journey may have damaged her. Her life remained difficult.
“It was tough for me because, as a teacher, I have to stand before pupils all the time. Sometimes I would fart uncontrollably while other times, I would soil my clothes. My life was full of embarrassment,” she says.
One day, Evalynne heard a radio announcement calling on women suffering from leaking urine or stool to attend a free fistula repair camp in Nairobi, at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). She wasted no time and immediately boarded a bus to Nairobi, where she underwent a successful fistula repair surgery in July 2016. The surgery was made possible by among others -the Flying Doctors Society of Africa (FDSA) and the Freedom from Fistula Foundation, in collaboration with KNH and Royal Media Services.
We met her a few days after her surgery, and she was all smiles.
“Do you know what I will now be able to do?” she asked us.
“I have always loved politics, but my ambition was limited by my fistula. But not anymore. I will run for office, starting with the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) politics in my Western Kenya backyard.
Evalynne informs us that she had once, on a campaign trail for an elective post in the teaching fraternity, stood up to address a crowd comprised of her fellow teachers.
“As I was speaking, I began farting loudly, uncontrollably. The farts were coming from both my front and back sides. It was so embarrassing as my entire audience heard the farts. I had to abruptly end my speech, as I felt so much shame and humiliation. That was the day I quit politics. But now, I will return since my problem is over. I am confident I will win and bring change to the education sector in the country, starting with my community in Bungoma,” she says.
Evalynne adds that she will use her influential teaching position to create awareness around fistula because, just like her, she knows of the many women who are suffering from the condition.