The child in the shadows

I’m going to tell you the story of being the ‘favorite’ sister, and what that might mean in a depraved and dangerous world, where your mother prioritizes her need for alcohol over her children. A …

The child in the shadows

I’m going to tell you the story of being the ‘favorite’ sister, and what that might mean in a depraved and dangerous world, where your mother prioritizes her need for alcohol over her children. A world so far removed from the norm that it is almost unbelievable – but sadly it is so very true.

Our little one is the youngest of three sisters, two who live at Rafiki Mwema with us. We have never met the older sibling and have only just heard of her existence. We will try and find her and build a contact to help keep her safe.

Our little girl was the sister who her mother adored. The sister who had almost everything she could have wanted in her early life, for a child who was raised in the slums. She had food, she had sweets, she was bought new clothes, she was rarely beaten – a lucky little girl indeed. She went to school and was well-behaved child. All was good …

Except that it’s not what it seems. Life behind the closed doors of her house was far from ok.

Imagine if you dare, an alcoholic mother, who prostituted her middle daughter to pay for her drink and to spoil her youngest child. A mother who had regular clients for her daughter to attend to – who beat her and cut her with a knife if she dare call out – and sometimes beat her just because. Imagine being that child.

And now, imagine being the child in the shadows, who saw and heard all the sexual and physical violence, and was told that it was all for her. That she could have new shoes once her sister ‘earned’ the money needed. The child who dare not have a voice in fear she would be next; that one day this putrid attention may just come her way. The sister, whose fear of her evil mother meant she could not, dare not, protect her sister. The sister who took the sweets and the shoes and the ‘love’ because the fear of not being the ‘favourite’ sister was just far too dangerous – far too dangerous.

She was the lucky sister indeed. Her rape was only a few times and not with the ‘blessing’ of the mother, who was probably comatosed in an alcohol induced stupor – far too drunk to look after any of her children – not even the much loved little one. Where was she when men snuck into the house and stole a little bit childhood more from these babies? Who wiped her silent tears following the physical pain she experienced. Not her mother; her sister was far too deep in her own trauma to reach out to her baby sister. They were like oil and water – they could lie next to each other, but their own pain meant they just couldn’t mix, couldn’t share their fears and thoughts. Our baby girl was full of shame that she kept away from her older sister – she let the men rape her because while they were raping her sister, she was safe.

Her sister tried to tell people what was happening. She told neighbours. They were too scared to help her. She told her grandmother and was beaten even more by her mother for causing trouble. She screamed out into an empty scary world that just looked the other way. And our little one kept quiet. She made no noise. She had no voice. If she spoke she would be seen. If she was seen she was in danger. So she kept quiet and watched and heard the violent rapes and beatings continue.

One day her sister refused to go home from school. She took off her dress and showed her teacher what had happened to her. She told her story and this time the right ears heard her. They bundled her into the car, drove to her mother, tricked her into the car – that’s right with her daughter – and drove them both to the police station. Her sister was beaten and bitten by her mother in that car. The police had to pull her off her to save her life. Even then, even in front of the police the mother told the world what she was going to do to her child when she got her hands on her again. The mother is locked away, but not for life. She will be freed and I believe she will go looking for the sister, the sister who she blames for ruining her life.

Our little girl saw all this from her shadow. She saw her sister showing her scars, knife marks, cuts; bites; beatings. She saw her life come tumbling down and still she didn’t speak. She saw her mother leaving and being locked in the car. Who knows what was going on in her little mind. Who knew if she could form a thought.

She was six years old and had only known this life.

Both girls were brought to Rafiki Mwema and have been with us for over a year. The tension in their relationship is huge and yet still our little one keeps silent. She is the quietest little girl in the world. She tries to be invisible. Away from her sister she is able to show small pockets of joy but in her company she is traumatised. She is full of fear and shame and her sister full of anger and shame. They have shared trauma. They have shared experiences. They have shared shame.

Shame is toxic. Shame is debilitating. Shame stops you functioning.

Her sister is shamed at what she had to do with these animals; shamed of what her sister saw; shamed that she couldn’t beloved enough to be the favourite sister. Our little one is shamed at being the favourite; shamed at what she saw; shamed at what she heard; shamed that she didn’t have to have a client base at 7 years old; shamed at not protecting her sister and shamed at being her.

The relationship with these two little girls is beyond complicated. They need to be in therapy for a long long time. We need to protect the older sister from the demons within her, the demons that drive her to humiliate and abuse her little sister one minute and then take on the world if she thinks someone has done her an injustice.

We need to protect our little one from the demons that drive her to think she is a bad person, that she doesn’t deserve a voice. Protected her from the sneakily delivered aggression that comes her way.

The love we have for both these girls is immeasurable and yet I wish it was possible for them to live apart for a while. They share too much and hate their memories of each other. There just isn’t anywhere in the whole of Kenya that can support them in the way we do – but are we doing enough? Everyone assumes because they are sisters they will be good together – maybe one day, but not now.

But at the moment we will do everything we can to find the light inside them that can only be lit by love and acceptance. Acceptance of each other is a huge part of their healing, but these are baby girls with their brains flooded with trauma.

Every single day they relive their past through the eyes of their sister. Everyday I pray we can get them through the darkest hours. Our lovely sisters have polar opposite coping mechanisms. Our little one hides in a world of silence. Our older baby shouts and screams, punches and pinches to make sure we keep seeing her. They are finding their way through the darkness, with Rafiki Mwema at their side.

We will be your eyes when you need us. We will be your voice when you can’t speak. We will hold your hand through your nightmares and we commit to making you the best you can be.

Imagine living in the deepest of fear while in a place of safety.

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