Women from Kenya welcome us into their lives of chosen families, refugee status and homelessness. The Covid Pandemic has accelerated many developments in people’s lives; some good and some bad. A man shares his story of a long distance relationship. Despite the “new norm” and unprecedented events of sadness, one thing remains: the community spirit of humanity.
Zainabu is a 39-year-old year mother of three school- going children aged between 8 and 14 years. She was brought up in a small industrial town in an extended family system. She described her family of origin as a conglomeration of multi-generational homesteads. She is a professed Muslim and cohabited with her Christian male partner for seven years before formalizing their marriage which lasted for six years. She has been battling in court to retain the custody of her children. During difficult times, she receives support from her mother and other close relatives to meet basic needs for her family. A close examination of Zainabu’s family history demonstrates the diversity and evolution of family structure throughout an individual’s life course.
Arya is a transgender woman in her mid-30s and is the household-head of a family of choice of 6 queer persons including, one transgender man, one transgender woman, two lesbians, a gender non-conforming individual and a cisgender heterosexual woman. The six persons met each other in LGBTIQ protest parades in Nairobi, Kenya in 2018 and discovered that some of the members lived in the same neighborhood. They discussed the idea of a shared living arrangement for a while, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated their plans of co-residence. They have lived together for approximately 6 months and created an intentional family as a matter of choice and by mutual agreement. The chosen family is one of the most marginalized and excluded family structures from mainstream society in Africa in general and in Kenya in particular.
Lucy is a South Sudanese refugee. She is 47 years of age, a widow and a foster-mother of 5 refugee children. Lucy is self-employed in the clothing industry, stitching women’s and children’s clothing and upholstery. She married her late husband at the age of 20 years in 1993 and one year later, she and her husband were forced to flee to Nairobi, Kenya as refugees from Sudan due to the long civil war. Her marriage lasted for 13 years until her husband died in 2006; the couple was childless during their marriage. After her husband’s death, Lucy decided to establish her own family by sharing her life with five foster refugee children from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The lived experience by Lucy demonstrates how civil conflict and political instability can negatively impact family stability and resilience.
Mary is 23 years of age and a single mother of a two months old daughter. They are living on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. She was born of a single mother with five siblings in Nakuru town. Mary moved to Nairobi in March 2020 in search of a better livelihood due to poverty in her home. At the time of leaving her home town, Mary was five months’ pregnant with her first child who was born in Nairobi under difficult circumstances. Mary considers her fellow street persons as her family, describing the older street persons as her parents and the younger as her siblings. She said the extended street family often support each other during the most difficult situations by pooling their resources together.
Phillip is a 44 year old husband of one wife and the father of four children. He is a professed Christian by religious affiliation and currently works as a motorcycle taxi operator. His wife lives in their rural village to monitor the construction of their permanent home on ancestral land. Phillip visits his family every fortnight.
“Presenting insights from these five individuals and their kin was necessary and deliberate. My approach centered their lived experiences at a time where discourse regarding the “Kenyan family” placed emphasis on the traditional nuclear family unit ... The question, What does family mean to you? was how I found my way into the core subject matter … Sitting across from them enjoying a cup of tea, a glass of juice or a saucer of peanut butter, each family answered the same set of questions but presented the unique jigsaw pieces that formed their family portrait.” - Wanjeri Gakuru