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KENYA: I Was Ostracized for Having Twins

Immaculate Amoit
Posted June 30, 2016 from Kenya

Tragedy and superstition nearly tore her life apart, but now Immaculate Ammoit is fighting back by empowering girls in her community.

“Little did I know how much superstition was attached to the children I was about to bring into this world.

I grew up in a small village in Western Kenya. I always believed my home to be liberal and progressive. I grew up seeing men supporting women; my own father educated my elder sisters and me. Girls received equal opportunities just like boys, and we all went to school.

But two years ago, my view of my community was shattered. I gave birth to firstborn twins, and came to realize that my village is still bogged down by the oppressive and archaic values of discrimination.

In high school, I had a classmate who relayed to me that because she was a twin, she and her brother experienced unbelievable discrimination. Others in our village wanted to kill her twin brother, and, eventually, her family was forced to leave their home to live in town.

As a teenager, this story touched me, but I did not realize quite how intense the burden of twins is for those living in Kenya.

Then, in my mid-twenties, I welcomed twins of my own. Little did I know how much superstition was attached to the children I was about to bring into this world.

WARNING SIGNS

Early in my pregnancy, my gynecologist asked for an ultrasound, which revealed I was carrying twins. I told my mum the news and fear was instilled in me that very day. She asked me not to tell anyone—not even my boyfriend—that I was carrying two babies. When pressed, she told me twins are taboo and bring bad luck.

On December 19, 2013, I gave birth to pre-term twins at Aga Khan Hospital where they were given the very best treatment. The chief nursing officer even gave them Christmas gifts! I adored my handsome sons, as did my boyfriend, friends, and family. But later when I took my newborns to the hospital, my mother’s warnings were confirmed.

A female nurse asked me, “Are these your firstborn?” My affirmative answer led her to say, “If they truly are, woe unto you! You are too young to have twins. Besides, it’s a bad omen for your marriage and relationships—none will last.”

Each time I took my sons to the hospital for vaccinations or medical check ups, different nurses echoed what the first nurse had said. I ignored them, but I lived in fear and constant worry for my sons.

Within a short time, everyone in my community was talking about the twins. Some whispered; others spoke openly to my face. They told me that I should die. They told me my twins should die.

A friend of mine who also had twins told me that her twins had been poisoned, and, heartbreakingly, only one survived.They moved to another town and have never been back to their home again. The pain was excruciating and the incident unbelievable.

My friend and her husband chose to suffer in silence. Later, I did the same thing. But now I feel it is time to speak out. We must fight the beliefs and superstitions that lead to so much pain.

FEARS REALIZED

Ignoring the noise around me, I happily raised my sons. They grew healthy, strong, and bubbly. Their father adored them and had grand plans for their futures. But, when our children were 10-months old, their father left the house, never to return again. I know he is alive, but he never asks about us. Everyone tells me it is because of the twins.

I, however, chose to believe that he left because of another woman. My boyfriend was a medical doctor, and in my mind, there was no doubt that he understood the complexities of reproductive health more than most in the community. How could he be bound to such cultural myths?

But when I asked his brother and sister, who had been supportive of our family, why he had left, they insisted they did not know his reasons for deserting us. Then, one day, his brother opened up to me that the father of my twins had left us due to the prevailing superstitions surrounding firstborn twins. The fears and worries I had battled since that first ultrasound were coming true.

My deepest fears were realized earlier this year. I was away for work when my house caught fire. One of my twins, Ammiel, lost his life.

Ammiel’s death was very painful, but the worthlessness, the ridicule, the betrayal, and the shame that came with it make the pain indescribable.

We had a lot of land, which should have made burying my deceased child easy. But in my culture, I was not allowed to bury Ammiel in my father’s compound. As my grandmother, aunt, and uncle put it, this would bring ill luck to the family. Instead, Ammiel’s body was trapped in the horrifying conditions of an overcrowded morgue.

This was a double tragedy for me. I was alone and lost.

Deep in my heart, I knew I wanted to bury Ammiel in my father’s compound. Eventually, with the help of the supportive members of my family, the elders accepted my request. While I was given space to bury him, I could not have a burial ceremony because of his status as a twin.

Ammiel was buried in a corner of my father’s compound and only old men could dig his grave. My brothers and male cousins were asked not to go near the site. His grave remains unmarked, with no name or epitaph. I wanted to write his name and the simple words ‘Rest in Peace’, but I was denied the opportunity because of the belief that such actions would kill his twin brother.

My grandmother told my cousins not to attend Ammiel’s burial on the basis that they would die if they did. Ammiels’ surviving twin and I were not allowed to go near Ammiel’s casket, view his body, or even go near the gravesite. We were forbidden from even crying.

The only dignity and last respects I accorded my son was a nice casket and wreaths of flowers. His twin brother, playmate, and friend will never step close to his sibling’s grave. I’ve never understood the reasoning, and he never will either.

A day after the burial I snuck out to go to his graveside and cried my heart out.

MOVING FORWARD

I want women all over the world to stand up against retrogressive and oppressive cultures that perpetuate the discrimination that tore my family apart.

Before Ammiel’s death, in the midst of the struggle to adapt to the superstitions surrounding twins, I founded a community-based organization called Western Twaweza Empowerment Campaign (WETEC). To this day, we advocate for teen mothers and teenage girls, focusing on sexual health and reproductive rights.

This is not just a channel for my own healing, but an effort to help girls understand their rights and have control over their sexuality. So far, we have reached out to more than 1,500 girls in Western Kenya over the last 26 months.

Ammiel’s death has strengthened my resolve.I have come to know that cultural attitudes affect not only us, but also our children and their children. I believe the power to change these prevailing beliefs can only be instilled in those who are young. For me, the struggle to help those who are impacted by cultural myths starts with reaching out to teenage girls.

Let’s raise our voices and speak out against all forms of stigma. Let’s do so for Ammiel—and for all the twins in Africa who have suffered in the name of superstition.

Comments 17

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Roginga
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

Powerful testimony. This is a great insight and hence need for better healthcare system.

Immaculate Amoit
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Sure Roninga, Our healthcare systems need to be re-evaluated thanks for reading.

Immah

Smeeta Hirani
Jul 01, 2016
Jul 01, 2016

Immah,

I am blown way with your story. I remember sitting in front of you in Nairobi as you shared the experience with me. In that moment, I knew I was sitting across a powerful force. YOU were brought to the world to do exactly what you are doing. 

We all need to rise and speak up against this stigma. Thank you for leading the way. I had never heard of this before I met you.

Sending you much love!

Smeeta

Immaculate Amoit
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Hey Smeeta,

Thank you so much dear. The more we play victims the more we will be stigmatized even further and it will last, if we stand and speak, we will be heard and some things may be changed.

Warmest Regards

Much love to you too

Immah

 

Much love

Gbemisola Bamiduro
Jul 02, 2016
Jul 02, 2016

I am encouraged and touched by your willingness to help others overcome and stand against such superstitions that affect our lives in Africa. This is a problem many in Africa experience and we need to fight against it by educating the younger ones especially women. More grease to your elbow as you continue to raise your voice, educate and fight through your organization.

Immaculate Amoit
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Thank you Bemmy, for reading through, I believe if more of us stood up against some of our retrogressive cultures in Africa and other remote areas policies will change to us and our children

Warm Regards Immah

Nusrat Ara
Jul 02, 2016
Jul 02, 2016

This is a heart-breaking story. I never knew there was a superstition about twins in any part of the world. I have always loved twins and find the bonding between the siblings extraordinary and beautiful. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Keep up the good work.

Immaculate Amoit
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Thank you Nusrat for your kind words.

Warmest Regards Immah

Much love

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 03, 2016
Jul 03, 2016

Dear Immah,

I look at this photo of you standing so strong, and am floored by all that you have endured through the birth of your twins, the superstitions surrounding twins, and the tragic loss  of your precious Ammiel. With all of the changes that we are collectively coming together to address, those changes needed that are rooted in inexplicable and old traditions and beliefs are the most difficult. Your strength, courage and determination are inspiration to all facing such profound resistance. Your story offers such important information, and a call to be answered. We can and must work together, trusting that anything and everything unjust can and must be changed.

In sisterhood,

Tam

Immaculate Amoit
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Dear Tam,

I believe in vulnerability there is strength, we only need to tap to our core(the heart) and we will find courage and love. And with support from other strong women, I believe more can be achieved.

Thank you my sister

Immah

PilarAlbisu
Jul 04, 2016
Jul 04, 2016

Dear Immah,

I cannot explain the heartbreak and anger I felt at reading your story. I am so deeply saddened by the experiences that you and your son have lived. No one should have to suffer as you did, and least of all due to such unfounded and horrible cultural stigmas. I know nothing I say will bring back what you have lost, but I want to offer you my sincerest admiration for everything you have overcome and the selflessness you show in working to ensure that no one ever suffers what you did.

Wishing you nothing but success and health to both you and your son!

Pilar

Immaculate Amoit
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Dear Pilar,

I was left with more questions than answers. writing this article began my healing process. With Gods help and support from others I will bounce back. Your reading and commenting on it means so much to me. Thank you so much for your concern regarding my surviving son.

Warm Regards

Immah

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Jul 06, 2016
Jul 06, 2016

Woooow, Am more than touched. Its very sad that in this day and age we still have people who have strong beliefs like this. Am terribly sorry for your loss and the way society treated you. This has made you a stronger person and for sure you are championing change in this world. Stay blessed and continue to use your voice.

Ngô Dũng
Jul 07, 2016
Jul 07, 2016

So touching !! 

Domina Msonge
Jul 08, 2016
Jul 08, 2016

Immah

Sorry for the loss. As a mother, it is very painful. But this is still in most of the East African country. Congrats for being strong and be the ambassador to other girls. You are very strong woman.

God give you strength in you mission.

Domina 

Celine
Jul 12, 2016
Jul 12, 2016

Dear Immah,

So sorry for the death of Ammiel. Thank you for standing tall in the midst of pains.  I pray that Western Twaweza Empowerment Campaign will go a long way providing the platform for change of attitudes of people in your community.

Cheers,

Celine

Chelsea Maricle
Sep 01, 2017
Sep 01, 2017

Dear Immah,

Thank you for opening up and sharing your story. I was shocked and horrified as I read your account of what happened to you and your Ammiel. I have always thought twins were magical - in the best sense - and am very saddened to hear of cultural superstitions like this one that continue on and create such pain and tragedy in our lives. The work you are doing is honorable, and your strength for turning your pain into advocacy for other girls is inspiring.

In solidarity with you,

Chelsea