- Joseph Lekupe defied Samburu culture and took his wife to Barsaloi Health Centre when she had their fifth child. What he saw there has made him determined to ensure that their son becomes a doctor
- When he resolved to take his wife to Barsaloi Health Centre in Samburu when she went to give birth to their fifth child, Joseph Lekupe might not know it, but it was a significant move because, thanks to the acute shortage of medical facilities, statistics on issues related to childbearing in the area are disheartening.
Until five months ago, Joseph Lekupe had never accompanied his wife of 17 years, Agnes, to see a doctor or the local medicine man whenever she gave birth.
His wife had given birth to four children at their Manyatta in Loua Village in the heart of Samburu County, but Lekupe had not been there there during any of these births.
And it is not that he was an absentee father or preoccupied with other things. Lekupe explains that his wife’s reproductive health is considered a “women’s affair” among the Samburu, so it is considered dishonorable for men to concern themselves with such issues.
“A woman’s reproductive health is considered the concern of other women in the community. As the leaders and the defenders of the community, our focus, as men, is on issues such as resolving disputes and looking after livestock,” Lekupe explains matter-of-factly.
But contrary to popular opinion, Lekupe goes on to explain through an interpreter, it is actually not taboo for men to dabble in issues considered women’s affairs; that is just the way things have been in the community.
“When I came into the world, I found that men did not deal with or discuss women’s affairs, and I simply joined the crowd. We just don’t do it. It just the way things are, so it is considered dishonorable for a man to get involved in women’s affairs. But no one can give you a good reason,” he says.
That is why on August 19, 2014, he did what he considers one of the most radical things in his life: he accompanied his wife to a health centre eight kilometres east of their village in the small, single-street town of Barsaloi.
His gaze shifts towards the horizon as he recounts the day his fifth child was born. The sun had just peeked from behind the hills to the East of Loua Village when a heavily pregnant Agnes gasped to her husband, “I think it is time.”
Lekupe recalls me that he did not waste any time. “I left my Manyatta immediately and returned a few minutes later with a boda boda.”
The two men helped Agnes onto the motorbike after which Lekupe sat at the back, sandwiching his wife between him and the rider.
The eight kilometre ride to the sun-scorched Barsaloi was mostly shrouded in silence, except for the droning of the motorbike’s engine and the occasional whimper from Agnes as the gap between her contractions grew closer.
Hearing Lekupe recount the events that took place this day evokes images of his biblical namesake heading to Bethlehem — his wife Mary riding on a donkey — where their miracle baby would be born at night.
Only that in Lekupe’s case, their son was about to come into the world in much better conditions, unlike his four older siblings.
The significance of the day their son was born is clear from ,the amount of detail Lekupe and Agnes provide of the events surrounding it.
“His name is Stephen. Stephen Lekupe. He was born on a Tuesday, at exactly 9 am. I remember the nurses gave me tea with milk, as well as some bread. I also remember taking a bath every day for the few days that I stayed at the dispensary. I normally bathe after four days,” Agnes says.
The more I interacted with her Lekupe, the more I felt like a student sitting at the feet of a sage.
That is probably because he looks much older than he claims (he is not sure about his age but thinks he is in his thirties, and has been married for 17 years).
There is a way his gaze shifts towards the horizon when he is talking, which gives one the impression that what he is about to say is drawn from a wealth of experience and wisdom.
It doesn’t matter that he is talking about something as normal as taking his wife to the hospital.
And just as I am thinking that his “revolutionary” thinking ended with taking his wife to the hospital, and that at heart he’s a typical Samburu man who will not participate in child rearing, Lekupe does something quite unexpected; he absent-mindedly puts his club on the ground and picks up little Stephen.
Balancing his last born son on his right knee, Lekupe explains what compelled him to stop caring about what his fellow village men thought about “women’s issues.”
“I was tired of seeing my wife suffer. I knew what she had been through with our other four children and I decided that enough was enough. I could not bear to see her go through it again. Also, some people from the health centre had come to talk to us and told us that our women could go to have our child there for free and in much better conditions,” he says.
Estimates place the number of deaths due to maternal issues at more than 472 for every 100,000 live births in Samburu.
Another interesting thing is the fascination that Lekupe seems to have with his fifth child. You would think Stephen was his first child, or at least his first son. But he already has two sons.
Unable to contain my curiosity, I ask him what he thinks of his son and why he is special to him.