Eunice Jeptoo, 37, stares at me as I enter the compound of a house she shares with 10 other tenants in Nandi county. Her gaze settles on the still camera dangling on my shoulders.
She is holding her malnourished triplets in her arms, hoping anyone arriving home could bring food or solutions to her 11-month tribulations.
In other families, the arrival of three children at a go could be marked with celebrations and gifts by friends and relatives. However, for Jeptoo, it marked the end of a relationship the couple had nurtured since 2006 ,which yielded two other children: Mercy, aged 11, and Emmanuel, eight.
Her story has dominated local social media networks, including WhatsApp groups, Facebook platforms and in regional vernacular FM radio stations.
Just like many other relationships in the society, Jeptoo entered into a sort of courtship and eventually “come we stay” relationship with a man she thought could protect and take care of her. She already had two other children from a past relationship, and unknown to her, the man she was living with was slowly getting fed up with her.
Eunice Jeptoo with her triplets in Nandi-Hills town. PHOTO BY BARRY SALIL
Jeptoo’s problems started mid-last year, when she informed her husband, Isaac Tanui, that she was pregnant and expecting twins. Little did she know she would get triplets instead.
A routine medical check-up informed her of “unexpected and abnormal” conditions and the need to prepare psychologically for safe delivery.
Jeptoo saw the coming children as a blessing in disguise, since it could be an avenue for the couple to solemnise their relationship.
Tanui’s family is a family of means, with a few acres of tea that could enable the children she expected to receive better care. Tanui is a supervisor of green leaf weighing at the Eastern Produce Kenya Ltd-Kapsumbeywo Tea Estates.
But the man saw the news as more of a curse than a blessing. He thought twins would mark an additional family responsibility he was not prepared for. He argued that his family had never had a history of genes of twins.
The news that there was two foetuses in Jeptoo’s womb was nothing short of a “bombshell” in his life.
“Hell broke loose one early morning when he woke up and threw out all my belongings, asking me to leave his house,” Jeptoo says.
The house is in Kapsoo village, Aldai subcounty. The village is famous as a tea-growing zone. It is covered by an endless green blanket of tea bushes, a lucrative cash crop. But after being kicked out, Jeptoo bade farewell to all that.
She gave birth on October 11 last year, after undergoing caesarean section at the Nandi Hills Subcounty Hospital. As informed by nurses during several medical check-ups, Jeptoo was prepared for twins and not triplets.
“I woke up at the theatre to be shown three children and not two as expected. I was dumbfounded. I had nothing to celebrate because their father had taken off,” she recalls tearfully.
Even after being discharged from the hospital, she refused to leave the maternity wing for two weeks.
“They discharged me but I had nowhere to go with the triplets, since I had been hauled out of my matrimonial home by their father,” Jeptoo says.
A nurse at the Nandi Hills hospital was forced to rent a single room (bed-seater) for her not far from the hospital. That’s when she agreed to leave.
Jeptoo cites the Biblical teaching where three men, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, defied King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to worship Baal, the gods, instead of God.
“I remember they were thrown into the fire but it did not burn them. And I thought, why can’t I give the names to my triplets so that they survive by divine means?” Jeptoo said.
And so she named them: Shadrack Kipruto, Meshack Kipchumba and Abednego Kiprotich. Due to inadequate food, Jeptoo has been unable to have enough milk to suckle the triplets.
Though the kids are malnourished and underweight, Jeptoo is hopeful that one day they will walk and be like other children. She boils maize for her supper and holds her two babies as the other one cries.
“You see, they need milk, but my breasts are empty because I didn’t eat anything for lunch, save for this free maize brought to me by a Good Samaritan,” Jeptoo says.
“The children you are seeing have survived to where they are by the grace of God. I don’t know how I will bring them up, maybe through miracles.”
Jeptoo looks frail. Bones protrude in her chest and neck, depicting the hardship she has undergone, thanks to the “curse” of the triplets.
“At first, I had thought of sneaking out of the hospital incognito, but my situation at the time could not allow, as the wound had not healed,” she says.
“I was troubled and even thought of taking my life, but somehow I managed to overcome.”
Her main problem was where to take the three identical triplets. She expected no one to welcome her after handing over the four other children to relatives.
She regrets that her relationship with Tanui, which had blossomed, was brought to an abrupt end after she conceived the triplets.
Jeptoo is an orphan, having lost both her parents at their home in Chuiyat, Uasin Gishu county. Her four children were taken by relatives, and she’s not sure whether they are in school or not.
SEARCH FOR JUSTICE
Her efforts to have her husband face the law have all come to naught. Tanui has been summoned five times by the children’s office, but he only attended once, where he disowned the triplets and insisted on a DNA analysis if he was to rescind his stance.
Emmanuel Kios, the children’s officer for Nandi-East/Aldai sub-counties, said they had been unable to have Tanui “arrested” or respond to their summons.
“We summoned him through the existing administration channels of his Chepkunyuk location chief, but we are not sure if he received the summons,” Kios says.
Children rights lobbyist Sarah Kosgei said the department was lenient on Tanui. Kosgei chairs the Nandi County Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation.
“If they had both been living since 2006 as husband and wife, how comes when she conceived and came to know there was more than one child, he threw her out and took off?” she asked.
“The public must be told the truth and the father of the triplets should take responsibility.”
When contacted by the Star, Tanui, 40, confirmed knowing Jeptoo but claimed the triplets were not his. He said since he has walked out on Jeptoo. He has moved on and is in another relationship with another woman and does not want to be bothered.
“I can only accept responsibility after a DNA confirms the children are actually mine. I’m ready to hand over my blood samples if a court of law orders for them. Our relationship was not meant for marriage,” he said.
Also read more here