Bewildered, traumatized, terrified, these are words that come close to describing the turmoil facing Ezekiel Mwaleghu, a 19-year old form-one student at a secondary school in Voi Sub-County.
Mwaleghu spends most of his days holed up in his village as he hides from visiting neigbours.
When a neighbour approaches their homestead, Mweleghu quickly dashes into his room which has become like a prison and only leaves when he has to attend meetings for a disabled and handicap group where he was recently enrolled as a member.
“I just need the stares, the gossip, and the laughter to stop,” Mwaleghu says in a subdued voice.
It is hard to get Mwaleghu to talk because of the sensitivity of the topic, but once he begins to reluctantly open up, he paints a grim picture of what he has been going through, tormented by anguish, uncertainty and great fear.
Since birth up until when he was in class seven, Mwaleghu grew up knowing he was a normal boy, he grew up into a healthy teenager as well as engaged into other community activities.
Around October 2018 while in class seven, Mwaleghu noticed disturbing changes his body was undergoing with the most prominent being his growing chest.
Mwaleghu was developing breasts at his tender age, he was also developing other feminine features.
The 19 year old when this started happening told a few of his trusted confident, but they dismissed it as being normal. They even suggested that he should squeeze the elongated nipples with a plank of wood.
In their opinion, this would stop the growing breasts but unfortunately for Mwaleghu, they continued to grow as he matured.
As a candidate in class eight last year, his breasts had fully developed. He took to wearing baggy shirts and jackets to conceal their size but it was too late.
Other children in school were whispering; the villagers were staring harder than usual and heads started turning wherever he went.
Bewildered as he was, he did not know that more anatomical changes were developing.
Whenever he went for short calls, some urine would leak from a small secondary opening situated under his male organ. That discovery blew his world apart.
Frightened, alone, and lost on what to make of these changes, Mwaleghu had to confide in someone.
“I confided to the school principal about my problem. He told me he would find a sponsor to assist me to get proper medical help. He has not been successful,” admits the troubled teenager.
However, it was not until he disclosed the body changes to his father that he discovered the shattering news. His father told him of a corrective surgery done to him at infancy by doctors at Kijabe Mission Hospital, an operation he had no recollection of.
Nyange Mwachia, the father, is equally bewildered but puts up a strong face for the sake of his frightened child.
“He underwent a corrective operation while he was a baby to seal off his female organ. We are wondering why this is happening now,” he said.
He explains that his son, born in 2001, had both male and female genitals. The doctors at Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi referred the case to Coast General Hospital in Mombasa. Several tests and X-rays were done on the infant from facilities including Agha Khan and Pandya. All the tests, the father says, showed that he was a boy in all senses. All that was needed was a corrective surgery to seal the female organ.
“I was directed to go to Port Reitz because that is where I could meet doctors from Kijabe Mission Hospital who would assist me,” he explains.
The visiting doctors studied the tests and recommended the operation for the infant be done at Kijabe Mission Hospital. The corrective procedure was successful.
“I went to Port Reitz Hospital a few more times for post-operation checkups and everything was okay. I knew my child was fine until now,” he said.
Flora Ngongolo, the mother, says her greatest worry is how her son will cope with the overwhelming scrutiny and curiosity generated by his condition.
“He has taken to hiding in his room all day to avoid the public. It is very unhealthy for him for he needs to go out. What will now happen when schools open?” she posed.
In a testimony to how unisex individuals are misunderstood, Mwaleghu was recently enrolled as a member of a disabled group in hope that he might get swift assistance if his sexual variation is classified as a disability.
Margaret Kimeu, an official with the disabled group, said they were puzzled about why the teenager had joined them yet he appeared normal in all ways. It was only after probing on his type of disability that they realized he was unisex.
“He is not like us because he has limbs and parts intact. His condition is not permanent and can be rectified,” she said.
Earlier on, the group had ignorantly shared his photo with exposed breasts on several online platforms as a way of raising awareness about his condition and hoping to attract support. Kimeu says they did it in good faith and did not know such actions could enhance the stigma towards the teen.
The family is reaching out to well-wishers to assist in helping their son undergo another corrective procedure. He adds that there is a lot of misinformation about how to make him ‘normal’.
“I am being told there are injections that can make him a boy again. Others are telling me that he can only get help in India. We are lost on what to do,” the father said.
According to Kenya’s 2019 Population and Housing Census, the country registered 1,524 intersex individuals.