She has been dubbed as the girl with nine lives, and rightly so, Catherine Njeri Gikuya has overcome all manner of hardships to become a motivational speaker.
About 10 years ago, Catherine, then a fresh faced second-year sociology student at the University of Nairobi had her life figured out. She had career plans and ambitions, and just like most young women, couldn’t wait to meet the man of her dreams. She was a virgin and planned to keep it that way.
“I was a nice girl. I did all the right things. I didn’t smoke or drink and didn’t even have a boyfriend,” recalled Catherine.
But then, life took an unexpected turn when she was sexually abused.
“He was a fourth-year student doing biomedical engineering. My friend and I visited his room to type and print out an assignment. His roommate was in there too. At some point, my friend received a call from her father and had to leave. The roommate left with her, leaving me alone with this man,” Catherine told Sunday Magazine.
“He was so rough and at some point, he abandoned the protection,” she added.
While she reported the incident at Nairobi Women’s Hospital and got post rape treatment against HIV and some counselling, the rapist walked scot free as Catherine didn’t report the incident to the police or family.
This incident, however, left her scarred, and from then on, she was on self-destructive behaviour.
“My dressing and my whole attitude to life changed, especially my perspective about men,” she said.
“I started dating older men. Many of them were rich old men with positions of influence.”
Less than a year after the first rape incident, she was raped again, this time by the family farmhand at home in Embu.
“I was busy cleaning up for bed time. Everyone else was asleep. While showering in the bathroom outside the main house, the farmhand who had worked for us for over a year, forced his way in and raped me, with no protection,” she painfully recalled.
After the incident, she declined counselling but went through the PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) treatment again. Her will to live had diminished.
“When I turned 23, I felt that I didn’t need to live another year. So I began planning my death.”
But before she took her own life, Catherine decided to do one outrageous thing, after all, she wasn’t going to live long after.
“On Nairobi’s Monrovia street, I saw posters seeking escorts. So I called the number and planned to meet up with the woman on the other end. She was suspicious at first and said that I did not look like the type for the job. She also said that other than the escort services, they were also shooting a blue movie for ‘International consumption’. I told her I was up for anything.”
“We were in some Kileleshwa apartment. And I was in a room with five men, fellow actors. We were briefed on what to do. It was what they call a gang bang. I went through with it. I wasn’t scared, just utterly empty and going through the motions. It was only after I was paid and left that doubt and guilt plagued me. It got so bad that I took my Sh10,000 payment and threw it in a bin.”
“I was only comforted by the fact that no one would know about it, after all, it was for an international audience.”
However, when schools reopened in 2009, her roommate told her that a porn movie with her face in it was all over the school.
“The movie turned out to be a local porn movie and the victimisation began. I was now known as Cate the pornstar. That was the most difficult time of my life. Nobody wanted to sit next to me in class. People would pass me notes in the class or in the library asking how much I charged per session and I would get strange calls in the middle of the night. Some would record the movie on phone and I would hear myself in the background when they called.”
“One day the lecturer was teaching about what makes something newsworthy and he mentioned pornography. The whole class burst out laughing. I had to walk out. On my way out, someone shouted that I was leaving to shoot Season Two. Oh, the humiliation I felt.”
She kept walking and got to Nairobi’s busy University Way.
“When the lights turned red, I dived into the traffic. The first car hit me but only bruised my leg. The policewoman manning the traffic was shocked at how much I cried for not dying,” she said.
The few friends she had left, though unaware of the incident sought a counsellor for her.
“I agreed to go, and despite the counselling, I really didn’t feel moved to change. I was now on an unrelenting oath of self-destruction.”
“I graduated from the University in December 2009 and embarked on a fruitless search for a job. I lived a day at a time and sunk into a deep depression. I really wanted to die then. So I designed my epitaph. I liked the idea of it reading: Date of death: 20/01/2010.”
“I made a concoction of weed killer, rat poison, insecticide and tick killer. I sent the farmhand for 20 piritons for the drowsy effect. I wanted to sleep forever.”
“I didn’t eat supper so that the drugs could work more effectively. I also called my best friend to tell her the songs I wanted to be sung at my funeral. She thought I was just being cynical and laughed it off.”
“In the middle of the night, I woke up vomiting so I felt like my intestines would come out through my mouth. I woke up my mother, confessed what I had done and she rushed to a hospital.”
Determined to end her life, Catherine, on her second day in hospital to suffocate herself by putting a polythene bag over her head and covering herself with blankets.
“It felt like an eternity, so I figured that there were better and faster ways to go,” she said.
Before being discharged, the doctor demanded to know why she had attempted suicide and threatened to call the police if she did not confess.
“I only admitted to the second rape and that is how my family found out about the incident.”
Horrified, they took her to see a counsellor in Mombasa, where her father was based. However, a couple of weeks into counseling, she fell into depression again, and that is when she took to reading obituaries just to admire the people in them. And she attempted suicide again, hoping that the fourth time was the charm.
“I took a shuka, put a water tank on top of a stool and climbed on top. Then I tied the shuka to a kitchen ceiling bar, put the noose round my neck and kicked the tank away.”
Fortunately, the knot wasn’t tight enough and when her father opened the kitchen door, she was startled and jerked, loosening the knot. She fell to the ground. Her dad, who hadn’t been keen on the episode, didn’t realize that she had been attempting suicide.
Later in the week, she decided to drown herself by jumping off Mombasa’s Nyali Bridge, but just as she was about to jump, 11 in the night, an Indian man stopped his car, shone his headlights at her and she abandoned the attempt. That was her last attempt.
“This time, something changed in me. I started thinking that I needed to change things and try live. I also felt like God was telling me that I was precious. And from then on, I felt like a light bulb had come on.”
She took her counselling sessions more seriously and considers herself work in progress.
Today, she is a motivational speaker and talks to people suffering from depression. She has a Facebook page, ‘On Preventing Suicide by Catherine Njeri’ that people can reach her on.
“I resolved to start talking about it last year when I realised that no one talks about mental health and there is too much stigma surrounding it. And yet the worst thing you can do is fail to talk about it. Depression gets worse until one becomes suicidal,” she said.
“My main supporter is my dad,” she said, adding: “My boyfriend too.”
“We met in 2014, knows my story and supports me through it. He doesn’t judge me.”
She recalled an incident when a matatu driver noticed her from the porn movie and how her boyfriend reacted.
“One time we were in a bus and the driver said, ‘Aren’t you the girl I saw in a certain movie?’ I did not know what to say my boyfriend sensing my discomfort told the driver, ‘Ni yeye. Utado?’ (She is the one. What will you do about it?”)
Source: SDE/ Sunday Magazine