He travelled all the way from the little known village of Dandu in Mandera to Nairobi because he was convinced it was the only way the world could learn from his experience.
At his birth 25 years ago, Shukria Abdi Issak had a genital abnormality known as undescended testicles or cryptorchidism – a condition in which the testes are missing or they may be felt as lumps in the groin. His parents in a state of panic, lack of information and scanty healthcare facilities, decided to ‘turn’ him into a girl. They feared they would ruin the marriage prospects of a healthy child if discovered and bring shame to the family.
‘He’ was dressed in female attire, including the hijab, a headscarf for Muslim women all his life. Shukria performed chores meant for the Garre woman, sat and was taught all a woman needs to know. As a strict Muslim adherent, Shukria was also not allowed to mingle freely with the boys though he confessed that he always wanted to join them in their games and chores.
“Everybody in my village knows me as a woman,” he said in his native Garre language. He also did not go to school as his parents gave preference to the boys. And so, he speaks only Garre language. Shukria’s identity card, issued in Dandu, Mandera district, in 2004 too identifies him as female.
But the person many know as a woman was not actually one, nor was he androgynous. “My malformation resulted in my parents confining me to a state I did not belong simply believing I was cursed,” he said through his brother Alinoor Aliker. After his parents’ death in September last year, Shukria felt the chains had been loosened on him and decided to “go back to where I belong”.
So he decided to dump the female attire for the male clothing. He even went as far as befriending a girl who is now engaged to him. However, his neighbours and relatives who are convinced he is a woman were never going to take the matter lightly.
“My relatives turned down my request to wear male clothing. When my fiancée’s parents also heard that, they too have now changed their mind and told me plainly that I could not marry their daughter,” he told the Nation. The girl’s parents said they could not trust him because he has been a woman since birth, he added.
Still intent on convincing the girl’s parents and his relatives that indeed he was a normal man, he went to Takaba district hospital for medical examination. “The doctors confirmed that I was a man except that I had a malformation in my genitalia. But everything about me is fine,” said Shukria.
But even this confirmation by the doctors has not achieved much in changing the conviction of his relatives, neighbours and would-be in-laws. “His case has been closed in the village. He cannot marry and nobody wants to associate with him,” his brother said. “But I know he is a man, he is my younger brother and I cannot abandon him because some people want to exploit the mistakes of our parents to alienate him.”
He was convinced that the only way left was for him to tell the world his predicament. And so on Thursday last week, two days after he left Mandera with his brother Aliker, they arrived in Nairobi.
Both had never ventured out of Mandera before and the sight of Nairobi proved even more confusing. On Friday, they started the task of locating the offices of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights but night fell before they could reach them.
On Saturday morning, they were directed to Nation Centre by a Good Samaritan. “I have dumped the female clothing, done all I could do back home to convince the people that I am a man but they won’t accept me. I urgently need your assistance,” he said.
Seek help early
Psychiatrist Dr Sobbie Mulindi explained that such occurrences are normally difficult for people to accept. He said that people need to be educated to appreciate such conditions as undescended testicles they can seek help early on. “In Europe the malformations are detected early and dealt with but for us in Africa, it takes long and creates fear of discrimination and identity crisis,” he said.
Undescended testicles is the most common genital abnormality, affecting about 30 per cent of baby boys born prematurely and about four per cent born at term. While the condition is usually self-correcting by the sixth month after birth in half of the babies, where it fails doctors recommend treatment because the testicles that remain undescended may be damaged, which could affect fertility later or lead to other medical problems.
For Shukria, the battle to gain acceptance as a man now occupies his mind more than anything else. Dr Mulindi added that he too needs counselling. “Sexual orientation is psychological not biological. It is about identity and the neighbours too need to be educated on the same,” he said.