Angeline Yiamiton Siparo loves elephants and sugar cane. She also doesn’t know how to pull punches and talks in long passionate sentences. She’s got three daughters and gets a massive rise from women’s rights activism. At 51, (she calls it the second half), she’s made her bones in the proverbial trenches.
Her resume reads like a catalogue; crisis counsellor working at a rescue and counselling centre for vulnerable girls, current chairperson National AIDS Control Council, trustee, Frontline AIDS, Action Africa Help International, Maa Women’s Network (Olamal Lo’ Ntomonok) and currently the country director, Population Reference Bureau.
She has served on the advisory board of Amnesty International and has been the deputy chair of Kenya Children’s Council. She talked to JACKSON BIKO about, well, life.
At this point in your life, what makes you get out of your bed?
Interesting question. To be honest, it’s not always been easy to get out of bed. I have had to deal with some traumatic experiences in the family recently. I went for trauma counselling and one of the ways to deal with the issue has been to clean the house. I mean, really clean my house, like remove all furniture and clean the whole place. I’ve always been a spiritual person and after the episode, it was clear to me that God’s control is assured. I’m 51 years old now and I keep saying that the second half is the most interesting. I watch football but I prefer the second half to the first half, it’s more interesting, the mistakes of the first half are amended in the second.
Do you want to talk about this trauma or is it private?
It’s a private trauma because it’s not mine. It’s not for me to speak of, but it guts me as a mother. (Pause) But broadly speaking it was issues involving gender-based violence. I can talk about the difficulty of getting justice in cases involving gender violence. I can talk about our lacking DNA centres, the slowness of the police to act and how the wheels of justice turn slowly. I have access to friends who work in gender violence centres, therefore can access resources, but still, it is difficult. What about a woman facing death in marriage? How can I help someone in that situation access help?
At 51, what do you want to see in this last half?
I’m now dealing with larger legacy goals. I was born in Maasai-land and you may know the gender experiences of a Maasai woman who is divorced. I have struggled with where to build a home, where I belong. Where do I settle in the long-term? I have land in Transmara, where I hail from, but I can’t settle there or in Nairobi. I don’t feel allegiance to building in a place I was born. I think as Kenyans we need to get to a place where we stop thinking about ethnicity. I don’t believe in retirement, just a slower pace in life. I’m also thinking of [setting up]a mental health centre, specifically for people who have been abused. A place for people looking for long-term support in redirecting their lives.
Do you see yourself ever get married again?
I’d love to. But let me say that when I talk about healing from trauma and I used the analogy of cleaning the house I meant removing every furniture. I learnt about this during therapy for secondary trauma as a mother. I realised there was trauma around bad marriage, but I’d be open to a nice loving relationship full of compassion and friendship.
If life were to end before midday today, what feather in your cap would you be most proud of?
My children. I’ve raised three amazing children. The greatest tribute was when they said that if I died, they would be fine, we will miss you at weddings and functions, but we will be fine. That’s the day I realised I’d done a good job. They are very independent-minded, they don’t see colour, ethnicity, and they are compassionate and spiritual children who know they are loved and can offer love. I’m also happy with my life. I have no regrets. If I was told it’s ending midday, I’d call my bank and tell them to take care of my children.
Why can’t you build a home and settle in Transmara?
It’s cultural tension, to put it delicately. I feel great tension between me and my culture and how they view women. I find it rather difficult to subscribe to those norms ascribed to women. I’m in awe of those Maasai women who have ascended in leadership because it takes a lot. I feel like I have other battles to fight as it were, so I prefer to focus on those.
Do you believe a man should be the head of the family?
I guess you have to define what head is. For me, the two key terms in marriage are respect and love, and when a man has earned the right he can be considered the head of that family. And earning the right here doesn’t mean having money, it means leading, providing, guiding, sustaining, and loving. My parents had an amazing marriage and who I am is testimony of that. My father was the head of the family, no doubt but I have seen marriages where the man should not be the head- men who don’t provide, don’t love to offer guidance. Dominance has no place in marriages now. You have to earn the right to be the head.
What’s the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
My gender sensitivity has been much heightened because of my experiences. I can get upset and very aggressive at gender situations which I might read wrongly. These are sometimes innocent comments that touch my nerves. I’m working on that, not to see everything in gender terms. I’m also working on the ability to deal with people in the present and not refer to the past. I’m also trying to exercise more, this has been my Achilles’ heel.
Do you see yourself as a fun person?
(Laughs) I hope I haven’t given you the impression that I’m not. I have a child-like spirit. For me fun is easy. I love the beach, watching my children ride those camels. I love elephants, they are my spirit animals. I love the water. My birthdays are child-like themes. I’m also filled with wonder. I also love fine dining, going out to different cuisines. I love balloon safaris.
Handbags. My children can testify. (Laughs)
How many do you have?
That’s a dangerous question. Let’s just say that they are many but I also give them out. I love my life, space. My goal has been to have an authentic life, to be honest with myself and other people.