One of the 'My Unspoken' workshop members Joy Muthoni. 19th March 2013.
Photo/Emma Nzioka NATION MEDIA GROUP
Not many women would go on a reality television show to discuss their innermost secrets, but a few brave ones appeared in the first season of the pioneer Oprah-style Kenyan programme My Unspoken last year. Saturday Magazine caught up with them to find out how revealing their darkest secrets on national TV has affected their lives.
Joy Muthoni, 42,
Children’s officer at Faith Action Compassion and Transformation
Despite being steeped in her work of helping abused women and children, Joy was hurting from a childhood incident where she was molested by a houseboy in her home. She talks about her decision to go on the show and her life after My Unspoken.
Why did you go on ‘My Unspoken’?
My life was a runaway train. I could not understand why I had such a poor relationship with my mother, and why I was a serial dater who hated being single. A friend had recommended Alabastron and warned me that this show would be on TV, but I needed to speak candidly about what was eating me or I would go insane, and it did not matter if everyone was watching.
What was your unspoken?
Initially, I thought it was my hostile relationship with my mother, but during the programme, I realised that being sodomised and molested by a houseboy when I was 10 was my wound.
My mother never suspected anything but I blamed her for employing him and I never told her what was going on because I thought she would punish me for it.
I only got courage to tell her about it when I was 26, but she did not hug me or cry as I expected. Our relationship deteriorated even further. I felt cheated and betrayed because, unlike the young girls I help, I had not been able to talk about the abuse or to get justice for it.
What did you see when you watched the show?
I thought: Who is that weirdo crying on TV? (chuckles). I was surprised to see the emotionally-wrecked, pain-filled Joy on the show — in fact, I was the official crying face of My Unspoken.
I also gasped when I heard myself say that every horrible thing that could happen to a woman had happened to me.
Were you shocked at what the other women said on the show?
Yes, there was a woman who talked about having an abortion and another about wearing no underwear. That shocked me. But at some point, I found it hilarious.
Was being on the show beneficial?
I learnt to take responsibility for my life instead of blaming my mother, and to manage my expectations of other people’s behaviour. I was able to look at her, not as a mother who had failed me, but a woman with her own struggles and frustrations.
Has appearing on the show had any repercussions?
When I told mother that I was going to be on the show, she was OK with it, but that was before she watched it. When it came on TV, she was really hurt. I got heated calls from my relatives telling me that I had dishonoured my mother by going on the show.
However, they now appreciate that I have changed for the better. I needed to deal with my pain so that I could help others more effectively. I am no longer a master pretender and I make my feelings known.
If my daughter went on the show, I would probably react the same way. I am reworking my relationship with my mother one baby step at a time and she invited my sister and me for dinner this weekend.
What else has changed about you since appearing on the show?
I was an overprotective mother who thought everyone was out to destroy my children, but now I give them space. I now complete what I start, and I am no longer afraid of my mother.
People now recognise you on the street. How do you deal with that?
I still have not gotten used to people staring at me. So many women hug me and tell me how courageous I am to have talked about what they would never say, while others want to pour out their stories to me, but I take it all in my stride because I understand them.
Carol Wairimu, 43,
Jill of many trades — brokering transport, and real estate.
She swears she can sell anything for money, including me. She has never said no to anything and chose to deal with her broken relationship with her mother on TV.
Why did you go to ‘My Unspoken’?
Curiosity. Alabastron was all the rage and I wanted to find out why every woman was talking about it.
What was your unspoken?
I had an identity crisis after the death of my grandparents, who had raised me as their pampered lastborn. I lacked a sense of belonging because I had never had a mother-daughter relationship with my mother.
Even as a child, I wondered why other children who had mothers in Nairobi were visited and brought goodies while I was not…maybe I was a reminder of someone who had hurt her. I never felt my mother’s presence.
What shocked you on watching the show?
I had never thought I could be so emotional and candid because when I am faced with issues, I avoid them or try to hide from them. I was shocked that I said I wash my husband’s underwear on national TV.
I also could not recognise myself speaking so knowledgeably about the Bible. Hearing other women talk about how they wait up to open doors for their husbands who come home late, and the woman who left her eight-month-old baby was shocking — these are things I would not do.
Has appearing on the show affected your life?
Did you see us being made fun of the other day? One of the women they were imitating must have been me (laughs). Ever since the show was aired, my mother has not spoken to me or visited me. I went to visit her but she was cold to me.
I stopped thinking about it, but I pray for her and hope we can have a relationship some day. My husband was not happy about it, but he knew I do whatever I please, so he could not do anything about it. However, he has never spoken about the show.
My daughters, aged 19 and 17, were supportive, but the younger one is conservative and wonders why I had to go for therapy on TV. Other relatives are also afraid that I might gather more fodder for TV and my uncle told me not to attend family get-togethers.
The other reaction I did not expect was that my friends get surprised if I become annoyed — they imagine that after My Unspoken I should now be immune to that.
What else about you has changed?
I used to be very confrontational, banging tables to drive a point home. Now I know how to make myself heard positively. I also cannot stand the pity parties that most women love to indulge in when they gather. Please do not invite me to your pity party, I will walk away.
Would you do it again?
I have no qualms about it. It was a very healing experience. For the critics I say: they should not be bothered because they were not the ones on TV, I was.
Gloria Wakini, 28,
Media events project manager.
Gloria has piercing eyes that seem to seek deeper interaction with whoever she is speaking with. Having collected a lot of emotional baggage from various life experiences that culminated in a dark phase when she lost her newborn, she talks about finding healing on television.
Why did you go on ‘My Unspoken’?
My father was physically and verbally abusive, my boyfriend dumped me when I was three months pregnant, and six-and-a-half months into the pregnancy, I got complications that led to a preterm delivery. Then I lost the baby — that was the final straw.
I had nothing to live for. My younger sister, who had gone through Alabastron, put my name on the list for My Unspoken. At that point I did not care that it was going to be televised. I was sick and tired of being in pain and acting strong.
I needed to allow myself to break. Coincidentally, I broke on TV.
What was your unspoken?
I was angry at God and bitter because I thought it was wrong to voice that anger. The first time I wept for my son was on the show, 10 months after his death. I cried for hours. I also had a lot of baggage from childhood and as a firstborn, I put up a brave front, never letting anyone know that things affected me.
What did you see when you watched the show?
I could not believe that I had gone through all that stress. I was shocked at the part where I said I owned only two panties and that sometimes I went about without underwear. I could not even remember saying that.
Did being on the show affect your relationships with your family and friends?
My immediate family was OK with it, but I could not care less what my father thought of the show — he is divorced from my mother and we are not in touch. However, my ex asked why I had not consulted him before going on the show, saying it would make him look bad.
But a day after the episode during which I broke down, he called me and apologised, saying he had not realised how hurt I was. There are also friends who wondered why I spilled private matters on TV instead of seeing a therapist privately. Coincidentally, there are friends who became aloof just about the time the show went on air.
Was it worth it talking about your innermost secrets on TV?
When I was suffering, I knew there was a purpose to it. I am certain that sharing my experience on the show has helped somebody. I have no baggage and I do not allow people to mess with my heart.
What else has changed about you?
I redid my wardrobe and bought bright-coloured clothes, I am no longer a workaholic trying to mask my pain with work, and I now cherish me-time while before I could not stand being alone. You will not catch me complaining and I am hopeful about marriage, having children, and life in general
How do you deal with all the attention you get from being on the show?
It sure feels creepy when people stare at you wherever you go. People also stop me on the street and send me Facebook messages asking for help. I assist where I can, but I advise them to seek professional help.
Do you regret going on the show?
Those three months literally saved my life and I would not trade them for anything. If I had to do it again I would even go to CNN.
We don’t speak silence here, so spill your secrets
My Unspoken is a TV show that grew from a coaching programme, Alabastron, started by Laimani Bidali. The show which airs on NTV every Wednesday night brings together a group of women going through the Alabastron programme.
Alabastron grew from a leadership management coaching programme that Laimani used to run in which she realised that her charges were struggling with their inner lives and yearned to do something about it.
Laimani then used principles she had gathered from reading various books and attending a church programme on how changing one’s thoughts affects lives, and created a 12-week programme to help women transform their lives.
It is this programme that grew into a show called My Unspoken. The women are guided by Laimani Bidali as they speak about the experiences they have been through that traumatised them and how they have shaped their various life decisions.
“My Unspoken is about the sensitive issues that we are afraid of talking about — sexual abuse by a mother or auntie, strained relationships with parents, unfaithful wives, abortion, and other issues we would rather cover up.
It is not your regular TV show meant to entertain, but we hope that as you walk through the 12-week journey with the women, you can learn a few things from them,” Laimani says of the programme, which is now in season two.
A woman will rarely say she hates her children, but when given a safe environment, she will speak about it.
Not everyone who volunteers from the show gets on. One has to be comfortable opening up on camera and really have an unspoken story that women would identify with. The women get very vulnerable and candid on set and sometimes Laimani asks them if they realise that what they are talking about will be aired, but they usually shrug and carry on.
The programme is aired a few months after the women have completed the Alabastron programme to allow some time for them to have healed and developed skills in dealing with any situation that arises from appearing on the show.
“The reactions from their families and friends are normal, but I remind them to remember their truth — the reason they went on the show — if they start feeling overwhelmed by negative attention from being on the show.”
The women are not allowed to mention names and are encouraged to focus on their part in any of the experiences they reveal on TV.
Laimani, who was a TV greenhorn before the show, says that it has also been a learning experience for her. She has become more compassionate and promises that season three will be better as it will include tweaks from the current season.NATION