By Boniface Msangi and Jasmine Otieno.
Born and raised in Kabiang’a, Kericho County 27 years ago, Karyn Chelagat dreamt of completing her studies one day and securing a well-paying job. Her dream mirrors that of every other young girl hoping to stand tall and conquer the world.
Her bid for conquest, success and comfort, however, suffered a blow when she was 17 years old, and in Form Three at a school in Kericho. Her parents’ money got depleted so fast. That meant she was not going to continue with her education. She, consequently, retreated to her parents’ village home.
Five years later, she would fall in love with a man in her town centre.
The relationship yielded an adorable baby-girl, who would live not to experience her father’s love because the young man believed he wasn’t mature enough to take up parental responsibilities. And, just like that, he dashed out of the then-22-year-old Karyn Chelagat’s life.
Life, she says, became unbearable in the village, with little or no opportunities to improve her already-lowly status at the time.
-Rural to urban migration-
What option was she left with? Rural to urban migration. Karyn Chelagat embarked on a 795-kilometer journey from Kabiang’a to Mtwapa in Kilifi County, hoping to get casual jobs or, better still, land a wealthy man who would love and take care of her emotional and financial needs.
Shock on her when she arrived in Mtwapa -- dusty and rugged. Unlike her, all the women she saw were as pretty as a picture, curvy, and as fine as goblet wine; their hair, as beautiful as that of Julia Roberts.
Envy, she says -- naturally -- grew in her because she couldn’t afford the quality make-up and weaves she saw the other lasses sporting.
She -- at the time -- brushed aside the desire to look good and smell good, instead, using the meagre financial resources she was armed with on rent for a small house in Mtwapa.
Her continued stay in Mtwapa, a town she knew nobody or had no relative in, meant her money continued to be scant.
Chelagat says it got to a point she could no longer raise monthly house rent, and had to request a young woman she had befriended to take her in. Her crony, she says, entertained her request.
Ever since, she and her daughter have been putting up at her friend’s house.
On Sunday, July 21, Chelagat went to window-shop for weaves at a supermarket in Mtwapa.
On one side, she was filled with a strong desire to own two weaves she badly-wanted, on the other hand, the stark reality of being penniless was proving too brutal for her to fulfil her desires.
Lack of congruence between the two realities meant that the only way for her to own the weaves was through stealing. And, so she stole.
But it did not take long for the supermarket attendants to know that Chelagat had breached a seller-buyer agreement.
“I did not expect to get caught that fast. It was really embarrassing and humiliating to me. Police locked me in for two days, after which I was arraigned at the Shanzu Law Courts,” Karyn Chelagat told K24 Digital.
She says she immediately knew she would be thrown in jail for that offence.
“Things, however, turned out differently on that day (Tuesday, July 23). Instead of the judge sentencing me to prison, he organised a harambee in court for money to be raised so that I could compensate my accuser in exchange of my freedom,” said Karyn Chelagat.
“I still cannot believe I was released after pleading guilty to theft. If only I could meet the magistrate who set me free, and the lawyer who gave me Ksh2, 000, I would not hesitate hugging them to show my gratitude. Until then, I know God will reward them,” said the 27-year-old.
“I spent the money the lawyer gave me at the salon, where my hair was neatly done,” said Karyn Chelagat.
The mother-of-one maintains she is remorseful for her deeds, and vows not to steal again.
“I know what I did was wrong. I just wanted to look good like other women of my age in Mtwapa. I couldn’t afford the weaves valued at Ksh1, 140. I still cannot [afford them]. I am sorry that my actions painted not only me, but young women in bad light,” said Chelagat.
The vicenarian’s friend, who is housing Chelagat, Felistus Wangari, says the last two months have been “the worst” for the mother-of-one.
“Her family has neglected her. It is only her brother who, once in a while, comes around and gives me money for food and upkeep,” Wangari told K24 Digital.
Chelagat says she is interested in hairdressing, and hopes one day a well-wisher would sponsor her to pursue the course in college.
“If I get a hairdressing job, it would help me ward off social vices such as drugs, alcoholism and theft,” she said.
Chelagat says going back to the village is not an option for her because she fears to “waste away”.
Last Tuesday, Shanzu Senior Resident Magistrate Patrick Odhiambo surprised court attendees when he held an impromptu fundraiser to help Chelagat, who had been charged with theft, raise compensation for two hair weaves she had stolen from a Mtwapa supermarket.
Odhiambo asked those present in the courtroom to voluntarily contribute at least Ksh100 which will go toward recompensing the supermarket.
The magistrate’s request came after Karyn Chelagat pleaded guilty to shoplifting charge, saying she envied her friends who sported good-looking weaves, but, due to her financial woes, she was unable to raise the Ksh1, 140 collective tag put on the synthetic hair.
Chelagat stole the weaves from the Mtwapa supermarket on Sunday, July 21.
“I wanted to look beautiful like other women. So, I went to the supermarket, looked around and saw the weaves that my friends often wear. Upon looking at the price tag, I was heartbroken that I couldn’t afford the two pieces. Left with no other choice, I stole the products,” Chelagat told the court amid tears.
The suspect, in her mitigation, further told the magistrate that poverty “made it hard for her to properly groom herself”.
“I was raised in poverty. When I came to town, I would see women sporting good hair and wearing quality make-up. I have tried to look as beautiful as my friends, but lack of money makes that impossible,” said Chelagat.
It was at that point that the magistrate asked lawyers present in court and other Kenyans to contribute at least Ksh100 each to help Chelagat raise Ksh1, 140 which she owed her accuser.
One of the lawyers, William Bosire, gave out Ksh2, 000 to rescue the woman from serving a 2-year jail term for the offence.
Alternatively, the teenager would have had to part with a fine of Ksh50, 000 to secure her freedom.
Senior Resident Magistrate Odhiambo set Chelagat free and, thereafter, asked the investigating officer to return the stolen weaves to the Mtwapa supermarket, and Bosire’s money be given to the accused “to buy a weave and food to eat”.
Karyn Chelagat told K24 Digital that upon her release Tuesday, she went to Copacabana beach in Mtwapa to swim so as to “cool off”.