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Eden House – Month one, and Why

We’re now 3 weeks into Eden House. It’s been a busy time, so we’re having an update.

What we’ve accomplished:

  • Cleaned up
  • Gotten the plumbing mostly repaired
  • Been broken into 3 times, (local thieves, not transphobia as far as we know) and house security has held each time.
  • Improved house security – secured the ladder, installed concertina wire atop the wall in places, replaced many of the locks, and installed motion detector lights
  • Developed strong relationships with our neighbors. Honestly , the theives have been a blessing – they’ve given us a non-controversial roject to cooperate on.
  • purchased basic household furnishings – cooking equipments, fridge, microwave, a plastic table, mattresses, curtains
  • Made more household furnishings – we’ve made 3 sofas and 5 beds. (Tomato crates are amazing!).
  • Bought basic carpentry tools, got past some gender stereotypes about what’s appropriate women’s work, and had basic tool use classes. Everyone caught on, and now is much more self sufficient.
  • built a chicken coop
  • Planted a garden

What Is Eden House, How is a ‘Trans Haven’ different from a ‘hidey hole’ or temp shelter?

A ‘hidey hole’ is a temporary place for a trans person to hide while we get them out. We have these in various places around the world. They’re uncomfortable bare rooms, not a place to live very long.

Some organizations make Queer homeless shelters. A place where a queer person can come and stay safely, but not very comfortably for the long term.

Instead, we’ve chosen to make a more ‘plush’ place. Trans folks can come and stay as long as they like. We help them find productive work within the context of the Haven. Some may choose to stay their entire lives, some may choose to leave soon.

Financially, we expect the place to become self supporting, a communal living space. Folks come and go at a stereotypical ‘hippy commune’, soem staying a long time. We can do much the same.

Why?

Obviously it’s a bigger undertaking than a minimal place with crammed in bunk beds. So why do it?

First, Kenya’s a big country, we regularly get folks asking us for help. Mostly in danger in a small town, they just need a place to go and a bit of travel money. Renting an apartment for each is expensive. In the end, Eden House becomes a free place to send folks.

Second, if folks are housed independent of each other, they’re without mutual support – at Eden House a job training program or remote work system or trauma support is easy to set up. Spread out, it’s not.

Third, Kenya is indeed dangerous – we picked a place with a wall, and it’ll take a lot of guts to attack a house full of people with good security (we’ve already made the house look a bit like a fortress – local thieves have been ‘pentesting’ it for us).

Fourth, institutions (police demanding bribes, local religious leaders stirring hate) have a harder target. We are already a resource for our neighbors (our neighbor benefits from our security arrangements, our other neighbor is a vendor (She supplies our chickens)).

Fifth, this is the start of a long term project– we can expand and form a constantly growing queer community. To do that people need to feel free to stay in or around the project.

To those of you who don’t remember the 80’s, Queer havens like San Francisco’s Castro and New York’s Christopher Street were important organizing centers.

If we have a strong community in one country or one city in East Africa, we can expand out and create change in the entire region. It’s not just Kenya that will change, but all East Africa.

Sixth, Kenya is a place we can get folks from the Middle East or Africa to easily, and those are some of the worst places to be trans now. Eden House makes our other operations much, much easier.

Seventh, Kenya’s a country with an improving record of human rights, largely outside the fascism taking over many countries. It might end up as a base to retreat to.

We’re excited! It’s new times. This article is a follow on to our main post about Eden House.

Eden House Begins!

“Hii nyumba ni kama nyumba ya mungu luna ipa heshima.”

(This house is like a temple, and we respect it)

– Shilla

After months of planning, fund raising, and work, our trans haven in Nakuru, Kenya is a reality. This post is being written in the office of Eden House.

We moved the first passengers in on August 1.

Our awesome volunteer, Simon Ng’ang’a, found us a really special place. It’s a lovely 3 bedroom 3 bath home with enough property for a chicken coop and garden. Its location on the outskirts of town is secure, quiet, and means we can move to the agricultural project vision gradually – renting a nearby field and expanding into it.

All of us in Nakuru have been working hard to turn the house from a rather dilapidated place that hadn’t been lived in for some time to a lovely home. We’ve cleaned a lot, we’ve had plumbers in and figured out the NASA like complexities of the plumbing, done a lot of small repairs, and are moving on.  

We’re currently a bit in the ‘camping in our new apartment’ stage, with mattresses on the floor and a single cheap molded plastic table and chairs. But we’ve set up the kitchen (everyone but me seems to be a wonderful cook), and have daily basics like clothes washing, internet service, fridge, and so on established.

But we’re starting our move towards self sufficiency by building our own furniture.

The back porch currently has a lot of offcut lumber piled up, most of it with the bark removesd. We’re building 5 beds, a sofa, and a trestle type dining table.  In preparation, I taught a basic tool use class (it’s not all one way – I finally got a proper lesson in how to wash clothes in a bucket from Sophia, I’d struggled with this before). 

As much as teaching concrete skills, we’re working hard to get the women who grew up in the city used to the idea of doing for yourself.
Most of the folks in the house had little experience with self sufficiency, but they’re learning fast. In fact, after several ideas of how to build beds, we settled on an idea Arya came up with, based on used tomato boxes. And the idea of learning skills from YouTube is new to them all.

We’re purchasing some basic tools, some chickens, a sewing machine, and some art supplies.  Arya’s interested in starting clothing production, and Sophia’s a talented artist. Shilla brings many practical ‘farm’ talents – she’s going to start raising chickens and lead the project to put in a garden. 

And yes, we have a large garden planted! Shilla took the lead on this project.

We’re doing more than we expected for this early phase of the project. We’re ready to start some skills training, but need equipment. The tools are purchased, but we could use more, and we need to purchase a sewing machine, sewing notions, some fabric, and some art supplies.

Eden House is on a residential lot on the edge of town, down a narrow dirt road. About 50% of the surrounding lots are used for agriculture. Our original plan was a house or apartment, then move into some self-sustaining agricultural project later as we grew. Instead, I think we can just grow the house where we are for some time, perhaps renting a nearby lot for agriculture.

The compound is the former home of a local MP.  Politics can be violent in Kenya. For us, having a politician’s house means the property is very secure – it has a tall stone block wall topped with broken glass and a secure iron gate. All windows have secure steel bars. If (a realistic possibility here) there’s a violent protest, we’re secure.

Matching Funds For Eden House

One of our wonderful supporters (who wants to remain anonymous) has offered up a challenge. For every euro we raise, up to 2000 EU, she’ll match it 1 for 1.  So let’s go, you can donate

Trans Woman Assaulted in Kenya

May 25, Mombasa

Rita, a trans woman in coastal Kenya, was assaulted on May 15 at her restaurant chef job, after the restaurant owner learned she was trans. He and another employee attacked her, probably giving her a concussion and skull fracture.

The police came and arrested Rita, charged her with “impersonation” and “shaming” the restaurant. She was denied medical care, despite the severity of her injuries, and was placed in a cell with men. During the night she fended off a sexual assault.

Trans Rescue provided funds and some local trans women (some of the group starting Eden House) bailed her out. Trans Rescue also provided funds for medical and psychological care.

Anne Ogborn, a Trans Rescue staff member, said, “We’re particularly anxious to get Rita away from this area, since we fear she’ll be blackmailed now.”

As one of the women helping Rita said, “is it wrong to ask for a Job surely why are some people so heartless?”

We’re withholding the name of the restaurant and it’s owner to prevent retaliation against Rita. Rita is an alias.

Follow up. Rita collapsed during a follow up medical appointment and is currently in hospital. Trans Rescue is trying to raise 2000 EU to pay for medical care and to get Rita and the group of trans women she lives with out of the area on an emergency basis.

Eden House – A Trans Haven in Kenya

In a country as large as Kenya, one place can be relatively safe while another is deadly for trans people. We can often save folks simply by getting them to another part of the country, and, often, away from parents.

A local ally rang us up recently with the sad news that there were 8 trans women in terrible conditions in a coastal town. A good-hearted local man was helping them, but he was out of funds and needed help.

They need out, and we’re getting them out. But we need a place to house them, and until we raise funds for it, they’re stuck in dangerous conditions.

Kenya has needed a trans haven for a long time. Now it’s an absolute necessity.

We want to rent a large apartment in Nakuru – a compromise between the most urbanized, accepting area and a reasonable cost of living. We’ll furnish it and set up a self government scheme.

We are working with local partners to provide training programs, mostly trade school type programs. Pastry chef, hairdressing, and similar occupations. These are often the entry to a reasonable standard of living in Kenya.

While Kenya’s record on trans rights is neither abysmal nor great, many Kenyans I’ve spoken with have expressed hope. Kenya’s a relatively new country, it’s economy is booming, and Kenyans see improved human rights in many areas as part of building their new society.

We have larger long term plans. A trans haven in a country that’s accessible to trans people with not so great passports would go a long way towards our goal of getting people to safety. We’ll be bringing in folks from dangerous places.

So, beyond this initial ‘some place safe for some trans women’ Eden House, we want a phase II. Buy land and start a hippy back to the land trans haven. These folks are Africans, they definitely do ‘back to the land’.

This is the implementation of a long term goal. We’ve been talking about establishing a trans haven in Kenya for 8 months. It’s time to do it.

Please help us. This work will cost 4000 € now, and another 4200 € over the next six months.

We believe we can find a corporate sponsor for ongoing costs, but we have to start this from the community.

Here’s our estimated costs

Eden House Costs

1700 EUfurnishings
1000 EUTravel - staff member to Kenya for extraction & setting up
500 EUExtraction costs
400 EUDeposit/first month's rent
400 EUWe sent a local volunteer on a reconnaissance mission
4200 EUFirst 6 months rent, food, utilities, etc.

Rayan – Saudi Arabia

Last year Rayan’s situation seemed hopeless.

As a ‘female’ in his home country of Saudi Arabia, he had little control over his life.

His wealthy, powerful, and criminal father ruled the family with an iron fist.

He’d been threatened with death both by his father and mother, been abused by family members,

subjected to medical mistreatment and conversion therapy, and was in a country whose government would not only not protect him, but would actively help his abusers maintain control.

Rayan had, seemingly, little chance of getting out.

A break came when the family moved to Turkey. He was still trapped in the family compound, but at least we could reach the compound.

Rayan did an incredible job of carefully preparing his escape. He started going to a gym in the compound, and carrying a change of clothing in a backpack. He located his passport in his father’s desk.

On the chosen day, he slipped into his parent’s room and took the passport. He was committed now – if his father discovered he’d taken the passport, he’d be killed. He’d already assembled the small collection of things he’d take with him.

He stepped out, as he always did, to go to the gym.

A TransEmigrate agent appeared in a car. Rayan got into the car and disappeared into the crowded streets of Turkey.

He was away, but still had to get out of Turkey. His family could easily track him down anywhere in the country.

We flew him to a country in North Africa. He stayed there, in hiding, for over a month. Any day his family could ‘redeem their honor’, as they saw it, by killing him. They were actively looking.

We tried to get him into Europe, but he wasn’t allowed to board the plane at the last minute. He seemed stuck.

We arranged a scheme that would make John LeCarre proud. There were fake companies, fake contracts, and even a fake warehouse full of fake produce. Another of our volunteers, in real life a programmer, risked her own freedom.

Rayan is now in Canada.

It was all worth it. Most people in immigration detention in a foreign country would be frightened. Rayan called us with happy news.

One day it was, “I learned to play ping pong today!”

One day it was, “A guard let me try playing his guitar. I want to learn!”

Rayan is now out, settled down, and preparing to get on with his life. He’s taken up boxing, and is building up his new testosterone muscles.

He plays the guitar badly and is fixing up his small apartment.

Some details of events and circumstances have been changed for the safety of Rayan and our agents. Rayan is an alias.. Photo courtesy IBA Boxing

Walim – Egypt

Engineers are born, not made, it seems.

Some people are in love with machines and will tinker endlessly if allowed.

Sadly, in some places people seen as women still aren’t allowed. Often our work at Trans Rescue isn’t about fighting transphobia as much as it is about fighting sexism.

Walim is a 19 year old Egyptian trans man. He loves machinery and electronics and reads about it endlessly. One of our volunteers spends a lot of time teaching him electronics over the internet.

His father is driven crazy by his love of gadgets and beats him regularly for it and for doing ‘boy’ things.

When he cut his hair short, his father beat him savagely.

We desperately need to get him out before he’s killed. We’ve made one attempt recently, but need funds to make a second attempt.

Some details of events and circumstances have been changed for the safety of Walim and our agents. Walim is an alias.

Ife – life in Nigeria

Ife is a beautiful young (21) trans woman from Nigeria.

She’s surviving on street hustles.

Five minutes talking with her and you realize how intelligent she is. She’s well read and can talk about gender theory like a western baby trans. As we discuss plans to get her out, she emphasizes, over and over, how important it is to her to get to somewhere she can continue her education.

When she first contacted us she was living in poor conditions. Soldiers came to her flat and threatened her, and neighbors were harassing her, so she had trouble entering or leaving the flat.

We moved her to a safe house, but have been having trouble getting her out of Nigeria. She once called it ‘her never ending vacation’.

A family member caught up with her at the safe house, and we’ve had to move her to another city.

She can’t really pass as a boy, so it’s particularly difficult to get her out.

She’s interested in languages and wants to live a normal life. We’d like to get her to a European country where she has family.

We have a scheme to get her out, but it’s going very slowly. It’s very hard to get a visa to a safe place from Nigeria.

Please help us get Ife out.

Some details of events and circumstances have been changed for the safety of Ife and our agents. ‘Ife’ is an alias. The image above is a stock photo of an actor.

Sara – Intersexed in Iran

Sara is an intersexed woman with an undiagnosed sex hormone issue. She lives in a small town in northern Iran.

She’s unable to have the issue properly diagnosed or to obtain supportive medical care. The local authorities, and Sara herself, have no word for intersex, and so say she’s LGBT.

The police have sent letters to her family telling them to send her to the local health center. She’s not gone, but eventually they will pick her up. She’s been told in Iran she must either be a boy or a girl, or she will be arrested. She has no place to stand.

She used to go out sometimes, but after much street harassment and several encounters with the police, including being jailed for several days, she doesn’t go outside any more. If this goes on long enough she’ll be thrown in prison.

Her father is physically and emotionally abusive and has threatened to kill her.

Sara contacted TransEmigrate for help 9 months ago. We’ve been trying to get her out.

With our encouragement, she’s took the giant risk of enlisting her mother. They’re working together with us to get her to a safe country where she can find acceptance, a full life, and proper medical care.

Maeen Aldahbali

I’m Maeen Aldahbali from Yemen. Im currently in Egypt.

I’ve been shot, humiliated, tortured and jailed.

As a young Yemeni born in 1998 I dream of a peaceful life and brighter future for me and all youth of my community. Unfortunately, the spring of my age met my home country’s autumn years. So I witnessed the war in Taiz city when it had just started in the beginning of 2015, I saw people suffering especially the youth and children. That was when I decided to do something for them and not to be useless as I always stand for peace and humanity.

After a year of working for children rights and trying to keep them away from the war, I got selected to be the governor for Taiz City for the Youth and Children Government. I worked hard to do better for the youth of my city as much as possible at least to prevent them from being involved in the war, and protect their rights during the conflict. Because I truly believe they are the men of tomorrow, they should be empowered by knowledge not by extremism. We helped educate them and keep them safe far away from any kind of violence.

However, in the end of 2016 I was shot three times on my arm after a terrorist attack from my back while driving back home in the evening. After two weeks, though I wasn’t safe, I immediately went back to work because I’m driven by a purpose and passion.

The second attack happened in 2019 while driving to work with my friend in the morning. Not only have I been shot again but also my friend had been shot and killed.

When I got out of the hospital I was asked to go to be questioned which I thought is normal. However, I was taken to a basement jail for more than 10 months, where I was extremely tortured and forced to stop working for Youth and Children rights in exchange for my freedom after my case went public.

I managed to escape from Yemen to Egypt with TransEmigrate’s help. I’m currently in Egypt which is even not safe for me, I’m receiving death threats. I’m trying to move to a country far away where I can live at peace.

Trans Rescue says:

Trans people know what it is to be in danger. Maeen is a cis man who contacted us in desperation when no one else would help him. We said screw it, we’re better than cis people. We helped.

Maeen remains in Egypt, still in danger. We’re trying to get him out. Meanwhile, we’re trying to keep him out of the hands of his enemies, who know roughly where he is, and who have been seen in Egypt.

Most descriptions of our clients have details changed. This one does not.