The Strength of Womanhood

Picture1 — By Ejiro from Nigeria

It was the second week in December 1953, warming up for the Christmas celebrations. Daniel and Dorris welcomed their baby girl called Caroline. Daniel was a very handsome man, held a chieftaincy title in his community, and had four wives. Dorris was the second of his wives and he loved her dearly. Unlike other female children at that time, Caroline was fortunate to acquire an education. Daniel was educated and believed education was the legacy any parent could give to their child, regardless of being male or female. As such, all Daniel’s children attended school and attained different levels of education. He was well to do, and provided all thirty-seven of his children with all the pleasures of life.

Caroline was one of Daniel’s favourite children. She was very petite in size but very beautiful. She was soft spoken, brilliant, and loved to study, hence capturing the heart of her father. Caroline completed her A-Levels in a teaching profession and had plans of furthering to the University. She met Clement, a young medical surgeon who had just returned from abroad. He too was tall, handsome, eloquent, and most importantly, very intelligent, which was what captivated Caroline. They fell in love and Clement proposed marriage. He promised Caroline that she would complete her education from his house, as his wife. Blinded by love, with so much trust, she accepted and they got married. She was much envied by her family and friends. She had it all, married to a rich, handsome, highly educated man. Also to add, Clement was the only man  who owned a Jaguar car which was the latest at the time. This was every woman’s dream!

Then reality struck and this bed was not one of roses as Caroline imagined. Her seemingly perfect life gradually began to turn ugly. Her dream of furthering her education was aborted with childbearing and other wifely responsibilities. In addition, she also had to deal with Clement’s frequent anger tantrums, verbal and emotional abuses, and hatred for her family. He never let them visit. She lost everything: her dreams of education, her friends, her loving family, and herself in its entirety. All efforts to maintain peace in this home proved abortive. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was having to share her husband with two other women. Clement married two other wives and life became even worse. She was eventually thrown out of the house heavily pregnant. Clement refused to take her back and that was the end of this unpleasant journey which started radiantly. Caroline who used to be full of smiles, calm, and very charming had evolved into a very sad, gloomy, and unhappy woman with no hope for the future. She was only thirty-one years old at the time.

She swore to never give Clement the last laugh. She gave birth to a set of twin girls and had three girls in total for Clement.

Leaving the children with her mother, when they turned one-year old, Caroline moved to the Northern part of the country with her elder sister. She was determined to rebuild her life and create a better future for her girls. She took back her children and began raising them herself. Enduring so many hardships, from losing her only son to the lack of basic needs like befitting clothes and so on. She opened a small grocery store where she sold fruits, food stuff, and other items. This phase of Caroline’s life she hated so much, because she had to struggle at the farmers’ market to buy her products for the grocery store. This was not the life she envisaged for herself.

Nevertheless, she kept looking forward with so much optimism and support from her family, who never abandoned her at this trying time. Eventually, some ray of light!!! Caroline secured a job with the State’s Civil Service using her A-levels degree, which meant better income and a befitting quality of life for her and her children. She worked there for several years. In pursuit of her dream, at age fifty Caroline enrolled in a university to pursue a degree in Accountancy along with her girls, who were now grown. She graduated the same year as her second daughter, and proceeded to attain a professional certification as a chartered accountant. At fifty-seven, not only was Caroline a chartered accountant, but all her girls were graduates too.

Today, all three of her girls are Masters degree holders and established women in different walks of life. Her oldest daughter is married with two girls also. Caroline like so many women in Africa, weathered the storm with determination, hard work, and indeed God’s grace. She changed the gloomy story of her life to one of motivation for her girls, other women in Africa, and the world at large.

I am indeed very proud to be one of the daughters of this great and courageous woman, my role model and inspiration. She continues to inspire me in the work I do today.

I respect the labour of womanhood and the strength that lies therein. Promoting and protecting the rights of women is my life-long vision and commitment. I believe every woman deserves to live their dreams!

This blog post is also featured on Woman.ng, a website “for the Nigerian woman, by Nigerian women.”

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The Last Day of an Abusive Relationship

–By Tsafack Olive from Cameroon

It was a Friday evening, the day had been very quiet. I was visiting my friend Nina earlier during the day. I told her about my worries regarding academics, and also the fact that I had to travel in one week’s time, but how I was afraid my state of health would not enable me to. After about three hours, I left and went for a walk before coming back. Never could I imagine the turning point my life would take later that evening. I had been in that relationship for three years, and the feeling of despair was taking over. 

I had really tried to keep things going, but for more than 4 weeks now, I was thinking there was no need to continue. My boyfriend Steve was a medical doctor, about seven years older than me. After his shift that day, he met me over at Nina’s place. We spent a nice time chatting and laughing with my other friends for more than an hour. Later on, I had to see him off and Nina came along. On our way, I reminded him of the fact that I would be travelling in a week, and he replied aggressively, “I have told you, I don’t want you to travel for that seminar.” When I asked why, he replied, “Because I’ve said so, you don’t need to know why and if you insist on travelling, be aware, that will be the end of our relationship.” I was surprised and asked myself why?

Meanwhile we continued talking and I explained how important it was for me to attend the seminar for my projects. He kept on insisting, vividly, without any good reason, when finally I replied, “In that case, I’m ready to see this relationship end because I am determined to go.” And all of a sudden, it happened, that evening in front of Nina and others passing by, I was slapped and brutalised by the individual I called my boyfriend. It happened so rapidly, in a matter of seconds, that I couldn’t dodge the attack. When I finally got his hands off me, I rushed home immediately. After walking for about 3 minutes, on the ground appeared a shadow, it was Steve chasing me. “Oh my God,” I thought. I started running so fast, and as I was running this thought came to my mind: “Run for your life, because if he catches you, you are dead.” My speed increased incredibly, and after a little while I jumped on a bike, and without giving my destination to the driver, I told him, “Please go with me, or I’m dead,” and the biker did as I said.

Upon reaching home where I was safe, I realized what had just happened to me, what has happened to 1 in 3 women in their lifetime, violence against women. What was really bothering me was that this was the second time. I had the possibility to leaving the first time but I didn’t. I had hundreds of signs; Steve was constantly belittling and looking down on me. This was the result. My dress was torn and my face swollen. Not only was there physical damage and public disgrace, but I was mad at myself because this could have been avoided. But when all my anger was cooled, I said thank God because the most important thing was that I was still alive. I have heard, read, and seen thousands of stories like this, but most of those women were either severely wounded, hospitalized, or even killed.

This incident shaped my whole life unexpectedly. Today, I have used this story to inspire other women to free themselves from violence before it is too late. I am stronger than ever and since then, I dedicate my time to empowering other girls and women who suffer from gender-based violence of all sorts. It’s possible to get out of there, to recover from the physical and the psychological abuses, regain self-confidence, move on with your life, and become a happy and peaceful individual. But to have peace and happiness, you have to forgive, forgive because grudges will never let you go on. 

Two months later, he called me and said he was sorry, that he wanted me back. He added, “I thought you were cheating on me,” and I answered, “I have forgiven you for my own wellbeing, and for the sake of peace, it’s better we stay away from each other.” Honestly, I had never been as happy with him as I am today without him. In such cases, we always have signs, but we refuse to see them, out of interests or feelings most of the time. Relationships are essential in life, but happiness and inner peace are priceless.

The Day I Cheated Death

sylvie — By Sylvie from Cameroon

Dawn was almost breaking, so you could still hear the birds chirping, the cocks crowing, and my siblings snoring. 
It was 5:30am, so I quietly slipped my way from our room to the kitchen, tiptoeing and being as quiet as I could to prepare the things I needed for the day’s restaurant sales. 


I was 21, had graduated from the university and because of a lack of jobs in the country I opened a restaurant. I employed two people to help me and I couldn’t be prouder of myself. 


When I finished packing, I rushed for a quick shower, got ready, and by 6am I left the house. Carrying the bags on my head, I walked through the dusty tiny path that linked our house to the main road. As I walked past the trees, I looked at the mud built houses occupied by the other jobless youths, and wondered how they paid their rent; I wondered if moving from the villages to the cities was a good idea for them, and I wished them well.


Finally, I arrived at the restaurant, it was an earth floored, brown painted two-room building bordered by two drugstores, a domestic gas seller to the right, a tiny passage to a motel where prostitutes lived, and a huge snack bar to the left. Business was active at the “Sodom and Gomorrah,” or as my mom called it, 24/7. The prostitutes were getting ready to retire as they had worked all night.


I opened the restaurant doors and walked through the first room, which was used for serving and eating, to the second room which was the kitchen. I used “salt-dust-pots” to cook the food, as it was cheaper, but it was some sort of a hassle to get it started. After about 30 minutes of pounding the dust into the locally made cooking utensil it was ready for use. I lit the fire, took a seat and started preparing the other ingredients for cooking; onion chopping, asparagus washing, spices blending and as I did, I heard a scratchy squeaky sound from the neighbor’s domestic gas shop, and I thought maybe he had forgotten to turn his radio off. I continued chopping, washing, cleaning, but the sound got louder and in a split of a second I saw a rushing flash of fire below my feet, and soon the entire kitchen was consumed in fire. Red curly puffs of fire covered my entire body. I got numb for a second and the next second I rushed out of the kitchen through the serving room to the street screaming “Fire!! Help!! Fire!! Fire!!” The prostitutes who had retired were the first to come to my aid as they too joined in screaming “Fire!! Fire!! Help!!” And in the next few minutes the entire place was filled up with people all trying to help, others rushing for sand to pour on the uncontrollable fire. The sounds of the gas bottles exploding could be heard from the neighbor’s shop, others were calling the fire fighters, and others were trying to save as much property as they could. 


I was standing there covered in tears, hands on my head, no shoes on my feet as they had been burnt: I watched how the flames spread to the neighboring buildings, and in twenty minutes, millions of dollars worth of property were all burnt to ashes. Journalists, cameras, people all surrounded me asking what had happened and how I survived, and to this day I don’t have an answer to that question. 

 

They Thought I Was Nothing

— By Omolara from Nigeria

It was a cold night one morning in July. I had woken up really sick and frail. All I now remember was that my mother, a passionate and caring mum, was in tears as I carefully laid in her arms; at this time, I was only two. Days later, the most playful child in the neighborhood was now legally blind. I could no longer see, so they thought I was nothing. I could no longer play, so they thought I was nothing. I could no longer go to school, they were sure I was nothing. It’s no surprise however that I didn’t know my father’s family until now.

A time soon came when I began school again. Even though it was later than usual, it was better than never. Being aware of the societal stereotypes that surrounded my life, I drew my strength from all of them. With all of the insults, discrimination, stigmatization, and isolation the world had to offer, I was not discouraged but instead these were all the source of my inspiration. I made up my mind to prove something out of nothing, after all, they already thought I was nothing. I soon took anything and everything that society had to offer, and made it into something.

First, I graduated as the best student in my class after my primary school education. Then, I made very good grades in my West African school certificate examination. Soon, I was in the tertiary institution, a polytechnic for that matter, when the biggest challenges appeared.


I was a student of Mass Communication in a class of about six hundred students and the only visually impaired student in the entire polytechnic. This was going to be difficult; but remember, I had a drive, a plan, and an objective to make something out of nothing. So, I gave it my all. I was sick many times because of malnutrition, and unable to pay school fees at times. But, at no time did I allow them to stop me.


I remember one day, I had gone to the social welfare unit in a church to seek for help to pay my school fees a second time. They had helped me the previous academic session and so I thought to go back to them again to see if they could help since I had nowhere else to go. My mother at this time had no job nor business. It was really sad that she could not pay for my fees. However, her moral support towards me was worth much more.


On this day, I had waited until dark because there was a crowd and we all had to take turns to see the panel of decision makers. They decide who they wanted to help. They even humiliated you before helping you. “What’s the point,” I began to say to myself as I sat down waiting for my turn. I felt really sorry for the way some people were being treated by this panel. My heart was beating really fast as I began to imagine the worse that could happen to me. Soon, it was my turn.


As I sat in front of them, presenting my case and trying to urge them to help me, I was suddenly shouted at and walked out of the room. I was told never to come again and to go seek help elsewhere. This was the most humiliated I would ever feel. I cried, but never blamed anyone for their hostility towards me. After all, the world was hostile to people like me. Society never gives us a chance. But, in my struggles, I learned never to blame anyone; remember, I still had a plan to become something.

 

After two years of hard work with severe hunger and hardships, I finally got what I wanted. I graduated as one of the best five in a class of about six hundred. This was definitely something out of nothing. At last, I was something. At this point, I knew I could do more. My journey had just begun. I became the pride of many and the pride of my community.

 

I soon got admitted into the university for my degree in English. I developed my passion of mentoring people with disabilities. I needed to tell my story to change history. My determination would never give up because I knew I was going places.


Soon, I started to attend conferences centered around persons with disabilities both locally and internationally. I began to make headlines in my family and community. I soon emerged as one of the one thousand Africans selected to participate in the Mandela Washington fellowship under the recognition of former president Barak Obama in 2016.


Today, I’m happy to be a part of someone’s story. I run an NGO that deals with issues surrounding persons with disabilities. I am a mentor and a coach to people with disabilities. I’m very happy today because I am something.

How I Lost My Sweet Childhood Nickname, “Tiyenda”

Sam

— By Sam from Uganda

What I didn’t learn from home, I learnt from Kindergarten. I spent my first three years of life at home learning how to eat by myself, brush my teeth, bathe on my own, greet people while shaking their hands and looking them in the eye, making alarms in case of danger, and notifying mum in case I was feeling pain.

Since I was mum’s first born, she had all the time to be curiosity and to learn about mothering. She had to know what I was saying, why I was crying, and what I needed. Dad was an occasional visitor in the house since he was always on the move on errands and his other families. On days when mum was away, grand mum would always step in to play the motherly role, with occasional assistance from Uncle Sam, Richard, and Fred who ended up being my playmates because my siblings were too young. I was never allowed to leave home to play with children in the neighborhood, everyone lived in their own fenced house, and it was hard to know what was happening on the other side.

I started school when I was 4 years old and by that time; mum knew she had equipped me with all the basics I needed to socialize with the rest of the children. She instructed me to do what the teachers told me, never to fight, never to have bad manners, and never to leave school until I was picked up by someone from home.

Mum would pack for me enough food, with instructions not to admire anyone else’s food and not to beg from others. Bread, popcorn, and orange juice were a must have in my container, and once in awhile they would pack me chicken. My school was just a stone’s throw away from home, though I kept insisting on being dropped off in a car. Initially, I felt weird walking through the neighborhood while putting on a school uniform. I kept having this feeling that everyone was staring at me and making fun of my appearance. The car offered me some sense of assurance that no one was seeing me.

School had its own dynamics. The teachers dictated who to sit with and where to sit. I never wanted the front rows because of the unnecessary attention from the teachers and the expectation to learn faster than the ones seated behind. I was also shy, too shy to be seen in front by all of the class, but that is where the teachers instructed me to sit.

Sam_family
“Here is a family photo taken in 1991. That’s me in the red trousers, next to me is my brother, Allan, next to Allan is my last born sister, Wini, next to Winnie is my mother’s cousin, Nsadha, and next to him is my sister, Lillian. Behind me is my Uncle Sam, my late mum, Loy, my uncle Richard, my uncle Ronald, my grand mum’s friend, Tezira, and my grand mum Leah. This was the first Christmas we were having after my father’s death.

Seating me next to a girl worsened my manners. I had barely interacted with any girls before and one of the instructions I had from home was not to have bad manners. In my head I thought the teachers were indirectly choosing a marital partner for me, and completely going against what mum had told me to do.

During breakfast, it was mandatory to share food with the neighbors. To me, sharing anything with girls was criminal and I utterly refused to follow that rule. The teachers tactfully changed my breakfast schedule for me to start sharing with the boys, but I remembered that mum had told me not to covet other people’s food, so I still refused. Whenever they offered me their food, I would respond to them with “tiyenda” (“I don’t want”).

Little did I know that I was innocently hurting other people’s feelings and self-esteem by refusing their genuine offers. As time went by, no one wanted to associate with me; as the rest were seated in pairs sharing their breakfast, the teachers decided to seat me by myself. I felt so hurt and isolated. My pain was worsened when the whole class started sarcastically calling me Tiyenda instead of Sam. I felt like they were mocking me as being proud, arrogant, and selfish because I refused to share with them. I started crying whenever someone called me Tiyenda. The teachers sat me down and advised me to start sharing and playing with everyone if I wanted them to stop calling me Tiyenda.

Hard as it was, I had no option but to abide, because I found the Tiyenda name too derogatory to bear with. I unconditionally started accepting food from all the kids. I had to do away with some instructions from home and started playing with the girls. All my classmates enjoyed playing with me and everyone wanted to share with me. I stopped feeling shy and I grew comfortable with everyone around me. I learned how to co-exist with my peers, and to this day I have never heard anyone call me Tiyenda again.

A Stand Against Oppression

Abdulmumin (1)

— By Abdulmu’min from Nigeria

It was back in high school some years ago, on the Lagos Island of Lagos State, Nigeria. We had finished prep class, and it was around 9:50 pm on Tuesday night, in the boys-only high school in which four different houses: red, yellow, blue, and green, served as the major difference in the lifestyles of the boys.

We were in our finals, and as the most senior students in the school, we had every other thing going easy. We usually had our whites sparkling, well ironed out such that it could tear one’s skin. Every student had to respect our seniority, those were the benefits of being a senior class student, except of course for the tight schedule of having to prepare for the senior school exams. Everyone barely had time to do other chores, so we had to do those chores after prep class, which usually ended at 9:30 pm leaving us with just 30 minutes before lights-out.

Lately we had been complaining about our stuff going missing from the large building which the final year students of the four houses occupied as dormitories. Every dormitory contained bunk beds, arranged in rows and columns, and locker rooms to keep some of our belongings. We had started to blame each other for the theft.

The Sunday before I was up at night, like every other day, studying, when I suddenly noticed one of the security guards, employed to secure the school, trying to find his way to the hostel, which was already locked, around 2:30 am. I alerted some of my housemates who were awake then to also see what I had seen, we decided to pretend to be asleep. Just as the security guard jumped in, I switched on the lights; the guard noticed this and absconded. There were about ten security guards in the school.

The next morning was a Monday morning, at the beginning of the week there was much to do so we didn’t discuss the incident. It was Tuesday and we had just 10 minutes left until lights out, and I was determined to end the treacherous acts of the guards.

I was standing with the utility prefect, Stanley, when we saw one of the guards by the name Innocent, heading towards the hostel. Now aware of what had been happening, once prep was over, Innocent alongside two other guards nicknamed Boko and Haram, Boko was friendly while Haram was the strong faced guy, would all come into the hostel claiming to send everyone to bed even before lights out, with the aim of getting everyone to sleep at the same time to give them enough time to do whatever evil act they had to do. Innocent was the team leader.

One funny thing about the Name Boko Haram is that, it’s actually the name of the dreaded terrorist group which had been causing insurgency in the Northeastern part of Nigeria, where over 280 schoolgirls were kidnapped.

Innocent wasn’t just heading towards the hostel, he had a bamboo stick in his hand. I told Stanley, “What the hell does this guy think he is going to do with that stick in his hand, hit anyone of us! Hell no, just see what I’m going to do tonight, this will have to stop.” As he got nearer to the hostel Stanley cowardly went into his dormitory, while I went to the front of mine.

There were five of us from blue house, Steve, Owuri, Tobi, Toba, and myself. I informed them of the incident and asked them not to move when Innocent arrived, we had to stop the act. Innocent was in the hostel and as usual chasing everyone to go to bed, he got to where we were standing and suddenly Tobi and Toba made away to their beds, while Steve, Owuri, and I were left. Innocent said “Go inside,” but we didn’t respond so he told us to get on our knees.

By then the whole building was quiet, Steve and Owuri were about to kneel down, when I moved forward going head to head and chest to chest with Innocent, even though he was the leader of the security guards. My words to him were, “Why should we go to bed? Is it because you and your gang want to come and steal our valuables, No! This would have to stop today.” 

Owuri had left, Steve was about to do the same when Innocent suddenly dragged him back and hit him hard on the head with the bamboo stick. Haram was with his boss by then and both were fighting against me. We were exchanging blows and words, more students now trooped out and aided the struggle against oppression after hearing the noise, and finally the fight against the oppression of innocent students had been won.

I thought to myself the school management wouldn’t have believed us if we had gone ahead to report the incident, since we had no evidence, but now we had fought, I had fought for us. They stopped coming to the hostel, which wasn’t their responsibility in the first place, and our properties were safe again. What if I had not taken my stand against oppression?