Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The fate of single mothers in ibo land

Uchenna Anozie, Nigeria

Ibo tribe is found in the eastern region of the country Nigeria, they are rich in culture and are very enterprising, they are known in the world as people who are always pushing hard to stand economically.
Culturally and religiously in Ibo land young girls that fall victim to pre marital pregnancy are stigmatized, they are withdrawn from schools and relegated at home to bear the pregnancy in shame, often times, the young lady is not given the opportunity to go out and interact with people or appear in public functions because it is believed that the girl is a disgrace to her family.
Most times less attention is paid on the responsible person for her pregnancy and often times the male partner involved denies responsibility. Some families just pay off the family of the pregnant lady in question.
I was on my way to my office as usual, Monday mornings. The streets were busy and congested in a town called Awka in Anambra state, children going to school, civil servants trooping to work, hawkers selling on the streets, travellers waiting for buses and taxis. I stopped to pick my routine phone recharge cards. I formed it as a habit to be buying recharge phone cards for the office and my personal phone being the beginning of the week, the phones are always busy. Luck befall one particular young nice looking girl, fair in complexion, blue eyed with long hair, she is the type that every young man would like to say hi to, she sells various recharge cards and I patronized her because of her astonishing beauty, in fact it became a tradition that I bought bulk cards from her and her polite character always motivated me to come back again. This particular morning something in particular struck me. I asked myself so many questions, why is it that Jane is selling recharge cards instead of continuing her studies?  Why is she always polite irrespective of the harsh conditions in street trading? Why is Jane selling on the street at her age?
After having a busy day in the office and my usual field work involving visiting female sex workers at Onitsha, I decided to visit Jane at the spot she sold cards, luckily for me she was at her spot with her usual smile and welcoming attitude but this time around I opened up to her that I was not here for buying of cards, I told her I was here to talk with her and be her company, she looked straight into my eyes and smiled without uttering a word. I bought some soft drinks and we shared together, I wanted her to see me as a friend and someone she could confine to. I asked her where she was from and she replied ‘’ Awka”. We spoke at length on street activities of the day; I introduced myself as uchenna, as a health worker and an advocate for abused females and female sex workers. We exchanged ideas on factors pushing ladies in our society into prostitution before 2 little girls rushed to her and greeted her “good evening aunty”, and she replied them “how is school today? Hope you have eaten at home? Is mama at home?”
With the few observations I made, I noticed Jane was staying with mama at home with the kids and an aunty, I could not place whom the children belonged to, whether they were hers or her aunt’s daughters, but wait a minute I told myself, these kids greeted her “good evening aunty.”
I did not want to ask her questions concerning her family background on our first meeting so after a few more minutes I left for my home but before I left she told me “thank you uchenna for your  company, you cannot really know how I feel when someone shows me concern”.
I thought of her words and I felt Jane had more pressing conditions and things she needed to discuss with someone ready to listen to her. I began to pay her regular visits after work to make her get used to me and tell me more about herself.
3 months after being friendly to Jane, I was chatting with her and one old friend of mine Ejike, who was always high in spirit due to regular smoking of marijuana and taking of alcohol from the same Awka town saw me and called me, he then laughed loudly and said”stop wasting your time on that lady with 2 kids, there are so many other young sexy ladies littered on the streets, why go for Jane? For god’s sake she is a mother of two and no husband”. I gently replied him that she is my friend nothing attached to our friendship and I knew she was a mother of 2 kids, “it’s no news my dear friend”. Though I was shocked inwardly because all these days Jane never told me anything about her past and the kids just that she mentioned they were her aunt’s kids but I did what I did to protect Jane’s image and to show my solidarity support to her. Ejike left in his usual lousy manner, I turned and saw Jane crying and packing up her sales implements and I asked her why she was crying and packing, then she told me that the embarrassment she faced from her immediate community was becoming too much for her to bear and contain, I left her to cry and after that she said to me, “now that you have also known that am a mother of two without a husband please live my life alone and abandon me too”. I told her its people like her that I like being with and I try to work with. I then took her for a long walk and we ended up in bar, I bought some bottles of beer and roasted meat and we started talking.
I told her that I knew how she felt and I understand what she was passing through but children are gifts from God and are never meant to bring sadness rather joy, she smiled unconvincingly and said thank you sir but her kids have ended up bringing shame and much suffering for her. She then started narrating the long awaited story, she cried and I told her that the pain is ours and not for hers alone, so she should better stop crying and talk to me like a brother. I congratulated her for bearing the kids and being alive to watch them grow, I told her that her daughters will bring much joy to her in future and she should love them with all her heart, kids worth our love, support and protection no matter the circumstances surrounding us. I let her understand that those kids are her family and will make her proud someday. I encouraged her for not aborting the kids just like many women in our society do after considering what they will pass through if eventually they keep their pregnancies, I told her am an advocate preaching for the right of ladies and children, that am against abortion and maltreatment of unwanted children.
It was her turn to tell me the long awaited story that she has been keeping away from me:
She told me she felt left alone with her daughters on earth, she told me that she never knew his father as she was told that her father had died the same year she was born and she had no brother nor sister, the father’s family accused her mother of poisoning her late father. This is a usual problem faced by widows in Nigeria when young married men die; widows are often subjected to so many horrible treatment and rejection. Subsequent to her father’s death her mother got married to another man and abandoned her with her grandmother. She then stated that it was in her junior secondary school when she was in junior secondary III, that one young boy also in secondary school from a wealthy home befriended her and sexually exploited her and unfortunately got her impregnated. Her immediate family then asked her after who was responsible; being a young girl of 15years she never wanted to open up because the boy had already threatened to deny his involvement, meanwhile she never wanted to end up with the boy because of his arrogance and attitude.
She insisted on keeping to herself and her aunties decided to confront her physically and torture her to confess who was responsible for her pregnancy but she insisted on not opening up. After the abuse she had serious cuts on her body and haemorrhage (she showed me eminent and pronounced healed wounds on her body), it was then that one young lady that served as a sales girl for one of her aunts out of compassion decided to take her to hospital, she consequently harboured her in her place at Amawbia till after 5 months she delivered a baby girl without complications.
7 months after delivery her grandmother came looking for her, she took her home and reaccepted her at home, she felt happy again and relieved but then had stopped her education. After another 6 months she was forcefully handed to another elderly woman whom had no husband to take her as a wife and for her to make babies for her. (Culturally when a lady is without a husband and children and she needs to raise a family, she is allowed to marry a fellow woman who will fuck with men and beget children for her and make her own family, it’s a tradition in most Ibo towns and this is generally accepted). Young Jane whom had stopped school, lost a lot of affection in her life was now betrothed to an elderly woman to start having sex with different men and make babies for the elderly woman; the elderly woman operates a highway restaurant in Ore, a road linking the east of Nigeria and west Nigeria (city of Lagos). She was meant to serve people in the restaurant and to be sexually exploited and abused by fat tummied heavy duty drivers that are ready to pay the owners of the road side restaurants to have their maidens fucked. Jane’s case was special because she was to serve in a restaurant, trade her body for sex and moreover make babies for her lady. She had no option than to fit fast into the system and she began to discharge her new functions without hesitations, already she was frustrated and was feed up with life especially with the burden of her young daughter, this time around, Jane was turned to a sex slave at the age of 17years.
She later gave birth to another daughter without proper care and normal abuses that she has been passing through. one day Jane got very sick and was not given attention by her madam so after some weeks of continuous sickness and suffering she decided to escape with her two daughters back home to Awka and this time around she was ready for whatever but luckily one of her aunts came back from the city and heard all she has passed through then offered to take her along to the city leaving the two daughters with her grandmother at Awka.
She then finished her secondary school education and was given some money to go back to Awka and take care of her daughters and look up for something doing to sustain herself. Jane broke into full tears again and stopped then tuned to me and said “now I feel better that I have told you about myself and my ugly background and past”. After that, she told me that she felt she was unfortunate on earth that God has rejected her and her sufferings, she told me that till date most members of her family neglected her and call her a prostitute and they saw her as a demon stricken girl, she said that the height of stigmatization and marginalization she witnessed in her family was alarming but she could cope with that considering what she passed through in the past she is now living better and believes that someday she will be a great woman.
I was silent for a long while and I ordered for more beer, I asked her if she loved her daughters and she said “yes, very dearly”. I asked her if she has gone for HIV test ever since then, she said yes and she was negative, I asked her if she would love to be screened again she said yes without hesitation, I convinced her that children are blessings and what she has done remains the best thing to do in such a situation, leaving her sex salve job for home, finished her secondary school education and taking the decision to sell on the street to sustain her daughters and pushing on in life believing seriously in a better future. Really it takes guts and great courage for a young lady at her age.
The following day I invited her to my office where I counselled her on STI/HIV/AIDS and I took her to the clinic where she underwent a free HIV screening and she was HIV negative. I encouraged her to carry on with life and practice safe sex to avoid getting into more challenges; she was full of tears and said nobody has ever given her such attention in her entire life but I made her understand that I was just doing my job and nothing more, we are trying to touch lives and bring people to the safe side and make everyone feel safe from the scourge of STI/HIV, sexual abuse and stigmatization. Though I cannot assess many people in the same conditions I believe in doing my best with anyone I come across that needs assistance, these girls are people that spread the good work and try and affect other peoples’ lives, I believe that when we rehabilitate people properly they also rehabilitate other people positively and positive changes are spread across the society.
Today Jane has a shop of her own where she earns her living, she lives in her own apartment to avoid family intimidation and stigmatization and her daughters are doing well in a private primary school and are growing up fast. Jane believes strongly that someday she will enrol into the university to study marketing or public administration.

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