Story by; Frederick H
I was lucky to survive, but what about that other girl with no option?
I grew up like any other little girl in the current Equatoria state of South Sudan. We lived a communal life, and our clan was blessed with a lot of cows. Years passed by and celebrations came, one after the other. As I grew up, I watched my three elder sisters get married, one after the other. With every traditional marriage ceremony came herds of cattle as gifts to our family. My mother and her sisters danced and sang different songs in celebration. This was a time any female looked forward to. At that time, around 25 years back, female education in the former Sudan was not really important and in our communities, it was so. It was ok for a girl not to get any kind of education, because the society norms said so. Most people preferred calling me by my family name, Nyandeng, but I preferred my other name, Tahani. The other girls and I lived life from home, to the wells, to the farms and made sure homes were worth being called homes. What the society wanted us to do at home is all we did, we did it with love for it had been taught to us by our mothers as the only means of survival. We had seasons of plenty and seasons of scarcity. During the long dry spells, water was a mystery, we still had to walk long distances to fetch water from the farthest of valley dams. Luckily, we were always protected by our elder brothers in case of early morning or late evening walks. The elders always said that we were the clan’s assets, they had to avail us with protection. With the civil war that ended in 2005, life changed, reality kicked in, our home was ransacked, every one ran for safety, I had to survive.
Before the civil war escalated, my parents forced me out of the country for my own safety. My father insisted that Taban, my uncle in Nairobi was ready to horst and take care of me. I knew the situation in our homeland was not good, and with such a proposal, and being a child, I did whatever my parents asked me to do. Early in the morning, they gave me a small luggage full of clothes and food stuff, got me onto the lorry with other children. There were no elders aboard. We were driven all day through dry land and so often, were stopped by soldiers, patrolling different routes. Some children had nothing to eat, nothing to drink, it was a moment of survival. Some really young ones were so vulnerable to the extent that they collapsed. I remember one of my friends fainted twice during the journey, the heat was so absorbing, to the extent that my skin turned pale. We had to persevere, we did not know where we were going, we had never been this far away from our local communities alone, without our parents or elder brothers. The sun started setting. The following day after my uncle Taban picked me from the refugee camp, I realized that the checkpoint we passed at sunset was the Sudan-Kenya border. At that time, I considered myself lucky, while I went with my uncle, the rest of the children stayed in the refugee camp, reality had kicked in. I did not know what was waiting for me.
In Nairobi, we settled in an area close to river road. If you have been to Nairobi, you will know that this is a hub for night-life, well known for notorious prostitutes. I knew I was in the hands of my uncle and safe, just sixteen with no education, I believed my uncle would provide the best for me. To cut the long story short, all was not as I expected. My uncle rented a two roomed house, which he shared with his wife and son. From the moment I set foot in the home, his wife seemed so uncomfortable with my presence. They quarreled often and in most cases she asked me to stay out of the house when my uncle was not home. Suddenly, a series of men started coming home, to me, they were mere visitors. I often greeted them and went out of the house. Several of them came and talked to my uncle and his wife. I later came to learn that these men wanted a piece of my innocence. Some had promised to give my
uncle good sums of money. Back home In the village, we had been trained to protect our virginity at all cost until marriage. The first time, my uncle’s wife told me that I was to go to a particular man’s home and spend a night there, I refused. My hell started. With the first man, I refused to go, the second I hid and I survived for the day. What I did not know, any attempt to refuse going to these men’s homes was causing financial loss to my uncle and his wife. They were not ready to take any more of my tactics. The third time, it was 9pm in the night. The rain had just stopped falling, it was cold. I refused to go out with the man who had come that evening and they threw me out of the house. All night, out in the cold by myself in a locality I did not know about. From street to street I walked, sobbing like a little child. River road was busy that night, I later learnt that all the women standing by the roadsides that night were prostitutes waiting for clients. Where else was I to go, but I was a girl who had been raised by a responsible family, none of the people who had raised me were with me or close to me at that time. That night, thinking about the war and the state in which I left my parents, I had no hope of seeing or meeting them again. That night only confirmed the hopelessness that surrounded my life. Riddled by the state of dilemma, I chose to go back to my uncle’s home, spent the night at the door way, in the cold like a stray dog.
Early in the morning, his wife opened, since I was leaning on the door, I fell in. I was still feeling sleepy, but she immediately started kicking me but no amount of pain was going to drive me out of this place, this is all I knew. With a loud cry, I promised to go with the man they proposed that day, that is when she gave me a break. There were insults and complaints thrown at me all day; how I was a useless girl, how I was nasty etc. All I could do was to beg for forgiveness in the circumstances. Luckily, that evening, no man came around but after three days one Matatu driver came home, my uncle told me he had been eyeing me for a while. I knew very well that my only way of survival was doing what my so called guardians wanted. Indeed that evening, I went with the matatu driver. A 23 year old man, who I now call my husband.
When we reached his home, I was shivering, literally scared, I was not sure what he was going to do to me. His home was more decent that my uncle’s, a three roomed house. I believe he realized how fragile I looked. For the first night, he gave me a blanket and let me sleep in the couch in his sitting room. I could not catch sleep all night, surprisingly he did not do anything stupid to me. The following day he left me with food to cook in the home and I did the cooking, with home chores, I had no problem. By this time, it was the sixth month of my time in Nairobi. He came back late in the night that evening, and went straight to his bedroom. He only asked if I was fine and if I had eaten. For sure I had, and I personally had stayed at the stranger’s place, partly because I did not have elsewhere to go but most importantly, the way he acted the previous night and in the morning. I did expect him to act savagely that night but he did not. As time passed by, I realized my time of sleeping in a different room was coming to an end. He had successfully demonstrated to me that he was a fair man, taking care of a stranger like me, but I also knew he had his own interests. One evening he came in to the other room, that I was sleeping in, I had just finished showering, totally naked. I panicked and almost screamed as soon as I saw him. He instead said it was ok, I did not need to scream. He got closer to me and held me closer to himself, telling me everything was going to be ok, remember I was still naked. He asked me to trust him, but I was already powerless, I was not ready to resist anything. In my mind I was ready to give
in as long as he was taking care of me. Still holding me tight he said, “ I am not like other men, I have no wife, no children, be the wife in this home…” For me, this was something else. When I left my uncle’s home, I thought I was going to be used and thrown out, but here he was acting more human than I expected, but deep down my heart, this is not what I wanted. With no other option available, I gave in to a stranger and three days later, I lost my innocence to him in agony, but life had to move on. Lucky for me, his manners were humane enough and after the ten months, we had a bouncing baby boy. I was a mother at 17, none of my family members knew about it, I was now married by virtue of the circumstances around me. I had to learn how to love my knew family.
Circumstances aside, I consider myself lucky, but there are several teenagers who have been through worse situations than I was. I had an escape route, though not pleasant but at least it was not the worst given the circumstances, but what of those girls that do not have any way out. During my early days, we had no education and it was ok for us to stay home as dictated by our communities, but what of the young girl who is going through what I went through in this modern age. I am now a mother of three, regardless of the trials, he has been a good husband to me despite the circumstances under which we came together, but I was only lucky. I add my voice to those who work to see every human being treated with dignity, most especially the young girls, we must stop and work to prevent any action or conflicts that lead you girls into crisis. That way, we shall build modern societies.