No longer scared in a house of my own

Date: November 24, 2009
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Misfortune started when I fell pregnant at the age of 12 in a village in the Chooma district in Southern Zambia. I was doing my sixth grade. The man who had been responsible for my pregnancy died in a road accident during the pregnancy. I gave birth to a son. I lived with my uncle until my son was 10 years old.

In 1979, I found a man who proposed marriage to me. I accepted. He was already married but in that era, polygamy, especially within the tribe, was common. So I gladly moved in with him. I was puzzled when he refused to have my son live with us. He said that since the boy was young, I could leave him with my relatives.

I did not bother much about this because all I wanted was to have a husband and a home of my own. People in the village had laughed at me being so young and having a fatherless child. In 1981, we decided to shift to Namwala district so that we could be away from our relatives.

In Namwala things changed. My husband became uncaring and provocative at harvest time, because he did not want me to benefit from the harvest money. Then, one evening after a long day’s work, he informed the first wife that he was going to marry a third wife. Her duty was to inform me which she did. She had always been good to me treating me like her younger sister. Reluctantly, I consented.

However, I was shocked when I was told that the third wife would get all the money from the sale of our farm products for a house, clothes and other things. He further demanded my personal money, which I kept for my son’s school fees. He was doing upper school by then. I refused. When my husband realised that I was serious about not giving him the money, he locked the house and beat me. It was at night. People were sleeping and could not hear my screams. I fainted.

When he realised what he had done, he told his first wife that if I died, she should put logs on my body outside my house to look like unknown people killed me. When I gained consciousness, the first wife advised me to run away back to my parents because my husband was going to kill me for the money that was meant for my child.

The next morning, my husband told me that I had 2 days to decide whether to give him the money or to endure another beating. My son’s school requirements were most important, so without telling anyone, at midnight, I snuck away to go to my uncle’s place to inform them of my husband’s behaviour.

Luck was not on my side. My husband caught up with me. He beat me, leaving me for dead. I was only saved by a Good Samaritan who took me to the hospital, where I stayed for five days. While I was still at the hospital, we had talks with my family and his family. My husband said he still loved me even after what he had done and promised not to do that again. We decided to go back to my house

Those first beatings were just the beginning of many beatings. He had even started beating our 3 children. Whenever I had a good harvest or money from my business, it was grounds for mistreatment and beating. I had relatives who offered to look after me and my children if I left him, but I could not do that because I wanted to be called Mrs. somebody. My first son was now working as a banker, and encouraged me to leave my abusive husband and go and stay with him, but I wanted marriage.

The end was to come in February 2004. It was raining heavily. The roads were impassable. A radio message from Lusaka informed me that my son was critically ill after being involved in a road accident. I was with my husband when the message came, but he did not say anything.

I waited for his reaction that never came. The following day I told him that I was leaving. I had sold some chickens to raise money for transport. He demanded an equal share of my transport money because the chickens lived on his land.

I refused to give him the money, supported by the other 2 wives. When it was time for my departure, he offered to escort me to the bus stop. I thought it was genuine and accepted. About 4 kilometers into the journey, my husband stopped the bicycle and demanded that I give him the money.

When I said no, he started beating me and the next thing I realised, I was in Monza General hospital nursing serious wounds while my son was dying in Lusaka. I could not be there for him.

I proceeded to Lusaka four days later with a swollen eye and marks all over my face and body. My son was in a bad state. I could not even have a word with him. Five days later, my beloved son and breadwinner died.

I informed my husband about my son’s death but I heard nothing from him. He even refused to let our 3 children come to their elder brother’s funeral. After the funeral, I decided to stay with my mother for 2 weeks. That 2 weeks changed my life completely.

My siblings advised me against going back to my husband. They found a counsellor who agreed, saying that I would end up dead in order to be called “married.” I took their advice. My husband still had not even sent condolences, but my children finally made it to the funeral.

They informed me that my husband had sold all my house property most of which had been bought by my son. I was angry but I decided that I could not look back. My children too refused to go back to their father. We agreed to start life afresh.

Even as I was agreeing, I was scared. How could I survive without the support of a husband? How could I carry on after the loss of my son who was also my breadwinner? How I could start fresh in life without any property?

I had left everything including my clothes with my husband and he had sold it all. How would the community look at me knowing that I had failed in marriage? I was even scared to take him to court just in case he organised people to beat me or harm my children.

As I am talking now, with the help of my mother, siblings and other family members, my fear has turned into happiness. I have everything a woman needs for survival. I am the pillar of the family because I have animals for ploughing, a house of my own, and money. Above all, I have regained happiness and peace.

* not her real name. Perpetual Sichikwenkwe is a writer from Zambia; this story was shared with her by a survivor of GBV. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service series for the Sixteen Days of Activism.



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