Scarred for refusing early marriage

Date: December 1, 2009
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Will society accept me with a disfigured face like I have now? Will I ever walk up the streets out there to go to school after what this cruel man has done to me? I feel I have nothing left to be proud of and I have lost the biggest purpose of my life – completing school. I had hoped one day to have a house of my own and to be like many other women, educated and working.

I was born in 1988 on December 6 in Mpika, Northern Province of Zambia. When I was in grade six in 2001, I was engaged to Thomas* and my parents accepted the traditional payments from him. I had no idea what it was all about although my parents told me that Thomas intended to marry me at a later stage.

It was not clear at which stage he was supposed to marry me, but since that was the common trend in my village, I did not probe further. Thomas lived about 30 Kilometers away from our village but we were from the same church and he was a devoted Christian.

When my elder sister who was then living in Lusaka heard about the engagement, she was opposed to the idea. She wanted me to complete school as she had done. She asked that I come to stay with her. I also loved school and I accepted the idea of going to Lusaka.

When I was leaving for Lusaka, Thomas was away in a boarding school. My parents did not forget to warn me not to entertain other men in Lusaka because there was already a man who had paid my dowry and was waiting for me.

Years later, I was surprised that Thomas managed to track down my whereabouts and started coming to my church as well as visiting me at my elder sister’s place. My sister was not happy with Thomas visiting me and advised me to stay way from him so that I could complete school. Several times, I advised Thomas against coming to see me but he did not heed my advice. He kept coming, sometimes sending people to spy on me.

Many times I told him that I did not want disturbances from him because I wanted to finish school. Thomas would threaten that if I were not going to marry him, he would kill me. I used to share that with my family but we would all just laugh, treating it as a mere joke. In 2007, my sister and I moved to stay with our elder brother in Chelstone. Thomas started sending insulting SMS and threats to my sister and brother warning them against stopping me from marrying him.

Despite our reports to the police about Thomas’ behaviour, the police did not arrest him. In November, two days after he had sent another SMS insulting my family, Thomas came to my church again. I decided not to talk to him. I did not even greet him and I informed my sister about his presence. In February 2008, when I was returning from school, I heard a voice calling out my name. When I looked behind, I discovered it was Thomas. I asked him what he was doing around my place. He told me that he had come to see me and complained that I did not even want to talk to him. I left Thomas on the road and headed for home where I informed my brother about Thomas’ visit.

On March 25th, 2008, a day came that I will remember for my whole life. I went to write my end of year test at Kabulonga Girls High School. Usually, I came back in the company of friends but that day, immediately after my test, I decided to get a bus back home so that I could study physics, which was my next subject.

My friends pleaded for me to wait for them but I declined. I just wanted to be home early and study. I did not know my refusal to wait for my friends was going to mark the end to my education dreams, at least, for now.

When I got off the bus at Chelstone, I met my neighbor, Gift, who informed me that he had a letter for me from an unknown person. While discussing the letter, I heard a voice calling out my name. When I turned, I saw Thomas. He greeted me and asked whether my sister was home.

Thomas told me that he wanted to talk to my sister but I told him to do that on his own. I went on my way, but Thomas followed. After a short distance, I met another neighbour. I decided to spend a few minutes with him to avoid Thomas. When I turned to look behind, Thomas had made a u-turn. That was a chance for me to walk fast towards home.

When I was four houses away from our house, I felt something cold splashed on the back of my head, around my neck. When I turned, Thomas was standing right there. I asked him what he had poured on me and why. He never replied but splashed some more liquid on my face.

It was at this point that I felt pain and a burning sensation on my face. I ran towards our home but I fell in a drainage ditch. I screamed for help. Thomas followed me for a short distance on his bicycle and eventually rode off.

Our neighbours came and took me to Chelstone clinic. From there I do not remember what transpired until I had re-gained consciousness. I discovered that I was in Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospital (the largest hospital in Zambia) with my sister on the bedside. I was admitted to UTH from March 25 to June 28, 2008 after which I was discharged. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I could not accept what had happened to my face.

I spend sleepless nights when I think about what has happened to me. I feel I am not the same person. I can laugh outside but what is inside me is sadness. I get annoyed with myself when I think about school and when I see my books lying in my room. I am wasting something that I have cherished from my childhood.

School was my passion, but how can I go back with this disfigured face? How is society going to receive me? Will they accept me the way I am? Right now I can not move an inch out of our yard because I am scared of how people will take me especially those who knew me before this happened.

If there are well-wishers out there, please help me. I want my face to be rehabilitated. I want to be the same old me who was happy with friends, family and was in school. If doctors cannot work on my face, even a mask of some kind can help me to reunite with society because now it is difficult for me even to walk around.

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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