Editor’s Note: Recently the rumor that the erstwhile Governor of the CBN now Emir of Kano – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi – made headlines across Cybersphere, with much argument about whether it is right for a fifty something years old man had the right to marry a 17year old girl … as his fourth wife.
Our opinion? Should this be up for discussion in 2014, should it be even conceivable? What about the girl? Her dreams, hopes and aspirations, isn’t she supposed to have any? Shouldn’t she be the one deciding who she wants to marry and not forced to marry for economic reasons? But … we held our peace because Nigerian cybersphere cannot be totally relied on.
The truth is that just last year, a sitting senator, Ahmed Yerima, who caused a furore when he married a 13year old girl a few years ago and got away with it! Divorced his 17 year old Egyptian bride in order to marry … a fifteen years old girl.
Maryanne Kooda is a friend of the house, one of the online warriors pushing feminism and equality as the one thing that would save our country, Nigeria from the brink of the abyss it seems determined to plunge itself into.
We got in touch with her and asked that she be one of our contributors, she graciously acceded to our request only for us to discover that she had barely escaped being a child bride and ended up becoming a ‘baby carrying baby’.
In the mail accompanying her article she said something that was touching and revealing, “I wrote this yesterday in two hours, it practically wrote its self. As I read it today I burst into tears in the part where I wrote about giving up my dreams to be a lawyer … My sister told me not to share it one FB, but it’s my story and I am not ashamed of it…i am at peace with sharing the story on your blog, I feel compelled to tell this story, child marriages need to be talked about! Somebody has got to do the talking.”
Read MaryAnne’s story of how she triumphed against all odds to become an independent, thinking woman, with two children she’s so proud of.
So recently, my fifteen year old son and my nine year son where talking about my possible marriage to the man I had been dating for three years now.
“There are many fishes in the sea mama, you don’t have to marry him” the fifteen year old said.
Then his brother replied, “Why will a fish want to marry her?”
Gosh! That sent me reeling with laughter because it made so much more sense that it made me wonder who came up with that idiom.
You see, I grew up in the middle belt of Nigeria, where girls where raised to be wives and mothers. This is of course a generalization. There must be many women from the Middle-Belt who have successful careers and financial independence. But the reality I grew up with was that I was only as good as the man who offered to marry me. The richer he was the better.
As soon as I reached adolescence, it became a prerequisite that I am prepared to be married to the most affluent of suitors. Though now as an educated woman I cringe at the very idea of trying to marry off a child. Yet that is the reality of many children in the North and Middle-Belt of Nigeria.
This preparation for child marriage, particularly the way it is carried out in the Middle-Belt, involves some revolting and barbaric practices that I would rather not go through at the moment! I can’t bear to relive those experiences. Needless to say, by the time I was eighteen, I eventually met and married a man who has able to look after me, support my education and of course, my immediate and extended family.
The ironic thing about the marriage was that, it had nothing to do with parental or extended family pressure. By seventeen as soon as I was done with secondary school, I was sick to my stomach with the way I was pressurized to marry and support my family so I ran away from home. I found a job at a video club where I worked for a few months till another job offer came to work as a sales girl in a major super market in Abuja. I had these grand delusions of going to the University of Abuja, so I took my surprisingly good WEAC and JAMB results to the university to gain admittance but was just tossed around. I will never forget bursting into tears at the Gwagwalada bus stop as I got on the bus and headed back to my spot behind the large glass showcase of designer products that I was supposed to market.
It was there, behind that glass showcase that I met my husband. It was early in 1999, when I was disillusioned with life but still had some kind of vague hope that I would go to the university and study law. My dream was to be the “voice of the voiceless”, to stand up for the disadvantaged. There was no way of achieving my goals as my polygamous family was mired in petty jealousies and plain old wickedness. The saddest part of all is that my father was not even remotely poor, though he had other wives and children and my mother was not only fairly literate but a government worker. I had uncles and aunties living in the US. Yet not a single person cared to give me any sort of support or guidance.
Back then I was squatting in a boys-quarters in Asokoro and working at Legend of Abuja in Area 11. I was not there for very long when this man came up to me and asked me, “Can you tell me what pair of glasses would suit my face?” I looked up into his face, and his eyes caught me by surprise. There was an innocence that came through those eyes which I had not seen in most of the men that lecherously hounded me. His eyes told me, “My intentions are noble!”
Though I am usually a very poor judge of character, this one time I was right. I made the bold decision to marry at 18 for the simple fact that for the first time I felt safe with someone. For once I wasn’t a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder or a nubile belle to be seduced with lustful intentions. I was a person that was loved and respected. I must admit, it felt pretty darn good! The fact that he was rich actually did not occur to me at that time.
Well we should have lived happily ever after right! The damsel has finally been rescued by the knight in shining armor. I should be so lucky!
Two years into the marriage I became frustrated and unhappy. I felt trapped! I loved him because he provided for and protected me, and I hated him because he provided for and protected me. Don’t bother trying to understand it, I don’t myself. All I know is I felt like I was in a gilded cage. I pursued a degree part time in Public Administration in the Open University of Abuja. My dreams of becoming a Lawyer went out the window with the arrival of my first son when I was nineteen.
“Baby having baby,” that’s what other pregnant women called me when I went to antenatal care. I felt so ashamed, like I had done something wrong to be pregnant at that age, but it didn’t make any sense, I was raised for this, to marry and make babies there was nothing else that I knew. After the baby was born, just a year after we had been married I got restless. I wanted more out of life, the degree I was pursuing kept me busy and I had every conceivable comfort. I should have been happy, but I was miserable.
The crux of my problems lay in the fact that I did not feel any physical attraction to this wonderful man who had taken me into his arms and made me his wife. I was grateful! My God I was so grateful, but that is all there was. A deep sense of gratitude and even affection but there was absolutely no spark. For the first time in my short life I had the luxury to kick back and relax, to just enjoy being a wife and a mother but I was hounded by discontent.
So soon after I had my second child five years later, I started working for a newspaper, the pay was crap, but then it wasn’t about money but just giving myself a sense of achievement. The job was the beginning of the end of my marriage. As I researched, wrote articles and interviewed people, my discontent increased and I wanted more than anything to be with someone I had chemistry with. Someone with whom we could hold hands and look lovingly into each other eyes, someone with whom I would be with and never wish I was anywhere or with anyone else.
So I left the marriage. In 2008, I simply backed my bags and walked out on my marriage. With two small boys and a little savings I moved to Sri Lanka, my soon to be ex’s home country. Once again, I had even grander delusions of making it on my own. In a foreign country, with no friends or family ties, with no lucrative marketable skills or qualifications. All I knew is I wanted to be happy, I deserved to be happy. I had some vague ideas of teaching English, the research I did showed there was a demand for English teachers.
I should be delighted now right? I had walked out of an unhappy marriage and followed my heart to a beautiful remote Island country. I should be so lucky!
I was flooded with loneliness and the nightmarish reality that teachers simply don’t make enough money to have a decent quality of life. Unless they are supported by family or husbands, most female teachers in Sri Lanka can’t afford proper meals after covering rent and utilities.
So I am back to square one!
I will not bore you with all my efforts and sacrifices to make ends meet. Ok maybe I will, but in another article. For now all I can tell you is that I met another wonderful man, who held my hands in a very dark moment of my life, when I was battered by the stigma of divorce and the emotional and financial hardships of single parenting, or co-parenting as it is called these days,
He told me, “don’t ever let anyone look down on you and treat you badly”, I looked into his eyes and saw the same look, the innocence that spoke volumes, the light that shined through the window of his eyes that said, “my intentions are honorable”.
My loneliness was soothed; we had the incredible chemistry that I always desired. We had stimulating conversations, we travelled, we had dreams of a life time together. At last I should be happy, I have found my “one true love”, sparks are flying and the stars never seemed so bright! Everything should be wonderful now right? Wrong!
You see, after eight years of marriage to a man who met my every material need, and looked out for me almost like a father would after a child. I had to make some serious adjustments to my mindset in order to survive. Not every man suffers from rescue hero-complex.
Now, I had to be the independent woman I always dreamed to be, only I didn’t realize how darn hard it was to begin at 28yrs and with two children to build a life beyond poverty. Career options are limited here in Sri Lanka, if you are not a doctor, lawyer, engineer or accountant you had better have some family support or its curtains for you.
My present love interest is a complete opposite of my ex in every way conceivable, he is the man that my teenage son is rather reluctant I marry because he feels he is not as supportive as his own father is to his present wife, (and how supportive he once was to me).
Friends and family don’t help matters; I get reprimanded for being in love with a man who cannot support me financially. What’s worse is that now, it’s not just me, but I have two children too. Their father has never stopped being a superb provider, even after we divorced and he remarried, he never faltered even once in meeting the needs of our children. He hated me for leaving him, and still doesn’t speak to me, but he never alienated his children.
For that I am forever grateful, as I don’t have to be cornered into choosing a partner based on his willingness and ability to support me and my kids financially and emotionally. Though that is debatable!
Which is the whole point of this piece of writing; this feminism thing, e no easy oh! Not if you are living on minimum wage and have no family support. The poor woman’s version of feminism looks very different from women in more affluent positions. For us, love sometimes feels like a luxury we cannot afford. I can’t count the number of times when I am unable to meet my children’s need and then I find myself self-loathing because I walked out on a really good marriage on some whimsical pursuit of “true love” and financial independence.
Feminism for me has always being about independence and standing up for the rights of vulnerable women. Yet how to be independent on minimum wage and two children? How to speak for the vulnerable when I am part of the statistics?
Then to make things worse, I discovered that my nature is such that I crave a healthy relationship with a man who will make me his wife, not just date, or co-habitate, but take the tradition route of making me his life partner. Not because he wants to rescue me from hardship but because he needs me in his life as much as I need him.
My most naïve ideals was the belief that I could easily earn more than than minimum wage considering my qualifications and skill set, and that I would meet and marry a man who would meet my every emotional and even some financial needs.
The former is still achievable, I haven’t given up, and that’s why I launched my own company www.writestartinternational.com. The latter however, is quite clear will never happen. Reality has set in, and my hope is that by the time I am 38. 20 years from the time I ran into the arms of a knight in shining armor, I would become my own rescue hero. I would have reached a level of self love and self reliance that is just healthy enough to keep me open to the possibilities of a “happily ever after”, regardless of my status; married or single.