I was not being a rebellious child, growing up in Makoni district, Zimbabwe envisioning a bright future. My father overlooked the fact that he had already planted a seed to quest for success, to be the best, and to excel. Whenever I brought home my school report, he looked at it meticulously and we would discuss areas which needed improvement. He usually asked, “What is going on with your Maths and Geography my girl?” I would give the usual excuses, but he always encouraged me to do my best. Our relationship was amazing.
Aged 7, I came home with an impressive report, first position. My father was excited. He took an afternoon off and took me into town, Harare city centre. We went to Kingstone’s, the famous bookstore and he bought me a Student’s Companion and an English dictionary. From there he got me fish and chips from the best chip shop at Rezende bus terminus, which had chips and pies to die for. I was thrilled, I loved these one-to-one moments he spent with me because they were packed with lessons and wisdom nuggets. At that age, I even knew all the functions of automobile gears because I was always asking questions and he never got annoyed or got impatient. This paid off, when one day he stepped out of the car to pick up something and it started to roll downhill. I knew what to do to stop it. Those were special moments. They served to convey a strong message to me that education was important and if I did well, I would be rewarded.
Ten years later I completed “O’ level/Grade 10. A serious conflict of interest emerged between the church father attended and his values. The church did not encourage educating girls beyond primary school – being able to read and write was enough.
I knew that this stage was crucial, but I wanted to believe that I was the lucky one. I completed Grade 10 and I was excited to embark on the next leg of my next journey – attending the 11th grade. At this point, the conflict of interest between the church and him intensified. This was a real test to someone who gave up his own studies to help raise his siblings after his father passed on. When I came along some of my uncles were graduates and my auntie was in teacher’s training.
The pressure from the church to pull me out of school deepened. My father had to decide. Girls were expected to marry young and I was already sixteen. Men from that church who were in their 40s used to turn up at my boarding school asking me for a date even though I was only a teenager! I used to pretend they were my relatives.
This was emotionally unbearable and most embarrassing. The fear of being kidnapped was real, as it was a method used for girls who did not cooperate. I was too mortified to tell the school officials or anyone else for that matter. I did not want anyone to know that I was part of that church. These visits started when I was 13 years old and lasted for four years. I did not want other students to know about this as it would have intensified the bullying I experienced at the beginning of each semester. During the holidays I was forced to shave my hair, and boys used to laugh at me and tease me. I became withdrawn and self-conscious. Despite all that, I managed to pass and qualify for Grade 11.
At over 14 years of age, I was already way past my sell-by date for marriage. Just before schools commenced, I was summoned to the village. I was anxious because everyone was getting ready to go back to school. I still needed to find a place. I felt the uneasiness in the air when I arrived, I knew that things were going to be bad but had no idea how bad. After supper, we all sat in the lounge. I think everybody knew that the dreaded topic was going to be discussed. After an awkward moment of silence, my father cleared his throat and said, “Pawaita pakwana (what you have done so far is enough) You will not proceed with your education….” Upon hearing that, my heart sunk. He carried on talking but I could not hear what he was saying…I could feel my whole world falling apart. I kept staring at the little candlelight not sure what to do. The room was poorly lit and looking anywhere else would have compounded the darkness I was facing.
I was in disbelief. I had passed my General Certification Standard (Grade 10) and I was excited about going for Lower Sixth (Grade 11) in preparation for university. There were only two weeks left before the start of the semester. The atmosphere in our lounge was sombre. I finally managed to open my mouth, “Baba (father), why did we waste all that time discussing my future, my reports, and my studies including going to university? Why did you even bother to take any interest in my studies at all if you knew it would all be for nothing?” I demanded. He responded in a calm voice, “You see, this is what they say, these girls will challenge you if you educate them.” I replied, “Aiwa (No) Baba, I am not challenging you.” As I responded to that, I found it astonishing how my father was even using this line of argument.
After a long discussion, I became aware that my father was not going to budge. I knew that this time things were different. This was not the first time we had had that discussion, but previously my five uncles had been there to support my cause. I had come to know that these brothers knew how to communicate with each other and had never ever experienced them hitting a deadlock.
This time around, however, I was on my own. I got very upset and felt betrayed. I had never spoken to my father in that manner before. It was one of those situations where you think of the danger and trouble you might have put yourself in just as you complete your sentence.
Not empowering the girl-child was done so that the women would be subservient to their husbands, but I also knew it went against everything my father believed in.
I needed to do something and do it fast as my future was now in my hands. I had such a strong vision of where I wanted to be – standing in my graduation gown, and now that vision seemed torn apart.
After crying for what seemed like forever, a little voice said to me, wait a minute. Stop crying, you have a solution.
I cried myself to sleep that night. What are my friends going to say if they hear about this? I am going to be left behind. What sort of future am I going to have? As these questions raced through my mind I was gripped by fear. I felt abandoned, unloved and I felt a lump sit right in my throat, I could not breathe. In that moment, I hated my life. After crying for what seemed like forever, a little voice said to me, wait a minute. Stop crying, you have a solution. I remembered I always carried some cash with me whenever I went to the church conference or to Honde valley – this was my bus fare to escape. I stopped crying the moment it dawned on me that I had an option. That night I decided to run away.
In that instance, my mind wandered back to an incident two years earlier. I had attended a conference which was held at a remote camping site of Mt Jenya, in Manicaland province. During the service, I sat facing one of the prominent leaders, I felt uncomfortable, as he kept staring at me. His eyes pierced right through me. It was horrible. I felt violated as he was looking at me like a hyena waiting to feast on its prey. The discomfort was tremendous that I did not hear a word of what the preacher was saying. I kept thinking, “bloody paedophile!” At the same time, I was aware of the real danger I was facing. Later, six girls were chosen to fetch water for his wives, I was one of them. Balancing 20-litre buckets of water on our heads, we walked past the tent where he was relaxing. I think he took another good look at me.
I decided not to allow myself to fall apart as I needed all my faculties in place to survive that precarious night.
A few minutes later two men followed me to our tent and told me that their leader, Bambo Abraham as they called him, had received a prophecy that I must marry him. I knew what this meant, but I was not one to be intimidated. I told them that I was not interested. When I turned him down, I knew that my life was in serious jeopardy. I knew I was going to be abducted as soon as it got dark. I had nowhere to run as the place was in a remote area too far away from the city, and there was no public transport still operating at that time. I could not fathom the idea of being raped, violated, and forced to live with a man old enough to be my grandfather or have my ability to choose taken away from me. For a moment, I thought about what I would do if it happened. I decided not to allow myself to fall apart as I needed all my faculties in place to survive that precarious night.
I hated being at that conference with a passion, but I had to obey my parents. The two men did not like my response whatsoever and the fact that they had completely failed to convince me. They had approached me with so much confidence that they thought it was a done deal. I guess some of the girls in my church community would have liked to be part of the “royal” family (those who were pursuing me belonged to the high social strata). Now the leader’s bodyguards had to go back and explain to their boss, how and why they failed to convince a 15-year-old girl. I knew that at that point the danger level had gone up a notch or two higher. Those guys were going to stop at nothing to get me. My abduction was close, and I was in imminent danger.
I had no time to waste as my window of survival was very narrow. I knew that I was not safe at all. Their next option was to kidnap me, there was no two ways about it. I had to do something fast … I was desperate, my heart was racing. I needed help, so I approached my friend and her brother-in-law, both were about my age. The brother-in-law liked me. I used that opportunity to my advantage, so I told him that I wanted us to be friends first, he agreed. So, they vowed to protect me.
Part 2 coming soon …