My name is Chareeta Femoti. I come from the beautiful land of Batoi located in a hinterland in Africa. A land full of luscious greenery with undulated landscape moving up in spiral shapes also filled with clear crystal rivers, brooks and streams gushing and rushing down the hills like beautiful beads dotted around the very neck of the land. If my land was a woman, she would win the hearts of the strongest of men who would be in awe of her rhythmic moves.
Family life in Batoi consists mostly of an extended family setting. I come from a family of four, made up of my father, mother, I and my only brother, Takki. My grandma, uncles, aunties and cousins all make up for the extended family at large. My father is an upright, loving and caring man who made sure we were well provided for. Papi Nbogo, as we children fondly called him was an international gold merchant in his hay days. He had interactions with different people from different walks of life. This greatly influenced his outlook and behaviour and that earned him the nickname Otamienmien a name that means ‘Whiteman’s friend’ in my land. He also gained their love and respect.
My mother, Mami, was also a very good mother not just to her children but to others as well. She would sometimes send me to the river to fetch some water for the white-bearded Kogbesu – a lonely old man whose life was becoming miserable. She was a gentle and considerate woman, who took time to teach me and my brother how to live good lives. Mami was somewhat a disciplinarian but she always allowed us to play and do things with our peers, Mami would call it part of growing up! She played a big role in my life by ensuring i continued my education in the United States when strong pressures was on my Papi Nbogo to give me out in marriage early in life. Oh! I particularly love Uncle Metubo – he knows how to gain my attention with that well-peppered bush meat of his.
Now allow my bleeding heart to wander away from my old story. The story I am about to share with you is the story of my best friend, the Beautiful Arida, Oh! I forgot to mention her earlier – It was a deliberate omission. She made life in Batoi a more memorable one!
The Beautiful One, as Arida was lovingly called by all. She was popular yet very cool headed. A well behaved, respectful and very industrious young person. Why so much praises of my friend huh? Well that’s Arida, every mother’s dream child. When Arida lost her parents at the age of four, she was raised by her uncle, Baba Sabe whose wife, Luiwe never really loved her for a day.
It was saddening that Arida, of all people could be given out in marriage just like that, at such tender age of fourteen. I and other young girls in our community withdrew to our shells knowing that such a fate awaited us in the near future. Only God could predict who was next or who would eventually escape.
Believe me; Arida had the kind of beauty we all craved for. Her inner and outward beauty shined for all to see. She was a loving and tender-hearted young woman, who had always been a role model to us. She was a good example in the entire village of Batoi. Mothers would sometimes compare their children to Arida as if she was out of this world. When she was given out in marriage, her absence was not only felt but it also created a vacuum no one has been able to fill. Her sudden departure from Batoi sparked off indiscriminate giving off of young girls in marriage early in life.
So many of my friends towed the same path Arida trailed. Some of which their stories are not worth telling at all without tears rolling down one’s cheeks. Is it the cases of maternal deaths during child deliveries? Still -births? Oh! My heart bleeds for these unfortunate ones. Likewise, the ones who survived through child birth seemed to be going through serious emotional problems, there have been cases of battery, rape and confinements to mention but a few.
Though I had lots of friends in my growing up years Arida still remains my closest friend. We played, sang, danced and also helped do each other’s chores. In fact we were inseparable, we were seen together almost everywhere.
Time flies as they say, I left Batoi in a rush as result of Mami having first-hand information from Papi Nbogo that he was being pressured to give me out early in marriage.
It was Mami who came to my rescue when it looked like Papi Nbogo would eventually succumb to the wish of his kinsman, she discreetly arranged with her eldest sister who came to Batoi and eventually took me to the United States under the guise that I was to attend her daughter’s wedding at my maternal village.
My return to Batoi years later was an official one, as I was amongst the band of reconstructive surgeons sent to Africa and particularly the Batoi region hence I was selected. As I entered the theatre with the other doctors to start operating on the next patient I was shocked to my bone marrows! How could I not remember that distinct birth mark the one I always admired on the face of the beautiful one! How could this be happening! So many questions raced through my mind all at once. It took a strong conscious effort on my part to hide my inner turmoil in order not to be replaced by another surgeon. I immediately made up mind that I wanted to be part of this re-constructive process in giving my best friend back a new hope.
Her case was such a sensitive one in that she had had VVF (Vesico Vaginal Fistula) for a long time which was as a result of obstructed labour during child birth resulting from her early marriage. Also improper treatment and all the substance she took affected her badly. Throughout the whole operation I prayed silently for my dear friend.
The operation ended with a huge success although she still underwent another surgery after a few months, her body was healed and her dignity was restored amongst her people, but the psychological scar was just too much for her to cope. She eventually became distant to people. I believe the major healing needs to take place in her heart.
Arida suffered untold hardships at her husband’s house especially from the hands of the senior wives. They made sure that she did most of the household chores. They claimed that she is much younger than their own children therefore she must do whatever chores she is given without complaining, and that became the order of the day.
She went through hell as the youngest wife. Sex was an exercise she always dreaded, for the pains she felt was beyond pleasure. Arida’s husband Mankol who is a very huge man never cared how she felt though he tried to be gentle but their physical body differences made it a tedious affair for her. It took her a great while to adjust and accept this part of her life. She always wished she had gone to school like I did and that if her parents were alive they wouldn’t have allowed her wicked uncle and his wife to give her out in marriage as a child without even completing school.
The beautiful one went on to tell me of how she was beaten and confined so many times in her room by her husband as a result of false accusations from her seniors and their children. This act contributed to her several miscarriages and when she eventually sustained a pregnancy, she ended up experiencing a prolonged labour during delivery since she did not have any prior knowledge of what it meant for a pregnant woman to go into labour and there was no one with her when it started. She had already fainted by the time the eldest child Beti who usually sneaked in to keep her company came. It was Beti’s scream that saved her life and that of her baby whom she named Komena meaning My Own.
In fact the heavens smiled on her, but her joy was short lived when after the delivery, she noticed that most people started avoiding her. At first they were doing it discreetly but later they couldn’t hide it anymore. All this was a result of the smell of urine and faeces that came out indiscreetly from her body. At first she couldn’t understand what was happening to her. It was at the point where her loved ones deserted her even her own husband distanced himself from her that the severity of her situation dawned on her that she was really on her own with whatever the name of the disease that has come to plaque her. She cried to a point that the tears ceased coming. The only person who stood by her throughout these trying times was Beti.
Beti who eventually became a nurse was the one who found out about the visiting band of re-constructive surgeons who treated cases like hers in other countries in Africa. She made frantic efforts that put Arida on the list of those to undergo surgery.
What made those years so unbearable was the fact that her only child was taken away from her immediately her health issue defiled the local medicines. She was left to die; her inability to fight back did a lot psychological damage to her system.
The very fact that her Uncle Baba Sabe gave her out in marriage as a payment for the debt he owed Mankol diminished whatever self-worth she had left. Nguzak the second wife revealed this to her when she came to mock her on her sick bed.
Apart from ensuring that Arida undergoes proper counselling, a particular NGO took interest in her case and efforts are going on to make sure her daughter Komena is found, because since her husband abandoned her he left Batoi and his where about is not known. The child remains the key to her total recovery, for the fear that Komena might pass through the same experience is gradually driving her towards the brink of losing her sanity.
Ha! What a Life!