My names are Ifeanyichukwu Nkechinyere Victory Rebecca, I come from the Igbo speaking ethnic group, living along the Southeastern/South southern regions of Nigeria, where I also got married to and lived with my husband, who is also a native of the same locality. We had five kids, all five being born in what one wishing to be honest with one's self will admit to be the typical marriage arrangement, characteristic of the Igbos living in Nigeria - a marriage and home, where the society and extended family members of the man expects and may sometimes demand it of him to "prove the strength of his manhood," by holding an iron fist over his household, which often than not include only his wife and children; and this automatically translates to mean domestic violence against the women and children; which often results in the committing of heinous crimes and the creation of such social problems like; murder, suicide, physical deformation of many a woman and child, mental/emotional trauma and instability, depression, destitution, stigma, ostracism of their victimized wives and children and internally displacing women and their children, among other problems yet unmentioned, associated with this cultural/traditional expectation and practice.
I found myself an unprepared for and an unwilling victim of said practice when I got married; and for the next nearly twenty years time span of my marriage I was still living in the shock of my painful nightmarish realties of my life! With five kids and enough physical scars and emotional trauma to last me a lifetime, plus experiencing the shock of the death of my first, almost adult first child, late last year; which incident was one of the several outcomes of such cruel burdens placed on women and children by the societal construct and the menfolk, in the name of tradition and custom, I knew that the last stroke that has finally broken my back has been dealt me and my leaving was going to be either that last year or never again! i Because, I knew that the burden that these women and children are expected to endure, of which failure or refusal to submit to such dictates will incur "the wrath of the gods" in the form of persons who have been given the avenue to express their envies and jealousies, thus causing much strife; were things that I couldn't bear anymore and remain sane still, so I walked out on my marriage of nearly twenty years, along with my equally traumatized four children.
Here in Nigeria, it is a "tasky" venture to leave a husband and a domineering "breadwinner" of the family, who plays a god like role in the life of a wife and children; as was in my case as with many cases asides mine, where you are deliberately denied basic or furtherance of your education, denied getting a job in formal settings, operating any businesses or anything that has the potential of making you financially independent. So then, I invite you to picture in your minds a scenario where all you were allowed to leave with were forced to leave a home you built from the scratch in only your night wear after weeks and days of enduring back to back, continuous beatings and public shaming, all these years of your marriage band then again after loosing your kid in death to the same ill treatment, you are blamed for it instead, beaten some more even with a machete, striped to your briefs only to be thrown your night wear and sent away empty handed to battle the elements and survive or sink and die!
A week later, while visiting my kids in school and noting with regret how badly they were being treated, I had to literally sneak into the family compound at midnight and stole them away, unnoticed!
I knew before then the stories of aunties, family friends, sisters and mothers who left marriages, saddled with kids, just like I did; how they faced and battled the demons of economic hardship, unemployment, stigma, hunger, healthcare challenges, changing and varied needs of individual kids, accommodation, sexual harassment, societal bias against single parenthood etc; and they came out winning as many as they could that embattled them, and I thought to myself "I can win this too!" Yet nothing at all,not even in my wildest dreams, prepared me for the conditions that the global pandemic brought my way! I simply didn't have a typical case scenario to be my guide on how to survive this my own situation and so, I found myself learning on the go from my own encounters and taking down my own mental notes.
Soon after the news broke on the international scene of a fast spreading and fatal viral infection, and it filtered into our local media outlets, the first shocks we got started with me and my kids being the first victims of the anxieties that gripped those who temporarily harboured us while we were fleeing for safety, intercity, from my murderous husband. They couldn't keep us any longer, more out of the fear of them being exposed to a "carrier agents" like this "fleeing mother who couldn't keep her home and her kids," and they would more than eagerly give us whatever little they could muster and sent us away, faster than we could walk!
Then when the city and state borders were being closed, with us successfully having crossed over safely into the next state, still an Igbo speaking state; the transportation fares hicked triple times higher than what it used to be, at least I was glad that that put a sudden halt to my husband's unrelenting chase after us!
Then, hot on its heels came the "stay at home" order and a nationwide uproar came as prices of food stuffs sky rocketed in tow with the order and lock down! Schools that I had spent almost all i had on me as money to enroll my kids into, just so that they could be out of my way as I hustled for our survival, making a living vending home made buns and washing soap; I watched helplessly as they got shut down and my kids among others were sent home barely three weeks that they started...."what am I to do now?!" I heard myself scream in my head, as it became obvious that I had to exercise extra caution and endurance if we are to survive this period.
With the "no movement" order, no means of transportation, all businesses, markets, schools, hospitals and public places shutdown; people too shut down on giving out anything to us as they turned inwards to attend to their own families - understandably their first priorities. Save for a few who still remembered us in this time of strains and helped us with handouts from time to time. Then the workers also stopped being paid, that was when I, sensing that I and my kids may die of hunger; started processing yam, cocoyam and plantain peels into flour as meals instead of the locally made cassava flakes(Garri) that became suddenly too expensive to afford, i also would fry buns, make local soap and cook soups and stews with available garden veges, snails I'd go looking for at night in nearby farmlands with the fear of layed-out metal traps cautioning my feet to step lightly in the pooly lit darkness of the nights. I also sneaked into the markets to gather crayfish dust I scavanged from the floors of local market shades where they were sold at emergency night markets that soon replaced the day time trading and were done at great risks to our lives under the guns of the federal military troops who were sent out from state to state to enforce the order! I shared these meals, though suprisingly tasty still, with the household that harboured me and my kids, in exchange for our stay; and after each meal, we will wash it down with more cups of drinking water than we'd normally will want to take on a good day, just so that we don't get that hungry to soon again. So often did we get to eat only one good meal in a day and had to fill in the blank spaces with small "chops," that tooth picks will be ashamed to pick out from the hiding places in our teeth!
Well, we had to move again, still on our journey to be as far away enough from my husband as we possibly and humanly could; but that wasn't going to be a walk in the park. By now, I had become used to trading my buns and washing soap at nights and emergency markets in the day, where I could barely stay at one spot for too long, I made sure that I maintained mobile trading so that it will give me the advantage of sporting trouble(mustering of soldiers for arrests) in time to make a run for it, bearing my goods and money from the days sales and speed off to safety.Then again, before leaving for my trading, I would pray with my kids, hug and kiss my smallest or coo her to sleep, fearing in my heart that that may be the last time I'd see them; but thankfully I found myself always coming back each day to my babies, who would endure watching me run off o bathe and disinfect first before embracing them in our small welcome celebrations!
It has got a little lighter with the passage of time and the iron grip of the lockdown has eased and I and my kids can now look forward to more than one normal, warm meals on many days, I have been able to get us a room in a calmer environment to live and I have been able to get us decent clothing; all because with the easing of the lockdown in our locality according to the federal order, I can sell my wares now with ease, and more people are now coming to markets to buy and sell.
Despite my challenges, I allowed them and the hardship they brought to me and my kids to caused me to explore my ingenuity to explore new things and devise new ways of my own just to aid our surviving, courage to face my challenges squarely, boldness to face down the opposition of my own day as a woman who has every reason to stand defiant to the powers that be and prove to myself that I am worth every good treatment that can and should be accorded every human, whether they are male or female, child or adult, young or old.
Since late December 2019 till now, so far in a space of bearly 5 months; all because I chose to leave my abusive mate and walked out on a violent marriage, I have faced sexual harassments, my life and those of my sons have been threatened twice, I and my sons have been beaten, we've been attacked, i've been denied access to bank loan facility, twice we were evicted, twice an attempt was made to rape me and these have been miraculously foiled, as at not I can barely hear with both ears - all thanks to my husband for breaking both eardrums, I have a dislocated jaw, my left hip that's out of place, hands and feet that swell from time to time bcos of the heavy load of my wares that I have to bear while selling them, covering great distances on foot, a dulled right eye, the loss of my eldest child, confidant and best friend; but in all I am confident that now I have come of age to speak, to express my will power to change the narrative of my life and those of my surviving kids, to help others see the need to stop their own victimization, and I hope that for as many as are desiring the will to walk away, may they realise that THE TIME TO START WALKING....IS NOW!
So even though the pandemic ground all economies and countries of the world to a halt, it couldn't halt my leaving an abusive mate and a violent and degrading marriage system.