In Her Shoes

Isata Kabia
Posted September 11, 2020 from Sierra Leone
Harsh Realities
A daily reality for millions of girls globally: their day begins in the dark, in search of water.

She leaves the house at 4 am carrying a big, tall bucket and a smaller one-gallon container.  She’s not alone. By the time she embarks on her trip under the night sky, there are always a few more girls on this same dark path. They never questioned why it was girls facing this potential danger. In pursuit of water. In avoidance of trouble.  They had heard reports of girls being attacked. The serenity of the night belies the danger. They had never arranged it on purpose, but it’s lucky she’s not alone on this perilous, daily journey. She’s grateful she doesn’t have to walk by herself, and she feels safer, in the company of distracting conversations. It makes the trip shorter too- less focused on the fear and the distance, more focused on daily happenings, upcoming events and sometimes gossip about somebody else’s troubles.

Nene had been sent away last month, or so they heard. Rumour has it she had been sent back to her mother because her Aunt Maggie is jealous of her beauty. Or because she doubts her new husband’s integrity. Or both. Otherwise why else would she be scared that he would not look at Nene as his own child?                                     

Maggie had been Nene’s official guardian since the girl was five. For the last seven years she had taken her as her own child. Her sister had given the girl to her one Christmas when she went to visit her home village. She had too many boys in the house, she said, and Nene is the only girl. Also her dad had refused to register the girl for school and she can’t go against her husband’s word. Besides, for her to challenge that, she would need money. Where would she get the fees and uniform and daily lunch from? It was futile to question his authority. And the girl was quite special: smart, and brave, coming up to her aunt, touching her face and telling her “aunty Maggie, you are so pretty. Can I have some lipstick too?”

Troubles had already started brewing since Maggie started this relationship last year, even before the official marriage ceremony. But somehow she believed she could manage the situation. Or she hoped he would at least stop complaining about the girl once he got to know her better. She had never had any problems with Nene. Not a single complain from the school and not even from a neighbor. What could possibly annoy him so much about the child? She couldn’t figure it out, but it seemed Nene could do no right in his eyes. He always found reason to scold the child in her presence. 

She had private conversations with Nene, trying to encourage her to be nicer to uncle, to try not to annoy him all the time. The girl didn’t respond. She looked sulky. This made Maggie mad. How dare she, this insolent child! Doesn’t she realize how much she had done for her? How many sacrifices she had made for her? Maybe she wanted to destroy her relationship. Maybe she is doing this deliberately so this man would leave her. How dare she! Well one of them will certainly have to go if push came to shove, but it would not be her husband -to -be, that’s for sure! After this outburst, the child ran out of the room sobbing wildly. 

Now Nene had ‘disappeared’. Some said the aunt was tired of the tension in the house and she didn’t want to destroy her home so she sent the girl away; for her own protection, of course. It seemed the man didn’t want any children, and he certainly didn’t want to raise somebody else’s. He grumbled all day and mistreated the girl any chance he got. So it was better this way, for the child’s sake. And for her marriage. 

There was also speculation that things had already gone awry. Nene had missed too many days of school and she had not joined them on their water journey for a few weeks now. They had stopped by too many mornings on the way to school shouting for her to hurry before she made them all late, as usual. But for weeks, the only response from her aunt was “Nene will not be going to school today”. 

She was always late, but always immaculate. Nene would not leave her house with a hair out of place or her uniform not perfectly starched and ironed. They tried to be like her: prim, polite and proper, but they knew she was in a league of her own. Her books, perfectly wrapped with old newspaper and her homework without the scratches that filled theirs, were also a reflection of her neat mind. Nene didn’t talk a lot, but when she did, they hung onto her every word. 

Then they heard about the disappearance. They heard the grown ups saying that he touched her and his new wife caught him he blamed the child and said she threw herself at him.  But he had been so discreet she never would’ve suspected if she hadn’t come home early that day. The ruse he had created was perfect. As far as his wife was concerned his contempt for her niece was quite clear: the girl was quite incapable of doing anything right. His constant berating of her left the woman in no doubt that the girl’s behaviour was a problem, that the child was a problem. He had expressed his dislike of the girl several times in no uncertain terms. He had even asked her to send Nene away at some point before they got married because “ otherwise she would cause problems in our new home“. She had told him to please try to find it in his heart to forgive Nene’s mistakes, to make an effort to bond with her. Aunty promised him that she would talk to the child too so she could realize her mistakes. 

“Well my mom is friends with Aunt Maggie. She came to our house crying, saying ‘how did I not know? How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I see this before?’ She kept talking to herself and my mom said ‘it’s not your fault’.”

“They say Nene is sick, like she can’t even walk. That’s why she can’t go to school. The hospitals couldn’t fix her so they sent her back to her village.”

“No, that’s not true. The hospital couldn’t fix her because they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. It’s not a regular disease, it’s super natural so only the native doctors will be able to help her.”

“I heard that he made her very sick. That’s why her aunt kept her home from school. Her aunt called the police and they arrested him, her own husband! My mother says she is very brave, and that most women would not have done that.”

Every voice spoke incredulously, only half believing the words their mouths were forming, and understanding even less. The chit chat drew to a close as they approached the water well and got ready to expend energy fighting for the right to clean water. By the time they collected their water from the well and started the journey back, there was total silence: due to the heavy loads they balanced on their heads and hands, but most definitely due to the shared burden of their hearts.  And so began the long journey home.

This story was submitted in response to From Poetry to Paintings .

Comments 29

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SUZAN
Sep 11
Sep 11

The harsh reality which every girl child encounters. A reality that needs to be corrected with our voices speaking out on it. Thanks so much Isata

Isata Kabia
Sep 12
Sep 12

Thanks Suzan, indeed we owe it to all the girls in the world, to be their voice!

Nini Mappo
Sep 12
Sep 12

Hello Isata,
It is a beautifully told, but very sad story of Nene, and many like her who suffer abuse in the hands of trusted relatives not only in Africa, but everywhere in the world, unfortunately.
I grieve for all the Nenes, all these lives snuffed out just as they were taking form.

Isata Kabia
Sep 12
Sep 12

Too many lives, Nini, mostly reduced to statistics. We need to know their names and acknowledge their pain. It’s up to us to stop this cycle.

Oluwatoyin Olabisi
Sep 12
Sep 12

Beautiful Story
unfortunately it is the sad story of many Girls
exacerbated by corruption, lack of development, culture and tradition
I pray and hope, our leaders would live up to their responsibilities.
Please follow back

Isata Kabia
Sep 12
Sep 12

Thank you Oluwatoyin. I’m glad to read the women on World Pulse speak up for women and girls even after enduring their own pain. Grateful that we can overcome so completely. We are now the leaders we’ve been waiting for. Let’s do this! Followed, and looking forward to work with you.

Charity Birla
Sep 12
Sep 12

Thanks for the story its a lesson to us all to work out for each others welfare in the family and so sad ...it's so depressing when a girl can't be comfortable with family but unity and peace should be spread within the family but hopefully change will come with time God willingly.

Isata Kabia
Sep 12
Sep 12

Thank you Charity. Some of these painfully horrendous realities are more incredible than fiction. You have people giving children as Christmas gifts and the pain that comes out of that is too depressing. A lot of education is needed all around..

Kike
Sep 12
Sep 12

Isata, this is a beautifully written piece. I love the idea of using stories to communicate the harsh realities of being a girl in today's world. You have actually reminded me of experiences I had as a little girl and strengthened my resolve to protect younger girls around me. Do you write often? I would love to read more from you :)

Isata Kabia
Sep 12
Sep 12

Oh Kike, thank you so much. With such a request, I will definitely try to write more! We owe it to our younger selves to protect the present. We will continue lifting our voices in service of girls everywhere.

Pateh
Sep 13
Sep 13

Neatly penned! I really love your work, we really owe this to our girls and women in the society.

Isata Kabia
Sep 13
Sep 13

Thank you so much Pateh. I’m grateful for the appreciation. Yes, we owe them at least that.

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Sep 13
Sep 13

Dear Isata, thanks for sharing such a unfortunate story that is a real reality for many girls like Nene. At this time in our lives together we women take action against such abuse.
It is my belief it will be and as I should say IS many young women and millennials today globally who are standing up against the ancient ways of yesterday. Speak your voice and rise up! All the best to #endviolence #genderinequality !
Thank you,

Mama Queen

Isata Kabia
Sep 13
Sep 13

Mama Queen, I thank you. Let’s take collective action so we can make quick gains globally. Everyday lost is another Nene lost.

Queen Sheba D Cisse
Sep 13
Sep 13

Absolutely!
sincerely,
Mama Queen

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 13
Sep 13

Hello Isata,
Story-telling is an art, and what a gifted story teller you are. How tragic that Nene has suffered so much in her young life, and that we are left just guessing what has happened to her. How tragic knowing that Nene is so many girls. Our only solace is that we now have each other and are determined to change what to many women and girls are living, and dying from. Your strong voice here calls us to keep moving forward with the truth.

Isata Kabia
Sep 13
Sep 13

Thank you so much Tam! I appreciate that from an artist like yourself.
Yes Nene represents so many girls. It is urgent that we take action so that our daughters’ stories will not also be our granddaughters’ stories.

lemonadelemon
Sep 13
Sep 13

wonderful write up..

Isata Kabia
Sep 15
Sep 15

Thank you so much, I appreciate you.

valem
Sep 14
Sep 14

Dear Isata
Thanks for sharing on what happen to girl child, The environment you described is what you find most rural girls here in Tanzania, especially in Lindi, Mtwara,Dodoma and Singida. many of these girls fail to achieve their academic dreams.
please keep update us on an intervention

Isata Kabia
Sep 16
Sep 16

Dear Valem,
Thank you so much and I’m happy this resonates with you too. This scene, unfortunately, can be almost anywhere in the world. I’ll definitely keep you posted on our initiatives to engage.

MUKABA ZAWADI
Sep 16
Sep 16

Merci de partager sur ce qui arrive aux fillettes ce qui est vrai que beaucoup ne parviennent pas à réaliser leurs rêves académiques cela est vrai.

Isata Kabia
Sep 16
Sep 16

Merci beaucoup, Mukaba. Il est tout à fait inconcevable qu'en 2020, votre lieu de résidence ait encore un impact considérable sur les opportunités auxquelles vous avez accès. Permet de développer un monde plus égalitaire.

Millynairi
Sep 18
Sep 18

Dear Isata,
This is a very sad story about Nene and what she went through. I feel for many others who may be helplessly going through the
same. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Isata Kabia
Sep 18
Sep 18

Thank you so much Millynairi. I am grateful that you find the story empathetic to the millions of girls like Nene. And I hope we double up on our action to save them all from such a dangerous reality.

Lily Habesha
Sep 18
Sep 18

Dear Isata,
What a beautiful story of unfortunate girl! I don't know why girls are burdened in our continent. In our remote villages, girls go to fetch water every day. They might have good families to care for them, but they got raped by strangers while they get back. They are being attacked while they carry water. The guys break their water pots made of clay. The water runs down their backs and girls drugged to the bush and their hope and future starts darkening from that moment.

Thank you for raising your voice.
Lily

Isata Kabia
Sep 22
Sep 22

Dear Lily, thank you so much for your support. Thank you also for the observations in your corner. It shows how universal this problem is.
We have to take firm action. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Girls should not lose their childhood because they have to fetch water.

I want to organize a continental protest on this will you join me in designing it?
I want us all to take a photo of us carrying a bucket of water and we will choose a date to post the bucket challenge. We can decide on a hashtag, I will write up something and post here for all women to take action and we coordinate it. Will you join me?

Dear Isata,

You are such a great storyteller. I hope you will continue to write stories that show the harsh realities women and girls face. Your pen is your power. Nene's story is a story that is real to many girls in this world, how many voices are silenced because they live under the care of well-meaning relatives. You are Nene's hope that your story will serve a wake-up. Please write more, dear. These kind of stories need to be amplified.

Thank you for raising this up. We stand with you and all the Nenes of the world.

Isata Kabia
Sep 22
Sep 22

Dear Karen,
Thank you so much for your encouraging words. It means so much when we choose to raise our voice and somebody actually hears us. ‘Your pen is your power’. I love that! May we continue to protect and amplify this power in women in service of all the Nene’s.