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CAMEROON: In Spite of a Fractured Girlhood, We Made It

Marie Abanga
Posted November 15, 2018 from Cameroon
Photo courtesy of Marie Abanga

In a letter to her younger self, Marie Abanga details the hardship and triumphs of growing up.

“When I think of how far we have come, girl, I owe you a big one.

Dear Ayo,

Well, dear Ayo, I admit I owe you an apology. I should have written to you at least 7 years back—even if only to encourage you on the next leg of your journey, for it is our journey after all.

When I read about nurturing our inner child, I smile because it resonates with me so much.  In this letter, I hope to nurture mine.

I was told ‘Ayo’ means soft in our dialect, and I used to wonder if we were ever to live up to that awesome nickname. When I reflect on all we went through in our girlhood, it was anything but soft. I am happy and grateful that despite that severe fracture brought about by all those adverse childhood experiences and our dramatic transition to motherhood of sorts at age 12—first to our siblings and then to our own baby at age 24—we made it and are living our own version of a soft life.

Ayo, no one needs to remind me how bouncy and full of life you were at birth. Mum says she left from school on Thursday the 18th of January 1979 at 5pm, went to the hospital, and had you by midnight. She then spent the next three days at home showing you your way around, and she was back to school on Monday, her friends wondering where the little bump on her belly had gone. Could that be the beginning of your independence, Ayo? How could everyone not love you?  

You loved everyone back, too. You were always there for everyone to do what was needed. Your first seven years of life were enjoyed, until that great disastrous move.

Your entire family was uprooted to another city far away from all you knew. You had to try settling down in a new school and neighborhood. The new house was so big by your standards. There was a big fence and a scary gate. Neighbors barely spoke to one another. As if that were not enough, your mother and father’s marriage dissolved three years later, and mum left the four of you behind.

Your brother was fragile to say the least. He needed taking care of, for it wasn’t long after that that he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Remember, Ayo? It became a matter of survival, especially with the arrival of Stepmom with her own set of rules and regulations. “Don’t touch this, don’t touch that. Indeed, I don’t even want to see your faces around. Keep to your room or bear the consequences.”

We kept to our room or locked ourselves up in the loo for as long as we could, just for a break sometimes.

I wish I could say your baby brother got better, but you saw how the epilepsy and stigma, the marginalization and shame got the better part of him and his mental health took a big hit. The diagnosis of mental illness attracted all sorts of name calling, which left you scared.

The trauma of skipping over the high fence to go find food because you dared not touch Stepmom’s things; the pain of seeing your brother in pain and being so helpless; the fear of what tomorrow would bring—all of that took its own hit on you, too. Even when your brother started calling you ‘Mama Ayo’ when you were barely 14, that did nothing to make life seem any better.

You struggled to survive. Your grades dropped but you never failed an exam. You were both very intelligent, and you were determined to not let the two years of torture in your dad and stepmom’s home make you failures in life. How you wish he had lived to tell his own tale! I know this is about us, but can we ever talk about us without him?

Adolescence hit you hard, Ayo. All those hormones and no one to even talk to you about basic things like how to properly wear a pad, so of course there were some blunders. You were beautiful, even if you didn’t believe it then and even if you didn’t smiled at all. But, let me be candid that you are still beautiful, and I appreciate how we smile now.

The boys lured and promised what you craved most. They promised to hold you and love you for infinity. You may not have even known what that really meant, but you did give them some trial periods. The inevitable happened. That was exactly 15 years ago and you gave birth. Even though he was from a most forbidden love, you didn’t care.

You were almost homeless, and so unstable both in thoughts and actions. Marriage to you seemed the best way out. You even saw it as a refuge, remember? And you did it, girl. You met a guy in December and told him either marriage or nothing. By March you both exchanged vows in front of none other than your own father who was the lord mayor of your village at the time.

Ha, whatever we were expecting I still can’t tell to this day. But what we got... let me just say, we tried our best and took some real abuse. We tried to fight back and gave in, up, and out after 6 years. By then you had three boys. How many times have you gotten pregnant again? Four. There was the first pregnancy even before the vows were exchanged, that one you miscarried at 5 months. And there was the angel you had in 2008 and barely cradled in your arms before she developed the respiratory infection which took her back to her maker the very next day.

By then, pain was your companion.

But darling Ayo, the above reflections and recollections are not to open old wounds or throw any pity party. That’s not what soft girls turned women and mothers do. Our girlhood may have been fractured and interrupted; we may have had some real adverse childhood experiences, but our stubborn but passionate faith kept us going.

When I think of how far we have come, girl, I owe you a big one. We strive on for our own sake but also for his sake, gone so soon but will live in us forever. We strive on for the boys and all those young girls who look up to us for inspiration and motivation. We are so grateful we can mentor many, and we can equally give all those talks and write the books to share our story and tell people that it is possible: that girls, if given the chance, can become just about anything and can even run a home, why not a country.

We are forever grateful for all the love and lessons, all the accomplishments, and all the connections. Indeed, the fractured girlhood only made it tough getting here, but we are tougher.

Darling Ayo, I am honored and humbled to have finally written this long overdue letter to you. I conclude by telling you how joyful I was when a Nigerian friend told me ‘Ayo’ in their dialect means ‘Joy’. You see Ayo isn't only an exclamation like the native Dualas use. Ayo is soft. Ayo is joy.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 17

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Nakinti
Nov 20
Nov 20

Dear Ayo,
What a strong girl turn woman. I admire your resilience in the midst of turns of pain. Girk, you are one fierce woman full of courage. Thank you for standing for yourself and for your brother.

I wish many step mums can read this and just change the way they raise step children. I know there are wonderful step mums around the world but that is as much as we have wicked ones to. How can we women, as a group change this narrative?

My dear sister, I am glad you came out victorious. Bravo!

Love you
Xoxo
Nakinti

Marie Abanga
Nov 20
Nov 20

Dearest sister of mine,

Thank you so so much. I wonder why our step mum was that way. The irony is my brother and I kept loving her until he died. He kept trying to reach out. Wait, I even raised her own daughter in my matrimonial home for 5 years until I left. She witnessed much of my abuse sadly. But today ha she has stopped all contact with us.

Thank you for finding me brave, indeed I made some chilled lemonade out of all the lemons life threw my way...had to do that for Ayo and also for Gaby's memory.

By speaking like and sharing our stories, we equally advocate for different narratives, and inspire many others to share their own stories - especially for healing's sake.

Loads of love too
Ayo/Marie

Tecenta Achiri
Nov 20
Nov 20

Dear sister
Am not only moved but I have wept ..I know what it means and I know the pains ...am proud of you and the woman you are now
Courage my dear ..

Marie Abanga
Nov 20
Nov 20

HI Tecenta,

Thank you very much. To God be the Glory. Indeed you know how much pain we can grow up with from a fractured childhood.

In sisterhood
Marie

jlanghus
Nov 20
Nov 20

Congrats, dear Marie:-)

Kudos to you and Ayo. Here's to many more accolades...

Marie Abanga
Nov 21
Nov 21

Dear Jill,

Thank you so much. You are a wonderful encourager

jlanghus
Nov 21
Nov 21

You're very welcome, dear:-) Thank you, ma'am:-) I appreciate it!

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 20
Nov 20

Dear Ayo,

I am so moved by your message, your love letter to yourself. Such love, and such wise advice, remembering that your name means "soft" and reminding your young self that you have been strong, generous, and despite experiencing much pain and difficulty have always been beautiful. I'm sure others reading this will be reminded as you have reminded me, of how important it is to love and care for ourselves. It is a gift that you have shared with us, how beautifully you have honoured your life and your self.

In sisterhood,
Tam

Marie Abanga
Nov 21
Nov 21

Dear Tam,

Thank you so much for your feedback. I came to realize that Ayo's healing and now Marie's, were so linked only a love letter could accelerate that.

I am so happy it will inspire and motivate many others too. It is indeed very important to love and care for ourselves.

In sisterhood
Marie

Theresa Takafuma
Nov 21
Nov 21

Dear Marie
I am proud of you sister. Your story inspired me a lot, and made me tell the story of my own girlhood. Congratulations on being a Featured Storyteller and here is to many more accolades! Super proud of you "Ayo".

Love and kindness
Theresa

Marie Abanga
Nov 22
Nov 22

Dear Theresa,

Thank you so much. I am happy you were so inspired. Please let me go read your story. Here is to our sisterhood.

Hugs
Marie

Tino
Nov 28
Nov 28

Dear Marie
You are the example of courages, I really moved by your story, be always the light to others,
Full of kindness
Tino

Marie Abanga
Dec 03
Dec 03

Dear Tino,

Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, Grace has brought me so far, I really strive to be the Hope for others.
In sisterhood
Marie

Mauwa Brigitte
Nov 29
Nov 29

Hi MARIE ABANGA!
We must understand some of our mothers' behaviors come from the source of our biological families. We can give our children the chance to be raised according to the will of God, children are blessings coming from above. Let's draw a true path that is Jesus Christ so that they will be the light of their future family.

Marie Abanga
Dec 03
Dec 03

Dear Brigitte,

Thank for your comment. I agree and I say Amen.

In sisterhood
Marie

NooriaA
Dec 08
Dec 08

Dear Marie Abanga,

Before reading your story, I thought we (women) in Afghanistan suffer too much. Your story made me even to cry and at the same time I really admire your patience and courage. Wish you more success.

Marie Abanga
Dec 09
Dec 09

Dear NOORIAA,

Thanks so much for your comment. It seems women are women any and everywhere, and go through the same stuffs. I on my part didn't know at the time I was going through anything really worthy crying over lol. Those experiences yield fortitude, and then hope keeps you going, I could only end up creating an association and call it Hope for the Abused and Battered. Thank you so much for your wishes