You do not have to be a celebrity to have people poking their noses in your business. I gradually got used to this idea, growing up in Ghana, West Africa. I was scolded by total strangers when I went wrong, I was reported to my parents by people who forced an introduction of my parents out of me when I wore miniskirts. The funniest thing about these ‘nose pokers’ is that, upon smelling the aroma of my cooking, they can simply decide to pay me an uninvited visit; hailing praises at my cooking. Most often than not, it is a sign that they want a bite. It is great to have these ‘nose pokers’ sometimes because they are the ones who would come to your aid when you were in trouble; especially when you don’t ask them to.
However, it is a horrible experience to live in a society such as this when ones life is always under scrutiny by people you never knew existed. People always seem to look out for a bad story to spread about others. It was hectic for me.
I am Abena. I am a very sad and a broken hearted woman with nothing substantial to boast of as my own. I lived in Koforidua, a city in the Eastern region of Ghana all my life. I was such a happy child growing up. I had everything I wanted growing up because I was born into a wealthy family. I had a very huge family because my father had four wives and my mother was the last of his wives. I had eight brothers and nine sisters; we were prohibited by our father to qualify any of our siblings as ‘half siblings’. My father got so angry when any of us tried to bring disparity among us. I never understood him but I understand now.
My father simply wanted our family to be as normal as every other family; a nuclear family. It will be heart breaking for him to know that it was not a normal family.
I was raped when I was five by my half brother who was twenty five by then in my father’s compound. My father had no idea this happened to me neither did my mother. I grew angrier and angrier each day after this experience. I hated a lot of things about my family but nobody understood me. I was always angry and I was often depressed. Did people observe this trait, you ask? Ofcourse! Everybody observed how angry and moody I usually was. Did they do anything about it? Certainly. They often complained about how disrespectful I was and tried to beat it out of me many times. I was often told I needed deliverance (a spiritual exercise of casting out demons). They spoke a lot but did little.
At the age of seven, I was raped again by my gardener. I knew I could not talk about it because I would be the talk of my home- a huge village on its own. I was sure my half siblings will tell others if they knew and my parents will tell the church as well. I simply did not want to feel the shame of SEX; I did not pay attention to the fact that it was rape and that it was not my fault. The gardener quit his job few days after raping me.
All my life in school, I had only been friends with girls. I only had female friends because I hated men and everything they stood for. I always said to myself I will never get married. Although I never had the courage to say it out loud, I believed it.
I could not perform well in school anymore so I dropped out of school to follow my passion in hair dressing. I accepted Christ; for real this time at the hair dressing school. I got serious and highly involved in church activities. Church had a way of lifting my worries and predicaments; it therefore became my residence. I was always in church. In fact, I became addicted to church because of how free spirited and happy I became when I was in church.
I loved every sermon in church apart from the ones on marriage. Nobody knew how I felt about marriage because everybody is expected to marry at a point in his or her life. Being single was wrong in the sight of many especially for those in church because everyone wanted to get married. Our preference and choice was not really about God’s acceptance of a single life like Paul’s in the bible; it is an institution ordained by God that agrees with humanity.
I graduated from the hair dressing school. I started work soon after graduation. I loved my job! I had lot of money. After many years of work, I was content with my life and I knew I could not be happier. I was always happy and grateful to God for the blessing and the TRUE deliverance. The pain and resentment healed with years, prayers and hard work.
I was thirty-eight and it seemed like life had just begun for me but to my family and everyone else, my life had come to an end because I had no husband. People I did not know gossiped about me and made fun of me because I was not married. Even church was not a safe haven for me anymore. At a point, I almost quit church but I kept my faith.
I got desperate and frustrated. I simply got tired of everybody talking about me in my neighborhood, church and in my HUGE family. I was just tired; all I wanted was a MAN. I was ready to put my life on hold for that man.
I married Cyril. A man who had always wanted to marry me as long as I could remember. He was not my prince charming but I settled for him anyways. I did not like him at all but I felt I had no choice. “It is too late for you to get picky”, my mother always said. “Age is just a number” I often replied. I thought she exaggerated but with time, I believed her. It got harder to find a husband as my ‘numbers’ increased.
On our wedding day, everybody seemed to be elated than I was. Cyril was nowhere close to the excitement of the guests at our wedding. “I thought we were the ones getting married”, I repeatedly whispered into Cyril’s ears. We laughed about it over and over again. It actually helped to keep up appearances. It was generally a happy day because I knew I would finally get people off my back.
Two years into my marriage and there was no ‘issue’- an African slang for pregnancy. Quite funny when you think about it. The world was on top of my head and my in-laws were on my neck. There was absolutely no breathing space for me. Everybody thought of me as barren. My in-laws DEMANDED their grandchildren. When I left my home, people I did not know pointed fingers at me because of my childlessness. I got so paranoid and embarrassed that whenever I saw two people chat, I felt I was the topic of discussion. I lost concentration and interest in my profession. My business collapsed and I simply wanted to die.
After five years of my imprisonment in the name of marriage, my husband decided to take a second wife. Adoption was simply not an option because he wanted his own children. I understood him. Besides, his family will not allow him to adopt a child. More over, the ‘nose pokers’ would not have agreed.
The family system I have always dreaded was being started right before my eyes but I could do nothing about it….
I have lost everything I have worked hard for because I stopped bathing when people watched me in my ‘wall-less African bathroom’. I totally forgot I was the only one who felt the cold breeze on my buttocks. I also forgot that I was the one who would enjoy the freshness a bath brings.