Chapter one: PAIN
Halima sat quietly in the kitchen. Her heart was heavy and saddened as she thought of the cruel fate girls in her village had to go through. Her pain was unbearable as she watched her sister Salima get married to a man of fifty. “What was Papa thinking?” she asked herself. Salima was only fifteen years and had big dreams for herself. She wanted to be the first girl to attend college in her village. She dreamt of becoming a doctor. Did her dreams mean nothing to Papa? Why did girls have no say in what is being decided for them? Halima kept asking herself these questions hoping to find the right answers. Her thoughts were interrupted by the soft and gentle voice of her sister Salima.
“Halima!”, she called out: I am here to bid you farewell. Remain obedient to Papa and Mama.”
Halima listened carefully to Salima as she spoke. She could see the pain in her voice. Although she pretended to be happy, Halima knew that she was not.
“Salima, what about your dreams? What about you? I know you are unhappy with this marriage. Raise your voice and let your opinion be heard. You deserve better than being a wife of an already married man with more than three wives and twenty children to cater for,” Halima shouted in tears.
“My dear, we are girls; we have no future, we are not allowed to dream. Our place is in the kitchen, so Halima it is time to accept what destiny has in store for us,” Salima said as she hugged her sister goodbye. “Take care of yourself my dear and get ready for marriage.” Salima left with tears in her eyes.
If only she could change the world and make her people see the reality that girls and boys are equal, she would. Halima came from an indigenous village in the far north of Cameroon where cattle rearing was the only thing that kept them going. Her people believed that a girl had no place in the society. When a male child is born, there was merry making for about one year after the child’s birth. But whenever a girl is born, there was no excitement, no happiness and no merry making. Girls were considered as a man’s asset and a source of income. When a girl reaches puberty, she is married off and her bride price is used to educate her brothers. Halima knew that once she would be considered a woman, she would have to face that cruel fate girls before her had to. She wanted a change. She wanted equality amongst all but that was close to impossible.
The crickets could be seen jumping up and down, the birds singing melodious songs. The sun had settled behind the mountain. It was only when her parents called that she realized that nightfall had come. She had spent the entire day dreaming about making a change and had forgotten to take water to the cattle in the field. She snapped out of her illusions, gripped a bucket and hurried down the narrow path to the stream. If Papa found out that she had neglected his cattle for the entire day, he would give her the beating of the century. Papa treated those cattle better than he treated his daughters. Mama gave birth to five children with only one boy. Her eldest sister Aja passed away a couple of years back during childbirth. She got married at a tender age of twelve and could not handle the pain that accompanied child birth. She had some complications and did not survive. It should have been better if the child was given a chance to live. Some days after birth, that baby passed away as well. It was a painful experience but yet all Papa could say was, “Aja was too fragile and could not handle a simple task that other girls of her age could”. Sometimes, Halima wondered if Papa was human. What kind of Alien was he? He had no heart, no conscience. When she returned home, she saw Papa drinking palm wine with his friend Abdullah. They seemed to be discussing something very serious. She greeted and entered the house.
“My friend, Halima is growing into a fine lady. I will come with my people for her hand,” Mr. Abdullah said looking at Halima as she entered the small grass house adjacent to where they were they were seated. “The gods be praised that Halima has a suitor,” he replied. “Who said I am not the luckiest man on earth? My daughter Salima just got married and my Halima will soon be a bride. But Abdullah, be patient, Halima is only thirteen and is not yet ripe for marriage. What makes her a woman is still to come if you understand what I mean.” “Of course my friend I understand you,” Abdullah answered. “Now that we are clear, Halima will be my bride once she reaches puberty. I will give ten cattle and the sum of ten thousand francs for her hand,” Abdullah continued. “I could not have asked for anything more,” Halima’s Dad replied with a smile that vanished as soon as he swallowed his last word.
Chapter two: DECISION
Halima was seated in front of her grass hut watching the rising sun when suddenly her Papa arrived. “Halima,” he called. “It’s been three years your sister Salima got married. She is now happy and has two children. You also know that you are now a woman and amongst all my daughters, you have received the highest education. You passed the G.C.E. examination with good grades. I do not have money to pay for you to further your education. Besides, I will not waste money on another man’s property.” Halima knew where the discussion was heading to and she was prepared to voice out her opinion. Her father continued. “You remember my friend Abdullah; he and his people are coming for your hand in two days so prepare yourself.”
“Papa I do not want to get married. I want to move on with my education and become an engineer. Educate me and you will not regret it, Papa. Educating Salem is like watering a dead plant, hoping it will come back to life. Salem has no interest in school, Papa. I will make you proud, I promise,” Halima said in tears hoping her tears will touch her father’s heart but he had a heart of stone.
“Get out of my sight, daughter of Jezebel,” her father shouted, picking a cane! She fled into her hut. “You want to go to school in whose house? Why will I spend my money on you? You are not my property. Better get prepared because in two days, you will be making babies for your husband,” he continued.
Halima sat helpless in her hut. She would not let Papa ruin her life like he ruined Salima’s. She was not an asset to be sold off with no value. She had a dream and she was going to see it till the end. While she sat there crying, she remembered her cousin in Bamenda had offered her a helping hand if she ever needed one. She took the money she had made from selling food on the street and ran away. She boarded a bus to Bamenda. On arriving, she was told her cousin had left that area a long time ago. She was helpless but the zeal to make it had not left her. She left ready to face life. With the little money she had left, she bought some food items to sell. At night, she slept in the gutters and before dawn, she went to a nearby river and had a bath. Life was hard but she was going to overcome. It took the brave to achieve success and she had planned. She could not attend school during the first trimester because she had not made enough money. Months passed and Halima had made enough money to rent a small room and pay her fees. She started school during the 2nd trimester. There were days she went to bed hungry. After school, she did odd jobs so she could raise money to continue school. No matter how hard things were, she never give up. She had a goal and she was getting there.
The school year came to an end and life finally smiled on her. Her hard work paid off. She was first in her class and was awarded a scholarship by her principal. The scholarship was to cover her for her last year in high school. She now had to worry only about food and housing which was no problem. During her last year, she was introduced to an NGO called Open Dreams by her Physics teacher. Open Dreams helped high achieving students from low income families obtain scholarships in advanced countries. She applied and was accepted as part of the N.G.O. Luck was on Halima’s side. She was able to secure a scholarship to the University of Toronto in Canada. After the G.C.E Advanced level which she made it with distinction, Halima travelled to Canada where she obtained a degree in Engineering after four years of hard work.
Halima returned home to her village. Her father was about to get her kid sister married. On seeing her, everyone in the community gathered in their house to welcome her and hear her story. She told her father everything she went through and warned her father about getting her sister married. She promised to take care of her sister’s education and any other girl in the village who was determined to be a better person. She had made history and her name went down as the first girl to have attended college in her village. She remained a role model for other girls in her community and nationwide. “What a man can do, a woman can do and even better.,” Halima said. All that we girls need is a chance. I hope from my story, young girls can be given a chance to bring a positive change. Educating a girl is educating a nation.