No Country For Young Women

Red square framed glasses, lying on their lenses, with the handles broken off and one handle resting on the left side.

This is a post that I have struggled to write for about a year and a half. The emotions it evokes are as raw and as real as if they happened minutes ago. But I guess that is how trauma presents; as an ever-present danger. (Warning: graphic descriptions of violence)

A therapist I follow on Instagram once described a panic attack in great detail. She thought to make a post on the topic because she felt it was a big word that people threw around without knowing what it meant. 

I also used to bandy the term 'panic attack' a lot. Most times when I was startled or frightened I thought I had a 'panic attack'. 

The first time I saw a real panic attack, it was in my 12 year old daughter. We had arrived at my mum's home to get some of our property. Immediately the car pulled in, her composure was visibly altered. Her face became creased with worry, she 'shut down'  and didn't want to continue any conversation anymore, she began sweating profusely. As we walked towards the door, she was trembling. Her steps were hasty as she all but ran to the place that had been our room, and, as soon as I entered behind her, hastily bolted the door. Only then would she calm down a bit. I saw this reaction the three times we had to go to that house.  

That was an actual panic attack, just as the therapist described. But to understand the reason for it is to relive the events of April 14th, 2022.

It was a rather slow day, I had spent most of the morning doing chores and by noon I realised my 10 year old daughter would need lunch. Since I didn't have much to cook, I went to the neighborhood open market. It was a little past 2 pm when I returned. I knew she would be starving, so I started cooking immediately. Just a few minutes later, my elder brother came out of his room, went to the expansive front porch, saw the dust and sand and what-not there and proceeded to call my daughter to sweep it up. When she came into the kitchen to take the broom, I saw the exhaustion and hunger in her face and told her to leave it. She certainly couldn't be sweeping when she needed to eat. She went back to tell that to my brother who screamed at her to do the chore. At this point I had had enough and I walked towards her and called her to come in, telling him she couldn't do that now. To my deep anger, he grabbed her roughly by her arm, pulled her towards him and pushed her into the porch, commanding that she swept.  I was so upset and yelled at him, to which he came over to me as I was standing in the doorway, and threatened to slap my face if I said one more word. I did say more than one word and he grabbed my glasses from my face and broke them in his fist, then shoved me roughly into the living room…

A Little Background

In Nigeria, where I live, to be considered a 'good child' one must be committed to a life of servitude and silence. This servitude is towards anyone remotely considered older than you. The silence means an absence of complaints irrespective of how arduous the given task is. As a result you find the youngest members of a household becoming the errand runners, and taking on the bulk of household chores, passed down from the older members. 

For a female child, the culture is more demanding and overbearing. In addition to servitude, there is subjugation.  She must also be ready to slave for any male -especially those in her family, older or younger, and be controlled/monitored by everyone, down to decisions on what she wears, who she speaks to, what she does with her time. She is conscripted into a life of domestic work as early as possible, usually carrying all the cooking on her back and, if she is the youngest, the cleaning up afterwards. The idea behind all this being that her ultimate goal should be to end up the compliant, hardworking wife of a man.

Moving back to my parents' home in 2021 was a very tough decision to make, and I wrote about it here. For one, it came off - anyway one looked at it- as a clear indication of failure. (Which it was. I struggled for several years to find my feet after losing my job but failed woefully. And when I could no longer pay my child's school fees and my rent, I decided to pack it all in for, at least, a softer landing.) 

Another reason was that I had done this before to devastating results. When I birthed my child, I moved back to my parents to take a breather and find myself for a short while. I ended up staying there for 2 years, and finally leaving shortly after this same brother, in a fit of rage, had bashed my head bloody and broken my nose with my baby's water flask.

I grew up the only girl in a family of six at first, and eventually seven. Five boys and one girl. I learned very early on that the rules for me were very different from that for my brothers, and at the age of 12, I began to rebel. The thing with rebellion in this sort of socio-cultural setting is that everyone becomes your enemy. 

Your father is annoyed at the idea that you refuse to act as his wife's assistant, waiting on him hand and foot, the siblings bristle at the thought that you expect them to do their share of domestic chores. And the mother would be ridden with anxiety that you would never make a good wife and she will be blamed, jealousy that you think yourself better than the path she has treaded, and anger at your temerity. The result of this would be all sorts of ridicule and insults directed your way. (A woman who rebels against society's dictates is either a witch, a prostitute, or both.) And after the insults or sometimes alongside would be several attempts to beat you into shape. Literally. A typical loving home.

 So, naturally, when I could move away from home, I did it without a moment's thought; and I was very reluctant to return. Upon my return though, I knew I would not allow anyone hold my child to those misogynistic standards that I had broken free of, but holding that fort was a treacherous task. The results being the barrage of anger and frustration directed at me, which eventually became violent.

From Pillar to Post - Literally

After I was shoved through the doorway and into the living room, everything else felt like an out of body experience for me. While my body registered the punches and kicks, and my brain the changes in perspective as I came crashing into one object or the other, I can't remember feeling anything in the moment other than anger. My daughter, however, felt and saw everything. 

She describes how my brother threw me into the hard couches twice, hit me with a chair and threw me into the dining table and against the walls repeatedly. How he punched me thrice in my eye and at the back of my head, and in my stomach. He stomped on me several times, I have no recollection of that.  I do recall her screaming and begging him because he went to get the long wooden handle of a mop so he could finish me off.  

My mother was home when all this was happening but she stayed in her room, only coming out when my child was screaming about the mop stick. She too, had been at loggerheads with my brother, their bitter dispute over something else, and probably saw this as an opportunity to make amends with him. 

I saw her talking to him, but could not really hear what she said, but he returned the stick and came back to tell me I was lucky because he would have dealt with me. He called me a witch who wanted to make her daughter another witch to which my mother agreed. I went to give my daughter the meal which had triggered all this craziness and while in the kitchen, my mother came up tell me, nonchalantly, that she was going to church and she hoped I would not end up dead before she came back.  

My daughter and I went back into our shared bedroom. I spoke on the phone to a friend who advised that I involve the police in this matter if I intended to continue living in that house, primarily for safety reasons. It was already something I was considering, so I dressed up, and with my daughter went to the closest police station. Now it is one thing to read or hear how law enforcement turns a blind eye to domestic violence, but it is a whole other thing to experience it. 

To Be Continued.

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