Even though I was betrothed at the age of eight to Alhaji Imoro, it was only after I turned sixteen that I was taken to his home as his third wife. My older twin sisters, Ashana and Fushana were married off at fifteen, but growing up I had been a very skinny child, rather unusual for a Kombongo girl, who were usually well built.
My Baba whenever I came to clear his bowls after his evening dinner of tuo-zaafi and ayoyo soup would comment to my mother, 'Idayatu, you need to put more meat on this child's food, do you want Alhaji to say we are not feeding his wife well?'
My Mma would smile and say 'Maegyida, this child eats more than her twin sisters combined, its her body that doesn't glorify food.'
When I turned sixteen, Alhaji could just not wait anymore, and my parents agreed I would probably gain weight after I had my first child. I was in Alhaji's house for a year and six months when he decided I served no useful purpose to him. After these months I had been unable to give him a child, and I was to be sent back to Mbaaba's house. When I got to my Baba's house, he shook his head, folded his arms and cast a look of disdain at my mother who kept wailing about how 'her enemies were at work'. I stood with my head bowed, I wasn't expected to say anything after all.
Two days later, my parents called me late at night, and told me I had to leave Kombongo to Tamale. My father's younger brother would meet me at the bus station and find work for me. The people of Kombongo had decided I was unable to have children, and as long as I stayed here no man would marry me. My brothers Sadik and Yusif walked me to the next town and waited for me to get a motor that would take me to the bus station where I could find a bus to Tamale. It was a three-hour journey from Kombongo to Tamale. I was yet to shed a single tear about being driven from my husband's compound, and from Kombongo, where I had lived all my life.
My uncle found a job for me even before I arrived at Tamale, at Aunt Adiza's chop bar, and it was agreed that it would be much easier for me to live with Aunt Adiza whose house was close to the chopbar. I would come to my uncle's house and help his wife with her house chores. She had three children, all under the age of five, and she needed all the help she could get.
Aunt Adiza's chop bar could easily pass of as the biggest in Tamale. She had employed her younger brother who just graduated from the university to manage her accounts. For some reason, I was quite comfortable around Yussif, and I assumed it was because he had my brother's name. I could tell he liked me when he decided I would be the one customers paid their money to. This meant I had to render accounts to him every evening when the bar was closed. He would keep me very late in the bar, but Aunt Adiza never complained once it was about sorting her money out. He insisted on walking me to Aunt Adiza's house every evening and on the way he taught me what he called 'basic English'. Sometimes he laughed at how I pronounced some of the words, and I laughed because he expected this girl from Kombongo who had never stepped into a classroom to actually be able to speak English as well as he did.
The first day Yussif insisted on taking me to find out where he lived was the first day we slept together. He expected me to be angry, as he was not my husband. I wanted to ask him what good sleeping with my husband had done me, but I kept it to myself. If Yussif was surprised I wasn't a virgin, he didn't show it... and I offered no explanations.
It took Aunt Adiza thirteen months to realize Yussif and I were sleeping together. She called me to her room, asked me to confirm her suspicions. Confirm: a word I had learnt from Yussif. I said nothing. I was good at keeping quiet. It was part of the upbringing where I came from. Girls were simply expected to keep quiet. Aunt Adiza wasn't sure exactly how long we had been sleeping together and since I was unwilling to give details, she started advising me to use protection. And to be careful. She said Yussif was set to marry a young lady who had also graduated from the university. On the 22nd of the next month. Yussif had also taught me how to read dates from the calendar. She said no man would marry me if I got pregnant for another man.
Two things surprised me. That Yussif had hidden this important news. Not that I expected him to marry me; he was a graduate and I was a village girl, but I was surprised he had hidden this so well. I never saw it coming. At all. The second thing that surprised me was realizing that in all these months I had never once used any form of protection whatsoever; and I had never once gotten pregnant. I was glad Aunt Adiza read the shock on my face as just being disappointed about Yussif's pending marriage.
Aunt Adiza was a staunch Muslim, who believed in fairness and not cheating anyone. She had always paid my wages promptly and had provided food and accommodation without charging me. At the age of nineteen I had saved quite a significant amount of money. At the age of nineteen most girls my age had children but no money. And at the age of nineteen, I could not boast of a husband.
Being with Yussif had taught me quite a number of things, about people and places I had never previously heard about nor been to. Accra is Ghana's capital, but Accra was quite far from Tamale, which was in the Northern Region of Ghana. I was told Kombongo was also part of the North, and judging from how far it took me to get to Tamale from Kombongo, I could imagine how long it would take me go to the Capital. I had also heard Kumasi was Ghana's most popular city. Kumasi was in the Ashanti Region, and it was much closer to Tamale than Accra was. I decided if I had any hopes of finding a husband and making babies, then I had to be in Kumasi.
Aunt Adiza wished me well. She was a woman. She understood time was running past. She gave me the numbers of contacts she had in Kumasi and told me to be careful of thieves. Mbaaba's brother prayed for me before I left.
I arrived at Kejetia in the afternoon, and took a taxi to Kwadaso. Kumasi was huge, bigger than I had imagined, with lots and lots of people. I was grateful for the reasonable exposure Tamale had given me, else I would have fled back to Kombongo in fear.
At Kwadaso was I met one of the contacts Aunt Adiza had given me, a woman who wanted to sell a chop bar she owned. She explained that she had recently got a visa to the USA to join her husband. She sold it at a shockingly low price. I assumed also that the opportunity to join her husband was not making her think straight. My Uncle's prayer must have been working as well, for within four months, I managed to expand the chop bar and started making profits. I could comfortably employ ten workers. What I lacked in education, I made up for in common sense. I couldn't help but think of my Mma and Baba, my siblings and even Alhaji.
I became very good friends with Konama, a thirty-two-year-old Asante woman who supplied my chop bar with frozen meat. She was a free-spirit who was surprisingly not bothered much about not having a husband. At thirty-two! Was it a cultural difference thing or was it that she was content with having two children she was well able to cater for. Her children all had different fathers, men who had refused to take responsibility. I shared with her my fears about being unable to bear children.
'You are only twenty years Ayisha.'
This woman did not know I had been in my husband Alhaji's house at the age of sixteen.
'You don't understand, most women from my part of the country give birth very early. And it is not as if I have not tried.'
My womanhood would always be measured by the children I give birth to. And as it stood now, I didn't feel like a woman.
'I could take you to see Dr Antwi at the fertility clinic, he would run tests on you ok?'
'Thank you Nzo.'
It was Dr Antwi who explained to me I had a condition called... He tried to explain to me what caused this. And how my chances of being able to have a baby was rather slim. I tried to explain to Dr Antwi that this was most probably the work of my mother's enemies. That the woman my Baba had intended to marry before he changed his mind and married Mma had cursed Mma and I was the one suffering from the curse. Dr Antwi would however not stop laughing. He said it was just my imagination, and everything was possible as I was still young. These doctors know only book, they don't understand spiritual things. Hai.
Our conversation was quite lengthy and by the time I left the clinic, it was quite late. Dr Antwi wanted to drop me off at the station but I assured him I could find my way and thanked him. I wanted to walk, think and clear my head. I was so lost in thought I didn't realize I had lost my way and ended up in what looked like a thicket. It was when I heard two voices approaching me that I looked up and realized where I was. They were two men, who looked about twenty-four to twenty-eight years old. One asked me where I was going, and before I could answer the other had kicked me to the ground. The two took turns raping me, after taping my mouth shut. They both run off when they were done, and I limped trying to find my way to the street, all the while screaming.
I met three women who were dressed like they were from church and they showed me how to get to Kwadaso. They could tell something terrible had happened and they wanted to take me to the police station. Ha! Me, Ayisha, tell the world I had been raped? Did they want me to live in shame forever? I said I would later, thanked them and took a taxi home. As I stripped off my clothes, I intended to strip that memory forever.
Yet fate has a funny way of operating. Three weeks after the rape, I started feeling uneasy. I ran to Dr Antwi and asked him to run STD tests on me, fearing those evil bastards had infected me with a terrible disease. I could not remember the last time I prayed, but I did while I waited for those tests, praying it not to be HIV.
Dr Antwi came back with a baffled look on his face and before I could start weeping, he said,
'Well congratulations. I'm still surprised how this happened, but Ayisha you are pregnant.'
For the first time in my life, I wept. What a twisted world. A few weeks ago, I had almost reconciled myself to never being able to have a baby, something I had always wanted. Today, I'm about to have a baby -- without a husband. What were the chances of me having another pregnancy if I got rid of this one? But how on earth could I have a child from the abominable act of rape, and how was I to even know who fathered it. Dr Antwi would never understand the reason for my loud wailing. Ever.
The author, Naana Antwi-Larbi, is a graduate of the University of Ghana who loves to read. Naana blogs at adwoaamobea.blogspot.com.