A Post for International Women’s Day

This is a story I wrote a while back and I’ve chose to post it today because things aren’t always what they seem. Myfanwy at http://chittlechattle.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/international-womens-day-part-2/ will be hosting for International Women’s Day.

Rashini’s Girl Child

The woman, Rashini, plied her goods on the Niger from Mopti, Kassoum and north to Timbuktu taking her daughter Aliyah along. Malaria had taken the child’s father when she was small and Rashini had defiantly refused to re-marry, upsetting her family who had found her a husband wanting a second wife. Rashini had seen how her mother had suffered as a junior wife and knew that she and Aliyah would become slaves. As Aliyah grew near the age of the ritual they rarely stayed in the village for long, she was fearful for her daughter. Not for her the thorns and cutting of the vile village witch, her mother was saving to have a doctor perform it cleanly.

The ferry pulled up to the river bank and the throngs of people gathered their baggage. Some had been sitting squashed in the same spot for days and their movements released aromas of unwashed body mixed with spices, saltfish and ripening fruit from their packages. They tightened their scarves around nose and mouth until they were able to breathe cleaner air on land. She thanked Allah for their safe arrival and for her daughter’s health and strength. Opening an indigo dyed bag, she found small sticks, and passed one to her daughter

‘Your teeth Aliyah, and soon we will find some breakfast’.

They had bought some flat bread made on the boat, but then disgusted threw it overboard as it was infested with worm. Arriving at Timbuktu was always joyful; there they could choose from many foods that could not be found anywhere else. Water carriers strutted around with their goatskins on their heads, containing pure, sweet water from mountain springs.

‘Ma can we have millet patties please?’

‘We have to sell the cotton first’. . .

‘And some egg?’

Rashini smiled at her child’s dancing eyes; she could deny her nothing and would protect her from all. The air in Timbuktu was hazy and relentlessly hot, harmattan had left a sandy veneer over the city. Mother and daughter carefully stepped over bits of unidentifiable animal carcass, clattering metal pans and calabashes in the river side market.

‘Timbuktu is kind to us Ali, but I never want to live in this noisy chaos, with many people whose words I can’t understand’

‘Can we go and stay in the village forever one day ma?’

Afraid to commit herself Rashini smiled but turned towards the weaver’s lanes,

‘Hurry child we need to sell before the boat comes in with big sacks of cotton’. If only we could go home and settle in peace, I’m so afraid for you.

There was a clackety clack crescendo of noise as they got closer to the Weaving Men. Here they were able to sell their best quality raw cotton, grown near their village. They lingered over tempting cotton and fine wool wrappers fresh from the looms, but hunger ruled and they headed back to the street with a full purse.

Heading towards the Tuareg women when a call through the crowd reached them,

‘Rashi hello, let’s have tea’

They exchanged greetings with Fauziya from home and headed to a shady tea stall to share news.

‘There is circumcision of six girls next month and your mother has asked for reports of you because it is Ali’s time, you must come home she says’

‘Oh you must not say you have seen us please, we will go to the hospital soon’

‘Uh . . . okay but she will be angry when she finds out’

‘No, she can say nothing, if it is done it is done, I will not allow it her way for my daughter’

They spoke of trade before parting and well breakfasted returned to the business of selling. The Tuareg women were always hungry for the thick nourishing Shea butter to protect their skin from the dryness of the Sahel which left their faces like paper so they paid well for Rashini’s supply from the far east of the Niger.

That was a lucky meeting, I was heading home for a few days rest once we had sold our stock and refilled with things to sell there. Not now though, we must go to the women’s hospital in Koutiala instead. I will never forget my marriage night. My husband broke my body. I was cut and sewn up at Ali’s age and there was no way in for him. He pushed and pushed until his penis was soft and painful then he tried for hours with his hand and a wooden tool. He couldn’t get up in the morning and face the other men without evidence of my virginity and so he found a way . . . exhausted and already in pain I must have lost consciousness when he cut . . . I woke many hours later.  Aliyah was made that night.

There was a call to prayer from the minaret nearby and Rashini thought God is great, where was he then?  She counted her savings and decided there was enough and some spare for emergencies, it was time.

‘Aliyah, we have to travel a long way now, we go to Koutiala to take care of you and it will take many days. First we must buy food for the journey’.

‘A big journey on a bus is exciting and I will be brave when we arrive ma, you will be proud of me’, she smiled but there she had a look of fear that only her mother would notice.

Mammy wagons and trotro’s were parked nose to nose in the central bus area. All were treacherously overloaded with crates and livestock headed all ways out of Timbuktu. Rashini and Aliyah wandered in search of a south bound one that looked likely to reach the destination without overturning on the sharp bends. It looked as if there wasn‘t space for a mouse on the wagons but always more squeezed on so they were as high as they were long,  travelling villages where anything could be bought at a price. Eventually they chose one that had been freshly painted, bright mottos of ‘Allah u’Akbar’ alongside ‘Jesus Saves’ and a picture of Haile Selasie suggested both a well maintained truck and a broad minded driver. It would take them to Bounadougou and then they would get a tro-tro the rest of the way.

The journey was mercifully uneventful, they passed several wagons not so blessed and were able to help themselves to produce abandoned by the roadside. Lilting music accompanied them on the journey. The trancelike rhythm of Toumani Diabate’s kora, occasionally a haunting flute quelled arguments and the engine purred like a choir of cats. The tro-tro was quick and dropped them near to the hospital. Rashini gave her daughter to the care of the doctor and waited.

She watched her while she slept on a pallet in a bare but clean room and held her in her arms as she regained consciousness. She shed no tears from her antelope eyes but allowed herself to be comforted in her pain. Later they took refuge in a cousin’s home for a few days and then began the slow journey home to the village. Rejoicing in the triumphant act, Rashini took her daughter to the enclosure and greeted her family.

‘Rashini, you have brought the girl for her circumcision at last, we have been . . .’

‘No auntie it is done, it is done in the hospital’ she said with pride.

A couple more takes on IWD



26 thoughts on “A Post for International Women’s Day

  1. Well written, Gilly! I hope that one day, our girls and women especially in Africa will not have to endure this inhumane practice anymore.

  2. thanks for sharing this tragic story, Gilly.
    i look forward to the day when this will be regarded as repressive and unconscionable – and as antiquated as the footbinding of Chinese woman.

  3. I hope and pray that some day this practice will no longer be done to young women. The mother was courageous in caring for her daughter the best way she knew how. Such a sad story,
    but beautifully written.
    I understand there are groups of men and women in Africa who support stopping this practice. I hope it doesn’t take long.

  4. I read this yesterday and forgot to comment, either too busy linking or maybe I didn’t know what to write. I guess I was disappointed that she had been to the hospital for the op after all but newpillowbook and Judy expressed it so succinctly. Thank you for the link to my post.

  5. Gilly, your short stories are beyond superb! It’s high time you remove the (com) from your tagline!
    I especially loved your sentence.”she could deny her nothing and would protect her from all.” How sad to live in a culture in which protection means choosing the lesser of two evils.
    Yesterday, while talking with my daughter about women’s day, she asked rhetorically why there are still so many men (even educated ones) who see women as inferior…my reply was that cultural practices of patriarchal societies can only change a tiny bit with each generation; your story illustrates this so perfectly. Later today I will have her read it.

    1. You’re so kind Karen, it’s been quite a journey for me to begin to see any value in my writing and it’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed it. I hope you daughter does too, there is some quite tough stuff there. The sentence you likes, that’s how we feel about our children isn’t it? It sounds like you have an amazing relationship with yours 🙂

  6. Brilliantly written Gilly. It is so hard to change the beliefs. We can know this to be wrong, but beliefs handed down generation after generation are hard to change.

  7. I must say Gilly, that I am impressed with your writing, but shocked that some of the barbaric customs in other Nations still exist. What is the point behind female circumcision? I have never understood this practice. This must be a frightening experience for a child to say the least. Thank you for sharing.

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