When I tell my story, most people think of me to be Halima or Fatima from the far north of Nigeria where child brides are most common but I am not. My name is Dedelolia Dinma-fiberesima – nee Egbema. I am from an impoverished fishing community in Ogbia by the delta of the Niger River; sitting directly on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria.
I am the oldest of five children. I was just 7 years old when my mother died shortly after giving birth to my youngest brother Boma. Not long after, my father was killed in a communal clash.
Suddenly orphans, my four young siblings and I had to leave the place where we grew up, and move in with our grandmother in a village nearby. Our grandmother struggled to look after us. She sold vegetables from her small farm to sustain us. She was only able to provide a single meal for us and most times we went to bed hungry. Caring for us became unsustainable when grandma’s small farm got submerged in flood and her produce washed away. She felt she had no choice but to arrange a marriage for me.
I was 11 when I got married. My husband was 36 years old. He was a hardworking fisherman who traded with big city merchants. He took up the responsibility of taking care of my siblings and grandma. He paid my siblings school fees but he didn’t think I should go to school. He made me join his other workers to smoke and dry the tons of fish he brought home. Then he took some to the local market to sell and most of it he sold in the city. Selling was easy because he had ready off-takers. The money made was use for our well-being.
My husband was mostly at sea. Whenever he got back; he made me to perform my wifely duties. He was never gentle. As a child bride, I endured the terror and pain of an unwanted physical relationship. After some months, I discovered I had inflamed skin around my vagina and an abscess – a swollen clump of infected tissue that made me cry when it was time to pee. I was taken to a specialist hospital in another town. After some test, the doctor told me I had Vesico-vaginal Fistula disease and I was also 4 months pregnant.
I was traumatized by my latest discovery; terrified and alone. I was preparing to raise a child while I was a child myself, I didn’t know how I was going to manage. I had no idea about pregnancy or childbirth, all I knew was that I was far too young to be having a baby. The pain and uneasiness I felt between my thighs was a proof that everything was wrong; I could barely walk. My husband wasn’t around he wasn’t going to be back till the next week. He had travelled to the city. I was scheduled for an emergency catheter placement surgery that evening. It was so frightening.
The surgery was successful. I was still in bed when the news of my husband’s demise got to me. On his way back from the city, he was involved in a car accident. I was devastated. The news passed through me like a hurricane. I wasn’t sure of my fate anymore.
After the funeral, his brother and successor to his land and property, inherited me. I was more of a slave than a bride. He tortured me for his pleasures.
One day, I asked him if I could give my siblings a little money I made from my cassava sells. He didn’t let me finish my sentence. He pounced on me like an angry cat. He squeezed my shoulders and started screaming at me, “Any money you make is mine and no one else.” Then he slapped me and he shoved me to the ground not minding I was pregnant. I fell to my back and began to feel intense pain than anything I had ever imagined. Nothing could be more brutal, not whips or chains. My husband looked at me in total disgust and left me there. My screams and wails attracted neighbours who rallied round to help me.
Unknown to me I was in labour. Each contraction came with a pain that dominated my entire being. In those moments, for those seconds that stretched into infinity, there was nothing else I could see. I could only hear female voices telling me that it was time, time to push. With a guttural grunt I did so and stopped to catch my breath. I felt the baby crowning; the baby’s head was visible from my vaginal opening. Without any further effort the baby slid into the hands of one of the women. There was elation, it’s a girl, and in seconds she was there, nascent eyes opening. At this point, my life as a child was over. Though I was only 12 years, I was a mother, a widow and was in my second marriage. The sad realities of my life had made me grow into adulthood. I gained the consciousness that I was now responsible for another, and my ultimate success depended on the choices I made. My evolutionary decision to leave my village gave me mental freedom to hold unto the last string of hope. My mind was filled with vary of thoughts, all with branching questions and no correct answers. I braced myself as the eldest woman laid my newborn in my hands. Time stood still then. There was no memory of the past (not even of the pain i was in) no thoughts about the future. I stared at her in awe and she looked at me, her eyes wide open, I knew I had my world in my arms! Right then I made a promise to her of a better life.