By Seraphine Habimana
Ini(not her real name) is tall and glamorous and her short afro is rugged and shaggy. She has so much energy that it is hard to imagine her standing still or asleep. She is 35 years old, though you’d never guess it. She constantly uses words like ‘forgiveness ‘, ‘change’ and ‘healing’ as she offers non-stop pronouncements on how her story would heal other many survivors.
It was very challenging and frightening for her to accept that she had been abused, she was in denial at first. She says the shame, embarrassment, stigma and many other things weighed down on her but she said to herself that she had a choice to either remain silent and wallow in self-pity or swallow her pride, break the silence and free herself from the burden of shame and help others who are probably experiencing the same feelings.
When I first meet Ini, she is seated in a living room decorated with African crafts and group photos of other children and women. Most photos in her house are labelled two words: love and care. But what is the story behind those labelled pictures, I ask.
“For many who live in developing countries, and from “special cultures”, abuse in all its form is seen as a norm- a normal way to live. If this never happened to me I would not believe that it can occur in this world”.
At 20 – Ini was forced by her husband to come abroad. “It was not my choice to come to Ireland in the first place, all the way from Nigeria. My husband told me that he wanted me to raise our child abroad and if I did not come he would impregnate another woman”.
During her final years in secondary school, Ini fell in love with a teacher. “I could speak freely with him about anything. I had made a friend who understood me I thought. Just after I graduated from secondary school, he invited me to his friend’s house and there he tried to rape me after offering me some Guinness. It was a very narrow escape for me. I was still a virgin and wanted to keep it that way”.
She says it got her quite upset and she ended her friendship with him. “After I left home for the University, he would call my house to ask about me. Once I came home for holiday, he came as usual and said he wanted to talk. He used words which I interpreted as being him asking me out. He showed an interest in me at that time and I forgave him even though he never apologised for attempting to rape me. It was not long after that I fell in love with him. I was so young and so naïve. But I never knew that there is another dark story behind all his interests in me,” says Ini, after drying tears on her chest as I was trying to comfort her.
She says they got married in 2000 when she was 20 years old, without the consent of her parents. “Even though he always told me he did not love me but only wanted me, I still married him because I really and truly loved him. We did not live as a couple until 2001, after our official church wedding. Just after the wedding, I discovered he had lied – he had a child from another woman. We were more than two in the marriage (story for another day)”.
Coming to Ireland
Ini, who was born in Nigeria, first came to Ireland in 2001 against her will. Her husband, she says, kept telling her he wanted his children to be raised abroad and kept intimidating her and told her that if she refused to travel he would then take another wife. She became resigned to her fate. “I had no idea where we were going”.
“He told me that he wanted our child to be raised abroad. This caused a lot of tension between us because I did not want to leave Nigeria. I became sad and depressed without realising it. I was broken emotionally and mentally. I was in a lot of pain. I carried this inside without talking about it because when I tried talking I was told ‘it is normal to experience all these things in marriage’. My parents kept on telling me that I had to be brave and build my marriage”.
She adds that at that time, she was eight months pregnant. She came to Ireland with her husband but when they arrived at the airport he left her with empty hands. He just gave me 100 euro to pay the taxi. He immediately went back to Nigeria and left me alone.
“After paying the taxi, I was left with only 20 Euro. I did not know where to start from, I was desperate. How would I give birth and raise my child in that situation,” says Ini with a choke. At the airport I met a young lady who said to me she lived in Cork, she offered me a room”.
After one month in Ireland, Ini gave birth. She says that her husband refused to send her money to survive in Ireland, adding he even refused to pay her fees to go back to college, and did not support the idea of her having a business as he had promised.
Although she tries to hide her tears from me during our discussion, when she starts talking about leaving her country at a young age she bursts into tears.
“You know when you are passionate about your country and your career? When you had set your goals and stick to achieve them and then it all falls apart suddenly? You know when you are trapped, not living your life but living to please someone who had no atom of love for you. I was brainwashed into accepting a lot of false information. Sometimes, when I wanted to be intimate with him, he would say a woman should not be asking for that. When I asked him questions, he would say I talk too much. In order to be the submissive wife he wanted, I changed to please him even though something inside me did not really accept his approach and actions toward me”.
Despite all his mistreatment, I remained in the marriage with the hope that he will one day love me. I always wondered why he married me if he really did not love me. “After sometime, I decided to go back to Nigeria. Maybe I can save my marriage, I thought”.
On her return to Nigeria, she discovered her husband was as much of a husband to the mother of his first child as he was to her. “I was heartbroken when I realised it. I returned to Ireland and found out that I was pregnant again. I told him and he asked me to get an abortion”.
This was the height of anything I could accept. I was very weak from my entire ordeal and wanted no more. He threatened me and I told him I would not have an abortion and if he insists on me having an abortion, I wanted no more of him. That was the end of our marriage.
As any aging couple would say, “Marriage is not a bed of roses.” The Ini’s marriage has never been smooth and in 2005, she went into another relationship and was abandoned with a two month pregnancy. “I was withdrawn, depressed and lonely. I had no real friends because those I thought as friends either used me, bruised me or exploited my vulnerability,” says Ini, now a mother of three.
She says it was before 2007 when she chose to accept her experience, forgive herself and everyone else and let it go. “I have learnt to forgive and love again because I had given up on love. I had also learnt to love who I am now and this helped my inner healing. I am grateful to my children because I am still here because of them,”.
Ini, who is now a wealthy farmer, involved in ‘Love and Care for People’, a group which helps people, particularly children, young people and women affected by abuse.
She is currently doing a Masters in Entrepreneurship, which she says will enable her to build a business empire.