Home is home

My mama told me everything would be ok. She was wrong

I sensed the danger as soon as the rusty voices of the village elders pierced through the morning dew

It was still pretty early. Way before the cocks began crowing, which had been the cue my mama had given me

As the voices got closer, my body started reacting funnily. Despite the chilly morning, a thin line of perspiration broke out, slowly trickling through my cheeks

You will get better dowry
They will respect you
You will be a healthy woman
A clean woman. A full woman

The lyrics to the song danced their way to my mud thatched house

It was at that moment that I knew mama was wrong. My body could not lie to me

My blood was running through my body, like a 42km marathon race

Instinctively I took a few steps, stepped onto the rickety bed and jumped through the tiny window

But thats when the rusty nail decided to rip a chunk of skin off my thigh, inviting a rivulet of blood that cascaded down my foot

The pain was instantenious

But that did not stop me from taking one more step and jumping out just as the women began opening the door to my tiny, overstuffed room

If I had thought that my daily morning jog to school would one day save me, I was wrong. This was not that day

I received a heavy thump as my body hit the ground. My knee snapped. The pain was excruciating

And as I started limping away, I could hear the disappointed voices coming after me, no longer singing but cursing me

You are a coward
You are cursed
No one will marry you
You have brought shame to your family

As the crescendo intensified, the double dose of pain failed me. Old, frail, limping village women were catching up with a healthy daily 12 year old jogger

Such a shame

They brought me down just as I was taking the first few steps into the forest

And brought me down with a force that would’ve ashamed the village wrestler champion

As I looked at their furious eyes, bulging from their frail sockets, I knew it was over

The unsterilized knives shining in the morning sun, the reflection illuminating the old women’s concorted faces as their tobacco-filled heavy breathing hitting me from all angles

The things I had learned from peer advocates in school – about young girls being forcefully cut – descended on me, almost knocking me out

As I writhed in pain, I remembered what the social workers had said – being cut was unhealthy. It was degrading my womanhood. It was an abuse to my rights. Giving birth would be hell. The complications would follow me to my grave

And at that instant, I forgot about respect

I forgot about the knee pain

I forgot my still fresh thigh wound

With the last ounce of energy I had, I pushed my way from their grip

I could see their scared faces, wrinkled in the morning sun, as they tumbled and fell, their rickety bodies hitting the ground with a faint thud

I rose up, and started off towards school. Never looking back

The feeble screams from the grandmothers did nothing to stop me

At the school compound, I was not alone. 4 other girls had escaped too, less dramatically than me

The counseling madam listened to our stories only half heartedly, her concentration on the numerous calls she was making

Within minutes, two boda boda guys arrived, quickly loaded us on their motor bikes and sped off, their bikes leaving behind a trail of dirt, and I could see the madam waving

Life here in the safe house has been tense. Every knock on the door and we keep jumping up, fearing for our lives

I miss my mama, I miss my family but the hot shower, the tuition lessons, the board games all keep us occupied

East or West, they say, home is best. And as the days fade, so does the fear. And the worry. I stop having nightmares. My wound heals

The therapy is really helping. And the morning jogs

When one day my mama finally calls, tears trickle down my face. She’s crying. Begging for forgiveness

The other girls have already rejoined their families

I weigh my options. And I realize home is home. Maybe not the best but still home

As I pack my new clothes into my new bag, I shudder to think about the goodbyes. I hate goodbyes, especially to amazing people

But home is home

They see me off. I feel like I have added weight.

And I start to laugh when I remember that a few weeks ago, a group of frail women outran me

“Why are you laughing?” my therapist asks

“That’s a personal joke. You won’t get it,” I say closing the door behind me

She looks at me for a few seconds then smiles and leads me out of the safe house