TWSC Submission: When My Childhood Ended

Photo: Shutterstock

The following story was narrated to TWSC contributor Gladwell Wachira.

Merida Ohame was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), and then, soon after, forced to marry a total stranger. Today, at 62, she has vowed it fight for the rights of women and the girl child. She believes that FGM has damaging effects on girls and lowers a woman’s self-esteem, and has worked to help eradicate this practice for over 30 years. This is her story.

The day…

I was born into a polygamous family. My father had four wives and twenty six children. I loved school, although I knew that the day for my sister and I to go through female genital mutilation was coming. I came from school one day and not only were people celebrating, there were white flags in our compound. Those flags meant that a girl was about to go through female genital mutilation. I was scared, not only for me, but for my sisters, too.

The day had come and I couldn’t do anything about it. We were followed everywhere so that we could not run away. We were told to dance naked, totally naked, so that they could inspect our bodies to make sure we were not pregnant. Thanks to GOD, none of us were.

At 11:30 AM next day, we joined other girls in a very sacred place. We were told to wear light dresses and a leso. There were so many people outside, dancing and eating. In less an ten minutes, we were given a traditional medicine to prevent us from bleeding. I was instructed to sit on the floor with two women holding my legs apart. I was only
twelve years old and I could not save myself.

I fight for women and girls with a lot of passion because I now know that education is the best investment you can give to your kid and I wish that my people would know that education is not a way of escaping poverty, it’s a way of fighting it.

Merida Ohame

They celebrated our pain

We were over 100 girls, so young and naive. Our community believed that you should not shed tears or shout because that would bring shame on your family. Cows and goats were slaughtered for people to celebrate that we are now women not girls. I didn’t shed a single tear or scream but inside I was hurting, especially because I did not want to go through female genital mutilation. Also, the cutters used one knife on all us.

“My daughter, it’s done, let’s go outside,” I was told by my mother. But before I could step outside, I fainted for the first time. I was supported by some women and taken outside. I did not know that I was to faint three more times before I
got home.

Some of us were lucky to survive. Some died because of excessive bleeding and some had more serious complications later.

A bride at 12

One month later I was healed and I was told that I was ready for marriage. I was only 12 years old. I was not happy about it but culturally, when a woman goes through female genital mutilation, it means she is ready for marriage. I was told
that it’s time to get married and there was an available suitor for me. My family needed cows and goats from my dowry.

I just wish my father knew the importance of educating a girl child.

Merida Ohame
Photo: Merida Ohame

I got married when I was so young. I suffered a lot and this made me realize that I should save other girls from going through the same thing as me. I became a champion against gender-based violence. I have also realized that I should
educate my children because education is the key to success. I encourage all women to fight to protect the girl child. If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.

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