This is the first in a three part series of interviews hosted by Gavin; in this interview he meets the girls and the women from the project for the first time. Attempting to understand the girls’ lives and how the project works, Gavin builds a warm conversation with social curiosity being satisfied equally on both sides! Grace of CDF facilitated the interview, translating the questions and answers from the girls and women.
Gavin: Well, I’m here with Grace from CDF and we’re in the Protea Hotel in Dar es Salaam, and I’m also with the girls from Tarime. My name is Gavin Weston and thank you all for coming. I really appreciate it. So, I’m sorry that I don’t speak Swahili, but I have learned a few words of Swahili and I know that I am ‘Mzungu’! (Laughter) Am I pronouncing that right?
Grace: Mzungu. Yes.
Gavin: Okay. So, this morning I found your stories really interesting, really fascinating. And there’s a lot of information there, and what I want to do is to tell people in the UK and Ireland about the very real and very difficult experiences that you’ve all had. A lot of people in my country cannot believe that this really happens, that so much of it happens, and the numbers of child brides in Africa and all over the world are so huge that it seems to make it impossible for my country people to understand at times. But there are bad people in my culture too, who do many bad things, but child marriage is not part of our culture; so there is very little understanding. So, thank you again for coming and for giving me this time. I am going to stop talking in a minute and just ask you questions, but first of all, you all know that I have written a book about child marriage, yes? And I lived in West Africa some years ago? So I’m very committed to fighting against child marriage. And also, I have a daughter of my own who is 23. So maybe I could start by asking your ages?
Grace: That is Mary Joseph, she is 20. Faraja Benjamin is 18. Magreth is now 18, but she was married – they were all married before 18, yes. Magreth Kibasa was married when she was 11. This is Witness, Witness Julias.
Gavin: Ah! Witness! Good name! Good name!
Grace: She is 21. (Laughter.) She is happy that you like her name!
Gavin: Yes, yes. I thought that she was making a joke about me. (Laughter) So, Anna Raphael is 22. And Bhoke Peter? 22 also. Okay. Did I pronounce that right? Bhoke? Okay. Good.
Grace: Yes. Bhoke is the first-born and if you go to her tribe in Tarime, if the first-born is a girl, she will always be named Bhoke or Robi.
Gavin: Ah! And you are all from the same village?
Grace: They are not from the same village. Actually they are from the same region…
Gavin: Which is Tarime?
Grace: No. Tarime is a district, Tarime is like a province. But they are from the same region, which is Mara. Then in Mara there are a number of districts, a number of provinces. So, some of them are from Tarime district. We have some of them from Rawiera district, and CDF works in these districts. That’s why we have Witness, who is from Segerian and we have this girl (enters room) from Corella. Belinda Joshua.
Gavin: And could you ask Belinda what age she is?
Grace: 20 years.
Gavin: Can I ask how many of you have children already? Seven. Okay. Seven have children. And, so, I’m interested in how your children are protected from child marriage. Obviously CDF’s projects protects them, but what are your hopes for the future for your children?
Grace: Bhoke says, first of all, her daughter will not be mutilated; she will never undergo FGM. And what she wants is for her daughter to go to school. She doesn’t want for her to get married like the way it happened to her.
Gavin: Okay. And is there a school at the project?
Grace: There are schools but they are not established by the project. They are government schools.
Gavin: I’m interested in how the girls live… Do they live together? I mean, do they share a house or a number of houses or do they live separately?
Grace: They live separately. Everyone comes from their own homes.
Gavin: I see. And how many girls are at the Tarime project?
Grace: These ones are just representatives. There are many more, because they have, you know, their clubs. So, if you remember Mary speaking earlier, they started with nine, nine girls, and now they are sixty (in their club). Because, for me, the last time for me to go to Tarime was 2011 and at that time there were 350 girls like this – if you combine all the clubs and networks – the number increased, I don’t know exactly, but they are more than 350.
Gavin: Okay. And do any of you still see the men you were married with, or are they somewhere else? I mean the husbands. (Swahili and laughter.) What does she say?
Grace: Some of them, they don’t meet them. They don’t even see them at the villages. Anna said, she always sees him. Bhoke said, some of their husbands are dead.
Gavin: Ah. And they’re not sad… (Laughter)
Gavin: So, all of you were little, really quite little, quite young, when you were married?
Gavin: And, it was a…surprise for all of you? Did you know? When did you know? I mean, because you all seem so strong now! But when you were little girls, it must have been really very scary?
Grace: Oh yes. Very.
Gavin: And I’m interested also…if any of the girls – or their husbands rather, did they already have other wives?
Grace: For Anna, she said the husband had another wife. They separated and she got married to him. Then Anna left, and the husband now has another wife.
Gavin: Okay. Thank you, Anna. In my book (Harmattan), the girl is married to a man who has two other wives, which is very common in Niger.
Grace: (Laughs) She…Belinda was asking…because you know she came late? So, she thought your book we are speaking about, it was written maybe about the girls in the UK. So, she was asking, ‘So, even the Mzungu are getting married with a second wife’. (Laughs.)
Gavin: No. No, no. I used to be married – you can tell them, Grace – but now I am divorced, my wife and I divorced, ah, ten years ago.
Grace: How many children? Do you have children?
Gavin: I have two children. One boy and one girl.
Grace: They are asking themselves, ‘Oh, even the Mzungu, they always divorce!’ (Laughs.) This life is everywhere.
Gavin: Yes! (Aside.) What do you want to ask, Dina?
Grace: (Laughs.) She is asking, she heard that most of the time the Mzungu people they always, ah, get like two children, or three. She’s asking, can you find Mzungu families with like four children?
Gavin: Oh yes, yes. But, partly because things are so expensive in the UK and Ireland and the US, ah, people can’t afford to have lots of children – and life is hard with lots of children. I grew up in a family of four children.
Grace: Witness is asking, so, were you involved in the feeding of animals and farming!
Gavin: Yes. I used to get up at six o’clock in the morning and feed – listen to this! – ten thousand chickens…
Gavin: …before school each day. So, I was going to tell you; after my wife and I divorced, we stayed friends, sort of…
Grace : And where are your children? Are they with their mother?
Gavin: This is what I was about to tell you; because my children were 8 and 10 when we divorced, and my wife wanted the children to live with her, but I wanted them too…because I am a good daddy… So eventually we agreed to share the care, and so the children came to me for one week and then they went to their mother for the next week.
Grace: Are you doing the same until now?
Gavin: Yes. They are 22 and 24 now and they are both at university learning about music. But the important thing is that their mother and I eventually agreed to share looking after them.
Grace: (Laughter) Anna says that you are not the worst! Magreth is saying that, for her, since she separated from her husband, the husband doesn’t come to her house and she doesn’t go to his house, so they were thinking that maybe your wife also comes to your house, but I said it’s just the children.
Gavin: It’s just the children, yes. Well, she has come to my house. She comes sometimes, but we don’t have dinner together, or anything like that!
Grace: Yeah. (Laughter)
Gavin: So, is there anything else you want to tell people in the UK and Ireland about what your experiences have been like? – That you didn’t say this morning, for example? Anything else that you would like people in my country to know about how difficult life is as a child bride?
Grace: They’re thinking… Okay… In the UK, is there FGM?
Gavin: Ah, yes! But not with Mzungu. FORWARD – Naana’s (FORWARD Director) organisation – works with African diaspora people, who sometimes bring their children back to Africa to have them ‘cut’. So, it does happen, but it’s illegal, and it’s very secretive. But some Mzungu religions – Jewish people for example – will cut their boys, their baby boys – just the boys. And sometimes boys or men will be cut for health reasons – but not like FGM.
Grace: Ah. They want to talk about gender violence. Hmm. Okay. They are saying in their culture, in the Mara region, especially for this tribe – the Corias – they beat women.
Gavin: I was wondering about that…
Grace: And it’s said that when you beat that woman it means you love her. The men think that it shows you love the woman. And even the women, they think that if the husband doesn’t beat them up, it means they don’t love her. Because you know, when they go to the wells and that, in groups, they’ll say, ‘Oh my god! My husband, he beat me up like hell yesterday! Oh, look at my eye! I got a black eye!’ And the other women will say, ‘Ah! He loves you! He’s jealous! I know that!’ (Laughs.)
Gavin: Wow! I was telling the girls that I work with some men who are in prison – and some Mzungu men beat their women too; they are some of the men who I am working with in the prison. They go to prison if they beat women!
Grace: Ah ha! Ah, they are saying that it also happens to the kids. It’s normal that when a child has done something wrong they get punished, but then here they get punished physically – and not just in a small way. Like, they get beaten up. For example, there is this girl who lives in the Mara region and she went out on a public holiday with some friends – they went to a centre… it is normal for her – her curfew was six o’clock in the evening…
Gavin: Is curfew normal, for all of them?
Grace: Yeah, yeah. It’s normal for me too! (Laughs.) They have curfews of around six. But this girl, she came one hour late and she came at seven in the evening. Now, the father took sticks that had thorns in them and he was using that to beat the child – and apparently she was even in the news. And she was wounded all over her body, and even in some of her private areas – they beat her all over – they beat her up that bad. So, she is saying that in this region, kids get physically, um, they get physical violence with objects that are actually very harmful to them.
(Dina’s phone rings.)
Gavin: Wow! Incredible. Well, so… I was going to ask Dina… but we should probably finish quite soon, because I’m sure you’re all tired. I thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk with you. I feel very privileged, very honoured to be here with you – ‘Asante’! (Thank you). And one final question, because Dina asked me if I would ever marry again and I said no! But I’m wondering if any of you are going to get married again?
Grace: (Laughter) They all want to go back to school. They are saying that they do have boyfriends but they are not thinking of serious commitments like marriage.
Gavin: So, when you have a boyfriend, how does the boyfriend interact with your children?
Grace: Yeah. (Laughs + gestures.)
Gavin: (Laughs.) I think I know what she meant! International gesture!
Grace: They are saying that if you love a pumpkin, you should also love its flower. If you love me but you don’t love my kids, then they suggest you just walk out…
Gavin: Hmm. We have an expression at home, it’s, ‘Love me, love my dog!’
Grace: (Laughs) Yeah. The woman who gives birth… there are some men who love the children, but do not love the wife who gave birth.
(Some one enters)
Gavin: Yeah. Okay. Thank you all very much. Well, I could sit here all day and listen to the girls, but we should probably go back up, because there are going to be a lot of other interesting things happening. Oh, and please tell them that I’m going to be interviewing the chief, from Zambia, Chief Nkosi, because I want to tell people in the UK and Ireland about men becoming involved – African men too – and I think that it’s really important that men are involved in the process of ending child marriage…. Oh, and one last thing, (laughs), we’ve had very brief talks about the idea of my book being translated into Swahili, and if that happens I will send you all a copy! Asante! (Thank you.)
Grace: They say, don’t forget them!
Gavin: I won’t forget them! I’m very glad to have met you all. And thanks, too, to Grace and Amina.
The next interview in the ‘Voices from Africa on Child Marriage’ Series will be released next week and will see Gavin interviewing Chief Nkosi Nzamane, chief of the Ngoni people in Mfumbeni, and the action he’s taking to end Child Marriage in his chiefdom.
You can read more about FORWARD’s work with CDF, and the girls and women involved, here.