Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Yesterday I was chilling out with my mum discussing many things and about Timbuktu as usual. We like reminding ourselves of what our life used to be back then. I told mum it will be nice to go back home and resume our lives. This was what set her off. She said, after a short pause, I am not sure we will be going back to Timbuktu, I am not sure we will ever go back. She didn’t have to explain. I am very close to my mum and I always understand everything she says.
We left Timbuktu a year ago, when security was a serious issue. We were all scared of getting in trouble with the insurgents. Everything was very uncertain. But deep down, mum and I knew that we were leaving for another reason too. We were engaged in battle of another kind. Though we were determined to win, and we still are, we knew our chances were becoming slimmer in Timbuktu.
It is not easy to go against a whole family, to say ‘no’ to pre-established rules which have been implemented for centuries. That’s what we did when mum strongly opposed plans to get me married before my 15th birthday. They planned everything. They have found a “suitable” husband and we were due to be married in a matter of weeks. Mum entered a rage when she heard about this. She told them the wedding will be “over her dead body”. She was so determined that the family had to back off. We both know they won’t give up. They won’t give up until it is done. So when we packed everything to leave Timbuktu because of the conflict we were also trying to get away from that situation which was, to be frank, become quite unbearable.
Mum always becomes very agitated when we talk about this problem. She wants to protect me, she doesn’t want me to end up like her, she often says. She is a divorcee. She was forced into a marriage she didn’t want when she was fourteen. She was a school girl and she was married to a man ten to fifteen years older with no education and no job. Of course she had to leave school once married. She was lucky to find a teacher position many years later. This didn’t make it any easier for her to live with a man she has not chosen. Two years ago, she took the courageous decision to ask for divorce. She has been raising us on her own ever since. I think she is impressive. She is such a strong woman. I want to be like her, that confident.
I know mum can make staying her in Ségou work for us. The decision to stay is more complex though. My grandmother, my mum’s mum, is begging us to come back home. She was not part of the early wedding plot, and she misses us a lot. We do miss her too. So at the moment we don’t know if we will settle here in Ségou or we will go back to Timbuktu. Because she is still undecided about going back to Timbuktu, mum is always lecturing me about the dangers of getting married at young age with someone you have not chosen. She trying to make sure that if we return to Timbuktu, I will be prepared for the battle ahead. I think I am ready. I am not a little girl any more. I know what I want. I want to make my own choices for my future and getting married now is not part of my plans.
*Please note that Mariam is not her real name, she does not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic.