Fauziya Kassindja ran away

Kpalime, Togo, 1997: Hajia Zuwera Kassindja apologized to her late husband’s cousin, the patriarch of his family, for having helped her daughter Fauziya run away to America to escape having her genitals cut off. She had given her daughter nearly all of her money to run away.

”What the mother did pains me a lot,” the patriarch, Mouhamadou Kassindja, said in a scolding tone…”She is my brother’s wife. It is for me to take care of my brother’s child since he is no longer alive. She acted as though the child were hers. She and the child made the laws. That is why the child did not want to follow the customs.”

She acted as though the child were hers – fancy that. I suppose that might have had something to do with having given birth to her, and raised her for sixteen years?

Though it was common among the Muslims of Tchamba to take as many as four wives, Mr. Kassindja wanted only Hajia. He also shielded his daughters from genital cutting. He could recall the screams of his sister during the rite and her suffering afterward, when she developed a tetanus infection. And his wife often spoke of the death of her older sister from a genital wound. The tragedy had led Hajia’s parents to spare her from the practice. Though the Kassindjas could not read or write, they wanted all their children, including their daughters, to be educated.

This pissed off the relatives.

They accused him of trying to act like a white man. His girls would never be considered full Tchamba women until their genitals had been cut, the elders said, and he was wasting money by sending them to high school.

Never mind; once he died, they got their chance to straighten things out.

Four months and 10 days after her husband’s death, as patriarchal, Muslim-influenced Tchamba tradition dictates, his family required Mrs. Kassindja to leave the home where she had raised her seven children. Her husband’s only sibling, a widowed sister, Hadja Mamoude, moved in and took responsibility for Fauziya. In 1994, two years before Fauziya was to graduate, the aunt, who is herself illiterate, ended Fauziya’s education. ”We don’t want girls to go to school too much,” said the aunt…”We don’t think girls should be too civilized.”

In pursuit of this kindly thought, they arranged for her to marry a man who already had three wives – all of whom had had their genitals cut off, and the blushing groom stipulated that Fauziya must arrive minus genitals too or he wouldn’t be having her. No problem, the family said.

Mrs. Mamoude, herself the second of three wives, broke the news to Fauziya. The aunt’s eyes still get a hard look and her hands slash the air angrily at the memory of her niece’s obstinacy. ”It was for me to decide what was best for her,” she said.

Which, of course, was being taken out of school, scraped clean between the legs, and married to a man with three wives. Much the best thing.

The husband’s relatives had (as is customary) taken most of his money for themselves, but they let Fauziya’s mother have $3,500 of it; she gave $3000 to Fauziya, who escaped on her wedding day, while the women who were to hold her down and cut her genitals off were already in the house. She went to Ghana in a taxi, then to Germany, then to the US, where the INS kept her for a year – but in the end, thanks to a lawyer and a campaign, she won the right to stay.

Many other girls don’t have the luck.

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