The Women of Cinade
By Hafsa Sule Dauda
Talatu smiled and pushed the logs of wood that were burning under the pot deeper. She smiled, but it was a sad one. She said: ‘ I immerse myself in domestic work to get my mind off the problems from home, and my family’.
Talatu is a smallish woman with a bubbly personality; always wearing a pleasant smile, the perfect camouflage. She told me she left Cinade, a small town in Bauchi a few years ago after three failed marriages to work in the city as a domestic worker, where life was better she said. At least there were three meals a day, she just felt guilty for leaving her five children behind in the hands of her co-wives who were surely not going to give them any maternal care.
‘But did they feed you well?” I asked after hearing how men married and disposed of women as you would a pure water sachet.
‘They feed us well for the duration of our amarci’ she replied ‘after that, you either fend for yourself and your children or you all get apportioned a certain measure of food, we were constantly never full’.
Little wonder that every time she went home, people said she looked rounder and fresher and her clothes looked better. While she basked in the glory of it all; widowers or men with three wives sought her hand in marriage in droves. These men secretly wonder if she was involved in the illegal women’s business of the city, if maybe that was why she was looking so fresh.
She told me her last husband gave her a bar of soap, a set of clothes apart from the lefe -which was meagre for a widow. Afterwards, it was a little this, a little that, foodstuff he got from the store in his bedroom. He always measured and gave them what to cook. He had over eleven children and whatever he gave they had to make do with it. When I asked her the measurement, she told me he gave them two bottles of groundnut oil everyday for the afternoon meal; bottles of cough syrup not bottles of Fanta. When I complained about how insufficient it was, Talatu smiled and said: ‘Atleast he is better. The first one never gave us a dime. We had to separate grains from husks every single day to get by’.
Being an optimist, I decided to give them benefit of doubt; Maybe they were not rich enough, I suggested to her to which she exclaimed:
‘Wanne!, they were both involved in inter-state transport business with two cars in his name with others for hire. In fact the last one had a chain of stores but even his children had to buy their clothes from him with their Barka da Sallah money’.
Maybe they had limited knowledge of Islam, I said to Talatu “No man who knew the deen will leave his family in destitution.”
But I was wrong again, according to her; one was an Islamic scholar in Cinade, a very respected one at that.
‘Then why did they treat you like that? did they not know you were entrusted to them? Maybe it’s because you don’t know your rights’.
She shrugged and said they were never educated enough to know where their obligations ended and where their rights started. She never knew Islam permitted her to take from him her essential necessities and that her property was hers alone. Her eyes widened as I said this, as if wonder, as if in shock at my revelation.
She said many of their women wanted to come work in the city but were afraid to get tongues wagging about their lives in the city. She had always been a rebel, even with her husbands. Her co-wives had always considered her a trouble maker.
‘You have to be a little rebellious sometimes to be respected’. But for her children and the sake of their futures, she was willing to work hard.
Talatu is still being pressured to go back home and marry with men lined up waiting for her to spend the little money she had gathered from her labour on them and their households. Only a matter of time before she starts living in abject poverty. ‘I still want to get married. I am just thirty, but I will never marry a man who resides in Cinade. They are not all bad, but the ones who treat women badly are more’.