‘Women can do anything they want, as long as they put their heart and mind into it’
‘My name is Elinaja. For a large part of my married life, I believed I was worthless – a displaced woman who was good for nothing. I’ve tried to forget, but I just can’t. I still remember the constant fights and the swearing, all the words my husband used to call me. Sometimes even in front of our children. Life left me no choice, I was forced to change my story. My only option was to move. I could only take my sons, my meagre job experience and myself. Bit by bit, the new chapter in my life started.
Raising my boys into morally upright men became the sole purpose of my life. I wanted them to have everything a child with two responsible parents would have. I had to be their father and their mother. I started a small backyard farm, because I needed to provide for my boys. They needed a roof over their heads, food on the table and they had to go to school. By raising cows and selling their milk, I managed to do all that.
Although my husband didn’t want me or our children anymore, he also didn’t want to leave us alone. He kept coming back and continued to abuse me. The situation became so bad that I had to flee to my brother’s home. Every time I thought I was becoming stronger and that I was doing better, my husband returned. He crushed my heart and my strength over and over again.
I was working extremely hard for a very long time. I didn’t even realise how hard I was working until my body started to protest. I was suffering from chronic knee pain for 15 years, which turned out to be osteoarthritis. The pain was unbearable and it seemed as if no one was able to treat me. The pain slowed me down, both physically and emotionally.
At the time, my eldest son had already found a wife and my other two boys were in their last year of university. I felt disparaged, because our roles had reversed – I depended on them instead while it should be the other way round. I felt disabled and depressed. But four years ago, I had a knee replacement and that made all the difference. I am not in pain anymore.
Even though I left school at an early age, I feel that a good education is very important. I believe that I raised my sons to be good men. From the time they were small, we worked as a team. We did almost everything together. My boys are my strength.
My father offered me a piece of land, but I refused. I wanted to be independent and do everything myself. I worked on my property with my own sweat and blood. I may have started out with a wooden shack, but today I’m living in a beautiful home that my sons and I built together.
When I was in primary school, I dreamed of becoming a soldier. I have to admit that, to a degree, I regret that this dream didn’t come true. But at the same time, I am grateful that my boys have achieved their dreams. That gives me peace of mind.
Sometimes I still wonder whether their father is proud of everything that our sons have accomplished. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of me, we got divorced over 20 years ago. But does he still remember his sons? Does he miss them? Or is he enjoying life in Dar es Salaam and are they dead to him, just like I am?
At the moment, I own five cows and four calves. Their milk is my main source of income. I don’t see myself doing any other work besides keeping livestock. I’m thinking of moving, so I can buy a bigger plot of land, where I’ll be able to keep more animals. Maybe I will also build a larger house.
I used to believe what my former husband said, that I was good for nothing and that I wouldn’t succeed at anything. That has changed, although it took me quite some time. Now, there’s not a doubt in my mind that a woman can do anything she wants, as long as she puts her heart and mind into it. Nothing can stop her.’
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