Mariam, a resilient young woman in the desert

Mariam is one of those young women who face numerous challenges, but goes on smiling.

UNICEF Mauritania
Mauritania 1
UNICEF Mauritanie/A.Tamayo Alvarez/Bassikounou/2018

01 August 2018

“My age? I don’t know it, I think I’m about 20 years old. I come from a village not far from Timbuktu. When I was still a small girl, my father left my mother, my brothers and I. We had nothing. I often did not have anything to eat. I had to work. I worked in the fields. I spent whole days there! I was ready to do anything to eat. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was not very tall: I did not have any breasts yet, they had not grown yet. (Laughter)

A few years later — I was 15 — my mother forced me to marry her old cousin. I detested him and the last thing I wanted was to want to marry him. I wanted to run away, but my sisters forced me to stay and constantly repeated “he is your husband”.

We married and he did what he wanted with me. I could not turn him down. Conjugal duty! I finally got pregnant with Zahra, a little girl whom I name after my sister.

When my mother died, I could not take it anymore. I finally freed myself up from my husband’s yoke. I turned him down and he asked for divorce. When I gave birth, I found myself alone.

Without husband.

Without mother.

Without family.

I was only a child with a child.

Mauritania 2
UNICEF Mauritania

I had a carpet. Well it was only a rug. I sold it so I could buy milk for the baby. I could not breastfeed, for I was very weak.

Zahra is 4 years old today. She stayed behind in Mali with relatives. Nobody cares for her. She has no clothes and my sister told me that she is often beaten up. I want to get her and bring her to Mauritania but I cannot afford it.

When I was very young, I was excised. One day, my mother took me to an old lady. I was only a child, but I will never forget the pain. Part of me was cut off, everything was taken away. Four women came and grabbed my legs and arms. A woman sat on my chest. The eldest cut me. She cleaned the blood and cut me once more. My heart pounded in my chest. I’ll never forget.

I heard it is forbidden to excise girls. At home, it’s normal. They say it purifies women. I want to do it to Zahra, to purify her. If we don’t clean a woman, she will not go to Heaven.

Mauritania
UNICEF Mauritania

After my divorce, I met a man I loved. We married, but his family disapproved. But he betrayed me so we broke up. I was already pregnant with my son Aziz.

Once again alone.

With a child.

And vulnerable.

Men wanted to take advantage of my vulnerability, but I wanted to keep my dignity. I left Mali alone and came to Bassiknou, Mauritania.

Here, thanks to UNICEF projects, I finally felt protected. I could rent a small room for US$ 30. When I gave birth to my son, I called him Aziz.

Mauritania
UNICEF Mauritania

Very early on Saturday morning, on market day in Bassiknou, I take my son on my back and we try to sell rice and tea. I try to earn a living, but sometimes, I come back empty-handed.

I would like to have a decent job to pay my rent and eat. I would like to have a small market stall to sell couscous, which I know to prepare very well!

Baby Aziz is often sick. He was malnourished, he takes his PlumpyNut every day.

“My biggest dream? That my son does not live my life. And Zahra! Recover Zahra!”

Mauritania
UNICEF Mauritania

Mariam and Aziz are beneficiaries of health and nutrition activities set up by UNICEF and its partners in Bassiknou. Mariam benefits from an income-generating scheme set up by UNICEF in partnership with the NGO ESD and funded by ECHO

Originally published on Medium.