Youth Artist: Aminata C.
After her father’s unprecedented demise, hardship ensued causing the now orphaned seven-year-old Fatoumata to put her childhood on hold in order to support her family.
“It was extremely difficult. If you didn’t know how to handwash clothes, your hands would bruise until you knew how to,” Fatoumata describes. She was the eldest girl living with her mom and brother in a small village in Mali, located in the western part of Africa. In most African cultures, girls tend to hold the most responsibility. Every morning she would rush to her grandmother’s place because that’s where the kids were. “I would join them as they laughed, sang and played.” However, that didn’t last long as she would rush back home to go hand plowing at the field with her mother. “So, this is how we’ll do it, you’ll work on this side of the field, I’ll do this side and we’ll race each other to the middle,” her mother said enthusiastically when they arrived. At times when she was overwhelmed with exhaustion, her mother would sing and chant her name so she’d keep going. “ She made me laugh every time and that’s what made me keep going,” she assured.
Throughout her adolescent years, Fatoumata describes enduring ill treatment from close family members because they weren’t blood relatives. She recalls beaming with excitement the day her mother’s younger cousin visited. “I was so happy when she came that upon her departure, I insisted on going with her. My mother allowed it because she trusted her cousin.” Looking back now, Fatoumata describes it as one of the worst decisions of her life. “She physically and emotionally abused me for three months. I remember vividly, on a blazing, hot day, she insisted that I go and get mud from a nearby town. While there, an older man passed by and asked what I was doing. I responded that I was told to get mud for my home. He then responded, ‘What type of wicked individual sends a small child out to get mud while the sun is blistering. Go home this instant!’ so I headed back. I couldn’t understand how a woman whom I loved could treat me in such a reprehensible way.” On the day she finally saw her mother, she never uttered a single word about her experience. “I was just so happy God reunited us and didn’t want to spoil the moment by telling her what I endured.” Fatoumata then describes another instance while sleeping at her grandmother’s house and being awakened by her older cousin who accused her of sleeping in her spot and had ordered her to move. “This was something she occasionally did, but on this night I couldn’t hold it in. As tears shedded down my face, I bursted to her, ‘It’s because I’m fatherless that I’m sleeping here. Otherwise he would have a house for me to sleep in where everyone will surely appreciate my presence and treat me with love.’ That was my last time sleeping there.” Although she missed the late night conversations with her younger cousins, she preferred sleeping besides her mother.
The reminder of one’s unfortunate circumstance can instantly elicit emotions. Fatoumata describes sitting outside her home and observing the children with their fathers laughing and enjoying each other’s company. She then went to her mother and cried, “I wonder how my life would be if Pa was alive.” Unable to hold back tears, they both cried. “When my mom saw me cry about my father, she would cry as well. And before you know it, we’re both sitting there crying,” she described.
A few years later, Fatoumata turned sixteen and it was time to get married. “My husband was so loving, calm and respectful. I was happy,” she describes. The couple moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo located in the central part of Africa in hopes of financial opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s common for women to be attacked with questions surrounding children shortly after marriage. “ A couple of years passed and I was still without a child. It hurt me immensely especially when the elders made it seem as if it were in my control. Needless to say, that didn’t stop me from making prayers as I was hopeful that Allah (God) would bless me with a child.” Thankfully, her prayers were accepted with a “healthy baby boy named Alhadji,” until Alhadji turned four and fell terribly ill. Joy was what she described as “always slipping away” whenever she seemed to get a solid grip. At first she described it as a high fever, but then he began to have seizures. “He would scream so loudly and drop to the ground. His body would turn tense and cold as I held him and he’d be shaking while foam released from his mouth.” As the days went by, it was only getting worse. “I remember crying non stop. Then one day, God relieved him of his misery. I lost my baby boy,” she said woefully.
Throughout the years, she would often reminisce on the loss of her first child, but praised God for blessing her with two young girls a few years later. During this time, she describes recalling the moment she realized there was a world full of opportunities outside of Africa. “Our fellow friend and neighbor, Kouta, was receiving nearly a hundred dollars every week from her son, who resided in the land famously known as Amerique. I was astounded as that was a lot of money back then.” God’s blessing then fell upon her family when her husband got his American visa. It was then, when Fatoumata expected to live just like Kouta, comfortably in The Congo receiving money every week from her husband. “Then suddenly, one evening while I came back from farming and was preparing to cook dinner, my brother rushed to me and informed me that my husband paged me through the radio and instructed me to go to the city immediately. During this time, not a single person in the village had a phone. Few didn’t even know what it was. This meant I couldn’t simply call to see what the urgency was.” She instantly took a few items, hopped on a horse carriage and before she knew it, was on her way to the inner city at two am. “I got there the next morning, called my husband and that’s when he told me ‘Prepare to come to America,’ the joy that rushed in my veins was indescribable. ” Who knew it would become a land she grew to love and respect.
Fatoumata’s past struggles immediately became memories. She continues to praise God for blessing her with the opportunity to come to America. “Indeed, God’s blessing can take you anywhere,” she says. She’s been living in New York City for twenty years with her now family of seven. She also continues to financially support her family back home including her mother who still resides in her village in Mali. Although it came with its own set of hardships, her experience as a native west African, muslim woman is responsible for her hopeful view of the world today. Then, when asked what role America played in the construction of her identity, her response was simple; “it fed my optimism as a land of liberty where opportunities are endless.” She’s exceedingly thankful to be able to call this land her home. Finally, she concludes that her faith is what keeps her going. “Even when I felt like everything was falling apart at times, I never lost hope in God, Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah(God)),” she cheers. She showed me that even when times are rough to never, ever lose your faith in God.