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Achta Hassan


To give you a perspective of what life is like for the women of Chad, we present several personal testimonies of Chadian women from the Guéra, taken from the book "Là où habitent les femmes" (Where the Women Live), edited by Renée Johns and Rachel Bokoro of the Mennonite Central Committee, published in 1993.

We are sitting on straw mats in the home of Achta while she tells her story in Chadian Arabic, her mother tongue.  She stayed at home today to speak with us and prepare us some tea.  Achta is about fifty years old.  She had been sick several weeks before and had just lost her aging mother, one month earlier.  She lives in a house on the edge of town.  Her sister and several other family members live in the houses next door.
     Achta is always warm and friendly.  Perhaps her life experiences and the fact that she lived in other villages herself motivate her to look for women from elsewhere to try to help them feel welcome here. 

     My father was an important marabout (Islamic teacher).  My mother gave him as an offering, as is said by traditional Muslims.  Our family is from Abéché and we are descendants of Islam.  All the people of the village I grew up in were afraid of my father because of his reputation.
     I was married to a chauffeur.  He was a chauffeur for a government program director responsible for herds of cattle.  We moved from Abéché to Bokoro.  We lived there for six years.  Until then, I did not have any children.  My husband had other women, not publicly but in secret.  One day I talked to him honestly and said, "It's better to be married than to run after other women.  You run the risk of having a venereal disease and making me sick."  He answered me that he had not yet found a woman who pleased him.
     A little while later, while I was in N'Djaména, he decided to marry a woman whose name was Halime.  Our neighbour asked him, "Are you able to get married when your wife is not around?"  "No," he said, "I am waiting for her to return and if she agrees, I will marry Halime.  If she does not approve, I will send Halime away.
     From the moment I returned he began to speak to me about this woman.  "She is very thin," he said.  "What do you think of her?"  Immediately I sent my servant to bring the girl to stand before me.
     I answered my husband, "It is her daily suffering and strenuous housework that makes her thin.  She is not in bad health."  Since I gave favourable counsel, he decided to marry her.  He gave me money to buy clothes and other things for the dowry.  Several days later we had a wedding celebration.  This happened in my house.  After a while, Halime moved to be in our home and take care of it.  But I was still the one responsible for the home.
     After this, my co-wife had children and my husband began to despise me.  He did not have the desire to even look at me even though we had been married for seventeen years already.  The children of my co-wife were used to staying with me and if anyone came into the courtyard from the outside, they would not be able to tell that these children were not my own.
     Then my mother-in-law who began running away from me, began causing a lot of trouble.  After her second visit, we were assigned to work in Ati where she lived.  The problems continued.  I told my husband, "I am going to live with my mother in Mongo.  I am too tired out from all these problems."  I had thought long and hard about what must be done.  I could no longer stand it.  We had lived together now for 28 years and I still hadn't given him a child.  I left Ati to go live in Mongo.
     During the events of 1979 (the beginning of the civil war), the federal employees were not able to draw a salary.  My husband who was a citizen of the Central African Republic was totally without funds.  He asked me to help him, to help Halime and her children.  I had a bed which I sold for
7.500 CFA (US$30 or 32 €).  Then Pastor Ratou gave me a bag of millet.  I left for Ati and stayed there for several days.  Then he was able to find work and he sent Halime to Mongo (the capital of the Guéra region) to pick up his salary.  She took the money and used it for her own needs.  She even bought some gold.  She returned to our husband with only 10.000 CFA (US$40 or 43 €).  He was furious and was sorry he ever sent me away.  He knew I would have never done such a thing.
     During the famine of 1984 and 1985, Doctor Garsouk gave me a job with the Red Cross where I was to distribute warm, cooked porridge.  I also participated in a week-long Bible class for women in Bitkine.  The doctor forgot my name and signed me up as Achta Adoum instead of Achta Hassan, but in the end it did not matter.  My sister agreed to distribute porridge for me while I was taking the Bible class.  The Red Cross paid us each month with kerosene, milk and seeds.
     I became a Christian in 1960 and I want to thank all those who helped me spiritually and materially.  I make baskets to take care of my needs.

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