When Zohra was 20, she became engaged to her true love. Six months later, in March 2007, her wedding day arrived. The wedding went well. In her dress, Zohra looked like a beautiful doll. She was happier than she ever imagined she could be.

After the wedding, she was taken to her new house at midnight. Her father-in-law summoned her husband and few minutes later, she heard shouts and humiliating words. She just thought it was some argument between father and son, and she took it lightly. She never knew it was the start of the troubles. Day by day, her life became miserable with her argumentative in-laws. She was surprised and prayed to Allah that things would become better.

Six months after her wedding, she became pregnant. She was full of happiness. But no one from her family visited because of the bad behavior of her husband’s family. Sitting quietly, the pregnant Zohra kept looking at family photos and crying as if her heart would burst in her chest. She waited for her husband, but when he was there, he had also become filled with the words of hurt and humiliation from his family.

She wrote a poem:

I am alone all by my own
Like in the desert the only cone
I have no friend, no one to talk to
They came with the wind
And left me all alone
All by my own

The lovely Zohra was four months pregnant when she returned to her professional career. She was happy to be back at work, forgetting about everything except her baby. During the day, she worked in the office, and during the night, she worked at home cleaning, washing, cooking and much more. When she was home, the humiliating words of her in-laws made her feel she would die. But she stayed strong, waiting for the arrival of her baby.

On January 3, 2008, Zohra’s baby arrived: a healthy and lovely girl. She couldn’t wait to hold the baby in her arms and feel the comfort that she had felt with the baby in her womb. She was so happy to know she would have that cute little baby to support her in life. She came home from the hospital and found that her room heater was not on, as it should be in the coldest weather of the year. Her husband told her she needed to sleep with her in-laws for some days. This was awful for Zohra, as a woman who has just given birth can’t sleep in a room with men, especially her father-in-law.

But she just took it lightly as she always did and went to sleep with her in-laws. Three days went like this and slowly Zohra was becoming well and insisted she wanted to sleep in her own room. But no one paid attention to what she wanted, not even her husband. If she insisted on moving to her room, her husband would beat her and not talk to her. This happened ten days after the birth of her baby. Her husband beat her so badly it even left marks on her face.

Zohra was on three months of maternity leave from her office. Her family visited many times—her mother, her sisters, and her father—but none of them were welcomed by her in-laws, and her husband continued to use humiliating words with her, which made Zohra feel heartbroken.

Seventeen days after the birth of her baby, she was invited to her sister’s house. She went, but wasn’t happy like all the other times because she knew something was coming to make her sad. When she returned home, her mother-in-law told her: “If you are feeling well enough to travel to your sister’s house, then you can do your house chores.”

Poor Zohra couldn’t say a word. If she did, she would be beaten and humiliated again. So she just sat quietly and followed orders. Early in the morning, she would wake up, clean her daughter, then make the beds and pick up from the breakfast and the dinner dishes from the night before, and clean the rooms, sweep the yard, wash the bathroom, and finally prepare lunch. After that, she would get some time to rest, though her baby wouldn’t let her sleep. Then she would wash the lunch dishes, prepare tea for the in-laws arriving from work, then prepare dinner, and so on.

She thought her baby would make her feel good, but she was always scared when others were holding her baby as they were not experienced. She would scream and yell because they didn’t hold her the right way. Her fear never allowed her to feel calm at all.

Days went by, and finally she started going to the office, which at least gave her a chance to be away from all the house chores. Still, she would cry in the office over the way she was treated at home. Zohra didn’t know how to escape.

By Pakiza

The story continues in Part II.

photo: Natalie Behring-Chisholm/Getty Images