Last week my cousin asked me, “What do you want to have when you get rich?”
I thought about it, and answered, “I want to have a library in my own house. Then I can read as much as I want to and I can share the books with my friends too.”
My cousin laughed and told me, “You are a crazy girl. There are so many people who won’t even let you study, yet you are thinking about having your own library.”
His words reminded me of a day when I was in second grade and I was walking to school. I had to walk for one hour to get to school and I didn’t have a book bag so I carried my books in my hands. It was only the third day of school and I was reviewing my lessons in my books. I ignored the people who laughed at me along the way.
As I got closer to school, a man with a beard and wearing a long robe came up to me and he grabbed my books. He ripped them into pieces and he slapped my face. He said to me, “If you dare to go to school again I will break your legs and I will cut your fingers so you cannot write anything again.”
I was so afraid, I ran towards school. I was crying and I wondered why he would say this to me? Was I doing something wrong? Why did he threaten me about school? My mother was encouraging me to study and do well in school.
When I got to school I was still crying and I sat in the corner of the classroom until one of my teachers came over to me. She took my hands and wiped my tears and asked me why I was crying.
I told her what happened and I asked her what I should do. I told her I could not study anymore because now I had no books.
She asked me if I was afraid that the man would come and hit me again. I said I was not afraid of that because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I told her, “My mom told me God said we should study and learn who we are and why we came into this world.”
My teacher kissed me on my cheeks and said, “If you aren’t afraid of that man then I can help you do what is right. I will give you new books and I will walk with you when you come to school so no one disturbs you again.”
She asked me if I understood why the man tore up my books. I said I did not know why.
And she said to me, “Because they are scared of you and that someday you will recognize who they are and what is right and what is not. Your books are weapons that you can use to get an education and become more powerful. The more you use them the more you will be able to defend yourself and prove them wrong.”
Now I am older and I know that people like that man are the opposite of a literate woman. Our education is our power over them. I know that no matter how many books or schools they destroy, the truth is that these people are afraid of educated girls and they want to feel a drop of the fear they feel everyday.
I will keep my dream of having a library at home and I will keep the rest of my dreams so that my enemies fear me. The day will arrive when I will be the nightmare of those whom I once feared.
By Arifa, age 14
This piece has also been published on Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. Photo by Sean Clee/UK Ministry of Defence.