Written by Lesley Delmenico working with a client at IKWRO who wishes to remain anonymous.

Trigger warning, this poem addresses “honour” based abuse.

‘I am here’

I am not supposed to be here, but here I am.  

Please listen to my story.   

My voice was silenced all of my life, but I’ve found it, and I need to talk with you. 

My life was bound by proverbs, the sayings that describe a woman’s life, 

Her value, 

How she should behave. 

But now I am learning that I matter, to speak out, to dream.   

When I was born, my father received condolences. 

If I’d been a boy, he’d have given out sweets. 

It’s a saying that we have. 

For my coming, nothing but silence.   

I always knew that I wasn’t good enough 

Because I was a girl.  The things that my brothers could do, I wasn’t allowed. 

Respecting men, respecting boys, respecting all the elders in my family, 

Staying out of sight, staying silent. 

Not daring to say “I want to be, I want to do.” 

But I could imagine a life beyond my early schooling, which I loved.   

I watched television with my brothers. 

I wanted to be a scientist. 

I looked at the stars every night. 

And insects: how they move, what they eat, how they work together. 

The very big and far away and the very small and up close,  

Both were wonderful.  Amazing things!   

It made me laugh out loud.   

But I hid my laughter behind my hands,  

And was good, and learned how to do things from my mother. 

By the time I got my first period,  

I was already engaged. 

Promised in marriage to a cousin that I’d never met.   

A man in his thirties.  What could I do?   

I cried, and of course my father beat me.   

My older sister should have been the first to marry,  

But she promised that she would kill herself. 

So my parents said to me, “Stop being foolish.   

For a housewife here, the mind is not important. 

But you are lucky.  This man will take you to the UK, and you can study there.” 

I only saw him a few times before we married. 

I didn’t love him.  How could I? 

He lied and said I was eighteen so I could get a visa.   

When the visa happened, it was so fast, I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my family.  

So I came here, knowing only a little English, and no one but him. 

And then his family.  Oh, there are lots of them, and they wanted a lot! 

Cooking, cleaning, and no school for me.  I was a kind of slave— 

A rubbish life. 

A husband who came home late, 

Smoked grass, and gambled, and hit me when he felt like it. 

When I wanted to learn English, my in-laws said, “We know you. 

You want to go and be with boys in college.  Shame!” 

And when I called my father at home,  

He didn’t believe that my in-laws abused me and they  

Threatened to throw me out.   

My father said, “Shame on you for making trouble for us! 

Just tell everyone you’re fine. And don’t even think you can come home!” 

I worried that my own family would kill me, or marry me as a second wife  

To a much older man.  I was worthless to them now.   

When I finally called my cousin in Leeds, she said,  

“We don’t live like this in the UK.  You don’t have to.   

The police have to help you.” 

But I too was afraid to try.    
  

Then in a month I grew up one hundred years. 

My husband always beat me.  I was used to that. 

But when my sister-in-law attacked me 

And they cheered her on, 

I could no longer stand it.  I got angry.  I knew I needed to get out. 

They’d taken my mobile, but I got to the landline and called 999.   

The police came, and my in-laws were furious.  They said, 

“Why did you do this?  Women from back home accept their lives.” 

But I was no longer from back home, because they no longer wanted me. 

What I wanted was a new life, and I am getting one. 

I am gaining this life, but I have also lost. 

Will I ever see my family again? 

My brothers and sisters—what are they doing? 

I wish I could share my new life with all of them, 

In spite of everything. 

So here I am.  And I, who was never allowed to speak in public 

Am speaking now to all of you. (Smiles) 

I have been at IKWRO’s refuge for three months now. 

And do you know what?  I’m so surprised! 

I was afraid of going to a refuge.  I thought it would be dirty, and I was told 

That refuges are just places for bad women. 

But it isn’t.  It’s clean, and there’s a garden planned.   

I can’t wait for that, and dream 

About the sweet-smelling plants and fruits and vegetables 

That will grow there.   

We sit there in the evenings and talk, and share our food.   

We also share our stories, but what’s more, we share our dreams.   

Because, now, we can have them!  

A hard thing is learning to be free.  You’d think it would be easy, but having been caged 

Makes coming outside a journey of small steps. 

We’re learning to be there for each other, 

Taking care of each other, and for the first time, of ourselves.   

Practical things, too.  How to get around on public transport, 

Take care of finances when there isn’t much money,  

How to go to the GP alone,  

And taking classes!  English, maths!  For some women, it is hard to start. 

They’re pregnant, or depressed, or tied up in court cases.  But they do. 

And for me—can I tell you this?  The most exciting thing! 

I’ve wanted to study for so long, and now I will. 

Maybe it’s a bit cheeky, because maybe I should be more practical, 

You know, set the bar a bit lower,  

But I’ll say it.  

I’m not quite sure yet how I’ll get there, but I’ll have help.   

Support from these kind people at IKWRO, 

Love from the women in my new refuge family, 

And I’ll do it.  I’m going to study 

And I won’t stop 

Until I am a scientist. 

Thank you all for listening to my story.  

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