Caroline is my name and I am a victim of domestic abuse and this abuse has left a great stigma on my life and disfigured me forever, unfortunately I was abused by my ignorant mother and I cannot really blame her because she thought it was all for my good. My family is from the Beti tribe in Southern Cameroun and we pride ourselves in being very classy and well-educated too. My mother was semi literate but she did a good job of blending in and flowing well with the very connected people in the society, my father on the other hand was very educated; he was a top professor in University de Yaoundé and was also a very radical politician and advocate for women rights.
I had never thought I would be a victim of any of the barbaric customs my father advocated against and right under his roof too. I was very young and smart but also very respectful and cautious. I knew my mother wasn’t a strong fan of father’s advocacy but she only pretended to be just to sustain the façade of her being very enlightened and a strong supporter of all my father was doing. Sometimes when we are alone in the kitchen she would say “All your father is saying has no impact on anybody, the people would still do what they want to do in the privacy of their houses” I would just nod respectfully as if in agreement but I very much agreed with my father, he always sounded so logical and passionate.
What I didn’t anticipate was how much my mother believed what she usually said. I was twelve when my mother woke me up from my daily afternoon nap and said she needed to speak with me, I didn’t think anything was wrong with her waking me from my nap; she did that all the time, but my mother had never wanted to seriously speak with me.
“Caroline, you are getting older and there are some things you need to know. You are my only child and the pride of your father and I. You are so smart, always collecting all the prizes in your school and doing better than everyone” She said while tracing my forehead with the tip of her fingers, I didn’t understand what she was saying so I just stared blankly at her.
“Your father and I want you to continue like this and even become a professor like your father but Carol my dear there is an issue. You are growing too fast, see you at your age, you are already developing big breasts and big breasts means that boys would start looking at you and once they start looking at you Carol, its pregnancy o and if you are pregnant there is no more school or professor for you. And of recent have we not been seeing the news of men raping women in all sorts of places even in the church? I am telling you it’s because these girls were already looking like full women ripe for plucking.” I still did not understand where mother was going with all her talk about me growing fast.
“My daughter, these breasts would have to go back to where they are coming from if not who knows what can happen to you too. You know I would never do anything that is not for your own good, you are my only daughter and all I want is to make sure no one hurts you. Now, everything we are going to do would just be between me and you, you must not tell your father, these are women things your father cannot understand” I started understanding what she was talking about and I grew very afraid; I had heard from some girls in my class about the tradition of breast ironing, I have even heard my father say its barbaric and it is done by ignorant people. The girls in my class that have gone through it usually talk of very intense and continuous pain and how they are told to bear the pain.
Mother was looking at me so lovingly that I could just not imagine her inflicting the kind of pain the girls talked about on me. I followed her obediently to her room where she gave me a very tight and almost choking breast tube she said I must wear every day, even to sleep. It was a very tight and restrictive elastic tube, the elasticity was just for me to wear it; whenever the tube holds my breast to my chest it feels like life is being sucked out of me but somehow I got used to it.
I told the girls that all I was given was a tight tube to wear all the time and I didn’t experience any of the excruciating pain they told me about. They shook their head in pity and told me that the process was just starting and they said no more.
During the long holiday that year, mother took me to the village to visit my grandmother and that was when I understood what the girls in my class were talking about. It started one afternoon when everyone had gone to the farm, my mother told me not to go because there was something I must do. Almost at the time I was drifting off for my afternoon nap, my mother called me to come to the back of the compound; I met some of my aunts and my grandmother waiting, mother said I have to do everything I was told to do and I had to be strong. I nodded skeptically.
Grandmother told me to lie on the small table in front of me, immediately I did so my aunts held me tightly to the table and I wondered why they felt they had to hold me down so tightly, after all I wasn’t struggling with them. Little did I know of the pain that awaited me and the struggle that was definitely to come. My grandmother approached us with a smooth and well rounded rock she held with a thick cloth that looked like it was steaming hot. As she approached, my mother quickly removed the tight tube around my chest and the next thing I felt was a searing and burning pain on my breast, the pain was nothing like I had experienced in my life, my grandmother kept going round both breasts with the rock, massaging every point and sometimes using her hand to press on wherever the rock might have touched. I struggled for life itself but all I kept hearing was how I had to be strong and how everything was for my good. I felt like driving a knife through their mouths to shut them up.
I kept screaming but no one could hear as one of my aunts held her hand over my mouth tightly, she did not even flinch as I bit her severally; she kept her hand firmly until grandmother was done. When they were finally through I shot everyone the best hate filled look I had and ran back inside the compound. I thought that was the end of the process until the next day mother called me again; I had to endure the pain and constant humiliation for the rest of the week I had to stay in my grandmother’s place. Mother made me promise never to say a word about it.
My breast was continuously in pain and always sore and they looked ugly too, from where grandmother had mistakenly burnt a part. What hurt the most was that I could not tell Father, he would have known what to do to ease the pain, mother just gave me some drugs and when I saw how concerned she was I stopped complaining about the pain.
Five years later, here I am sitting on the hospital bed staring into space and wondering how my own mother could have gotten me to this stage. They amputated my breasts three days ago, they said the cancer would have spread to other parts of my body if the breasts were not cut off. I tried not to stare at mother often because I know she blames herself too much already and there is no way I can hide the accusation in my eyes. Father still knows nothing about what happened to me and takes the cancer as an act of God which no one has any control over; he has been very supportive and constantly giving me words of encouragement. Mother does not say much, she just keeps cleaning all around me and asking if I want to eat more food. I eat the food to make her happy because I actually do not want to eat.
Some of my friends have come to see me; I can see it in their eyes that they know what caused the cancer, they knew about the pain I had been enduring and hiding. They are consoling me but I am not crying, I am just staring at the open window and at the clear skies, unsure of how my life would be after the hospital, in the outside world, without breasts as a young woman in her prime. I feel drops of liquid at the side of my eyes, I quickly wipe them off and I continue staring.
Photograph by Gildas Paré published originally by Vice France and obtained at