Country Focus: Yemen (Al Yaman in Arabic; formerly Arabia Felix)
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
By Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui
Translated by Linda Coverdale
Originally published in France as Moi Nojoud, 10 Ans, Divorcée by Éditions Michel Lafon, 2009.
My edition: Three Rivers Press, 2010.
Time period: 1998-2008
One of eleven children (not counting the five half-siblings from her father’s second wife), Nujoob was born in Khardji, a country village too small to be found on most maps of Yemen. Nujoob recalls a simple life surrounded by beauty. The land and their herds of sheep and cows provided all the family needed. While she was still a toddler, her father got into a heated confrontation with the other villagers. Nujoob was too young to understand the disagreement, but knew that it had something to do with her older sister, Mona. As a result of the altercation, her family was forced to move to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, where they took up residence in a slum.
The family barely eked out an existence. Nujoob’s father struggled to find work and spent more and more time chewing khat (a narcotic). He arrived home one day to announce that he has promised to marry Nujoob to a man from Khardji who is three times her age. Nujoob was approximately ten years old at the time.*
Her father insisted that his decision was for the best. The union would save Nujoob the shame that befell her two older sisters. He considered her age to be a non-issue; the prophet Muhammad married Aïsha when she was nine years old. There is even a well-known tribal proverb that says, “To guarantee a happy marriage, marry a nine-year-old girl.” In any case, Nujoob’s future husband had sworn not to consummate the marriage until a year after Nujoob’s first period. Nujoob’s mother didn’t even bother to argue. Experience had taught her that nothing comes of a woman’s demands.
Nujoob spent her wedding ceremony in tears. The following morning, her husband Faez Ali Thamer picked her up in his SUV and drove her back to her birthplace. He broke his word and forced himself on Nujoob the first and every subsequent night. When she put up a fight, he beat her. None of this treatment diminished Nujoob’s sense of self-worth. She devised a way to get back to Sana’a, and once there, she planned to ask for a divorce.
We know from the title that Nujoob was ultimately granted her divorce. Despite the depressing topic, I Am Nujood is a light-hearted read, giddy with Nujood’s win and her continuing quest to help other girls in similar situations. The writing style is appropriately in line with that of a preteen’s. I breezed through her memoir in less than two hours…well worth the time to open my eyes to horrors young women face in Yemen. Forgive the lurid title. This plucky heroine’s story deserves to be heard.
*No records exist of Nujoob’s birth and her mother can only guesstimate the year.
The monster is flushed with anger. He says that my father betrayed him by lying about my age. Then Aba becomes furious and says he had agreed to wait until I was older before touching me. At that point, the monster announces that he is ready to accept the divorce, but on one condition: my father must pay back my bride-price. And Aba snaps back that he was never paid anything at all. It’s like a marketplace! How much? When? How? Who’s telling the truth? Who’s telling lies? Someone suggests that 50,000 rials (about 250 dollars) be paid to my husband, if that would allow the case to be closed. It would take a workman four months to earn that much money. I’m lost. Will everyone just finish up this business and leave me alone, once and for all? I’ve had enough of these grown-up quarrels that make children suffer. Stop!
Yemeni writers need to be translated! Titles by westerners about Yemen are included below.