It was somewhere around the beginning of this year when I found myself sitting in the office of one of the top government institutions waiting to be interviewed by a man who in that moment had the power to make or break me in my path as a rising entrepreneur.
A few weeks before this fateful meeting a friend of mine from church had called me and encouraged me to apply for a program that trains and ‘invests’ in up and coming female entrepreneurs around Africa and she thought I would be a perfect candidate for it because she had heard me talk about my business passionately so many times. I was thrilled and I applied right away. A few days later I got a call that I had been selected but had to go through some interviews before anything would be made final. I went for those interviews but was informed there would be another round of interviews by a partner firm sponsoring that Fund for entrepreneurs. I didn’t mind the hustle because I had a lot of faith in the programme and what it could do for me in my virgin journey as an entrepreneur.
The day finally came for that last interview, I woke up very early to prepare and arrived thirty minutes before my appointment time. For some reason I wasn’t feeling nervous at all. I was very confident and optimistic and I couldn’t wait for my turn to come. I was finally called in after about three and a half hours because as it turned out, the man hadn’t arrived for work yet all that while.
The first question that the man at the government institution asked me was; “I noticed you indicated you are divorced in your application, mind telling me about that?”
I was completely caught off-guard. Why was that the first question and why did it even matter!? I was there to be interviewed as a possible candidate for this entrepreneurship program and yet this man wanted me to talk about my personal life. But hold up, maybe I am just over-reacting. I thought.
“What exactly would you like to know about that? ….because I feel like it’s a very personal matter but maybe if you tell me what kind of information concerning my divorce interests you in relation to this interview, maybe I can give a proper answer.”
The man chuckled, browsed through my profile once again before finally looking up at me. “This program is about training entrepreneurs not just business-wise but we want to ensure that the people we pick have the character to make it as entrepreneurs because the business world is very challenging. We don’t want to invest in people only to have them give up in the middle of the journey because…because things became too hard for them.”
“What has that got to do with my divorce?” I asked.
“Divorce means you gave up on something you shouldn’t have given up on. If you could let down God like that, what makes you think you can’t give up on a mere business once it faces challenges?”
“Wait a minute, I haven’t even said anything about my divorce and yet you are making assumptions and judging me based off that.” I felt like losing it but I had to keep my cool before I blew off a chance of a life time.
At the back of my mind I kept thinking, what if he is just testing me? What if he doesn’t mean to be so intrusive and rude?
“That’s why I asked you to tell me about it because I want to get to know you better. Unless you tell me that he is the one that left you then that makes a whole lot of a difference.”
“Huh?” I said, my mouth was literally wide open.
“It means he is the one that gave up on the marriage and not you.”
“So that basically means you need me to explain to you the gory details that led to my divorce and justify the decision I made because as it happens, I am the one that divorced my husband.”
“It will really help your case if you took me through the details otherwise how can I assess your character if you can’t explain or justify yourself?”
“I am not comfortable with sharing parts of my private life that are so intimate especially to a stranger, to someone who possibly has no right whatsoever to question that decision I made.”
“Whatever is said in this room is just between the two of us.”
“But you are writing everything I say down so what’s private about that? That form will be looked at by other people and …wait, that’s not even the issue right now. You are asking me to defend my decision to divorce my husband because you think that will somehow give you a picture of the kind of person I am and I think that’s very unfair.”
There was a back and forth that went on for ten to fifteen minutes that left me feeling violated and vulnerable. Yet again there I was paying the price for divorcing my husband. As far as society was concerned, I was the culprit in the marriage and my ex was the victim. A woman should always stand by her husband no matter what. Any woman that doesn’t is uncultured and certainly not a virtuous one.
“Are you crying?” The obnoxious fella asked me.
My wounds were still fresh and just when I thought it was all in the past, people somehow found a way to reopen them and poke at them deeper and deeper. Did my ex go through such as well? I wondered. How many times had he cried over our broken marriage and how many times did people make him feel like he was the worst sinner in the world?
Oh, but he is a man. A man is a man. A man will always be a man. A man does no wrong. It is the women that make things hard for men.
He handed me some tissue and for the umpteenth time I asked him if it was possible to move on from that question without it interfering with the results of that interview.
“I am currently pursuing an MBA," I informed him. "I only have one semester left. My grades are brilliant. I have showed you my company financial records, they might not be perfect but still for a brand new company I think am doing exceptionally well. I somehow managed to pick myself up after the most painful phase of my life and I built this company to what it is today and yet somehow all that is irrelevant because you really want me to justify why I divorced my husband.”
“For the past twenty minutes I have been fighting the urge to stand and walk out of this office but for some stupid reason I kept hoping and wishing that this was some bad test I had to pass, that you didn’t really mean that question but now I can see that you are dying to know what happened in my marriage and as long as I don’t tell you the details, I will fail this interview.” I lamented further.
“You don’t have to tell me all the details. I just want to know what your husband did that was so big that you gave up on him” He said. “You know we are Africans and we are Christians. You gave up on God and you know he hates divorce. I am just trying to make sure that if I pick you for this programme, you are not going to let anyone down.”
“The only people I let down when I left my husband is this society that keeps making me out to be the villain for choosing to protect myself.” I said. “I do not owe anyone an explanation and I certainly don’t need to justify myself. I had legal grounds both by the laws of this place and before God to leave him.”
“So he was unfaithful?” He inferred. “But don’t you know marriage is shipikisha? What man in this day and age doesn’t cheat on his wife? Did you think you were the exception?”
There have been three outstanding moments in my life when I felt like taking someone’s life: the first time was when I watched my father violently abuse my mother, the second time was when my own husband (now ex) tried to hit me when he was feeling all pumped up in his macho(ness) at the most tumultuous moment in our marriage, and the third time was when I had just heard this stupid man ask me that stupid question.
I could smell the blood on the floor.
In that moment I realized I was fighting a losing battle. No matter what I did or where I went my divorce was always going to haunt me. To the Christian folks I was a sinner, a hard-hearted woman and to the rest of the cruel world I was a weak woman that gave up on her husband. I had been mentally beaten left, right and centre during and after my divorce by some people around me and even strangers that didn’t know about my life. But not once did I imagine my marital status would one day get in the way of my ambitions as an entrepreneur.
Yet again I had lost.
“I cannot give you the sordid details that led to the end of my marriage not just because I don’t want to,” I told the man representing my government. “…but also because no matter how insulted I feel right now and no matter how much am itching to set the record straight, I still have to protect that man you claim I gave up on by keeping certain things just between him and me.
“Maybe you’re right when you say I am not a well-cultured woman but if there is one thing that my mother taught me right, it is that we have to protect those we claim to love no matter the circumstance. Divorcing him does not in any way mean I was not a good wife or that I loved him less, if anything…for me…and I know this might be hard for people like you, a man, to grasp, leaving him meant I loved him more than everything I stood to lose by choosing to walk away. And today that includes losing this opportunity. I would be a fool to even try and make you understand that.”
Suffice to say, I was very shocked to get a call a few days later informing me that I had made it through to the training programme and that training would start in the next couple of days. Unfortunately, whether that was a win or lose for me, my spirits were still beaten to the very last from the blows that man had dealt me during that interview that I could not get the courage to attend the programme.
I was naive. I had mentally prepared myself for society's judgement on my character as a woman but not once had I calculated the price I would have to pay in my ambitions as an entrepreneur.
And perhaps that was the flaw in my character.
When the friend from church that recommended me called to ask If I attended the training that was supposed to last about a week, I could not get myself to explain to her why I didn’t and so I made up some excuse. For how was I to make her understand that I didn’t feel like going because…because I was a woman?
That man had awakened me to a very cruel reality about my femininity. Even in an instant where I held myself proud for standing up for myself in my marriage, I was still somehow made to feel like a victim and perpetrator at the same time. Victory was only in my head.
It would take days for me to stop crying and feeling like a victim of society, to re-energize myself and continue standing on the principles that made it okay for me to make certain decisions in my life despite judgement from society.
I finally got up and decided I was going to make it by myself. If getting someone to invest in me and my business meant I had to set my dignity aside, and sell myself short, then to hell with that.
It turned out, life had other plans in store for me.
I was designed to be a success story. Every part of my body, from my curves to my mind. Boydon't even get me started.
I am a woman! ;-)
Published by Anisha Simutowe