“There were 20 of us living in the same house with my two uncles and their families. There were so many of us that we had to make three tables to eat! I was the youngest and I was very spoiled. They said yes to everything I asked for, I had no limits. When I was 12, I even decided to quit school, and my parents agreed. Instead, I took care of everything at home. From small things to big things. I was the youngest in age, but the most responsible. I was like a little mother to the whole family. My family asked for my opinion on every matter, and everyone listened to what I said. And in the village too. I had the power of speech.
I was very close to my mother, we were always together. Many men asked for my hand in marriage but I always refused because I wanted to stay and look after her. Then in 2000 she passed away. We stayed in the house with my brothers and sisters who were not yet married. I continued to take good care of everyone, so well that they didn’t notice something was missing. But I was depressed for a whole year. Since her death, the whole of Morocco had become black for me. So I wanted to go to another country. I didn’t have any plans, I just wanted to leave.
For nine years I went through a lot of procedures but I never managed to get a visa. Then he proposed to me. He had everything I didn’t like in a person. He insulted people, he said “me, me, me” a lot. And I’m already someone who says “me, me, me” (laughs)! But I kept my mouth shut. After the wedding, we stayed 15 days in Morocco and everything went well. The sex also. A few months later, I arrived in Geneva and it was Ramadan. We didn’t have sex until the last day. And from that day in the summer of 2009 until today, we have never done anything.
We went to the doctors and they found a problem in his cerebellum. Fortunately, it could be cured with an operation. But when the doctor talked about the intimate area he said, “No, that’s because of a bad spell!” And he refused the operation. Later, I learned that he had been married at least five times before, and he thought that these women had put a spell on him that prevented him from having sex. He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him: this is a disease, we got married before God, so I can’t abandon you. The disease is decided by Allah. But he did not accept it.
He started wasting his money on all sorts of healers. We’d go on holiday to Spain and France just to see them. In Morocco we saw them all, I couldn’t even count how many. Then he started borrowing money, and I even had to sell my jewellery. At that time, I spent the whole day doing nothing. I was only allowed to phone my immediate family, and I couldn’t tell them everything. They didn’t know anything about this, and I had no friends here. He never let me go out alone, even to throw away the rubbish. If I said hello to a neighbour, he would say, “Why are you saying hello? Be careful, you shouldn’t go to her house!”
It was like that for 12 years. I was fed up with this life. And he had scared me of everything outside. As time went on, he added me to the list of the other women and said that I too had put a spell on him. In our country, the husband can get a divorce by saying the word talaq three times. But then we are divorced before God and that’s it. Last summer during an argument he said talaq a third time. Then he said he was angry and regretted it. But for me it was over. If he hadn’t divorced me, I would have continued with this daily routine until I died. And since then, he has done nothing but insult me, day and night. Even when he prays he continues to insult me.
Shortly afterwards I told my story for the first time in 12 years to a nurse and it did me a lot of good. Then I got help from the APDH and a lawyer to do the separation procedures. At first I was afraid, I had many questions. What if I lose everything? What if I’m become homeless? Fortunately, a few days ago I learned that I was going to keep the flat. I started to cry… When he found out, he said to me: “You, the woman who didn’t go to school, who doesn’t speak French, and you managed to do all that!” It’s by the strength of will that I was able to move forward.
Since then, I’ve been super motivated to learn French and to find a job. I’ve started going out, talking to everyone. I even need a diary to organise all my appointments (laughs)! Before I was always in a hurry, I would go shopping and come home. Now I take the time to look around. In 6 months I’ve discovered more of Switzerland than in the last 12 years. At the time, my sister came to visit me and we went to the open-air cinema. But we had to get home before 5pm and we just saw the screen being rolled down. Yesterday I called her, and I said: “Come here! This time we’re going to watch the screen being unrolled and even put away (laughs)!”
Published as part of the mini-series “Des frontières et des femmes”, produced in partnership with APDH. | Translated from Arabic