Considering that I just started reading this last night before I fell asleep and finished it this morning in bed before church, it was a good — and quick — read. “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced” is the true story of young Nujood Ali. She worked with Delphine Minoui to tell the story in her voice, her words. It is written as simply as one would expect, coming from a 10-year-old.
Nujood lives in Yemen with her family: Her parents, siblings and her father’s second wife and their kids. She is 10. Or, at least, that’s what she’s told, as she has no birth certificate or officially recorded birth record. Her mother says she could be 8, 9 or 10, depending on where she starts counting. After a devastating situation forced the family to uproot and move from their village in the middle of the night, the family struggles for money.
In a desperate attempt to bring money to the family and get rid of an “extra mouth to feed,” Nujood’s father negotiates Nujood’s marriage to a man three times her age. The men of the two families work out a fair bride price and sign the marriage contract, thus forcing Nujood to become a wife. He was asked to promise, however, not to touch Nujood until after she reaches puberty. This promise is immediately broken. The husband repeatedly forces Nujood to perform her “marital duties” night after night, relying on beatings with a stick to make it happen — repeatedly drawing blood and leaving bruises behind. Nujood finds no sympathy from her husband’s family.
Nujood is obviously lost. Why was this happening to her? Why would her father, essentially, sell her into sexual slavery? What did all of this mean? At just 10 years old, she’s too young to even know what’s happening to her for the most part — as is evidenced by her choice of words as she describes the ordeal.
My life was taking a new turn in this world of grown-ups, where dreams no longer had a place, faces became masks and no one seemed to care about me. ~Nujood Ali
Nujood knows she must escape. But how? She’s just a girl in a world run by men. Everything is pushing against her — even grown women have no voices here. How could she possibly seek, and receive, a divorce? She devises a plan and is able to escape to a courthouse, where she encounters two supportive, friendly male judges who are appalled at Nujood’s story. They help her find a safe place to stay, as the last thing she can do is return to her father’s home, as she has “destroyed his honor.” They also find her an attorney who fights vigorously to save her. Through it all, Nujood is brave and strong on the outside — continually telling her horrific story and standing up for herself. But, on the inside? On the inside, she is a scared 10-year-old girl.
A part of me feels incredibly strong, but I have no control over the rest of me, which would give anything, right at this moment, to be a tiny mouse. Arms crossed, I try to hold on. ~Nujood Ali
Eventually, Nujood is granted her divorce and is able to return home, her family basically choosing to ignore that the marriage (rape) ever happened so they could move on from it. Nujood returns to school and the life of a normal girl — a normal girl on the world’s stage. She was even named one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year, alongside Hillary Clinton, Nicole Kidman and Condoleezza Rice. Her ordeal slowly brought about change in Yemen and other parts of the Middle East — slowly.
She remains, however, a girl forever changed.
“Compared to dreams, reality can be truly cruel. But it can also come up with beautiful surprises.” ~Nujood Ali