I was a teenage bride that escaped an abusive arranged marriage

My name is Samra Zafar. I was a teen bride and I escaped an abusive marriage. One night when I was in Grade 11 and I was one day just doing my math homework and my mom came into my room and brought me a glass of orange juice. And she’s stroking my hair, and then she’s like: ‘You know I want to talk to you about something.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah?’ And she’s like, ‘You know this friend of mine
who you’ve met a few times and she has a brother who lives in Canada and he’s in I.T., he has a good job. And they’re really interested—his family
seems to be very broad-minded and they’re interested in you as their as their daughter-in-law. And I just thought to myself, ‘That can’t happen. Mom, are you kidding? I’m in Grade 11, and I want to go to university. I want to get an education. I have these dreams that I want to pursue.’ And my mom was like, ‘Yeah, we know you have those dreams but it’s not like it’s going to come true. You know that we can’t really just send
you away somewhere for school because no girl from our family has ever
been able to do that or has ever done that.’ A few months later, just after my 17th birthday I was married. And I was sitting in this big grand banquet hall with red and gold all over me. My aunt just a few hours ago had
taken me to a beauty salon and caked makeup on me because
they wanted me to look older. And I remember her saying to the makeup artist: ‘Just make her look older. She’s only 17 but we want to make her look like she’s in her 20s.’ The very first time I met him was the day before the wedding. And I was very, very scared. I was terrified. I was like … I really didn’t know what’s going to happen. It was his family, my family, all of us together. And I couldn’t even look up. I was looking down the whole time and I was just so scared of raising my eyes
and looking at this person who’s going to be apparently my future husband in a day. And then when I did finally muster up the courage to look I just felt this jolt of fear and this big voice in me screaming: ‘No, this can’t happen’ because this looked like someone
who could be a friend of my father’s. And I still remember when I flew to Canada from Abu Dhabi for the very first time. Here I was, married to this person but in my backpack was Cadbury chocolates and Nancy Drew books because I was just a typical teenage schoolgirl. So when I came here, I was like: ‘Yeah, I can go to school and it’s not gonna be that bad. It’s not a total nightmare.’ The abuse started off as name calling, insults and whenever I would challenge it I was told that it’s because you deserve it,
because it’s your fault. And over the course of several years it progressed to shoves and eventually slaps, and eventually kicks. So when the first bruises appeared on my body I just believed that it was my fault, too.
And I just didn’t know how to get out of it. That’s what his mother would tell me as well
when I talked to her about it. And she kind of knew what’s happening
because it was all in front of her. But one time, when I sort of thought
maybe she’d help me or talk to him and her words to me were,
‘Oh, you know, this is normal. At least he’s not breaking your bones. It’s just names and stuff. It’s like… At least he’s not slapping you around and stuff. You have it pretty good and good women are the ones who stay quiet and don’t ever say anything because the Canadian society they will take away your kid. You will be
completely out on the streets because you don’t have a job or an income. So never ever talk to anyone about it because what’s happening, this is just normal
and you have to make it work. You have to find ways to keep him happy. And if this is normal because that’s what everyone around me
is telling me that this is normal then why doesn’t it feel normal? Why is there this really gut feeling in my body that says, you know, ‘This is not OK.’ So I never had this master plan of leaving,
that this is what I’m going to do But I always had this vision that the way I’m going to improve my life
is going to be through education. So when I couldn’t go to university the first time I applied because there was no money
to pay for my silly little hobbies I then started to work as a babysitter
at home and earn money. And most of my money would be taken away from
me and put towards the household expenses but I would still stash a little bit away
on the side every month. Fifty bucks, a hundred bucks, two hundred bucks. And that helped me save for my
first-year tuition as a part-time student. There were times when my daughter was still very young and she would wake up in the night or whatever. And there were times that I would actually have her in my lap giving her toys and stuff to play with while also doing my math questions and stuff. It just felt like the world is not all dark. I was working towards something. And learning and growing gave me
a lot of joy and a lot of purpose. That is eventually what kept me going because it was, like, yeah, there’s this little hope that one day things will get better. If I give up on my dreams, if I don’t
respect my dreams, then who will? Eventually one day when I was standing in front
of a mirror with a bruise on my face instead of reaching for my makeup
as I normally would to cover it up because I didn’t want anyone to find out
what was happening to me it was too shameful … So instead of doing that I talked to myself and I’m like ‘You know what? Enough is enough. I’m going to leave.’ And I left. And I … It wasn’t easy. Lots of financial barriers, lots of backlash. But I was determined that I have to keep going. So there were times when I felt like giving up. There were times when I was in a dark place. But then I would pick myself up again.
I’m like, ‘One more step, one more day.’ I moved to campus housing at UTM and I was living there with my daughters
working four or five on-campus jobs running a little catering business out of my tiny apartment. And… that education and knowledge—
that gave me my power. It’s what enabled me to start building a new life
for myself and my daughters. You know, people say to me:
‘Oh you were able to do this because you’re so smart and you’re so powerful and you
have all these awards and you’re successful.’ Don’t compare my end to your beginning because when I was in that moment,
when I was in that life I had the same fears and the same barriers and the same vulnerabilities, uncertainties and self-doubt. But it was also coupled with this determination that I have to fight back,
I have to try one more time. And when you have that in you when you just keep on going I believe that success will come. I know what made a difference for me was
the community that I found at university. And that community is what helped lift me up because when we believe in someone else we actually teach them to believe in themselves.

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  1. Holy smokes, must be awkward and terrifying.
    Glad I am not part of that culture that normalizes parents to force marriage abuse on their kids.

  2. Been in 2 abusive relationships…..sorry for the pain you endured……many women and men face this these days…it is very disturbing.

  3. Again – CBC – your docs are spectacular! I so look forward to them! Thank you so much – this was beautifully done as usual!

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