My husband Jean and I were married for many years, had two beautiful daughters, and were very happy together. Many years into our marriage, I became a member of the True Church of God of Cameroon, a Pentecostal church, and was devastated with his reaction.
Jean, like most Cameroonians, is a Catholic, and views Pentecostalism as an illegitimate, sacrilegious sect. He accused me of saying prayers to harm his business and told me that my religion disturbed every part of his life. Whenever I returned home from church service, Jean was waiting for me. He whipped me with a belt many times and once, he even threatened me with a hammer. He told me he would kill me.
In my religion, we wake up every night at midnight to pray. My husband would lie awake until midnight, and when I would start to get up he would pull me down by my clothing and force oral and anal sex on me. If I tried to refuse, he beat me and threatened me. Even though he would usually assault me in our bedroom, the children could hear me crying and could hear him yelling at me. Horrified and confused by the sounds they heard, they came to the door to see what was happening. My heart broke that they witnessed their father’s extreme abuse.
After my conversion of faith, I was abandoned by many friends, family members, and colleagues. However, I was able to transfer my job to a town three hours away by bus, to get away from Jean’s abuse.
But Jean stalked me. He showed up weekly at my apartment or office to harass me and attempt to rape me. One day, he attacked me outside of my office, hitting and kicking me. He punched me in the face and dragged me along the ground. I was hospitalized overnight for my injuries, and even after I was released I could not return to my normal life for two weeks.
Though no one called the police when Jean had attacked me in public, I went to them for help. They brought Jean in to talk to him, but wrote off the whole incident as a private matter “between husband and wife.” The police in Cameroon think a man is allowed to beat his wife and wouldn’t help me.
Finally, I was offered a way out. A Pentecostal church in Houston, TX invited me to the United States, too far for Jean to follow me.
I believe my husband’s threats and am convinced he will try to kill me. He told my sister that unless he sees my corpse, blood will flow. He also consulted with a voodoo master to kill me. Even though I do not believe in the power of a voodoo master, I know that my husband does, and his consultation tells me that he is very serious about killing me. I knew if I returned to Cameroon, he would find me again.
Thankfully, once I was in Houston, my church helped me find the Tahirih Justice Center. They connected me to my pro bono attorney, Carey Worrell. I worked with both Tahirih and Carey to successfully submit an application for asylum on my behalf.
I am now permitted to remain safely in the United States, far away from my husband and free to practice my religion without the threat of his abuse. I thank God for the Tahirih Justice Center and for my pro bono attorney, for it is thanks to their help that I am alive.
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*Names have been changed to protect privacy. The photograph included here is not of Mariam. Photo by Sergio Pessolano.