Survival: From Zambia to Holland

Warning: this article may contain triggers for victims of physical and sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Edition 29 May 2018, by Michelle Havard

It is a saddening fact that women all across the world still endure various degrees of hardship. While our opportunities and rights are increasing in number, the subjugation of women unfortunately still wreaks havoc globally, from Africa to Europe. Recently, I met with Martha Mpishi, who is a forty year old woman from Zambia. She’s writing a book about her life, and she told me a few anecdotes about her struggles being a woman in Africa and immigrating to the Netherlands. Below you will find a short summary of her story.

Childhood Adversities

Martha’s life began in shambles. Her parents divorced at an early age, and their divorce came about because of rumored abuse from Martha’s mother. However, Martha expresses some doubt concerning the validity of these claims in her book. She experienced physical and mental abuse from her own father, often resulting from his alcoholism. During our meeting, she told me this very remarkable story about her father coming home in the early hours of the morning with an axe. He would give Martha the axe and order her to murder one of her siblings. If she didn’t comply with his request, he threatened to murder her. In this situation, Martha would be extremely scared and upset. She would raise the axe to the neck of one of her siblings, and right before she would make the fatal blow, her father would intervene and prevent it from happening. Martha describes it in her book as a kind of “dirty game.” Unfortunately, Martha’s father wasn’t the only person to give her trauma. She was also a victim of rape at a very young age. Her neighbor lured her into his apartment under false pretenses, and she suffered from this tragedy at the mere age of eight years old.

A few years later, a fight escalated between Martha and a boy named Baton. He initiated physical violence against her, and she fought back by jabbing a sharp piece of glass into his leg. By fighting back, her parents demanded her, a twelve year old girl, to marry Baton. Their rationale was the fact that Martha had injured him, and perhaps he may not find another woman interested in him because of his injury. This is something Martha protested, and in return for her actions and her protest, she was severely beaten and ended up in the hospital. After all of this trauma, Martha made the decision to run away from home. After a few years of going to bars and living with her then boyfriend, she made the decision to come back to live with her mother at the age of around thirteen or fourteen. However, this did not alleviate the pain she possessed, and her life continued to be difficult. She became pregnant with the child of her high school boyfriend, but soon after she suffered from a miscarriage due to bout of physical violence. Martha was devastated by this and her future, and she attempted suicide. She survived her suicide attempt, but shortly after was put into jail due to being outside after curfew. A policeman sexually assaulted her at the young age of thirteen.

Treacherous Early Adulthood

As Martha was approaching adulthood, she was coerced into marrying an older man. This happened before she was of age. Very shortly into her marriage, Martha ran away from her husband, but she had also become pregnant with his child. This was especially difficult for Martha because she lost her access to many basic resources. During her pregnancy, her mother also became quite sick and passed away in the hospital. This was unimaginably traumatic for young Martha. Around two years later, Martha’s sister, Kadijetu passed away from an unknown disease, presumed to be HIV/AIDS. Martha was around twenty-two years old and at a very stagnant point in her life. She desperately wanted to back to school to get an education, as she dropped out at a very early age, but she did not have the support of her father. This in turn resulted in Martha wondering around, often scouting out men to help support her.

One day she met a man by the name of Mulenga. He told Martha that he was a businessman, but he actually turned out to be a criminal. They dated for a few months, and then Martha fell pregnant with his child. Upon hearing this news, Mulenga expressed his wish to marry Martha, but shortly after he abandoned Martha and disappeared without a trace. Because of what had happened with this man, Martha considered having an abortion, but she changed her mind at the last moment. Later on during this pregnancy, Mulenga came to her apartment with bloody clothes. It was apparent that they had committed some kind of crime. He and his friends ordered her to wash the clothes and left quickly after. The police eventually stopped by where Martha was living and questioned her, but by the time they had done so, Martha was already due to deliver her baby. She luckily did not get apprehended for any involvement with the crimes of Mulenga.

Life in Holland

Martha left Zambia and headed to Amsterdam at the age of twenty-six. She came to the idea because of her sister. Her father had a child with one of his classmates from high school, and this daughter was thus Martha’s half sister. Her half sister had been living in the Netherlands, and she came to visit Zambia when she met with Martha. Martha explained her adversities in Zambia, and her sister told her about the wonders of Europe. She could finally live the life she had wanted all along, which included going back to school and having her own living space. And after that, Martha arranged a visa to go to the Netherlands. However, she could not take her children with her at first, and this was a source of discontent for Martha. She did not want to live abroad without her children, but it was also important to think about her future. When Martha arrived and got settled in Amsterdam, she was met with an unfortunate reality: she was living with her sister, cleaning their home and not going to school.

Eventually, Martha became illegal living in the Netherlands, for she did not have visa for an extended amount of time. This meant that she felt afraid to contact police when in danger, and she did not have access to the social services available in the Netherlands. However, Martha did find people who helped her a bit along the way, including a South African pastor who helped her with accommodation for some time. Martha’s life continued to be quite hectic until she met a man by the name of Rob. She married Rob, not out of love, but for her children. She wanted her children to have a father figure, but she encountered further issues with him down the line. The police found child pornography on his computer. This coupled with his alcoholism and irresponsibility resulted in their divorce. Martha lives in Almere now and works as a nurse at a retirement home. She is the CEO of the Collective Inspiration For Women Network (CIFWN). She works to help women, especially in Africa, with their struggles. The CIFWN has many projects and missions, such as helping women complete their education, teaching women how to survive in difficult situations and more. CIFWN also aims to help provide basic necessities to women in need. You can view CIFWN’s website here: If you may be interested in hearing the entirety of Martha’s story, keep your eyes open for the release of her book: Rising from the Ditch of Neglect.