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Frankie Hirsch

Chronicles of an African Baby: Installment 2

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A child’s face is her mirror, African proverb



The sunlight was gone.  I am on a strange bed.  Where am I?  How did I get here?  Why can’t I understand what people are saying?  The sounds, the smells, the languages I heard were all so strange, unfamiliar, and frightening.  I am having difficulty remembering anything.  Slowly and faintly, I begin to remember a couple, a husband and wife I was living with.  The couple was on a long term visit to Africa. I was keeping house and cooking for them.  They seemed to be nice people.  One day, unexpectedly, the couple took me shopping.  They bought me new jeans, a shirt, denim jacket and shoes.  It seemed they were coming to the end of their stay.  My expectation was that I would be staying in their employ.  We all went to the airport, although I had no idea where they were going home to.  Before I knew what was happening, the wife pushed a paper in my hand and her husband said “There will be someone there to take care of you and you should never return to Africa.”  Suddenly, I am on a plane to nowhere.


My life on my father’s farm did not prepare me for anything I was about to experience.  I spent the entire time throwing up, all over everything, including the paper the wife had shoved in my hand.  Eventually, the plane landed and I followed the other people off the plane.  I followed them to the luggage carousel (I remember being given one piece of luggage).  People were detaching carts to carry their things so I followed their actions.  I kept pulling at the cart but it wouldn’t come loose.  I had no idea it required money.  A security office who had been watching me came over and asked me to follow her.  I understood, little to no English, but interpreted the motions they made with their hands and body.


I was taken to a tiny room where I sat for what seemed like hours and hours.  I was taken to the bathroom twice, my clothes searched, but thankfully not my body.  A man and then a woman came in and kept asking me questions.  It seemed like they wanted to know who I was.  I could only remain silent.  I was taken to another room by different people, perhaps what I now know could have been a shift change.  Again, I waited for what seemed like endless hours.  All I could do was pray, and pray, and pray.  The last man to come into the room seemed nicer than the others.  He told me not to be afraid.  He asked if I wanted to go back and walked me to the van taking me and others to the detention center.


Inner thoughts: I was afraid my whole life was gone; the life I knew before was over. They put me in chains, my legs, hands to my waist were chained.  I was not really ashamed, I died.  They put me in a van to the detention center.  We were three in the van; I was the only girl.  We got there at 1:45 I would say.  First, they took all my things.  Then they have you go to a small room and put rain water over you.  Then you don’t have a name anymore, you are a number.  I was K-6.  They take you to the medical center before taking you to the dorm.  You have to stay in L dorm for seven days before you are allowed out to see other people.  My first night in L dorm I can’t remember what I did.  I slept for two days.  I was still sleeping.  I remember waking up…


Reality Sets In


At the Center I was forced to shower in front of the other women.  We were given clothes and taken to the medical facility where we all received an injection.  The nurse was an African - American woman who remarked “You Africans are the ones that make us all look bad.”  I had no idea what she meant.  I soon learned I had to find ways of trading for food and toiletries as I had no one to put money in an account for me at the commissary.  An old Chinese woman, also in the Center, taught me how to make Origami flowers.  I “sold” flowers for soap, crackers, and toiletries.  I ate the instant hot spicy noodles from the commissary to the point I will never eat it again.  The favorite food that was served was hotdogs.


There was a priest who came on a regular basis to visit us at the Center.  He brought me books to learn English and seemed fond of me.  He also brought me paper to make my flowers.  He would come every Tuesday.  The clips he brought from the newspaper helped me understand what was going on outside.  There was a woman we called Mama because she was older than everyone else in the Center.  She had been a pastor on the outside and lived in Central America before she was found coming into the US and brought to the Center.  I had been before the judge three times and each time was turned down when represented by the pro bono lawyers.  Typically, the first time before a judge was to introduce the case.  The second time was for a hearing and the third time was for a judgement.  You either got to go home, be set free, or re-appeal your case.  My favorite officer told me most people only go before a judge three times.  .  He told me depending on the judge, you either got a chance with one of them or no hope with the other.  I had the wrong judge.  Each time I went before this judge I cried.  I did not understand the questions that the judge asked me.  I had no understanding whatsoever of the details of my case.  The judge told me to come back when I had learned to speak English.  Mama came to see me and told me to give up and go home.  I told her I didn’t know how, but I had faith that somehow things would change.


The next day was Tuesday.  I kept waiting and waiting to be called to see the priest.  I knew he would always call to see me.  Just before “count time” when you can’t go anywhere, I was called.  I told the priest what Mama had said.  He replied “She’s not God.”  A woman stepped in to say hello to the priest.  She told him to keep doing the good job he was doing.  He returned the compliment.  She left and I left a short time later.  As I left, I was told to sit down, that my attorney wanted to speak with me.  I replied that I did not have an attorney.  The small, white, gray haired woman whom I saw with the priest came over to me.  The first thing she did was hug me.  Then she cried.


I eventually found out that the couple had wanted me to work for them here, in the United States.  They knew the Nigerian government would not issue a visa so they “bought” a passport for me.  I often wonder if they ever looked for me or tried to find me.  No one had been at the airport to meet me. I still look every day at those around me in case I should cross paths with them.  I would like to thank them for what they did even though it did not work out quite as planned.  I think they meant well but didn’t take time to teach me basic things I needed to know.


Inner thoughts:

I can lift my eyes to the hill

And say your faithfulness Lord

You heard my voice and prayer

In my darkness you came

You are my savior


In my sorrow, in my pain

In my darkness I say

You are faithful

I am grateful


Thank you God

You are gracious

I made it


I have come into your presence

To give you praise

To sing hallelujah

It is the story of praise


You saved my life…


A person who has children does not die, African proverb

The Beginning of the End


My older sister had been the light of my father's life.  He lost all interest in the farm after the bus accident.  We struggled to feed and clothe ourselves as the farm produced less and less for us to eat or sell. 


One day my father was coming back from the farm carrying a large bag, his arms full of wood, as well as buckets.  He fell but got up right away.  He said he wasn’t hurt.  Three to four days later my father’s shoulder was hugely swollen.  He went to see our native doctor who decided he had broken some bones.  Using wood and a lathe that dried hard, my father’s shoulder was immobilized.  The swelling went down but my father grew weaker and weaker.  His right side didn’t seem to work and his left side only worked a little.  I had to drag him physically out of bed to bathe him.  He didn’t seem to have anything left to live for anymore.  There were times too, I wanted him to die.  He seemed to be suffering so.


I had been crying day and night for what seemed like forever.  It’s my fault my father died.  My stomach hurt so badly I couldn’t bear it any longer.   I ate the portion of food I should have given to my father.  When I came back to check on him, he was dead.   I now believe my father had had a stroke.   But I still feel like I killed him.  Maybe with a little more food he would have lived a day or two longer. 


My uncles never offered to help us while my father lay sick and dying.  Suddenly my uncles had money to buy a coffin.  His funeral became a celebration with generous portions of cooked food.  My uncles would not give us money while my father was alive to punish us because they knew my father would have used the money to feed us.


My little sister went totally mute.  She followed me all around, never letting me out of her sight.  She was glad to have food finally to eat.  Funeral celebrations usually last 7 days, but my father’s was only three.  On the 7th day after my father died, it poured “cats and dogs.”  My little sister spoke for the first time since my father’s death, “We’re inside the house. He’s outside and the rain is beating him.”


Inner thoughts: Fear in the eyes of courage.  It is fear or courage?  I say fear but people say it is courage.  It started so fast for me.  Sometimes I just wish I could go back and start all over again.  I guess we all want that.  Like a mother, like a father I think.  I wanted more having never really seen things like a child.  Working twice as hard as a man, hoping for the best.  Luck was never my best friend.  Giving up was not in me. I did know that something in me wanted more out of this life.  Still don’t know what.  Sometimes I still ask myself what is life?  Let me go back again.  Night after night I cry.  Not because I don’t know what life is but just for food day after day, weeks, and months.  Some nights I wish it was day and some days I wish it was night.  Crying did not help. I would keep my breakfast so I could have it for dinner but not just for me.  Laying down on my stomach seemed to help so I did so all night just hoping the day light would come soon.  In the face of disappointment, I see myself.  Something I know too well.  Love was never expressed.  Looking for a safety net.  Empowered.

Frankie Hirsch