By being grateful, a man makes himself deserving of yet another kindness, African proverb
Darkest Before the Dawn
The day I met my attorney she asked me a lot of questions. The very next day she came back with boxes filled with my files. So many things were needed starting with a birth certificate to show where I was from. I nicknamed my attorney Gale (Guardian Angel loves me). She sent money to my sister to apply for an international birth certificate. I knew the month and day of my birth, but we could only estimate the year. Evidence of the village where I lived had to be documented through photos. Gale kept my spirits going by keeping me up to date on her progress.
We had our first court date. My heart sank as the same judge as before sat before us. My case was introduced and Gale whispered “We are screwed, we will have to fight it out with her.” More evidence was requested regarding what happened. One month later we had the birth certificate and photos.
At the second hearing an interpreter was provided whom they said was from my village who could understand and speak my specific dialect. Whatever I said to the interpreter was interpreted to the judge. However, what the interpreter repeated was not what I had said. He either did not understand me or was trying to sabotage my case. I had learned enough English to understand what he was telling the judge, all lies. I was not going to lose this case because of him. Something came over me and I stood up and shouted “NO!” so loudly the other angels must have heard me in heaven. The judge confronted the interpreter and that stopped everything.
For two months I heard nothing, not even from Gale. I laid awake at night in terror of being deported. That’s when they come for you, during the night. I would keep checking the dorm phone for a dial tone. If there was no tone, I doubled my prayers while lying awake. We all prayed in our separate groups: Christians with Christians, Muslims with Muslims, even atheists.
On a bitter cold day in February, the guard informed me I had a court date. I had no prior notice from Gale. The guard must have seen my face because she said “Don’t worry, your attorney will be there.” I could do nothing but “walk with the face of God.” The Muslim girls took my hands and we all prayed together.
When I walked into the courtroom I saw the government lawyer – a good omen. Gale opened her arms and said “We are going home.” The government lawyer nodded yes and I was to be released into Gale’s custody. The judge could only comment “I don’t know what God you prayed to. You won’t be granted asylum but will be released on … all I heard was blah, blah, blah. It was all legal and I didn’t care. I was the only African from my state to ever be released. News got back to the dorm in an instant. There was crying and celebrating. All my things were already claimed by the others, including my Bible (to give them good luck).
After the news from Gale, I was sitting in the dorm, on my bed, when a guard informed me I had a visitor. My initial reaction was shock, and then fear. I knew it wasn’t the priest because he came every Tuesday and the day was Saturday, the 22nd of December. I had been warned that Americans will try to trick you in order to get you deported. With my heart beating outside my chest, I was taken to the visiting area. There I saw a white girl, about my age, standing there. She said “Hi, I am a teacher and I heard about you. I have come to visit.” I shared stories with her about Christmas in my country.
She wrote me a letter the very next day. She told me how wonderful it was to meet me and she said she was going to church to say rosaries for me and to ask forgiveness for the world for imprisoning me. She wrote how to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Spanish as well as other phrases. On the back of the letter she had drawn colored rosary beads and placed a Hail Mary inside the drawing. I gave her the nickname of Rosie.
Rosie came to visit almost every evening, afterschool, all the way from Brooklyn, NY before my release date. We would sometimes discuss the case. She called me her sister and put five dollars in the commissary for me every week. If Rosie couldn’t come, her boyfriend did. I received notes and letters from her students. Everything she wrote to me was first written in English and then translated into Spanish and always ended with a Hail Mary.
Suddenly, presents from strangers and church groups started arriving every day. It was like the whole world was celebrating or Gale was had angels sending me messages.
When I was finally released from the detention center, Rosie was the first person I called. She had lit three candles and said three Hail Mary’s the night before.
I still don’t know where Rosie came from or how she had heard about me. I also don’t know why she translated everything into Spanish.
“Mama”, from the detention center, was released two weeks later.
I stand, I stand, oh, I stand
You hold me
Here I am, still standing
I stand, I stand, oh, I stand
See through me
I was so afraid
Believing all hope was gone
I said my life was over
Darkness took over me
The girl I knew was no more
I cried, I cried
Your love held me close
I never thought I could know love like that
Lord, you are everything
Even when I do not say out loud
My heart calls out to you
In my deepest fear
My darkness, pain
In my shame
Five – African Nightmare
A child who is carried on the back will not know how far the journey is, African proverb
I am floating outside my body, high up in the clouds somewhere. I am eating a sumptuous meal in a very fancy house. Perhaps I am the first lady of a wealthy country. Suddenly I am pulled away from my meal by a hard slap on my face. I am back in the room where I am being held as a sexual hostage.
My little sister and I were barely surviving. My uncles took the farm away from us because it now belonged to them. A man they called the Chief knew of our plight. He was a very powerful man in our village. He said he knew we needed food and would bring food for us. He helped my father with his arm after he fell. After my father died and his funeral was over, the Chief came back and said the food now had to be paid for. It was then that I found out why the Chief helped my father financially and helped him when he was sick. He claimed he had given my father money to marry me. I told the Chief my father would never have agreed to such an arrangement. My father had never told me such a thing and I did not want to marry the Chief. I had to sell some of my father’s animals because my sister and I needed the money. He said I should come to his house to get yams. I should have known better than to trust him but my desperation (naiveté) clouded my thoughts.
I went to his house and saw his wife was there. She gave me some food to eat. His compound was made of huts and a kitchen. I was about to go in the back to pick yams when the Chief told me to wait. Instead, he locked the door. He said again that he had given my father money to marry me. He wanted to know why I kept saying no. I begged the Chief to let me go so I could go back to my house. He started to beat me and locked me in a barren room with no escape. As I sat in the room I just knew something very, very bad was about to happen. Fear was rising in my chest. I started screaming and he came in and slapped me so hard I passed out. I keep trying to remember the details of what happened after that, but I only get bits and pieces. When I woke up I was totally naked and tied up. The Chief came in and said he had raped me and would not let me go to my house again. He said he scrapped my private parts and then raped me again. He shaved my head. He hit me in the stomach. My fear was so great I could not feel it. Without windows, I had no sense of time or day or night. I screamed and screamed, but was unable to cry.
I am floating outside my body, high in the clouds again. I am an actress on a television show, I am not me. I feel my soul leaving me. Or I sent it away. I’m not sure which. I was anyone but me and I was anywhere besides there.
I had little to eat and a small amount of water to keep me alive. I was worried about my sister. The Chief told me I wasn’t circumcised and he would have to do it before he married me. I begged him not to but he just tied me up and beat with a piece of wood. My screams went unheard. Without windows, I could only guess how many days I spent there. Then I stopped screaming. I wanted to be dead if I wasn’t already. I can’t remember how many times Chief came to rape me. He did not like it when I stopped screaming. He would slap me over and over to bring me back to the room. I preferred floating among the clouds.
It was nice in the clouds. I did not have to feel anything. I did not have to be me. I did not have to be in that room.
The Chief had several young men who worked for him. One of them came past the room and I screamed at him to help me. He asked what I could give him if he helped me to escape. I told him nothing and he said I did. He slapped me like the Chief did and raped me just like the Chief. The next time the Chief came in, I told him what his worker did. He screamed I was a liar and took out his blade. He used the blade to slice me on my arms and legs. I don’t remember feeling any pain. My entire being was numb. I remember thinking I had been branded for life.
There were times I thought I could have gotten out of the room. But I am not sure. My mind played tricks on me. My soul was gone and I looked forward to being dead. Then a miracle happened.
Something inside me had had enough. Or perhaps one of God’s angels came down to touch me. Suddenly, I wanted to live. My soul returned. No one can take your soul from you. Only you can let your soul go. No one came looking for me. I looked for opportunities to get out of the room and might have died if not for the Chief’s wife. The day came for the Chief to circumcise me. He tied me to the bed with a fish rope. He was in the room and about to start when he heard outside in the compound. When the Chief ran outside, his wife came inside, cut off the ropes and told me to run far away. She allowed me to escape, for what reason I will never know. I ran as fast as I could to the next village. I don’t know what happened to her when the Chief found out.
I ran home to check on my sister. She looked at me as though I was a ghost. She was sure I was dead. I had be gone with no word for almost 15 days. She told me I had to get away from the village right away. I instinctively did what I thought I had to do. There was no time to think or feel. I ran to the bus that went into the city. I had no money and no shoes and only the clothes on my back. I took a seat on the bus. I had no idea what I would do when the driver came around to collect tickets. I started to cry. A strange man and his wife paid my fare. I don’t know why. When the bus pulled into the city I headed for the bridge where the poor and homeless cling to life underneath the shelter of the overpass. The man and his wife followed me and offered to take me home with them. I could earn my keep by working for them. They said they were on a long holiday. They were on the bus because they had to come to visit the village. At that point I questioned nothing. I had only my faith in God and it was only my faith that allowed me to continue living.
I did not realize at the time how much damage had been done to me physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I did not realize what all these events would lead to.
Inner thoughts: Sometimes life surprises you. The way society treats victims of rape is similar to its treatment of victims of female sexual slavery. Why do I think this? I think people wanted to see me break down. I did everything I could to hold myself together. Surviving could be as simple as that. It would have been humiliating to breakdown after all I had been through. I remember as a young teenager I never had anyone who cared enough to explain to me some things about boys and their sex drive. Sex was not a subject of discussion in our village or in the Center.