Part One – The Letter
My stomach flipped with excitement as I read the letter for the 3rd, maybe 8th time that week.
How are you? How are the preparations for your final exams going? I am doing well. I’m now in the 2nd year of my course at the American University of Nigeria. I’m finding Medicine very demanding but God willing, I qualify in 3 years. I’m working really hard in the hope of getting a job in Maiduguri. Maybe even a job in Abuja, who knows. In an ideal world I’d want to settle back home but with all trouble in Borno, perhaps the city would give a better life. I know all these things are a long way away but all the trouble in Borno brings them to the forefront of my mind. It consumes me and robs me of sleep at night. I pray for you everyday.
I’ll be coming home for Easter in a few weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing you and the old gang from the village. It seems like yesterday when we were all in detention after the “incident” with Mrs. Joseph’s English breakfast tea! I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve missed you, and the rest of the gang of course.
Balarabe told me he saw you at the village when he visited a few weeks ago. He mentioned that your auntie Saraya was visiting from Lagos and he had had “the honour of rescuing the beautiful Hauwa Yahona from the manly duty of killing a chicken”. He is still a clown, even in med school! I would not recommend you spend too much time with him. I still suspect he was responsible for that actually quite cruel incident with Mrs. Joseph’s English breakfast tea. Only Balarabe would have used double the dose of those laxatives. That boy is bad juju I tell you!
I was thinking that on your last day, I could come for you at the boarding school. Perhaps I can help you to carry your suitcase home. It will give us a chance to talk alone. I hope that’s ok with you.
I’m counting the days.
I smiled to myself remembering how Joy had cackled with glee, her eyes twinkling with excitement as she had read the “scandal” that was David’s letter. “Eeeeeeee! Is this our David? Big ears David? David who was still wetting his bed up to Grade 4! Eeeeeeee, the Lord is mer-ci-ful!” she exclaimed erupting in laughter, this time with the girls in tow.
“Oh my yellow bone! Girls, the boy has been studying to be a Dr for 2 YEARS and now he has already married our Hauwa and they are living in Abuja”. She wiped the laughter tears from the corners of her eyes and linked her arm through mine. She pulled me in gently.
“Hauwa, David wants to carry your suitcase for you. You must be very careful he doesn’t break his arm with all those romance novels you carry around!” Joy looked up at me with a playful grin, her eyes twinkling warmly.
“Hey girls”, Naomi called out. “Maybe she can take some of the books out and read to him during their talk alone. That will lighten the load!” There was another burst of laughter. This time the rest of the dorm who were pretending to mind their own business joined in.
I kissed my teeth doing my best to look offended although secretly enjoying girls’ playful ribbing. I was pleased that Joy had also translated David’s somewhat cryptic and unexpected letter to be one of love interest.
Joy is my best friend. She is loud, caring, funny and has a good heart. She can always be relied upon to blurt out that inappropriate thought everyone is thinking but is too shy to say. If there was something salacious to be said, Joy would almost certainly spout it out (often unintentionally) and have everyone trapped in a complex mix of shock and the pure unadulterated laughter. Joy is also the smartest of my friends and has gotten straight A’s for the last 3 years.
She also knows the word like no other and can often be heard flicking the pages of her well-worn Bible during the early hours of the morning while the rest of the dorm gently snores.
Part Two – Mud Flavoured Funkaso
Despite being 2 years older than me, David has always been there. When we played house as children, I was always his wife and assumed this role by making him and our only child, Jojo the dog mud Funkaso cakes, with a sprinkle of sand for sugar. Jojo had been our son until Sagi, my baby brother was old enough to replace him. David had always enjoyed my muddy Funkaso. He would often show his appreciation by rubbing his belly the same way father did when mother made him Suya spicy kebabs with rice.
As we grew older, David assumed the role of a big brother. He walked me to and from school everyday, protecting me from other older boys, mainly Balarabe. I remember one time, Balarabe went through a phase of flipping girls’ dresses and actually managed to pursue his mischievous aims for quite some time. This was until the fateful day he had tried to flip my dress. David beat him up so thoroughly that he never tried it again!
However since I turned 16 last year, my relationship with David has changed into something I can’t quite understand. He avoids eye contact, hardly speaks to me and yet, he is still always there. For example, our families often attend each other’s celebrations and funerals. As my mother’s only daughter such gatherings are always a very stressful time for me. There is flour to be kneaded, vegetables to be chopped and Daddawa to be stewed. But, by far the most difficult task is the killing of the chicken. I am terrified at the thought of taking life, even that of a fairly insignificant and rather tasty chicken. My mother always insists, “Hauwa, you need to stop this silliness. You must learn to kill a chicken or else you’ll end up marrying a poor man and eat vegetables for the rest of your life! Your father and I are not paying 50,000 naira per term for you to marry a pauper”.
I’m tempted to take my chances. My stomach starts churning at the sound of Sagi my baby brother chasing his dinner, the chicken. The pursuit is often a dramatic one, which lifts the dust around the compound and has Sagi shrieking somewhat maniacally at the terrified chicken. Eventually, the bird succumbs to fatigue and Sagi pounces. With a huge triumphant grin on his face, Sagi presents the bird to me.
I feel its little heart beating fast in my hands. My own heart is often thumping pretty quickly too. I’ve come to believe that all living creatures have a 6th sense for death or impending doom. I can taste the bile rising up my throat as I pick up the blunt knife. It’s important that I place my foot firmly over its flapping panicked wings. If my foot shifts slightly, the wing often snaps during its struggle and rips through the chicken’s white fIesh, causing it to squawk in pain. Even worse, sometimes the chicken comes free and starts running around the compound headless, its broken wing hanging off awkwardly. At this point, I am heaving into the dish of hot water I had prepared for softening the bird’s quills, ready for plucking.
It is always in that moment before I have to make the cut that David turns up, as if from nowhere. He takes the bird and knife from my hands and swiftly kills the chicken. Despite the fact that David hardly speaks to me (in fact, he speaks to my friend Maryama much more than he does me), he’s always on time to rescue and protect me.
Two more days to go until David comes for me. I wonder what he’ll say. Perhaps he’ll ask me to be his girlfriend. It’s good that absence makes the heart grow fonder, lol!
Can you imagine it? David and Hauwa both studying at the American University of Nigeria. One doctor and one judge – what a match! I’m bubbling over with excitement. Just 2 more sleeps to go…
Part Three – 6th sense
Tomorrow is my final exam. I am one step closer to becoming The Honourable Miss Justice Yahona (maybe in 5 years or so I could be The Honourable MRS Justice Welu)! I feel a mixture of excitement and fear. I’ve been revising for my Physics exam all day and unfortunately my subconscious betrayed me because I found myself writing “David’s Law” instead of “Dalton’s Law” on my revision cards. As luck would have it, Joy spotted this and swiped the cards from my desk.
“Girls! Come and see this!” she yelled waving the revision cards in the air whilst I tried in vain to retrieve them from her hand.
“Tomorrow we are going to be tested on Dr 2 YEARS David’s law!” she exclaimed displaying the cards. This had the girls roaring with laughter, providing some much needed comic relief, albeit at my expense. Only Maryama stood around looking a little tense. She’s been acting strange since the letter arrived.
It’s 8pm. I’ve already packed my suitcase and ironed my new blue dress, an early congratulations present from Mother. Naomi who is the fashionista in our group insisted I shave off my eyebrows and she’ll draw on more perfect ones for me in the morning. I hope David likes it.
The girls and I have said our prayers together, a ritual we recently introduced into our exam preparation routine. Today the mood during prayers was heavy. Perhaps everyone is anxious about the final exam – it is Physics after all. Maybe it’s the thought that our risk appears to have paid off. We may actually finish our High School education despite all the terrors we were warned of.
There is a lot of commotion in the neighbouring villages tonight. We can hear gunshots in the distance and they are closer than usual. The mood is still very heavy in the dorm. I feel increasingly fearful and I don’t know why.
Naomi is saying the army has entered the boarding school grounds and has come to rescue us. I’m concerned because we haven’t seen the teachers. The matron would normally be her….
Part Four – The cry of a mother’s broken heart
It’s been 516 days since I heard Sagi my little boy laugh from the depth of his gut. 516 days since Boko Haram took my precious daughter, Hauwa. 516 days since life lost it’s meaning.
The world has stopped going round in Chibok. The only thing that seems to be changing is my niece’s son Ishmael. Ishmael was born on the night the girls were taken from the boarding school. This simple fact has brought such bitterness to my heart.
Ishmael is a strong, happy & sociable baby. His chubby little arms reach out to me too often. His milky white eyes shine brightly. His dribbly mouth smiles broadly. All of this, as though to mock my pain. I know his little heart craves my affection and warmth but it’s too hard for me. Every time he adds a new gurgled word to his vocabulary or another tooth pushes its way out of his gummy mouth he reminds me of how much the world has moved on, despite the fact that my precious little girl is not yet home. If only he had been born one day earlier.
A day before Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist group decided that my daughter was a sinner for wanting to be educated. “Western education is a sin”. That’s what Boko Haram means.
Today we attended another funeral. That makes 17 parents that we have buried since the girls were kidnapped. They say the cause of death varies. Some have died from blood pressure. Some have died of ulcers because they don’t eat. To me, they have all died of broken hearts. I myself am close to death. Despair calls me to my grave. Hope keeps me alive.
David used to come and visit and sit with me in silence. Sometimes he would kick the ball with Sagi like Hauwa used to do. He has stopped coming now and spends a lot of time with Maryama whenever he visits the village. Maryama is one of the lucky girls who escaped that night.
Joy Simon also escaped and returned home some months ago. When her mother saw her walking towards the compound, she let out a heart rendering shrill that brought the entire village out of their homes. She ran to her daughter and threw her arms around her. Sobbing uncontrollably, she repeatedly kissed her face “Oh my Lord. Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you Jesus”. I remember how Joy stood there, her face blank, her arms limp at her sides, tears rolling gently down her face.
I visited the Simon’s home 3, maybe 8 times the week Joy came home. I wanted to respect their time as a family but I am a desperate mother. I was desperate to find out where my Hauwa was. Was she safe? What kind of conditions were they living under? Had my precious daughter been harmed?
I was not the only mother who visited the Simon family frequently during that time. We were like hungry wolves in sheep’s clothes. We were desperate for information and dressed our sometimes ulterior motives in “supportive” food parcels and the occasional bottle of Coca-cola.
Joy remained silent for a month although the piercing screams of her night terrors could be heard in still of the night. She hardly ate. When her mother made her light pepper soup and gently coaxed her to eat, she would stare into her bowl with tears streaming down her face. After much probing, one day she revealed that she had been raped 15 times by 15 men every one of the 96 days she had been in captivity.
From that day, I stopped visiting the Simon family. It was more information than my soul could bear. The village went into anguished mourning. More parents’ deaths came in the weeks that followed that revelation than we had seen since the abduction. At night, a choir of screams can now be heard throughout the village. Joy’s cries are the most distinct. Guttural, like an animal being led to slaughter.
I have not been with my husband since that day. He is never in the house for more than 30 minutes in the day because if he sees me cry, he also breaks down in tears. When he comes home late at night, his breath smells of beer. Sometimes he tries to lie with me but when he pulls me to him, visions of these heartless savages hurting my little girl assault me. The eye of my mind holds me prisoner and forces me to re-enact the horrors Joy suffered, but with my Hauwa in her stead. I imagine her married with children she doesn’t love. I imagine her being given a knife and forced to slit the throats of Christians who are not willing to denounce their faith. ‘Oh God, my sweet baby couldn’t even kill a chicken’. My heart starts palpitating and I taste the bile rising up my throat. Eventually my throat opens up to release the little food I’ve eaten. I wail dry tears through the night and my husband sobs into his pillow. “I didn’t protect my little girl. I only had the one girl and I couldn’t even protect her”, he repeats this until his voice is hoarse. The effect of the beer eventually dulls his senses and he sleeps.
I lie awake listening to my husband whimpering in his sleep. I try and regain control of the war that wages in my mind. I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m completely broken.
Why did I let her go for that final exam? We knew there was trouble.
If only I had nurtured her homely skills instead of her education, she would still be here.
David would have come back for her after his studies. He’s a good boy. He would have made such a fine husband for my precious flower. She could have been like my niece running after her chubby Ishmael.
Hauwa will try and be strong but I know her gentle spirit is in turmoil. Hauwa was such a loving and supportive girl. Why am I speaking of her in the past tense? She needs me to keep hoping. I am a failed mother.
I want to die. I wish Hauwa was dead. Oh what a terrible thing it is to want my own child to die! But if she was dead, then her anguish would be over.
“Oh God help me! This pain is too much. I can’t bear it anymore. Lord please make it stop. God please make the world care. Father this is my baby. My precious, precious 18-year-old baby. God please make Michelle Obama care again. Make her see our girls in the eyes of her own precious children. If they could find Osama Bin Laden, a single man or Saddam Hussein who was hiding in a hole underground, surely they can find our 219 girls. Oh God, move the hearts of our government. Move the hearts of the people of the world.
Move the heart of the person reading this… This, the sound of my heart broke cry. Oh God, please make them care and bring back my little girl”.
“We need to know where these girls are. We need to. We really need to. For me the greatest pain is that I don’t feel my government did the best that it could do for these girls. The regret that I have in my spirit concerning this failure is so profound. Just the thought that this is because they are poor makes me even angrier because, education is what enables you to conqueror poverty”
Thanks for taking time to read this blog – I know it was a long one 🙂
My aspiration for this story was to bring the abduction of the Chibok girls to your hearts. I wanted share the typical life of one of the girls who was abducted – her boy crushes, her fears, annoying little brother and her friendship group. We all have that one friend like Joy! I wanted to let you into her hopes, her dreams and what she could have been.
Lastly I wanted to show you the aftermath – the brokenness, the violence, the violation of human rights, the mother’s heart, the religious persecution, the fear and the pain. Yes, 17 parents have died. Yes, one girl who escaped was raped 15 times by 15 men EVERYDAY. These are actual facts and the fact is, this wound can not heal until these girls are brought back home.
You and I have the power an obligation to do something about this – “Apathy and silence are the biggest accomplices to social injustice”. We need to shout about this until our politicians get so sick of hearing our voices that they are forced to act, if only to shut us up.
Each of us have different gifts we can use to bring these girls back. What’s in your hand? Exodus 4:2