As part of the #16Days global “UNite to End Violence” campaign, we are sharing the story of a woman who faced violence in the midst of a conflict zone. Drawing from “In Her Shoes,” a toolkit designed by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network, Kemi’s story, a fictionalized account based on real experiences, illustrates the difficult choices women often face in conflict zones around the world:
My name is Kemi. When I was 21 years old, and I lived in one of the loveliest villages in my country. It is situated on the vast plains, where the moon can be seen almost every night. I lived with my parents and younger brother and sister. I was not yet married even though men had approached me. I hoped to get married the next year, after the harvesting season.
In our village, there were few schools and it was mainly the boys who went to study. I finished primary school, and since then I stayed home to help my mother with housework and digging. I loved my family and neighbors. We were all so close that people joked saying when one of us catches the flu, everyone else must get it. On market day, I would go with my mother and sister to sell maize from our garden.
The air around my peaceful village began to sour a few years ago. My father had always talked about the men in the capital city who oppose our president and could become dangerous. Recently they had formed a large group and started to attack innocent people. We listened to the radio together every night after dinner to keep track of the rebel forces.
We pretended that everything was okay because we had been safe in our village. But, the news reports said that the rebels had begun to raid villages. We lived in constant fear because we knew that they were attacking villages very near to ours. Every evening, my family offers small sacrifices of prayer in the hope that we would be protected, but one night our prayers were not answered…
In the late night hours, I lied awake listening to the crickets chirping. In the distance, I heard voices, which appear to be coming closer. Shaking my siblings awake, I shouted, “They are here. They have come!”
I saw my father grabbing his machete and opening the door. The neighbors were running around and yelling. I heard gunshots in the air and I cowered in a corner with my siblings. The rebels had come. There was chaos all over. The smell of smoke filled the air as flames spread all over the place.
“Go! We must run!” I screamed, pushing my siblings and mother out the door. I ran outside and tripped over a dead body. Horrified, I saw that it was my father. I forced myself to run on.
I lost sight of my siblings and mother in the chaos. My slippers come off and my feet hurt from the stones. I kept on running until I reached a hole in the ground where I used to play as a child. Covering myself with leaves, I lied still.
As the sun came up the noises changed from shouts and screams to weeping and wailing. I was visibly shaking with fright. I looked out to see the village in a state of ruin and despair. Running back to my home, I found my mother lying dead beside my father. There was no sign of my siblings. Grief fell over me, and I stumbled to the ground. My aunt found me and gave me water to drink. I could hardly speak. I told my aunt that I didn’t know where my siblings were, and in shared grief, I tried to gather whatever remains I could from my home.
Kemi’s story will be continued on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.