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:
I could not bear the thought of living in the same village without my parents or siblings. I tried to persuade my aunt to go to the town with me but she said that she cannot leave her home and children. I found others who were fleeing our village and joined their procession. The town was many kilometers away. My feet become sore and my mouth dry. I had packed only a little food but it was enough to keep me from collapsing.
I arrived in town at night. There, it is as if people do not know what is going on in the villages. There is music blaring from the discotheques, people drinking in the bars—life seems normal. I wondered if these people are unaware of what is going on or if they are just trying to forget the chaos that surrounds them.
Together with the group, I found shelter on the veranda of a shop. It is safer in town, but I still could not sleep. Days passed and the group split up, with many going off together to find work or extended family members. I was left alone with only the small amount of money I brought with me from home. It didn’t last more than a week.
I went around searching for work, but there were few opportunities and I don’t have many useful skills. Just as my money was about to run out, I met a woman who was looking for someone who could deliver food to the workers in the market. I was glad to find a way to earn money, but still felt terribly lonely without my family.
As I went about my work, there was not a day that went by when I did not think of my family. I often cried myself to sleep because the sadness was so overwhelming. I knew that there was still conflict in the villages because there were so many people arriving in town daily.
Delivering hot food to market vendors kept me busy, but my employer was not reliable about paying me. Sometimes I went home after a long day with nothing. On the days she did give me money, I kept just a little for myself and saved the rest for my aunt and cousins in the village. There were times when I delivered food and men made sexual advances at me by grabbing my breasts or bum. It humiliated me but I felt like there was nothing I could do. I recalled the sight of my dead parents and the homes that were burnt and I knew I was in a better place. I even tried finding out where the rebels may have taken my siblings. There were a couple of people who are former abductees and managed to escape. They warned me that the rebels are always on the move because they are scared of the government forces finding them.
“It is most likely that your siblings have been forced to fight alongside them or if not, they are probably dead.” That news was too much to bear.
As time went on, I still felt a void and longed to be with my only remaining family, so I decided to return to the village. When I arrived, I was glad to find that my aunt and cousins were safe. I was looking forward to getting some sleep now that I was with my family again…
Night fell and I went to sleep with the feeling that something was not right. I didn’t want to alarm the others but I just knew that something was wrong. I was trying to fall asleep when I heard the dreaded sounds of marching and shouting.
“Wake up quickly!” I yelled at the top of my voice. I was too late. This time, the rebels had encircled the village so fast that it is almost impossible for anyone to escape.
They ordered us all out of the house. I could only watch as they stole our food, blankets, and clothes before setting our house on fire. Dragging me, my aunt, and my female cousins roughly across the ground, a group of soldiers ordered us to strip or be killed. When I pled with them to let us go, they just laughed. There were six of them, and they took turns raping each of us. I closed my eyes because I could not bear to see my aunt violated in such a way. After it is all over, the only sounds were the whimpers and groans of my cousins and the cries for help all around us.
I must have fallen unconscious after that because the next thing I knew, two women were standing over me. They helped me to sit up and told me that they were taking me to the hospital for treatment. I could not see my cousins anywhere but my aunt was lying on the floor in the corner.
“No!” I screamed. With very little strength, I crawled over to her. She was dead.
The journey to the hospital felt like it took days. There was blood coming from my vagina and I could hardly walk. When I arrived, there were so many people—children, women, boys and men seated inside, on the balcony, and on the ground waiting for help. The women who brought me explained that they must leave me here. I thanked them and felt the dread of losing familiar faces. It took a long time before the nurse checked on me. I was badly injured and needed to stay until the doctor could see me. They told me that he only came once a week, and as they roughly dressed my wounds, I could not help wincing in pain.
The hospital was hot and stuffy and the stench was almost unbearable. Each day that passed, more people died. I was alone. I slept curled up on the veranda and only ate when kind strangers shared small bits with me.
When the doctor finally came, he had only a few minutes to see me. He told me that I had extensive and deep tears in my vagina. He seemed disgusted that so many men raped me. He gave me some painkillers but said there wasn’t much he can do. Over the next few weeks the pain slowly began to lessen. I began to walk around without discomfort. I knew that I could not continue to sleep outside the hospital and live off of scraps of food, but I didn’t know where to go.
The next morning I walked down the hill behind the hospital to bathe and fetch water. I was on my way back when someone hit me hard on the head. I wanted to turn around but the person ordered me to keep walking ahead…
Kemi’s story will be continued on Friday, December 11, 2018.