A Gift from Darkness
“I looked at my plate and thought quite honestly that the mixture of vegetable, millet and meat looked very enticing.”
“’That’s human flesh,’ she whispered.
“’Psst, not so loud,’ she warned me. ‘Or do you want to eat me for dinner tomorrow?’”
This exchange between two young women being held captive by the Islamist extremist group known as Boko Haram (operating in Nigeria) describes the armed young men as both dastardly and barbaric. And yet this is merely a small slice of the indignities both young women and girls endured at the hands of their tormentors.
While the reader absorbs the quiet communications between the girls spoken always in whispers, the words horrifying, horrendous and horrific immediately come to mind. But what Patience Ibrahim and her fellow hostages witnessed, endured and felt after being brutally kidnapped, extend far beyond words.
Complicating her situation was the fact that not long before her abduction Patience husband had been murdered by soldiers of this group. Though she remarried and became pregnant with her first child, keeping her pregnancy a secret from her tormentors was critical for her and her baby to remain alive.
The Boko Haram members used the powerful weapons of intimidation, brainwashing, torture, and murder to keep the girls under their control and afraid to make a sound or move without an order to do so. The men who guarded them did everything possible to break the girls’ minds, bodies, and spirits.
One of the main goals of the captors was to force the female captives as well as men in villages nearby to convert to Islam. And they had very specific rules about what constituted a “True Muslim.” Since Patience, her fellow villagers and many of the hostages were Christian, those who refused to convert were violated and/or killed. Men in the surrounding villages where the girls were extracted were murdered outright. There were very few survivors.
The girls served as slaves in the camps with no basic human rights. They were forced to sleep on hard ground with no cover and the men “served them man’s blood as a soup” or a meager portion of food once a day. Young Muslim guards not only policed the prisoners but newly indoctrinated fighters as well.
Patience put it simply that “Only those who took real pleasure in murdering and torturing infidels were considered ‘True Muslims.’” The others were viewed with suspicion and eventually met their death. The youngest guards who were the cruelest of the group were looked upon the most favorably by those in the higher echelons.
The terrified girls were also forced into marriage. Patience recounted, “I saw it as a kind of rapist’s charter.” And as they witnessed each terrifying act perpetrated on their fellow prisoners, they learned to huddle together to prevent being whisked away to be raped.
Eventually this did happen. A dark figure appeared in the night, dragged her away and after he was satisfied, he left her there in the spine-chilling darkness. If these inhuman acts weren’t blood curdling enough, additional horrors occurred regularly that the girls were forced to watch.
Ultimately her harrowing journey came to an end due to a few courageous people who at great risk to their own safety, helped her find the way back to what was left of her village. The most poignant part of her painful ordeal was that her baby was born healthy after she states, “I spontaneously bit through the cord with my teeth.” And with faith and joy, she proudly named the baby “Gift.” Just prior to this happy event she found the severed head of her murdered husband behind some trees. But she was determined to save the life of her baby.
It’s almost incomprehensible to realize that this type of brutality by what Patience called “monsters” exists even though we see clips of it on the world news. In order to digest the life not only of Patience Ibrahim but the other women surrounding her, it is almost necessary to figuratively place oneself in her garments. To feel even a minute slice of her life experience.
And frequently it is excruciating to do so. Even while the nightmare was still happening, Patience was eager to share her story with Author Andrea Hoffman. Ms. Hoffman placed herself in dangerous situations as well. Her courage and dedication is to be honored and applauded.