For Those Who Cannot Yet Raise Their Voices
From the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya
A CRIME TO OTHERS BUT A TABOO TO ME
by Naimana Faridah
Naimana Faridah at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya
What happens when people are so deeply endangered that they cannot tell their own stories? How does the memoir form serve as coalition within community?
Today we share one of the most remarkable writings to emerge from the Herstory network through a collaboration between Herstory and Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL), a virtual program that connects students living in refugee camps around the globe with tertiary education. Faridah, a former learning facilitator with JWL, joined a Herstory workshop to begin to break the silence that keeps so many women in her community unsafe. She had been writing for years, despite inconsistent access to a laptop or the internet, and she describes the Herstory workshop as a “push” to persist with writing despite these barriers. After this workshop, she revised draft after draft of her story as she brought readers deeper and deeper into her community, sometimes making revisions on her phone.
Alison Turner, a 2020-2021 Herstory National Fellow and member of the Amy Maiello Hagedorn Training Institute, says, “It was only when Faridah was preparing her story to share in the wider world that she surprised me by noting that the scene that she describes in her Page One Moment happened to a cousin of hers, not to Faridah directly. Throughout our six months of email exchanges and revisions, she had been calling the piece 'my story' and I had been calling it 'your story.'”
Faridah’s commitment to telling a story that is not safe for others to tell activates the strength that helps victims of rape not only know but feel that they are not alone. In a context in which it is not safe for survivors of rape to share their stories, it is their supporters, their aunts, their sisters, their mentors, who can insist that their stories reach others.
A CRIME TO OTHERS BUT A TABOO TO ME
Duration: 7 minutes, 11 seconds
When I woke up in the middle of the bush, I thought maybe it was a dream. I was so cold, covered in rainy water and when I looked at the ground, I saw blood mixed with the rainwater. At first, I didn’t know what had happened and when I tried to stand up from the ground, I felt a sharp pain. I sat back. I remembered being sent to the shop to buy bread at night and at that time the weather outside was so windy and it had not started to rain.
The wind was blowing so heavy when I left home. I ran towards the shop because the distance was far. I wanted to make sure I came back early to avoid weather. The sound of the wind covered all other sounds. I remember reaching the shop and buying bread.
On my way back home, people had already left, and it had started raining. I saw few people on the street who were under shades to prevent themselves from getting drenched. Since I was a little child, I was told that if it rains, I should never find shelter in anyone’s house since they might be man-eaters or killers, a warning that prevented me from asking for shelter. I took my bread and started my journey home. When I was halfway home, I heard footsteps. I thought maybe that they were also rushing home because of the rain and I didn’t pay attention. The last thing I remember is that someone came from behind my back and placed a cloth on my mouth and I blacked out.
I sat for some time and finally got the strength to stand and move slowly until I reached home. I found my mum and grandmum waiting for me in a panic because it was already late in the middle of the night. Everywhere was so quiet and the whole village was asleep. It was so dark outside but the moment my mum and grandmum saw me, they knew what had happened and they immediately ran towards me.
They told me not to make any noise because they didn’t wish anyone to know what had happened. It was taboo and it was considered being an evil omen to be raped in this village. I felt confused, disappointed and asked myself if what I was experiencing or seeing in front of me was true. I felt I was not loved at that moment and I rushed in the house and closed the door behind me.
They took me to the fireplace. It was so warm and still burning. I laid down on the mat. They cleaned me and my grand mum prepared some herbs for me to take. On placing the cup on my tongue, the herb was so bitter and smelled so terrible that I wasn’t able to drink. I was told that was the only way that the herb will help reduce the pain and I would heal faster. I took it and went to sleep.
In the morning, I was not able to go outside due to pain and yes, my family said that I could not step outside because I had to hide until I was in a good position to walk properly and face the world again. At this moment my world stood still, I could not believe what I was seeing, hearing or even experiencing. Everything had ended for me from that day. No school, no friends, no playing even just stepping outside was the end of it all. I gave myself hope that everything would be alright in a few days.
Time passed and I realized I hadn’t seen my periods. My period began at the age of 11 and every month I saw blood. I told my grandmum about this and they told me not to tell anyone or share it with friends. I didn’t know what they meant. One month passed and that morning when I woke up, my grandmother told me that we will be traveling very far in the forest and we won’t be able to come back soon. All along I was not allowed to move or be seen outside. I was like a prisoner and all this is because my culture prohibits rape and considers it a bad omen for the family. If anything like this happened, the family is banished from the community, even their belongings are burnt and the land is left for others to cultivate.
It was very early in the morning. Even the birds had not started singing outside when we began the journey with my grand mum. My mum just told me everything will be fine and that my grand mum will explain everything when we reach where we were going. Having said all that, she took us to the riverbank and left. We crossed the river and proceeded to the forest. The ground was so wet, the smell of the forest wasn’t pleasing to the nose, and the birds on the trees were singing each song. We walked until the middle day when my grand mum decided that we should rest and eat something. We sat under a very big “muvule” tree to eat. When we were done, I asked my grandmum where we were going, and she told me something that happened a long time ago to our own family.
She began by saying “a long time ago, one of my grandmother’s sister called Evelyn was loved by the kings’ son but she had no feeling for him. She always refused the gifts and she never paid attention to him because she had someone that she loved so much. Her boyfriend was a hunter and a very good fighter known in the village and he was every woman’s dream to marry but he only loved and cared about my sister. This went on for a year and the king’s son started to threaten the hunter and thus he decided to leave my sister and got married to someone else. The king’s son thought that because of this Evelyn would accept, but the result was always the same, she refused. One day he decided to take revenge for being humiliated and being refused. He decided to follow Evelyn when she was going to the river to fetch water alone. He went with his bodyguards and they forced her into the forest and raped her. The son knew that my sister could not report this to the king because it was something that was not to be heard in this community. My father sent her and my mother, she was called Teresa, to the far village to migrate there. That is how she never got justice and the victims are being punished due to the cultural beliefs that govern our community”.
After she said all that, I immediately asked her if we are going into the same village and she nodded her head.
In a recorded conversation with Alison, Faridah discusses the urgency—and the stakes—for writing about rape. She explains that many survivors of rape in Kakuma choose not to talk about it because “the same people that you're reporting are the people you’re living with.” As Faridah makes clear in the title of her piece, “A Crime To Others But A Taboo To Me,” many people in the Kakuma camp believe that being raped is taboo, putting the stigma of rape on survivors, not perpetrators. She hopes that telling this story will help women in her community who have survived rape know that “they are not alone."
Here, Faridah describes how she supports students as a learning facilitator with JWL (a contract position that has since ended), her passion for writing despite limited resources, the process of workshopping her Page One Moment over email, and the urgent need for talking about rape in a community in which survivors are silenced.
Duration: 12 minutes, 15 seconds
Naimana Faridah at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya
In addition to continuing to write her own story, Faridah wants to help bring other stories from the Kakuma camp to a wider audience. She is preparing to participate in virtual training as a Herstory facilitator to build a coalition with a group of writers in the Kakuma camp. Herstory is thrilled to engage Alison Turner in our expanding "train the trainer program" through the Amy Maiello Hagedorn Training Institute and to welcome Faridah as our newest trainee.