(NOTE. Sometimes our battles come from within or own society &communities. This story is a fictionalised essay of a true account. It has been written in support of the fight against rape in Africa. Brief notes are posted after the main essay).
Grace and Estelle and I once more walked along the dusty path that wound its way from our village, down the steep hill and on towards the river. The river was wide and twisted, like a glistening giant brown snake that wound its way through the lush green vegetation of the forests.
As we became closer to this river the path changed from dust to crushed grasses. Many feet had trodden this path and in their passing had squashed the plants along the way, so that now only the toughest grass and the most persistent of weeds grew along the narrow footpath.
Grace, Estelle and I spoke of many thing during our journey to the river this day and when we were not talking of our village or family matters we sang our songs. I am sure that on this morning many birds came close to us to hear our sweet tunes, or at least that is how I remember it.
I do not remember before that day seeing so many birds along the edges of this footpath. On any other day to see such colourful birds you would have to stray deep into the forest and sit very still for a long time. But that morning they came to us.
It took us about one and a half hours before we reached the river. On arriving we put down the large bundles of clothing we had brought to the river to wash. All through our journey along the footpath we had balanced these bundles upon our heads. It is the way we women carry heavy loads over such long distances.
Once we placed the laundry on the bankside we sat and drank water and rested our legs for a short while. In fact it was a long short while because today was also a very hot day. The winds were not blowing at all and the sun shone fiercely down upon the earth, baking the soil into a hard crust which began to crack open and crumble.
But here, in the shade by the river it was much cooler. So we sat and spoke between ourselves for a long time during our short rest.
Finally we began to wash the clothing we had carried all this way, which was after all the reason for our journey to this place today. Using stones and a lot of effort we washed the dirt and grime from the materials. After which we hung the garments upon the branches of the nearby bushes to dry in the sun. The sun would soon dry the clothes today as it was a very hot sun, much hotter than on most days, something I have told to you already.
We had also brought with us a little food. So as the sun beat down from the sky we sat near our drying clothes and ate. After that we decided to go into the river to cool our bodies and to cleanse our own skins from the dirt and the dust.
Being in the water was such a good feeling, cooling but not so cold as to make you shiver and bring out little Goosebumps on the skin. We played in the water, splashing each other and saying rude things about each other’s bodies. I told Estelle that the boys from the village could share her breasts as they were far too large for one man alone.
Grace said I should not be so silly and should grow up like an elder and that I should also grow some hair between my legs too, because like this I looked like a little girl that should stay at home and help her mother. We were very happy at that time.
But soon the clothes were dry. We packed them up into the bundles which we lifted onto our heads and began to climb up the steep bank away from the giant snake of the river.
As we reached the top of the bank and started along the footpath, in the opposite direction from the way we had come, the men came from the bushes. There were many, maybe eight or maybe ten. I do not remember precisely because they did not stand still long enough for me to be counting them all.
These men were not from our village. I had not seen any of them before, but I knew that they were not good men. Soon they stood all around us, poking us with machete and spears. Telling us that they were strong warriors and had been hunting. Hunting for women. Now they had found us we belonged to them, they said.
Grace was already crying in fear. Estelle stood still, so still I do not think that she was even taking a breath of air. I was also frightened, even more when one of the men took my arm and pulled me roughly towards him, causing my bundle of cleaned clothing to fall to the ground.
All the men rushed at us, grabbing our arms and legs and pulling us this way and that way. It was all very confusing at that moment.
What had been a happy day was not so happy anymore.
We were dragged into a small clearing, not far from the footpath we had been walking on a few minutes ago. This was the place the men ripped the clothing from our bodies and began to rape us. One after another they used each of us to satisfy their evil wishes.
I was being held on my back by my arms, while another man gripped my ankles, pulling my legs up and apart to allow another to enter me. Even like this and with the tears coming from my eyes, both in pain and in sadness, I twisted my head to look for Grace and Estelle.
I saw a sharp knife slide across Grace’s neck, the blood poured from her wound making a red puddle on the ground beside her head. Grace was looking directly into my eyes, I could see the fear inside her as she silently pleaded with me to help her.
But I knew there was nothing I could do to aid her. Soon I too would die.
I kept looking at Grace until her eyes closed. I hope that the lord would take care of her soul.
Twisting my head at the noise coming from my left I saw that Estelle had driven a knife deep into the chest of the man who was at that moment raping her, again and again she thrust the blade into his body.
It was then I noticed the tattoo on Estelle’s arm. Her brother had inscribed her name and the name of our village into Estelle’s skin a few months ago. She told me it what all the women were doing. ‘So that when we are raped, our bodies can be returned to our villages, our families so they can cry over us, bury us correctly and mourn our death’.
I had questioned her about that. ‘Why’ I asked’ do you say when we are raped and not if?’
‘Because I am certain it shall happen one day’ Estelle had said in a matter of fact tone of voice. I am afraid that she has been proven right.
As Estelle fought the men like a lioness fighting for her cubs, the man raping me ran over to where she was. All of a sudden I was alone. I scrambled to my feet and ran as fast as I could into the bush.
I did not look back. I just ran in the direction which my feet were pointing and did not stop until it was so dark I could not see one inch in front of my face.
Then I collapsed onto the ground. I was totally exhausted from all the running that I had done. But soon I was also very cold. I was still naked and the night air was not in the least comforting. I could not sleep in fear of the men coming for me, or for a lion finding me and eating me. I did not have any wish to become a big cats midnight feast.
That night lasted for a very long time. I was so happy when the sun to rise began. I found myself running again as the suns light started to creep over the horizon and shine on the long grasses. Only this time I was not panicking, my heart was not beating itself out of my chest. This time I knew where I was going, I was running towards my village.
As I ran I said a prayer for Grace. I also said a prayer for Estelle and I thanked her for her courage in fighting those men, for giving up her own life to save mine. Although I did not know for sure that Estelle was dead I cannot believe that such evil men would not kill her.
In many ways I was sad for what had happened to my friends, but I was also sad for myself for not having the courage to help Estelle, to join in her fight against those bad men. I was thinking it would be better if I too had died.
As I ran home I was deciding that I too shall have a tattoo on my arm like Estelle, because then when some men attack me again and I do not escape, I can be sure that my body will go home to my family too.
Thank you for reading this.
Keep safe, Paul.
FFCO11082014 © Paul White 2014
Here are some frightening facts.
In many African states women are having their addresses tattooed on their arms so that their bodies can be returned after they have been raped and killed.
South Africa has the highest rape statistics in the world. Every 46 seconds a women in South Africa is raped. Often these women are murdered to prevent identification of the perpetrator.
Most women born in Africa have a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read.
It is estimated that there are an estimated 500,000 rapes a year in South Africa, and the country has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world.
Studies have found one in three African women say they were raped in the past year.
Other surveys have found more than a quarter of African men admit to raping someone. Those figures go up in South African cities, and the overall situation is getting worse, not better.
My website: http://paulznewpostbox.wixsite.com/paul-white