It was phenomenal! On Sunday, Mohamud and I met Governor Patrick and told him the story of Breaking the Silence and The Springfield Institute. And at the same time, we engaged the whole community. I was able to tell the Governor about our mission to stop FGM and build community infrastructure for Africans in Western Massachusetts. People have no idea what is happening. Especially public officials. And on Sunday they heard it directly from us. Lots of others shared their perspectives, and the event was a great success. The Governor recognized us both by thanking us for our “heroic work,” and agreed to connect us with the head of the state office for immigrants and refugees, as well as the First Lady’s domestic violence initiative.
The African population in Western Massachusetts is almost invisible. But we are here. And our numbers have increased significantly since the last census in 2000. Fill out your census form and mail it back by Aril 16th so we can get the recognition we need to advance our community. And remember: By law, the Census Bureau cannot share your information with anyone, including other federal agencies and law enforcement.
I was called to Africa on an emergency, as a family member called to say my husband was in a mining accident between Zambia and the Congo. On June 18th, I left in a hurry, not knowing if he was alive or dead. Unfortunately, my luggage was 11 pounds overweight, and in Boston the airport charged me an extra $250. Then, in New York I had a 9-hour layover. So, before I even left the United States, I was completely stressed out and physically drained. There were several more stops, from Zurich to Nairobi, and I finally arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
There was another fee of $100 for those coming from the US when I got to Africa. Normally it wouldn’t be a terrible problem, except they looked at my money and told me my money was too old, and they refused to take it. My $100 bill was made in 2001! They kept me in the airport for 3 hours. I think my blood pressure went up to 300! But they didn’t care. Finally, my uncle came and paid the $100 to immigration for me with a new bill. Only in Africa you can find all new American dollars! They won’t accept anything older than 2004 and the slightest tear or hole invalidates it also.
I stayed to rest for a few days before the next crazy leg of the journey. My aunt, my brother and brother-in-law went with me to Zambia. It took 3 days! The journey was tiring, but beautiful. The mountains, the wildlife, the people, the hospitality were all outstanding. Even though I was born in Africa my visits back here since moving to the United States have been years apart and I had forgotten the beauty and the peace of having what most consider to be wild animals walking among humans. As I looked around at my new surroundings, I saw elephants, giraffes, zebras and monkeys. The monkeys were very friendly approaching us for our food, of course. We fed them all of our bananas. There was a sense of peace and tranquility that I would reach for often throughout the rest of my journey here. I stayed a few days in the capital of Zambia Lusaka. Next, my Auntie and I went to the Congo.
We went to Lubumbashi, the nearest city to where my husband was. We then traveled to the small village of Kasenga, which was close to the mine where my husband was working when the mining accident happened. Two and a half weeks had passed since I first received news of the mining accident. I had spent this time worrying if my husband was even alive and wondering what condition he would be in. The very ends of my nerves were frayed and I sent up one last prayer to Allah before exiting the vehicle I had arrived in. I took a deep breath and steadied myself for what was to come. When I saw him it was scary and overwhelming. I thought I was prepared, but I was not. He was still covered with blood, his face was swollen, he had lost weight, and his most serious injuries were a big open infected gash on his head and back. We had brought bandages and food, dishes and pots, mosquito nets, blankets and sheets with us. They had no medical care and no decent food.My brother-in-law was also injured with a broken leg and collar bone. Two other men had broken legs and arms,
Calara Sarr and I held the final Breaking the Silence workshop on Mother’s Day. Here’s a report, which we wrote together, regarding the men’s group (a more general description of this workshop can be found here).
May 10, 2009, Breaking the Silence workshop was held on Mother’s Day. Clara Sarr began by welcoming the eleven male participants, and explaining the significance of Mother’s Day to them. “It is one American holiday I am proud to share with you.” She continued by explaining that the day was a day to honor and celebrate women and mothers, that they bring us all to the world, and all of the work they do to make it a good place for us. One Somali man pointed out that the United States was out of sync with the rest of the world, neglecting to celebrate International Women’s Day, March 11, and insisting on celebrating its own holiday on May 10. “Why not flow with the rest of the world and celebrate on March 11?” Clara explained the difference between the holidays, saying: “Why not celebrate both?” She challenged the supporters of International Women’s Day to be in the streets with Breaking the Silence next March, to stand up for women in their communities. Continue reading
The Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press published my story in their Winter newsletter. It is not easy for me to share my experience, but it is something I feel I must do. We are breaking the silence.