Just after 6AM, at that quiet hour when the sun was beginning to emerge from the eastern horizon, an angel was born. The angel’s mother was a twenty-two year old lady who had lived through the genocide and given up hope that life could ever be worth living. But that morning, as she held her one-hour old beautiful baby girl in her sweaty arms, she cast glances past the window into the bright morning and smiled. A new day had come.
Thank you Heavenly Father, she prayed silently, for sending an angel into my life.
There was only one name that the young mother could give her baby – Angelique. Indeed, the baby looked completely angelic as she suckled calmly and closed her eyes to sleep.
Fourteen years later, the earthly journey of little Angelique was changed forever when she was shoved into hell on earth.
The day when her life took a turn for the worse started just like any other day. She woke up, took a bath, lit the fire, prepared breakfast, dressed into school uniform and drank tea with her mother before leaving for school. She was a primary five student and a nearby school.
Just like other days, teachers came to class, taught and left after handing them homework.
Later that night as other students were doing homework with the aid of tin lamps and lanterns, Angelique was bloody and teary, shivering violently in her mother’s arms. She had been raped.
Who does this to a child? Her mother sobbed. Oh God, why did you send me an angel only to have her innocence taken away from her in such a brutal manner? That night was the longest of her life, even longer than those dreaded genocide nights.
The following day was even longer. The sun became a torch of fire that was scorching mother and daughter with unbearable heat. Although the pain had subsided, Angelique felt different. With every breath she took, it was as if a knife was slicing her stomach as a fire roared in her chest. She felt a horrible pain in her head and tried vomiting. But even vomit refused to come out and cleanse her inside.
She saw her friend Jane walking along their fence, on her way from school. She tried calling her but the sound that came out was so hollow that Jane didn’t hear and walked on. Angelique wanted to run after Jane, to a place where fire wouldn’t burn her chest. A place where pain would leave her stomach alone. But she remained seated on the thin mattress in her mother’s living room. Her legs felt weak. Her head was now dizzy. For the second time that day, she lost consciousness and slumped into the mattress.
Angelique’s mother was a slender woman with alert, brown eyes that were looking directly at the police officer in front of her. She had just arrived at Ngoma Police Station to report about her beloved daughter’s rape. The policeman had a weary look in his sympathetic eyes. At first when he had seen the lady in front of him approach his desk with tears streaming down her cheeks, he was sure that she had been raped. But it was her young, fourteen year old daughter who had been raped, the lady informed him with bitterness so strong that he could almost touch it.
‘My daughter saw his face,’ she said quietly and kept quiet for so long that he had to tug her gently on the right shoulder.
‘He is someone that I know, a neighbor who should have been her protector instead of… instead of…’ she broke down and wept silently, her head buried in her hands.
Two months later, those same work-hardened hands buried her head yet again, when the same pained sobs shook her violently. She had confirmed without a shadow of doubt that her child, was now heavy with child.
‘You are going to have a child,’ she had explained to Angelique, whose beautiful smile was slowly returning.
‘How?’ Angelique asked, her one-word question pregnant with confusion and childlike curiosity.
And so her mother had explained without looking at her that, ‘your stomach will grow bigger and bigger, then after seven months, you will give birth to a baby.’
‘Why?’ Angelique asked again. This time, fear had replaced the curiosity.
She wanted to cry but decided her daughter needed her comfort and strength, not tears.
‘Who will be my baby’s father?’
This question opened the pent up floodgate of tears in the mother as she fell into her daughter’s tiny arms. But moments later, she summoned every drop of will power in her body and abruptly wiped her tears.
‘God will be your baby’s father,’ she told Angelique with conviction.
The following week, mother and daughter stood on wooden benches outside the offices of ARAMA, a local organization. She had been told by a friend of a friend that ARAMA ‘takes care of women and children who have been beaten up.’ What had happened to her daughter was much worse than beating, so they had better help her.
When their turn came, she held Angelique her daughter by hand and led her into a small office with one table and two chairs. The wooden table had many small books and white papers on it. Sitting behind the table was a slender and with silver-rimmed spectacles and a kind smile. She greeted them warmly, like they were her long lost friends.
Angelique’s mother talked for one hour. The more she talked, the more she wanted to continue talking. It was easy and refreshing to talk to this kind woman. As her mother talked, Angelique was both restless and attentive. Every once in a while, they would ask her questions and she would answer softly, ‘oui Madam’ or ‘non Madam.’
The kind lady behind the desk was ARAMA’s legal counselor. She told Angelique’s mother that life had to go on; that tomorrow could be better. If you give up, then the perpetrator wins. But if you embrace hope, then your daughter wins. You cannot give up hope, she repeated several times. She finished the session by promising that ARAMA would support them not just in the legal process but also throughout the pregnancy, to ensure that Angelique remained healthy both during and after the pregnancy.
Every ante-natal visit was an exercise in courage for Angelique and her mother. They had to contend with public murmurs even as they kept facing the reality that a baby was on the way. A baby who had been conceived in tragic injustice, but a baby nonetheless. In the words of Angelique’s mother, a baby whose Father would be God.
Six months later, this baby arrived on a hot, humid day. He was a bouncing baby boy.
ARAMA paid for the Angelique’s hospital bill and continues to work with her mother to empower her economically so that she can be better equipped to take care of Angelique and her grandson, together with her other children. Angelique is scheduled to return to school in 2011. She will have to repeat primary 5 because she missed school for most of the year.
The struggle continues.