Do you remember back when we all used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on social media in 2014 after 276 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram?
Do you know that 112 of those young women are still held by Boko Haram?
Today’s blog post is longer than usual, but please take a few minutes out of your busy day to sit quietly and read it.
Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay
Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram is not a pleasant or easy book to read, but I feel compelled to read books like that in order to better understand the world around me. You will, no doubt, recognize the name of the author, Isha Sesay, as a veteran journalist on CNN.
To refresh your memory, on April 14, 2014, 276 teenage school girls were kidnapped from their Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group based in Nigeria. The group’s goal is to institute Sharia or Islamic law. Translated from the local Hausa dialect, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram adherents mainly live in the northern states in Nigeria.
In this book, Isha Sesay reconstructs the events surrounding that 2014 mass abduction, but also offers some brief historical backdrop which must be known in order to understand how and why such a thing happened.
Ms. Sesay explained the history as follows: “Nigeria’s largely Muslim north and its predominantly Yoruba and Igbo Christian south” were combined to form the country of Nigeria by Great Britain in 1914. After numerous coups, it was decided after every two terms the presidency would alternate between the north and the south. However, political problems continued and Boko Haram was founded by Mohamed Yusuf in the early years of the 21st century. Unrest grew in 2014 when the two-term Christian president from the southern part of the country, Goodluck Jonathan, hinted that he was going to run for a third term.
With that political state of affairs in mind, let’s delve into the story of the abduction of 276 school girls on April 14, 2014. I don’t want to give too much away, in case you want to read Beneath the Tamarind Tree, so I’ll just hit some highlights from the book.
- 57 of the 276 girls escaped early on and managed to get back home
- When Ms. Sesay arrived in Nigeria three weeks after the kidnappings, she was shocked to learn that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was spreading the word that the event was a hoax
- When Jonathan’s successor, Muhammadu Buhari, was elected in 2015, Buhari said it was not a hoax. This gave everyone hope, but then when he was to meet with parents of the kidnapped girls and representatives from Bring Back Our Girls, he refused to meet with them. Eventually forced to meet with them, he took the opportunity to try to distract them with other issues and cast Bring Back Our Girls as the enemy of the government.
- In October of 2016 – 2.5 years into the girls’ captivity – 21 of the girls were released to the Red Cross and lawyer Zannah Mustapha. Mustapha had taken it upon himself to broker a deal between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. It is not known what concessions the government made that made the release of 20 girls (plus one as a “bonus) possible, but all along Boko Haram had demanded the release of some of their own who were imprisoned.
- At the time of the release of the 21 girls, some 50 of the original 276 girls had succumbed to Boko Haram pressure and married Boko Haram men.
- The 21 released girls were emaciated from more than 900 days of hunger and abuse. They had been uprooted numerous times by Boko Haram as the militants tried to hide them from anyone who was looking for them. One of the buildings they were housed in at one point was bombed by the Nigerian military.
- On May 7, 2017, 82 more Chibok girls were released.
- By January 4, 2018, 107 of the Chibok girls had escaped or been released
- Boko Haram kidnapped 112 school girls and 1 boy from a school in Dapchi on February 19, 2018. All but one of those girls, a Christian who refused to convert to Islam, were released after a couple of week; however, that one girl was still being held by Boko Haram as of the writing of Beneath the Tamarind Tree, which was published July 9, 2019.
- As of the writing of this book, more than 100 of the Chibok girls are still missing and assumed to still be held by Boko Haram.
I think the overriding thing I learned from reading this book – the thing I will most remember from this book – is the tremendous and abiding faith in God and Jesus Christ held by the vast majority of the Chibok school girls. It was their faith that sustained those who have escaped or been released.
In interviewing the 21 girls released in 2016, Ms. Sesay, a Muslim, was gobsmacked by the fact that the girls had forgiven their captors and even prayed for their captors. It was a reminder for me that Christianity, at its very core, is a religion of forgiveness. Forgiveness is, apparently, an idea that is foreign to other religions or at least some of them.
Update from Reuters new agency, since reading the book: On June 12, 2019, 300 Boko Haram killed 24 people in an attack on an island in Lake Chad in Cameroon.
The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer
This is the first novel I’ve read by Kelly Rimmer, an Australian author. This book is a combination of today in the life of a woman whose son is on the autism spectrum and years ago when her grandmother was young and in love in Poland in the years just before World War II.
The grandmother is now confined to a nursing home and cannot verbalize her thoughts and desires. One of the interesting aspects of the story early on was how the grandmother was able to learn how to use the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC) app on her great-grandson’s i-Pad to communicate her feelings, requests, and answers.
The grandmother’s early history is pretty much a mystery to her granddaughter, but there is something the grandmother persists in trying to communicate. It involves a man named Tomasz and what was so important about him. Will the granddaughter travel to Poland to look for this man in the country of her grandmother’s birth? I don’t want to give the rest of the story away, in case this sounds like a novel you’d like to read. Suffice it to say there are numerous twists, turns, and surprises in this novel.
Although it’s a book of fiction, the plot was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s story. She weaves a story of challenges, desperation, true friendship and devotion, and undying love. I highly recommend this book.
Since my last blog post
I’ve been reading!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading One Good Deed, by David Baldacci and listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.
I might take a break from blogging next week. If you don’t see a blog post from me on September 16, rest assured I’ll be back online on September 23.
Let’s continue the conversation
Were you aware that more than 100 of the Chibok school girls are still being held by Boko Haram a numbing almost five and one-half years after the April 14, 2014 mass abduction? If my rough calculations are correct, today is Day 1,974 of their captivity.
On Saturday, September 7, 2019, a Nigerian film, “Daughters of Chibok” debuted at the Venice Film Festival and was named Best Virtual Reality Story. The intent of the film is to show how the Chibok community has been affected by the 2014 kidnappings and to remind the world that 112 of the 276 school girls are still held by Boko Haram.
Please share #DaughtersOfChibok, #BringBackOurGirls, #ChibokGirls, and other appropriate social media hashtags to remind the world that this story is ongoing and 112 of the girls are still held by Boko Haram.
For more on that film and the stories it tells, go to http://saharareporters.com/2019/09/08/nigerian-film-chibok-girls-wins-us-award and https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/08/africa/vr-daughters-of-chibok-intl/index.html.