My first thought is that I know what is happening to those girls. I, too, was taken from my school and raped by many men. But it wasn’t with guns and bombs, I wasn’t taken from my family, and I wasn’t sold into slavery in another country. It wasn’t in the name of religious law. The men who took me were in it for greed and power, and didn’t care if I studied. Still, my body aches with the physical memory.
The second thought is how heavily imperialism grinds down onto the bodies of girls, how the news is written in layers, so that these teenagers being forced into the backs of trucks are superimposed onto a map of the partition of Africa into national portions of profit for gluttonous European elites, slashing national borders across, through, around the names people call themselves.
Which in turn is superimposed on a geological survey revealing reservoirs of prehistoric life turned to burnable black ooze, the fuel that ignites invasions and coups, corruption and subterfuge worldwide. Black blotches under the soil of Nigeria paint targets on the bodies of those who live, walk, eat, and sleep above them. And now the families of those girls sleep in the bush, and listen to every crackle of a twig in the dark.
And behind these lurks the sure knowledge that "rescuing" oppressed women in other countries is big business in the United States, justifying entire wars of conquest as well as the more modest efforts of well-financed Evangelical organizations to transfer trafficked girls and women from brothels into locked shelters, and thence into sweatshops, by force of arms. International offers of help make me bristle with suspicion.
Yesterday I had a cab driver from Nigeria, a Yoruba man from the Christian dominated south, who told me the people of that region are very poor, very isolated, ignorant of the outside world, easily preyed on. I don’t know if it’s just the contempt of the cosmopolitan for the villager, whether it is partially or fully true. They know enough to distrust their government. One of the mothers went to plead for more action, met the first lady, and was arrested, apparently on her orders, although she is not an officer of the law. The first lady said these people had created the crisis themselves in order to undermine the regime.
The driver said it’s people coming in from Chad, from other places, financed by rich Middle Eastern powers like the Saudis. I haven’t studied this. It seems both plausible, and the kind of thing you hear in a country split down the middle between Christians and Muslims.
And once again the US press can have its field day on the barbarism of Islam. Here in the civilized United States, it’s Christian men who argue that we can’t become pregnant from rape, that fertility is the body’s consent. It’s Christian men who write laws that redefine us as the servants of our unborn children, vessels without rights, to be jailed if we don’t put reproduction ahead of every other thing of worth in our lives, jailed for medical care that might impact a fetus, and jailed for not seeking medical care, jailed for addictions in places that refuse funding for drug treatment. It’s not beyond imagination that soon they will jail us for working or studying because it isn’t believed to be in the best interests of our children.
It's that tone of smug moral superiority, of deep entitlement to the envy and admiration of the world, the conviction that hatred of US imperialism is a jealous tantrum by uncultured despotic savages who can’t stand how good we are, how free. It’s the same tone in which the delegates of Europe’s 1% spoke as they drew their red lines across the map of our most ancient continent, blandly erasing whatever Africans might possibly want, and colored the real estate French, British, German, Portuguese, acts of pillage that laid the groundwork for this week's massacres.
US schoolchildren aren’t taught about Eurocentric traditions of torture: the siege of Ma’arra, where crusaders roasted and ate the inhabitants, the burning alive of European women for knowing about plants and animals without permission, the dismemberment and once again, roasting, of Caribbean people by the Spanish, the rape, torture and slaughter of the people of the Plains, the California bounty on indigenous scalps, the burning and cutting and endless rape of the enslaved by white family men of the United States, proud of what they called gracious living, what cops do to dark skinned people in their custody.
That deeply slanted ravine of illusion is also where these girls disappear. There are men everywhere who believe girls and women should just lie down and spread our legs, and then get up and take care of the babies, do as we’re told and be beaten if we disobey. It’s not the province of a single religion. The Christian men of Alabama and North Dakota are defending the rights fertilized eggs, even in life threatening cases of ectopic pregnancy, want doctors to wait until ovaries explode before treating, and want to outlaw birth control pills for preventing conception, which they see as murder. The men who stole the girls, and raped them, one escapee says, as often as fifteen times in a day, because they opened books instead of their wombs, could sit down at a table with some of our elected officials and find common ground.
And now the US has sent experts to help in the search and of course I want as many people as possible to pass across that land like a fine toothed comb and find them, bathe them, tend their wounds, and bring them home to the mothers whose eyes burn holes through the photographs. With one hand I am dragging that comb across encampments and darkened rooms, across wide, dry land covered with thorn trees, and with the other I am doing what I always do, unraveling the lies knit tightly around our throats, and telling the story of what is possible.
An Africa rehydrated by the return of stolen wealth, not to the bloated politicians, but to the children, women and men of these villages, and their urban kin. A world in which oil has lost its bloody value and lies dormant between layers of shale, while we spin sunlight and water and wind into what we need.
I think about the young Costa Rican lawyer who sued his government over the right to peace and won, because putting his country’s name on paper to approve the war on Iraq violated his rights in a nation that abolished its own army. I think about the deep conversations about peace and dissent underway in Venezuela, and which I watched live on tv from Havana. I think about more than ninety Venezuelan women’s organizations coming together and writing their immense manifesto, and a young Afro-Venezuelan spokeswoman reading it to the world across Hugo Chavez’ tomb.
One of the fathers pleads for the girls’ release, saying they could become doctors, lawyers, teachers, to serve their people’s needs. I want more than that for them. I want them gathered under the thorn tree, with its bristling trunk, fiercely united, reading their own immense manifestos, and becoming what we need more than professionals and more than oil, the catalysts of revolution.
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