“My Mother with Her Hands as Knives”

Eve Ensler, an activist (among other things), famous for “The Vagina Monologues”, published in 2007 a compilation of stories titled: A Memory, A Rant, and a Prayer, which I am currently reading.

Last night I read one of the most disturbing, beautiful, sad, and inspiring true story I have ever read.

I found it online and have pasted it into here with the introduction explaining the background.

My Mother with Her Hands as Knives/ Dave Eggers

In researching WHAT IS THE WHAT, my book about the life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, I traveled with Valentino back to his hometown of Marial Bai, in 2003. There we located his family, whom Valentino had not seen in seventeen years. While in Sudan, I interviewed many women who as young girls had been abducted by militiamen—the same militias who now plague Darfur—and who had been forced to act as servants and concubines in the households of military officers in the north of Sudan. That prompted more research into the experiences of Sudanese women.

The passage below, which was cut from WHAT IS THE WHAT, is an account from a young woman shortly after she was freed. In this passage, I framed her story as if she were telling it to Valentino while they were both living at Kakuma, a refugee camp in northwest Kenya. Because this passage was cut at an early stage of the book, it’s a bit rougher than it might otherwise be.

I was born in Wunrok, in southern Sudan. When my mother was young she was blessed by great fertility. She gave birth to twenty babies, and I was the sixteenth. Most are gone now.
Our father was a successful farmer. He kept 180 head of cattle and raised groundnuts, sorghum, maize, okra, and sesame. There was plenty to feed us, and he traded the rest for luxuries
like mattresses and dresses. When I was very small I had a doll made in China. You know how rare something like that is, Valentino.
In 1983 the war was on and the militias, the murahaleen, came. I was one or two years old, so I remember none of this. The Arabs killed twenty men, including my uncle, my father’s brother. They took most of my father’s cattle and kidnapped three of my siblings—two brothers, five and seven, and one sister, who was eight. I don’t really remember them, just as you said you do not remember your older siblings, Valentino. There were four of us left, all under five except my brother Jok, who had escaped the murahaleen by hiding in the river. He had used a pole to breathe. I don’t know where he learned to do that. When he got home from the river, my mother sent him with the walking boys, like you. She wanted him to be safe and to study in Ethiopia.
Our family moved to Panthou, where there was no SPLA. My father thought we’d be safer there; for a time we were, and my mother was blessed with more children. In 1986, the murahaleen
came again, this time taking my two eldest sisters. They killed another uncle, my mother’s brother, as he tried to defend the family. He threw a spear at one of the Arabs, and the Arabs cut off each of his limbs one by one, and then threw him on a fire. Everyone in the village could hear him screaming. They threw his limbs down the well, poisoning all the water for the village.
My sisters were gone and my father was furious. My father then did something unusual. He followed the murahaleen. He took his spear and all the money we had and he went north, because he knew that very often the murahaleen didn’t travel fast, because they liked to make the Dinka slaves walk.
My father spent a year in the North. He went as far as Khartoum, looking on the streets and in the peace camps for my sisters. He returned a year later, and when he did, he seemed defeated. It appeared that he had aged ten years in one. He spoke to no one. He wouldn’t eat. He had been a prominent man and now he was so skinny he looked like a boy, in his body, though his face was so very old. He died two weeks after coming home.
After my father died, there were five of us left, all girls. My mother used to lament having so many girls. We couldn’t defend ourselves. Panthou was raided four more times as we lived there. We worked the farm with help from boys in the town who had been orphaned. Then the Nuer raided. It was very strange, because we didn’t know to fear them.

But they arrived one day and they raped many of the women and took all they could carry. I hid in a hole under a tree. In 1988 the murahaleen came again. They came straight to our home, three men on horses. They wore white and approached our mother silently. We were hidden among the livestock and they entered the hut as if they knew where we were. This is how they took my sisters and me. Five of us. They told my mother that they had been told by Bashir that all Dinka girls
were to be impregnated with Muslim babies and they were doing their duty. My mother asked them if they intended to rape us there and then. The man said that no, we would be impregnated
on a proper bed, and that the babies would be brought up with the civilization only Islam could provide. They tied our hands and tied us to one another and we waited in a cattle pen until the
next morning, when they were to take us north. My mother came to us that night as we waited with eleven other girls. “I will come to get you girls. Just be patient. I will see you soon and bring you home.”
In the morning we were walked out of the village on the main road. Most of the men had ridden ahead and we were guarded by five young men on horseback. They poked us with their swords when we walked too slowly. When we stopped to rest and for water, they insisted that we show them our genitals. They told us that we would soon be freed of the sinful parts of our genitals that made all of the Dinka licentious. Otherwise they didn’t touch us, and every hour they did not touch us I thanked God.
After four days we stopped at an Arab town, and we were brought into a building that was cool and dark. It was a school. There were desks and chalkboards. We were seated on the floor and left there for half a day. We heard the activity of the town; everything seemed very normal. Sometimes an Arab boy would peek through a window at us and hold his fist up to us or spit on the window.
Men were brought into the school, escorted by one of the young Arabs who had kidnapped us. The men would confer, and twice they left with one of the girls. We didn’t see them pay the kidnappers. But soon there were only fourteen of us. My sisters and I stayed close and argued over the best strategy. We had been told that the Arabs liked to split families, for fear that siblings would conspire against them, so we worried that they would see us together and guess we were related. In the end we split into two pairs.
At the end of the day there were no more visitors. We did not eat that day. We slept there, on the floor, with our heads rested on one another’s thighs and stomachs. In the morning we were made to walk again. There were thirteen of us now. I don’t know what happened to the youngest girl. She was taken as we slept I guess.
We walked for four hours that morning, tied together in a line, following the Arabs on their horses. It was very hot that day, and one girl was very sick, very weak. She could not walk, so she was thrown onto one of the horses and we continued. Late in the day, the Arabs began to trot their horses, to make us go faster. I think they needed to reach a certain town by nightfall, so the pace was now faster. After some time at this pace, when the day was very hot and we were feeling faint, I heard a voice. The voice said “Stop.” The voice was very distant. I turned and saw a figure running to us. It was a Dinka woman, we could tell; her face was uncovered. “Stop!” the woman said again and again, as she ran to us. The Arabs stopped and everyone turned around. The Dinka woman came closer. She ran like my mother ran, with her hands very straight like knives. She ran closer and it was her. The woman was my mother. She had been following our trail. Our stay in that trading town had allowed her to catch up. She yelled at the men. “Give me these girls!” She pointed to us and she wept. “You have taken four others. Four of my children are gone. My husband died looking for them.” The Arabs sat on their horses and said nothing. They were very young, these men. They looked at one another, and then one of them turned. Then they all turned and started their horses again. We walked again, too. She was not finished. She walked with us. She began to walk next to my sisters and me. She said nothing; she only walked while holding our hands, becoming part of our group. She walked for an hour before the men realized she was still with us.
One of them turned and saw her. Then they all began to talk loudly to one another and then to her. My mother spoke some Arabic and she told them that she would continue to walk wherever we went. She held on to the rope that bound us all and said that she was part of the rope now. She said she would walk as we walked, and would always be with us, unless they killed her. One of the men went for his sword but he was restrained. One man, who looked like the youngest, got off his horse and cut the rope. We were the last five on the rope. He cut it and kicked my mother in the stomach. He got on his horse and spit in our direction and then the group walked on without us. They were finished with us. “Fuck them!” they all said and rode off. We ran in the other direction. My mother led us, running with her knife hands. We got off the road and ran through the grass and we slept in holes as we traveled back to the South. We ran for two more days until we saw our village again.

The day we returned, it rained heavier than I have seen in many years and this was God crying with joy. He cried and cried for us, for a full day he cried while my mother danced and sang and ran around the village like she was possessed.


**Another beautiful story I warmly recommend is “Dear Ama” (p.24)**


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