BURKINA FASO, WEST AFRICA — When she was 13 years old, Habiba* was kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Burkino Faso. She eventually escaped, but she is still haunted by the traumatic memories of the kidnapping.
*Name changed for security reasons
I still remember the scene.I can’t sleep at night. I have nightmares. Sometimes I dream that I’m still there, that they are chasing me and want to kill me. I often think about what I experienced. I didn’t forget and I cannot forget.
Ingraining Habiba’s memory are many painful images she witnessed as a teenager after her kidnapped by Islamic extremists. In 2017, eight of them from her village in Burkina Faso were rounded up and taken deep into the forest.
As they were Muslims, they did not allow us to pray. If they saw you praying, they would kill you. Even if you sang or clapped your hands and they saw you, you would be dead. They forbade us. They made us pray like Muslims and read the Koran. It’s not like we could refuse to pray or hide to pray our own prayers because they surrounded us with guns. As for me, when I stood up to perform the Muslim prayers, I would pray in my heart to God.
But over time, her experiences caused Habiba to doubt that God was really still with her.
When we were captured, they forced us to get married. At that time, I was 13 years old and the pastor’s granddaughter was 11 years old. They raped us. The attackers used to cut people’s throats in front of us. Sometimes when they wanted to kill someone, they gave them a shovel to dig their grave and they put them in the hole and killed them.
Seeing those horrible things was traumatic. Sometimes I could remember a song, sing it in my heart and cry to God, but he did not answer. And I kept doing this for three years. At one point, I told myself that this was confirmation that God had abandoned me and I totally lost hope. I was sitting there thinking and just waiting for my turn to be killed. And sometimes I thought I should just kill myself end this suffering.
But God had not abandoned Fabiba. For a long time after their capture, she and her mother were kept apart. But once they managed to be reunited, they made a plan to escape with God’s help.
Before we escaped, we thought that if we didn’t get out of the bush, we would surely die there. And if we tried to escape and they saw us, they would surely kill us. But despite the risks, we found the courage to escape. When we left the terrorist camp, it was night and our guardians were all asleep. We would run at night, and during the day we hid ourselves in the bushes. When night came and all was calm and there was no more noise of any motorbikes, we got up and started running again.
After walking for five days, they made it to safety. But all that happened lives on in Habiba’s memory.
I would like you to pray for what I’ve gone through, which is still disturbing me.
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