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Real Life Stories
By: LuRae Iwenofu
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After the abuse, I never thought that much would become of me. Just look at me?who would have ever thought that I will travel the world and achieve so much in my young life? My name is Chibuzor*, and to say that my life today?and eventual journey to the UK?was not thorny would be a lie.

I was born in the southeastern region of Nigeria on December the 29th 1980, at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu. My memories of childhood were filled with a lot of happy mental snapshots: Christmases, Easters, new yam festivals, etc. always spent in the village with my maternal grandparents and cousins; tales by moonlight in my grandfather’s front yard with overhanging breadfruit, mango, and guava trees; and the sweet smell of roasting corn and pears wafting from mama nnekwu’s [grandmother] little bonfire for snacks. Life couldn’t get any better or be safer as I snuggled into my grandmother’s bosom, with her melodic voice telling us incredible folk stories.

My father Nnayelugo* was a civil servant, married to my mother Nnedi* for eight years before the birth of their only child: me. The length of time it took for my mother (mama) to conceive a child was a huge bone of contention between her and my father’s family. Being the strongminded individual that he was, mama was constantly reassured by my father (papa) that having another child was not a problem for him. He was fulfilled and happy with his small family unit; he loved us dearly. I felt cocooned in my little warm, safe, and happy life. This was all to come to an end after the sudden death of papa from a car accident in 1995.

When papa died, life became intolerable for me and mama. We were made outcasts from my paternal home; his male siblings and kinsmen confiscated all properties owned by papa—they deemed me not a suitable heir, being of the fairer sex. Mama fought all she could, but as a woman beer parlour, as was his daily routine. With my thoughts elsewhere, I took no notice of him until we collided in the narrow corridor. My towel came undone and all hell ensued. I was accused of deliberately trying to trip him and being amoral. He threw punches at me, and as I fell to the floor, the kicking started. I was dragged on the floor to the room I shared with mama and was roughly shoved onto the bed. Terrified and in pain, all I could do was beg for mercy. I wailed that I had not walked into him on purpose. Curled up in the foetal position to prevent the worst of the punches raining on my face, I did not know that he had untied his wrapper until I was ordered to stop snivelling and spread my legs. Still not fully comprehending what was happening and thinking that my ordeal was over, all I wanted then was my mother’s comfort. I desperately needed her and wondered when she would be back. Not having heard Nna-anyi’s request, I turned and was confronted with the most revolting sight that I had seen in my young life. Nna-anyi was playing with his manhood. My shock rendered me speechless and immobile as I was brutally raped and sodomised; my virginity and innocence were ripped to shreds that day. After emitting a guttural moan that sounded like a pig’s, he rolled off me and warned me that I would experience the same fate again if I ever told anyone—and that he would make sure that mama lost her sight and we will be ostracised. Curled up and lying in a state of shock, I was brought out of my inertia when I realised that my mother’s distress and possible action would definitely lead to an even worse fate for her and me. Dragging myself off the single bed we shared, I shuffled off in dire pain to have another shower.


It was decided by the elders in my father’s family that my mother would become a complimentary wife to my father’s uncle Humphrey* as she was still their property.


We now had to relocate from our little dwelling in Enugu to the village; this brought an abrupt end to my studies. From there on, the nightmarish events which led to my trip to the UK began. Nna-anyi (a generic name normally given to the male head of the family in Igbo culture), whom I was forced to call my new stepfather, was a violent and sadistic man. Mama was beaten on a daily basis if she did not make his soup just so: too salty, no salt, not enough vegetable, meat, or even that she had used the wrong plate for the dish. He once threw a ceramic mug at her face, which broke and scarred her massively—and very nearly took away the sight in her right eye—all because she dared to have a coughing fit just as she placed his food on a stool in front of him. Nna-anyi accused mama of spitting into his food.

Mama’s main concern was that I was happy and protected from his violence. Things were to change. On that fateful day, I had just come out of the bathroom on the way to the little box room that we were given, wrapped in my towel. Unbeknown to me, Nna-anyi had not gone to the beer parlour, as was his daily routine. With my thoughts elsewhere, I took no notice of him until we collided in the narrow corridor. My towel came undone and all hell ensued. I was accused of deliberately trying to trip him and being amoral. He threw punches at me, and as I fell to the floor, the kicking started. I was dragged on the floor to the room I shared with mama and was roughly shoved onto the bed. Terrified and in pain, all I could do was beg for mercy. I wailed that I had not walked into him on purpose. Curled up in the foetal position to prevent the worst of the punches raining on my face, I did not know that he had untied his wrapper until I was ordered to stop snivelling and spread my legs. Still not fully comprehending what was happening and thinking that my ordeal was over, all I wanted then was my mother’s comfort. I desperately needed her and wondered when she would be back. Not having heard Nna-anyi’s request, I turned and was confronted with the most revolting sight that I had seen in my young life. Nna-anyi was playing with his manhood. My shock rendered me speechless and immobile as I was brutally raped and sodomised; my virginity and innocence were ripped to shreds that day. After emitting a guttural moan that sounded like a pig’s, he rolled off me and warned me that I would experience the same fate again if I ever told anyone—and that he would make sure that mama lost her sight and we will be ostracised. Curled up and lying in a state of shock, I was brought out of my inertia when I realised that my mother’s distress and possible action would definitely lead to an even worse fate for her and me. Dragging myself off the single bed we shared, I shuffled off in dire pain to have another shower.

In the weeks to come, more of the same was to follow. Nna-anyi now had more reason to abstain from the beer parlour and he made up flimsy errands to keep me at home. I very quickly became an empty shell of the chirpy, happy go lucky girl that I once was. Mama knew that there was something seriously wrong, but all her prodding and solicitation of information were fruitless.

Eventually something had to give. I woke up one morning feeling very sick, I thought I might have contracted malaria; so severe was my illness that Nna-anyi stayed away from my path. After two weeks of being off my food, constantly throwing up and feeling lethargic, my mother was beside herself with worry. She decided not to go to the market on the fateful day that the gruesome discovery was made that I was pregnant. I have always been very close to my mother; the relationship we shared was indeed very nurturing. I could tell her anything and everything and she always made sure to listen and give me the best advice.

We were in the kitchen making egusi (mellon) soup for lunch, when the smell of cooking meat offset yet another bout of dry retching. Running out of the kitchen to completely empty my poor stomach of the little food there was in it, I cleaned myself up and went back in. The strangest look ever was etched on mama’s face. She held on to the ladle, stirring the cooking meat and staring off into space, with a very sad expression. “Mama idi-kwa mma? (Are you okay, mama?),” I asked her. She simply nodded her head and instructed me to take the pot off the fire. I wanted to know if we weren’t cooking anymore and she just told me to do as she instructed. I did. Mama pulled up the little wooden stool she was perched on nearer to where I sat. Looking directly at me, she asked me when was the last time I had my period. The penny finally dropped and I started to cry. My mother wailed alongside me as we watched the wooden embers die. We cried uncontrollably for a long time before our sobs subsided, and without any prompting, I started to tell mama what had been going on for the past few weeks. The look on mama’s face was one that I never wish to see again. She looked like she had been disembowelled and force fed the contents of her stomach. A myriad of expressions crossed her face, but most prevalent was her hard, stern expression. “Bia nwa m’ (come my daughter),” she said. We were done cooking for the day. We went up to our room, where mama got ready to go out; where she was going I dared not ask. Having given me aki-inu (bitter cola) and mmimi (pepper nut) to chew to help ease the nausea and remove the taste of bile in my mouth, mama left. I was later to learn that she had gone to Enugu to see her brother Jonathan*. Plans were set afoot for me to go and live with him and his family a few days later. Mama came back that day and gave me a local brew to drink, which gave me severe contractions. I miscarried the pregnancy and convalesced for three days. Nna-anyi must have known that there was something serious going on as he didn’t moan for his lunch or dinner that day. His wife Ngozi* grumbled her way into the kitchen to finish up the cooking which we started.

My heart was not set in going to Enugu as mama would not be going with me. I was worried of what might happen to her as our home had become a boiling cauldron, and I believed it would erupt with devastating consequences. Mama reassured me that she would be coming down a few days after I did, but had some issues to tidy up in the village before she came. We hugged and said our goodbyes.

At Enugu, things couldn’t be more different from my home life in the village, but my perceptions of life had been so tainted that I found it hard to go back to the girl that I once was. Uncle Jonathan* and his family could not have been any nicer; I was welcomed and made one of their own. But things had changed. Mama did come down and live with us, but she did so with bruises all over her body and a limp on her left foot that has stayed to this day. By what many would deem a stroke of luck, uncle Jonathan’s* brother-in-law (Basil*) needed help with child care in the UK and had enlisted his sister’s help to get someone over there to help them out. Mama, Uncle Jonathan*, and aunty Chinyere* (Jonathan’s* wife) discussed this and thought it would be a great opportunity for me to make a fresh start and increase my chances of excelling in life. Arrangements were made and the necessary documents were sent from the UK to aid me obtain a visa.

I finally came to obodo-oyibo (the land of the white man) on March 27th 1997. I could not get over the fact that there was constant electricity. NEPA (Nigerian Electrical Power Authority) seemed to take very kindly to these people. The cold was biting, but aunty Faith* assured me that it would get warmer. She even told me that we were in spring and that the worst of the weather was winter; I dreaded to think what that would be like. My new life was indeed a fresh start, though I had a lot to learn. I was like a dry sponge soaking up information and couldn’t wait to update mama on all that I was experiencing whenever Uncle Basil* got a phone card to call back home.

Looking after the kids was easy, their days were structured and I found this organisation very useful. I took them to school, brought them home and sometimes helped with homework. Talking with the kids and watching a lot of TV helped me understand what was said around me, and also helped whenever one of aunty’s oyibo (white) friends came around for a visit. But there wasn’t much to keep me occupied when the kids were in school and my uncle and his wife were at work. We decided that I should go to college and do a foundation degree in social care. The fee mentioned was exorbitant, but it was nothing compared to what I would have had to pay to go to university. It was suggested to me that it would be prudent for me to get my papers sorted by doing a fake marriage. This meant that by the time it came for me to go to university, I would qualify for a government grant. It was all arranged through a lawyer in London’s Kings cross: I got married. Little me a married woman? My papers and that of Mr Burleigh* were submitted to the home office for approval.

Pending the approval of my right to remain in the UK, Mr Burleigh* became an albatross around our neck. His demands for constant cash got so much that uncle and aunty did dagbo (fake) papers for me to find work. Straight away, I got a job in McDonalds. Unbeknown to us, Mr Burleigh* was a functional drug addict; to feed his addiction, he needed constant funds for his habit. However, all of a sudden he disappeared on us. It was a worrying two weeks for me, as the date that we were to go for our joint interview was looming. Calls made to his mobile phone were not returned; enquiries made through the lawyer to his friends were futile. One day he just decided to turn up and demand £2,000 pounds in cash. We were beside ourselves with worry, as this was a huge sum of money for us to get hold of. We were desperate.

But God works in mysterious ways. Just two days after this demand was made, on my way to college, a fashionably dressed grey-haired lady approached me. She was quite young in appearance, but the hair threw me back a bit. She said she worked for Faucet* modelling agency and that I had a look that would sell. It took me a while to make out what she was saying, as she had a thick accent (which I later discovered was Welsh). Seeing that I was still confused, scared, and uncomprehending, she gave me a business card and said to get someone to call her on my behalf. I went off on my way. On getting home that evening, I gave the card to aunty Faith* and explained to her what had transpired. She kept screaming and singing joyful Christian songs (imela imela imela okaka, imela chineke imela oye-oma). I couldn’t understand her excitement, because the lady had only said that she would like to take some pictures of me, any other information aunty got from the card, she never said. All evening, she kept giving me surreptitious looks with a satisfied smile on her face. Uncle Basil* was due back the next morning from a training course. Aunty Faith* suggested that I skip college for that day so that we could chat with uncle. My gut instinct told me something big was about to happen, but I didn’t know what. I took the kids to school as usual and came home to find uncle back from Manchester.

“My daughter,” he said, “please sit.” Uncle was looking happier than I had ever seen him. “Where did you get this card?” I told him. “The lady who gave it to you, what did she say?” I told him. Uncle and aunty looked at each other and smiled. “Bring the phone Faith*,” uncle said, and aunty brought the phone. Uncle then proceeded to call the number on the card and spoke to whom I assumed was the grey-haired lady. Upon dropping the phone, he ordered us to get dressed and said that we were going to Covent Garden. My heart skipped—I did not want to become a nun. Why would he do this to me, I wondered. Throughout our trip on the train and tube to the “convent”, thoughts fizzed and buzzed through my head. But aunty and uncle’s conversation contradicted with the image I had about “convents”— maybe the nuns in the UK got paid to take pictures for religious purposes and were paid huge sums of money for it. Once we got to our final destination and made our way from the station to what appeared to be an office complex, my confusion got worse. This was no “convent”; there were huge posters of thin glamorous ladies on the wall, some of men too.

Everyone in there looked like they had stepped out of one of those fashion magazines that my aunt loves to buy, and they all looked like they were in a race to get somewhere. I had never heard so many phones ring simultaneously; it was pure chaos. A pretty diminutive black girl with hair coloured purple and white came for us. She led us into an office where the grey-haired lady sat behind a huge mahogany desk. She came from behind her big desk to shake hands with my guardians. We spent the whole four hours at her office; during this period, she explained to aunty and uncle about the pictures. Aunty Faith* became my interpreter for the day, as they all talked so quickly. Uncle Basil* just listened attentively and asked questions periodically.

I was eventually led out of the office and to a photo studio at the back of the office. Pictures were taken and developed; I was made to stand in awkward positions, with the French photographer Jacques* shouting words such as “wonderful”, “just beautiful, darling!”. (I honestly thought he was drunk.) It was uncomfortable, but in time I got into the swing of it and became a limbless fool for the day. These photos were then taken back to Bertie*, the grey-haired lady. She selected some that she ordered her staff to email to someone in Paris. We waited for news. It must have been really good news because Bertie’s* phone rang within 30 minutes. She relayed whatever message it was to aunty and uncle and all hell broke loose. Aunty started her singing again and uncle kept pumping the Bertie’s* hand—it was slowly turning pink. With an understanding smile on her face, Bertie* opened a cabinet, took out a bottle of wine and some glasses, and made a toast. (Uncle Basil* insisted that I take apple juice.)

The enormity of what happened that day failed to register immediately until we got home. This was when my uncle sat me down and took time to explain to me that I had been chosen as the £800,000 face of a big fashion house in Paris, with a two-year contract. The rest as they say is history.

Faucet* modelling agency sorted out my work permit by offering me a contract of employment which they faxed to the home office. I was given a visa to travel to Paris to meet the designer of the fashion house and take more test shots. For the trip, I was accompanied by aunty and all our expenses were taken care of by Faucet*. My life became a fairy tale after this, and mama now lives with me in a fashionable district in London. She would never lack, and neither would any member of my maternal family. I still continued with my social care course through long distance study, and have gone on to front numerous fashion campaigns and travel the world. This little girl has done good. ds

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