Go under that tree!. . .They’d arrived at a Boko Haram Camp . . . The hundreds of girls moved en-masse for protection and stood weeping at the foot of the [tamarind] tree . . . Do you know why you are here? . . . It is in your best interests to choose our religion . . . Even if you refuse to accept our religion, you must wear the hijab.
April 14, 2014 dawned like any other in the Local Government Area of Borno State, Nigeria known as Chibok. The Area is located in northern Nigeria and has it’s headquarters in the town with the same name of Chibok; a microdot agrarian village comprised of many Christian families. Militant Islamic groups have killed and maimed innocent residents as well as destroyed towns in the region.
The marauders endeavor to eliminate any Western influences and to force native peoples to their extreme Islamic views. The most notable of the violent Islamic terror groups is known as Boko Haram; whose name loosely means “Western education is a sin.”
Their heavy-handed tactics have resulted in the closure of all Nigerian Government Schools – except one. The tiny school in the poverty laced Area of Chibok.
On the morning of April 14, 2014, Boko Haram descended on the town of Chibok and “serendipitously” discovered the Government School and the 276 girls receiving Western education. The Jihadists assumed all schools had been closed and couldn’t believe their luck to find one still open. Recognizing the opportunity and exposure they would receive by kidnapping these terrified young girls, the militants forcefully spirited them into the desolate Sambisa forest; the group’s largest home base.
Their actions did bring international attention at first, but soon the plight of these innocent children remained a horrible nightmare to only their bereft parents and a small cadre of activists. Nearly 50+ girls managed to evade capture or escaped enroute to the Sambisa forest but the fates of over 200 remained a painful mystery.
Nearly two years to the day from their capture and in the heart of the divisive United States 2016 election season, Boko Haram revived attention to their insidious kidnapping by releasing 21 girls. Once again, and for a brief time only, the world renewed its interest in the fate of these innocents.
Author, Isha Sesay, born in Sierra Leone and serving as a CNN Africa reporter has now dedicated her life to discovering the fate of the Chibok girls, to keep their memory alive, and to further efforts to discover those still missing. The failure of her network to air an exclusive interview with the newly released girls in lieu of wall-to-wall coverage of Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential election outraged her and has led to this incredible book, Beneath the Tamarind Tree.
This, soon to be released book in 2019, is a must read for lazy Americans who probably couldn’t point to Nigeria on a globe much less locate Chibok. Count me in on that point. I knew all the buzz words in the news- Boko Haram, the Chibok girls, the kidnapping, the release of a few of the girls. . . But aside for a momentary sense of compassion for the girls, their parents, and their community I became distracted by news at home.
I applaud Isha Sesay for educating me on the history of Nigeria in a way that was easy to read and showed how it’s history is tied to the US. Her unique access to the released Chibok girls and their parents has brought the story down to the individual level while at the same time offering the reader an overview of life in the area as a whole. I was so amazed how desperately the parents wanted their girls to be educated; to be valued as a person and to reach their highest potential. The efforts of these destitute families, living without running water or electricity and the dedication of the girls themselves to honor their parents sacrifices for education is remarkable.
Much of the strength and courage of these families resides in their deep belief in a Christian God and his mercy and wisdom. I honestly had tears in my eyes as I read the interviews from the released girls and their willingness to stand true to their faith and not be forced to convert to Islam. I, also understood, the need for self-preservation and did not judge those girls who “converted” in an effort for survival.
It is a story of heartbreak and cruelty cast in a light that doesn’t offend the reader but offers insight into the daily lives of peoples constantly under crushing terror and emotional distress. In my heart of hearts, I believe everyone should read this book. It is now five years since the abduction and more than 112 girls are still missing. These innocent girls are representative of thousands more girls and boys that have been murdered or turned into slaves for a virulent cause all around the world. The world for those unfortunates that have survived has been irrevocably altered. There is a message here for all of us.
Remember “there but for the grace of God, go I”, when one religious group forcibly dictates the rules and denies the rights of individuals to their own vision of a supreme being or the right to not believe in one at all.