Five Years Later...

By Zunzika Okpo

In the past week, Gede held more Mental Health Camps in the IDP camps. Our regular readers will know how our camps usually go but this time was a little different.

We encountered problems as soon as we got to the chief’s palace in one of the camps. It is not usually locked but on this day, it was. Users were already gathered outside the chief’s palace waiting for us. Our Psychiatrist for the day looked around and said, “well, we are here, we might as well do something.” So we gathered benches, plastic chairs and set to work. We set up our stations under various trees. We had work to do. 

We would usually see the same type of people with similar challenges. They cannot sleep, they are terrified, they keep having nightmares, they are worried about family left back in the North-East, etc. One woman, however, stood out. She was old, very old and did not have anywhere to sit. She was also very quiet. When she walked over to do her vitals, I could tell she was very frail and she also walked with a cane. When she went over to the doctor’s bench, her daughter in-law narrated her story. She had just very recently escaped from Boko Haram’s captivity. She had been held for over 5 years. The insurgents came to her village one day, burned everything, killed people and took the women and children. 

Whilst in their captivity, the old lady was put to work. She recalls making kunu (pap - a local Hausa drink) and taking it to the farmers working in the field. She was stopped by the insurgents who demanded to know what she was carrying. She informed them that she was simply taking the farmers something to drink. They seized the drink from her and took sips. It did not go down well as they claimed it was sour and she was trying to poison them. For this offence, the 79 year old woman was given 80 lashes. She continued living with the insurgents until one night during the Ramadan period it rained heavily. She claimed that when there were thunderstorms or rain, the insurgents stayed indoors. Therefore, she, and three others took off in the middle of the night, in heavy downpour and started their descent (they were held on a mountain). During the climb down, the old lady fell and twisted her ankle. To this day, she walks with a cain. Luckily for the four escapees, they made it to where the army was and identified themselves. They were then put in a camp where someone that knew her son was. The person got in contact with the son and told him his mother was still alive. After 5 years, the family assumed the worst - that she had perished at the hands of the insurgents. After all, she was 77 when they took her. 

The last thing she said was, “they don’t take any possessions, they don't want anything. They will burn and destroy everything in their path. They just want your life.”

The trauma that the IDPs have been exposed to is incomprehensible to someone that has not been through it. You would have to live through it to even begin to understand how they are all walking and laughing. It is a testament to people’s resilience. Hopefully through this and similar psycho-social interventions, healing and rehabilitation can begin.

For more on our activities, do come back to the blog!