Sunday, January 11, 2015

223 Names Not Forgotten

Each year, at Christmas, our family dedicates a small tree in our dining room to a cause or an issue that we want to learn more about, remind others not to forget, or both.  It's never very hard to come up with the issue for the tree.  There is enough tragedy and injustice in this world to fill every tree in every corner.  This year, I knew the tree had to be about missing girls...

On April 14,  2014, 276  girls were abducted from their school in Nigeria by Boko Haram, an Islamist Terrorist group.  Amazingly, 53 managed to escape.  Christmas day marked 255 days since they were taken.

At the beginning, this story was in the news.  You heard details.  People talked about it and posted stories about it.  Not anymore.  It's almost as though the world has gone silent.

On Mother's Day, the five of us went to the Manitoba Legislature for the rally organized by the Nigerian Community in Winnipeg.  There was singing and dancing and impassioned pleas for the safe return of the girls.  I felt honored to be there - to stand side to side with those from the Nigerian community who spoke and pleaded for the girls to be found and returned.  There was a long line-up of local politicians waiting for their 5 minutes at the microphone at that rally, and it disturbed me.  It was opportunistic and self-serving.  I haven't heard from any of them since.

As the five of us talked about the missing girls and society's collective failure in not keeping their story alive, we talked about why the world might have gone silent about it.  I asked my own three girls why they thought the media and the governments of the world don't seem to care.  We came up with a few different guesses...

        Those who are missing are black and are female.
         If 223 white boys were taken from their school, would we be silent?  I have a hard time believing that if the same story happened at a private boy's school in the UK or North America the media would forget about it.

        The girls are citizens of an African nation which has little of value to offer the West.
        If the West had something to gain or a vested interest in the resources or political climate of the    country they were taken from, would the story have played out differently?

        It's old news.  It happened so long ago, people just don't care.  
If people don't care, media outlents aren't going to report it.  I wonder about the flipside of this - would we still care if the media hadn't stopped?

      Those were our explanations.   You may want to share some of your own.  In the end, it all felt hopeless and overwhelming as we read through the list of 223 names and thought where they likely ended up.

Yesterday morning I read a news report of another massacre by Boko Haram in Nigeria and it sickened me.  No one was talking about it or posting about it.  The world was mostly silent over the slaughter.  Although I agree that loss of life anywhere under violent means is a terrible tragedy, I wondered why the world continues to talk about the 12 dead in Paris and cease to mention the 223 girls missing in Nigeria.  The questions haunted me all day and I couldn't let them go.

In all honesty, I don't think those girls are ever coming home.  The anthem of the tragedy, "Bring Back Our Girls" has a bit of a hollow ring for me now.  But even though those girls are lost, we cannot let them be forgotten.  I don't want to forget.  I don't want you to either.   How can I not hold space with the mothers and fathers whose daughters may never return?

In some of my reading yesterday, I came across a story which wouldn't let me go.  In the time since the girls were abducted, 11 of the parents have died; some of high blood pressure, heart attacks and similar ailments.  Others must have simply died of broken hearts.  The story specifically spoke of one father who, as he lay dying, spoke his daughter's name over and over and over again, even as he took his last breath.

Then I thought of the power and importance of names.  That father chose a name for his daughter at her birth.  It was gifted to her, attached to her, and she was known by it.  I started to wonder what we may have lost by always referring to the missing as "The Nigerian school girls".  After all, there are 223 individual girls with names, families, and stories.  They are not just school girls.  They are each their own, and they deserved to be thought of that way.

And so, I started writing.  I began to write the names of each of the girls who are still missing, each on her own small white square.  I wrote their names deliberately.  I said them each out loud as my script followed along.  I paused to think of the individuality and beauty of each name and the person it reprsented.  At the end, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the stack of names I was left with.

I had a vision of stringing the names up for a visual symbol of who has not returned home.  As I punched holes, and began pulling yarn through each one, the names went around my entire living and dining room.  

These names.  These girls.  Who is remembering them?
If we don't, who will?


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