Beauty for Ashes: How Terry Gobanga Found Healing and Love Again After Tragedy

On the night before her wedding, Terry realized that she had some clothes her fiancé Harrison “Harry” Olwande was supposed to wear for their wedding. Early in the morning of her wedding day, she took them to her friend, so she had to walk to a bus stop.

On her way back to the house, she walked past a guy sitting on the bonnet of a car. He suddenly grabbed her from behind and bundled her into the back seat and they drove off. There were two more men in the car. All this happened in a fraction of a second.

In the process, she had a piece of cloth stuffed in her mouth as she tried to shout. When she managed, all she said was, “It is my wedding day!” Two of the men started beating her up and told her to cooperate or she would die. One of them pulled a knife to her and that’s when she realized her life was in danger. As the car sped off, the men raped her in turns as her mouth remained gagged so she wouldn’t scream.

At some point, the driver stopped the car so he could assault her too. He inserted his male organ into her mouth. Terry bit him despite knowing that there was the risk that the men would kill her. The driver cried out in pain and stabbed her in the stomach.

In a short while, she was thrown out of the moving vehicle, rolling several times into the nearby bushes. Fortunately, a young girl saw Terry being thrown out of the vehicle, so she ran and reported the incident to her grandmother. The grandma cried out for help.

Those who came to help her tried to stop vehicles to rush Terry to the hospital. It took long, so they were getting more convinced that she was already dead because she had lost a lot of blood. To make matters worse, someone checked her pulse and told the rest that she was dead. Unfortunately, the police were not responding to calls either.

A prominent person who was passing by stopped to see what was happening and managed to convince the police to come to the scene. When police saw her, they felt her pulse and pronounced her dead. She was then wrapped in a blanket and they headed for Nairobi’s City Mortuary. The officers decided to stop at a police station to record a statement before proceeding to the mortuary. That’s when Terry regained consciousness and coughed. The officers were so startled and they quickly took her to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

At All Saints Cathedral, the wedding venue, the priest and people were concerned and rumours were spreading that she had decided not to show up. Harrison was worried sick about his wife-to-be, though his phone had been taken away. The wedding décor had to be taken down in order to prepare for another wedding that was starting around noon. Her family back at home was trying so hard to reach out to anyone who knew her to help find her.

The matron who was taking care of her in the hospital told other nurses that Terry might be a bride because all she was muttering about was about her wedding gown. She decided to check the churches around to see whether any had a bride missing. The matron began with the venue where Terry was to wed; she believes it was the hand of God who led her towards that direction. The officiating pastor confirmed that a bride had not shown up for her wedding and he accompanied the matron to the hospital, confirming that Terry was the missing bride.

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As her family became aware of her whereabouts, the media also heard rumours about the incident. Several reporters and cameramen rushed to KNH to gather more information. Her family was so annoyed and they tried to keep the media away so as not to take pictures. Terry was moved from KNH to Nairobi Women’s Hospital where she got treatment, counselling and was put on anti-retroviral therapy drugs to prevent HIV. After six long months of taking the drugs, Terry was declared healthy.

Harrison, her family, church members and the pastor stood by her after the incident, giving her all the support she truly needed. Terry had blamed God for some time because she never imagined something like that happening to her. However, she got support to the point of surrendering everything that happened to God.

Wedding plans began and well-wishers Sherehe Africa and VIP Ogolla were touched by her story in a local magazine and paid for her wedding. Harrison hired bodyguards for his bride. They finally had a colourful wedding and moved in together.

During their honeymoon, they had difficulties because she was still going through trauma. They couldn’t have a normal relationship as a couple and their lovemaking was affected. However, Harrison was very patient and waited until she was ready. Terry describes him as very understanding, loving, kind and protective.

Unfortunately, 29 days after the wedding, tragedy struck again. Harrison had lit a charcoal jiko (a traditional portable stove) and put it in the bedroom to warm the house. He had been restless and asked to talk to her. Since she was cooking, she had to stop and give him an ear. From nowhere, he said to her, “In case I die, it’s very important you find someone loving since your family is closely knit.”

Terry was pricked by those words, wondering why her husband would think of death that early in their marriage. She wouldn’t hear any more of those words, so she cut him off. Their hearts were engulfed by sadness and they began to cry together, holding each other. Later, they had dinner and went to bed.

After a short while, carbon monoxide accumulated in their bedroom from the jiko, causing general bodily weakness. Since they had moved the jiko into the sitting room earlier, they thought it was safe but they passed in and out of consciousness. Luckily, Terry was able to get out of bed after she vomited and struggled to reach the main door where she called her neighbours for help. Sadly, her husband passed away in the hospital due to the effects of carbon monoxide. He was only 28. But Terry survived.

When the doctor broke the news of her husband’s death, she didn’t believe it at all. Instead, she just laughed uncontrollably until the doctor slapped her and that’s when the truth hit home. After the loss of her husband, life came to a stand-still and nothing mattered anymore.

She had hard times coming to terms with her loss. She slipped into denial, lost appetite and the will to take a shower or even brush her teeth. She fell into depression, but she recovered due to the support of her family and friends. She sang songs of praises to God to forget what she had gone through and vowed never to get married again or even trust a man could love her for who she was after her ordeal.

Terry met Tonny Gobanga at a basketball tournament organized by a church where she had gone to visit her sister. They became good friends and he was key to her recovery from the loss of her husband and rape. Most of the time when he called, she’d talk about Harrison and Tonny would comfort her.

Terry believed Tonny had a clear motive to be her friend at a time when other men wanted to take advantage of her situation. In 2007, when she was 27, she married Tonny.

Because of the damage that had been done to her womb as a result of the stabbing when she was raped, doctors had told her she would never conceive. When she had told Tonny, he had said he did not mind not having children. Surprisingly, she got pregnant, disproving what the doctors had said. All went well and they had a baby girl whom they named Tehille. Four years down the line, they had another daughter, Towdah.

Despite all the painful experiences she’s gone through, Terry says that she gets inspired by the fact that bad situations are only for a while, a message she shares with people.

Terry is the author of “Crawling out of Darkness.” The book is about her ordeal and is meant to give people hope of rising again. She also started the organization Kara Olmurani which offers counselling and support to rape survivors as she calls them, not rape victims.

In closing, Terry spoke about the role of forgiveness in her healing.

“As my faith encourages me to forgive and not to repay evil with [evil],” she says “I have forgiven those who attacked me. It was never easy but realizing that I was getting a raw deal by being upset with people who probably don’t care, I had to let go.”

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