Forgiving an Unspeakable Offence

Love can be complicated. Even more complicated than love is a breakup. When you and I imagine a bad breakup, we think about reeling emotions, nasty text exchanges, venting profusely to whoever will listen, and of course, deleting all pictures of the ex from our social media pages. But in time, the tears dry and everybody moves on. No harm, no foul.

Jane Awour never imagined that the end of her marriage would be marked by a vicious acid attack that would require 28 reconstructive surgeries.

This is her story in her own words…

“I met my husband at the age of 18. Although he was my first boyfriend, he was six years older and already working. I was madly in love with him, and he knew it.

We dated for about five years before getting married. A sign I didn’t see then was the fact that he would always ask me where I was. I was in university then, and at times we would go on school trips. He would tell me not to go because, ‘Other men will look at you.’ So, I would stay at his place until the people who went on the trip returned. Then I would go to my parents’ home and pretend I was also returning from the trip.

A Troubled Marriage

We got married in 2012. I was 23. I had studied law in university but hadn’t proceeded to law school yet. At this point, my ex-husband was established and had promised he would take me through law school. But when we got married, he changed his mind. That’s when I realized the things my mom used to tell me about this man when we were dating were now real.

His money was his, and his alone. We had a beautiful home, but there was never any food. When I would visit my mother’s house and bring home food, he had a problem with it.

I confided in our spiritual father a year after my marriage and told him what was going on. We went for counseling sessions, but my ex-husband would always say I was spoiled and wanted to live a life we could not afford.

Another issue was that my ex-husband went on frequent work trips outside the country. He would be gone for weeks at a time and would not communicate much when away. I told him it made me worry when he went quiet because how was I to know that he was still alive? But he didn’t seem to care.

I kept quiet for a very long time, but his behaviour kept eating away at me. How was I married yet so lonely?

One time I didn’t hear from him for a week. I had called and texted him, no response. I opened up to a friend of mine who was visiting my home at the time. She suggested I call him from her phone to see if he would answer an unknown number. He did.

When he realized it was me, his tone changed. “What do you want?” he said. “I’m still alive.”

I asked him to send money for food because the only thing I had in the house was salt. “I don’t want to go to my parents’ place to ask for food. It is not proper,” I said.

“You can do whatever you want. If you want to leave, leave. If you want to stay, stay. I don’t care,” he said.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Ok, I’m leaving, and I will not come back ever again,” I said. “I am done. I don’t care what people will say.”

He told me not to take any of the belongings in our home except for my clothes. I called our spiritual father and told him what was happening. He advised me not to go to my parents’ home just yet. He wanted to counsel us to see if he could salvage the relationship. So I went to his home instead. We called my ex-husband to come, but he said he was busy. “You people have to wait till I come back,” he said.

So we waited for him. When he returned from his trip, we talked for several hours but it was no use.

“I just want Jane to go to her home,” he said. “I’ll collect her the day I need her.”

There was no emotion in his voice. I, on the other hand, was crying. He would pick me when he needed me? Was I a sack of potatoes?

We had been married for three years and I really wanted him to change. But when I realized that he didn’t care, there was nothing I could do. It was really emotional, but I left.

My parents were supportive. They welcomed me back home, prayed for me, and told me to be strong. Then my dad suggested I go to Mombasa to unwind. I took him up on the offer. While there, I began posting photos on social media. When my ex-husband saw my posts, he called.

“Are you aware that you’re somebody’s wife?” he asked.

“You don’t want me. I am in Mombasa enjoying my life,” I answered.

 That wasn’t satisfactory to him. He called me every day until I blocked him.

Then he began accusing me of trying to take his money and other possessions. I told him I had no intention of claiming anything that belonged to him. Then he made a threat,” You will not be beautiful for long. No man will ever want to see you.”

The Beginning of My Nightmare

On February 9, 2015, unbeknownst to me, my ex-husband sent a distant cousin of mine to my home. This cousin frequently came to our home so it wasn’t unusual to see him. I told him I was feeling “off” for some reason. I wasn’t sick or sad, I just felt something I couldn’t explain. I had no way of knowing my cousin had been sent to attack me.

Later that evening, my mother sent me outside.

As I stepped out, I heard footsteps. I saw my cousin coming towards me. Then he doused me with acid. It all happened so quickly. It felt like hot oil had been poured on my face. I didn’t know it was acid at the time.

I screamed in pain and kept calling out my cousin’s name. My parents were so confused. They saw my clothes burning off my body without any flames. They watched as my skin changed colour and form. That was the beginning of my worst nightmare.

I was rushed to hospital. I spent the first week at the village hospital, but they could not control the pain so I was transferred to Kenyata National Hospital in Nairobi for a month. I needed surgery, but the hospital wanted the money upfront. My dad began looking for alternatives and found a burn specialist in another city, Kisumu.

I was flown from Nairobi to Kisumu, but I was very weak. The specialist confirmed that I needed surgery immediately or else I wouldn’t make it. The thing about acid is that it continues to penetrate your skin and organs. I had also been burnt on my breasts and stomach, so the acid had eaten up tissue close to very important organs in my body. But God was in control.

The doctor agreed to defer payment until after the procedure. And even when he performed additional surgeries, he didn’t ask for additional money. He was a godsend. He was more invested in my healing than the money.

I stayed in that hospital for a year and a half. It became my home.

The Healing Journey

I went through a long period of trying to heal, wanting to die, wanting to walk, wanting to forgive…

I was unstable emotionally. I wondered how I would ever walk again. I knew my face would never be the same again. My beauty would never be the same.

At times I would get very emotional and want to die; other times I would feel encouraged. My grandmother was my caretaker, and sometimes she would read the Bible to me.

The day the doctor decided to remove my bandages was so emotional. He counseled me for about an hour prior to removing them. He asked if I wanted him to do it in front of a mirror or if I wanted to see myself in the mirror after alone. I chose to go by myself. When I did, I cried. It was so bad.

I decided to forgive while in the hospital. My grandmother kept telling me to look beyond my circumstances.

“God is using you as a vessel,” she would say. “There’s something more beautiful in you than what you’re seeing. You’re seeing pain, but there is more to your story. Imagine if you had died. Ask yourself why you didn’t die. You were near death, why do you think God gave you a second chance? You cannot take vengeance into your own hands. Leave it to God.”

At the time, what she was saying didn’t make sense to me. One day I opened the Bible to read and the verse I landed on was, “Vengeance is mine…”(Deuteronomy 32:35).

I realized that God was speaking to me. I cried so hard that day.

“Today you will cry and cry,” my grandmother said, “but the day you decide to forgive, you will be telling your story like a fairytale. It is that day that you will heal, and the Lord will open the door for you. If you forgive, God will bless you.”

I cried and asked God to help me forgive. I knew I couldn’t do it unless He walked with me.

Then, an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor in the USA offered to fly me to Texas to perform surgery to reopen my ear for free. All I needed to do was process my visa. I began to see what my grandmother had been saying.

Disappointed by the Justice System

Meanwhile, the courts wanted me to go and testify against my cousin. He had received a large amount of money after attacking me and the investigation traced everything back to my ex-husband. One of the witnesses who was set to testify against my cousin vanished. No one knows where she is today.

The fact that my ex-husband was still free meant I wasn’t safe in the hospital. So my family could not disclose which hospital I was in.

Eventually, my ex and cousin were held responsible for my attack, and they went to prison for attempted murder. It was considered grievous harm and they were both given a sentence of 20 years in prison. On appeal, they were acquitted.

I heard the devastating news when I returned to Kenya after receiving treatment abroad. I struggled with that ruling and wanted to appeal the decision. But something in my spirit said, “Jane, let this go, live your life, pretend they’re not here.”

I wondered how I would cope knowing they were free. How could I breathe the same air as them? It wasn’t fair.

“You decided to forgive while you were in the hospital,” my father reminded me, “and you decided to let them go. Just let them go. Karma will catch up with them. God is going to protect you and bless you.”

It was a struggle, but I had to let it go.

From Pain to Purpose

The idea of having an organization for women like me became stronger. If I, someone who studied law and knew her way through the legal system, still didn’t get justice, what about women who haven’t gone to school? What would happen to them?

I decided to start a community-based organization called Amua Mama Initiative that advocates for the rights of and seeks justice for survivors of gender-based violence.

We identify those who need help and look into what kind of help the person needs. Some of them just need counseling, others need help developing skills because behind most domestic violence cases, finances are attached. Many women in Kern County are victims of early marriages, so you will find that many don’t have marketable skills. We work with them to change that.

Loving My Scars

I’ve had a total of 28 surgeries. I have accepted that this is what happened to me. I have healed. My scars remind me of how strong I am. There is beauty in my scars. The scars don’t define me, they reveal the beauty I have inside.

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