As I promised in my previous blog post, below is my story, briefly retold from twenty-six years ago.
The world is full of victims. In the fall of 1994, a terrible thing happened, and I became a victim myself. It can take just moments to turn an innocent person into a victim. But how long does it take to turn a victim into a survivor?
September 15th, 1994. I’m turning 21. I feel so free and joyful. I’m a happy student, in love with my boyfriend and life seems like such a wonderful thing, filled with amazing dreams and great hopes. We are having so much fun planning our future, expecting that something truly magical is just about to happen.
I remember that time so clearly because it ended very abruptly and suddenly. Just three weeks later, on the evening of October 4th, 1994, my life took a sharp turn in the blink of an eye: I was abducted from the streets of my hometown by a group of criminals. They drugged me and drove to another country, where they kept me prisoner in a tiny room at first, and then under a house in a pit. The kidnappers spoke a language I did not understand.
I didn’t have a toothbrush, comb, no other clothing or even spare underwear. Every day, I had to knock on the door to my room, so that a gunman would let me out and walk me to the bathroom under his supervision. During my first days in confinement, I had no idea where I was, why I was there, nor did I even understand what anyone was saying. After a while, they informed me I was kidnapped, and they tried to ransom me back to my mom.
Every day was the same – it did not come to an end, but sluggishly transitioned to the next, looking exactly like the one prior to it. Short dreamless nights turned into endless, pointless days, full of hope in the morning and sorrow by nightfall. I would have preferred to never wake up at all, until the day of my salvation. I was pretty certain that one dark night, salvation would truly come. Special police forces – a SWAT team – would storm into the building and save me.
Instead, a brutal civil war broke out. The country turned into an apocalyptic killing zone, but no SWAT team was coming for me. There was no electricity or telephone service, and all lines of contact were cut off. There could be no more negotiation for my release. I felt like one lost soul – totally feeble – at the mercy of hardened killers in a land where innocent people were dying every day. I can tell you it was a terrible war, and more than a hundred thousand people were killed.
I spent eight months in captivity – witnessing atrocities, surviving bombings and sexual violence... I saw things I cannot even bear to think about. 247 days and nights I fought desperately to stay alive, stay sane, and not to lose the one thing that kept me going: my hope. Only hope and faith sustained me in moments of total and all-embracing despair.
But I survived and I lived.
If it can take just moments to turn an innocent person into a victim, then how long does it take to turn a victim into a survivor? For me, it took 247 days and nights to know that I was a survivor. And another 22 years to really start feeling like one...
You will see why in my next posts.
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