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This is a memoir of an African girl from Togo, who when her father dies is set to marry a man from a tribe who has other wives. She has to undergo the tribal cults rules of Female Genital Mutilation. Women of Africa have died from this in the past. However, she manages, with the help of some of her family, to escape the country with her fake passport. She escapes to the US, but unfortunately gets put in a US prison for illegal imigrants. Here she experiences ill treatment, living amongst many other illegal imigrants in swamped conditions. An angel comes to her in the form of a law student who wants to help her called Layli Miller Bashir.
This book really pulls on your heart strings. Fauziya shows so much courage and through all the bad she is put through shows so much determination. This story opens up your eyes to other peoples worlds in less fortunate countries. Immigration is a problem in this country and you start to have a negative view for those coming into the country, but then when you hear this story, there are those individuals that just want to make a living without fear of dying.
I really have respect for Fauziya, and it makes me think that on my bad days I should really think about the great thinks I have in my life and how fortunate I really am.
"Do They Hear You When You Cry" is a true life and modern autobiography of a woman from Togo, Africa, who was forced to flee her homeland and abandoned her family to avoid the customer of Female Gender Mutilation (FGM).
I first read of this subject nearly ten years ago, and now, as I think back to that magazine article, and reading the hoorror that our author Fauziya Kassindja faced during the 1990's, I have to wonder if the article I did read was actually the one which was released by Fauziya's lawyers, prior to her release.
Kauziya was born in Togo, a tiny African country which has more loyalty to its long-formed tribes than to its more recently formed country borders. Born to a large family, including several older sisters, Kauziya was doubtless her father's (Yaya) favourites of all his children, being one of the youngest, and female, and likewise she adored him. Both were even more united by the fact that they both suffered from asthma.
The family upheld many Muslim traditions, although her father did not follow the faith blindly. His eldest three daughters had been allowed to marry whom they chose, and were not subjected to the trauma of FGM, which was intended to remove any sensation for the female, yet was so barbaric in nature, that it could often cause death.
In the early stages of this text, despite knowing part of the outcome, family life in Togo was anything any family could wish for, with the children, including females being sent to school for a decent education, and being allowed to choose their own spouses, as the three elder girls all did, with spectacular four days weddings on each occasion.
Alas for Fauziya, life was to change forever, when her father died suddenly from asthma, and family life was never to be the same again. Her aunt and uncle had the power to eject her mother from their fmaily home, forbid her from attending school, and find her a husband, depsite the fact the man in question was much older and with several wives. Whether it was denial ir sheer disbelief that her aunt and uncle would force her to marry this man against her wishes, only Fauziya will ever be able to answer. Her sister provided the answer with an escape from Africa into Europe being the only way to avoid this life threatening procedure that awaited her, should she stay.
To say Fauziya was naïve in the ways of the western world would be an understatement, and she quickly decided that Germany was not the country for her, as she did not speak the language and she wanted to continue the education she valued so badly. Despite the fact that she had made a successful entry into Germany, she paid a virtual strange almost half the cash she had for a passport into America, never intending to enter illegally, but merely to "apply for asylum" once she reached their shores. Not for one minute did she see the flaws in this plan, which led her to a long period in institutions, waiting for her case to come before a judge.
Essentially this book is the story of her survival and her fight for a life without mutilation, despite the fact that she was treated as no better than a criminal for well over a year, and subjected to both degrading and humiliating torture and suffered as a victim of the court system in America.
Our author was born in 1977, so this book is written almost in the present day, a mere 10 years ago. This makes me feel almost certain that it was her article that I read as part of a number of true life accounts of FGM, published in a leading women's magazine in the UK. The horrendous part of this, is that while I was sitting being pampered in a hair salon somewhere, the subject of the article was sitting in an American jail, herself not even ten years younger than me, and having committed no crime whatsoever, other than the fact she was black and appeared to be escaping for a better life.
This is a truly heartbreaking book. The circumstances which the author had to face would be more than challenging for any woman, yet this woman came from a tribal upbringing with no knowledge whatsoever of western life, and found herself flung in a jail with appalling conditions many thousands of miles from family and with no obvious end to the situation.
If there has to be an upside, then it is the lengths to which both her distant cousin, already in America, and then her legal team, go to, to release her from the prison that is destroying her life, and almost wish her to want to go badck to Togo and face both the procedure and the marriage from which she fled in the first place.
This book is 700 pages long, yet I completed it in a matter of a couple of days; haunting as the subject matter was, it was impossible not to identify the emotion that Fauziya was going through, and willing the right result to happen, even though in your heart of hearts, any reader will know that it was never going to be an easy ride.
It is nearly ten years since Fauziya was finally released from prison to begin what must still have been a terrifying new start in America. She was still at a desperately young age, and with no parents or family to guide her, and all as a result of a desperate battle to flee a life which she did not want, and definitely did not deserve.
Political asylum is currently a talking point within the UK, and is no doubt fuelled by the tabloid press, but reading a book such as this does make you stop and think about the human reasons as to why individuals would choose to even begin to flee their homeland and try and start afresh in a country where more hostility is inevitable.
Tough read? Without a doubt, but recommended.
Published by Bantam Books, cover price £7.99
The story of Fauziya Kassindja, who fled her African homeland to escape female genital mutilation and forced polygamy. Fauziya's progressive father had shielded her from the tribal practice of polygamy and female genital mutilation in Togo, Africa, but when he died in 1993, everything changed. At the age of 17, she was forced to marry a much older man who already had three wives, and to undergo preparation for female genital mutilation without any painkillers or antibiotics. Days before the ritual was to take place, Fauziya's sister helped her escape to Germany, and from there she travelled to the United States seeking political asylum. When she arrived in the US she was stripped, shackled and imprisoned for 16 months by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Layli Miller Bashir, a second-year law student assigned to Fauziya's case, found a broken, emaciated girl who had been shuffled from prison to prison, was suffering from an untreated bleeding ulcer, had been subjected to several strip searches, and denied the right to follow her daily religious practices. She enlisted law professor, Karen Musalo, an expert in refugee law, who assembled a team to fight on Fauziya's behalf. Fauziya was finally granted asylum on 13 June 1996, a landmark decision.