The story of Myriam,
16 years old, from Africa

 La storia di Myriam, 16 anni, africana  DCM-011
03 December 2022

The December issue of L’Osservatore di strada, has as its theme “The Christmas of the discarded”. In the editorial “Invisible wounds - The story of Myriam, 16 years old, From Africa”, the moving testimony of a very young woman, in Italy for a few months, listened to and transcribed in the first person by the operators of a Caritas centre. This is not an isolated story for it is the same as that of many other migrants, especially women, who only ask to be welcomed, an ear to tell their story and the right to get their lives back. We publish Myriam’s story in this issue of Women Church World dedicated to Mary too. Myriam bears her name.

 “My name is Mary, I am 16 years old and I am African. I have been in Italy for a few months now, but I can’t define the exact time.... I am not well at all, because suddenly everything has changed...I used to go to school, I was happy with my family; now I am alone, in a new place and I have nothing left. One day, I don’t remember when, some military captured me, thinking I had information useful to them; they loaded me into their car, it was as if the road never ended. Then we arrived at a prison. I felt as if time would not pass, I was afraid, in fact I was really terrified. At one point, they grabbed me violently and took me to another room where they started pestering me with questions. I just remember them saying: ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, it’s the truth, I’m sorry, I don’t know...’. Then they really started to hurt me, they raped me, threatened me with a gun and told me that if I didn’t answer they would take it out on my family members. I was beaten, but that was the least serious and easiest thing to bear; all this was not just for one day. In those moments I closed my eyes and just hoped it would all end, and if to end, I had to die, I hoped I would die soon. Even now I resent the fear, their hands, I resent my inability to react and that desire to die. That is precisely why I decided to stop eating, I hoped to kill myself. One day, unexpectedly, some guards helped me escape. I got into a car, we drove a long way and then, at one point, they threw me down. I stood with my face on the ground and let a few minutes pass before I got up. I was afraid someone would come and beat me up, it seemed impossible that they had really let me go free. When I looked up I realised I was in the middle of nowhere and, for some reason, I started running, running, until I reached a familiar place.

The next morning I left the country. I don’t know how to explain, on the one hand I knew I was free, alive, on the other I felt dead. I came to Italy. Again I felt terrified, and again I said to myself: “Am I really safe?” Alone again and not knowing what to do. I started crying my eyes out, a black woman stopped, took me to her house and I spent the night there. She was nice to me, but I still felt cold and distant. We found a family home.

Now I am here before you because I was told that you can help me get better. But I ask myself: “How do I get better and what does getting better mean?”

I am afraid, constantly afraid, of everything and everyone, even if I am watching television I am afraid. If I see a policeman in the street, my heart jumps into my throat, I freeze, I can neither move nor speak. Sometimes, when someone asks me a question, I remain as if absent and cannot answer.

I am eating, talking quietly with my classmates and suddenly I feel restless, nervous. I was good at school, now I am learning Italian and at times I feel bad in class because the teacher is talking and I can’t pay attention. I can't start something and carry it through to the end, they give me a piece of information and ten minutes later I’ve forgotten it.

It’s very bad when I’m doing things, the most varied things, and suddenly I think of that damn cell, the smells, the sounds that were there, and everything they did to me there. And I don’t know how to stop seeing these things, how to stop thinking about these things; I can’t even do it at night, when I should be sleeping. But I don’t, I wake up and start thinking, or I have terrible nightmares that wake me up and if I go back to sleep they start all over again. And then strange things happen to me, sometimes I wonder if I’m going crazy. For example, I’m on the bus to go somewhere and at a certain point I realise that more and more stops have passed than the one I was supposed to get off at and I don’t know where I am, how I got there and where I actually had to go. I no longer remember anything, as if I had fallen asleep in the meantime.

I don’t understand why I am like this, I don't understand what is happening to me, this is no longer my life, this is no longer a life...”.