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30 June 2017

Photos: ‘I was gang-raped on my wedding day’

 

A female pastor has described how she failed to show up at her own wedding because she was being gang-r*ped, and recalled how on the morning of her wedding day she was abducted by a group of men who brutally attacked her for six hours.

Terry Gobanga – then Terry Apudo

When Terry Gobanga – then Terry Apudo – didn’t show up to her wedding, nobody could have guessed that she had been abducted, r*ped and left for dead by the roadside. It was the first of two tragedies to hit the young Nairobi pastor in quick succession. But she is a survivor.

Read her story below

It was going to be a very big wedding. I was a pastor, so all our church members were coming, as well as all our relatives. My fiance, Harry, and I were very excited – we were getting married in All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi and I had rented a beautiful dress.

But the night before the wedding I realised that I had some of Harry’s clothes, including his cravat. He couldn’t show up without a tie, so a friend who had stayed the night offered to take it to him first thing in the morning. We got up at dawn and I walked her to the bus station.

As I was making my way back home, I walked past a guy sitting on the bonnet of a car – suddenly he grabbed me from behind and dumped me in the back seat. There were two more men inside, and they drove off. It all happened in a fraction of a second.

A piece of cloth was stuffed in my mouth. I was kicking and hitting out and trying to scream. When I managed to push the gag out, I screamed: “It’s my wedding day!” That was when I got the first blow. One of the men told me to “co-operate or you will die”.

The men took turns to r*pe me. I felt sure I was going to die, but I was still fighting for my life, so when one of the men took the gag out of my mouth I bit his manhood. He screamed in pain and one of them stabbed me in the stomach. Then they opened the door and threw me out of the moving car.

I was miles from home, outside Nairobi. More than six hours had passed since I had been abducted.

A child saw me being thrown out and called her grandmother. People came running. When the police came they tried to get a pulse, but no-one could. Thinking I was dead, they wrapped me in a blanket and started to take me to the mortuary. But on the way there, I choked on the blanket and coughed.

The policeman said: “She’s alive?” And he turned the car around and drove me to the biggest government hospital in Kenya.

I arrived in great shock, murmuring incoherently. I was half-naked and covered in blood, and my face was swollen from being punched. But something must have alerted the matron, because she guessed I was a bride. “Let’s go around the churches to see if they’re missing a bride,” she told the nurses.

By coincidence, the first church they called at was All Saints Cathedral. “Are you missing a bride?” the nurse asked.

The minister said: “Yes, there was a wedding at 10 o’clock and she didn’t come.”

When I didn’t show up to the church, my parents were panicking. People were sent out to search for me. Rumours flew. Some wondered: “Did she change her mind?” Others said: “No, it’s so unlike her, what happened?”

After a few hours, they had to take down the decorations to make room for the next ceremony. Harry had been put in the vestry to wait.

When they heard where I was, my parents came to the hospital with the whole entourage. Harry was actually carrying my wedding gown. But the media had also got wind of the story so there were reporters too.

I was moved to another hospital where I’d have more privacy. That was where the doctors stitched me up and gave me some devastating news: “The stab wound went deep into your womb, so you won’t be able to carry any children.”

I was given the morning-after pill, as well as antiretroviral drugs to protect me from HIV and Aids. My mind shut down, it refused to accept what had happened.

Harry kept saying he still wanted to marry me. “I want to take care of her and make sure she comes back to good health in my arms, in our house,” he said. Truth be told, I wasn’t in a position to say Yes or No because my mind was so jammed with the faces of the three men, and with everything that had happened.

Harry Olwande and Terry on their wedding day in July 2005

A few days later, when I was less sedated, I was able to look him in the eye. I kept saying sorry. I felt like I had let him down. Some people said it was my own fault for leaving the house in the morning. It was really hurtful, but my family and Harry supported me.

The police never caught the rapists. I went to line-up after line-up but I didn’t recognise any of the men, and it hurt me each time I went. It set back my recovery – it was 10 steps forward, 20 back. In the end I went back to the police station and said: “You know what, I’m done. I just want to leave it.”

Three months after the attack I was told I was HIV-negative and got really excited, but they told me I had to wait three more months to be sure. Still, Harry and I began to plan our second wedding.

Although I had been very angry at the press intrusion, somebody read my story and asked to meet me. Her name was Vip Ogolla, and she was also a rape survivor. We spoke, and she told me she and her friends wanted to give me a free wedding. “Go wild, have whatever you want,” she said.

I was ecstatic. I went for a different type of cake, much more expensive. Instead of a rented gown, now I could have one that was totally mine.

In July 2005, seven months after our first planned wedding, Harry and I got married and went on a honeymoon.

Twenty-nine days later, we were at home on a very cold night. Harry lit a charcoal burner and took it to the bedroom. After dinner, he removed it because the room was really warm. I got under the covers as he locked up the house. When he came to bed he said he was feeling dizzy, but we thought nothing of it.

It was so cold we couldn’t sleep, so I suggested getting another duvet. But Harry said he couldn’t get it as he didn’t have enough strength. Strangely, I couldn’t stand up either. We realised something was very wrong. He passed out. I passed out. I remember coming to. I would call him.

At times he would respond, at other times he wouldn’t. I pushed myself out of bed and threw up, which gave me some strength. I started crawling to the phone. I called my neighbour and said: “Something is wrong, Harry is not responding.”

She came over immediately but it took me ages to crawl to the front door to let her in as I kept passing out. I saw an avalanche of people coming in, screaming. And I passed out again.

I woke up in hospital and asked where my husband was. They said they were working on him in the next room. I said: “I’m a pastor, I’ve seen quite a lot in my life, I need you to be very straight with me.” The doctor looked at me and said: “I’m sorry, your husband did not make it.”

I couldn’t believe it.

Going back to church for the funeral was terrible. Just a month earlier I had been there in my white dress, with Harry standing at the front looking handsome in his suit. Now, I was in black and he was being wheeled in, in a casket.

People thought I was cursed and held back their children from me. “There’s a bad omen hanging over her,” they said. At one point, I actually believed it myself.

Others accused me of killing my husband. That really got me down – I was grieving.

The post-mortem showed what really happened: as the carbon monoxide filled his system, he started choking and suffocated.

I had a terrible breakdown. I felt let down by God, I felt let down by everybody. I couldn’t believe that people could be laughing, going out and just going about life. I crashed.

One day I was sitting on the balcony looking at the birds chirping away and I said: “God, how can you take care of the birds and not me?” In that instant I remembered there are 24 hours a day – sitting in depression with your curtains closed, no-one’s going to give you back those 24 hours. Before you know, it’s a week, a month, a year wasted away. That was a tough reality.

I told everybody I would never ever get married again. God took my husband, and the thought of ever going through such a loss again was too much. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. The pain is so intense, you feel it in your nails.

But there was one man – Tonny Gobanga – who kept visiting. He would encourage me to talk about my husband and think about the good times. One time he didn’t call for three days and I was so angry. That’s when it hit me that I had fallen for him.

Tonny proposed marriage but I told him to buy a magazine, read my story and tell me if he still loved me. He came back and said he still wanted to marry me.

But I said: “Listen, there’s another thing – I can’t have children, so I cannot get married to you.”

“Children are a gift from God,” he said. “If we get them, Amen. If not, I will have more time to love you.”

I thought: “Wow, what a line!” So I said Yes.

Tonny went home to tell his parents, who were very excited, until they heard my story. “You can’t marry her – she is cursed,” they said. My father-in-law refused to attend the wedding, but we went ahead anyway. We had 800 guests – many came out of curiosity.

It was three years after my first wedding, and I was very scared. When we were exchanging vows, I thought: “Here I am again Father, please don’t let him die.” As the congregation prayed for us I cried uncontrollably.

A year into our marriage, I felt unwell and went to the doctor – and to my great surprise he told me that I was pregnant.

As the months progressed I was put on total bed rest, because of the stab wound to my womb. But all went well, and we had a baby girl who we called Tehille. Four years later, we had another baby girl named Towdah.

Today, I am the best of friends with my father-in-law.

I wrote a book, Crawling out of Darkness, about my ordeal, to give people hope of rising again. I also started an organisation called Kara Olmurani. We work with rape survivors, as I call them – not rape victims. We offer counselling and support. We are looking to start a halfway house for them where they can come and find their footing before going back to face the world.

I have forgiven my attackers. It wasn’t easy but I realised I was getting a raw deal by being upset with people who probably don’t care. My faith also encourages me to forgive and not repay evil with evil but with good.

The most important thing is to mourn. Go through every step of it. Get upset until you are willing to do something about your situation. You have to keep moving, crawl if you have to. But move towards your destiny because it’s waiting, and you have to go and get it.

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