Raquel and I met in church and all I knew about her was that she seemed like a really nice happy person and I liked her. Then one day we were in a car together and I realised I had no idea. Raquel is someone whose entire life is a testimony because despite everything she has experienced, she remains one of the strongest, most focused, ambitious and inspiring people I have come across in recent times. Raquel is passionate about creating a better world and she has actively taken steps to make an impact. She is pretty amazing. I strongly recommend visiting her website www.iraquel.com in order to know more about this dynamic young woman and the work she does.
The silence was deafening, my mum couldn’t scream, she just stared at Mrs Akut. I waited for a few minutes but no one uttered a single word. I was confused. I looked at my mum and then at Mrs Akut, not sure what to say or ask. I finally opened my mouth and broke the silence, “Why is everyone quiet?” I asked.
Mrs Akut was my mum’s friend from the office, she was not sure how my mum would react; she kept saying, “Priscilla, I am very sorry”.
After waiting for another minute or so, I touched my mum’s hand and asked again “What is going on”?
Did I really want an answer? Yes!
Was I ready for the response? No!
That phrase changed the entire course of my life.
I still remember how Mrs. Akut looked at me and said “Your Daddy has gone to be with the Lord”.
I saw my Dad the day before and he was fine, what happened? Today is ‘Boxing Day’; my brothers and I were waiting for him to come back so that we can open our presents together “as a family”.
A voice from behind me asked, “What does gone to be with the Lord mean?” I looked behind me and it was my 12-year-old brother. That Christmas was the last time we saw him. That Christmas announcement changed everything.
For two days, I tried to explain what “gone to be with the Lord” means to my 12year old brother. It was the 28th of December, families were celebrating, children were having lots of fun but our Christmas tree was taken down. There was no Christmas light in front of the door anymore and the house was filled with crying adults.
A few days after my dad was laid to rest, everyone went back to their routine and their lives. No one was around to ask if we have had anything to eat. No one was there to beg me to “please go to sleep” like they did when we first received the news. No one was there to tell me “it would be okay.” Suddenly, I knew that we were all alone.
Losing my father at 16 was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with. My dad was my best friend. He taught me everything I knew about being a girl. We talked about everything, from etiquette to personal hygiene. We talked about boys and men, we read my first ‘love letter’ together and he threw jabs at the poor boy for taking every line from songs of Solomon.
I know what it’s like to hurt so much you’re not sure you can stand it any longer. And there have been times when I didn’t understand how God could allow me to go through some of the things I’ve been through. I left home after my Dad died at 16 and lived under a bridge with prostitutes, and I remember praying many times for God to rescue me from that situation. I went without food for days because I refused to be a part of them. They scorned me and said, “ Use what you have to get what you want”.
Living on the street was difficult. People have asked me this question over and over again “why did you leave home?”
My Dad and best friend died, my mum was always sick, my younger ones dropped out of school, we had no food to eat, no one to care for us and my uncle thought to marry me off to a rich man so that my brothers can get another shot at going back to school. I knew there was no way I would let that happen to me and so I disappeared.
I went to live with one of my maternal Uncles who was nice to me for a few months. He encouraged me to get a job, which I did, and his wife was the sweetest person on earth. She travelled for couple of days and he tried to rape me. The struggle for my life that day in his house left me with a huge scar on my left hand. No one told me to pack my bag and run. I ended up sleeping at Obalende that night and I found out that there were a lot of girls just like me who had nowhere to go and were surviving somehow, I joined them and made that place my new home.
The street was rough. We heard of girls who went out to parties and never came back. It scared the “crap“ out of me. I met teenagers with substance abuse problems; mothers forcing their daughters into prostitution and teenagers with HIV who were intentionally infecting others.
I had 5 near rape experiences on the street and one landed me in the hospital with a scar on my side. I have told a lot of lies about the scar on my right side just because I didn’t want anyone to judge me. I have a lot of scars on my body from sleeping in very uncomfortable places and running from hoodlums. I was sad for a very long time and a few times; I questioned God’s existence. Great thing is, I can say now that God did a lot of good things in me through those hard times. He didn’t leave me there alone.
Leaving the street wasn’t easy especially when you have no idea where to turn to.
One evening I was at a cyber café in Obalende at about 7:00pm. I asked for access code and the young girl suggested I purchase an all night access from 10:00pm-5:00am for just 200(NGN) instead of the regular 60(NGN) per hour access time. That was when it hit me; it was like a light switch suddenly went on in my head. So, for as low as 200(NGN) daily, I can have a computer, a chair and a table to myself to sleep after surfing the internet every night? The cyber café became my new home. Immediately, I went to pick my school bag with my clothes in it, I started sleeping at the café and that was how I got exposed to Cyber crimes.
I remember being on my knees at the back of the café one night, tears streaming down my face. I humbled myself before God. Guess what, I was tired of EVERYTHING. I feared that I was becoming a totally different person and I wasn’t sure if this person is me.
I had met a few “Yahoo Boys” but I didn’t understand how they make money off the Internet until I started sleeping at the café. I heard stories of well-known artists who started off as “Yahoo Boys” and used the money to kick off the music careers.
The Police visited café’s from time to time to “raid” these “yahoo boys” and each time they visit a café, they raid every single person in the café that very moment without plea. I miraculously escaped raiding twice and the next time I showed up right after a particular raid, I was almost beaten to death because the café attendant told some hoodlums that I was the informant because they felt there was no way I could escape raiding twice in less than a month.
The boys and girls at the Café were always active and all had blood shut eyes. Some blamed it on stress and lack of sleep. They didn’t trust me enough to tell me they were all dealing. When I finally discovered that half the boys had sold their Kidneys in Malaysia, I was warned to take an oath to keep quite. This oath was to be sworn with a new Knife or a New Car. This means that; whoever divulges the secret dies by accident or by stabbing. I was dazed, I knew that was no way I wouldn’t tell and then I knew I had to runaway, AGAIN!
How I ran away from the cyber café was another miracle. I remember the young man who walked up to me the evening I was going to swear an oath asking if I was a certain young lady from Adamawa named “Zara”. Of course I wasn’t Zara but our conversation that day saved my life.
I finally left the street and I can tell you honestly that that life changed me. I was physically sane but was mentally down.
Looking back, I can say, “so many times we face difficulties that alter the itinerary of our lives, only to find the detour was actually God’s path”.
I have learned so much from the things I went through. My story is not anywhere finished. There is so much to write than time can permit. I have seen and felt the hand of God in my life and have experienced closeness with my saviour that I may never have had.
This is by far, the hardest thing I ever had to go through and being able to share with you all has made it a lot easier.