This story is about a Sarah’s resident growing up in Africa. We will call her Madre, because she is like many women at Sarah’s who are mothers separated from their children having had to flee from violence.
Madre grew up helped by Catholic Sisters. Her parents’ jobs, mass, marriages, births, and the kids’ school were all at church. Madre and her siblings received very good education because of the Sisters. Parents working as a gardener and laundry woman, they were poor but despite this, because of the Sisters, the children were able to go to school. Madre’s mom sent her to school with dry bread and fountain water. Other kids drank grenadine syrup (green in their bottles) and snacked on cookies. These children of rich parents shamed Madre.
Madre’s dad wanted a better life for her and so sent her to be married. Madre just started her first teaching job. The man she was to marry was wealthy, but she’d be his second wife and if she’d had children with him they would not be cared for as much as the first wife’s. Madre ran from him and found a poor man she would have children with, who would love her and love the children. Madre’s dad wouldn’t give his blessing. Estranged from her parents, knowing they would kill her if she returned, Madre left to another country with this poor man, leaving her teaching job. Soon, she heard her dad had passed away. Family at the funeral said that he became sick and passed away because she angered him. Madre returned home to her poor husband and lived with his parents. They started fighting a lot because they didn’t have money and she was struggling to find a job. Often she was left alone with their children because the government was always looking for her husband (they wrongfully thought he was in politics) and kept jailing him. Madre was very tired. At last, she took her kids and returned to her birth country.
After leaving her husband, worried about her children’s safety with him being chased constantly by police, the children were suffering moving from place to place. Madre talked to the Sisters who taught her growing up. They didn’t have a place for them to stay but could give Madre a cleaning job. They would continue to get food from family. Madre rented one room with her five kids. Within the year, she’d applied for teacher jobs at three schools. She had three interviews, and three job offers. Madre chose the best school, not far away, and a good salary. Evenings she would make extra money as a private tutor at home. As small children Madre taught her kids at home, but now, they were going to school. Often because family no longer was helping out, no one was around but Madre and the youngest children.
A policeman who, whenever he saw Madre, knowing she didn’t have a husband, said he wanted to come to her home. One day the kids were away except the smallest, who was home watching tv. In towns like Madre’s, your doors were always open except at night so people just walked in. The policeman came in and started touching her forcefully. Madre shouted and her 6 year old son ran to defend her. The man kicked him in the stomach, he fell, and the man ran away. Madre’s son started vomiting a lot. She took him to the public hospital, the only hospital they could afford. When Madre returned to work, a woman whose kids she taught was asking where she had been. Madre was sad and started crying saying that she had been at the public hospital with her son and he had swelled up because his kidneys didn’t work. This woman was rich and asked if she could take Madre’s son to an expensive hospital. The doctors said it’s likely too late but they would try. Two days later, Madre’s son passed away.
After a few months, Madre’s sister in America called, pregnant and wanting her to come-- and leave these memories behind. Madre arrived in the US four months after her son’s death, to stay with her pregnant sister who needed her help. “Let me take you for vacation and you’ll come back after that,” she said. Madre’s sister applied for a Visa for her and they gave her one the same day.
Quickly, it became clear Madre’s sister’s objective was to have her help her with her kids and never return to Africa. Even if she could, she didn’t feel she could ever be safe because of the police there. Staying with her sister, caring for children, just reminded her of her little son… and the other four in Africa… she would cry and cry. Her sister would shout at her about why she would just sit and cry.
One day, Madre went outside into the cold Minnesota snow. She didn’t dress warm and planned to lie there until she died. A friend from the same country found her and told her she could not do that and brought her inside. She told Madre to remember her kids and said “let me ask where I am living if they have a space.” Madre helped her sister all day, every day, and cried but didn’t sleep each night, and so she couldn’t figure out how to help herself. Madre’s friend brought her to Sarah’s. Finally at Sarah’s she could sleep, and in her peace at last, Madre accepted food and started caring for herself. Sarah’s helped her connect to the Center for Victims of Torture for medical and trauma care. Madre found out she is diabetic. She says ‘life changed. I look better physically and morally I am better.’ Madre was able to start working (she had a work permit but living with her sister couldn’t leave her to work). Not working meant that Madre couldn’t send money to her kids. Even when her sister or friend gave her money, Madre never bought anything to care for herself and just sent whatever money to her kids. Madre says now, ‘I am not the person people knew, I am another woman now.’