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Terry Gobanga: abducted, gang-raped, and left for dead on my wedding day

Lady Speak

"They thought I was dead. They looked for a pulse and they couldn't find it. So they put me in the back of the police pick-up and covered me with a blanket, then drove towards City Mortuary. Fortunately I gained consciousness and coughed," says Terry Gobanga She is talking about a day in December 2004, the day she was to wed her fiancé, Harrison Ouma Olwande. Instead, the day had quickly turned tragic when she was abducted, gang raped, beaten and stabbed, and left for dead by the roadside. But this was only her first taste of tragedy — more was in store for her.

As she recalls her wedding day, her eyes cloud over. "Like every other bride, I was so excited. I was going to marry the man I loved. I was a young pastor and was anticipating a big wedding as many church members would attend. I had been dating Harry for six years. On the night before the wedding, I realised that I had some of Harry's outfit accessories, including his cravat. A friend who was staying over offered to take them to Harry in the morning. We woke up early and I walked my friend to the matatu stage from Buruburu. It was around quarter to 6 AM." On the way back, Terry noticed a group of men who had parked a car on the roadside. "One of the men was sitting on the bonnet. But it didn't strike me as unusual. My mind was full of plans for the exciting day ahead," says Terry. As she walked past the car, the man sitting on the bonnet grabbed her and pushed her onto the back seat, then the others got in and they drove off. "I was gagged with a piece of cloth so I couldn't scream. I was fighting- kicking, and throwing my hands. There were three men; one holding me in the backseat, a driver, and a co-driver. One of the men said that if I didn't cooperate, they would kill me." Terry managed to push the gag out of her mouth and screamed, "It's my wedding day! It's my wedding day!" The men just laughed at her. One of them said "It's our wedding day too!" before whacking her on the head. "They started raining blows on me. One of them was threatening me with a knife and I was struggling to fend the blows and grab the knife, so I had cuts all over my hands. They somehow managed to remove my jeans and took turns raping me," she says.

All this time, they were still driving. To Terry, the whole incidence seemed surreal. "I knew I was going to die... on my wedding day! I fought as much as I could but my body was getting worn out. At one point, they stopped the car so the driver could also have his turn at raping me. He decided to remove my gag and insert his manhood in my mouth. I bit him and he howled in pain. One of them stabbed me and they cast me out of the moving car and sped away." It was now at around midday, six hours after she had been abducted. She had been left somewhere in Ongata Rongai, Kiserian area.

At All Saints Cathedral where the groom, wedding guests, and priest were wondering where Terry could be. Rumours were spreading that she had decided to not show up. Harry, who had unshakeable faith in his bride, was starting to panic. He knew it was unlike her to not show up. But his phone had been taken and he was assured that his bride was on the way. But the church had taken down her wedding decor to make way for other wedding ceremonies. Unconscious, Terry lay by the roadside bleeding from her wounds. Fortunately, a little girl had seen her thrown out of the car and ran home to report her grandmother. The old woman screamed for help. The people were convinced that Terry was already dead, given the amount of blood she had lost. They tried to flag down passing vehicles and call the police to take her body. A prominent person happened to pass by and he managed to get the police to respond. "When the police came, they also couldn't find a pulse. They said 'Ah, this one is gone.' They wrapped me in a blanket and put me on a pickup to take me to City Mortuary" Terry recalls.

The policemen decided to pass by the police station to write a report. While there, Terry regained consciousness and coughed. They realised that she wasn't dead and rushed her to Kenyatta National Hospital. "I was later told that I became violent and was muttering incoherently. I was especially scared of men and didn't want to hear male voices around me. All I remember is that I was thinking about my wedding gown and then about the men who had attacked me. I was oscillating between what should have happened and what actually happened, and my mind couldn't reconcile the two." Maybe it was her incoherent muttering, or divine intervention that alerted one of the matrons that Terry was a missing bride. The matron decided to call several churches to find out if they were missing a bride. Luckily, the first call was to All Saints Cathedral, where Terry's family and wedding guests were getting frantic with worry. The minister confirmed that they were indeed missing a bride. The family, accompanied by guests and members of the press went to see Terry in Hospital.

"Harry was there with the wedding dress. I remember feeling so angry that the media was there. I was ashamed about what had happened to me. I was angry at God. I was dejected. There was a lot going through my mind. I wanted to be left alone," Terry remembers.

RAPTURED WOMB To make matters worse, the doctors has told her that the stab on her abdomen had ruptured her womb, which meant she would never be able to carry a pregnancy. She was transferred to Nairobi Women's Hospital where she could have more privacy. She was immediately given emergency contraceptive pills and put on antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection. "Throughout the process, my family and friends were very supportive. Harry was by my side and he wanted to go through with the wedding. I was scared that he wouldn't want me after what had happened to me. But he insisted on being there for me," she says. Three months later, she was declared negative for HIV. Another test after three more months confirmed the results. "This was a huge relief for me. I had worried about infecting Harry. I told him that we could start planning for a new wedding."

SECOND WEDDING Terry and Harry threw themselves into planning their wedding again. However, challenges abounded. "People were not showing up to committee meetings. I was getting frustrated and started praying for a miracle. A lady called Vip Ogolla, who had read my story in the papers got my contact from a media house and approached me. She was also a rape survivor and we shared our experiences. On learning that I was planning a new wedding, she told me that she and her friends would pay for my wedding. They told me to pick whatever I wanted," she says. In July 2005, Terry finally walked down the aisle. This time round, no expense was spared. Instead of a rented gown, she had one which was totally hers. She also had her dream cake design. To make sure that his bride was safe, her fiancé hired a couple of body guards for her.

The rape culprits had never been caught. "I was invited to the police station severally to identify possible culprits from line-ups. But I never saw the men. One of the men had not been cautious about hiding his face and I was confident that I could easily identify him. Every time I would go for a line-up, it would set my healing a few steps back. Eventually I told the police not to ask me for any more line-ups and left it to God," says Terry. After the wedding, the lovebirds went to the Kenyan coast for their honeymoon. On going back to Nairobi, they moved to Kabete to start their married life.

POISONING On the twenty-ninth day after their wedding, they were home on a very chilly night. To keep his wife warm, Harry lit a charcoal jiko. "He had really gone out of his way to get a jiko and the charcoal. I remember how happy we were. We were looking forward to a great life together. Weirdly Harry started telling me that if he were to die, I should go on with my life. I didn't want that kind of talk, so I told him we had plenty of years ahead of us to discuss that," Terry recalls. Before they went to bed, Harry took the jiko outside. Later as they lay in bed talking, Terry suggested that they get an additional duvet. Harry offered to get it, but realised he didn't have enough strength to rise from the bed. "I told him I would do it. But I tried to stand and I couldn't. That is when we realised that something was wrong. We started praying loudly, asking God to keep us alive. At certain points we would pass out. We screamed for help but nobody heard or responded. When I came to, I would call Harry and after some time he stopped responding. I had to do something," she says.

Terry managed to push herself off the bed. She vomited, which gave her some strength. She got her phone and called a neighbour. "At first they thought we were being robbed. "No," I told her. "Something is wrong. Harry is not responding. Come quickly." However, with their door locked, the neighbours couldn't get in. Terry was crawling to the door and passing out. "It might have taken me about half an hour to get to the door. They managed to break the padlock but couldn't get though the metallic latch. When I finally got to the door, they rushed in. I passed out," Terry says. She woke up in a hospital bed. She immediately sensed something was wrong."I kept asking about Harry and they would tell me "He's OK; we are working on him in the next room." I heard some nurses whispering and caught the word 'mortuary', which disturbed me. I pressed the doctor to tell me the truth and he finally told me that Harry was dead. Carbon monoxide poisoning had killed him.

Terry was shocked. She even laughed. "I just couldn't believe it. I told them we just needed to pray for Harry, that he wasn't dead," she remembers. Terry's world came crumbling down. A month after her wedding, she was planning her grooms funeral. "We went back to the church, where only a month before we had been wed. But instead of a white gown I was in black, and Harry was in a casket, "I wondered if I was cursed. Had I done something to deserve so much pain in my life? People were even looking at me funny. Some distant relatives even started accusing me of killing my husband. Some church leaders even wanted me to be kicked out of my position as a pastor. Although my family was supportive, I fell into depression," she says. In denial, depression, and disillusionment, Terry decided never to get married again. "If God had decided marriage wasn't for me, who was I to contradict Him?" she thought.

LOVE AND LIGHT AGAIN Right now she is married. She laughs as she looks at her husband, Tonny Gobanga, who has been fussing over her throughout the interview. The two got married in 2007. After the death of her first husband, Tonny had been very supportive. "Other men had come into my life and proposed marriage. But I turned them all down. Tonny was different, he allowed me to grief. He allowed me to talk about Harry as much as I wanted. He encouraged me to focus on the happy memories I had with Harry."

At one point, Tonny didn't call Terry for three days and it suddenly hit her that she was in love. He later proposed to her. "I asked him 'Are you sure you want to marry me?' I couldn't believe that a man would really want to marry me after all I had gone through. Tonny persisted, even after reading my story in the magazine. He didn't mind not having children." A year after their wedding, the doctors who had warned that she would never get pregnant were disproved. Terry was pregnant. However, she was advised to terminate her pregnancy. "Doctors told me, you have to terminate this pregnancy or you'll die. But I didn't want to do that. My husband and I talked and prayed about it and decided to keep the pregnancy. We would trust God for a miracle."

The couple went through four doctors before they found one who agreed to help them through the pregnancy. As the months advanced, Terry was put on total bed rest. She gave birth to a daughter, whom they name Tehille. Four years later they had another daughter, Towdah. As Terry looks at her family, she smiles radiantly. She is amazed at how she has grown from the painful incidents which marked her life. She's even more amazed at how many lives her story continues to impact. "God had a plan for me, and everything which happened to me was for a reason. My husband and I started a church called Stones to Rubies in Ongata Rongai, the place where I was left for dead. Now I have a positive association with the place. I also wrote a book titled 'Crawling out of Darkness' about my whole experience to give people hope," she says.

Writing the book wasn't easy. "I wanted to be as honest as possible and I poured my soul into that book. I relived the moments as I was writing, which at times would darken my moods. My husband encouraged me to keep writing when I felt like giving up," she recalls. Additionally, they stated a non-profit organisation called Kara Olmurani, which means 'I'm a warrior' in Maasai. "Through Kara Olmurani, we work with rape and trauma survivors. My intention is to help them overcome the trauma of their ordeals. We offer counselling and support, both online and offline. We have WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Because my story has been published internationally we have managed to reach women all over the world. Every day I get messages from all over the world from people who are inspired by my story," she says.

Terry has forgiven her rapists. "I even went a step ahead and started a program to preach to prison inmates. I especially request for the rapists. Through this, I try to understand what goes through the mind of a rapist. I have talked to several rapists and most are people who have had trauma in their lives as well. I've only met one rapist who was totally unrepentant. It has been a highly emotional journey for me. I hope that one day I'll meet the men who raped me and face them," says Terry. "I've decided to take everything that happened to me and help others. There's no need to hold onto bitterness –it only hurts you. I decide to be happy every day, despite the things that have happened to me. God has blessed me abundantly; I have a loving husband, beautiful children, and a purposeful ministry. What more could I ask for?" she says.

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