Featured Storyteller

NIGERIA: Performing Arts Gave Me The Confidence to Fight Back

Mary Ero
Posted September 27, 2017 from Nigeria
Photo © kieferpix/istock

Mary Ero credits the self-esteem she gained in dance and drama programs with giving her the courage she needed to escape an attacker.

“This was the moment I realized that women with a voice and a healthy self-esteem stand a better chance of bouncing back.

I have been homeless, penniless, and unemployed. I have been physically and sexually abused. I have been raped—twice. For much of my tumultuous life, I have been a victim of my cultural conditioning. But one time was different. One time, I fought back and won.

I was part of a theater performance at my university. In those days, we had to steal whatever time was available, on whatever stage was available, to rehearse. That day, we finished rehearsals late, after 11pm.

Usually we rehearsed at the campus annex that was very close to my parents home, so it was easy for me to walk home afterwards. On other days, like this one, our rehearsals were at the main campus, which was quite a distance away.

After our rehearsal that day, our stage director expressed concern for the safety of the cast and crew, especially the girls. He wanted to know where we would sleep and how we intended to get there. He organized people who were commuting to similar locations into groups.

A few people who lived on the main campus offered shelter so we would not have to travel home that night. I gladly accepted an offer from a boy named Femi because I was not willing to face the barrage of questions my parents would have for me if I arrived at home at that time of night.

Another girl also accepted his offer, but suddenly, as we walked towards the boy's room, my friend changed her mind and decided to head home. Femi and I tried to dissuade her but she was determined to go home. She even asked that I accompany her. I declined, feeling it was safer to stay on campus. She left for home alone.

As Femi and I made our way to his room, I must admit I had some concerns about being alone with him. I asked him where he would sleep. He said this was not an issue as he would stay in the room of one of his flatmates. I was satisfied with that answer—in those days I was very trusting—and I followed him to the room.

My host's room was typical of student accommodations: a very small affair with a ceiling fan, a carpet on the tiled floor, a clothes rack that hung just beside the door, and a mattress on the floor against the wall. It was a bit untidy and dank and there was no electricity, but I was grateful for the favor.

When we arrived, Femi appeared to be quite the gentleman. He ran around getting water for my bath, laid out his tee shirt for me to change into, and stepped out while I undressed. But I began to become increasingly uncomfortable when he did not make any attempt to leave the room as I settled in to sleep.

I asked him several times when he would leave and he responded that he would go eventually. After a while he said he had decided to sleep on the floor while I took the bed. This made me extremely uneasy as there was little demarcation between the bed, which was just a mattress, and the floor.

I began to settle down to sleep, more out of exhaustion than ease. I made sure to move to the edge of the bed, and, as much as was possible in that space, out of his reach.

I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes when I felt his hand on my breast. I woke up startled and pushed it off. He pretended to be in deep sleep but his hand somehow managed to remain heavy on my body. I struggled and pushed it away, moving myself farther from him and hoping that this would strongly indicate that I wanted no part of whatever he was planning. By this time, the fog of sleepiness had dispersed from my eyes and I was lying still, praying for morning.

His next move was to roll slowly onto the mattress. Noticing this, I shifted away even further, although I soon ran out of space as I backed up into the wall. Again he placed his hand on me. This time on my torso. But it was not a light touch; it was a firm, heavy grip. As I wrestled his hand off, he rose and tried to lay his full weight on me. That was when I went crazy.

I began to punch, kick, and bite every body part of his that was within the vicinity of my hands, my legs, and my teeth. I remember biting his ear, his fingers, kicking his groin. I punched and poked his eyes as he thrashed helplessly in the dark. I must have dealt him an exceptionally wicked blow at some point because he suddenly stopped trying to attack me and rolled over to the floor.

But I was not done. I continued to kick him, bite him, scratch him, all the while calling him names like “bastard,” “idiot,” “fool” until he had no choice but to run out of the room through the only door. After he left, I locked the door and went to sleep.

He knocked at the door several times, pleading that he was sorry and saying that he needed something from the room, but I totally ignored him. In the morning, once I was certain that it was bright enough for anyone to see if he attempted to touch me, I put on my clothes from the day before, picked up my bag, opened his door, and left for home. I did not say a word to him or anyone else in the flat as I walked out.

Despite the spirited fight I put up in Femi's room, I was very deflated by what had happened. I stayed away from rehearsal for a day. When I did show up, the director of the play gave me a public scolding for not turning up the day before.

I then pulled him aside and told him about how I had fought off Femi’s rape attempt. He apologized to me and his eyes clouded with anger at Femi. “Good!” he said, “You should have bitten his manhood off.”

I don’t share this story to imply that my tactics here would work for every situation. That night, I was lucky my attacker was unprepared, alone, and unarmed. Any of these factors being present would have changed the story. I share this story because this was the moment I realized that women with a voice and a healthy self-esteem stand a better chance of bouncing back from whatever life throws at them.

I look back at that day and I still marvel at my courage. Growing up, I was a painfully shy young woman with a serious lack of self-esteem. Like most Nigerian girls I was brought up to not be expressive. The courage I summoned that night was developed over evenings of drama and dance rehearsals. Endlessly repeating lines and cues in front of an unforgiving audience established my confidence. And more importantly, in the moment I needed it, these experiences gave me my voice.

Like most girls growing up in Nigeria, I was actively discouraged from expressing myself in any way that was not considered culturally feminine. In college, free of these suppressive influences I was able to find my ‘voice’. If I had discovered my confidence and self-esteem at an earlier age, I would definitely have been better prepared to face the most difficult moments in my life. I believe all girls deserve these opportunities at a young age. Girls should be raised with the essential components of self-expression and confidence-building. It could be the difference between life and death.


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Comments 34

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  • Aise Jisimah
    Sep 28, 2017
    Sep 28, 2017

    Kudos to you dear, thanks for being strong.

  • Mary Ero
    Sep 28, 2017
    Sep 28, 2017

    Thank you Aise. Thank you.

  • Olutosin
    Sep 29, 2017
    Sep 29, 2017

    Beautiful. I am very proud of you my dear sister.

    some men are pigs, if you place them on a nearly laid bed they will still roll on the floor and layer, farther into the mud.

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 08, 2017
    Oct 08, 2017

    Thank you, Tosin. What can I say, we can only try to move forward despite it all.

  • Sister Zeph
    Sep 29, 2017
    Sep 29, 2017

    My dear sister 

    I am very much inspired by your courage, ,you are a true inspiration, all girls of this world should know about you , Love you for being so amazing 

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 08, 2017
    Oct 08, 2017

    Wow, so much love. Thank you Sister Zeph.

  • Tamarack Verrall
    Oct 01, 2017
    Oct 01, 2017

    Dear Mary,

    Not only is this such an important message, you have told it as a true Story Teller. I was riveted, so glad for your description of the power of theatre and of the trust and belief in our own power. Above all I celebrated your self defence and escape, and your wise words encouraging us all to find ways to unleash our inner tigers when need be. I imagine the joy in all the girls and women who will be meeting you along the way.

    In sisterhood,

    Tam

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 08, 2017
    Oct 08, 2017

    Hi Tam, 

    You have rendered this storyteller speechless. And that is a hard thing to do. Thanks very much for the encouragement.

  • Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
    Oct 03, 2017
    Oct 03, 2017

    Dear Mary

    Thank you so much for this story. You are brave for sharing your experience and for also fighting off your attacker. This story is very inspirational because it shows young girls that you can indeed fight off your attacker and you should not accept defeat even when there is no hope. Wooow this is a real sign of a brave and courageous woman. Stay blessed my dear sister 

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 08, 2017
    Oct 08, 2017

    That is what I was hoping to depict, Anita. We should not feel powerless in (some) dangerous situations.

  • Hilari Tripura
    Oct 07, 2017
    Oct 07, 2017

    Hi Mary,

    Your story is somehow similar to mine though I haven't shared yet. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 08, 2017
    Oct 08, 2017

    I would so love to hear it!

  • Lily Habesha
    Oct 08, 2017
    Oct 08, 2017

    My God!

    Very interesting story.

    Thank you for shari.g.

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 15, 2017
    Oct 15, 2017

    Thank you Mulatwa. And you are very welcome.

  • Ese Ajuyah
    Oct 18, 2017
    Oct 18, 2017

    Hello,

    Your story  is very empowering. This happens to many young females in campuses. Glad you could fight your way through.

    Ese

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 27, 2017
    Oct 27, 2017

    Thank you, Ese

  • Nnenna Hannah okoh-Metu
    Oct 22, 2017
    Oct 22, 2017

    you really inspired me,i must tell my story too

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 27, 2017
    Oct 27, 2017

    Yes, you must. :)

  • Ronnie.kpas
    Oct 22, 2017
    Oct 22, 2017

    Wooow, I love your bravery, thanks for not giving in, you have indeed sent a strong message to him (femi), and that will make him think twice before trying to take advantage of another woman. Thanks for been courageous.

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 27, 2017
    Oct 27, 2017

    Thanks for your kind words. 

  • francisca okwulehie
    Oct 25, 2017
    Oct 25, 2017

    Thanks for sharing Mary.

    We should never give in to rape. I learnt from your story to always put up a defence. As women we should be fearless. Thank you!!

  • Mary Ero
    Oct 27, 2017
    Oct 27, 2017

    Hi Francisca

    It helps to ignore fear. Sometimes fear can make you believe you do not have the abilities that you do. But fighting a rapist off is purely a matter of discretion, in my opinion. I think the lesson here is that you should build up your confidence enough to know the appropriate response in every situation. Thanks for reading.

  • Mercedes
    Oct 28, 2017
    Oct 28, 2017

    Wow! your story moved me. I totally agree that at healthy self-esteem is the key to empowerment and achievement... and you are fearless! I salute you and encourage you to keep going!!! 

    Love, Mercedes

  • mae me
    Nov 02, 2017
    Nov 02, 2017

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for sharing.  This gives me a thought that in any way, I should be courageous and brave enough to fight back to defend myself.

  • Mary Ero
    Nov 07, 2017
    Nov 07, 2017

    Thank you for reading my story, Maeann. I think courage is about taking the right decision at the right time, and not necessarily about fighting back. And I am sure you'll know what to do when the need arises.

  • sridevi k
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Dear Mary,
    I'm very proud of the fact that u r brave. Don't lose ur courage God has blessed u lots of talent. Make use of it and shine in the world. U r a very confident and bold lady, I'm sure u will find success in all ur endeavors by grace of the Almighty.
    Yours Sincerely
    Sridevii

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Thank And amen.so much, Sridevi.

  • Vivian Emesowum
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Mary sharing you story am sure will make you feel better, light and free. Thank you for sharing

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Thanks Vivian

  • Dawn Arteaga
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Mary: Your story moved me. Thank you for sharing this and for your bravery. The part when you compared the spirited fight you put up with how deflated you felt the next day really resonated with me. I can understand feeling that energy in the moment and then not feeling the same power the next day. Please know that power is ALWAYS with you. I am with you in spirit and grateful for your strong voice.

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Hi Dawn

    I really am happy you appreciated that part. The sinking feeling when everything comes back to stare you in the face...

    Thanks again for the encouragement.

  • julie_6
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Mary, Thank you so much for sharing your story. It brings me such grief that so many of us women have to fight off this kind of abuse. Your voice is priceless--this should not go unsung. You have a story to tell. I send love. May you continue to shine your light everywhere you go whenever you can.

  • Mary Ero
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Hey Julie

    It is tiresome that this pattern of abuse is rampant and repetitive but that is why we must keep pushing back with our voices.

    Thanks for your comment

  • kitty
    May 06
    May 06

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are so brave. Truly, thank you.
    -K