Friday, October 29, 2010

From Zimbabwe to the UK: Skye's Story

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It’s a cold, rainy autumn afternoon. Skye Chirape and I had arranged to meet at the entrance of London’s infamous Victoria Station. When I get there, I realize that there are 4 different entrances with hundreds of people buzzing around in every direction. I haven’t a clue as to where I am supposed to be standing or what Skye even looks like. After a brief moment of panic, I decide to just go with the flow and let destiny take over.

Almost immediately, I spot the small African woman that you see in the photograph. Her sense of style and fashion sets her apart from the throngs of people at the station. Skye notices me in the same instant and we are drawn to one another. A few moments later we’ve settled into an English Pub with two hot cups of coffee to take the chill out of our damp bones.

Before long, I discover that I am in the company of yet another extremely courageous individual. After more than two years of research on Rights of Passage, there are persistent factors that evidence themselves repeatedly in the people we have met - tenacity, compassion, hope and bravery. LGBT activists are forces to be reckoned with.

Without hesitation, Skye tells me of her middle class and strict Christian faith based upbringing in Zimbabwe. She is well spoken and spirited. Probably the very things that got her into trouble at age 10 when she and a classmate were caught in the throes of pre-adolescent intimacy. After that her life was not the same. Skye’s actions brought great “shame” upon her family. She was severely punished and kept under very close watch all through her teen years. No more same sex encounters; they were far too dangerous.

In Zimbabwe like much of Africa, homosexuality is a scourge. For lesbians, “corrective rape” by family members and/or by other men in the community is common place. Violent intercourse is meant to set the misguided woman back upon the path of heterosexuality. Skye told me that many African lesbians have not only suffered this fate but also have born children from their rapes. A constant reminder of their shame in the form of a child.

Skye sighs, smiles and then presses on. “So one day I just packed a bag and left for London. I knew only one person there and she took me in. It was mostly so I’d look after her young child but I was just grateful to have a roof over my head. I soon realized however that this would be a dead end for me.” Skye continued, “ I wanted an education. I wanted a better job. I wanted independence. I wanted to know my true nature”

Long harrowing story short, Skye obtained admission to a British college and acquired her student visa. She worked 5-6 menial part-time jobs to make ends meet and eventually earned a degree in Psychology. Not wanting to stop there, Skye decides to pursue and acquired a Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology. After a 7 year odyssey of seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape including false imprisonment as an illegal immigrant, Skye was finally granted asylum in the UK. She now works in the British Justice System. Ironically, the same system that she battled for asylum.

“But you know, now it is my duty to work to make things better for my sisters in Zimbabwe she says emphatically. “I must use all available resources to educate and advocate for change in my country. It is difficult but I know change can come. Information and knowledge is power.”

The time has flown by. Our lively 3 hour conversation draws to a close. I only have space to include part of our exchange here.

Skye looks into my eyes and asks if she has helped our play. I tell her yes and smile gratefully. “You have given a voice and a soul to the African lesbian characters we are writing in Rights of Passage.” They will now live on stage in your image. She seems pleased.

As we say our goodbyes, I silently promise myself to express those characters with the same grace and poetry I found in her words this afternoon.

In my next entry I will share my conversation with gay Reverend Rowland Jide Macauley from Nigeria.

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