Every woman remembers her wedding day with a tear in her eye – but, here in Ethiopia, the tears are different, and darker, and do not stop. Nurame Abedo is sitting in her hut high in the clouds, remembering the day she became a wife. She lives hundreds of miles into the countryside, thousands of feet above sea-level, in the hills of the bridal-kidnapping capital of the world. For 40 years, she didn’t talk about her wedding, or how it came to happen. If she tried, she was beaten by her captor, who said good women never speak of such things. So she tells her story slowly, haltingly, her sentences punctuated by sudden high-pitched laughs that seem to erupt involuntarily from her gut.
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Nurame was in her bed when she was woken by an angry mêlée. In her family’s hut there were grown men – an incredible number, 10 or more, all in their 30s, all standing over her father, shouting. They reached for her. At night here, where there is no electricity, perfect darkness falls, and everything becomes a shadow-play of barely visible flickers. But even though she was eight years old, she suspected at once what was happening. She had heard whispers that, when a girl is considered ready for marriage, a man will seize her, and rape her, and then she must serve him for the rest of her life. “That was the culture,” she says. But it wasn’t her culture: like all the other little girls, she didn’t want it. “I started screaming and tried to run out of the hut,” she says. “I hid in the trees – hah! – but one of the men found me.”
She was taken back to his home, held down in front of his family, raped, and taken to be married the next morning. Dazed, she signed the papers, and waited for a moment when she could flee.