“She doesn’t go anywhere! She stays here with me.” A fiercely protective Mama Fatima tells the journalist when she suggests that her teenage daughter, Fatima wait outside as they conduct the interview. This is the final scene in the emotionally wrenching A Ditch in Madagali presented by Fehinty African Theatre Ensemble in Chicago, Illinois.
Mama Fatima is justified. She is one of the many women who lost their husbands and children when her town suffered attacks by to the Boko Haram insurgents and now that they have been kicked out, she can’t let her daughter out of her sight. Not after the sacrifices she made to protect her.
On the night of 14-15 April 2014, over 200 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok. Later, a rebel group, Boko Haram came out to claim the kidnappings. Some of the girls have since been rescued, others escaped, some came home with children of the rebels while other were pregnant. Others have never been released. The kidnapping of Chibok girls as they were/are referred to by the media received a lot of media coverage.
While world news headlines were about the Chibok girls on April 15th and the days that followed, this was just one of the attacks of the rebel insurgents, they terrorized villages, killed people, raped women, abducted and radicalized boys and young men and forcefully took young girls as wives before and after the 2014 abductions. “The terror network in northeastern Nigeria has killed 20,000 people, abducted thousands more and driven more than 2 million people from their homes during its eight-year insurgency.” NPR
There are countless stories of these girls and the families that have suffered the attacks, seen their loved ones killed, lived through the anguish of waiting for their children to come home, and fought to survive; and a population living with both physical and emotional effects of these attacks.
Mama Fatima’s town was one of the many that suffered from these attacks but after they killed her husband, she swore to do whatever it took to protect her family, to protect her daughter from being taken and married off to the Boko Haram rebels. Even if it meant “acting” crazy.
The Story of Zainabu Hamayaji
A ditch in Madagali is inspired by the story of 47 year old Zainabu Hamayaji who went beyond the extra mile to protect her teenage daughter, Hassana Isa when her town of Madagali in Adamawa State, Nigeria was attacked and taken over Boko Haram men in 2014. When she heard that the rebels were looking for and taking young girls as wives, she dug a hole in the ground in which she hid her 11year old daughter and feigned insanity for months to protect her from being abducted and married off to the rebels
In the play, Mama Fatima, a moslem, and her friend Amina, a christian have a bond that seems to have been tested and survived the attacks that would otherwise have them on different sides. They have both lost their husbands and are staying for their children; Mama Fatima to keep the rebels off her young girl with the ingenious plan of “acting” crazy, and her friend, Amina because she hopes her son, Musa whose whereabouts are unknown will maybe come back someday and she wants to be home when he does. The hopes of that however wither every day and now she prays that he’s dead rather than have been radicalised and forced to work with the rebels.
After being raped (along with her friend, mama Fatima) and her home ransacked, she finally bids farewell to her dear friend in a tear jacking scene, only for a timid Musa to show up with the rebels when they come to look for Fatima in the next scene.
The scenes of the play are punctuated by sounds of media reports and gun fire but by far the one that drives the point home is the powerful scene where the government forces are fighting the rebels to take back the town. For what feels like a long while although it’s nothing more than a minute, there is only darkness and the sound of gunfire in the theatre. This is the part that gives you a taste of the fear and despair of war.
When the lights finally come back on, Mama Fatima can take her child out of the ditch and back to their home.
The star of the show is Faith Ridge who plays Mama Fatima. Besides hers being the lead role, Ms Ridge’s powerful stage presence and the unwitting ability to move back and forth between grief, bravery, “insanity”, and a fierce mother’s love effortlessly takes the audience through the story’s deep emotions.
Directed by Mathew Dada, it also features among others actors, Maame Addae, Obi Uwakwe, Audrey Catalano, and the young and promising Ebunoluwa Adesida in her debut stage appearance as Fatima. With a cast of African actors, the production gave the audience an added bonus of listening to authentic accents true to the world of the play.
The play dealt with difficult subjects of war and its side effects, yet we can watch it with the knowledge that when the lights come back on and the play ends, we are going back to our comfortable homes. This is something Zainabu Hamayaji and others like her in that part of Nigeria and elsewhere in the world could only ever wish for and still do.
A ditch in Madagali was commissioned by Fehinty African Theatre Ensemble after the Artistic director of the African Theatre company based in Chicago, Olateju Adesida came across the article about Zianabu Hamayaji. The play was written by Philister Sidigu whose other play, Wrecked was produced by the company in 2017.