In the raw testimony of her torture and abuse, Tina Okpara paints an unforgettable portrait of a child determined for a better life. This powerful memoir will force any parent to think twice before disposing of essential responsibilities for their child.
'My Life Has a Price' by Tina Okpara (Amalion Publishing: Dakar, October 2012, ISBN 978-2-35926-016-8, 192 pages, Price: £13.95)
133 Cité Assemblée
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In the grim world of human trafficking, Nigeria is just one of the many African countries where girls in their adolescence are exploited for the purposes of forced labour and sexual abuse. Equally, many people from these same countries are eager to move away from their native land with the hope of escaping repression, whether it be based on gender, religion, social or economic factors. They want freedom and independence. However this is the irony of Tina’s story.
Tina Okpara’s ‘My Life Has A Price’ takes us on her five-year journey to hell. She is transported from a loving yet poor childhood in Nigeria to the home of a celebrity footballer where she is repeatedly abused - raped, beaten and tortured. Initially captivated by her adopted parents, the realities of modern slavery soon kick in. It is interesting to observe that deeply embedded within the father is the superficial idea that a foreign land is the source of success. Whether it is naivety or selfishness, to him Okpara’s offer of adoption is Tina’s lucky break. Tina’s slim yet powerful memoir about this experience will force any parent to think twice before disposing of the responsibilities for their child.
It is the dream of gaining a good education which lures Simon Omaku into giving her up to the hands of Godwin Okpara and his wife Linda. Normal to childhood, it is a family environment of love, care and innocence; however this is all snatched away from Tina at the price of €375 – the sum given to Simon Omaku by Godwin Okpara. Tina firmly believes her father did not expect the cruel ordeal that later faced her and therefore is not to blame.
Her tragedy starts when she loses her biological mother, which she blames herself for. Her father quickly re-marries, giving Tina a stepmother and a house full of commotion. To escape this, her father decides it would be best for Tina to live with her uncle; a place where she is loved and given adequate care. However she is soon removed from this safe haven when her best friend’s mother succeeds in her plan to adopt her and transport her to a wonderful life in a foreign land. But instead, she is not a sister to her best friend but a slave - made to do all the housework and forced to sleep in the cellar, isolated from the other children.
As the dream of education becomes ever distant, Tina seeks comfort in tattered books found in the bin. Writing becomes her friend and therapy. Despite the fatigue, she always finds energy to confide in her notebooks. In secret, she tells the pages the events of her day and it is where she takes out her anger and fury of a broken dream. Her story resonates with the lives of many where the parallel lines of reality and dreams never meet. But unlike most, her only dream is to have the normal childhood promised to her; to study and to have friends to laugh with.
Continuous criticism endured from her adopted mother appears to be painless in comparison to the beatings. Using the heels of her shoes, Linda Okpara would bald Tina’s scalp. When her step father Godwin attempts to come to her rescue, she is labelled as a slut and he is accused of sleeping with her. Although this is not true at the time, it eventually becomes a reality, and Linda takes all of her anger out on Tina, scarring her for life.
To the outside world, the Okparas are an enviable family, one with a ‘genteel’ lifestyle whilst Tina’s life is invisible to the world. She does not know anyone who can help her and being unable to speak French, hinders this. Although her four new siblings witness the daily trauma she goes through, there is little mention of them in the book and while it appears that they try and ease the tension whenever they can, they fail to seek help for her.
Each attempt to run away and gain her freedom is a climatic point in the book itself, as she meets people who are willing to help her but eventually only direct her to the French authorities. As soon as she mentions her surname she is handed back to the Okparas. It is as if the famous can do no wrong.
13 August 2005 is a day Tina will never forget. It is the day she finally manages to escape. She runs away after Godwin once again tries to rape her. After nearly five years of abuse, it is on her third attempt to escape that she finally meets people who believe her story and take her to the authorities. Police accompany her to the house and demand her papers. The police are denied entry by Godwin and this is the beginning of Godwin Okparas exposure to the life he has subjected Tina too.
In the raw testimony of her torture and abuse, Tina Okpara paints an unforgettable portrait of a child determined for a better life. Her endurance through pain and struggle provides hope for those who may be undergoing similar tribulations. This absorbing book of survival is a moving testament of how time heals.
The genuine and simple tone of the memoir reflects Tina's pre-teen voice and readers are effortlessly able to picture her excruciating experiences. The book details her ordeals in a very descriptive yet clear manner leaving no truth untold. It is very easy to empathise with her and it is difficult not to feel that you want to intervene in her life. Undoubtedly, the story will arouse emotions and reflections about the sad state of what many African children may be undergoing today. This book will certainly shock readers and ask the question - how can a mother of four be so cruel to another woman’s child?
Tina’s gripping memoir starts as a tragedy yet ends celebrating life - a real life story of hope, compassion and survival.
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* Fahmida Khan is a law student and a budding writer who researches and explores social troubles faced by teenagers and young adults through fiction and non-fiction.