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Monday, February 1, 2010

Life, for Mariam Stanford, will never be the same again

Story courtesy of The Guardian on Sunday (31st January, 2010)
The 28-year-old woman whose hands were chopped off in a gruesome albino attack in October 2008 is currently in the United States undergoing treatment to receive prosthetic arms.

Mariam Stanford has suffered tremendous strife since thugs left her for dead in her home in Ntubeye village, Ngara district, and made off with her hands, presumably to sell on the black market to those who believe albino body parts bring good luck.

The most basic daily activities that most take for granted are now arduous procedures for Stanford, requiring tremendous patience and poise.

For example, to make a phone call, she slowly places her lips to her cell phone like someone preparing to kiss a lover, and she then dials the number using her mouth before maneuvering the phone to her ears to listen.

Stanford, the mother of a 3-year-old son, now depends on her mother for help doing most things around the house, she said in a recent interview.

"I can't feed myself, I can't wash myself, can't cook or farm,” she said, glancing at the remains of hands. "My life will never be the same again.”

Although Stanford was suffering when she spoke with The Guardian on Sunday just a couple of months ago, a ‘good Samaritan’ flew her to the United States in early December to receive treatment and prosthetic arms, she said. She is expected to return to Tanzania early next month with fully functional mechanical hands.

But no amount of medical treatment will erase the memory of Stanford’s attack that night, on October 18, 2008. Stanford, who was three months pregnant at the time, had eaten dinner with her family before wishing them a good night like any other nights, but little did she know that one of her neighbours was planning to kill her that night.

“What pains me more is that the very same neighbour who has lived near me for years is the one who did this to me,” Stanford said. “Though as a Christian I am taught to forgive seven times seventy, whenever I look at my chopped hands, it becomes very hard for me to forgive those who attacked me. Hopefully God will judge them one day in heaven.”

Though she had been horrified by the killings of albinos that had been escalating in Tanzania's Lake Victoria region, Stanford had never imagined that her neighbour whom she had known for two decades, would see her body as a source of profit.

In her tiny grass-roofed and mud-built house, Stanford locked the doors and went to bed with her two younger sisters and her son, expecting to wake up safely in the morning ready to continue with daily activities.

But on that day her name was on the killers' list who were promised Shs 6 million ($4400) if they could manage to get away with Stanford’s body organs.

"It was around 1am or midnight when I heard people knocking roughly on my door, before they managed to get inside my house," she recalled.

"I tried to cry for help but suddenly my eyes met a sharp torch's light...I saw my neighbour holding a bush knife which he used to attack me."

"He cut my left hand — I cried for help but fell down on the floor before he cut my right hand," Stanford said. “I saw my death coming...I tried to shout loudly for my parents, but no one came."

"I didn't know that when my attacker entered my room, the others had surrounded my parents' house to ensure that nobody came to help me," she said.

After the killers left with Stanford’s hands, her parents finally rushed into her house ready to help, but they were shocked to find her lying in a pool of her own blood.

"I told them that I know my attacker...he is our neighbour," she said. "My parents quickly went to his home and found this man trembling with fresh blood stains on his clothes...they arrested and beat him but he declined to disclose who his accomplices were."

It took nearly five hours to get Stanford to the nearby hospital for treatment. She suffered a miscarriage because of the ordeal.

“That’s how I escaped from hell,” she said as she finished her harrowing account, adding that she is disappointed that over a year since she was attacked the suspects are yet to be convicted. The albino attacks may have stopped recently, but the devastation they have caused still haunts hundreds of victims and their families.

Stanford’s biggest fear is that some of the suspects, who are currently out of jail, may return to kill her before they stand to testify in court in the next few months.

“These are very powerful people who have money…I still fear that they might come after me one day,” she said. “Look at where I live right now, there’s nothing that can stop them from reaching me except God…I have left everything to God.”

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