The diary of a slave girl

My name is Nubia and I am 16 years old. I grew up with my family on a small farm near the west coast of Africa but yesterday, the world that I knew fell apart.
I was happily playing with my younger brother, Adun, and baby sister, Kia, while my parents were keeping an eye on us from further down the field. Suddenly, we heard footsteps approaching behind us and, as we turned round, we saw about 20 men, their skin colour as white as the clouds. We were so surprised to see such people that we didn’t move as they rushed towards us. The next minute, they had thrown a net over the three of us and were carrying us away. I could see our parents start to run towards us but the same thing happened to them.
We were put in a wagon and travelled for some hours before we reached the coast. Here we were separated and put into two pens: me, my mother and Kia were put in one with lots of other women and children, and my father and Adun were put in another pen filled with African men.
Again, we waited until eventually we were lined up and let out, one by one. The white men put a chain round each of our wrists and I noticed they had numbers on. I was number 92. Next we were shackled together and herded onto a boat, bigger than anything I had ever seen. We were pushed and shoved underneath the deck and the men were taken down below us. We were lined up in groups of 10 and chained to wooden shelves, one on top of another. I was on the 3rd shelf up and closest to the door, lying next to my mother and Kia. Kia was crying and my mother was trying to comfort her and that’s when I suddenly became overwhelmed with terror. Why had these strange white men taken us? What did they want to do with us? I think they must be evil spirits who have come to kill us. All I can think of to do is to pray, so I close my eyes as tight as I can and pray with all my being.
Day 1
I don’t know how long I was praying for but I must have eventually fallen asleep because I’ve now woken to the sounds of groans, children crying and the creak of the boat as it rolls from side to side. We must have set sail.
There is a crack in the door that I am next to and I can just about see through it. One of the evil spirit men is whipping a young boy, for what I don’t know. My eyes are starting to become accustomed to the darkness around me and I try to take in my surroundings. I can make out the feeble outlines of many women and children packed together like the net-loads of fish that my father used to catch in the river near our house. I realise that, like the fish gasping for air in the net, I am also finding it hard to breathe in this confined space. It is so hot in here and all of us are sweating which makes the air smell terrible.
I notice that there are about 4 or 5 different languages being spoken by the women, who must be from nearby tribes. I can make out some of what they are saying, though, because there are similarities with our language. Everyone seems as confused and frightened as I am and some are talking about ending their lives rather than face an unknown and probably terrifying fate.
After what seems like forever, the evil spirit men come down with bowls of over boiled rice and beans. It doesn’t look appetising at all and I don’t trust anything that these men bring so I refuse to eat it. The next minute, one of the men has forced my mouth open and shoved a spoon of the stuff in. It seems to swell up in my mouth and I really believe I am going to choke to death but I eventually manage to swallow and breathe again. The men leave and I start crying uncontrollably. I look over at my mother and see hopelessness in her eyes. I think the only thing to do is to sleep.
Day 7
I have been keeping note of how many days it is has been since we were taken from our home by carving a notch in my shelf each day with a jagged bit of my chain. It has been a week now and conditions on the boat have got a lot worse. The stench is unbearable and burns the inside of my nostrils. We are only allowed up on deck once a day and the rest of the time we are chained to our shelves so we have to go to the toilet where we are lying. No one has thought to clean us or the room where we are held, so we are covered in our own mess. Also, some of the women and children have become very sea sick and have vomited. Unfortunately, as I am on one of the middle shelves, the vomit and excrement drips down from the higher shelves onto me. I have lost all my dignity. We are being treated like animals rather than humans and the evil spirit men call us names in their language which I can only assume are harsh insults.
Lying next to Kia is another girl. I’d say she’s about 15. Her name is Mamba. She is all alone here, as the day she was captured she had just been with her father and brother (her mother having died when she was very little). Mamba had described her brother to me and I believe he was the boy I saw getting whipped on my first day, not that I would tell her that. It feels good having someone I can call a friend. I think Mamba especially likes it. However, it doesn’t change how awful it is being here.
Day 14
Most days when we’re taken up on deck the evil spirit men make us dance for their entertainment but it is hard to dance when you are wearing shackles. Sometimes, the men take one of the women away and when they come back, the women look like they’ve had all their life sucked out of them but none ever tell what happened. Some of the women have started to plan a rebellion. I will help as much as I can but I do not think they will be successful. We are so weak compared to the evil spirit men. The unsanitary conditions have meant that quite a lot of prisoners are becoming sick with fevers and the flux, adding blood and mucous to the excrement around us. A few women and children have died and the evil spirit men carelessly threw their bodies overboard, with no respect whatsoever. They don’t even know their names, but just cross off their numbers on their records.
My mother has become weak and has started running a temperature. I am worried about her and have been trying to look after her as best I can in these conditions. I fan her and give her some of my water ration as well as her own. I pray for her to get well and I have given her my necklace in the hope that the charm will heal her. Kia still cries a lot and I am trying to look after her too. Mamba has come to feel like family to me, Kia and mother. She has started helping me look after them, taking over when I need to sleep.
Day 28
The rebellion, as I predicted, was a complete disaster. The women involved were cruelly punished, being whipped until they passed out with the pain. Two of them have since died and been hurled to their watery grave.
A couple of days ago there was a horrendous storm. The boat was being tossed violently by the waves, pitching and rolling in every direction like a pea in a big bowl of boiling water. Almost everyone was sick and disease has now spread like wildfire. Not only the flux, but other terrible illnesses which first appear as a rash on the face, hands and feet. My mother has been affected and I don’t know what to do. She hasn’t eaten anything in days and the evil spirit men have stopped wasting their food on her, believing that she is going to die. I try and get her to drink a little and I tell her stories of things that we did back home but I’m not sure she hears me. She is delirious most of the time and makes no sound except for groans. Mamba continues to help a lot with Kia so I can spend most of my time with mother although I am concerned that Kia, too, is becoming feverish.
Day 35
My mother died today. The evil spirit men casually threw her wasted body overboard like all the others. No feeling, no compassion, no more number 93 on their records.
I am totally devastated but there is some small comfort in knowing that my mother is in a better place now. I feel so alone, despite Kia and Mamba being with me. It breaks my heart every time Kia asks where our mother has gone.
Day 42
I have got the rash and am terrified. Mamba keeps telling me I will be alright but I think I am going to die like my mother. I worry about what will happen to Kia if I die and I wonder if my father and brother are still alive. I am too exhausted to write any more.
Day 56
I don’t know whether a miracle has happened but I have recovered. Mamba said I was hallucinating most of the time and calling out my mother’s name but she looked after me and somehow, I’ve pulled through. I owe my life to her and I will never forget that.
Day 59
The boat stopped moving today. I think this means we have reached where we were going. The evil spirit men seem very happy and there is a lot of noise up on deck. I’m not sure what to feel. Part of me feels hope that this nightmare is coming to an end but I’m also scared about what awaits me now.
Day 60
When the evil spirit men unchained us from our shelves and took us up on deck, the light, as always, hurt my eyes but today I can see land. At first I am filled with joy at the thought of finally getting off this awful boat. However, this feeling soon fades as I see many more evil spirit men on the shore putting dark skinned people to work. Suddenly it hits me – I know what is going on. These are not evil spirit men – they are people just like us Africans. But the dark colour in our skin is what gives us kindness, compassion and humanity and this is missing in the white people. That is why they are cruel and brutal towards us. This is how it is going to be – I am about become a slave to the white people and lose my freedom forever.

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