Posted inEditor's Pick

At Risk, at Home and Abroad

Joy Notoma | Longreads | January 14, 2019 | 3,079 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Nonfiction, Story

At Risk, at Home and Abroad

As Joy Notoma grapples with uterine fibroids, harmful biases in the medical establishment, and a move from Brooklyn to West Africa she wonders where, as a black woman, she can find safety.
Illustration by Lily Padula

Joy Notoma | Longreads | January 2019 | 12 minutes (3,079 words)

Akosua* was in my care when she was assaulted. A man entered the bedroom where she was sleeping and tried to undress her.

She called out, waking us around 3 a.m. Moments later, she appeared in our bedroom doorway hugging herself, a distraught expression on her 15-year-old face. Akosua was sleeping in the bedroom next to where my husband and I slept, in the house we were renting in Benin, a small country on the southern coast of West Africa.

“There was a man!” she stuttered through tears. “He came into my room. He tried to undress me,” she said.

I wanted it be a nightmare, but Akosua was an unlikely person to confuse reality so dramatically, and we would have taken her word for it anyway. She was the type of teenager who contemplated big issues about the world, who could hold her own in conversations about race and politics, who expressed emotions easily while still managing to be grounded. She was selfless in the way American parents sometimes wish their own kids were.

There was an exit door in the bedroom where she slept that I had carelessly neglected to lock, which made me culpable. I was overwhelmed by guilt.

The man who did it was the groundskeeper for the house we were renting, hired by the owner. People called him the security guard, but I never could. It made me feel like the house was a prison. What could he have actually protected us from anyway? His only valuable task which I could discern was yard work, so I called him the groundskeeper. And then it was he — the supposed security guard — who assaulted Akosua.

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