NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 26 – “It was in the middle of the night on the 9th and 10th of November last year when they arrived. They shot our door open, and took us away to an unknown destination.”,
Those were the first words Sister Maria Teresa Olivero, who was abducted alongside Sister Caterina Giraudo of the Elwak Catholic Parish, narrated as they shared their 101-day ordeal in the hands of their captors.
The two catholic nuns say what surprised them is that they were still alive after the deafening sounds of gunshots rent the air in their small compound on the night they were abducted.
On the time they were in captivity, the two sisters say it was a crucial moment of prayer and learning how to create a relationship with their enemies.
They say it was a good time for them to get know their abductors.
“They took us, but that was something great because we were not killed in that moment. They fired everywhere,” Sr Olivero said.
“They made us to walk in Elwak for at least a quarter of an hour to where they had parked their cars, and then we had five days of journey from Elwak to Mogadishu,” said Sr Giraudo.
They two nuns however said their captors treated them well.
“We were in a clean room with two mattresses, they gave us good food. They also gave us ‘bui buis’ (Somali women dresses) to change,” Sr Olivero said adding, “They were telling us just rest and eat food, and don’t think. That was very hard because we didn’t know news, but we knew were in Mogadishu.”
“Then they told us who they were, Al Shabaab, they also showed us the picture of Osama Bin Laden on a mobile phone and that left us trembling,” says Sr Olivero.
Al-Shabaab is considered a terrorist organisation by the US state department with suspected links with Al-Qaeda.
“Then they asked us, are you Muslims or pagans? We told them we are people who love all the people in the name of God, they accepted that answer,” says Sr Giraudo.
“Due to their Muslim background, they never did any violence to us, and they were not chewing miraa (khat)! They were respectful to us – that was something relieving.”
Prayer healed our fear
Soft spoken Sr Olivero says: “We prayed all the time since we realised there was nothing else to do, just to go with them. We prayed in our hearts just to get strength from God and not to lose hope and really we have been very much helped.”
“If you don’t think anything, you have to think of something. So better to think about God who was with us and who was our support.”
Due to lack of contact with the outside world the two resorted to prayers.
“After the very long safari (journey) when we were stable in the room where they closed us, we didn’t have anything else to do, nothing to read, nothing to hear unless a radio in Somali language. We could not understand anything. But thanks be to God,” said Sr Giraudo
“I now know a bit of Somali language. And that has been a great help for us to establish some relationship with our captives. We established some kind of friendship with them. This also helped us to welcome them in some way because it is better to be kind than to close ourselves in our sorrow.”
The small Bible
“In prayer we got the strength to survive in a good feeling and not to feel so bad about our abduction. A very nice thing that I can say is that our captives after eight days came to us to ask our names. And after that they took out a small book and asked do you know this book?” says Sr Giraudo.
“We were happy to see that it was the Holy Bible! They explained to us that the Bible came from an Ethiopian soldier that unfortunately was killed and that they took the Bible from his pocket.”
“What we thought was that the soldier was now with us. We were joyful because at least we got something from him that was wonderful to us and so we went on captivity day by day without news and without knowing anything,” adds Sr Olivero.
The two nuns who are going for their holiday in Italy say they learnt of their come back one hour before. They however declined to say how they got back for security purposes.