Ana Victoria's Story Part 3 - The Search for Kio

Ana Victoria is an Afro-Colombian biologist who will be ordained as the first female Colombian priest of the Anglican church in July 2017 in St Paul Cathedral. After being kidnapped by armed traffickers while she was working with indigenous communities in the Choco region, she subsequently fled to the UK, where she has since become a role model, a peace builder. When learning about Ana Victoria’s fate, one of the most prominent Colombian actors and directors - Alejandra Borrero - turned her testimony into a monologue. Here is the third of four parts of Ana Victoria’s serialised story

Part 3…The Search for Kio

We set off downriver to one of the places we knew Kio might be, and we tried to speak to the key person, a small squat women with coarse hands and a disgusting face, whom we knew liaised with the traffickers, she kept the girls and said they were her nieces until another women  came to fetch them and passed them on from village to village until they disappeared into the seediest of brothels ‘de mala monte’.

At first she wouldn’t see us, but we insisted, we said we wouldn’t leave the village until we saw her, and that we could help her with money. She really was repulsive, being so close to her made me sick, how could she be involved in something so evil, I’ve tried hard to forget her features, she looked like a gigantic mosquito.

She asked us questions, we answered only what she wanted to hear and what we could tell her; when we asked for information about Kio, we could see in her eyes that she knew who we were talking about, the little girl had brown eyes which was very unusual for indigenous women and a small black mark on her ear. We asked her if she could find Kio and said we would be generous in helping her with money and things she needed. She refused to give us information and told us to go to the police post. I totally agreed with her, except there wasn’t one to go to.

We left empty-handed, and so frantic about wasting so much time. The two boys driving the launch were clearly agitated, so I looked over my shoulder and saw that another launch was following us, those only-too-recognizable ones that always made us pull over to the river bank. This time, one of the men came onto our launch and asked for our papers, he asked me who I worked for, who the launch belonged to, and then he said we had to go with them to verify our documents, he said it would only take a few minutes and made us get onto his launch. At the other end, another man was talking on the radio, confirming that I was there.

They sent the boys back, poor defenceless kids against that vortex of evil. I remember the face of Rubén, who worked with me all the years I was in the Chocó, his eyes never left mine and I could feel his anger and frustration. He was a lad with a good heart and so sweet a nature I was often surprised by his tenderness. He helped me discover the river, he knew where everything was, he knew more than we could imagine. He learned to read and write with us, and he began to dream, he kept newspaper clippings and he often told me: “One day I’m going to work on a newspaper”. At that moment, seeing him leave, I only had one thought: “Rubén don’t forget to keep dreaming”.

I had no idea what was coming next, but I know we were mixed up in something bigger that cholera, the effects of which we could alleviate at least. This was something bigger. We went up the Atrato for several kilometres and then turned into a smaller river, one of its many tributaries.

I estimated it was about four in the afternoon. Helena had adopted a cold attitude and I imagined she hoped they were taking us to where Kio was. I asked several times where they were taking us but didn’t get a reply.

One thing was very clear, however, we wouldn’t come out of this situation safe and sound. We reached a village, at first glance we only saw five small houses, but walking away from the jetty, I saw it was a bit bigger. Two of the so-called soldiers followed us and the other three were in front, it was odd that no one came out of the houses, we didn’t see a soul standing in the doorways which is usual in those villages.

We walked down what was supposedly the main street, and eventually a woman came out from behind one of the houses, dressed in fatigues, with one of those great big guns in her hands, she took us into the house and gestured to us to sit on some chairs, the other five men stayed outside, we heard the sound of the radio and the man said quite clearly that we were in a secure place. For the first time that afternoon I saw Helena terribly afraid, asking me why we were in that place, I tried to calm her but the woman pushed me away from her so abruptly that I lost my balance and almost fell. The woman told us not to talk and keep away from each other. One of the men who’d come on the launch with us came in with a couple of ropes and asked me to put my hands behind the chair. I refused and tried get up, but the woman put her gun to Helena’s head and I went back to the chair.

Everything happened so quickly, night fell suddenly. Bound and in total darkness, we could only talk almost without distinguishing each other’s faces, we could hear noises all around us, we couldn’t hear what they were saying except that they were talking about us, and something about the launch. Silence fell again and Helena started crying, every now and again she broke down and started cursing everything and everybody, her sole concern was Kio, and the idea of her being lost in a brothel drove her crazy.

They didn’t come back at all that night, I saw dawn break, the day go by, and we didn’t see or hear anybody, we were desperate for food and water, and I started shouting for them but they didn’t come, it looked as if they had abandoned us in that ghost town.

I didn’t know how much time had passed when the woman came in with some water and boiled plantain, she threatened to kill us if we moved, and then untied us. She went first to Helena, who only drank water, I asked her to eat something so she’d feel stronger, but she refused. When the woman released me, she repeated again and again that if I tried anything, my holiday would be over! I imagine she meant that we’d get worse than we were already getting. I drank some water and tried to swallow a bit of plantain, I couldn’t stop wondering where we were, I knew we’d touched some raw nerve along the network of trafficking in young girls.

I hoped someone would come looking for us, I thought of Rubén, I knew he’d phone someone, we were down a dead end. Hours passed and I saw night fall. Helena complained her back hurt, that position on the chair was torture, she started crying and shouting, and one of the men came in with a lamp, he pushed her onto the floor and I saw her head hit the earth, she stopped crying. A cry of desperation came out of me: “Helena!” The man walked over to me and shone his lamp in my face, then he passed the light over my body and said menacingly: “If you shout again, I’ll shut you up with a good kicking”. He went out laughing and shouted to the woman looking after us that that should keep us quiet for a while.

I called out to Helena while I tried to get closer to her, it was impossible, through the darkness I saw her moving and groaning listlessly, I was sure our end was near and I kept repeating to Helena: “Hang on, hang on”. She was murmuring, she was slurring her words, I think I never heard her voice again, Helena was broken, not by them but by the pain of having lost Kio.

There were more noises coming from outside, it sounded like more of them were arriving, their laughter got louder and at times it seemed they were fighting and at others as if they were fooling around. In the darkness the small wooden door suddenly opened again and two of them came in, they grabbed Helena, untied her hands, and dragged her out of the house. I shouted until I was hoarse, I lost my mind, I repeated her name, I called her as I do today, “Helena, be strong, be strong, sweetheart”.

The concluding part of Ana Victpria's Story will be pubished next week

If you missed the previous excerpts of Ana Victoria's story you can read here Part 1 and Part 2