And then I read this. There's a pattern here.
Mary Sudnad, 10, grimaces as her hair is pulled into corn rows by Agnes, 11, but the scalp just above her forehead is bald and blistered. Mary tells her story fast, in staccato, staring fixedly at the ground.I've heard of, and even corresponded with, victims of abuse just as unspeakable. Not in "deepest darkest Africa", but in places like Kansas, and Ohio, Mississippi and Buckinghamshire.
'My youngest brother died. The pastor told my mother it was because I was a witch. Three men came to my house. I didn't know these men. My mother left the house. Left these men. They beat me.' She pushes her fists under her chin to show how her father lay, stretched out on his stomach on the floor of their hut, watching. After the beating there was a trip to the church for 'a deliverance'.
A day later there was a walk in the bush with her mother. They picked poisonous 'asiri' berries that were made into a draught and forced down Mary's throat. If that didn't kill her, her mother warned her, then it would be a barbed-wire hanging. Finally her mother threw boiling water and caustic soda over her head and body, and her father dumped his screaming daughter in a field. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she stayed near the house for a long time before finally slinking off into the bush.Mary was seven. She says she still doesn't feel safe. She says: 'My mother doesn't love me.' And, finally, a tear streaks down her beautiful face.
Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket. 'We base our faith on the Bible, we are led by the holy spirit and we have a programme of exposing false religion and sorcery.' Soft of voice and in his smart suit and tie, his church is being painted and he apologises for having to sit outside near his shiny new Audi to talk. There are nearly 60 branches of Liberty Gospel across the Niger Delta. It was started by a local woman, mother-of-two Helen Ukpabio, whose luxurious house and expensive white Humvee are much admired in the city of Calabar where she now lives. Many people in this area credit the popular evangelical DVDs she produces and stars in with helping to spread the child witch belief.
Ita denies charging for exorcisms but acknowledges his congregation is poor and has to work hard to scrape up the donations the church expects. 'To give more than you can afford is blessed. We are the only ones who really know the secrets of witches. Parents don't come here with the intention of abandoning their children, but when a child is a witch then you have to say "what is that there? Not your child." The parents come to us when they see manifestations. But the secret is that, even if you abandon your child, the curse is still upon you, even if you kill your child the curse stays. So you have to come here to be delivered afterwards as well,' he explains patiently.
And much as our need is great, these children's is greater. So, what can we do? Start by letting the world know, I guess.
Oh Lord, why did you give me not just one mountain, but a whole range?
Better get out my teaspoon, I guess, and start digging.