Valley News – Author to discuss a book about the #MeToo experience, and advocate on Bookstock

In December 2015, a young Gambian, Tofa Jallow, won a national competition who was asked to speak on a number of topics, including how to alleviate poverty, improve the lives of women and girls, and her ideas on how to do so. her best. Then 18, Jallow was one of 22 women who entered the competition. Having the title means getting a college scholarship, which would greatly help in Jallow’s pursuit of education.

All the contestants were then invited to a meeting with then-President Yahya Jammeh, who took power in a 1994 coup. In the months that followed, the 50-year-old president paid special attention to Gallo, inviting her to dinner with him at the State Palace in The capital, Banjul, as well as to appear alongside him in government jobs, in her role as the winner of the competition.

He seemed to want to hear and appreciate what she had to say. Encourage her dreams of her future, showered her with comments on her brilliance and maturity, and seemed gracious, cannibal, and fatherly. So it wasn’t.

Jallow, 26, will appear this Saturday in Woodstock as part of the annual Bookstock Festival. She is the author, with Kim Pettaway, of Tofa: The Woman Who Inspired the #ImAfrican Movement. It has been published in the United States by Truth to Power, an imprint of Lebanon-based Steerforth Press, and in Canada by Penguin/Random House.

Steerforth publisher Chip Fleischer will hold a chat with Jallow at Town Hall Theatre, one of five bookstores where the public can listen to and meet 60 writers over the weekend.

Gallo, who now lives in Toronto, is unrelenting in her account of the brutal rape Jammeh committed on her. She was told that she would appear for a government job with the other contestants. When she arrived at State House, she was instead taken to Jameh’s private apartment.

“There is no woman I want and I cannot have,” he said before injecting her with an unknown drug and forcing her to lie on the bed.

In an interview with Zoom from Toronto, she said the rape shattered her worldview. Her ideals were shattered, the excitement of what awaited her, the illusion that she was in a position of control.

But she was ready to shut him down, said she, to tell herself, “That never happened. I forget about it. We move on.”

She didn’t say anything. She said it was safer for her, and safer for her family.

What Gallo did not expect was that Jammeh expected her to continue to succumb to his assaults. She did her best to avoid him, coming up with reasons not to meet him. But then she got a phone call from a protocol officer whose relationship with Jamie was the equivalent of that of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. The woman ordered Gallo to come with Jammeh to visit his hometown.

Jallow understood then: “Thinking I could say, ‘No’ to a strong man like that, and walk away, wasn’t a fact.”

Jammeh was notorious, both inside and outside the Muslim-majority country, for his violations of human rights, his suppression of a free press and his issuing of bogus treatments for AIDS. Gallo knew she would be arrested by Jammeh’s security men if she did not obey.

It ignited the survival instinct. She said.

Within 24 hours of the phone call from the protocol officer, Jallow fled the Gambia. She disguised herself in a headscarf and fled to neighboring Senegal, borrowing money from a relative in the United Kingdom. She did not tell her family that she was leaving. Every step of the way was marked by difficulty and danger.

Once in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, in June 2015, she broadcast her story on a radio network run by a Gambian journalist in exile in the United States. She visited the US, British and Canadian embassies to apply for refugee status, and spoke with people at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International about the charges she wanted against Jammeh.

In the summer of 2015, Jallow finally obtained a permanent resident visa to travel to Canada, landing in Toronto on August 8.

And to some extent, the trials ahead were as difficult as they were before.

“I wasn’t a young woman who left home and went to college or left my hometown to explore another city. … It was already uprooted. And there is one thing about knowing I’m going back for vacation or vacation. But it’s a different state of mind when you know you’re leaving and not coming back,” Gallo said. sadly.”

It was a struggle to find work, to accustom herself to a completely foreign culture, to make friends, to grapple privately with what had happened to her, and to connect with her family, who were at first shocked by her decision. I battled severe depression.

“I guess that’s why when I got to this part of the world it was so hard to just work hard,” she said. “There is a lot that I carry that is not mine. I think that is what people fail to understand. … It is a secret and a burden that does not belong to me. While all that is going on, I am discovering myself as a human being.”

In the years since, Jallow created the Toufah Foundation, which works to support survivors of sexual assault in The Gambia. She testified before her country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. She also testified before the United Nations as part of the Youth Forum on Human Rights, and at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Gallo said the book for a number of reasons. First, she wanted to continue holding Jammeh accountable, even though he was no longer president. He had lost the 2016 presidential election, but refused to concede. He eventually resigned after both the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States said he would be fired if he did not leave his post. He took refuge in Equatorial Guinea.

Second, Gallo wanted the other girls to read the book to understand the reality of living her life. It was not enough for readers to come out with a sense of admiration for her, or to look at her, without also seeing themselves in her experiences.

“I want them to tell their facts even if they don’t know where to go,” she said. “As I go through the book, I’m sharing with you my thought process at the time. I didn’t figure it out. I didn’t know, I didn’t master the planning for this.”

When co-author Kim Pettaway first met Jallow, Pettaway saw her as “a young woman who knows what she wants this book to do, and that it’s not about putting herself front and center. It was about putting this issue front and center.”

In the patriarchal Gambian culture where the word “rape” does not have the same meaning as it does in English, but is instead understood through euphemisms, evasions, and metaphors, Gallo felt it was important to be upfront, and leave nothing to the imagination.

“You can’t not hear it, you can’t escape it, you can’t classify it as anything else,” she said. “But it’s never been mischaracterized, and that’s important to me.”

Fleischer said in a phone interview that the book was “well written and a powerful story.”

An apple It is one in a series of books in Imprint of Truth for Power that focus on stories that “must be told,” he added, and “highlight issues that are not well talked about and understood.”

What Jallow cannot reconcile is the vitriol, constant online threats, obscene rumors and verbal violence directed at her, both in The Gambia and elsewhere. Even positive media stories, like some of the stories in New York timescontinued to refer to her as “Miss.”

“It’s exhausting to have the facts skewed. But… what I can do is act out a version of me and the stories I want to tell, and tell them on larger platforms than someone’s Facebook status or someone’s Instagram stories,” Gallo said. Bigger platforms and I talk about it and introduce the person I know I am – and what I do.”

Tufa Gallo and Chip Fleischer will speak on Tufah: The Woman Who Inspired the African #MeToo Movement at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at Town Hall Theater in Woodstock.

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