Ayayi’s story is a unique one. He’s a political refugee from a small African nation and was unable to write his own story because he’s legally blind. I bought him lunch, he talked and I wrote.
As we talked, I learned that he was a political refugee from Togo, an African country west of Ghana. He was an influential figure in fighting for democracy in his country.
Because he spoke broken English, I was only able to take notes but I think you’ll get the gist. This is his story of his fight for democracy:
I lived under a dictator. If you say something against him in the daytime they will kidnap you at night and you’ll disappear.They’ll kill you and throw you in the bush for the lions.
Ayayi went with six other students to the president of the country (who had been in power for decades) and said they wanted a fair election or the students would protest.
We were at university and called ourselves M05 – Movement October 5th – which was the day the students were going to walk out and protest if they didn’t have a fair election.
When they protested, they tore down statues of the president. His friend climbed up on one of the statues and was shot by the military.
Later, the president offered the students and their lawyer 6 million francs to stop causing trouble and made their lawyer President of Civil Rights in Togo. The lawyer went on TV, showed everyone the bribe. After seeing that on TV, everyone started protesting – women and children, too.
Stories about throwing rocks and being hit with tear gas.
It escalated into a riot. Buildings were on fire, smoke everywhere in the city.
For the first two weeks, the military was only authorized to use tear gas. On week three the president said 100 civilians would die if one of his soldiers did – gave soldiers permission to use deadly force.
People from Ghana and Nigeria were finding bodies of people from Togo in the ocean.
“Yesterday I found 300 people in the ocean.”
Was caught by the police/military Nov. 19, 1989. Put in a torture camp called Kazaboua Agombio – Red Blood Camp. They were forced to look at the sun which is how he became blind.
Of the seven people (including himself) who originally went to the president to try to get a democratic election:
- Four of them were found dead
- One man was never seen again
- Only Ayayi and his friend survived
There’s more to the story, but I couldn’t get it all down/remember it. Ayayi is now in Salt Lake trying to find work, but can’t do much because his English is still fairly broken and is legally blind.
As an aside, this was a real wake-up call for me. You hear of these things happening on CNN in two minute segments and it doesn’t seem real. And there I was sitting across from a man who had lived it.
It’s amazing and humbling to think that there are only two men on earth who know that story and I was able to meet one of them. And now the story has been preserved and shared with everyone who reads this. At the risk of sounding dramatic, suddenly the purpose behind the site feels much deeper now.
What are your thoughts? Your reactions to his story? Please let me know in the comments.