Born in Trinidad, Grace Ibrahima says, as a child, she didn’t know parental love. “When others talk about a childhood full of nurturing love, hugs, kisses, and encouragement, I could not relate. I had no achievements, small or otherwise. My life was in the fields. In my family, school and education was a waste of time, time that could be better spent working as a child labourer.”
Her working life would start when she was “no taller than a doorknob,” in a rice field. “Whenever major or minor mistakes were made, the discipline was predictable. Leather belts, twigs, the full strength of hands were used to correct. Sometimes twigs were bigger and thicker depending on the deed and the present mood,” she recalls.
She was classified as illiterate, “I had absolutely no credentials showing I had attended or completed school.” Saying she felt “unworthy and stupid” she would start formal education at the age of 22. A nursing school in Harrogate, England, had accepted her. A journey towards a new start finally lie ahead.
While travelling by sea, to England, she was raped. She would later find out she was pregnant. “My life felt like a dry leaf in the wind, at the mercy of a strong gust. My body was violated, battered, bruised and stolen. The best I could have done, maybe to save my life, was to resist fighting that awful, heartless man off me—that could have easily cost me my life.”
She felt trapped by the child inside her that she was “not part of making," and would terminate the pregnancy. Blinking through tears, she says, “that profound loss never goes away; it only gets less acute. The agony of this action lived with me like a black shadow for many years. There were times when I wished I was dead on that very night. I had nothing, nothing.”
When she arrived in England she saw, for the first time, parents “loving on their children, it was unfamiliar.” She had to teach herself how to love others, while struggling with how to love herself.
In England, she would meet the love of her life. “I felt uncomfortable and at the same time special by his treatment. This type of attention was so new to me.” His name was Issah Ibrahima, they would marry at a registry office in Liverpool. “We had no money for engagement, but scraped and saved money for a wedding ring,” says Ibrahima.
They later immigrated to Canada, with their two sons, and she continued her nursing career.
She would also find the second love of her life; alcohol. “Before my shameful 28-day rehabilitation at Homewood Health Centre, my sons had explicitly forbidden me from visiting their school. They said, we never know how you will look, how you will smell, or what you might say.”
She enrolled at McMaster University in the Addiction Studies program and was the recipient of the 1998-1999 (MAPS) McMaster Part-Time Student Centennial Award. Ibrahima invested her monetary prize and partnered with the university to educate students from Eastern Europe about the devastating effects of addiction.
Her sons encouraged her to write her story, Mercy, One Life, Many Stories. “If you like the book, if you are inspired by it, please pass it on to someone else. It just might be that one person who needs something, not to keep them going; but alive - as it did for me.”
Now a widow, she is releasing her second book, 'All Will Be Well,' later this month.
She says one book is dedicated to Issah, “for showing me how to start to accept my imperfect self," the other is for her community, for helping her find a place where she could heal and belong.
You can purchase the books here