Strauss-Kahn accuser's journey from rural Guinea to New York

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Nestled in the mountains of northern Guinea, accessible only by foot, lies the birthplace of the maid who says Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in a New York hotel.

With no electricity nor phone lines, the village of Tchiakoulle could not be further from the bright lights of Manhattan where one of its daughters has brought one of the world's most powerful men to his knees.

In the shadow of steep cliffs in the Fouta Djallon region, home to the Fulani ethnic group, Tchiakoulle boasts seven concrete houses, one built by the alleged victim's sister, and a few dozen mud huts alongside a river.

The 32-year-old hotel chambermaid at the Sofitel hotel accusing the former International Monetary Fund chief of sexual assault and attempted rape "was born here, her father was born here," said her half-brother Boubacar, 42, born to the same father.

He was speaking to an AFP journalist who tracked down the woman's home village after rigourous cross-checking and verification with his own family in New York and those of the victim.

Boubacar said his half-sister lived in Tchiakoulle until the age of 13 before moving to Labe, the main town in the region, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, but returned home to get married at about 17.

The couple had a daughter, but shortly after the marriage, her husband, the son of a rich Fulani marabout, passed away.

It was then that the young women left with her child to the United States, according to her half-brother.

He said her sister Hassanatou, already living in New York, had paid for her journey with the help of her husband, a shopkeeper in the Big Apple. Hassanatou is the owner of one of the village's seven concrete houses.

Their mother usually lives in the house, but was seeking medical treatment in Dakar at the time of AFP's visit.

The members of the accuser's family living in the village describe her as very pretty, but illiterate, having never been to school. She attended a madrassa in the village where she learned to recite verses on the veranda.

Her uncle, Mody, remembers a girl who was "not rebellious", while another relative in Labe describes her as "a serious, kind girl and no one knew any trouble from her."

The 60-year-old said that three days ago he heard "on local radio that a white man abused a girl in the United States. I could not have imagined it was my niece."

Cut off from the world, no one in the village knew what had become of their long-lost daughter, the last of six children -- three girls, three boys -- born to a father with two wives.

Her father was a poor farmer, but also a respected Muslim cleric in the region until his death at age 90 in 2009. Residents of the hamlet say her family was very pious.

Unlike her sister Hassanatou, the young woman appears to have cut all ties with her home village.

"Since my sister left over 10 years ago, I have spoken to her once," said Boubacar, her half-brother.

"It was after dad's death. I was in Bissau. I called to give her my condolences but as soon as she saw the number she realised it was from Africa and said: "don't bother calling me".

"She didn't know who was on the other end of the line but when I told her she agreed to talk to me."

Her uncle also has had no news from his niece: "Since she left I haven't received a letter, photos, nothing."

Thousands of Guineans live and work abroad in other African countries, Europe and the United States because, despite its massive mineral wealth, half of Guinea's 10 million population live in poverty.

© 2011 AFP

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