Like many other young girls, Aziza Kibibi’s childhood dreams were the stuff of fantasy — castles, princesses and “My Little Pony”.
Before long, however, those dreams, and her life, would be forever altered.
At eight, Kibibi’s father began molesting her. By 10, he was regularly sneaking into her bedroom to rape her.
Five years later, she became pregnant, and soon gave birth to a daughter. The next seven years would bring four more pregnancies, with all but one of the children surviving.
By then, her dreams had turned from the innocent musings of childhood to those of a much older, desperate girl.
“I’d dream about running away. I’d dream about getting all my brothers and sisters — one of my sisters was a baby, and I was taking care of her — I’d dream about growing breasts and getting milk and running away with them somewhere,” she said.
“I felt like I was in a nightmare. I was just trying to sleep as much as possible…. because my dreams were better than what I was living.”
Now 35, Kibibi lives on her own, sharing an East Orange apartment with her children. She is on track to complete a liberal arts program at Essex County College later this year, and has dreams of one day opening a restaurant.
Her father, Aswad Ayinde, was sentenced to 50 years in prison on July 26 for the repeated sexual assaults he had subjected her to. The term will begin only after he has finished serving a 40-year sentence for raping another daughter, which also produced a child.
Kibibi spoke at her father’s sentencing, during which he repeatedly lashed out at her, calling her a liar and characterizing himself as a victim of the legal system.
In spite of it, she claims she has forgiven him, and took pity on him as he was led back to prison. She admits the day was emotionally tolling, but also a source of relief.
“I still have compassion for him, and I felt sorry for him when he came out. But I understand that he did this to himself,” she said.
Based on court documents and Kibibi’s own accounts, that compassion might prove difficult for some to understand.
Kibibi was the eldest child of Ayinde, a music video producer who grew up in Florida and Alabama, and had moved to Paterson shortly after marrying. He and his wife had been high school sweethearts, and spent the early portion of their marriage living in a third-floor apartment in the city’s Eastside Park neighborhood. His wife’s parents, who had immigrated from Jamaica, lived below.
Though her father was strict, Kibibi describes her early life as fairly typical. She was home-schooled, but was allowed to interact and play with other children in the neighborhood. Her family eventually grew to include eight siblings — all born at home — and moved into the larger portion of the home downstairs.
When Kibibi began to mature, however, everything changed.
“He told me I was special. Initially, it was to teach me to be a woman,” she says of her father’s first advances. “By the time he started having intercourse with me, he was getting more and more violent. When I would start fighting him, he would hit me. It was more about threats.”
By this time, Ayinde had fortified himself by exerting nearly total control over his wife and children.
The family eventually moved out of Kibibi’s grandparents’ home, staying in a former funeral home in another section of Paterson, before moving to Eatontown in South Jersey.
Strict limits were imposed on interaction outside the home. Only a small diet of television was allowed, with anything that depicted typical family life strictly forbidden.
Western medicine was also a foreign concept, and Ayinde informed his wife that his sexual interactions with Kibibi were healing methods aimed at curing a persistent case of eczema. Any defiance was quickly squashed with his fists.
The abuse escalated after a mistress informed his wife that Ayinde was having sex with his daughters. He eventually declared himself a polygamist, and later, a prophet whose behavior was the product of direct instructions from a higher power.
“He told us we couldn’t pray to God. We had to pray to him and he would get the messages to God,” Kibibi said.
The delusion grew stronger after his first child with Kibibi was born healthy, after which he decided it was his duty it was to keep his bloodline “pure”.
“I don’t know if he expected her to have some medical issues, but when she didn’t, he used that as proof. She was validation,” Kibibi said.
The children to come would not be as lucky.
After a failed pregnancy, a daughter was born with phenylketonuria (commonly known as PKU), a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from effectively breaking down amino acids, and can cause brain damage, seizures and other serious symptoms. A son came three years later, who was generally healthy.
Tasked with caring for her young children, as well as many of her brothers and sisters, Kibibi receded into her private world, taking small pleasures where they could be had — cooking, writing poetry and short stories (she had been beaten after her father discovered a journal she had been keeping), and of course, dreaming.
Multiple attempts at running away failed, though Kibibi says she always held out hope that God would present her with a way out. In 2002, she got what she had been waiting for.
With Ayinde away on a business trip, her son suddenly went into seizures. After a brief hesitation, she opted to take the brave step of taking him to a nearby hospital.
“It was a gamble,” she said. “I wasn’t socialized, and the questions they were asking, I didn’t know how to answer them.”
The case piqued the interest of a social worker, who alerted the state Department of Youth and Family Services. Ayinde flew into a rage upon his return, threatening to take the boy out of the hospital by force. However, the children were soon taken by the state and placed in separate homes.
Kibibi, her mother and her sisters began staying apart from Ayinde, though he continued to regularly threaten her as she completed state-mandated courses and counseling in hopes of regaining custody.
She also says he raped her during this period, which resulted in another pregnancy. This time, her daughter was born with both PKU and spinal muscular atrophy, which rendered the girl completely disabled — unable to walk or care for herself.
Dr. Anna Haroutunian, who specializes in PKU and has treated Kibibi’s children at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, said both children’s conditions were almost undoubtedly brought on by inbreeding.
PKU is a recessively inherited condition, meaning both parents must possess the gene in order for it to manifest in a child. It has an incidence rate of only around 1 in 4,000 worldwide, and the rate is much lower for African-Americans in this part of the country.
“Looking backward, she had a gene, the grandfather had a gene, and those two came together,” Haroutunian said. “It’s very unlikely it would have arisen had that not been the case.”
After successfully winning custody of her children, Kibibi says she had become a stronger person.
“I was learning the system – taking your child to doctor, taking parenting classes. With (DYFS) monitoring me, it was me just realizing ‘Wait a minute, there are people out there willing to help’,” she said.
“It empowered me. At the same time, my children became my only purpose.”
Kibibi had minimal contact with her father until 2006, when she and her sisters finally decided to pursue criminal charges against him. She claims many of them were concerned about the effect a case could have on their children.
With her father behind bars, Kibibi went about rebuilding her life. While caring for her children, she was able to obtain her GED, married and had another son, who is now five.
Despite the trauma that came with her earlier pregnancies, her devotion to her children is unwavering. She speaks proudly of attending college alongside her daughter, and of her son’s blossoming dancing and artistic talents. A large picture of her youngest daughter — who succumbed to her disabilities in 2010 — is displayed prominently on a table in her East Orange living room.
“I miss her so much,” she said.
Haroutunian, who regularly sees parents’ struggles to care for young children with rare disorders, said Kibibi’s dedication left an impression on her.
“She has been an exceptional mother,” she said. “She was so attentive and patient, it’s remarkable. For a young girl — with all she’s had — she has been just wonderful.”
Today, Kibibi is focused on completing her schooling, and hopes to one day start a non-profit foundation to help victims of childhood sexual abuse, particularly those who have become parents. A small baking business called “Sincerely, Z” has been gaining steam, providing cakes for weddings, birthdays and other events.
She continues to write poetry, and has written a memoir about her experience, which she hopes to have published one day.
Sharing her story, she believes, will not only provide her with a greater sense of peace, but help others who may have been through similar ordeals.
“I can make a difference. I always asked what my purpose was. Even with everything that I suffered, I still had to ask God what my purpose was,” she said.
“Instead of just being an experience that I had, maybe this strengthened me. What doesn’t break us make us stronger.”