By Ananya Venkateswaran
8th grade, American Community School of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

With lines from “Ethiopian Feminists on a Mission To Help Sexual Assault Survivors” by Arianne Henry, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

She didn’t think it would happen to her; not this, after years of pulled-in hips,
                  years of jutted elbows not here, vendors bustling, tin-cans glimmering,
                  produce thriving not now, her motherland’s bleeding heart staunched
                  but still leaking.

She sees his silhouette at her nine o’clock, stomach
churning with what she thinks is her breakfast,
with what she’ll later realize 
was instinct.

                  Ten more feet, into the quiet side alley, 
                  his shadow does not let go:
                                  where she had planned to hide 
                                  now she is hidden.
                                               He approaches, grinning, somehow 
                                               invisible to the world outside she
                                               freezes, closes her eyes she’s
                                               invisible too.

Women don’t have peace, even in peaceful times: 
in times like this, life is hell.

She holds her head high as she walks away; weary ears drowning out
his deafening innuendo sweat-streaked face plastering on a smile legs
moving of their own volition to what she can only hope will be safety.

She won’t break down until later.

Days will pass.



                  though the region looks rebuilt its
                  grounds will stay dry, stay fractured.

She’ll suffer quietly,
struggle silently;
her light dimming, dying out into embers
smothered, suffocating, swallowed up
by this bottomless pit she calls her home.

she calls her home.They’ll say it’s “what she wore”,
“what she said”,
“all her fault”,
“how could she have done that to him?”

For this is a war of silos, 
an epidemic of shadows, 
a pandemic of silos: a 
war of shadows.

Alone in the dark lay hundreds like her:
                  the hardworking woman who’d worked her way up the corporate chain her 
                  casual brown shirt and plain gray skirt stained but still freshly starched; 
                  the girl so full of plans, sunshine-bright smile, brightly patterned scarf and 
                  blue dress in tatters; alone in the dark, in the cold, wet night lay hundreds, 
                  lay thousands, their embers dying, losing light.

But over time their eyes 
will adjust, for the first time 
they’ll truly see each other 
see hope.

And their fire will once again be alive, fiercer;
the darkness no longer silent, 
the quiet no longer violent, the 
shadows no longer invisible.

I don't believe we are ever helpless, for in our 
darkest hour our light shines brighter, our 
unshed tears rain down, flood the streets 
cleanse the ground of its pain our people of 
their ache we prevail.

We are never helpless, for 
we refuse to be; and in that 
we find our power.

No, we are never helpless:
we find ways to resist, 
to restore, to rebuild.

Yes, we resist in our own ways
we always have.

Ananya is a rising freshman at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi. She adores all things reading, writing, STEAM, and music. Ananya is passionate about our need for empathy, advocacy for the downtrodden and supporting anyone who wants to sing out into the world. She is deeply grateful to the Pulitzer Center for this opportunity to be a part of their special community.

Read more winning entries from the 2022 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.