Delphine’s Prayers

Rosine Mbakam’s latest film is Delphine’s Prayers, a heartbreaking and moving documentary about one woman’s life. Across the course of the film she tells her life story to the camera, a story of survival despite all odds.

Delphine, like Rosine, was born in Cameroon and now lives in Belgium with a European husband. But where Rosine, as we saw in The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman, was given love and support, Delphine was given none. Delphine never knew her mother as she died in childbirth. She was left to the care of her feckless and unfeeling father. She and her siblings grew up in hunger and poverty. There was no money for school, and they moved around chasing any possibility of work.

When her father failed to provide for the family, her older sister Yvette stepped up to the plate, and started earning money from sex work despite being little more than a child herself. Because of this, they were able to eat, but when Yvette fell pregnant, their father threw her out the house, disowned her, and badmouthed her. I just sat listening, furious at this bastard who is shouting loudly about what a whore his daughter is, a child who has provided for his kids when he hadn’t the wherewithal to. And don’t give me that ‘it was hard’ shit because when it gets hard, his 14-year-old daughter was able to find a way. She can sell her body, and he can eat the food she puts on the table, but he’s more concerned about the opinion of others when she needs help? Bastard!

Rape and rejection run like repeating themes throughout Delphine’s tale. Sexual exploitation, assault, and abuse, which is followed by castigation, stigma, and abandonment. Endemic misogyny which seems inescapable in every direction.

Raped at 13, she finds herself similarly disowned when she falls pregnant from the attack. Homeless and parentless, she does everything she can to survive, selling grilled corn by the side of the road, doing any work she can find, eventually even sex work.

Many people wouldn’t survive something like that. The horror of something like that. But Delphine digs her nails in and hangs on to her life. She sinks her teeth in and doesn’t let go until life gives her something back.

Delphine’s story is one of making it, in spite of everything against her, despite even her father telling her she wouldn’t. She not only survives, but far surpasses him as a parent, providing her kids with food, education, and a safe roof over their head.

She tells her story so frankly, so openly, with such vulnerability, and ambivalence towards her situation both then and now. Her endurance and strength put you in awe. Her prayers, like her, are full of raw humanity. I hope they are answered with all the love she could hope for.