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August 17, 2011 ■ A L S O Tapestries S E C T I O N 2 People Special to the Almanac Woodside woman faced terror in Zimbabwe M ichealene Cristini Risley seems to be a typical Woodside mom — she has coached her three sons’ soccer and basketball teams, works from home while juggling the boys activities and play dates, and she loves to garden, write and hang out with her investment banker husband and her best friends. It’s that work, though, that sets her apart. In 2007, leaving her 4-, 10-, and 11-year-old sons and husband behind, Michealene Risley went to Zimbabwe, Africa, planning to spend two weeks filming a documentary about a heroic woman’s fight to save girls from sexual abuse. A week into the filming, Ms. Risley was arrested, accused of being a CIA spy, interrogated, deprived of food and water, and incarcerated in a filthy, crowded prison. She survived to tell the tale, return to her O B I T UA R I E S 2 0 | R E A L E S TAT E 2 3 | C L A S S I F I E D S 2 9 © by Fresh Water Spigot Michealene Risley (at left and above) of Woodside sits with girls from the Empowerment Camp in Zimbabwe. Ms. Risley was there to film a documentary about the Girl Child Network and its work to help girls who have been sexually abused. The film, “Tapestries of Hope,” will be shown at Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20. See box on Page 19. of Almanac photo by Michelle Le By Barbara Wood INSIDE fear family and complete the documentary. The film, “Tapestries of Hope,” tells the story of Betty Makoni, who began the Girl Child Network to help girls who had been sexually abused and to fight the myth that led to much of the abuse — that having sex with a virgin could cure a man of HIV/AIDS. Local residents will get a chance to see the film at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park. It is the second film for Ms. Risley, whose resume includes work in Hollywood for Amblin Entertainment and Disney, as well as Mattel and Sega. Her first film was about sexual abuse, based on her own childhood experiences and meant to increase public Makoni in the spring of 2007. Ms. Risley was on a book tour promoting her first book, “This is Not the Life I Ordered,” which she had written with three friends — Jackie Speier, Jan Yanehiro and Deborah Collins Stephens, and she was busy with her young family. But over a breakfast date, Ms. Risley and Ms. Makoni, who has also survived childhood sexual abuse, bonded. “By the time we were done with breakfast she had asked me to go to Zimbabwe.” In short order Ms. Risley raised money, bought bags-full of the present Ms. Makoni said the girls would most appreciate, new underwear, and arranged to go to Zimba- ‘When I sat in front of him, he had three grenades on his desk. He had an AK-47 hanging on the wall.’ MICHEALENE CRISTINI RISLEY awareness of the topic. The film, “Flashcards,” was nominated for an Academy Award, shown on PBS and used by the Canadian Mounties to train their officers. Ms. Risley had no intention of making a documentary when she met Betty bwe with assistant Lauren Carara. Ms. Risley says her husband, Eric Risley, was, as always, supportive of the project. Mr. Risley, the managing partner at Architect Partners, investment bankers specializing in mergers and acquisitions, did ask her to think about one thing. “He said to me, about a week before I left, ‘You have to ask yourself this one question: If you don’t come back, would this have been worth it?’” He did not try to talk her out of making the trip, however, “and when I went to prison, he never said I told you so.” Even so, Ms. Risley said she didn’t think much about danger before she left. “I think I went to Zimbabwe very naive,” she says. “Until I got there, I really didn’t know how dangerous it was.” Betty Makoni had also told Ms. Risley not to worry because she had a private security team. Upon arriving, however, the danger was obvious. “The first day we were stopped by (Zimbabwe’s) Central Intelligence Organization,” Ms. Risley says. “So I knew we had to be careful.” Ms. Makoni told her she had been followed by agents of the CIO for years. “So then my husband’s words started flashing through my head,” Ms. Risley says. She began filming, mostly at a Girl Child Network “Empowerment Village” near Ms. Makoni’s home, where a group of young girls were living and being educated as they recovered from abuse. One morning Ms. Risley and the assistant, Ms. Carara, went off for breakfast. “When we came back from breakfast there were 15 men waiting to arrest us at Betty’s house.” The men, who were armed, questioned them, searched their belongings, and even counted the money in her suitcase. “They thought I was CIA,” she says. “They thought I was an American spy.” The two Americans and Ms. Makoni were taken to the police station and interrogated in separate rooms. Ms. Risley later found out that her interrogator was the head of the CIO. “When I sat in front of him, he had three grenades on his desk. He had an AK-47 hanging on the wall,” she says. “I got a little nervous,” Ms. Risley says. “Oh my god, my husband was right,” she says she remembers thinking. “Holy cow, what did I do?” After being questioned from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with no food or water, they were allowed to go home and told to come back in the morning. “I thought we were going to go back to pick up our equipment,” Ms. Risley says. “I was still in disbelief. What would they want with a little filmmaker?” The next morning, however, “they started interrogating us all over again.” There was no way to deny how serious the situation was. At one point during the second day of questioning, a female agent took Ms. Risley to the restroom. Ms. Risley begged to call her husband. “She actually let me try, but I couldn’t get reception,” she remembers. “I started to tear up again and she said, ‘Do you believe in God?’ and I said yes, and she said, ‘Then you need to pray.’” Later, Ms. Risley says, they found out that the four-story building they were held in was the CIO’s central torture facility. The lower Continued on page 19 August 17, 2011 N The Almanac N17

The Almanac 08.17.2011 - Section 2

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