August 17, 2011 ■ A L S O
S E C T I O N
Special to the Almanac
Woodside woman faced terror in Zimbabwe
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
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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.
Almanac photo by Michelle Le
By Barbara Wood
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 N 17
Community Meetings EMERGENCY WATER SUPPLY PROJECT The City plans to construct approximately 2 â€“ 3 emergency water wells that will provide firefighting and drinking water supply reliability to the Menlo Park Municipal Water Districtâ€™s eastern service area after an earthquake or other emergency. We need your feedback! Monday, August 29,2011 n PM Arrillaga Family Recreation Center !LMA 3TREET
Thursday, September 8, 2011 n PM -ENLO 0ARK 3ENIOR #ENTER 4ERMINAL !VENUE
Community Meeting Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club Irrigation Well Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club is proposing a public/private partnership with the City to construct a groundwater irrigation well at Nealon Park that would provide non-potable water for golf course irrigation and would potentially be available to meet some of the irrigation needs of parks and school grounds along the pipelineâ€™s proposed alignment. This project, if constructed, has the potential to save more than 60 million gallons per year of potable water used in the City (i.e. San Francisco Public Utilities Commissionâ€™s Hetch Hetchy water). The well would be located adjacent to the two tennis courts on Middle Avenue near the entrance drive to the park, and it would blend in visually by using the same fence material as the tennis courts. Enclosed behind the fence would be the well, a pump control valve, flow meter, gate valve, and an electrical panel box. To minimize noise, a submersible well pump, located several hundred feet underground, would be used. The footprint of the fenced area would be minimal and all piping outside the fence would be located underground. Join us for a community meeting to learn more about this project and provide us with your feedback.
Comments or Questions? www.menlopark.org/projects/wellsproject.htm EJESOIMEME MENLOPARKORG s
Reuniones de la Comunidad PROYECTO PARA EL SUMINISTRO DE AGUA EN CASO DE EMERGENCIA La ciudad planea construir aproximadamente 2 â€“ 3 pozos que suministren agua confiable para tomar y para los bomberos en el Distrito de Agua del Municipio de Menlo Park del ĂĄrea oriental despuĂŠs de un terremoto u otra emergencia. ÂĄNecesitamos sus comentarios! Lunes, 29 de agosto 2011 n PM Arrillaga Family Recreation Center !LMA 3TREET
Jueves, 08 de septiembre 2011 n PM -ENLO 0ARK 3ENIOR #ENTER 4ERMINAL !VENUE
ÂżComentarios o Preguntas? www.menlopark.org/projects/wellsproject.htm EJESOIMEME MENLOPARKORG s 18 N The Almanac N August 17, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 6:30 p.m. Arrillaga Family Recreation Center 700 Alma Street You may also provide your comments by contacting Pam Lowe, Associate Civil Engineer, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (650) 330-6740.
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© Annie Barnett Photography
The Risley family of Woodside, from left, Austin Risley, Eric Risley (husband), Dillon Risley (standing), Michealene Risley and Christopher Risley.
Woodside woman faced terror in Zimbabwe Continued from page 17
floor, Ms. Risley says, contains a pool full of sulfuric acid. “When Mugabe and his thugs wanted you to disappear, they threw you in the pool. Even your bones disintegrate in that,” she says. A call finally came from the U.S. Embassy. “Jane Howell introduced herself and said: ‘You need to get out by the weekend or you’ll be raped or killed.’” She told Ms. Risley that no one, not embassy officials or the human rights lawyers her husband had hired, would be allowed to see them for the first 48 hours of detention. Late in the day, Ms. Risley and Ms. Carara were told to follow the female agent down a hall. “I suddenly realized we were in prison,” Ms. Risley says. There were both men and women held in the filthy facility, with feces everywhere and holes in the ceiling. Prisoners appeared to be diseased or dying. “l learned very quickly that if we were going to survive, we would have to bribe people,” Ms. Risley says. They were forced to take off their bras, shoes and socks, and hand over their possessions. Guards wrote down how much money she had on a paper and gave it back to her with an eraser, allowing her to transfer money by simply changing the amount on the paper. Bribes got them in to a 5-foot by 5-foot cell with six other women. The cell had one light bulb, a small bench and an unlocked door. The women in her cell began to tell her their stories. One woman was having asthma attacks. “She was terrified because her three kids were home alone.” Most of the women had been arrested because they had illegally crossed the border to get food for their children. One woman had been beaten by her husband so
badly she was unrecognizable. In the middle of that endless night, Ms. Risley says, “I started weeping.” One of the women said: “Why do you weep? Why do you cry?” “I said, I cry for you, for your lives.” The woman, Ms. Risley says, seemed unable to understand why Ms. Risley would care. “It’s OK. This is our lives. We’ll be OK,” she was told. “I think that was probably the most profound moment of my trip,” she says. “Here I was sitting there with all these women who just wanted to feed their kids. We’re all moms. We just want to take care of our kids.” Tears come to Ms. Risley’s eyes as she remembers the scene. “That night I saw two men having sex. I saw a guy being tortured. I stepped on feces and I was urinated on from the fourth floor.” The bribes she had given to the first guards had to continue at each shift change and she began to fear she’d run out of money. The first meal she had came at 11 a.m. the next day, when Ms. Makoni sent in food, enough for most of the prisoners. “We just fed everybody,” Ms. Risley says. That afternoon, Ms. Risley and Ms. Carara were taken into the hallway and told, “We can get you out of the country tonight if you will agree to pay the airfare,” which was only the equivalent of $130. “I said just get us out of here,” Ms. Risley says. While Ms. Carara went back to the house with Betty Makoni to grab their things, Ms. Risley was taken to the airport. The Zimbabwean officials took her new laptop computer, but they gave her back her films, which she carried on the plane. “I couldn’t figure out why they would let me take my film,” she says. She later found out that a Facebook friend of the film project had
helped free them. Ms. Risley had been posting information about the project on Facebook. When they were arrested, she had been able to warn a colleague to take everything off the page. He replaced it with: “Michealene and her assistant have been arrested in Zimbabwe — please pray for them.” An international reporter in Greece who had been supporting the project on Facebook saw the note and called a contact at the CIA, who called Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe. The reporter was soon told, “She’s coming out and she has her film.” Ms. Risley and Ms. Carara flew to Johannesburg that night. “I had never been dirtier in my life,” Ms. Risley says. “I took three baths when I went to the hotel.” Eric Risley told his sons about their mother’s imprisonment only after she had been freed. Would she do it again? “I most definitely will take on hard issues, but I would do a lot more due-diligence in a risky area before I would risk my life and my family’s happiness,” Ms. Risley says. For now she is working on a book about the project, which will be titled: “Tapestries of Hope, the Story of One Survivor’s Journey to End Violence against Women.” She hopes to release it as an e-book
‘Tapestries of Hope’ at Kepler’s “Tapestries of Hope,” a documentary by Woodside filmmaker Michealene Cristini Risley, will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Roy Kepler Pavilion in Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park. The 77-minute film is about Betty Makoni, founder of the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe, which helps girls who have been sexually abused and fights the myth that having sex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS. The network has now spread to help girls around the world. Ms. Risley will introduce the film and talk about making it. She is also the co-author of the Kepler’s bestseller, “This is Not the Life I Ordered,” which can be purchased at the event. Tickets are $12 each. Kepler’s bookstore is at 1010 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. Links ■ tinyurl.com/Risley-163 to order tickets at $12 each. ■ tapestriesofhope.com for information on the film. ■ girlchildnetworkworldwide.org for information on the Girl Child Network Worldwide.
On the cover: Michealene Risley, director of the documentary, “Tapestries of Hope,” in her Woodside home. Almanac photo by Michelle Le.
in December. Ms. Risley said she will continue to work on issues concerning violence against women, which she sees as one of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. “One out of every three women will suffer rape or violence in their lifetime,”
she says. “How can I teach my three boys to respect women when the world around them shouts out a very different message?” A
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener who lives in an old farmhouse in Woodside.
County looks to reduce greenhouse gases By Barbara Wood Special to the Almanac
esalinization plants, bike paths, electric vehicle recharging stations, native meadows instead of front lawns, local agriculture and walkable communities were all part of a vision for a more energy-efficient San Mateo County contributed by participants in a workshop in Redwood City last week. The workshop, held Aug. 9 at the Fair Oaks Community Center in Redwood City, was the first of three planned to help the county try to figure out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in unincorporated areas to 1990 levels. The reduction, mandated by a state law passed in 2006, must take place by 2020. The effort is being helped along by a federal Department of Energy grant of $350,000, which is being used to develop what the county is calling an Energy Efficiency Climate Action Plan. The information gathered in the process will be used to update parts of the county’s general plan and zoning code with policies and programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Matthew Seubert, the county planner who is heading the program, called ReCharge San Mateo County, said the county has already found some ways of
reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The county has adopted “green” building ordinances that encourage practices that cut energy use, and any new public buildings must conserve energy. Some public buildings now have solar panels and the county has banned polystyrene food containers in unincorporated areas. County employees are encouraged not to drive to work alone and there is a county-wide recycling program. Nora De Cuir of PMC, the consultants who have been hired to help with the ReCharge project, promised that the result of the study will not just sit on a shelf. “In day-to-day activities in the county, it will be used,” she said. The ReCharge program concerns only unincorporated areas of the county. Incorporated cities and towns must come up with their own plans to meet the state’s requirements. PMC has already determined the amount of greenhouse gases that existed in the county’s unincorporated areas in 2005, the base year for the project. They measured carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases (such as hydrofluorocarbons) and came up with just under a million metric tons of the gases. They also determined where those gases come from. The big-
gest sources were transportation (52 percent), commercial energy (17 percent) the landfill (13 percent) and residential energy (10 percent). That leaves the county with the goal of trying to figure out how to make its transportation, building, water, waste, and energy systems more efficient. Completion of the ReCharge project is scheduled for October 2012. Ms. De Cuir, the PMC consultant, said that decisions about which methods will be used to reduce greenhouse gases will include looking at how much each action will reduce gases, how much it will cost, other benefits it will provide, and what funding sources will be available. A