Piercing thorns and stones underfoot did not stop the young woman as she charged through thickets, baby strapped to her back, fleeing armed militants who had kidnapped her with dozens of others in northern Burkina Faso last week.
Now back home in the town of Arbinda along with a few who also managed to escape, the 20-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous for fear over her safety, recounted the ordeal that started when unknown men fired gunshots and then closed in on her as she was scouring the bush for food.
Her 40-year-old mother is still in the hands of the jihadists, she said.
Another survivor, who did not wish to be named, said the abductors gathered women into groups and made them shepherd stolen sheep to disguise what was happening.
“I managed to hide in a ravine with another (woman),” the second woman said. “We got back to the village at nightfall. Others returned the following morning,” she said.
The insurgency linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State spread into Burkina Faso from neighbouring Mali in 2015. The jihadists have seized swathes of territory across West Africa’s Sahel region over the past decade and continue to gain ground.
Thousands have been killed and over 2.7 million displaced by the unrest, which has contributed to growing food insecurity and to the discontent that led to military coups in both Mali and Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso’s arid north, a hotbed of jihadist activity, has been particularly hard hit. Insurgents there have blocked roads and attacked convoys delivering supplies to trapped citizens.
Protesters marched in Arbinda on Monday to ask authorities to send more food, after which they air-dropped some provisions.
Those who escaped took part in the demonstration.
“When I think of the others … I cannot sleep,” one of them said. “I don’t know what their fate will be. Will they survive?”