Bonded by tragedy, Richmond woman houses Ethiopian domestic violence victim

To hear her story, you'd be surprised to see that 23-year-old Meserep Negussie, or Messy, can have a smile on her face.  

Richmond’s Menbere Aklilu, or Memby, says she saw Messy's harrowing story on Facebook. Visible scars on Messy’s face tell a painful tale from when her ex-fiancé threw acid on her. 

“When I met her she was crying day and night,” said Aklilu. “But now she realizes there's a light.”

Messy arrived from Ethiopia two months ago. She said everybody there was afraid and that the people don't like to see her face. 

The acid burned her face, chest and arms.  She and Memby are from the same village in Ethiopia. Memby says when she heard of the brutal attack she had to help. First, sending money, and then flying 22 hours to meet the young woman she'd only heard of online.     

But the two had a shared story. When Memby was pregnant she too was a victim of domestic violence from her then husband. 

“He burned me with a cigarette and after that he gave me three days to pull my own teeth,” Aklilu said.

Memby says she was lucky and able to get away, and that's why it's important that she helps this young woman get back on her feet. She’s opened up her home to a total stranger and is paying it forward, arranging medical treatment and operations, helping to make messy whole again.

She tells Memby that seeing her face in the mirror doesn’t scare her anymore. 

Messy is a trained cook in Ethiopia, and is now mastering her craft and helping out at Memby's restaurant – Salute in Richmond. And you may think this is a great present for messy, as it surely is, but the true gift is for Memby.  

“It’s Christmas and she's here with me and my house is more warm,” Aklilu said. “And it's a Christmas gift for me.”

“I want to keep her here. I will do some paper work. I will ask for help and she will stay.”