Tag Archives: Uganda

Sexual Abuse- A survivor’s story

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(Photo credits: Internet stock photo)

A few years ago, a girl I went to school with faced some life altering experiences. Whereas I had heard that she was going through a rough patch, I did not fully comprehend the extent of her suffering. Now as adults and as very good friends, she narrated to me the incidents that left her a changed woman. Here is the verbatim version of her story.

You’ve probably heard the rumors and you wondered how true they were.  I feel it’s time to break my silence. Yes, it happened. In the latter half of my first year at university, I was physically, verbally and sexually abused by an acquaintance. Many of my close friends and family were drawn into the aftermath too.

I had lived with this man for just over six months because I believed that he loved me. The truth of my situation hit me like a jolt. For a long time, I was gripped with fear that was accompanied by an adrenaline high and panic attacks that I had multiple times a day. A lot happened within a very brief period of time. I couldn’t believe how much power I had given up, how uncontrollably helpless I had become, how awfully shaky and insecure I had turned out. A cloud of disappointment hovered over me. How could I  have let the boundaries that surrounded my private life collapse? How could I have exposed and involved other innocent people in a burden that should have been mine to carry? Life was dark and loaded with uncertainty. I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), weight loss and abortion guilt (I discovered I was pregnant with the perpetrator’s child after the abuse and had the baby removed). My body couldn’t handle the stress and I found myself throwing up consecutively for nearly a fortnight. Everything I ate and drank came back up and I wilted like a dying flower feebly shedding its leaves. I continued to shrivel under the weight of it all. Another huddle was the nightmares; particularly those in which I dreamed of bottomless pits into which I was yanked by strong forces. I also dreamed of cages where I was locked up and howling for help because I could not find the exit. Those nights were rough and often they left me suicidal.

There were moments during which silence and isolation were the order of the day.  At these times I relived my experiences of rape in a world of grim quietness. I had an internal debate during which I paused questions like; “What I could have done to prevent it or what I could have done that caused it to happen?” These questions never left me peaceful. Overwhelmed by confusion and hurt, I began to look for a ‘scapegoat.’ Coming from an evangelical Christian background, I felt compelled to make God a part of my solution. I searched for Christian literature that could address issues like mine and I finally came across some that offered healing for sexual abuse survivors. I felt like a horrid sinner, though, and I noticed that many of the churches I attended failed to get an in-depth understanding of these issues, their causes and impact. I found myself feeling like I was a combo of good yet guilty, and light mixed with darkness.

Nothing I could have done would have averted the situation. I came to this realization months later. It was intentional, meant to hurt me and destroy my life for good. I began to accept this reality and to accept that I had value, that my life was priceless, regardless of how my partner had made me feel. The will to live kicked in and I put up a fight to reclaim me. This is the point at which a genuine interest in me started to develop. Suddenly my imperfections appeared oddly beautiful to me. My appreciation for humanity flourished further when I listened and watched Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged album. She uttered something profound during the performance when she said; ‘We are all in the same mess.”  These words remained with me. The song “I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind” resonated with the need for me to connect with a peaceful cosmic force. I found some relief and this album compelled me to delve into the wondrously strong and broken person I had become.

This made me scared and thrilled at my own existence. I picked a selection of India Arie’s jams to listen to such as “I am not my hair”, “Little Things” and these songs were like my therapy. There was a masterpiece record which held my pieces together and sealed the wounds so that they became scars. The song is called “I am light” and it flung open the doors of the most fulfilling source of healing to me. It unlocked a myriad of gates on my path to liberty.

I picked interest in other women’s experiences and even sought for dialogue when the need arose. I strengthened my ties with the feminist movement, and went on a search about its history, core elements, objectives and its current state. The curiosity I had once had about my identity and sexuality began to return but in a fresher light. I embraced my body and hair in its natural state. I was glowing, putting on weight and loving this. I started to feel good. I also renewed my spiritual walk.

I have since continued my journey to freedom and equality for all. I have become increasingly compassionate towards broken and marginalized people such as survivors of abuse, persons discriminated against because of their sex, orientation or other demographic attributes and persons living with HIV & AIDS. Also, I had never thought I would fearlessly profess to be feminist despite the stigma around it, but I do.  My lessons are inestimable.

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Here are some of the responses I received when people learnt of my rape experience.

  • I have been cautioned about what I was wearing at the time of these events and even after.
  • I have been with people that shut me down shortly after I had started a conversation about my experiences.
  • I have been told by some that I should not bother speaking. After all, who will listen?
  • I have been told that after observing the good relationship my parents had I was wrong to have allowed the abuse to happen.
  • I live under constant scrutiny of people about my personal decisions especially those concerning my sexuality and relationships.
  • Many have felt that after that experience I am maybe incapable of loving.
  • I have been told to man up and not whine about my pain.
  • Some people out of ignorance have said that I couldn’t have been raped by a man I loved; let alone conceive a baby by him against my will.
  • I have been told that maybe if I fought harder the abuse wouldn’t have happened.
  • I have been accused of murder committed in cold blood because of the abortion.
  • I have been confronted with the challenge of explaining that the abuse happened and having to talk about some of these things while my wounds were still fresh.

I could go on and on, but what I would like to draw your attention to is the fact that many times attention is drawn to the victim of such crimes instead of to the perpetrator and this causes the victims unbearable pain.

What do I think should be done?

The way to go is to approach these issues with compassion, caution and wisdom. Abuse alone can be extremely alienating. It causes potential harm and real harm to victims as concerns their health, safety and image in the eyes of their loved ones as well as in the eyes of the public. They live with the traumatic effects months and years after it happens. They require real love and acceptance. Survivors need to feel normal- because they are. They need to be given platforms to speak when they feel the urge to.

Society needs to accept their decisions about matters of public concern but also respect their right to privacy. The empathy and compassion that we show them is what will give them fortitude to overcome the caustic forces that besieged them during the most difficult times of their lives. Ignorant and generalized speech directed to them must stop.

Survivors need to be helped to understand that they are worth much more than these painful experiences.

It’s been several years of being a survivor for me. Everyday I am changing and learning, trying to make life better for the next person out there that may go through or has gone through similar experiences. Are you being compassionate and empathetic? Take a moment to pause and think about your behavior!

As told by KWE; survivor of sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse.

 

 

 

 

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In the spirit of love.

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We all like warm, heartfelt stories that make us laugh, cry and believe in humanity and love all at the same time.

Here is Richard Wagaba’s book aptly titled “How to love a woman’s feet.” Prepare to get your heartstrings violently tagged at. ❤

Matatu tales

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The third week of January has turned out to be a trifle too hot for my liking. With temperatures soaring from “normal” to over 28 degrees Celsius, I have become averse to strolling on pavements or patiently waiting for matatus to come along. Matatus are my main mode of transportation everywhere. From Kampala to Mukono, From Kireka to Muyenga, Ntinda to Luzira; literally everywhere, I hop onto them praying that the people that man them take me to wherever I am going safely and in a swift manner. For the uninitiated, matatus are 14-seater vans that ply all major routes in Uganda. They are the face of the public transportation system in this hot,dry,crowded city of Kampala. Matatus are referred to as “taxis” by the common folk. Many of them are in dangerous mechanical condition with rickety chairs, cracked windows and torn leather seats. In deplorable condition, they do not even provide the luxury of air conditioning in these hot climes.

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They are chaperoned by drivers  who usually do not have driving licenses (thus steering vehicles on the roads illegally and we still jump onto matatus anyway! 🙂 )  and touts(who we call conductors) who are widely known for being vile, rude, uncouth, uncultured, vulgar and cheats. Many a time, these conductors do not take baths and it is evident by the stench that emanates from their clothes. Their bodies reek of old,dried sweat that has gone stale. And they wave their hands in the general direction of the route the taxi  is taking as they yell loudly for passengers to get on board their vehicle. Occasionally, because the underarms of their shirts are torn, you will catch glimpses of unshaven, bushy armpits. Not a pleasant sight I tell you!

During the morning and evening rush hours, you will find tens of people huddled at matatu stages waiting for a matatu to come along. Usually, the passengers are in a rush to get to work early(in the mornings) or to get home before dark(in the evenings). So, as soon as a half-empty matatu draws up, all of them will forget their manners(if they had any anyway) and push, shove, and elbow other people’s ribs while clamoring for the few available seats in the vehicle. If you are fortunate enough, you will get into the taxi without scratches but if you’re in a spate of bad luck, you will enter the taxi with bruises and sharp nagging pain. Like any other East African, I have had my fair share of memorable(both good and bad) experiences in matatus and run-ins with “conductor embarrassment”.

One morning, as I stood patiently waiting at the Shell Kireka matatu stage waiting for an empty matatu to drive up, I had an interesting encounter with the touts. I was all dressed up, ready for work. In a pink dress, well polished black heels, sleek shiny black hair, a dash of lipstick on my lips, and my handbag clasped in my left-hand, I had put in considerable effort to look very presentable(more than I usually do-scratch that, I rarely dress up. It’s exhausting for me!). So I stood by the roadside, very proud of myself for making the extra effort to look dashing that day. And then a nitwit driver and conductor of a taxi heading to the New Taxi Park made their way in my direction. The driver saw me and the other passengers through the cracked windshield of his run-down taxi as he drove towards where we were standing. However, when he got within thirty meters of us, he suddenly accelerated his vehicle. In a mad dash to get out of the way of the dazed driver and his equally errant taxi, I jumped sideways, twisted my right ankle and lost my balance(I was in heels!). I landed face forward into a deep, muddy pothole littered with scraps of polythene bags and green algae. A kind gentleman who had watched the fracas unfold pulled me up and helped me out of the pothole. My dress, bag, hair were dripping wet with disgustingly dirty water. You can imagine my horror. I was livid. Shaking and trembling with anger, I pointed my finger at the conductor and driver who had now parked the vehicle besides us and castigated them for being irresponsible and putting the lives of the people at the matatu stage at risk. The driver didn’t seem to discern that he’d done any wrong. The conductor started lambasting me and the other bystanders for being idle and disorderly. In his abuse, he said that “normal” people shouldn’t be just standing by the roadside as if they had nothing to do. The irony is that if we weren’t at the roadside, they would not have any business. A few other people who had scrambled for dear life empathized with me and urged me not to argue with the “fools”(the driver and his sidekick-the conductor). Mad, but having nothing to do, I flagged down a boda-boda and hopped onto it and took a ride back home to go take a shower and change so I wouldn’t be very late for work. It bothered me how the two men failed to see that they’d not only wronged me but the other bystanders at the matatu stage as well. Maybe it is true what they say; all conductors are cut from the same cloth(a very bad cloth)!

More recently, a few days ago, I boarded a matatu from the mango tree matatu stage at Spear Motors that was heading to Ntinda. Cramped in at the back of the taxi, I could hardly breathe. Usually, a matatu is supposed to only have 14 passengers on board. On this morning however, the conductor acted as if he was trying to set the Guinness World  Record for most overstuffed taxi in the world. In a row of seats which is supposed to hold 3 people, he squeezed in 5. So the first two rows from the taxi door had 11 people(10 passengers and the conductor with his head touching the vehicle roof and his dirt brown trousers turned towards the back of the taxi). His derriere was in our faces. 19 passengers in total(including the conductor and driver), we made for a pitiful sight. Hunched together within the metallic environs of the matatu, we looked like potatoes squashed into a sack. Despite the fact that it was early in the morning, it was evident that many of the passengers had neither showered nor brushed their teeth. One in particular constantly rubbed his pale, scaly, grazed skin against my face as he stretched. His eyes were bloodshot and he reeked of a strong potent gin. He had clearly had a long night. When he yawned, a mist of smelly air rose up into the air. Being morning rush hour, the driver decided to hasten our journey and he promptly ignited the engine and we set off. As anyone who has ever lived in Kampala knows, the stretch of road from Spear Motors to Ntinda is one of the most treacherous. It has fish-pond size potholes, anthill size humps and the road is as narrow as the proverbial road to heaven(You get my point!). The clanging of the taxi against thick, coarse, uneven gravel makes for a bumpy uncomfortable ride. The story was no different on this day. Puffs of dust wafted into the taxi and the leather chairs on which we sat were caked with a brown layering of dust; newly blown in dust and old dust that had not been brushed out of the taxi. I have been struggling with rhinitis for years. Much to my chagrin, I was now battling  with a plume of dust making its way onto the backseat. The windows had a faulty lock system so I couldn’t open them. My nose became runny, my eyes turned red and I contemplated getting out of the vehicle. However, I reasoned that I could not easily get another mode of transportation in the Stretcher-Ntinda area to get me swiftly to work. So, I decided to hang in there for the last few hundred meters of the journey. When we got to Capital Shoppers City, the driver, in an error of judgment swerved the taxi to avoid a speeding motor cyclist. In his bid to steer us to safety, he ended up practically cruising us over the large humps in that vicinity. The conductor lost his balance and landed on the laps of a rather plump woman donned in a kitenge dress with a maroon wig. She slapped him out of his reverie and confusion. As he scampered to get up, he let out a loud shrill fart. Boy oh boy! You should have seen the people whose faces were directly in front of his bottom. A lady, choking on the torrid smell, ducked her head under her chair. The passengers in the two front rows who had been squeezed in like lumps of clay, were now struggling to breathe. The smell was like that of rotting cabbage. A gentleman let out a loud gasp as he pulled his window clutch open to let in a stream of fresh air. The fart was like a dangerous chemical weapon. It made its way to the back of the taxi where I was sitting. I started to sneeze and my nose became itchy. Fed up with the torment we had so far endured, in a voice of unison, all the passengers asked the driver to park by the roadside.We were up to our necks with the horrible treatment by the matatu touts. Many of the passengers refused to pay the conductor his fare and walked off jeering. He hung his head low in shame. We  alighted out of the taxi and left the “fart master” and his equally ridiculous driver perplexed by our decision to leave their vehicle. I decided that I would walk the rest of the way to Ntinda Trading Centre. I would rather be late for work than die from inhalation of poisonous “fart gases.” I do not want my eulogy to read; ” she died from fart gas suffocation in a matatu.”

I could tell you a million and one stories about my endless matatu adventures. Today however, I will leave you with just a nugget of wisdom for your matatu journeys(if and when you choose to use a matatu):

Always have loose change to give the conductor. Touts love to cheat people especially vulnerable looking ones. And if you ever find yourself in a verbal fight with touts, do not give them the benefit of your reply. They will never understand the point you are trying to put across.

Until next time, safe travels and enjoy your matatu rides!

Blessings!

 

A little bit of Home..

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There are things that are beautiful and wonderful about where I come from that most people tend to ignore. Often times, many have chosen to see/hear/lament about the bad that is happening in Uganda and yet there is so much beauty in and around us. This is my tribute to my home. Geoffrey Oryema sums up Acholi-land in his song “Land of Anaka”.

I’ve been learning more about my identity as I grow older. I am proud of where I come from. I sometimes marvel at myself. I failed to learn to speak Luganda, Swahili and French(well, not failed exactly.I just haven’t picked anything up in all my years except the occasional greetings) and yet I am very proficient with the Luo dialects.

A few days ago, I got hired as a volunteer for the Acholi Times, an online news and cultural website that essentially brings news about Acholi people that mainstream media would otherwise ignore. It is a wealthy resource for anybody researching about Nilotic ethnic groups especially the Luo grouping(in which the Acholis lie). I have taken this on because I now feel the need to be part of cultural and heritage conservation.

I would be sad if my children did not have any written or preserved literature or resources to let them know about their ancestors or where they came from. This is my way of making sure that even long after I am gone, some Luo somewhere will always know that he/she were the descendants of Gipir and Labongo and that before the days of colonization, there were chiefdoms that had highly organized systems of governance.

It is a struggle to find one’s identity in this world that has different viewpoints and that tries to suck us in to the viewpoints of the majority. Civilization is great. However, it is eroding part of who we are. I am what many in my village call a “Kampala Acholi” because when I get to the village, I don’t seem to speak my local language as well as the village elders would like me to.

So, I am starting a journey. A path of faithfully learning my traditional dialect all over again, of learning to write properly in my mother tongue, and being able to legibly translate that into information that can be preserved for my children’s children. (To my siblings who laugh at me when I speak Acholi; you will be surprised how well I will answer questions in Luo on my traditional wedding sometime in the future! 🙂 )

Of daylight savings, hair loss and meeting new people!

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me and Ann Oakley

Patty and I went to see Ann Onley, a lady that served in the Peace Corps in Uganda for two years in the 1960s. She has very fond memories of Uganda. She was a teacher at Iganga Secondary School. Currently, she resides at a home for the Elderly at Wesley Ridge.  She doesn’t have very close family and she lit up when Patty and I arrived. Ann is a bubbly person and as far as I could tell, she is at home in this place. She is good friends with most of the folks there and she dressed up in a Kanzu(long robe usually worn by men at traditional wedding ceremonies) and hat for our visit. Bless her!  I cannot imagine sending my mum or my grandfather to a home for the Elderly. It would break my heart. That’s something I treasure about where I come from; that we still take care of old people and have them in our homes even when they are sick. Ann lost her busuuti (gomesi), traditional Ugandan garb for women in a house fire over three decades ago. She has never recovered from that loss. When I get back to Kampala, I will get a tailor to sew her a new gomesi and post it to her. I hope to see her soon when the weather gets nicer.

Bowling

I went bowling with my colleagues from work on Monday afternoon(I am surely blessed!). My first bowling experience turned out to be so much fun. I came last twice and second in the last game. Not bad for a first timer I guess.

I was at Ohio Public Radio on Friday job shadowing with Andy Chow. It was exhilarating; one of the best shadow experiences I’ve had so far. I’ve never given radio a second thought as a career but I was greatly inspired to look into it. The thrill of getting news scoops, doing voice overs for news stories was palpable. Also, I met an interesting intern called Caleigh who is way fun! Did I mention that I met a South African girl called Nana that goes to a Christian University in Canton? I was in the shop at the State House with Neva and we were waiting for Andy to come pick me up. I saw her braids and told Neva I thought the black girl in the shop was African. Neva nudged me to go over and say hi to her(I am way too shy so I stalled!). The object of our interest(Nana) then received a phone call. That sold her! Her accent was very faint- she has an Americanized South African accent but it was just enough to confirm to me that she is from the mother-land. So I went over and said hello and told her I am from Uganda. She squealed in absolute delight. She told me she doesn’t often meet people from Africa in Columbus. She is a Political Science major and is doing her Internship at the State House. We chatted a bit and exchanged numbers. We’re supposed to meet again this week.

So Mike, Patty and I had a quiet weekend indoors. The weather was so much nicer. The first day I got here, I fell in love with the snow. The second day, after experiencing bone chilling cold, I was pretty much DONE with the winter! It’s not as warm as Uganda( I’ll never complain about the heat in Kampala or Mukono again by the way!) but 11 degrees Celsius is certainly a delightful improvement from -8 degrees. I got to walk on the streets in Downtown Columbus without a sweater(It was so cool! I felt like one of  those tourists they show in the movies crossing New York streets ! 🙂 ) Speaking of movies, I watched Dallas Buyers Club this weekend. Jared Leto, you have me hooked now!

When the weather warmed up yesterday, we went over to Shaw and Sandy’s farm. They have a chicken called Henrietta 🙂 And they love her too much to kill her for dinner. I volunteered to do the evil deed(kill the kitchen and pluck the feathers off if need arose!) PS: I am not evil. I still have a heart(Just trying to help out in a complicated situation!)! Also, I got to taste maple syrup. It’s a cross between honey and vanilla. And it’s got from sap tapped from Maple trees. In Mike’s words, Sandy and Shaw are tree vampires(there were tubes on almost the trees in the yard to collect the sap).

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Talking about culture shock, initially, I was baffled that people here have lunch and dinner much earlier than people in Uganda do. Lunch is at 11 a.m, dinner(supper) is usually between 4.30-6 p.m. At home, we have lunch at 1 p.m and dinner(supper) usually between 7-9 p.m. I’ve adjusted pretty well though and I must admit that I actually prefer eating much earlier. Also, it’s pretty normal for people here to have conversations in the restrooms(while doing their business!). The first time somebody attempted to have a conversation with me(we were in adjacent toilets meanwhile), I was baffled. My jaw literally dropped to the floor and I giggled nervously as I thought of the quickest way to run out of the rest rooms and avoid further discomfort. A few months down the road, it’s become pretty normal. I will try not to do it when I get back home though. My mother would be horrified!

Meanwhile, it’s so hard having braids on for months. I hate long hair; I hate having to grow my hair or to braid it for that matter. My mum will not hear any of that. My girlfriends think I am ridiculous for wanting short hair(I had a bald head a year ago and I loved it!Okay, it wasn’t plain bald. I tinted my head with permanent gold hair dye )My brother was so embarrassed to be seen with me during that hair episode of mine. But I loved it and the freedom that came with not having to comb it into a neat afro or sit in a salon for hours to have it braided. I am suffering with braids(yes, suffering!).Some of the braids are falling off(WITH MY HAIR!!) The horror! My forehead has inched in because of this miserable hair loss.I cannot go to have them removed at a salon around here because it’s so expensive. So I will stick it out for the next few weeks until I get to Kampala and get permanent dreadlocks(Sorry mum, I can’t take it anymore. The dreadlocks are going up!). I feel like a chicken that has had a few feathers plucked off. So when you see me with a scarf wrapped around my head don’t think I am making a fashion statement. That could not be further from the truth. This girl is simply hiding hair loss and a receding hairline. African girl hair problems!

I have been going through my brother’s  Facebook wall a lot(I think it’s really creepy when your sister stalks you on Facebook!). I actually miss him. 🙂 Usually, we bicker a lot. We’re not at all mushy about each other though I know that within that 6 foot humongous frame of his he has a huge soft spot for me( 😉 I am too far away for you to kill me bro!) My cousin is getting married this year. I am so excited for her. I cannot miss that for the world. Even if I had to swim across the Atlantic to get there,I would!(Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that because I can’t swim and I would surely drown or get eaten by a shark!)

Yesterday, “Daylight Savings” began. It is something that I think is only done in the U.S. of A(our friends who still use miles, Fahrenheit, pounds e.t.c)- and now Daylight Savings!The rationale is that there will be an extra hour of daylight and an hour is reduced from night-time!(I am still confused about this and I am trying to figure out what it’s relevance is!) . So instead of an eight hour difference with Kampala, it’s now down to seven hours.(Thanks for confusing me good people! 😦 ).  I am going to try and make peace with this distortion of time. In the meantime, I wish you all a blessed week.