yesterday I read the most horrific story. one I couldn’t even imagine. one more common than i can contemplate. a young ugandan woman, Ester, was abducted by warring men who gang raped her and forced her to kill her 1 year old baby girl. you need to read about this survivor’s experience yourself because it will never make the newspapers or the tv.
in gender studies, one constantly comes across stories of violence, abuse, death, discrimination, exploitation – you name it – faced by women, everywhere in the world. the majority of the time, women’s hell comes at the hands of men, in charge in politics, religion, business and in the home. that’s not an ideological view, that’s the unfortunate reality. there is no country in the world where women are safe from physical or sexual threat and economic inequality. none.
in the midst of that noise, comes a story like this. since i’ve read it, i’ve been unable to get it out of my mind. its made me wonder about what i’m doing with life and why i’m not doing more. it’s made me feel angry and sad and ill. it’s made me feel helpless and overwhelmed and sorry for everything that happens to women that i should prevent, but cannot or have not.
i can’t actually get my head around this woman’s body, reality, past, future, relationships, thoughts, hopes, fears and strengths. i’m just simply in shock.
Ester’s story struck me as a human and as a woman. but i think it was my new knowledge as a mother that really has me shaken.
a year is so long in the life of a child. so many hours, so much milk, so much togetherness and so much emotion. so much labour of love goes into getting a child to one year old. they are so vulnerable, so much outpouring of energy, self and will is needed just to keep them healthy and alive. a friend told me the story of her eldest sibling dying from crib death after one year and the effect on her mother. the possiblity of losing one’s baby so quietly and subtlty – as simply the stopping of breath – is inconceivable for me. i would never recover if something happened to ziya. like many mothers i often check to make sure she is breathing when she sleeps and lie awake listening to her next to me at night.
such a loss is something my mind refuses to process. but now this? if i wasn’t already an atheist, i’d question the existence of god. if i didn’t already hate when people say ‘god gives you only what you could bear’, i’d start now. if i wasn’t already wondering how long men were going to let others of their sex, and the sysytems they control, destroy so many women, i’d start now. if i wasn’t already done with ‘revolutionary’ men who refuse to actively overturn male domination, i’d be done.
i’m going to show Ester’s story to my first year women’s studies class on our first day and take up a collection to send. it isn’t enough, but i don’t know what i can do that is. all i know is that having brought a baby girl to the age of nine months through blood, tears, sweat, milk and many, many, many hours of everything i possibly have to give, this story leaves me disturbed and distraught. not only because of Ester’s sheer pain, but because her story is similar to too many women’s. women who have had their bodies, children, work, health and lives taken – here in Trinidad and Tobago and there in Uganda.
this isn’t an entry whose words aim at good writing. this is just writing to stop my fists from balling together in expression of the knot in my chest. this is writing to ask the world: what i can do? what can we do? how can we just go on?
i’m going to ask my class this question, knowing it will mean so little but hoping it adds a small part of what is needed, so that stories like Ester’s need never be told again. the human, woman and now mother in me thinks of myself having her experience, and knows she has a powerful spirit that i must humbly honour in my life and work.
Ester, tonight I am thinking of you, sister human, woman, mother…and I am thinking of your family and children and, especially, your little girl. i’ve never met her, but i will never never never forget her story.