Thursday 28 May
Today was… Dark.
It began as something quite routine, with the next stage of the house I’ve been working on- a stage called mudding! A clay like cement is formed from a mixture of water and busted up termite mounds.
From this, you make balls and stack them up to fill the cavities that were created from yesterday’s stick tying.
It was only me and Gabbi working today, as Martin was elsewhere, but while we were working we heard a terrible sound from the house only next to us… A child screaming in acute pain and fear, and the repetitive rhythmic beat of something whipping down onto her. Gabbi, seeing my expression, explained to me that someone was being whipped for misbehaving, and that it’s something quite normal here. But the horrible sound went on and on… Gabbi started to look concerned, and a crowd formed outside the house.
I asked Gabbi if we could do something, but he simply looked at me and sadly shook his head.
Finally, the screaming stopped and the front door of the house tore open to reveal a man, roughly late 20s, who marched to the nearest tree, ripped off a branch about as thick as a broom handle, and returned to continue from where he had left off. And the scream came back again. That terrified, sickening, scream.
I could see Gabbi had reached a limit where he wanted to help as much as I, but was equally afraid. Seeing his turmoil, and knowing already about his great faith in Christianity, I asked him was he thought Jesus might do in this situation…
I thought was he did next was extremely brave.
He approached the door of the house (a good six minutes into the beating now) and encouraged other men in the crowd to follow him, which they did. He pushed open the door of the house, and told the attacker (who was about twice his size) it was time to stop. Thankfully he listened, but the drama didn’t stop there…
The man now burst from the house again, only to stand outside screaming at the girl he’d left beaten.
Finally, a girl of just 14 brought herself outside, but only just got past the front door before crumbling. She was badly hurt and couldn’t walk. She was spotted with blood from various cuts on her body. She was crying heavily. Her eyes stayed on the ground. She looked sorry.
This man continued to shout, at her and about her.
Gabbi translated the situation for me…
This man was her brother.
For the next 45 minutes while this girl sat broken and crying, different people were shouting at this poor girl the various different reasons she deserved this beating. The brother. The brother’s girlfriend. The brother’s girlfriend’s friend. Another brother. No one was helping her or defending her. As I looked at her many wounds, her twisted foot, I wanted so desperately to take her and do what I could to help her, but with her deranged and seemingly drunk brother still marching over her, screaming and threatening, it was impossible to get close.
Finally, the girl’s mother came.
She. Was. Furious.
“What is wrong with you!”
“You nearly killed my daughter!”
“Why are all you people only watching, not helping! Leave!”
The two brothers then moved to the side of the house where they sat and stayed, and the mother disappeared again. She returned quite soon with another woman, the girl’s older sister.
Finally, things were slowly beginning to move from this horrendous situation.
The girl, still crying, rose to walk but was unable to hold the weight, so I put one of her arms over my should, on the side of the damaged foot, to provide a crutch, while her sister led the way to her house.
Gabbi explained to me that the hospital won’t see this girl (or any victims of domestic violence) without a police report, which not only cost money, but will result in the man responsible being legally beaten by the authorities. Which I would personally love to see, but most families wouldn’t.
I asked the sister if she would be going to the police. She said no.
“No.” She said “I don’t even have any medicine for the pain.”
“I do”, I told her, “I’ll be back”.
She thanked me, and I ran to my camp and back again as quickly as I could, returning with 2 bandages, 2 painkillers for day, 2 painkillers for night, 2 alcohol cleansing wipes, and a handful of plasters. It was all I had. I had also brought a large bottle of water for rinsing the dirt away, which sticks fast in an area such as this which is nothing but sand, but when I returned the sister and mother were helping the poor, wounded girl to the bucket shower. They asked me to come with them, I’m not sure why, but I assume perhaps to ensure I didn’t miss an injury, or perhaps to keep me out the way..?
They undressed her and sponge washed her while she sat silently, her eyes still on the ground, until one of them washed her right shin, just above her ankle, which had a great lump poking out already. Then she cried out in agony and was in tears all over again, begging them to stop. It was even painful to watch. I just held her hand until it was over.
At last, we were in the sister’s house, who introduced herself to me as Purit. I strapped the girl’s ankle for support, though how much good it will do I don’t know. I also strapped up her wrist, and cleaned and put plasters over the various cuts she had head to toe, which flies had already been so quick to reach.
I continuously emphasised the need for the girl to see a Doctor, with particular focus on the ankle. Purite just said “OK.”
The family thanked me profusely, which was kind. The girl couldn’t speak English. I wanted to tell her she’s beautiful and brave, and that she didn’t deserve what happened.
Back at camp, when I told them, another potential of support for people in violent domestic situations was explained to me. Under Mwandi’s Village Chief sits what is effectively a governing body, which is known as The Kuta. If you wish to report a domestic situation but cannot afford a police report, you can go to the Kuta. They will take the attacker in question, beat them, lock them in a cell for a few days, then finally be given the opportunity to leave but only if they apologise to the Village Chief on their knees. And interesting system, but still not one many family members like to use. Other than that, not much about what had happened seemed to concern or even really catch the attention of anyone I spoke to. I suppose they’ve all grown used to this sort of this.
But I can’t stop thinking about it.