Perseverance like no others – Africa Trip 2 Day 3
Last night, the doctor who heads this clinic (he reminds of Jean-Gilles Tchabo, the brilliant, charismatic and deeply caring doctor who tended to my wife in all her pregnancies) briefed the team on the harsh reality of what is becoming an epidemic.
He fears that possibility because in his own record-keeping of the three thousand women that he and his teams have treated, the overwhelming percentage of predators are now civilian. This terror used to be the nearly exclusive province of various militias hell-bent on total destruction of people, now it’s tipped over into something else.
We ask him the worst case he’s treated. A young woman, already pregnant, shot through her pelvis after the brutality. Her baby dead, the bullet ripping through and out her rectum, her insides together where they should be separated. He described his reaction the first time he was called on to help a militia victim. He called it “rebellion” – against his own nature, against God, against the very thought that any person could possibly do this. Like all of us, he struggles for words to describe this horror without actually having to resort to a grisly description. He gives up, and falls into medical parlance. Just as it is impossible to believe someone could physically survive this, it is equally hard to understand how they can emotionally come back. To be in his presence is like being with an old friend. His smile is soft and always ready. Somewhere he found what he needed to push through the rebellion and into his sweet spot – a loving man caring for the loveless.
I ask him of the suicide rate in the region. Though he has promised to provide some official statistics, his understanding is that it is quite low. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me. There is something here that breeds perseverance expressed at a level both below and above our “western” ability to comprehend.
We conclude our day inside a small compound overrun with children – many on crutches, some with legs wrapped, one in what looks like a pelvic brace (both legs wrapped tight, a cross piece in between like the letter ‘A’). Turkeys, chickens even piglets coexisting happily. It’s too much to call it an orphanage. Just another little place where another woman gives out of her abundant nothing to care for those with even less. She’s a nun, driven out of her home by years of war and conflict. She took up here to take up care.
The last session is with a 21-year old confined to a wheelchair; she speculates that the trauma of her rape means her mind won’t let her legs work. The last question is about her future. This is the first question for which she doesn’t have an answer. Her silence breaks us.