Daily life in the close-packed neighborhoods here is raucous and incessant. Today it was even worse, since it is a holiday. Children laughing and playing, non-stop calls to prayer from the mosque, neighbors arguing with each other, cars honking, and even the occasional drive-by-advertisement for a disco (playing incredibly loud music and also moving incredibly slow). Yet, as with most things in life, the sounds fade to the background eventually. But the sound of children screaming never fades into the background.
At first, the screaming pierces the air and life stops for a moment… all heads turn to the source of the noise. Uneasily, we glance at each-other, each of us hoping that it is just another temper tantrum of a child raised in a society where parents appease children with candy and shame them by calling them villains and devils. Yet, sometimes, you know that it’s more.
That was today. We finished our business meeting, and as we were preparing for a birthday party the screams began. This time, however, they came from a nearby neighbor’s home, accompanied by angry yelling. We intervened in the incident and stopped it. Apparently, the neighbors had acquired a new girl to work as a slave in the house – no older than 5 or 6 years old. Her new ‘parents’ decided that she had gone too far away from the house – it’s unclear whether she was playing or trying to run away – and so she was being “punished”.
Sadly, the situation was not surprising to us at all.
We’ve lived here for two years, but it’s striking to me how quickly the insanity of life here fades from my awareness. And then something happens again, and it’s as if I’ve been poked with a sharp needle, emotions flooding in once more.
After we’d only been here a week, the wife of our host family was almost beaten by an angry mob from her village. Her crime? She had called the police to turn in a man who had punched his pregnant wife in the stomach.
Less than a year later, I heard the cries of a woman as I was coming home late at night. I ran up to find a man screaming and hitting a woman on the street. As I stepped between them, she took the opportunity to grab his laptop and slam it against the sidewalk. As it exploded into a million pieces, he screamed in rage and dove over me, hitting her again and again. Thankfully there were enough witnesses nearby that he quickly got into his car and drove off.
Another time, as I was riding in a taxi I noticed a cast on a woman’s wrist, which seemed bent… wrong. I didn’t ask, but after she got out, it was quickly explained that her forearm had been broken by her husband.
One day after our business meeting, a teenage girl came in, acting strangely. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, and looked afraid and confused. She stayed at the team-leaders house for a few hours and then left, despite offers to stay and to find help. Apparently, she also was a ‘slave girl’ – but she was being abused in a different way. Unfortunately, there was no safe place for her to go, and she probably returned to where she came from.
Maybe 9 months back, we were learning about how families will do anything they can do hide their shame. A family discovered that a young girl was being abused by her step-father, and the shame was incredible. The response? Not to send him away, but rather to send her away. She was a reminder of their shame to all of the society around them.
Last week, I was leaving to go play football (soccer :p). As I was going down, I saw one of the young women had her eye covered with a massive, bloody bandage (Later the bandage was removed to reveal a 5 inch cut with massive stitches down her eyebrow, across her eyelid, and cheek). “Who hit you?! What happened!?” I said forcefully, without thinking clearly that it was probably a conversation better done in private. “Shuma” was all she said. I left, later to find out that “shuma” is the word for the 1/4″ steel rebar they use to reinforce the buildings here. Unfortunately, she was unwilling to say more.
I know that this is pretty heavy stuff to read. It’s uncomfortable.
It gnaws at me when I think about it.
It brings up the same feelings that I get when I read the news… brokenness, pain, sadness, grief, anger, frustration… and most of all? Helplessness…
… and I felt the same way when I helped out at a local domestic violence shelter in the States, and when I worked with the homeless…
… only, here, the emotions are visceral and inescapable. I can’t go home back to suburbia and closed doors and American individualism. I can’t close a browser, change the channel, or turn my eyes away from the newspaper…
… and even more, I know that even if I could help in these situations, I will never know the worst that happens here, and the extent to which it happens. I can do nothing about it. And even if I could, it would be a drop in the bucket of this world…
Thankfully, this world does not need me. it needs HIM. God knows. He sees every minute detail of every person’s pain, and he cares more than any of us. He is not limited by me… but I hope that he will use us here to make a difference.