Her Eyes

Creative Commons, @venturaartist

[Find out more about this column, “Women”by Negar Mohtashami Khojasteh]

This is going to be slightly different than the previous article and those that are coming because I do not think that I have any capacity to even try to imagine the pain and cruelty that this woman had faced in her life- I was very young when I met her, perhaps only 5 years old. Yet her face remains etched in my memory, the child she held a lesson to my privilege and the injustice Sudanese women faced, not only during the Darfur crisis, but even today.

When the West depicts Africa, it is of a desert, of pests flying around starving black children; A misconstrued, misinformed, disgusting image of a world that, in my opinion, has much more intellect, life, culture than the West itself. So, believe me when I tell you that this is not a pity story of the poor starving “country” that is Africa, but an incredible story of a fierce woman who has survived despite all odds. It is, however, also set in a bleak desert coated in orange sand, and it does have a starving child, and a woman with only her womanhood guiding her.

She was dark as the night sky, her lips full but set in a stubborn line, and wearing the traditional white Sudanese cloth, although you would not be able to tell its true colour, so stained and dirtied was her attire. Her odour was too much to bear, and the rags did not help. I was a five year old child, and I remember looking up at this woman, a strange twist in the pit of my stomach, for in her hands she carried a bundle of rags, and within it, a newborn baby girl. I stared at her arms, wired and veiny, filled with a strength that I will never know. I did not know English then, and I cannot remember what she asked of my father- All I remember was her eyes. They weren’t filled with despair or anguish, but a spark of light, of resilience, of strength. Her eyes told stories of pain and loss, and perseverance through it all. As the baby screamed, the woman lost control of her bladder, and urinated right there in front of me. This is not an image that is easy to leave behind, and the shock allowed it to become one those few retained childhood memories.

Only years later did I comprehend what I had seen, what she had gone through, how strong she really was, how relentless; She was suffering from a fistula; An abnormal connection between her rectum, her urethra and her vagina caused by serious injury or trauma to the area. She had no power or control over her bladder or her faeces, and it was only years later I found out that women like these were stoned and kicked, and expelled from their communities. Dogs were better treated than women with fistula. Now, I do not know her story. I do not know if she got it during childbirth or was raped or mutilated as a young female, as so many young Sudanese women are. All I know was that her eyes sparkled with hope, and she taught me the most valuable lesson about privilege and resilience that anyone could have.

I aspire to be as strong and brave as this woman, nameless she may be, and her story forgotten. For this woman, and for the countless others in Sudan: Do your research, and do some good with the capacity that you have, and the privilege that you have been given. Fistulas are easily mended with a surgery, but there is a limited access to medical supplies, and even fewer surgeons to spare. Honestly, I can go on and tell you the statistics and overwhelming numbers of women with fistula who are left to rot, expelled from their villages and robbed the potential for a life- but I won’t.

This story is for her, and to her, and an attempt to still the rage I feel at the injustice of it all.

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