80 Rape Cases for the Month

End of July, 2009

Dearest Friends and Family:

I have contemplated, written, rewritten, saved, and deleted so many posts that I could have a small book by now.  When I reviewed what I had written, I felt the need to filter some of the information, even though that seems like a disservice to the reality of life in this part of the world.  I will aim for the middle ground and spare you the raw truth – it is harsh.

I saw the statistics for July: 80 rape cases.  The youngest: only 4 months old.  She died.  This does not include the abandoned, abused, and missing children that we receive word of.  I notice that with these cases, especially at the point of rescue, I too become somewhat desensitized to the matters at hand.  It is how we get the work done.  There isn’t time to mourn or scream.  I deal with it by focusing on the situation in front of me.  However, about once a week, I fall apart.  I cry because  nothing I own smells fresh anymore, or all the lettuce in the market is brown, or because my hair is quickly turning gray.  Tears flow freely and I know, deep down, I am not crying about the lettuce or my graying hair.  I try to be gentle with myself and not judge my tears or try to stop them.  It is OK to be heart-broken.  I am OK.  I am safe and healthy, albeit slightly war-torn.  I have accepted, in the deepest part of my soul, that I can’t possibly understand the bigger picture.  I’m not meant to.  But I am meant to serve.  For now, I don’t ask why.  I don’t ask for answers or try to make sense of everything just yet.  I simply ask, “What can I do to help”?

My photos document a kaleidoscope of people, places, and events, as well as illness, poverty and joy.

I have gone out in the middle of the night, searching for a missing 13-year-old mentally disabled girl.  An older man had taken her to a seedy motel, but thankfully, we located her before she was harmed.  I have gone on a police raid where we broke into an abandoned house to find a young man involved in porn and drugs.  There, he was hiding out with his child victim in the back bedroom.  I felt such rage I turned his bed upside down.

I have sat in on endless court cases.  This past Tuesday, I witnessed two.  The first case involved a man who doused his 8-month pregnant girlfriend in gasoline and set her on fire.  She died 13 days after the incident.  In this particular courtroom, the accused is held in a cell in the basement.  There are steps that rise up through a narrow passageway into the front of the courtroom and when the guard calls the defendant’s name, a trap door opens and the accused rises up out of the floor.  As soon as the head of the boyfriend emerged from the floor, the mother of the deceased victim fell into my lap, sobbing hysterically.  I wrapped myself around this broken woman and held her, for I have nothing else to offer.

After spending time with the mother, I moved to the next courtroom.  This second case involved the rape of a 15-year-old who was additionally attacked and severely stabbed numerous times in the face.   She and I sat in the sunshine, waiting to be called into the courtroom.   I held her hand and tried to talk about the color of the sky, or things that would take her mind off the court hearing and keep her calm.  She tried to hide her scarred face in the hood of her jacket but I held her face in my hands and told her she was so beautiful and then covered her face in kisses.  She was so shy and traumatized she could barely make eye contact.

We waited together for a very long time, and were then called into the courtroom, only to be told the case was postponed because the police officer forgot to turn in the docket!  There is no point in getting angry about the absurdity of the oversights for it is common here, and an accepted part of the system.  The child had to go through the terror of seeing her rapist and stand alone, only a few feet from him.  To have this pain of waiting and coming into contact again with someone who has attacked, raped, and stabbed you – and then to endure it all over again in a few weeks feels unimaginable and unfair to me.

Just when I feel that I cannot offer anything for another day, healing comes in the sweetest packages.  I was standing outside in the courtyard waiting for my ride and turned around to see the 15-year-old girl running through the crowd toward me.  She wrapped her arms around me and held on tightly, looked me square in the eyes, and smiling, said “Thank you. I love you. Bye bye”. Somehow, she found the courage to leave an opening in her heart to trust again, and a bridge was built.  I can only pray this begins her journey of understanding that not all people have malicious intent or want to harm her.

Last night, the police brought an 11-year-old girl here to stay for a couple nights with my roommate and me.   She was brutally raped and beaten by more than one man and was found tied to a tree.  She has no place to go; both her parents are dead and her Aunt beat and burned her body with an iron when finding out about the rape.  This girl had been in the hospital all night, going through the necessary examinations and police statements.  All places of safety are full so I ran out and got food and a set of warm clothes for her.  She only speaks Zulu and remained sick through the entire night from the post-exposure prophylactic drugs, administered to lower the risk of contracting HIV.  The side effects are brutal and she was understandably inconsolable.  She rolled around on the floor all night clutching her stomach and crying, in between bouts of vomiting.  What kind of nightmare must this have been?  She was in a strange house with 2 women that didn’t speak her language, and it was imperative for us to continue giving her the drugs that were making her so violently ill.  I do not want to relive that night, ever.   She has since been moved to another place of safety and we will see her in the morning.

For those of you who are asking what you can do, please see the following: I can’t tell you how much your help will make a difference for these survivors.  Even $5.00 or $10.00 can help me buy food, medicine, diapers, and more for the women here.  As for me personally, I have everything I require.  I so appreciate your offers to send me the things I miss, but I would be heartless if I didn’t think of others first.  The Zulu women I see daily work tirelessly and do so much for the children here, and yet none of them have running water or toilets in their own homes.  They live on rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and white bread –  the least expensive items they can buy that produce the most in a meal.  They eat sugar by the spoonfuls because it is one of the most plentiful things around.

Below is a picture of Lady Fair’s house.  The first picture is the toilet which is shared with 2 other households.  There is no running water.  There is a small basin inside and Lady Fair fetches water from a neighbor up the road.

She and Lesipho, (her 4 year old granddaughter) show up at work every single day, clean and well groomed.  One would never guess the conditions they live in.  Lady Fair has expanded her family; she houses, feeds, clothes, and protects children who have no place to go.  They are neighbors who have lost their parents, as well as children from the township who have sought her out because they hear she will help raped, hungry, and abused children.  Lady Fair feeds them all and teaches them right from wrong.  They are all required to help one other, in addition to grooming themselves and taking pride in the little house they have.  It is extremely small, but tidy.  Lady Fair is a single woman, supporting all of these people and she makes 2000 Rand a month.

I am attempting to sell some of my possessions at home in hopes that I can buy enough corrugated steel to replace Lady Fair’s roof and walls.  They are so worn; there is no protection from the rain, wind and cold.  The roof is held on by heavy rocks.  I know how to use a hammer and I know that whatever effort I put into it, it will be better than what she currently has.

Lady Fair’s house

There is joy!  I have had moments that open my heart wider than ever before, not out of sorrow or pity, but out of pure love and happiness.  It is challenging for me to be here at times, and I cannot imagine the reality of living here.  Amazingly, these women love their country and are grateful for life.  They sing and clap, they pray and dance.  Mostly they love with all their might.

They are tough angels.

I am forever grateful to you, my friends who keep me strong and are constant reminders that I am never alone in this.  Please be kind to others.  Signing off from Kwan Zulu Natal, South Africa on a stormy Sunday night.

With love,