Can Abortion Be Justified?

Last night I dined with a friend. He’s the coordinator of one big international humanitarian NGO. We worked in a very different field, but somehow it is still connected.

Over wine, we got talking about the kinds of things we see in our places of work. On why expatriates like us are discouraged from being in insecure locations such as inside the settlement to spend the night, let alone live every day.

I said I would not do it. I am done with my cowboy days but I am sure young humanitarian actors will push their luck and try the adventure. But is it an adventure to live with the refugees if you represent oppression and reason for them being displaced? Maybe not, but that’s a story for another time.

On a more serious tone, our conversation gravitated on the subject of abortion. Since both of us work in the health sector, these are subjects we know are sensitive, and talked on hushed voices, and never blurted out in daylight, but we know it happens, and justified.

You see, without blaming anyone or any agency, we know that rape happens in the settlement or camps. People are in an insecure location and vulnerable situation, and many are just vultures taking advantage of the case, and the people they think are below them.

Imagine my surprise to hear that not only women are vulnerable in such a situation. In one week, he said they got report of men being raped but women out numbered them. Reports of defilement is available at police stations, but whether or not perpetrators are apprehended is hard to tell.

So, what he told me why they do it – abortion to victims of rape, made me think twice about why I am doing what I am doing here in Uganda. I even have to agree to disagree with him based on my faith.

That’s why abortion is hush-hush is because it’s the last resort. He said the best is still to have more robust policies on the protection of women and men against sexual exploitation and abuse, and stronger enforcement from the authorities. But when that system fails, there should be a support network that will catch these women victimized by their vulnerability, in a place where they thought they are protected but are not.

Being a victim is a hard pill to swallow. The psychological trauma it brings to the victim makes it hard for them to think straight. The fear of being discovered, labeled, and eventually ostracised in a community where you’re supposed to get your strength from to go on each day is tremendous.

What happens when the rape resulted in pregnancy?

That’s when another cycle of psychological trauma happens. Being pregnant from a rape always remind that person of what happened, of how she was not able to avoid it. Blame herself for bringing it to herself. The fight internally gets intense, making it hard for her to fight back, and often, the psychological trauma wins over the rational way of thinking, which can lead to many difficult decisions, including abortion and the worst suicide.

The mental health support system is as complicated as it can get. Not everybody understands what they are talking about, and when in such a complicated situation, often, the victims are left to fend for themselves. Making it hard for women to feel they had someone on their side. My friend told me that even he doesn’t like that program they have on abortion, but after seeing women getting into such a situation, he knew it has to be done. But he also told me that its the last resort when all support fails, and if they don’t do it, women will also find a crude way to get rid of the pregnancy that will also put their life further at risk.

So for us not to get there, as a humanitarian actor, we have a lot of responsibility for the people we serve.

First, when we design policy on protection and prevention of sexual violence and abuse, don’t let it on paper and pretend that action will magically materialize. No, it never does, that is why we should put weight on it and enforce it. We are making sure something or someone answers for the atrocities received in the hands of perpetrators.

Second, empower the support groups. Avoid the victim-blaming that often happens when rape is discovered. Nobody wants to be accosted and violated. Notably, no one should take advantage of a vulnerable situation to exert power over women and men.

Third, regardless of faith practices, we have to find solutions that best serve the many. I am not endorsing abortion. Like my friend, I am against it and will never advise it on anyone, but if all else fails, make sure that the solution identified will serve best the person and allowed to believe that s/he is not a victim but rather a survivor.

Fourth, as a person, we are our brothers and sisters keeper. We look out for each other and support each other by making sure that we all are equitable. God never wants harm to come our way, He wants us to live in harmony, but the world is crazy now. We become selfish and self-centered to the point of destruction.

The life where I live now is never easy. We make do of what we have, take advantage of the simple pleasures where it is merited. My friends here and I take our jobs seriously, that’s why our after-dinner subject was something that resonated in my head long after the wine wears off.

The road we travel to reach our workplace

Snow Covered Kilimanjaro and Sunny Dar es Salaam

I intended to see the majestic Kilimanjaro. The mountain I heard so much about from friends who had no problem climbing mountains. It was once in my list of mountains to conquer, when the knees, the weight, and the heart are still in their prime.

Anyway, I had a good time at least, watching the brothers when my plane from Nairobi passed over the mountain, exposing its snow-covered top in the early morning of July last year.

At the Nairobi airport watching the sunrise as our plane gets ready to fly to Dar es Salaam and begin my journey

Kibo peak appeared, and I got excited

It feels like Tanzania is just a dream, and Kilimanjaro is an illusion since I visited the country six months ago.

Zoomed
The Kilimanjaro range is seen from the plane
Kibo (the higher peak on the far end) and Mawenzi (the more rugged smaller mountain) brothers

It will take me two days before I can go to where it is located.

Meantime, I enjoyed the warm days on the beach of Dar Es Salaam doing nothing but watch the sea, read, nap, eat, and drink, taking in all the sun I could bear.

Azure Boutique Hotel was a haven. A welcome respite from the heat of Arua in the north of Uganda, west of the Nile river.

The pool outside room 113
Azure
More huts
The gazeebo
The beach
Hallway
The hallway lights – seashells by the ceiling
View from the terrace
View from the terrace slash restaurant
Walkway to the beach from my room

Even the crab fascinates me.

After a good rest, good food and a good night’s sleep. I was excited to plan my next destination and see more of Tanzania.

The Water Bag

It has been cold in Arua in the past couple of weeks, well okay for over a month now and for someone coming from the tropics its welcome season. I had enough of the hot weather that a little bed weather is all I need to enjoy my weekends in my house.

With the heavy downpour looming I am anticipating a nice soup for dinner or a chilly night covered with a blanket and a nice grilled sandwich while watching marathon movie of John Wick.

My Dear Mental Health,

I am finally alone in the guest house.

No more housemate for me until the new recruits start coming. So I’ll take advantage of my “me time” while trying to catch up with all my backlogs.

You see the being alone thing comes with a big responsibility that I didn’t ask for. But it sort of like dropped on my lap like a hot potato. The difference is I cannot throw the potato on another person lap because there’s no one else here.

You must be wondering what I am blabbering about. Well, for contexts I will tell you about my week.

For a long time, the mission is struggling to find solutions to make work easy for the program. First, the support team is supposed to do that but something must be blocking them from doing a smooth job despite all the necessary supports provided.

So, before the holidays, the boss finally accepted that the problem is not the lack of capacity, but the lack of integrity of the people themselves, those that were asked to provide support to all the projects in the base. I will not go into so much into detail because I may land my ass in jail for libel or worst I’ll be sent home for this blog.

Fast forward to last week, the person handling the case ended his mission. He had no one else to hand over some of his responsibility to but me – the last one standing in the base out of three. Well, actually I knew they will leave before me, I signed a 12-month contract and theirs was just a quarter of that.

The first one left two weeks prior and it was just as good as being alone but that’s for another letter.

With my colleague leaving I grew another head to put a hat on and started to do some base management. Which I never did before because as many know I am a field person — I like to be out in the sun and shuffling from location to location visiting people.

The field person is the first head, the original head until I arrived here because I was told immediately to do project management at the same time. So the second head grew almost overnight until I hand it over the person we selected last week. I hope she checks out well so I’ll be on my merry technical way.

So back to the original thread of the story.

With the third head, I was suddenly tasked to handle sensitive documents which were for the naive of me didn’t think much of it. But when the document was not well received and signed by the person I used to work with I was confused with the reaction of the higher being that be.

First, it was not my job to handle such a sensitive document when dealing with staffs. Two there was no anticipation on the part of the person responsible and of course if she hasn’t thought of it how will I know it, I am not in Human Resources for a reason. And the lady has the balls to confirm what I already know that I was tricked – because a crook, is a crook, is a crook, that’s all the explanation I needed to make me feel good.

The worst is not that. The person I though supports my debacle further drilled in my incompetence, and a third person did the same. Made me think … are they kidding me? Because it felt like I am the only one who doesn’t know what to do in a situation like that.

I cried a little. Self-pity crept in. And I am ready to throw in the towel because it was clear I cannot do someone else’s job.

Then I am angry. The woman which I thought has balls actually has none. The boss whose always siding with her may also have less of it and the third one is as clueless as me.

I decided to keep the third head realizing that after talking to a very dear friend – there is no one who can do this here and I am ready to take it on until the new person arrives or feel guilty if you know something worst happen. It will be a lot of work for me, but I am not new to hard work and dealing with complicated people so bring it on!

After a good night sleep, I am better.

Today is another day. For the whole morning now I am still trying to find my motivation to open my work computer and get something done, cutting down my backlogs and start fresh on Monday.

Until the next letter. Looking forward to your reply.

Ciao,

Dee

I Was In An Abusive Relationship Without Me Knowing

When I was younger, I had no concept of domestic abuse or abuse in general. I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship until after I learned about it as I grew in my chosen career. The abuse became a byword in the meetings I attended, and it became very real when I witnessed for myself what it can do to women and families.

***

It was in late 2000 when I entered into a relationship with someone I met in the country where I was working then. He’s from my country and being new in that place, getting that much attention from men, I felt very special. But this one particular person had pursued me until I said yes.

We were inseparable. He became constant in my daily life – from waking up to sleeping. I thought it was cute, sweet and very loving. Every day I get sweet messages in my email, and at some point, I was looking forward to it and felt terrible when there was no new email from him. Every hour I get a phone calls just asking me where and how I am, that was also sweet until it was not anymore. He would show up in my office if I am working in the headquarters bringing food or inviting me out or any gifts he fancies giving me.

I live in another town, so I go home to the capital every 2-weeks to spend a weekend break and work in the HQ before I go back again, so we only see each other every 2-weeks. He didn’t like it. He wants me to travel every weekend and spend time together. I found it again sweet, thinking he cannot live without me. But going for 6 hours on rough roads twice every week was not only tiresome but also costly for the organization and dangerous for my driver and me.

I get to travel when there’s approval from my coordinator, and I have to time it with something to do in the city to not waste both time and fuel, that time back then fuel was difficult to source and very expensive in the black market because of the embargo.

He was not happy with the arrangement that’s why when I am in the capital city, he never lets me out of his sight especially after work or during the weekend. He would pick me up from my house, and we would spend the whole weekend together to the point that I moved in with him because that’s what he wanted. He was so possessive he doesn’t want me to mingle with other people when I am in town – wants me all to himself. Sweet until it became too much and when I protested, without physically hurting me, I felt beaten.

Slowly I lost touch with the friends I met there. Social media was non-existent, and SMS was a luxury we don’t have. I was not allowed to mingle with my colleagues, and he doesn’t want to join me when I invite him because he doesn’t like to hang out with other people except me. If we will accept an invitation, it was from his friends, and I cannot say no because he will get angry, so I always tag along. He would also host dinners and karaoke with people I don’t know, men with their wives and gf but we never go to their houses when they invite us.

In short, he controlled my life. He showered me with gifts and sweet messages. He provided me with luxury my organization cannot provide us because we’re supposed to be frugal and not showing off – I mean we cannot afford 24/7 generator to light the house or even to use aircon during summer. He brought me to nice restaurants and decided my life for me.

We had several fights, but I never win. We had big fights out of nothing. He will accuse me of wanting other men than him if I admire a car parked by the beach with a cute driver. Or when I was in an official party and laughing with some male guest, he thinks I was flirting with them. He almost drove off the cliff when we decided to have a romantic dinner in one of the few beautiful and expensive restaurants in the city, and we found there some of my friends from where I live that was also in town having their breaks and relaxing. He accused me of agreeing to his invitation because I knew my boyfriends (yes that’s how he called my friends) are there. When I stopped talking to him, he will woo me and say sorry, and everything will be okay until it happens again.

It didn’t help that the country where we were at that time have both development and peacekeeping action. When you’re based in the center of the country and surrounded by bushes, you’re bound to meet people from different military and country contingent with a mix of other humanitarian aid workers, and you immediately become part of the group. You form a bond because you rely on each other in case a problem arises or just to keep the boredom at bay you make impromptu events and own places to be the “place to be” (like a gasoline station because they have fuel became an impromptu bar to keep beers cold and have light) because that’s just how it was in the bush and that is what my then boyfriend didn’t understand. For him, it’s flirting, and that was a pure evil accusation.

Despite that, I stayed in the relationship. Eventually, he moved to another country but before he did that he offered marriage but with a catch! I am to become a stay-at-home mother to the family that we will raise. He converted to Islam when he was stationed in the Middle East for seven years, and he started quoting the Qoran on why I should submit to him being a woman.

I remember vividly the answer I gave him. I said

my parents worked hard to send my siblings and me to school, to good private Catholic schools so we can pursue our dreams and be better in life. Now that I am enjoying the fruits of that, why stop now to raise a family? Because I know I can be a career woman at the same time a good mother and a wife if you choose to find a family mission

He didn’t like my answer, and he didn’t like working in countries with no action. He’s one of those adrenaline junkies who like working in countries where there is always a danger of getting killed or just in the midst of it. He didn’t repeat the proposal.

I moved out of the first country myself. My contract finished, and I moved to another difficult country. We continued the long-distance relationship and spent a lot of money talking to each other over the phone even though we knew we would not end up together until we called it quit three years after we started the relationship.

We drifted apart, and myself had grown to be my own person more and more. I started to see myself as someone that can be alone, that I don’t need a man to complete me. I reached a point in my life where I stopped altogether dreaming of getting married and having kids especially when you know that by the time my kids start walking I will need an assistive device to follow them around. Not fair to them and not very healthy for me but I am sure many will disagree, and that’s fine.

On hindsight, I already survived my vicious cycle of abuse and came out victorious. I still slip up from time to time, still finding the wrong men for me to hang out with but I have no more illusions and when I feel trap I know I can always open the door and leave and stop being the victim of my stupidity.

But my relationships are not always negative, I guess in my 40ish life I’ve met the men I can say “love of my life” and could have ended up with them, but they all got away.

The first one from my country left me to marry the woman he got pregnant and had a son before I met him because the woman stalked me and threatened my life, use the kid as a pawn to guilt trip my boyfriend then. The one from Canada was diagnosed with hepatitis C, and because he loves me so much, he let go of me even though I told him I would be with him until the end. He said it was not fair to me to look after him while I am still young, I can find someone healthy and can provide for my needs – it was noble and I kept his letters. I have no information whether he survived or already moved to the next realm, and I tried to search online but no luck. And the last person I said “I love you” to was taken from me by the bad guys in 2016; he was ambushed trying to fight off criminality in El Salvador the first day he returned to work from a month-long holiday in the US. Maybe it was time for him to leave all of us he loves.

***

Writing this post I realized no one is insulated from abuse, but what is important is how one rise above it. I am incredibly grateful to the stories I’ve read in World Pulse it enlightened me and made me feel that my experience in relationships made me the strong woman I am today!

I believe and you should too that WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER!