Monday, May 23, 2011

Accepted Violence. What Now?

It’s almost a year since that evening we met Nonhlanhla, but I can’t forget her. I wonder about her. I wonder what’s happened in her life in the days, weeks, months after that night. Did she break up with him? Is she safe where she lives? Did he beat her again? Has he killed her yet?
I ask other questions...
Where would she turn to - Realistically, if she’d wanted to break up with him? Where would she get help? Who would listen to her talk? I wonder... and I sometimes despair that because I am better off than most of the world’s population - I have a warm bed, food to eat, money in my wallet, and I don’t need to fear for my life - that I’m too far removed from her life. From the reality of it - right up the street from my house!

I’ll back up a bit... Nick, Logie and I were driving home one evening last year at almost 9pm. Just at the roundabout in front of our driveway turning, we see this guy dragging a woman right across the highway by her clothes. He’s headed to the tall grass; she’s only wearing one flip-flop and seems dazed. Other cars are driving by quickly. Its late, my son’s in his car chair mostly asleep, home and our beds are a hop across the road and 500m away. It could’ve been anything - maybe we didn’t understand what we were seeing - maybe they’d been drinking and were stumbling home.

Something in my spirit checked. I had a desperate feeling to stop. That if I didn’t I’d regret it.
It’s funny now, in hindsight: We must’ve driven round the little circle at least three times, arguing if it was safe to stop, trying to figure out what the guy was doing to her, if she needed help or not, keeping an eye out for traffic, for where the two were headed. But when she noticed our car, and broke free to run a bit in our direction, yelling... We. Had. To. Stop.

Nick was worried there might be more guys in the bushes we couldn’t see or that he was armed, I was certain if he got her to the grass, and down the dark dirt road, they’d disappear and we wouldn’t find her. What an insane, slow motion, high speed moment. We stopped, reversed to under the streetlight, and I jumped out like a crazy person, yelling at him to back off. She’d pulled free again and was stumbling towards the car. He was standing there, I don’t know, unsure, measuring us up, wondering what WE were thinking? I made sure she was in the car, Nick was furious, with me, with him. The guy was swearing at us, it was weird. We sped away, around the circle (again!) and start driving back up to town, partly coz Nick was worried if we went straight home now he’d follow us (at least one of us was thinking safety), and we also had to find the cops.

Wow. Now what?! Logan’s staring at us with huge eyes, dead quiet; then he says he’s ok, smiles over at the lady. (Oh boy, mental note to talk to him about all of this later, check we haven't traumatised him or anything) I start talking, I’m watching her body language, need to get information from her, see if she’s hurt, thank goodness I did the crisis counselling training. I’m twisted round facing the back, asking her name, where she lives, does she know the guy, is she ok, did she get hurt, does she want to go to the police station, and can we take her home? Her name is Nonhlanhla, she lives right down that dirt road with her parents, he’s her boyfriend who lives in Matsapha, they were out drinking, she’d tried to break up with him that night, he’d followed her home, normally her two brothers come to walk her but they didn’t that night, he started hitting her, he’d told her he was going to kill her this evening, teach her a lesson, no, she’s not bleeding, yes, she wants to go to the police.

We get there, all of us pile out, we’re at the front desk with that night’s drunk and homeless, there’s vomit on the floor, the place reeks of booze and unwashed bodies, telling our story over and over to four different people. She’s wearing only a tank top (now stretched), and knee-length skirt, dirty, her hair’s all messed up, and no shoes. The cops are sceptical, pushy, speaking fast and loud. They want us to take her back to where we found her coz she knows the guy, he’s her boyfriend, so they can talk out their differences. Thank goodness Nick speaks SiSwati, and he’s a Man. By the time we found the right person to take a statement, she’d changed her mind and didn’t want to press charges of assault or open a case against him.

Nick calls her parents to tell them what’s happened, where she is now, and if they’d like us to bring her home. Her mom’s grateful, they were worried when she was late, the area is unsafe on a weekend night, and her brothers had been out looking. No, it’s ok, they’ll come fetch her.

I write down my name and number for her, tell her to call if she needs to talk, and needs help, for anything. We leave her there at the station. I’m worried. We’re exhausted. Her mom calls Nick the next day to say thank you. That’s about it.

And now I wonder... what we did wasn’t special or heroic, I’d hope someone would do that for me... but that it happened so close to my home.... That she said it was no use to press charges coz by the time the cops found and arrested him, and the court case was over, he’d come looking for her even angrier.... Besides, she’d probably go back to him, what else can she do.

It makes me angry. The hopelessness of her decision. The attitude of the cops. That man acting like he owned her, like she was property, not worthy of respect or kindness.
Most violence against Swazi women is done by men they know and trusted, fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, uncles, teachers, pastors, community elders... The passivity, despondency, and indifference of this nation in response are unacceptable.

Yet, what do I do to change this every day? What difference have I made? Is her life better? There are thousands like her - this was not even a “bad case”. Where do the Nonhlanhlas turn? Who will help them? What can we do to change this around? Do justice, love and security rule in our communities? Our towns, our country, our Africa, our world?
No, in this fallen world, we hurt and maim each other, self-absorbed, petty, speaking words that break instead of build relationships. Hating someone could be defined as merely LOVING that person LESS. If we determined every morning to be kinder, more loving, less focused on the small stuff, prioritising PEOPLE instead of stuff and work and money, quit worrying about what other people might say or think... I wonder what we could do... I wonder at our potential, our capability, at change...

With Heart Headed Home

by Max Lucado (taken from his book “Come Thirsty”)
Search the faces of the Cap Haitian orphanage for Carinette. She's been adopted.
Her adoptive parents are friends of mine. They brought her pictures, a teddy bear, granola bars, and cookies. Carinette shared the goodies and asked the director to guard her bear, but she keeps the pictures. They remind her of her home-to-be. Within a month, two at the most, she'll be there. She knows the day is coming. Every opening of the gate jumps her heart. Any day now her father will appear. He promised he'd be back. He came once to claim her. He'll come again to carry her home.
Till then she lives with a heart headed home.
Shouldn't we all? Carinette's situation mirrors ours. Our Father paid us a visit too. Have we not been claimed? Adopted? "So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family calling him 'Father, dear Father' “(Rom. 8:15).
God searched you out. Before you knew you needed adopting, he'd already filed the papers and selected the wallpaper for your room. "For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters" (Rom. 8:29).

Abandon you to a fatherless world? No way. Those privy to God's family Bible can read your name. He wrote it there. What's more, he covered the adoption fees. Neither you nor Carinette can pay your way out of the orphanage, so "God sent [Christ] to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children" (Gal. 4:5).
Adopted, but not transported. We have a new family, but not our heavenly house. We know our Father's name, but we haven't seen his face. He has claimed us, but has yet to come for us.
So here we are. Caught between what is and what will be. No longer orphans, but not yet home. What do we do in the meantime? Indeed, it can be just that—a mean time. Time made mean with chemotherapy, drivers driving with more beer than brains in their bodies, and backstabbers who make life on earth feel like a time-share in Afghanistan. How do we live in the meantime? How do we keep our hearts headed home? Paul weighs in with some suggestions.

Paul calls the Holy Spirit a foretaste. "We have the Holy a foretaste of future glory" (Romans 8: 23). No person with a healthy appetite needs a definition for that word. Even as I draft this chapter, my mind drifts toward a few foretastes. Within an hour I'll be in Denalyn's kitchen sniffing the dinner trimmings like a Labrador sniffing for wild game. When she's not looking, I'll snatch a foretaste. Just a bite of turkey, a spoon of chili, a corner of bread... predinner snacks stir appetites for the table.
Samplings from heaven's kitchen do likewise. There are moments, perhaps far too few, when time evaporates and joy modulates and heaven hands you an hors d'oeuvre.
• Your newborn has passed from restlessness to rest. Beneath the amber light of a midnight moon, you trace a soft finger across tiny, sleeping eyes and wonder, God gave you to me? A prelibation from heaven's winery.
• You're lost in the work you love to do, were made to do. As you step back from the moist canvas or hoed garden or rebuilt V-8 engine, satisfaction flows within like a gulp of cool water, and the angel asks, "Another apĂ©ritif?"
• The lyrics to the hymn say what you couldn't but wanted to, and for a moment, a splendid moment, there are no wars, wounds, or tax returns. Just you, God, and a silent assurance that everything is right with the world.

Rather than dismiss or disregard such moments as good luck, relish them. They can attune you to heaven. So can tough ones.
"Although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, [we] also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us" (v. 23).
Let your sickness-plagued body remind you of your eternal one; let acid-inducing days prompt thoughts of unending peace. Are you falsely accused? Acquainted with abuse? Mudslinging is a part of this life, but not the next. Rather than begrudge life's troubles, listen to them.
"He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever." (Rev. 21:4)
Write checks of hope on this promise. Do not bemoan passing time; applaud it. The more you drink from God's well, the more you urge the clock to tick. Every bump of the second hand brings you closer to a completed adoption.
Blessings and burdens. Both can alarm-clock us out of slumber. Gifts stir homeward longings. So do struggles. Every homeless day carries us closer to the day our Father will come.