A new found friend has taken up the mantle of victim advocate in Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the capital city of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. She is wielding the weapons at her disposal against patriarchal traditions which are both native to her land and imposed from certain Western ideals. As such, she is actively on the web setting up groups for discussion, message boards, etc. and is posting images of women who have suffered unimaginable brutality. She’s emailed and discussed curriculum options for weekend seminars, and requested resources. She recently emailed me privately some photos: they are graphic and haunting–including fresh wounds from axes and bush knives, burns from hot irons, broken bones and bruises from beatings, amputations, and even images of a woman being burned to death and a beheading.
I am honored to be trusted with such images–honored and deeply humbled.
Since receiving the photos I’ve not been able to sleep. Days have passed and the images dog me, sneaking up when I least expect it. It isn’t that the level of violence is new to me: I witnessed ravages as such as a child growing up among the poor and prostitutes in the capital. I grew up not knowing that wounds weren’t normal–that amputations weren’t just a matter of course. Rape was a real possibility (even if I’d gotten the logistics confused as a child). I understood scars as women’s history written large on their bodies. Yet as an adult, with feminist-educated eyes and a wealth of theological study behind me, the images sting anew: the status of women hasn’t changed much in 30 years.
And my initial response is silence. I cannot bear the weight of these images alone, yet cannot share them–I don’t wish this sort of haunting upon anyone, especially those who for whom Western media has cushioned such blows (we don’t show dead bodies on TV or in our newspapers, they are censored out of our common news sources). We witness domestic violence through movies–comforted that it is merely makeup we are viewing, and not real wounds.
I go talk to my therapist. And I find I don’t care to introduce such atrocities to her psyche either. I pour my heart out in frustration, but hold the pictures close to my proverbial chest.
I tell my best friend of them, and of the impossibility of sharing their burden. He listens, pained at my frustration. He allows me to hold them at a distance. And finally, he offers to see them. “I’m willing.” And tears begin to flow freely. And I consider it.
But I can’t help thinking back to my friend in PNG and the life-risking work she is doing on behalf of the women there. How can I tell her that because of her pictures, I’ve been traumatized? That her emails have sent me to therapy? That while she lives and breathes this atmosphere of violence, I spend $150 to talk to a therapist? That I fret because I’ve lost 3 nights of sleep? That I feel utterly inadequate and ridiculous?
Yet I live and work in this world: surrounded by high rises, wealth, and opulence.
Damn my first world problems and first world solutions. Damn them.