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.
this is hard for me to read because i understand it so well. i’m sorry you’re carrying this around and also glad that you are becoming a part of a solution. i’m wondering if your friend is mutual. S.E. by any chance? i hope you write more. my heart for png calls me to different things but i would gladly add my voice to yours. xoxo –kris
Thanks, Kris. I know you love PNG as I do, even though our experiences are different. Nope, the friend isn’t S.E. I am doing my best to assist there in any way I can. Peace, Donna
The cost of entering into others’ reality… especially their pain… can be truly high. I think one of the biggest arenas of privilege we “enjoy” as white, middle-class (and up) North Americans is not having to see these things. If more of us DID see (and, yes, were traumatized in the process), then perhaps we would collectively rise up to act upon it. This is fundamentally wrong. It’s not how the world should be. But we’re not motivated to do anything about it if we’re not affected by it… if we don’t SEE. Bless you for seeing… and trust perhaps that others are not only willing to see with you, but need to… not for any white-privilege-savior crap to be put into motion… but so that we might also choose to ally ourselves with those in pain.
hmmm…. bear one another’s burdens and in that way, fulfill the way of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
This is the living tradition of Jesus.