Three Voices, Three Stories, Three Survivors
“My husband hit me.”
I saw the darkened bruises on the chestnut brown skin of her face, just under her right eye and asked, “Aayana, what happened?” anticipating the worst before she answered. It was the first time I had heard those words. I had watched my father verbally abuse my mother for eighteen years and had myself been pushed down onto the pavement, my elbow crashing against the cement. Berated. Humiliated. Shamed. But the spoken words – the admission – were surprisingly new to me.
I sat and listened to her story. It was 1988, in northwest Bangladesh. Aayana was our laundry woman. Twice a week she gathered our dirty laundry and hand-washed all our clothes and ironed everything. She liked to chat while she waited for the sun to do its magic. Her favorite topics were knitting and her daughter, Rehana, and granddaughter, an uncommon affection usually reserved for sons and grandsons. Aayana’s family lived in close quarters in a compound of one-room bamboo households that shared pour-flush latrines, a tube well-water supply, a smoky kitchen with two clay burners rising from the floor, and a bathing area in a corner by the well, protected from view by hanging jute sheets.
Her husband had come home late from a night of drinking tea with friends. Perhaps his dinner had grown cold by the time he arrived or he was irritated by something he had heard at the tea stall. Maybe the sales at his tiny market shop were poor. He was unhappy with himself, his life.
The neighbors heard and saw. Still, he hit her. But she found her resolve. She gathered her battered self and made him leave. From that day on, he slept in his cramped stuffy market stall; he would not touch her again, in intimacy of body or soul or physical violence.
Nearly thirty years later I was in the office of an organization in Myanmar that empowers women’s lives through community organizing and savings groups. We had just concluded a two-day trauma awareness training for a group of twenty-two women of diverse ethnic groups from villages in the violence-infested Rakhine state and informal housing settlements in Rangoon. We had shared stories of trauma: domestic violence, disaster events, sons arrested and jailed. The director and training translator, Van Lizar, approached me. Listening to her story I recalled Aayana, and my own reveal from eight years earlier. The patterns were matching, like the cards of a child’s memory game. Across thousands of miles and three decades, three voices and three stories – the pain, emotional scars and wounds could be interchanged.
Sandra hails from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Drawn to international living and the non-profit sector by faith, others’ stories and curiosity, she has been a management professional in the sector for twenty years, most recently in Myanmar. She is the proud mother of two: a 5’2” Amazon daughter who is fierce, courageous, and has a wildly open and accepting heart and a son who is a young man of great strength who cultivates a deeply open, gentle and kind spirit. Having raised these two while living abundantly around the world, it is now time to write her first book.
There too was the shame that we had let this happen. The anxiety. The fear and self-doubt. An identical fallout was imprinted on Van Lizar, the Director of an organization leading thousands of village women towards self-empowerment; a woman trained in Law in Ireland. Myself, a holder of a Master’s degree and undergraduate cum laude. And Aayana, semi-literate, semi-fluent in three languages and poor by any standard.
But I also saw fire in the eyes and heard the laughter when we felt our own power, when we finished each other’s sentences. Our love for our sons and daughters was fierce. I witnessed the recognition of how far we had come since the day we said, “No more,” when we claimed for ourselves what we had facilitated in others.
Months later we talk about survival. We speak with a voice of courage, not fear. We have forgiven ourselves and him. We have not forgotten. We confess to having good memories of intimacy, of sex, of secret late-night talks and shared meals. We have supportive friends. We are less judgmental. We are becoming more disciplined in our lives. We fearlessly bear witness to nameless victims’ stories. Our spirituality, our faith and our understanding of our connection to a suffering world grows deeper.
I imagine seeing Aayana again and hearing that her story and journey has been the same. I want to tell her that my daughter’s name is Rehana, a chosen reminder of Ayana’s love for her own daughter and to teach mine to be self-empowered.
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
During this period, Joanne Fedler’s book, Things Without a Name (10th Anniversary Edition), can be downloaded for FREE.
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Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.