Monday, August 20, 2007

POSTCARDS FROM AFRICA - #6 of Michealene Risley's live-blogs from Zimbabwe

Ed. Note: Sincere apologies for the delay in posting this. These blogs were written during the production/filming of TAPESTRIES OF HOPE in Zimbabwe. Between sporadic electricity in Africa and getting to blogs back in California, we lost a couple of days. Afterwards, the crew was arrested and interrogated by the Zimbabwe Police, and the blogs were temporarily taken down out of concern for their safety.

8/18/07
Sleep had eluded me in this barren beauty of a God-forsaken place. My mind rocks back and forth with the intensity of an animal caged. I am imprisoned, myself.

Last night in the comfort of a bed, I vacillated between feeling grateful and ashamed. How was I lucky enough to be born in a place where the very basics of survival come easy? Why me? Why not someone else?

I am grateful that my life has been less about these hardships, these difficulties that my parents faced. Both of my parents have scars from the Great Depression. My father started selling newspapers on the street corners at five years old. There were nine children in his house, every penny counted. My mother's father died in a gas explosion at Chrysler Corporation. Her mother became a widow with three children and no job. So I understand and grew up with some understanding of hardship and suffering. But nothing compares to the suffering I see here.

My feelings of personal shame run deeper. That shame has to do with the country I was born in: America. It is my country, and my next-door neighbors', and the people who live across the street from us. We have a serious disease that is more ravaging than the illness and poverty I see here: apathy. I despair, even in Zimbabwe, of the world's opinion of us. The voices of Zimbabweans are strangled by persecution and poverty. Our voices are forgotten behind a fascination and celebrity adulation, by drug-induced athletes who are poor role models and our ever elusive thirst to make money and buy things.

I cannot comprehend why the world continues to fight against the equality of women and making personal choices about our bodies. In America, the majority supports the right to choose - yet, a small portion of people continue to force their opinions on us all. Their arrogance makes them blind.

A woman yesterday in Harare took her newborn, placed it in a plastic bag and put it in the garbage to die. When arrested, she was asked why she killed her child. She said that it was impossible to feed the child. The Magistrate is sending her for a mental evaluation and he will not address the complexity of the issues; in this way, his response is very American. Issues are not black and white but with many shades of grey. The woman did not want her child to suffer from starvation - I understand that. What a horrible decision to have to consider at all!

We can send spaceships into space and have Rovers land on Mars but we can't stop the rape and sexual abuse of women on this planet. And because I mention this, someone will insist that I am a feminist, like the word is a slur and the request is unimaginable. I am confused.

We were in Chitungwiza yesterday. I saw this precious little five year old. She came in the Girl Child Network white van with "Mr. Rescue". That is the nickname his fellow GCN people call him. The girl was tentative. She had a light brown dress and limped noticeably as she walked towards us from the car. If you look into her eyes, you could not help but feel the pain. She had these knowing brown eyes that were shell-shocked. Her stepfather had raped her. She is being tested for HIV and has genital warts on her vagina that are so bad that it has forced her to limp. I wanted to weep and hold her in my arms and take her home with me. I wanted to promise her the world was going to change, that we adults were smart and that we could stop these acts and educate people so that this never happens again. I had to stop the words from tumbling from my mouth unheeded. I can't promise what I cannot deliver.

"Practice what you preach", I tell my boys. So, I stayed silent and held my grief.

Michealene Risley

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