For Congolese Refugees: Men Speak: Helping Women Heal
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For Congolese Refugees: Men Speak: Helping Women Heal


Azize: Hujambo, Brother! Kivuli: Hujambo, Azize. It is good to see you, Brother. Azize: Yes, I have not seen you or Bahiya at church in quite some time. Nyota and I miss your company. Kivuli: I know, and I miss you and Nyota, but things are very bad at home and I have not wanted to see anyone. Azize: I am sorry to hear this, Kivuli. What has happened, if I may ask? Kivuli: I will share our sad story, but I do not want others to know our shame, though it can only be kept a secret for a short while longer. Bahiya recently told me that before we were resettled in the U.S. she was raped while walking in our village. Azize: Oh, Brother, I am truly saddened to hear this. This is a very difficult time for you and for Bahiya. But you are wrong to say that this is your shame Kivuli: You are right! It is Bahiya’s shame! How could she let this happen? I told her not to wander into the village without company. She did not listen! Azize: Kivuli, my Brother, you misunderstand me. I am not implying this was Bahiya’s shame either. The shame belongs with the man who did this evil thing to her. Kivuli: Not “man.” Men! She was raped by a group of men. Now tell me this is not her shame? Bahiya is contaminated. I cannot even look at her without thinking about those men having their way with her. Azize: Did Bahiya ask for those men to do violence to her? Was this her choice? Of course not. She is not to blame and this is not her shame. Kivuli: No, no. She is tainted. I must divorce her before people find out. Otherwise, what will people think? I have lost my pride and rights as a husband. She was my wife, and now she has been shared with other men like an adulteress. She is contaminated and I will be contaminated unless I divorce her and take back my dignity. Azize: Bahiya was attacked and raped, and now her husband will divorce her. Brother, how does that bring back your pride or your dignity? To leave an innocent and hurting woman in a country that is foreign to her? Kivuli: You do not understand, Azize. Your wife is still clean. Azize: Nyota is clean, but she was also raped in Congo by multiple men, just like Bahiya. Kivuli: Nyota? Raped? How long have you known? Azize: I knew the day it happened.They did this terrible act right in front of me. So I do understand, Brother, what you are going through. Kivuli: They made you watch, and still she is your wife? Azize: Yes, it was not her fault, and I finally understand that. I did not always think this way. I believed she was contaminated by those men and I should have protected her. But then we were resettled and I could not abandon her in a foreign country. We remained married, but I did not treat her as my wife. I barely spoke to her, and did not sleep in her bed. Kivuli: As you should not. Azize: But my actions and words were hurting Nyota all over again.She went to a doctor to treat her physical wounds from the violence, but the doctor also listened to Nyota’s story and connected her with another doctor, a counselor, near our home. Nyota’s physical wounds were finally healing. It was time to heal her psychological ones She could not eat. She was scared every time someone came to our door. And, she wasn’t sleeping at night. Nyota started going to this doctor every week, and I no longer heard her crying at night. In fact, I even saw her smile sometimes. She convinced me to go with her to this counselor. Kivuli: You went to see this doctor? What did you talk about? Azize: She helped me understand it was not Nyota’s fault that she was raped any more than it was my fault that I could not stop those men. I talked about my own guilt for not protecting Nyota. I talked about my feelings of anger at Nyota for getting raped and at the men for raping her. I told the doctor it was like she had been unfaithful to me, but the doctor helped me see that being raped is not the same as purposefully being unfaithful with another man. And that my hurtful words of “contamination” and “unclean” were continuing to wound Nyota. Kivuli: Really? But she had relations with other men. Azize: But she did not choose to, Brother, and it is not right to punish her for something she could not control. I see this now, but it was very difficult for Nyota and me in the beginning. I did not know how to feel like a man at first. Those rapists have already caused so much pain, but I will not let them shape who I am as a man or how I treat my wife. Kivuli: But what will our friends at church say? They will surely see me as less of a man if I stay with Bahiya. Azize: Tell me, Brother, do you see me as less of a man for staying with Nyota? Kivuli: No, Brother! Of course I do not. Azize: How we respond to the violence done to our wives will help shape how our community responds. If we accept and still love them, what excuse do they have not to do the same? We must help our community see that our wives are survivors of violence. Our wives have nothing to be ashamed of and our community has no right to judge them. In fact, I am proud of my wife and her courage! She is very strong! Kivuli: Thank you for your wisdom, my Brother. I know it will be difficult, but I will stay with Bahiya. Do you think we could go to this doctor that you and Nyota went to? Azize: Of course! Nyota recently started going to a support group where survivors can share their stories and struggles. Bahiya is also welcome to attend. It has been a huge blessing for Nyota and me to know that we are not alone in this pain.

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