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I knew the news would be bad

15 February 2010

Our House in ZombaEarly this morning, I received an email from Pete Fleming, my old housemate in Zomba. It read:

I need to call you today to update you about events that happened in Malawi last night that I just learned about. I’d write them but I think this is more appropriate for a phone call.

I knew the news would be bad. I knew since he had written both me and Josh that it had to be bad news about Amayi,* the woman who we had hired to take care of Kezia and over the course of seven months had become a member of our family.

Pete reached me by phone to say that the house where we lived was robbed. The next three words were the worst I’d ever heard over the phone: “Amayi was raped.” I cried. I handed the phone to Josh. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. First, I was sad. Then I was angry. Sad. Angry. Repeat.

According to a friend who lives across the street from our Zomba house, there has been a spree of robberies of ex-pat houses in the area (of course, a search of Malawian newspapers saying as much turns up nothing). But, couldn’t they have just walked away with the things? Why did they have to rape Amayi?

Those of you who know her will immediately feel the pain and sadness. She is a woman of remarkable character. In fact, I wrote a short bit about her this past mother’s day:

A young widow with two children, she managed to keep her kids healthy and in school, while maintaining her dignity and quiet grace. She nursed countless others at the orphanage in [her home district]. Then, Amayi cared for us in Malawi, all the while trying to teach me to be a better person despite my incredible resistance.

I spoke with her on the phone today. She seems to be managing well, or at least as best as one can. I can’t help but feel incredible guilt for what happened. Had she never met me, she would have never been in that house and this wouldn’t have happened to her. I knew the house was unsafe and whilst living there made myself look like a crazy person complaining about how bad the guards were. I even wanted to keep a dog that bit people – because to me that meant we would be protected. With all of what happened she simply said to me, “Sometimes this happens in the world.” I replied, “but I am still very sad that it happened.” And she said, “Yes, but Mama Kezia you are a blessing from God for me.” And I didn’t have the heart or the courage to tell her that I think I might have been a curse.

I’m trying to think about all the things that need to be done moving forward. She wants to move back home. I think that’s the right thing to do. I also think it’s a sign that she is taking some control over her situation. Pete is taking care of all of what she’ll need financially. There is someone in Malawi who escorted Amayi to the hospital to be seen and she’s received medical treatment including post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV. She is staying at a place where she feels safe and there are a couple of women living there with whom she has been friends with since she moved with us to Zomba. There are two other things I’ve been working on helping with, and for which I need some advice:

  1. Getting Amayi the proper psychosocial support she’ll need. Moving back home will put her near her close friends and family. I think, however, that a trained professional in post-rape counseling would be incredibly helpful. I couldn’t find anything via a Google search and am thus trying to enlist friends who have spent time in Malawi who might know of a person or place that could help with this. I understand that Dignitas International had a workshop this past September aimed at coordinating response to rape, and have contacted someone there. But that’s the only lead I have thus far.
  2. How do we go about pursuing justice in this case? One of my first reactions was to find these guys and bring some vigilante justice. My own experience with the Malawian police gives me little confidence that the robbers would ever be found, let alone prosecuted. Friends who have spent time in Malawi concur on this feeling. My initial thought was to reach out to a Malawian journalist to report on the spree of robberies and on the particular circumstances of this robbery. I thought a front-page story might shine a bright light and perhaps get people talking about suspects. I even considered a hefty reward. Then I worried that (1) this might make matters worse for Amayi: recounting her story, having her story be public, and perhaps all leading to a future threat from those who have already taken something from her; (2) a highly publicized story and reward would only retard our quest for the truth with multiple people coming forward for all the wrong reasons.

So now, I wait. I think. I wait. I think. I wait. Tomorrow I’ll call again. And tomorrow, I’ll probably still be sad and angry.

*Amayi in Chichewa means Mother (technically, it is the plural form, which is honorific). I choose not to use her name because (1) Amayi is what I called her in Malawi; and (2) she has not explicitly chosen to tell her story and I want to respect her privacy as best I can.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 February 2010 4:35 am

    this is terrible news, and very sad. its great that you have contacts offering her medical care, sorry i am unaware of any specialised psychosocial support. i live in malawi and think it is worth involving the police, so that there may be a chance of justice.

  2. 16 February 2010 7:13 am

    Kim, I’m so sorry for the your pain and for what “Amayi” endured.

    You mention working to get her “the” proper psychological support, including post rape counseling. I was reminded of a book I heard about recently, “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche”. The author, Ethan Watters, wrote an interesting Times article on the same topic, available here:

    You may want to take care to understand how rape is perceived by her and her culture before offering solutions that may be imperfectly suited. I hope you find a way to take appropriate action.

  3. Sarah Knoesen permalink
    16 February 2010 9:19 am

    Hi Kim. My heart goes out to you and Amayi. Nobody should have to experience that, and nobody should ever have to get that phone call. You’re a saint for making sure she gets everything she needs. Sarah

  4. Kim F. permalink
    16 February 2010 9:41 am

    My heart hurts for her. I don’t have any advice on where you can go to do the things you want to do to help but she will be in my thoughts.

  5. 16 February 2010 12:21 pm

    Thanks everyone, for sharing your thoughts and comfort.

    Steve brings up an important point about Western models of care (something I actually write a lot about in my dissertation). I’ve tried very carefully to make sure that Amayi is making her own decisions about how she wants to proceed with things, and only offering ideas and suggestions — with the caveat that I can be wrong and that these suggestions may not be helpful for her, and that my aim with all of it is to try and make things easier for her.

    Thus far, I’ve learned there is a person in the town where she’s at who is “properly” trained in post-rape counseling. I’m not sure if she is the right person for Amayi. A warm-spirited woman in Malawi is guiding Amayi to her various appointments and through the logistics of replacing her things (i.e. her passport that was stolen), and I’ve spoken on the phone with her today (tonight in Malawi) to let her know that we’d like to make this option available to Amayi if she would like to use it. What Amayi says to that will determine how we move forward.

    I’ll keep you posted.

  6. 20 February 2010 9:51 am

    I’m going to write a longer post later, but in the meanwhile, I’ve created a Wish List for Amayi, and you can see it here.


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