I had a hard time writing this article because, while I could give chapter and verse on the horrors of fistula, I couldn’t picture the women who are burdened with this dreadful, but entirely preventable and curable, medical condition. In my mind these women remained nameless and faceless, people to feel pity for, but still in an abstract way. I knew I needed more than that, however, because the tendency (including mine) when hearing the term “fistula” is to look away. I needed to be able to look straight on to do this story, so I decided to look at someone I know well, and imagine her somewhere else. .
Come with me now, and you can look too… I promise that while I hope to make you (and me) uncomfortable, I won’t gross you out. I just want to introduce you to someone special, and let you know how you can feel ten feet tall in a matter of minutes. Ready? Here’s a peek.
She is 26 years old, a mother, a daughter, a wife. Her name is Hadiya…”the gift”.
I can see her face, now, you know… her big brown eyes that usually glint with laughter and good humor, but which can become piercing and direct when she’s trying to encourage someone to can the BS and get to the point. Oh, and she’s unmatched at the “eye roll” when someone says or does something stupid or silly… but then she usually winds up laughing at that too.
I can see her smile… big as the sky, one that draws you in and bids you smile with her. And her laugh… I dare anyone to refrain from at least having their lips start to twitch when she gets the giggles… a more likely scene is people around breaking into laughter as well, even if they don’t know what they are laughing at. She’s just infectious that way, inviting you to share in her joy in life, and to make it yours.
I can even see her in the midst of her family, when things were good… joining the women, young and old, in the kitchen, as is their way, catching up on all the family news… maybe they are preparing a holiday meal, while her husband and the other men sit outside and smoke, swapping their own tall stories. Or I can see her sitting in the shade of a tree, cradling her youngest close to her chest as she watches the village children play kickball in the dusty street. At the end of a long, hard day, I can see her giving her children a goodnight kiss as they snuggle into bed, ready to dream of big adventures after the nightly story telling.
But now everything is quiet… the only sounds that of her breathing, or maybe it’s the barely heard rustle of a nocturnal animal moving through the brush… she sits and stares at a place that she needs no light to see, because it is far beyond anything that can be touched with the hands or examined with the eyes… it’s then that I can see her best.
She is 26 years old and she knows she is dying. She is 26 years old, has fistula, and her life is leaking out of her, a little at a time; the baby she should have been showering with joy is buried down the road, dead before it had a chance to live. She is 26 years old, she is dying, and she is maybe my daughter (or yours), had she been born in a different place or time.
While my California daughter, Mindi, zips around in her little car, to and from work, now off to the mall or the theater, maybe popping into the grocery store for something for dinner … my Ethiopian daughter, Hadiya, drags herself along in the shadows, as ashamed to be seen as others are ashamed to be seen with her. Her husband is gone. She sometimes has to beg for food to feed herself and her living children; on occasion someone will toss her a little something, with averted eyes, and move on quickly. Sort of like we do.
When Mindi travels through the city, she might pass 2 or 3 hospitals and any number of clinics. Childbirth has its share of dangers, no matter where you are, but should Mindi go through a difficult pregnancy, any one of those medical centers could at least stabilize her and most could help her deliver her baby safely.
Hadiya can travel the length and breadth of her rural village, but she won’t find even one small clinic, let alone a large hospital. Had it been just a few years earlier that she had her troubled pregnancy and childbirth, she could have gone to the Planned Parenthood clinic that was located within her village, and been under the care of qualified obstetricians, possibly saving her baby, but definitely saving her from the horrors of fistula, a condition that has been eliminated in Western countries due to improved obstetric care.
The clinic is closed now, though, due to a lack of funding, mandated by the US “global gag rule”.
So many problems we come across in various countries just seem intractable and impossible to surmount, leading us to despair of ever making a difference, but you know what? This isn’t one of them. This… this is something we can do. This is something that can be cured with little effort. What would it take to give Hadiya her life back? To allow her to walk with dignity again, in the light, instead of skulk in the shadows? To allow her to laugh again, and play with her children? To close up her wounds, to cleanse her of the imposed shame of this condition, and to allow her to be a part of her society again?
Yes, that’s right. Three hundred dollars. See? Didn’t I tell you this was doable? Thank goodness we are liberal elites, sipping Starbuck’s every morning, and having dinner out and attending the theater every night, because that means we’ve got money, honey. Okay, well so some of us are poor as church mice, but we still have a voice. Or a pen or a fax machine, and we can still make noise. Think of your daughter, mother, sister, friend… or mine, if it helps, and realize that this is not something that has to be, that can’t be helped without UN intervention or an act of Congress.
This is something we can do. So, let’s do it.
How you can help today:
Or just go down the google search list and pick one that appeals to you (and that checks out as a legitimate option).