City of Joy – a story of rape and recovery

Last night I cried. I cried  from deep inside of me.  It hurt in places that I had forgotten hurt  but not as much as the women that I was watching hurt. I lay in bed and hugged my pillow. I wanted to hug all these women that were hurting.  Instead I cried myself to sleep.

I was watching City of Joy a documentary on Netflix about  Rape in the Congo. Madeleine Gavin’s documentary  tells the story of Dr Dennis Mukwege a gynaecologist who for many years has been operating on women who have been raped and sexually tortured in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He works in the City of Joy, a place where survivors go to heal both physically and spiritually.  He and his family have been threatened, an attempt made on his life and still, he has worked tirelessly to repair, stitch together and heal women.

Origins of the City of Joy - City of Joy

Dr Mukwege  set up the City of Joy with women’s rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver and Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day. Schuler Deschryver is the director and works with staff to oversee day-to-day operations, while Mukwege serves as an adviser and Ensler helps to raise funds and awareness.

Dr Mukwege says:

 “I identify every woman raped with my wife, every mother, with my own mother and every child with my own children.”  He was recently awarded the Nobel peace prize for his work.

The story is not new as many of you reading this know only too well.  I have listened and held the hands of many women while they recounted their accounts of rape and violence  when I worked in a   drop in Asylum Centre in London.  So many of the women came from the Congo  – they were the lucky ones.  They had escaped. But they were horrifically  scarred and had to endure this pain alone, fearful of being deported back to a country where they witnessed and experienced unimaginable violence.

It is uncomfortable watching, but also a story of triumph over adversity. It is necessary viewing and I ask anyone who  believes that asylum seekers in the UK  should be returned to their country of origin, to watch this documentary.  I challenge them not to be moved not to feel remorse not to change their attitudes towards any women who might find themselves hoping to find a safe haven here in the UK.  

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80203094

A  poignant reminder in the film of the children who have also suffered is when a child looks at Christine Deschryver  feet and says:

 “I wish I had long feet  like you  because you can run fast and run away from the bad men, they will not catch you because you have long feet  to escape.”  

I  know that I am preaching to the converted and  that most of you reading this already know about the  abominable atrocities that have occurred in the Congo and the  rest of the world’s complicity in this war because of their own self-interest.  The Congo is rich  in the four most commonly mined  minerals: coltan, tin, tungsten and gold and it is these valuable minerals  that companies around the world need for computers phones and other electronics  and  what has led to militia groups  fighting to control the mines. Many of the victims of  these militia groups are women and children.  

So, I am sharing this in the hope that one person, one of the unconverted, will be sufficiently moved to change their attitude.   My brother who was a political activist always said we are all just a  blade of grass in a field. And it is up to each blade to start  the  conversation.  So let’s keep talking

“Let’s be careful out there”

Inherited Trauma

I wonder when we embark on starting a family whether we have any idea what is in store for us. Probably not. I certainly didn’t. I have always had  this rose-coloured  John boy-little -house-on-the-Praise outlook on life and when stuff doesn’t turn out quite that rosy, I am continually upset.  Don’t get me wrong I love all my children to bits but even as adults the anxiety and constant worrying does not cease. In fact, I think when they were little it was a lot easier. You knew where they were, you could give them what they needed, and you were in control.

Jewish Mother Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from CartoonStock

I remember driving up the MI to see my mother and when I arrived, she would be standing at the door, furrowed brow and full of anxiety.

“Thank goodness you have arrived safely I was so worried about you driving on that busy motorway.”

“Mum,” I would say, ” I am 52, I have been driving for 33 years, I have hitch hiked round a good chunk of the world and I have three children.”

“Yes,” she would answer, “but I am always your mum and I will always worry.”

Jewish Mothers Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from CartoonStock

I now understand. You never ever do stop worrying about your children. Of course, one needs to get it into perspective and maybe if I was feeling a little more secure it would be easier. But right now, with no partner and COVID getting stuff into perspective is proving a little difficult.

Last Sunday, driving up to Melton Mowbray to visit my girlfriend I listened to Floella Benjamin’s desert island discs on the BBC. It was wonderful. Her choice of music was superb, and her interview  uplifting. I have worked with Floella in the past when she made a children’s series of tv programmes. She is a lovely lady.  By the time I reached Leicester I had vowed to change my internal dialogue to one of positivity. It didn’t last. I think I need Floella sitting on my shoulder reminding me of this pledge.

“Education Is Your Passport To Life” – An Interview With Floella Benjamin

Floella Benjamin

I imagine that all parents want their children to be secure healthy and happy and if or when this happens, then one can relax somewhat – until they aren’t. It is a continual journey. And of course as we get older it works the other way and our children begin the ‘parenting your parent journey.’

I realise I am oversensitive and there are parents out there who can merrily get on with their lives healthily separated from their children. They are probably not Jewish. I blame all my emotional turmoil on Judaism. “Of course, you’re anxious,” said one of many therapists, “you are Jewish.” If that was supposed to make me feel better – it didn’t. I found her response deeply unsatisfying.

I do know about inter-generational trauma and I think I have spoken about it before on one of my posts. Forgive me for repeating but short-term memory seems to be deteriorating  I blame COVID — again. It has become my go to scape goat. Apparently lack of socialisation can speed up dementia. And if lock-down continues, I might not remember my name by next year.

Studies in America  have shown that the sons of army soldiers who endured grueling conditions as prisoners of war were more likely to die young than the sons of soldiers who were not prisoners. This is despite the fact that the sons were born after the war, so they couldn’t have experienced its horrors personally. In other words, it seemed like the stresses of war were getting passed down between generations.

So, I now have a new worry. Will my sons have inherited Tod’s post-traumatic stress that he lived with from the Lebanese War?

Apparently epigenetic links have also established inter-generational experiences in animals. For example, mice that have been taught to fear  the smell of cherries when it was paired with an electric shock had children and grandchildren that also showed signs of anxiety when exposed to the odour, even though they had never “learned” the painful association.

Perhaps  reading  Rachel Yehuda’s article on epigenetics was not a good idea. The idea that permanent changes are encoded in us in a way that can be passed on to our children and affects their physiology is not something that I am comfortable with.

“Our DNA becomes different and is read differently. But the question is whether this is transmitted through meiosis or through, I guess, sex cells, or whether it is acquired based on a parental response to their environment. And there are epigenetic mechanisms that can be linked to both of those things.” explains Yehuda.

https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/trauma-genes-q-a-rachel-yehuda

I am not sure what to do with all this. I wonder if anyone has considered if ECT Treatment can obliterate unconscious traumas?

Oh well it’s the weekend – I might just stay in bed all day tomorrow and watch box sets on my IPAD.

“Let’s be careful out there”

Animal Magic

 The Wellington Hospital in North London is the most expensive hospital in Europe.  It’s very pish posh and the food is the best. In comparison Mo my cat spent the night in the emergency vets on Saturday night  and it cost almost the same price

I guess vets have a captive audience – they know that when it comes to a beloved pet, we  owners will pay whatever it takes to make them well again.   Anything to stop them going to kitty heaven

There are around 13 million pet owners in the UK who spend approximately £7.16billion on their furry friends – with a trip to the vet being the biggest single expense

Mo was spared kitty heaven but that is no thanks to her  absent-minded owner – that’s me! who wrongly administered dog worm treatment instead of cat worm treatment. The dog stuff is 10 times more potent and can be lethal to cats.

 The author John Berger once wrote that animals promise “a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.”  And I get that. Since Tod died my animals  have been wonderful companions.

My compassion for animals started young. When I was 10 years old, I visited a family on my own in Cork in southern Ireland. While there I rescued a very young kitten who was about to be drowned. Hiding it in the sleeve of my coat I smuggled it  back on the airplane to the UK.  My mother was appalled and not impressed with my heroics

 “As soon as the kitten learns to lap  it is going,” she barked. But the kitten, that needed to be fed with a doll’s bottle was wise – she never learnt to lap.

 I can sort of understand now my mother’s reluctance as we already had a menagerie of animals. A tortoise who kept wandering off, so we called him wanderer.  Sometimes we would have up to 4 of them at one time as whenever a neighbour found a tortoise it was presumed it belonged to us.  Two rabbits that also kept escaping, mice,  two budgies, one that got eaten by the cat and a couple of hamsters.   

Unconventional Tale of Rabbit vs Tortoise - Light Asset

I could not imagine now living without animals. Admittedly Mo does not give me the same attention as does Izzie.  We don’t bond over our daily walks and right now  if truth be told my  relationship with Mo is more one of tolerance. And while she tolerates Izzie is all consuming.   Her  attachment to me  is fundamental to her  well-being. As long as Mo is fed, she is content,  but Izzie  feels our relationship with such an intensity that she can only be content if I am in a near proximity. 

It’s definitely  the unconditional love that does it for me.  When Izzie looks at me with that adoring face,  I know I am loved.  I remember that same expression when the children were babies.  And that lovely nudge I get just at the right moment when I am feeling a bit down.  Or the bounding dash to the  front door when I  come home. Makes me  feel special.  Dogs  definitely pick up on our moods. When my father died,   and mum  came to stay with us our dog just slept outside her room.  He could sense her sadness and wanted to keep her company. Izzie did the same when Mo returned home from the vets. She kept a watchful eye over her.

Studies have shown that looking a dog in the eyes can boost levels of oxytocin  in both the person and the dog.  Apparently, dogs  are the only species that, like a human child, runs to its human when it is frightened, anxious or just pleased to see us

How traumatic then must it have been for pet owners at the start of World War 2   when over 750,000 pets were slaughtered in  London alone – that’s  around one in four of the pet population. This was in  response to a hysteria created in anticipation of air raids and resource shortages which it appears was more hysteria than necessity.

Not surprisingly then that after the war  there was an increase in pet ownership and indeed  in the way we related to our pets.

“We started to have them inside the house rather than, say, outside in the kennel. We started to see them as quasi-human and form strong emotional bonds to them,” explains Abigail Woods, professor of the history of human and animal health at Kings College London and a qualified vet

Quasi-human hmm sometimes I think my animals would prefer that I treated them a bit more as animals – they are getting awfully bored with my monologues. I can almost hear them saying “She’s off again, let’s just feign sleep and we might get away with it. “

Meanwhile they both have no qualms in sharing my bedroom.

“Let’s be careful out there”

A World without The Arts

Imagine a world where there are no books, no theatre, no art galleries and no music.  It would be a very dull world indeed.  And yet Rishi Sunak  the Chancellor of the Exchequer is  recommending that the  people who work in the Arts should retrain and get a ‘proper’ job

How Will Movie (Theaters) Survive the Next 10 Years? | IndieWire

How insulting is that – I for one could not survive without the Arts.  When the chips are down, and they are certainly down at the moment we need  these people to uplift us – to take us out of the reality of COVID to nurture our souls. Look I know that the creative  and arts industry  don’t deserve to have special treatment  – all industries are hurting economically. But it does seem that the thousands of freelancers in this industry have had their lives decimated and their future  is very shaky.    And support from the government has been minimal.  And what should they retrain as? Where? And will there even be jobs?

Today I posted a job on Linked in for an executive assistant for the Charity that I am working with. And within a few hours I had 285 responses. All with good degrees.

My friends in the Arts are insulted by Rishi’s remarks

“We have been called nonviable. We feel undervalued and unsupported.”

Rishi comes from the world of business and finance. He views the world in a very different way.  I would hate to live in Rishi’s world.  I am not sure that Rishi would like to live in his world either.  So maybe we should give  him a trial of what it might be like. 

Take away his TVs, his streaming services, his radio. Ban him from live events, theatres, and venues. Hide his books, paintings, and sculptures; confiscate his records, DVDs, and CDs and books.

What does that look like to you Rishi?

If I had not had Spotify, Netflix, The BBC, live theatre streaming and music recitals the last 6 months would have been dire.  They have kept my spirit alive

Prioritise the Arts – Roar News

My  theatre producer friend  has a message for the Chancellor of the Exchequer

“Rishi, you are not welcome to share in anything that we have created. Good luck surviving without us”

Arts and culture are where many of us turn to in times of difficulty and yet it is precisely these industries that are being so hard hit economically.  A colleague  shared her  despair with me

“We have a small theatre in south London, it has always been run on a shoestring. Theatre especially small community venues never make a profit.    But  I fear it is no longer viable and it will be a great loss not only to the people that have worked so tirelessly here on a low wage but to the community as a whole who I know rely on us.”

I don’t know what the answer is Rishi.  I understand you have to make tough decisions but please don’t discount the arts.

“Let’s be careful out there”

Carguments

My father missed out big time. So many things that are available now would have thrilled him. Perhaps the biggest thrills would have been Sky Sports and sat nav. He would have embraced both with gusto.

Admittedly I too have embraced sat nav. It certainly was a factor in reducing our marital carguments. The number of times we would arrive at dinner parties not speaking because one of us had taken a wrong turn.

We were not alone an AA poll of more than 17,000 motorists showed that 56% have had a row with someone either when they were behind the wheel or someone else was. The most common cause of disputes is getting lost (33%), followed by backseat driving (29%), running late (19%), traffic (15%) and general life issues (14%).

Interestingly the poll also showed that in the aftermath of a fight, more than two out of three respondents (68%) said they carried on the journey in silence. Well yes our carguments usually terminated with an uncomfortable silence.

Back-seat drivers cause the most in-car arguments - GTI World Edinburgh

Yesterday driving to the other side of London I found myself arguing with sat nav. Bit sad really. It was rush hour and as I waited in a long line of traffic trying to join a main road because sat nav had suggested a short cut…. I shouted at her.

“Why did you make me take this route – stupid woman.” And then proceeded to have a very one sided dispute about the route. “Next time,” I growled, “I am going to ignore your advice.” No answer clearly she was giving me the silent treatment.

Some couples take Sat Nav a tad too seriously. Toby – not my Toby — in his blog Understanding Uncertainty has used data re deaths, accidents etc. and looked at how many deaths could be avoided if route planners sent car drivers on the safest routes possible? It is detailed with graphs and analysis. Clearly too much time on his hands.

https://understandinguncertainty.org/could-safest-option-sat-navs-save-lives

Zoom is another 21st century invention. Obviously not one for Dad but for me it has been my saving grace during this prolonged COVID isolation. Of course it does have its glitches. Take this morning’s pilates class. Clearly there were gremlins a foot.

“I can’t see you,” says the lady in the white T shirt. I know what she is wearing cause I can see her.

“I can just see the top of your head,” replied our Pilates teacher.

“You are just blank – what should I do,” says the white t shirt.

“You are frozen,” pipes in another lady referring to the teacher.

“Yes,” said a few others, “you are frozen with us too.”

Then the advice starts, click on the little dots on the right hand side, log out and back in, advises our teacher.

“Still can’t see you,” says the white T shirt who apparently can now hear but not see.

10 minutes later the class has still not started and advice to the white T shirt is flowing fierce and fast.

Eventually it is decided by concencus that we will start the class and the lady in the white T shirt will just follow instructions.

VIRTUAL ZOOM PILATES GROUP CLASSES Tickets, No live dates - | OutSavvy

I think she just needs to update her Zoom app. That said my mother would never have managed this technology. It was hard enough trying to explain after dad died, how to work the video machine. I would talk her through it, write down copious bullet points for her to follow and yet every week we would have to go through it all again. It’s when the penny dropped and I realised that mum was slipping into dementia. Sequencing is something people with dementia find very difficult and that is why mum couldn’t follow my instructions. It was a sad day.

In comparison to dad’s sat nav and Sky Sports mum would have loved suitcases on wheels with long handles. I can still see them lugging huge suitcases full of absolutely everything one might need when going away on holiday. The notion that Teneriffe had shops that one could buy stuff in never seemed to occur to them. Literally it was almost the kitchen sink as they rented an apartment and because mum was strictly kosher utensils and food would be piled into the suitcase accompanied by medical supplies for all eventualities.

I have a big smile on my face remembering their idiosyncrasies and I do so wish they could have seen programmes like Strictly and Dancing on Ice. They were huge Torvil and Dean fans. In their younger days they used to skate together and they loved dancing. Mum taught me to do the Foxtrot, dad the waltz and I once won a Chubby Checker twisting competition with him.

Lovely memories.

“Let’s be careful out there”

A Safe Haven

You know that middle of the night thinking stuff – never a good time to be contemplating life. I had been talking in the day  about finances  when the 7-year rule came up and it sent  me into a bit of a tizzy.  As you have probably gathered, I am not very good at death – well who is? But  accepting one’s own mortality is a bit scary.  You mean I am going to die?  That all of this – I said to myself waving my arms around a  fictitious world outside of my 7 month lockdown  – is no longer going to exist for me.   What the fuck? 

I remember when my Aunt was living with us and dying of cancer. She was reading books on China because she wanted to increase her knowledge and I was thinking but you are going to be dead soon so what good will it be knowing about Chinese history. Going to have to work on the mortality stuff.

Time to take stock.  By 4 am I was  digging deep into the ‘someday’ drawer. And having one way conversations

“Yes, Roma life is finite and I really have to start living it

” All very well but you are forgetting one thing – COVID.

“It’s already consumed 7 months of my life – enough already.  I need to escape. 

By 5 am  I had a plan.  I had googled the safest country in the world and came up with Palau –  a group of islands in the Micronesia area of Oceania, to the southeast of the Philippines.  I had even found the hotel – not the most beautiful but I felt sorry for them as they haven’t had any occupants.

The Palau Hotel, Koror

 

Interestingly Germany and Switzerland  also came up as two of the safest destinations.  But German  verses Palau – beautiful clear blue seas and the Rhine! No comparison.

Palau banner.jpg

 

And Switzerland yes great chocolate and mountains but did you know they were the last country in the world to give women the vote. February 1971! So, when I was hitchhiking through Switzerland in 1970 women were still subjugated. So, Palau it is.

A flight to Manila and then another one to Palau – it can be done. Invest in a good mask and some PPE for the flight. l  could spend the next few years in the serene beautiful South Pacific and return when there is a vaccine.  Sorted.

Of course,  by midday after a few hours sleep reality had checked in.

Death was not imminent – although the death experts – and I have to tell you there is a lot of dying advice on the internet – say one has to face death to be able to get on with living. That’s metaphorically unless sadly you are dying.   There is even a website that helps you do that – of course there would be. Sometimes I wonder how on earth we managed before the internet. https://deathoverdinner.org/

So it is something I will have to come to terms with but next time I get  into the scary death stuff I am going to try and face it with  “OK, death, I see you. But I am not coming just yet hopefully and I am going to start doing a bit more living. ”

That means stop being scared of looking foolish or losing face, give myself permission, say yes, stop over thinking, increase my social circle with more daring bold and audacious people and break a few rules. Well that’s Thursdays plan anyway.

“Let’s be careful out there”