**Warning: This blog post contains graphic content, photographs and descriptions that may be disturbing to some readers. **
I have this reoccurring nightmare. I am in bed and open my eyes to see the outline of a man standing over me holding a machete in his hand. I recognize he is wearing the jacket that my guards wear, but the hood is completely shadowing his face so I can’t see who it is. As he slowly raises the machete above his head I feel fear, but mostly I feel betrayal.
The first time I had this dream was shortly after Lily’s rape. I woke screaming and scrambling up my bed. Today I no longer scream, but wake up in a panicked sweat and lie perfectly still in my bed for a long while ... afraid to move, afraid to breathe … hoping the mirage of the man my mind still believes is in the room won’t notice me.
August 23rd, 2012. It’s been 5 years. Friends, I can try to tell you to the best of my ability what happened. But, I cannot TELL you what happened. Only she can do that. And she has bravely decided to do so with her new book: The Dark Seed (click here for her website). It's not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but only by reading it can one truly understand her strength and resiliency.
I can tell you however, what happened to me through what happened to her. You see, when you rape someone, you don't just hurt that one person. You don't just rob that one person of their sense of safety, and their of peace of mind. You don't just violate one person. You rob us all. You violate us all. You change us all. And we all have to figure out how to navigate in this new reality that has stripped us of our security.
By August 2012, I had already been living in Malawi for 2 and a half years. At the time I was working in the tourism industry, living at and managing a beautiful 5 bedroom guesthouse in the capital city of Lilongwe. I had spent the evening of August 23rd with Lily, her two kids, my boyfriend and another close friend at Chivimbo; a lodge Lily and her partner had recently taken over. As a regular haunt of mine, I already loved this lodge. It was on the edge of Lilongwe, with nothing but rolling hills on the horizon. Chivimbo – “see the best sunsets in Malawi” - was the ongoing marketing joke for Max and I. Mzungus (white people) love a good sunset. We left Lily at about 11:30PM. My boyfriend and I headed back to my guesthouse and settled in for the night.
Less than an hour had passed before we got the first phone call - maybe even 30 minutes. Chivimbo was being robbed as we spoke. Lily had managed to get one phone call off. Confusion ensued. I remember sitting nervously in bed with this knot in my stomach, waiting for my phone to ring again. The next phone call came maybe a mere hour after I had walked out the door of Chivimbo, leaving my friend and her children. “You need to come to the hospital. Lily has been raped.” Those words were so difficult to comprehend. We just left. We had just left. The knot in my stomach turned to nausea. In some ways, I feel like that nausea has never left me.
That night is so clear. Disturbingly clear. Raped. Gang Raped. I remember standing at the top of a long outdoor corridor at the hospital and seeing Lily at the other end; barefoot, in a blood stained t-shirt with a small towel wrapped around her waist, arm cradled in front, bandage over her eye. My stomach churn