Struggling to Forgive

Ann was watching Uncle Leshan, she couldn’t tell from the expression on his face what he was feeling. To her, his face looked bland, but he was searching for the appropriate expression. “He wants to look solemn and serious, to fit the occasion” she thought. “Well, it’s not working!”

The occasion was prayers for his quick recovery. Uncle Leshan, over the last few years had suffered greatly, first his blood pressure then his age, he wished he was younger every day! This last stroke, what a setback! It was truly slowing him down. So the Aunties organised a prayer meeting to ‘remove’ the demons of ill health to make their beloved strong like he used to be. It was a big family gathering, almost a reunion, Anne looked round the room and saw many familiar faces, and everyone had come from all corners for Uncle Leshan’s prayer meeting. Her siblings, parents, cousins, close friends, a stranger would think it was a happy occasion.

All of a sudden, she felt a deep void, someone was missing! Sarah was not here, her warm and welcoming smile. She would masterfully be working the room, a hug here, a smile at one of the little cousins; fetching a drink for one of the Aunties. The void was replaced with anger and bitterness and now Anne looked at Uncle Leshan, sitting there surrounded by the warmth and good will of family. “He doesn’t deserve this goodwill”‘ she thought.

Memories of her late cousin Sarah flooded her mind. Sarah, Uncle Leshan’s daughter, was Anne’s cousin, but more importantly her best friend! She finally succeeded in committing suicide after so many tries! The whole episode was disheartening, it started when Sarah turned 21, she drank rat poison and obviously the reaction caused her to be rushed to the hospital and have her stomach pumped.

In hospital, Sarah refused speak to anyone about the episode, her parents especially. When she saw them she would cry and turn away from them, this confused everyone, it prompted Uncle Leshan to call on the pastor to intervene and counsel Sarah. Little did Sarah’s parents know that she lied to the pastor and pretended to him for years. The treachery would unfold for Anne when Sarah took her in her confidence.

Uncle Leshan had been having sex with Sarah, his daughter!

Anne, nearly collapsed with shock, “WHAT?” “How long has this been going on? Are you okay? Who else knows?”

The torrent of questions, Sarah was anxious, “Anne, please promise me you won’t tell anyone. PROMISE!

Anne was reluctant to be drawn into this sordid secret, “We need to get you help” she said defiantly.

“Our friendship ends now, if you that’s the way you want to go!” threatened Sarah

Anne gave in, and before she could say anything Sarah started talking with this far -away look on her face, “I know why Mary left and eloped with that funny guy. Remember him?” Anne was nodding, but Sarah didn’t wait for a response, “Dad, was sleeping with her, it started when she was 21. Dad says, it’s the age we need to be taught the ways of the world before you get married. When I was younger, he used to grope my boobs, sometimes make lewd comments, other days he’d be so angry with me and I wouldn’t know why….”

“Then when I moved out of home, he came to visit one evening on a weekday. I thought it was a wonderful surprise and an opportunity to bond with him and understand him finally! Little did I know the nightmare was just beginning. It explained so many things about Mary and my Mum, why there was this uneasy relationship between them. Why my Mum would never look me in the eye, she became quiet, more in the background. Since Mary left she withdrew from life completely, I’m not even comfortable going home.

Anne listened to her friend intently, looking for words of comfort, she wasn’t sure what to do. What did her friend need from her?

The next years were full of ups and downs, Sarah did not discuss her father again, but her life told a different story. Sarah never had a stable relationship with a man; she talked incessantly about marrying a wealthy man. “He has to be stinking rich! He has to have more money than Dad!”

“Do you think I can meet someone richer than Dad?” she’d ask pensively. “I think that my only route to freedom”

In the meantime, Sarah worked for her dad, and lived like his mistress, he bought her car, her home, her clothes, her everyday necessities, it was a bizarre life. When Sarah had a “boyfriend” over, he wasn’t allowed to spend the night and he didn’t last long. The “boyfriend” was usually a “down and outer”, not “rich enough, like Dad”. He was out before anyone remembered his name. Anne suspected Sarah was blackmailing her dad as the years went by, she also suspected Sarah was enjoying making him squirm. Anne also discovered that Sarah’s relationship with her mother had deteriorated. They were no longer on speaking terms and when they met at family gatherings, Sarah was civil to her. “My mother never protected me from HIM!”. Now, Dad is mine to keep”. Anne would shake her head in frustration, it’s like this problem had no solution. She was stuck with the secret and Sarah was stuck in a prison she couldn’t get out of. All extremely confusing, difficult and out of control.

It seemed to Anne, both father and daughter were stuck, none had anticipated their lives would take this turn. The bully was now a victim. The victim now a bully!

One day, Sarah called a family meeting, it was a lovely Sunday. It was also a long time the family had “Sunday Lunch” together, Anne and her family were invited as well. When Anne scanned the room, she noticed an unfamiliar face, a handsome man with Sarah. She was introducing him to Anne’s dad, “Uncle John, meet my dear friend Roger”. “Roger is into the IT business and is really tech savvy”.

“Why is her voice so shrill?” Anne was wondering, “Is she nervous?”

Lunch was going on well, and Sarah hit the glass with a spoon to draw everyone’s attention, “I have an announcement”, “I have some news”, this silenced everyone and eyes were all on her.

“You’ve all met Roger”, she gestured towards him, everyone looked at Roger. “We are thinking….actually, not thinking. We’ve decided to get married!”.  ”Ahh!”, “Good”….NO!, NO! NO!

It was noisy all at once, in between the approving noises; there was a loud defiant voice. “Who told you, you can get married without my consent? How DARE you embarrass me in front of your family? Who is this Roger?”

Confusion, is written all over everyone’s face, Uncle Leshan was standing looking belligerent, he looked like he was ready to kill Sarah.

“Dad, I’m thirty years old now” she said calmly with a look of defiance across her face. Anne was holding her breath, time had stopped, she gripped the side of her chair watching father and daughter.

“I don’t care!” “You must consult me, I own you, HOW DARE YOU” Uncle Leshan was having a tantrum. “That’s it, you are finished!” “I’m canceling everything, you think I can let another man live in my house, enjoy everything I have built for you? Are you crazy? Over my dead body!”

Everyone started to speak at once, but Uncle Leshan left the room and left everyone in mid sentence.

Sarah beckoned Roger and left in a huff. The family lunch broke up with everyone wondering what is going on!

The next few days were harrowing, unknown people came and took furniture and they even tried to evict Sarah from her home. Her calls to her dad went unanswered. Anne visited her, “Sarah, you can move in with me”, she offered.

“No, this time Dad has gone too far! Does he think I can continue having an affair with him forever? I’ve felt like I’ve been in prison all these years. I want to be free! I don’t care about the money anymore” It was like Sarah was talking to herself, Anne didn’t seem to be in the room

Sarah died that Friday, Roger found her, by her bed she’d written in bold letters. “I GIVE UP”. Sarah was finally FREE! The freedom she sought came at the cost of her life.

Anne thought angrily, “Sarah took the easy way out, made it easy for Uncle Leshan to get away with incest” “Sarah, had silenced the demon, she never managed to get help, to help others. They were caught in the taboo and it strangled the life out of both of them. Yet Uncle Leshan had more years to live his life”.

Anne was brought back to the function, the formal part of the prayers for Uncle Leshan were about to begin, the Pastor had arrived.

Anne picked up her bag and started to walk out of the room, her father stopped her,”Where are you going?”.

“Dad, I can’t sit and watch this hypocrisy! I can’t  forgive Uncle Leshan for what he did to Sarah” she brushed past him and made it for the door, leaving her father wondering, “What is she talking about?”

WRITER’S NOTE: I would like to provoke readers to offer solutions for incest victims and perpetrators. There is no data in Africa on how many young men and women have been molested by those they trust the most.

The silence is loud and most victims try to find ways to continue their lives, some to break away from their families. Many have committed suicide like Sarah, others ran away from home, all are emotionally scarred for life and this manifests itself in many emotional and mental disorders.

Let’s have the discussion now…….




9 Responses to “Struggling to Forgive”

  1. Lalla
    February 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Struggling to Forgive

    Solutions for incest victims and perpetrators?

    The perpetrator should be removed for the society and get rehabilitated or punished. Let’s not waste our time dwelling on him or her.

    However, for the incest victim, the best solution is for her/him to get help from a qualified therapist. Failing that, we have to first identify what sort of person the victim is. For example, was she involved in the ‘conspiracy of silence’ and kept the event/s as a secret? Did she approach an adult for help and got rebuffed? Is she timid as a result? As an adult, is she aggressive towards men? Did she enjoy the power she had over the perpetrator? How long was the incestuous period? Hence the solution lies in the demeanor of the victim. However good she looks from the outside, she still is a VICTIM!

    If the girl/young woman is still being victimized, then help her get physically away. In western countries, one calls the social services or report such events to the Police. In most African countries, I don’t think we have access to social services but we do read in the newspapers of men committed to jail for such acts. I hear that most girls are afraid or reluctant to ‘shame’ their fathers, uncles and brothers by reporting them to the Police. “The conspiracy of silence” is at play here. Why would she not want to act? It’s hard to understand but most likely she feels ashamed and may believe that she is a bad girl. She may also be confused and believes that she loves her perpetrator hence does not want to get him into trouble.

    Whatever the reason, we can help her by giving her non-judgmental audience to her travails. The key words here is ‘listening unconditionally” so she can talk it all out very many times. Your response should be entirely supportive questions such as “How does/did it feel to be violated?” “Why do you think this happened to you?”. The focus should be on the victim, not the perpetrator. She can talk about him if she so wants, but you have to gently steer her to her feelings, and thoughts and actions. The reasoning behind this approach is that if you succeed in getting her to focus on herself, then it will be easier to get her to act forward in her healing and extraction from the perpetrator.

    What do you think of this first step?

  2. Betty O
    February 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Wow…so very sad, yet sadly, more rampant than we care to admit. The older I have grown, the more people have shared very personal parts of their lives and it is sad how many of them experienced incest – Mark you, both male and female. Not having anyone to talk to – someone they trust – and the shame associated with this vile act only leave them alone, suffering in silence and for most, completely alters that paths of their lives. Until people stop sweeping it under the rug, admitting that there is a problem and non-judgmentally coming to the aid of these victims, it will keep happening like it has for years. Just breaks my heart.

    Thanks for bringing light to this very real problem.

  3. Rehema
    February 20, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    I don’t know if there is a single silver bullet that will eradicate both the occurrence of such incidents and the impact on all concerned during and after the fact.

    Affected parties of this nature of incidents are continuously subjected to the chaos of silence. In the chaos of silence everything takes prominence, nothing is less important. Everything gets left unsaid, everything remains undone.

    Real change can be triggered by a discussion, but needs to be sustained by on-going support, awareness and champions.

    You throw the gauntlet for a discussion, I pose a question of the change you expect to see. Not discussion for its sake, but rather discussion with a view of changing something. Let’s not hide behind hypotheticals and deal with specifics. I don’t think there are magical people out there that will solve our challenges, i think we need to start naming our challenges and start dealing with them.

    I applaud you for starting the conversation, through this we can link to other ongoing conversations and start to understand this much better and appreciate the nature of beast we are dealing with and its achilles heel.

    You given me the courage to post linked thought processes that i have had lying on my laptop. There’s no time like the present to get talking and doing.

  4. Nit Picker
    February 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Jebet, this is brilliantly written! Well done, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Keep up the writing!

  5. Daisy Amdany
    February 22, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Very well written and captivating piece, well done!

    Sadly, this is a reality that is more widespread than many would dare to think or imagine and it is cuts across all levels of society. Tragically, we have not developed systems to deal with it. Speaking about it is taboo. What do we do?

    We need to have systems put in place to rescue the victims of incest and harsh penalties for offenders. It goes far beyond father’s; there are brothers violating sisters, mothers their sons, uncles their nieces and nephews………the list is endless and varied.

    There is a need for the restoration of our moral values. We have glorified sexual immorality so much and once you break down the walls, anything goes. There is a push to legitimize all kinds of perversions these days including in some places, incest.

    Let me present a different kind of scenario: A young man seeking to put a few shillings in his pocket hears of an exciting way to make money and have “fun” doing it. He goes down to the clinic where a call for donors has been made and he’s told that he has to take a full medical to ascertain that he is in good health. He is cleared and is told that for the next 5 years he can make 2 “donations” every month for which he will be paid 300$ per emission, that is 600$ a month for the next 5 years. Let us remember that it only takes one sperm to fertilize and egg and every emission has more than one sperm.

    Is it not conceivable that at some point siblings will meet and have sexual relations or maybe even fathers with their “daughters”. This is not an impossibility, NY Times in a story in 2006 wrote of one sperm donor who had “fathered” 150 children, imagine that!! And all those kids are out there and not everyone knows where everyone is. Why will this not happen.

    My recommendation is that we go back to the sacred moral value system that we have discarded and along the way there let’s have very strict laws and penalties to deal with offenders and a system to assist victims.

  6. Kali
    February 22, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    A thought provoking piece. It is so sad how a cycle can repeat itself even through the most damaged of victims. I guess when you feel there is no escape the only release is to hurt someone as much as you have been hurt, and so the cycle begins. Sadly, I have no answers and am left with questions

  7. Kariuki
    February 27, 2012 at 7:19 am #

    This is a well written piece -incest is about secrets and secrets rot the soul. With time, a secret shows on the fabric of a relationship in the way a blood stain shows on a cloth.

    And as with every secret, there is a price to be paid once it comes out.

    Nice work igniting our thoughts Jebet!

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