Some days we forget how lucky we are…
Yesterday, a woman came into our office. She called earlier this week asking where we were located and when she could come in. I took the call and told her anytime, not realizing how this woman’s story would impact me.
It was around 11:30, the day had been pretty hectic already. As usual my co-workers arrived around 11, and a South African financial advisor wanted to sell us all on investing overseas. (Does he not know that development workers make no money? Or did I miss the pay-cheque boat?) But I digress.
This woman walks in with a crutch on her left arm, but walks very comfortably; certainly more comfortably than some of our other recipients. She sits down on a plastic chair around our round table in the middle of the room. As is typical she introduces herself to the four of us all at our desks. In the two months since I started this job, this routine has been much and the same for every guest, rarely do we stand up or introduce ourselves, or frankly even leave our computers. Our office is small enough that we can interact easily from afar. Without waiting to hear who we are she starts into her story. Within seconds, I realize this isn’t the same as others we had heard, and I remove my one remaining ear bud and click pause on iTunes.
She starts: I was kidnapped in 1996 when I was 15. I lost my leg in Sudan 4 years later. My boss who was doing something and half listening stops, looks up and says “sorry” (a common reply to anyone who has any ailment from being ill, to stubbing their toe). But you could see in her eyes, this is a story she has heard before but is still hurt to hear it again. “I stepped on a landmine in 1999, staying at a camp in Sudan for mothers. My daughter was 1.” All of us in our minds understand the dates and realize that this child was born in captivity, likely a byproduct of rape, but none of us suggested or asked. It didn’t matter. She goes on, “the landmines surrounded our camp, we would venture into the bush for supplies. That is when it happened.”
There was a long silence (also common in Uganda). “My daughter died in 2003,” she says quietly. “Sorry” everyone says, the remorse genuine and the sense of disbelief at this woman’s journey palpable in the room.
She went on briefly about how she escaped in 2004 and was repatriated. Repatriation in Uganda was often facilitated by UNICEF or other International NGOs, but not in her case. She crossed the border and sought help, meeting many people along the way and finally being reunited with her mother, who now lives in Kampala.
Her story didn’t venture much further than this. It was far enough. There was a discussion of how she had never interacted with ULSA (the organization I am working for), which had been in Lira when she lived there. It seems that along the way the people she was meeting had forgotten to mention her when identification studies were done. How someone could forget her I am not sure. Her determination and strength will certainly stick with me for a long time.
She is doing well, she is taking courses in business management at the YMCA in Kampala that her mom has helped fund. She has a prosthetic leg and is able to walk normally (although she recently fractured her lower leg by over using it). She is strong and wasn’t looking for help, but just wanted to be registered. She stayed for nearly 2 hours writing her story down, and filling out forms.
Then she said thank you and left as quickly as she had appeared. She had other places to be, other things that needed to be done. Her life continued, even as ours felt as if it had been paused. After she left there was little discussion about this case, but for me certainly I reflected on what had happened.
We forget sometimes how innocent our stories are.
We forget sometimes how lucky we are.
We forget sometimes how inconsequential our issues are in light of others who manage through so much more without fear, bitterness or anger
We mustn’t however forget that we are not alone in this world and must open our eyes to the issues we cannot see directly…