Monday August 7 2017

Mirembe picks up the pieces after rape trauma

Rachael Mirembe narrates her ordeal at her

Rachael Mirembe narrates her ordeal at her home. PHOTO BY GILLIAN NANTUME. 

By GILLIAN NANTUME

Imagine burglars gain access to your home during the night, and after robbing the electrical appliances, as a parting shot, they decide to rape the females of the home. With the rise in homicides targeting young women in Nansana Town Council and Katabi Sub County, Wakiso District, this scenario is a possibility. As a woman, would you bear the child of a rapist?

This question almost drove Rachel Mirembe to despair in 2016. Seated in a wood shack that serves as her home and shop, in Tenga, Nansana -Nabweru Sub County, the 29-year-old seems to have come to terms with what life has thrown her way.

A bed occupies one part of the three-foot wide shack. Next to the bed is a chair without cushions, on which her daughter lies. At first glance, the child looks like a three-year-old, but she is 11.

An assortment of old stools and utensils covers the other half of the room while the walls are covered by synthetic sacks to keep out the cold. There is a large gap between the iron sheets and the walls. A torn white plastic carpet covers part of ground nearer to the bed.
Outside is a stand where Mirembe earns her living selling six brooms, two clay stoves, a few sachets of biscuits and tea leaves, and two containers of mandazi and chapatti. She supplements this meagre income by washing clothes for her neighbours and plaiting women’s hair.
As we talk, a clucking hen comes in. My efforts to chase it away are futile. It jumps into a corner near the bed and upsets all the utensils around it. “That hen lays eggs in that corner,” Mirembe whispers, adding, “It seems to love my house more than its own.”
She is carrying her eight-month-old girl. The baby coos contentedly. Her six-year-old son is outside, playing with his cousins.

Her ordeal
In March 2016, Mirembe’s home did not have a lock. At night, she only fastened the door with a nail. The shack is in her father’s compound, about two metres from the main house. Both are in an unplanned neighbourhood with clustered houses around them.
This gave Mirembe a false sense of safety, although there is no electricity in the area.

“It had never occurred to me that I could be attacked,” she says. “I share my bed with my son. On that night, I woke up to find a man holding my throat, trying to strangle me. His knee was on my leg. It was dark and he was wearing black clothes but I saw that he was armed with a knife.”

The thief had put out the small tin lamp (tadooba) she had left burning. “I asked who he was, but he did not answer. He had a knife. As we struggled, he kept saying he was going to kill me. I asked him why. I offered to give him my phone in exchange for my life. I had not yet realised that before I woke up, he had taken the money and phone I had left on the chair, and soaked my lamp in a basin of water.”

The thief overpowered Mirembe and raped her. After the rape, she slid off the bed and went under it. “He tried to grab me by my hair. After failing, he rushed out of the house. I slid out from under the bed but then, I saw him coming back. I began screaming.”

Mirembe’s family heard the screams and ran out of the main house and, together with the neighbours, tried to chase the thief. They failed to catch him. Mirembe did not tell anyone that she had been raped.

“In the morning, I recorded a statement at the police station. I did not have the money to buy a medical form so a case file could not be opened. A policeman told me to return to the station after I had found the thief so that they could arrest him.”

Abandoning the case was easier than erasing the memory. “I was scared. I worried about HIV and pregnancy. I kept getting flashbacks of the rape. Most nights, I would only fall asleep at 5am. I collected discarded bricks and stacked them against the door. If the rapist returned, the falling bricks would wake me up. I used to cried a lot.”

One month later, Mirembe discovered she was pregnant. Her first thought was to terminate the pregnancy. “I mixed three sachets of tea leaves in a small cup of hot water and drank the mixture. I thought I would bleed but, nothing happened. Instead, I vomited and felt ill. I began to worry that I was going to die and leave my two children. I prayed to God to keep me alive.”

Attempt to terminate pregnancy
Next, she tried starving herself. For a week, she survived on water alone. The pregnancy kept on growing. Then, she devised a plan to do heavy work in the rain. She dug mud, worked the soil with her feet, and made bricks to put at the base of her house. “I thought I would fall sick and by some miracle, the pregnancy would abort. When nothing happened, I gave up. As the pregnancy grew, people began talking about me. They said I was poor, yet I was always getting pregnant by different men. Those words hurt me. I hated that pregnancy.”

Bringing forth life
On December 1, 2016 Mirembe went into a difficult labour at Kawempe General Hospital. “When I first saw the baby, I hated her. I was bleeding heavily and shivering. The midwife could not give me an injection to stop the bleeding because I did not have the requested Shs30,000. I had not eaten for two days. My sister left me in the hospital because she could not stand the midwife’s insults. Everything around me was soaked in blood. I think I fainted for a while. When I woke up, I went to bathe but there was so much blood, I felt my life slipping away.”

Since no postnatal treatment was forthcoming, Mirembe’s sister took her home. She continued to bleed heavily. “I thought of selling the baby and began looking for a buyer. I failed to find one, and as the baby grew, I started loving her. When she was three-month-old, a woman came to my home asking to buy her. My baby was growing into a beautiful girl and there was no way I could sell her.”

Why she still lives in a shack
In the area, Mirembe is known as the woman with bad luck who has never married but, is instead giving birth in her father’s compound. “In 2006, I gave birth to my first child,” Mirembe narrates, adding, “At three months, she fell sick and lost the function of her limbs. The doctor told me she had water in her head (hydrocephalus) and he referred us to Mbale (CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda). I thought if they operated on my daughter, she would die.”

A few months after the diagnosis, the father of the child passed away. To survive, Mirembe began vending snacks. “In 2010, I met another man and got pregnant. However, his relatives told him it is bad luck to love a woman with a deformed child. So, he left me.”

In her father’s home, Mirembe’s situation caused disharmony. Because of her first child, the house always smelt of urine and solid waste. Ugly words exchanged, and Mirembe used her savings to put up the shack, in which she moved with her two children.

A glimmer of hope in a dark tunnel
With the love for her daughter growing each day, the flashbacks of the rape are fading from Mirembe’s memory. There are still moments though, when she feels the hatred returning. “That feeling usually comes when I’m broke and I have failed to get customers. I begin to wish the baby was not alive or that I have never gotten that pregnancy, so that I would only have my two children to fend for. Those feelings only last a short time.”

When fans of Dembe FM heard about Mirembe’s plight, they mobilised funds and bought locks for her door. They pledged to build for her a house. They aim to raise Shs20m. So far, they have collected Shs500,000. The plan is to build a three-room house for Mirembe and stock a shop and salon for her. A plot of land has been located in Buwambo parish, Gombe Sub County, Wakiso District at Shs3m.

“I will be glad to leave this village,” Mirembe says, as she wipes away tears that highlight the paradox of her bittersweet experience.

Since the fans highlighted her plight, everyone in Tenga got to know that she had been raped. Wherever she passes, people point at her and talk behind her back.

What to do after rape...
Evelyn Lufafa, a counselling psychologist with Suubi Medical Centrer says if the victim does not know the rapist the first course of action is to visit a clinic or hospital. “The doctors will do tests to ascertain the status of the victim. If she is negative, she will be placed on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and emergency HIV treatment. They will also treat her if the rape was violent and she sustained tears and wounds.”

If the rape victim knows the rapist, then she should resist the urge to bathe and instead report to the police first before going to hospital. Since rape is a rarely reported crime, statistics on rape conception are almost nonexistent. However, an ovulating woman may get pregnant if she is raped by a fertile male.

“Pregnancy resulting from rape is traumatising,” Lufafa says, continuing, “The victim needs a lot of medical and psychosocial counselling to be able to make the decision to carry the pregnancy to term, with all its traumatic experiences, or to terminate it.”

For feedback, write to: lifemagazine@ug.nationmedia.com

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