My best friend Vivienne sent me an alarming voice note yesterday. Her childhood friend Hannah Cornelius was murdered in Stellenbosch. She was stabbed several times and her body was dumped in a ditch on the side of the road. It was difficult to make sense of what Viv was saying because she was in a state of shock. But I later on read on the news that Hannah was murdered by car hijackers. This tragedy has occurred just a few weeks after Karabo Mokoena was murdered by her boyfriend. Her body burned and dumped in a ditch. In Uganda, we are still mourning the loss of Desire Mirembe, also murdered by her boyfriend, beheaded and her body dumped in a ditch.
Today, I hesitated to leave my house. I had to show up at work but I feared that once I stepped out, I would not be seen or heard from again. As I made my way through African street, I looked over my shoulder countless times. Black painted cars with tinted windows made my body shiver. The sight of good looking men with nice teeth made me want to run the opposite direction. I am angry, scared and irritated. I feel weak. I feel tired. I feel that all my life I have been conditioned to fear.
When I think about all these incidents that have occurred over the past few weeks. This violence inflicted upon women’s bodies. I get terrified. However, the thing that scares me more is the position I find myself in today. Being a woman. Being subjected to fear on a daily basis because of my body, because of my vulnerability.
On my way back from work, I was still haunted by fear. I thought about the journalists who walked into news rooms and were asked to report on the murders of these women. Were they women too? Did they hesitate? Would I hesitate?
I saw an interview the other day by Karabo’s mother. I thought how brave she was to even begin to speak after she lost a child in such a horrendous way. I then thought about the journalist. What does one say to a mother? How do we report facts and avoid being subjective on issues that affect us too?
When I told my father I wanted to be a journalist, I knew it did not excite him as much as it did two years ago when my sister decided to study engineering. He would tell me a story everyday about journalists in the Middle East who had been imprisoned and others beheaded for simply reporting the news. I said to him: “I do not want to be a reporter, I want to write.” He looked back and said: “Writers get imprisoned too.”
My father said he would support my career choice only if I decided to write about travel or fashion. He asked that I stay away from anything related to war.
I do not want to be a war correspondent. That has never been my ambition. I have always wanted to write but never been sure about what to write about until this moment. How do I tell my father that I want to write for and about women? How do I say to him that the issues I want to write about are much scarier? How do I say to him that the issues I would like to share with the world through my writing are things I experience on a daily basis?
In ‘Again’ Natalie Goldberg argues that as writers it is our job speak. But while we do this, we ought to be as careful and as respectful as possible. In second year we had a discussion with our lecturers about how we as journalists should position ourselves when reporting about tragic incidents or about people in need. Does one simply report the facts and leave? Does this not mean we are using people’s tragedies for our own benefit? I left that room in fear and this memory resurrected when I read Goldberg’s words. I have always wanted to be a creative writer because I wanted to imagine things and build a world from fiction. Whenever people ask me whether I want to be a journalist I tend to shrug and say no. Then why are you pursuing a degree in journalism they ask? Well… I do not know. I do know that I am scared to write about reality because of my sensitivity. I am a woman and had I been asked to write a hard news story about Hannah, Karabo or Desire am afraid that my sensitivity and subjectivity would hinder me from doing my job. How do I get rid of these unwanted guests?
Anger, Fear, Resolution
Today, I hesitated to leave my house. I had to show up at work but I feared that once I stepped out, I would not be seen or heard from again. I am angry, scared and irritated.
I have however found courage in writing this. In finally admitting that I live in fear because I am a woman. I live in fear of the future when am asked to write about a murder of another woman. I fear not being taken seriously because I have breasts. I fear that I have to keep fighting. I fear that I have to write how I feel. However, Goldberg urges me to turn to this fear and use it. She says “whatever is hidden or secretive will always come out.” So here I am. Finally admitting fear. But also feeling courageousness in finally holding my black pen and discovering how to say the things I did not know how to say.