“A devoted wife who has been subjected to a ‘private pandemic’”, Debbie is reluctant to accept help offered by Mama Mary who, upon meeting her for the first time, instantly picked on the signs of a battered wife trapped in an abusive marriage.
Mama Mary, Debbie and Pastor Karisa (Debbie’s husband) are the three characters in The Domestic Pandemic, a short story written by Ruth Nyadzua Mwangome, a young Kenyan writer.
Ms. Mwangome is one of the people whose works are featured in Sauti صويت blog, a digital collection of 25 stories by young African women on the impact of COVID-19.
The publication, launched by the African Union’s Office of the Youth Envoy, aims to amplify young African women on the frontline of COVID-19 and showcase their creative talents.
In this short interview with Africa Renewal, Ruth Nyadzua Mwangome talks about her story on domestic violence in times of COVID-19: Below are the excerpts:
Africa Renewal: Tell us about the characters in your story?
Ruth Nyadzua Mwangome: Pastor Karisa, his wife Debbie and Mama Mary are all believers in the same church, yet facing individual demons which heighten when the COVID-19 pandemic strikes.
Debbie is a devoted wife who has been subjected to a ‘private pandemic’ (gender-based violence - GBV) and COVID-19 comes as a double pandemic. Her life is in danger but she is reluctant to accept help because of what the society expects of her. She is in a leadership role and feels the need to protect that 'public' image. She is worried about leaving her husband and being deemed a failure by society.
It is digital collection of 25 stories by young African women on the impact of #COVID19. It is a platform to elevate and celebrate the resilience and innovation of young African women amid the “new normal” and further advocate for the issues that affect them every day, according to Ms. Aya Chebbi, the Africa Union Youth Envoy.
“Sauti صويت blog is an alternative space that carries the feminist values of the African Union and changes the narrative because our struggle as young women is a struggle for voice,” says Ms. Chebbi.
On the other hand, her husband Pastor Karisa, is charged with the responsibility of being a role model. But his failings have been exposed by the uncertainties and the limitations brought by COVID-19.
Lastly, Mama Mary is a gender-based violence survivor and an activist. She is agitated by the injustice women are subjected to. But in chauvinists' eyes, she is just a 'mad woman.' The visible signs of abuse make her try to liberate Debbie from the domestic violence trap she is in.
Why bring these characters together this way in the story?
Matters of faith are very sensitive and mostly left untouched. Yet, there are people of faith who are suffering in silence and need help. Most of them are in denial or even afraid to speak up. Bringing out the story like this helps in educating them and others that such things have happened and most importantly, there is help out there. What one needs to do is raise her ‘Sauti’ – meaning their voice.
Is this just fiction or is it based on a true story?
It is a mixture of both real experiences and fiction. Writing it as an essay would have limited the large coverage I intended it to have. The names are imaginary, but the situation is real amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Mama Mary's role which is very vital, is imagined.
Is there a specific message you are trying to get through?
Yes. Firstly, anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, it does not matter your social status. And an abuser can take any form.
Secondly, the ending of the story is usually not what is happening in real life. So, I chose to write the story the way I did to suggest a solution or an option to whoever is in a position of leadership yet facing a similar situation.
Thirdly, women are each other’s keepers, so keep an eye on the tell-tale signs of GBV and reach out to that mother, sister, aunt or daughter who needs help. We need more Mama Marys out there.
You’re among the 25 winners of the Sauti blog competition. Did you specifically write the piece for the competition or is this a repurposed story?
The story has always been there, but I had not found a home to tell it. So, the Sauti blog competition came in handy. When my piece found a home, I was happy and humbled for I knew that there, it would enlighten a bigger audience.