A Daily Dose of Zen Sarcasm!

The Darkest Thing About Africa….

fis·tu·la (fĭs’chə-lə)
n., pl. -las or -lae (-lē’).
An abnormal duct or passage resulting from injury, disease, or a congenital disorder that connects an abscess, cavity, or hollow organ to the body surface or to another hollow organ.

"Newsweek" was kind enough to place a disclaimer on the article I’m about to discuss.  Please click here if you would like to read it. I think that just further confirms that as a people, we’ve grown soft and we’re a bunch of delusional assholes, but then again– if you find yourself getting nauseated and growing hateful, do not read.

I’m giving you a couple of minutes to digest that information, because there is so much to talk about once you read a piece like that.  And let’s not get started on the comments, because sweet mother of God, we’d be in it forever.


If you’ve been reading "Zen Sarcasm" for a bit, you may know that I’m rather compulsive about certain things (if you’re new, I’m pleased to know you’ve made it this far and hope you return– especially after today’s entry).

When I was pregnant with my son, I made sure to read loads of gruesome material on obstetric problems and complications because that is just the kind of sick person I am.  I read about shoulder dystocia and about cord prolapse and about emergency cesareans where they don’t have the decency to cut discreetly along your bikini line.  But the one that made an impact was about the tears and their complications:

I read about how pushing  or bearing down before a woman is ready to push can damage the vaginal walls– this damage can also be caused by the sudden push forward of the baby’s head as it crowns, or sometimes by medical equipment used to aid the baby in being born.  Any of these traumas can cause something as minor as a small varicose vein or a scratch to something as large as a gashing wound –usually known as a "tear."  These tears are classified by degrees– from a minor lesion, which usually has no degree, all the way to a fourth-degree tear.  A fourth degree tear is a tear that doesn’t just involve skin: it is a gash through the muscle.

In some even more unfortunate but rare cases, that tear can involve the thin but very tough area separating the vagina from the anus, called the perineum– and keep going.  Sometimes the tear can involve the urethra as well.  Sometimes those tears can be large and internal enough to allow urine or feces to pass along from one cavity to the other, opening up the possibility of infection.  As you can imagine, these complications from childbirth can spell a lifetime of incontinence and discomfort for a woman. 

Thankfully for those rare cases, they’ve given birth in the one country in the world which, despite being hated by so many, is still the country where so many millions want to come at any price and make their home.  This country, where doctors labor under constant threat of lawsuits if their performance is less than stellar, has a very low rate of fourth degree tears and fistulas.

They are rare.  They are horrible. 


But in parts of Africa, where the word "genocide" no longer draws wide eyes or halted breath– it’s just another word, just like another empty promise from the first world– the word "fistula" is nauseatingly common.

Here is where the "Newsweek" article comes in –and which I found through DasBecca. *chapeau* 

I’m assuming you read the article.  Young women –girls, who here in our country of abundance are allowed to run rampant with cell phones and grow surly if they do not get lavish sweet sixteen parties, brand-new cars or boob jobs as high school graduation presents– are walking around with bed pans, trying to catch their own urine because it just drips away from them, thanks to the unrepeatable actions of some band of monsters who think nothing of shoving a rifle inside their vaginas.  Over and over– not just once and we’re done kind of business.

Gang rape.

Rifles.  Guns.  Foreign objects.

Are you cringing yet?  Because we can always focus on the ages of the victims some more and realize that we ladies of leisure– happy to trot off to World Market for some "ethnic" feel or gleeful to score some designer booty at Filene’s Basement and look fabulous with a new haircut– would instead be fearing for our husbands, our sons and our daughters and for ourselves.  And it would be doubtful whether we’d make it to thirty in some cases, because of the severity of our wounds.

But do you know what the biggger problem is?

This is not just something that is happening in an isolated region of Africa.  This is something that happens during civil wartime, in Africa and elsewhere.  It’s a weapon of war– a vagina is just something else to acquire and destroy, no matter what the price or the repercussions.  Have "The Vagina Monologues" not popped into your mind at this point, where the Bosnian woman talks about the atrocities in the rape camp?

This happens.  It’s happened.  It could be happening now, and not even as far away as you might think. Not just now.  Not just in Africa. 


The bottom line in my mind is this:

There are so many atrocities happening in parts of Africa right now that we are completely unaware of.  Just think about it, dear reader: do YOU know where Darfur is?  If so, do you know what the conflict is all about?

Can you point to the Congo on a map confidently?

Did you know why they were people being killed in Rwanda before Don Cheadle told you about it?

Do you know why President Clinton harbors regrets regarding Somalia?  Can you find Somalia on the map as well?

Can you find Africa on a map?

If you are anything like me, I am betting some sweet money that you a) found out about Darfur because it’s the celebrity cause-of-the-week; b) maybe know it’s in Sudan, but have no idea where Sudan is; c) can possibly locate the Congo because it’s two big countries and a river so your odds are fairly good there; but you d) don’t know where Somalia is and e) skipped "Hotel Rwanda" because it looked "depressing."

And yes, you can point to Africa on a map.  It’s the big thing below Europe, duh!  The closer the better, for easier colonizing action, of course ;o)

You don’t have to reply to this, and I’m not owning up to my own answers (except for Darfur, which I had heard about through celebrities but had NO idea about otherwise, to my deep embarrassment).  But the point is still this:  we don’t know Africa very well, do we?


And the problem is still this:

As we sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner later this week and count our blessings or  grow surly and disenfranchised because the turkey is dry or the stuffing has water chestnuts or your relatives arrived three hours too late again, this all is still going on.  We can give money and we can educate ourselves, but that is not going to stop Congolese militiamen from gang-raping a 12-year old.

How can we help, if most of us don’t even know it’s happening and the rest of us are presumed too squeamish to even read an article about it?

How can we help, if we aren’t willing to help at home?  How many people go off to the Peace Corps to help people in foreign lands but do not even recognize the poverty, illiteracy and true, desperate, gaping need all around us?

How can we help, if wherever we send our troops as a country we are received with a mix of hatred and disgust– but if we refrain from sending them in we are hailed as cowards of inaction?

How can we help, if we don’t even know if our aid/money/donations/hard-earned cash are being spent correctly and aren’t just ending up lining the pockets of so many corrupt government people?

There are no answers here, friends.  There is only hope, and links to organizations which are, hopefully, not corrupt.


Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The International Rescue Committee

The CIA World Facbook


Title comes from this quote:
“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.”  George Kimble

This entry was published on November 21, 2006 at 9:00 am and is filed under Soapboxing. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “The Darkest Thing About Africa….

  1. The problems are so severe but if we each contribute a little bit either by volunteering time to a charity or by donating a couple of dollars, things could get better.
    I know there’s a wonderful Australian woman who has dedicated her life to running a free clinic in Africa for women with fistulas. She provides them with a completely free operation to fix the problem and rehabilitation after the operation. You can find out more information about her at this site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Hamlin

  2. Whew. You go, girl. Thanks for the reminder & information.

  3. I find myself asking myself these same questions daily. Although not out loud or to others. Possibly that makes me just as cowardly. There are so many issues at hand here. The attempts at instituting raw democracy and raw markets into underdeveloped nations that aren’t equipped to sustain them – ultimately breeding group hatred and ethnic violence, or cleansing as was the case in Rwanda. (Yes I was aware long before the film was released but am still shocked by friends who don’t care enough to see it, let alone read about it). In most of Africa the ethnic minorities make up the market-dominate majority, therefore not allowing for any real progress in terms of changing things for the better, therefore resulting in permanent rule by the guilty parties. Only when these deep ethnic divisions are reconciled can there be any hope. Until then, what we can do, is continue to talk – continue to hold those in power (in our own country) responsible for their actions, continue to be unwavering in our attempts (however small) at helping those who have been affected by these atrocities both medically, emotionally, and financially.
    So I’m sorry for the long comment. Excellent, excellent post.
    Not to be ridiculous and quote a movie here – but after I finished reading this and the Newsweek article I was reminded of a quote from The Interpreter (2005).
    “The gunfire around us makes it hard to hear. But the human voice is different from other sounds. It can be heard over noises that bury everything else. Even when it’s not shouting. Even when it’s a whisper. Even the lowest whisper can be heard — over armies…when it’s telling the truth.”

  4. Un-christian and vulgar statement coming:
    Most of the people in this coutry, including our government (and neither party is free of this) gives a rat fuck about Africa, nor any of the other places where this kind of stuff is happening.
    I’ll say it again. Most Americans don’t give a fuck.
    If we gave a fuck, we would have invaded some of THOSE places in the name of humanity.
    But our country doesn’t give a fuck.
    It is a terrible, crying shame… and we know it’s true.
    Why don’t we give a fuck? Bwecause the people in Africa are black. We don’t give a fuck because the people in the affected areas have no oil, or strategic minerals. If they had ANY of those things, we’d care… or at least our government would.
    Please pardon my vulgarity… I used it only for a bit of shock effect.

  5. Hi All – interesting article and comments. The thing no one is asking, is why are the Africans involved not accountable? It’s all good and PC to play on Western guilt, but remember we are tax paying members of societies where there is law and order and the governments care enough about the people not to allow women to be gang raped every six seconds, and build roads we can drive down, and provide education for our kids. Where is the accountability of the guys en mass raping their mothers, sisters, friends? And where do you think all the aid money goes?!!!
    I am a Canadian living in Ghana West Africa for the past 12 years and I can tell you. The government guys have all their kids in private schools in the UK at $30,000 per year, plus living expenses, their wives shop in Dubai, flying business class etc. When anyone in their families are ill they are medivaced out of the godforsaken countries where there is dismal at best medical services, and into Europe to private care….
    Those are also things to think about.

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