My neighbor N. is a sweet girl. Not too bright, but pleasant, strong, faithful. She’s a few years older than our kids but has grown up hanging out here frequently when her little brother and sister came to play. She’s in 6th grade, but about 18 now, though she looks much younger. Over the last few months (Oct, Nov) she would come and sit in my kitubbi and complain of multiple vague illnesses, head aches, stomach aches. Her demeanor changed. I suspected she was perhaps becoming involved with a boy and afraid to tell anyone, maybe using illness as a way to ask for help, or maybe feeling the first trimester blahhs. I asked her frequently about it. Was anyone bothering her? Was a teacher at school asking her for sexual favors (all too common)? Had she missed any periods? She always denied. But then the next week she’d have another vague somatic complaint. I sent her urine for a pregnancy test once, it was negative. Later I was so convinced that I was missing something I had Scott ultrasound her, no baby. But I never really connected with her. Her English is very limited. My Lubwisi breaks down when we get to matters of the heart, or to sexual abuse or rape. So I hoped she was just upset about her ill father, or just coping with changes in her body or life. When I heard that she was hospitalized while we were gone in January though I wondered. So yesterday evening I went to see her, and she launched again into vague stories of an ear ache and head ache. I asked to see her medical book from the hospital. There it was: conversion reaction, psychiatric disturbance, prescriptions for valium and antidepressants . . . And they noted she had had an illegal abortion. What????!!!! I asked her mother if she knew what was written. At first she said no, but when I asked more questions I realized she knew, and her father knew, they just didn’t know what to do about it.
So this time I took N. aside again and tried to go further in Lubwisi. Finally she started answering. Yes, she had been pregnant and a person with a clinic in Nyahuka gave her an abortion. The father: her sixth grade English teacher, who happens to be the brother of another neighbor, a young man who is distantly related to her family but has caused them lots of grief. She told me that this teacher had been abusing three other girls in her class too. I was heartsick. Here is a girl who has sat through many of our groups about AIDS, about abstinence, about saying no. Here is a girl with a father and a family. Here is a girl whom we see almost daily. But she was not protected. Who is safe?
The police are involved, but I’m not sure they’re effective. Since N. is 18 the law may not help her as much, though from her depression now I think we can say with certainty that she was not in love with this man and being pregnant with his child was not her desire, no matter how old she is. Her half-brother in Kampala has been informed, and I hope to find out from him what the next step is. If nothing is resolved by the time school starts I would love to just storm into the school and demand this teacher be dismissed (and jailed). But he’s no where to be found now, and I suspect he’ll have the sense to resurface somewhere far away to prey upon other unsuspecting young girls.
I keep wondering what else I should have done. I didn’t talk to her mother when she came to me last Fall, even though I suspected this problem, I took N.’s word and did not push hard enough, one of those misguided American concepts of confidentiality. And I keep thinking about this teacher, this man. I believe in grace, but when I think of him I’d just like to extract some justice. From him, from the school administration, from the man’s devious brother who may have facilitated the whole thing, from this world where a cute little girl is turned into a depressed and vacant teenage victim.