A cyclone warning: gusts of wind, heavy rain, old trees swaying dangerously as they threaten to crash.
A pandemic: fear of contagion, staying home to stay safe, isolation and quarantine.
This was what my day looked like on the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women. The cyclone was scheduled to make landfall and the run up to it was wild. Torrential downpours, high-speed winds, leaves and debris flying in the air, a tree crashing into my compound wall to be followed soon by another, and the cyclone hadn’t even made landfall. To maximize security, power supply was cut. Mobile Internet went out too as the signal grew weak.
In the intermittent pockets when the portals opened up, I logged into Instagram and WhatsApp to leave messages for loved ones to let them know I was fine. Just as the signal wavered, the text landed in my inbox asking for help. She was a young woman caught in the cross-hairs of an abusive situation at home and needed a way out of there at that very instant. Without getting into too much detail that might give away her identity, her story in a nutshell was that she was recently married shortly after the lockdown lifted, and was in an abusive marriage where her in-laws and husband subjected her to verbal and psychological abuse. She lived a good distance away from me, and I couldn’t get through to any service provider that could rescue her immediately. Stepping out on her own was not an option by any stretch of imagination – she had no means to go, and nowhere to go, either.
Without any other option at hand, I called a friend who lived approximately two apartments away from the person who called, with her pets: two delightful little puppies who simply love to play (this plays a beautiful role a bit later in the story, so do bear this detail in mind). I explained the situation and asked if she might be able to help. It was hard to understand how the young woman could be extracted from the situation, because my friend didn’t have a means of transport. Instead, she strapped on leashes on both her dogs and set out with them, braving the winds. The frisky little puppies barked with curiosity as she led them into the young woman’s house, pretending to want for shelter for herself and her dogs until such time that the winds abated so she could take them back home.
This was risky and could have gone in a hundred different ways: but here’s what makes all the difference. It went the ONE way we wanted it to. The young woman’s family took her and the little puppies in: and the two curious little ones defused the situation in no time. My immensely kindhearted friend spent a good many hours at her place, leaving with her puppies when it was safe to do so. While I couldn’t report any more on this without the risk of giving away details that can identify her or those around her, I certainly want to underline how valuable that timely intervention was, in defusing what may have turned out to be violent and disparaging. In the ten days since then, the young woman has been able to find the support she needs and is in the process of mediating differences with her family – while living with a member of her extended family who makes her she feel safe and supported.
What motivated a kind soul to think on her feet and step into a violent space for a woman who was a rank stranger? What brings us to support each other with random acts of kindness that catalyze the route to safety by averting greater danger? I could find many ways to rationalize and answer these questions, but I’m going to settle for one powerful word: Community. Humankind rising up to challenges, deterring violence, choosing to do good, and believing in the truth that the next person deserves safety, healing, peace, and kindness is exactly what the world needs in the here and the now. Working with survivors teaches me every day: and the biggest lesson in this is that it is never about one person or one context, but about community.