Think of the woman who in 2017 stripped naked and walked along Wrightson Road after crashing into a car. The way our people jeered at her. Some months later, I saw a meme, and I can't verify its veracity, but the sentiment was spot on. It said there was a tribe in Africa that recognised that when women show their nakedness in pain, the shame belongs to the men who hurt them. Sadly, it is likely to be men who cause suffering. Why? They can. It's a man's beer and a man's world.
In 2018, of the 516 murders, 47 were women, and 13 were children. Only six of the murdered women were 'gang-related.' The perpetrators were among the 2,500 gang members amidst us (that's in Port-of-Spain alone). Add to that stress. Our women, mothers of the dead men, grieve. Add more. One in three women suffers from violence at the hands of their partner in T&T (Source: 2017 IDB study).
Collateral damage. That's what women in T&T are.
Take Caron Asgarali. Her story has been widely reported. Yet, after an introduction, the first thing she said, almost involuntarily: 'I'm Caron, and I was shot in the face.' She caught herself. Violence is close to the bone for women.
I called her—Tuesday, January 29, 2013:
It had been an utterly extraordinary day. Teaching 4th and 6th formers Chemistry, at the San Fernando Central Secondary School, heading home to change for a run. That's when she felt the most joy, childhood freedom, racing down the hills and up again, in dusk lit by flares from the oil fields, breeze on her face. An evening so pleasant that she called a friend to join her for a drive.
The violence that is the new normal, the new ordinary in this roulette wheel that can strike any of us at any time struck her.
It took seconds to destroy her. She stopped at a minor road in La Romaine. Her car was flanked by two bandits. She met the eyes of the bandit who would shoot her—the bullet went through her left jaw, exploded and exited, ricocheting on her chest and shoulder; her friend began driving fast; bandits kept shooting wanting their getaway car; shots kept coming; her friend was screaming as blood was pouring out of her face; she was feeling like gravel was stuck onto her face, not knowing yet her chin was blown off, hanging on with a sliver of tissue.
She has had innumerable reconstruction surgeries, lost her savings, her job, friends, her life as she knew and loved. Three weeks on, she looked at her face in the mirror. She thought she must have looked scary to others, with gun powder marks, a gastric tube across her nose, so it looked like she had a trunk, another tube sticking out of her neck to help her breathe and keep her partially detached tongue in position.
How did Caron return from the terrifying physical and emotional edge of the world, how did she survive it? Helping others. Service. It's the only way out of heartache and the rot of the soul.
•Allow close family members and friends into your life to help with practical, everyday chores and duties overwhelming after violence.
•Take responsibility for your healing. Recognise the signs of trauma and its psychological symptoms: flashbacks, oversleeping, withdrawal etc. Seek professional psychological help. Join a support group such as the Victim Support Foundation.
•Keep faith in the God of your understanding.
For prevention of violence, she says, women can only do so much until proper legislation, policies and strategies are implemented.
•Go out in groups, including at least one male.
•Take a self-defence course.
•Sit strategically in public places, so you can see entrances and exits.
•Keep your car keys in hand like a weapon when you approach your vehicle in public spaces.
Caron says victims of violence often feel forgotten, obliterated by statistics but says, each act of violence "doesn't affect just one person but all of society."
To survivors, Caron quotes Nelson Mandela, "Not having forgiveness will trap you into your own prison."
Next time you look away from naked pain, like the woman on Wrightson Road, remember, "the shame belongs to us all."