5 December 2012

Uganda: Turning Tables - the Batterer Becomes the Battered

IN the past, whenever you heard that someone had beaten up someone, you expected the aggressor to be a man, an army man or a Kenyan woman. Not anymore.

Now when fights break out in people's homes, you will either hear a woman scream in agony, or the sound of breaking furniture and shattering dishes, with no human voice. Although both will be signs of domestic violence, the former will be a man battering his wife, while the latter will be a woman beating her man - either in silence, or amid screams of 'I will kill you! I will kill you!'

That right there is one of the things that would shock any woman who died before this century happened, especially those who died due to domestic violence, were they to come back to life. They would think, where was this century when I needed it most? And they would not be wrong, for is not his one bloody century!

Men are clobbered by their girlfriends with hoes, pestles and knives. Men slapped across the face at wedding ceremonies. Men literally punched in the mouth by irate slighted wives... All that blood, not flowing from the woman, but from her former aggressor. Makes it hard to decide whether to empathise with the men or turn aside and laugh, before you intervene.

My brother is the one who told me this one the last time I travelled to the village. There was this man who used to pound his wife like she was dried millet. One day, she decided she had had enough. They had an argument and when he told her if she did not shut up he would beat her, she invited him to do it. But when he walked to her, it was not her screaming in pain; it was him hollering, calling for help.

Poor thing, he is one of those a strong gale could easily carry away on its back. So she beat the living daylights out of him. When neighbours came rushing to help him (the same neighbours who had never rushed to help her in her times of trouble), she threatened to use her thin husband to beat them. They stood aside and gawked.

Not all men who are beaten, though, are themselves violent. This other one is the gentlest of souls, a dedicated farmer and doting father of his children. As for whether any love has ever passed between him and his tormentor, I will quote what my mother used to say in such cases: 'You know as much as I do,' which meant: We are both in the bleak.

Whenever this woman is not pleased with anything her man has done, she beats him. No, she does not slap him, knock his head with clenched knuckles or throw a cup at him. She rains blows on him - all over - and uses a stick to cane him and cups and dishes and stones and other 'throwable' things to inflict as much pain and injury on him as she can at one beating.

She pushes his head - hard - against the wall. And the children hide and the neighbours whisper and the man resorts to wearing only long-sleeved shirts and a hat on the head, to cover up - literally.

People see the increasing violence all over the place and do not know where it comes from. How can you expect products of violent fathers, whose mothers are now giving their men bloody noses to arrest a pick-pocket and hand him (it is only this trade that women have not invaded - pick-pocketing) over to the Police, intact?

Usually, by the time the Police arrive, so have car tyres and a small container of petrol, with the blood-thirsty crowd ready to set the thief ablaze. Reason: These children have grown up seeing the people who ought to have been the first cultivators of love pound each other like a hobby. No, violence will be with us for quite some time.

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