At the tender age of six, Gertrude Awuku was forcibly raped by a 22-year-old neighbor she had grown to trust. Now 18, she still remembers the day, and when she perceives a certain brand of perfume, she relives the moment as if it was only yesterday. A lonely dwelling-place, such as a house where all the inhabitants have gone to work, also gives the same feeling of panic. In one word, 12 years after the experience, Gertrude still reels from what psychologists call post-traumatic stress disorder.
Slender, dark and beautiful, Gertrude hides a hurt which still troubles her and which once drove her to the brink of suicide.
‘I was on an errand to the neighbour’s house to buy soap and other items for domestic use,’ she recalls to a group of persons and families living with sickle cell at the International Conference Centre, Accra. The group was having a meeting on the sidelines of the First Global Sickle Cell Congress which took place in the West African country eight years ago.
With everyone sharing their stories, asking questions and interacting with one another as only fellow sufferers could, it all turned out to be a cathartic session. It was not by coincidence that a London-based Ghanaian clinical psychologist, Dr. Kofie Anie, himself with sickle cell, oversaw the interactive session.
As Gertrude launched into her story, her voice quavered occasionally and teardrops would stream down her cheeks.
Shedding A Heavy Load
‘I used to be ashamed to relate the unspeakable experience I underwent,’ she tells the shocked audience of adults and children, ‘But today I feel like I have unburdened myself of a very, very heavy load.’
Apparently, she had never breathed a word of it to anyone outside close family: If not for her age at the time of the odyssey, perhaps even her parents would never have known. Within minutes of the rape, she started to bleed; and though her assailant had threatened her to tell no-one, she had no option than to talk. Blood seeping down your legs in a steady stream is certainly not something anyone can hide.
Anyway, a six year old had not the artifice to lie about an incident so bizarre. The thing had punctured not just her hymen but also the innocence of her childhood. It would be many years before she could gather herself together again.
Her relatives took her to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, where she was admitted. Several laboratory investigations were conducted; and then a routine blood test showed the child was with sickle cell anaemia.
With the toll of rape on her child’s mind, pulling her weight in school was an uphill task. She did wade through elementary and secondary school but the involuntary suspicion of male teachers and schoolmates kept her from performing as brightly as might be expected of an otherwise gifted student.
She could not even confide her dark secret in members of her own sex – hers was a lonely existence in the midst of company.
Discontent with her under-achievement and dissatisfaction with a society half of which she was distrustful and the other half from which she isolated herself – and perhaps other intra-psychic matters too deep to unravel – once led Gertrude to attempt to take her own life.
‘I’m happy I did not succeed at the attempt,’ she says, issuing a dry smile, ‘otherwise I would not have been here today!’
Gertrude has never been transfused but up to the age of 17 she suffered fainting spells which left her family and doctors baffled. She plans to go back to school and train as a nurse.
‘I have a burning desire to assist sick people,’ she says.
from: African Sickle Cell News & World Report vol 2 no 4