A Question of Dignity


─I was completely isolated. The urine was constantly leaking, causing a terrible smell. In the end my parents couldn’t bare it anymore, and built a hut for me outside our house. I was left with nothing but the dreams of how it would have been to see my child grow up.

Loida Bashiri (20) is watching her hands while she speak. The country girl is recovering from fistula, the most devastating and serious of all childbirth injuries. She was 16 when it happened. Her mother didn’t want her to deliver in hospital, but rather use the traditional birth attendant in the village. Loidas body was small and the baby was big; far too big for the girl to be able to deliver it.

─The traditional birth attendant didn’t know what to do and kept telling me to push. The pain was unbearable. It was going on the whole day before she finally gave up and they brought me to the nearest hospital I Nkotakota, Loida says.

She had to go through a C-section to get the stillborn baby out. The leaking of urine started when she was discharged from hospital. Without knowing it the teenager was sharing faith with thousands upon thousands of woman in poor countries around the world. During labor contractions, the baby’s head is constantly pushing against the mother’s pelvic bone — causing tissue to die due to lack of blood flow to this area. All of that pushing creates a hole, or in medical terms a “fistula”, between the birth passage and an internal organ such as the bladder or rectum. A woman cannot hold her urine, and sometimes bowel content as well.

─The stigma was terrible, Loida tells us, I lost all my friends. My husband left me and I had to move back to my parents who finally decided they couldn’t bare the smell. I was living like that for four years until I heard a radio ad one day urging women who was leaking to come to Lilongwe and undergo surgery.

For the first time the young woman makes eye contact with us and smiles. We meet her in the office of Bwaila hospital downtown Lilongwe. The Scottish NGO Freedom From Fistula is running a center here, performing the surgery that gives women back their dignity.

After returning to the village life almost went back to normal for Loida. Her friends returned and she moved back into the house. Her young ex-husband still stays well clear, but he is not a missed person in her life. Not after leaving her like he did.

Loida left hospital just over a year ago, and the staff thought they had seen the last of her. But then, in the middle of February this year she returned with a group of seven young women suffering like she once did.

─Back in the village I heard stories of other women that was leaking. I felt a strong urge to help them, remembering how terrified I was myself sitting on the bus to Lilongwe with a large pad of cloth hidden under my skirt, praying the other passengers wouldn’t notice the smell.

Back in the center Loida was offered a job as cleaning lady. This gives her a small salary and the feeling of being useful. Besides she can keep an eye on the seven new patients she brought in.

─My plan is to work for a while and earn some money, enabling me to return home to look for more girls who needs help, Loida tells us with the whitest smile you ever saw.

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16 Responses to “A Question of Dignity”

  1. Sometimes it is from circumcision sometimes from a difficult birth due to poor nutrition or being young but am so glad to hear there are more centres being built to help these women get their life back.

  2. What a hero’s journey! Bravo to this brave young woman!

  3. your daily reports are amazing. thank you for being the link between our world and the one you’re sharing.

  4. I first heard about this from Abraham Verghese’s beautifully written book, “Cutting for Stone.” However, the causes of the fistula are so horrible. The story is set in Ethiopia. Unforgetable!


  5. Look at that beautiful smile! It will haunt me the next time I complain about something. Thank you for bringing this story and topic out into the open. I would be ignorant of this if you you hadn’t. We should all be more aware of how life is for people that by the fate of geography suffer such things.

  6. artblablablablog Says:

    A comparatively happy ending, she is smiling, to an absolute horror story. I always say, plant love, it can grow anywhere. Amazing posts you are doing.

  7. What a shame that this young woman was abandoned by family and friends. She seems to have regained a measure of dignity. This a very interesting piece and it has a happy ending.

  8. Thank you for sharing about this awesome young lady.

  9. Great post! We saw a documentary on a fistula hospital in Ethiopia. Its unbelievable what those young women have to go through when relief is a simple surgery stitch or two…

  10. What a horror for these women…reminds me of a new documentary I just saw called Girl Rising…check it out, Otto: http://www.girlrising.com…I hope you get a chance to see it!

  11. She smiles now…

  12. A million dollar smile…if only we could all be so happy with so little! Thanks for the sharing her story.

  13. Thank you so very much for sharing this story here.

  14. […] the baby was big; far too big for the girl to be able to deliver it.” Read Otto’s post A Question of Dignity to find out how Loida’s life was initially devastated, then turned around and how she is now […]

  15. Glad for Loida… She is one of the fortunate ones. Great story.

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