An unorthodox resolution

My last day of being a FLAP volunteer was truly a memorable one. I got to work bright and early on Friday rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I was excited to bring Sarah’s case to a positive close. Contrarily, I felt sad that my time at FLAP had come to an end yet we had a few cases pending. Sarah came into the FLAP centre that morning and we spoke to her again to clarify what she hoped to achieve from the mediation. She spelt out clearly that she wanted to go to school and needed clothing. Sarah was also willing to stay in her mother’s house that day and had come to the FLAP centre in her finest attire.

After the much needed clarification, we set off for the client’s mother’s house in Arena which is in close proximity to Old Fadama. Isaka, one of the local chiefs who works with FLAP, accompanied us to Sarah’s mother’s house. Upon arrival, we were welcomed and offered seats. Sarah’s mother came out of her quarters to greet us and asked to be excused for a few minutes as her husband (Sarah’s step-father) was around and she did not want him involved in the mediation. She joined us when the husband left and the process of mediation began.

There was much talking as Sarah’s mother explained her version of events with the other inhabitants of the compound house adding titbits here and there to support her story. I was bewildered at one point when the mother mentioned that Sarah had been lying about her age and that she was actually turning eighteen in September and not fifteen like Sarah herself had told us. Sarah denied her mother’s claim but in my mind I searched for answers as to why either of the two parties would lie about Sarah’s real age. Everything that Sarah’s mother had kept on the inside, during our previous visit, was unleashed that Friday. From the sudden utterances of angry-filled words in Ga, in defence of the pre-existing claims which the daughter had made, it was very clear that the mother was beyond irate. There existed unsettled feelings of both anger and resentment between Sarah and her mother. Accusations started to spring up particularly with regards to Sarah’s spirituality and talks about Sarah possibly being possessed of an evil spirit sprung up.

Sarah’s grandmother came in just around that time and she brought in a sense of calm with her. In our culture, the elderly are revered and Sarah’s mother immediately quietened down when the grandmother surfaced on the scene. The grandmother was happy to see her granddaughter and fondly repeated, “Sister, Sister”. She refused to buy into the notion that her granddaughter was possessed. She rather believed that Sarah was probably troubled and needed someone to open up to. It was decided on the spot that even if Sarah was to return home she would first go to her grandmother’s place and stay with her for three days so her grievances could be aired and addressed effectively. Sarah expressly agreed to this arrangement.

Shortly afterwards, we encouraged Sarah to apologise to her mother for any wrong she may have caused her including running away. In what was a truly heartbreaking moment, young Sarah knelt down before her mother and although it was obvious that the mother felt so much angst I could perceive that she was finally ready to let go of the hurt and truly forgive her daughter. It took everything I had in me to fight back tears but one sneaky tear managed to roll down my cheek nonetheless. I prayed then that Sarah would also be willing and able to let go of her hurt. What happened next is something I have never witnessed. Sarah’s mother stood up abruptly from her seat, marched into her room, returned with a bowl full of water and splashed the water on the ground. She then started crying out incoherent words towards the heavens and kept spilling more water on the ground.

I gathered that this was some sort of a cleansing ritual she was doing to rid herself of any sort of anger and resentment she had against her daughter.The mother had to be held by the grandmother and some of the people nearby as the spirit overtook her and her movement became extremely unsteady. Those who were aware of what was going on were shouting at Sarah to open her heart, forgive her mother and let go of the hurt.Apparently Sarah’s mother’s cleansing ritual could not be effectively done unless Sarah was also ready to cleanse herself from the hurt. Sarah was called to face her mother and asked to drink some water. After hesitating a few times she finally took a sip of the water. Sarah’s heart was apparently hardened still and the cleansing ritual could not be completed. The mother uttered certain words and entered her room.

We spoke to Sarah and asked her to open up her heart to forgive her mother. Sarah then followed one of the women inside the room where her mother was. After a couple of minutes, Sarah and her mother came out of the room and we were informed that the cleansing ritual had been effectively completed. Sarah’s mother then went about cleansing people she felt needed to be cleansed which included Axel, Vidette and I. This spiritual cleansing is apparently what Sarah’s mother does at church. When the cleansing session was over we were assured that everything was indeed alright between mother and child. Sarah, who had hitherto been visibly agitated, seemed better.

Notably, we were informed that this was the first time ever that the mother had performed such a cleansing ritual over her daughter Sarah in spite of the different NGOs that had been to the house to talk about Sarah’s case. This in itself was a victory for FLAP. We left Sarah with the FLAP centre’s phone number in case she wanted to reach us on any issue. We reassured her that Frederick would check in routinely to make sure that everything was going on well and we made her aware that FLAP would always be there to provide assistance. I left Sarah’s mother’s place happy that Sarah would sleep in an actual home that evening and be surrounded by family. I was happy that the case had been concluded and although predicting the future is not in my field of expertise I was hopeful that this time around the issues had been resolved permanently.

Upon our return to the FLAP office, we discussed our experiences as volunteers. Suggestions were also made as to how FLAP could be improved upon. Brilliant ideas emerged from this discussion. Vidette suggested a trip by the school children to the FLAP centre so that FLAP’s accessibility would increase and Axel suggested putting up sign posts so the locals could easily locate FLAP. Noting that the child maintenance outreach was where we met Sarah, whose story ended up being a success, I suggested that more outreaches be carried out from which more cases would likely spring up and be tackled accordingly. I bid farewell to the FLAP workers leaving behind the physical presence of Old Fadama but carrying with me profound memories of my time spent therein.