When I arrived here in Cambodia, I thought to report on my comings and goings as if it were a vacation trip. The fact is that I have been entirely focused on the Institute’s sessions, including my own workshop and reading, and I’m just now able to even begin digesting the rich colloquy and moving experience this week has been.
This whole journey is making me rethink everything I thought I knew. I feel enlarged in my appreciation of people’s ability to live joyfully in the face of great hardship, but I also feel, in a way that I suppose is good, very very small.
A few of us, led by Alastair Hilton (First Step Cambodia) have come to Kampot to debrief, keep talking, and plan for the next SSI, which will be in Christchurch New Zealand in 2 years. It’s hard for me to communicate how deeply moved I am to be in the company of people who are working on a global scale to mitigate the consequences of sexual violence against men in conflict and detention and the commercial exploitation of boys. It will take me months to digest it all. Conversations move easily from politics to philosophy to spirituality to jurisprudence, lgbt and gender issues, and organizing in our own countries.
If you want to be moved and edified take a look at the web site of the Refugee Law Project – on Facebook, you can watch videos of the stories of several of the men here at the conference, including 80 year old survivor Julius Okwera.
During the war in northern Uganda, government forces sang drinking songs that no one from outside Uganda really understood until Julius and others spoke out, under the protection of The Refugee Law Project — songs of victory about tek gungu, which translates as we made the enemy bend over the hard way. Of course the enemy were villagers, farmers, anyone deemed unsympathetic to the government and branded a rebel. Men, women, and children were raped indiscriminately.
Dr. Chris Dolan, who has been in the forefront of this work, points out that many of these rapes are hidden under the blanket term torture because men cannot talk about it without shame in their culture, and because while there is compensation for torture victims, the opposite is true for rape survivors. Speaking out in Uganda’s homophobic political climate, where gay men are imprisoned and sometimes executed, can cost you your life.
I’ve seen, thanks to this Institute, how the same pattern of savagery plays out again and again. The particulars change, but the general pattern remains the same. I’ll write more about that later. I’m trying to accurately describe what I think is a synthesis of sorts resulting from research and testimony from Uganda, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and 26 other countries.
Please believe me when I say that this is not depressing. I have never been among such joyous and heroic and passionate people. Clarity is bracing. Here is a joyful shot of some of the participants, including me, at the end of the Institute yesterday:
I have much more to say, and a few wonderful photos to post, but that’s enough for now.