I was embarrassed, ashamed, and wanted to take my life. But I didn’t. I realised I was more than those beatings. I have more in me and I have my children to care for and who care for me.Roy*, Friendship Bench Client
Being a man who is being beaten by his wife is something that all men cover up, it’s an embarrassment, it means we are not really men in our culture . We walk with our heads high on the outside, our chests out and hold deep voiced conversations full of strength, but inside, inside we are being torn apart by shame, anxiety and depression.
My name is Roy* and l am aged 42. I am married with 4 children. Before Covid-19 started l was employed as a gardener and my wife as a maid. Unfortunately, l lost my job but was lucky to have my wife continue with her work. I began to see the other side of my wife; that is when the beatings started. Whenever l asked for food l was replied by a slap on my face. l lost my dignity as the man of the house as l had nothing to put on the table. I tried to look for something to do but due to this Covid-19 pandemic nothing materialised. One day when l got back to the house, it was empty all the children were not there. When l got in contact with my wife, she told me that she had taken the kids to her mother as l was unable to feed them as their father. I was heartbroken, torn in pieces. I saw myself as a failure and useless, l thought the best solution there was to take my own life.
It was not an easy decision; l did not have a plan and the courage to do it. One of my neighbours saw how troubled l was and approached me but l could not share anything with him. He talked to me about the Friendship Bench which was a free counselling service offered by the Lay Health Workers at our local clinic. I decided to try that out.
I met with one of the Lay Health Workers who said she was there to listen, she told me there would be no judgement but that I needed to talk about what was happening at home or it would make me sick, she said I was already showing the signs of ‘kufungisisa’ (thinking too much in the local Shona language, roughly translated in depression and anxiety) according to the 14 questions we went through . Opening up about the beatings was something that l had not done before to anyone, because l felt l was not man enough, but Ambuya Utano (the Lay Health Worker) was able to create an environment where l felt safe and understood, she just nodded and shook her head, she didn’t laugh or raise her eyebrows and she told me she had a few men who talked similarly to her and that I wasn’t alone. To learn it wasn’t only me helped me to share, I found myself pouring out my agonies. For the first time l felt I was being myself, I was allowed to share the truth, it was different from sharing stories with friends where I needed to pretend all was okay and my wife was good and she was just visiting her mother for holidays.
As l was suicidal, one of the questions that the grandmother asked me really helped to make a smart decision of my life. She asked me if l had planned anything for those that were remaining behind since l was planning to take my life. I began to think about my children and realised how selfish l really wanted to be, l had nothing left for them, and I knew they needed a father, too many neighbours had lost a parent and one parent was not enough. From then on, l decided to go back home and keep looking for work, for my kids I wanted to show them not to give up but to keep trying.
I am thankful to Friendship Bench, l am alive today because of you. I am working hard today for my kids because of you. I have accepted myself and have inner peace because of you.
I have not looked for my wife yet as l have decided to work on myself first and prioritise the welfare of my kids. I would not know if we have separated or not as she moved out with her clothes, she is now living at her workplace. When the pandemic lockdown is lifted l will go to my in-laws to collect my kids. What will happen from there I don’t know but I can be living today and make changes for the future now.
*Names have been changed to protect clients anonymity and confidentiality