Hanife* was the third of three kunati (sisters-in-law) living in different levels of one house. Although she was intelligent, she had never been to school and was illiterate. She thought because she could not read that she was not good for anything. Perhaps deep down she was an artist – her favourite colour was green, and she had been unable to develop this talent. Her husband was very controlling: “Put the glass here, where I say, not there!” he would command.
North-Western Macedonia sadly, is strongly marked by generations of ethnic cleansing from neighbouring Kosovo. Hanife’s parents had been massacred during the Kosovo conflict. This trauma was compounded when, in the same season, one of Hanife’s three children had died in a swimming pool accident. It was during this time, 20 years ago, that Hanife’s health began to decline.
People told Hanife not to complain as she still had two children after all. She was not allowed to speak about what had happened or express her sadness. She was allowed to cry but no-one wanted to hear her words. All her pain and sadness were internalised. The trauma never left her body. Eventually, she was riddled with aches, unable to move her head and unable to sleep. It was as if Hanife was trapped in a cage, helpless to deal with her husband’s treatment of her and the trauma she had experienced.
“My health is gone because all the sadness is in my body,” she said.
Another kunata brought Hanife to Hope and Health. Here she was able to talk about her life, the trauma and shed her tears. The staff found Hanife to be a very sweet lady. After a couple of days of simple exercises, she arrived at the centre looking ashen grey and told us she had not slept all night. She was not able to turn her head, but, like a small miracle, this loosened up following prayer and she could sleep again.
Hanife was so excited at the improvement that she wanted to pray for the families of our staff too and for their difficulties. She was still in pain however and received hand massage which helped. She brightened when talking about her favourite colour as she liked talking about colours. Hanife's sadness remained, but she was having glimpses of happy moments, like cracks in the darkness where sunlight broke through.
Stress related illness is common, yet more so in regions with legacies of war, tragedy and lives which do not experience a lot of freedom. People need somewhere to put their pain and someone to collect their tears in a bottle. Hope and Health is a place where psycho-social and physical recovery meet. Here at least is a haven where people can be listened to in confidence, and where their unresolved grief can see the light of day.