Divided
March 31, 2016

A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.

I have been exiled from my body. I was ejected at a very young age and I got lost. I did not have a baby. I have been afraid of trees. I have felt the Earth as my enemy. I did not live in the forests. I lived in the concrete city where I could not see the sky or sunset or stars. I moved at the pace of engines and it was faster than my own breath. I became a stranger to myself and to the rhythms of the Earth. I aggrandized my alien identity and wore black and felt superior. My body was a burden. I saw it as something that unfortunately had to be maintained. I had little patience for its needs.

For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the Earth. I guess you could say it has been a preoccupation. Although I have felt pleasure in both the Earth and my body, it has been more as a visitor than as an inhabitant. I have tried various routes to get back. Promiscuity, anorexia, performance art. I have spent time by the Adriatic and in the green Vermont mountains, but always I have felt estranged, just as I was estranged from my own mother. I was in awe of her beauty but could not find my way in. One gawked at my mother. One desired my mother. And so I gawked and desired the Earth and my mother, and I despised my own body. My body that I had been forced to evacuate when my father invaded and then violated me. I lived as a breathless, rapacious machine programmed for striving and accomplishment. I was driven. I called it working hard, being busy, on top of it, making things happen. But in fact, I could not stop.

As I had no reference point for my body, I began to ask other women about their bodies, in particular their vaginas (as I sensed vaginas were important). This led me to writing The Vagina Monologues, which then led me to talking incessantly and obsessively about vaginas. I did this in front of many strangers. As a result of me talking so much about vaginas, women started telling me stories about their bodies. I crisscrossed the Earth in planes, trains, and jeeps. I was hungry for the stories of other women who had experienced violence and suffering. These women and girls had also become exiled from their bodies and they, too, were desperate for a way home. I went to over sixty countries. I heard about women being molested in their beds, flogged in their burqas, acid-burned in their kitchens, left for dead in parking lots. I went to Jalalabad, Sarajevo, Alabama, Port-au-Prince, Peshawar, Pristina. I spent time in refugee camps, in burned-out buildings and backyards, in dark rooms where women whispered their stories by flashlight. Women showed me their ankle lashes and melted faces, the scars on their bodies from knives and burning cigarettes.

Then I went somewhere else. I went outside what I thought I knew. I went to the Congo and I heard stories that shattered all the other stories. In 2007 I landed in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. I heard stories that got inside my body. I heard about a little girl who couldn’t stop peeing on herself because huge men had shoved themselves inside her. I heard about an eighty-year-old woman whose legs were broken and torn out of their sockets when the soldiers pulled them over her head and raped her. There were thousands of these stories. The stories saturated my cells and nerves. I stopped sleeping. All the stories began to bleed together. The raping of the Earth. The pillaging of minerals. The destruction of vaginas. They were not separate from each other or from me.

In the Congo there has been a war raging for almost thirteen years. Nearly eight million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and tortured. It is an economic war fought over minerals that belong to the Congolese but are pillaged by the world. There are local and foreign militias from Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. They enter villages and they murder. They rape wives in front of their husbands. They force the husbands and sons to rape their daughters and sisters. They shame and destroy families and take over the villages and the mines. The minerals are abundant in the Congo—tin, copper, gold, and coltain, which are used in our iPhones and PlayStations and computers.

The Congo and the individual horror stories of her women consumed me. But I found something else here as well. Inside these stories of unspeakable violence, inside the women of the Congo, was a determination and a life force I had never witnessed. There was grace and gratitude, fierceness and readiness. Inside this world of atrocities and horror was a red-hot energy on the verge of being born. The women had hunger and dreams, demands and a vision. They conceived of a place, a concept, called City of Joy. It would be their sanctuary. It would be a place of safety, of healing, of gathering strength, of coming together, of releasing their pain and trauma. A place where they would declare their joy and power. A place where they would rise as leaders. The process of building was arduous and seemingly impossible. We were scheduled to open in May, but on March 17, 2010, they discovered a huge tumor in my uterus.

Cancer threw me through the window of my disassociation into the center of my body’s crisis. The Congo threw me deep into the crisis of the world, and these two experiences merged as I faced the disease and what I felt was the beginning of the end. 

This article originally appeared in the A.R.T. Guide, published by the American Repertory Theater.

Also in this Guide about In the Body of the World:

Author:
Eve Ensler
Publication date:
March 31, 2016
Events:

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