Three years ago, she was jovial, calm and eager to assist. But the secretary has been edgy and introverted lately.
During a recent visit to her workplace in the Northern Region, she left her leather armchair, paced across her executive office and stopped by a louvred window.
Gazing through slit curtains at pine forests that exude a fragrance of frank incense, she unveiled her innermost struggle.
“Why me?” she pounded her chest while leaving the curtains. “The girl with strange sexual feelings is my daughter, a child I carried for nine months. I stand by her. ”
In her soliloquy, she repeatedly shook her head as if to shed a burden wrecking her mind.
The burning issue
Reverting to her chair, she disclosed being gutted by confessions of her 20-something year-old daughter who terminated plans to marry her long-time fiancée, saying she no longer has feelings for men.
“At 18, she confided in me that she was experiencing lesbian feelings. Shockingly, she had a boyfriend whom she planned to marry. But she said she was disoriented from men,” she explained.
According to the mother-of-three, she reluctantly accepted the heartbreaking disclosure of her “smart, learned daughter” who holds a degree from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“She is my daughter. Obviously, she needed my support and understanding as she felt rejected in our society,” she narrated.
Better to die
This is the cultural shock experienced by guardians of people with strong sexual feelings for peers of same sex.
Society expects one to be attracted to partners of the opposite gender.
“For years, my daughter didn’t understand why she was feeling uncomfortable with her boyfriend while her friends were happily in love. She was suicidal. She tried to love, but it didn’t work. At times, she said it was better to die than live in shame. We kept ropes and drugs away from her,” said the secretary.
Her daughter was working with an international non-governmental organisation in Zomba where she earned three promotions in two years.
Said the mother: “I reluctantly accepted the situation. I informed her sister and brother what she was going through. Their reaction was: ‘So what? Life goes on’. I was happy, but distressed because I don’t know how to break the news to their dad.”
The young woman “on the verge of killing herself” has been undergoing rehabilitation sessions assisted by psychologist Dr Chiwoza Bandawe at the College of Medicine in Blantyre.
She also sees a pastor who regularly prays for her.
“Dr Bandawe and the pastor did everything to save my child. Apart from prayers and counselling, she needed depressants to sleep,” recalled her mother.
Bandawe says he sees “a good number of LGBTI clients” and most of them cannot stand a public backlash as homosexuality is criminalised and frowned upon. ”
The client in question had almost normalised when she was sacked for underperformance three weeks after submitting medical records to the employer who initially did not know why she was seeing a psychologist.
Her mother finds it incredible that the NGO terminated the contract shortly after being informed why she was seeking mental treatment.
“The medical documents were meant to explain why she was seeing a doctor, but it seems her bosses could not believe the fact that one could go to hospital without bring physically ill,” she said.
Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) has documented numerous rights violations against LGBTI people, including job losses.
Sexual minorities in the country often suffer job losses, beatings, evictions from homes and excommunication, says Cedep spokesperson Rodney Chalera
According to lawyer Mandala Mambulasa, the homophobic backlash mainly involves rights violations that could be settled in court.
But the distraught woman says: “As a parent, I stand by my daughter. I carried her for nine months and she needs my assistance.”