Molia Namukoko suffered from fistula for 22 years, ashamed of how the urine flowed so freely, so she would just stay at home.
She never felt pain, she said, but urine used to come out all the time.
It was in 1996 when Molia was pregnant with twins during her seventh pregnancy that she developed fistula. Her mother was a traditional birth attendant, so the first twin was delivered at home. But the second one was delivered at a rural health center and was obstructed. The baby ended up being a still birth.
After the delivery, she sat on a bike and noticed she was wet.
“I didn’t realize what it was,” she said, adding that she later went to bathe and urine started dripping down her legs.
Living in Mweneuyuzi village in Mafinga District, which is right across the border from Malawi, she tried to get treatment in that country but was told to return to Zambia. She returned and her mother would try traditional herbs to heal her, but nothing ever got better. Sitting in cold water every morning was another technique she tried to no avail.
Finally, she received the message she needed this year. Her aunt works at the rural health center and met Fistula Foundation’s program officer for Mafinga District. Molia was taken for an inspection with a nurse, and once it was confirmed she had fistula, she was taken to Mbala Hospital for treatment in September 2018.
“I knew I would get better,” she said.
These are powerful words from a woman who was often ostracized as a prostitute during her more than two-decade struggle with the injury. Villagers used to accuse her of sleeping around and thought that was the cause of the leaky urine. This caused her to become depressed and she would cry a lot. Her husband left her and she remarried a second man who took on a second wife, further causing her to feel inferior.
Kneeling in her thatched-roof hut surrounded by her husband and mother, she spoke about the celebration her family threw when she returned home after surgery. They cooked a mountain of food and her mother even had her sit on her lap to confirm she was dry.
“I tried all the herbs I knew, but I failed, so I was just praying for my daughter,” her mother, Enesi Nakaiva, said. Her mother recalled how the whole house used to smell of urine. Her mother even became depressed watching helplessly as her daughter tried to live with the condition.
“Life was very difficult because during community meetings Molia would just sit in isolation at the far end,” Enesi said, adding that she hardly slept, worrying so much about her daughter.
Molia’s husband, Dixon Kaonga, said he’s very pleased with how the surgery turned out.
“I never thought she was going to get better because she lived with it for so long,” he said.
This story was written by Kristi Eaton in 2018 for Fistula Foundation’s Writer in Residence program.