On Motherhood & Sanity


Friday, February 27, 2015

more on field work and gender



Because of the nature of my work, I'm usually  either in the field or working from home. While at home I only interact via Skype and email with the outside world, so for  the most part I keep it, let's say, business casual, with emphasis on the casual.  In an unusual turn of events I was asked to support some work at UN HQ.  I am happy to report that I was able to locate  a pretty decent black suit at the bottom of the closet. My 7 year old's son response to seeing me come down for breakfast in a full suit -as opposed to jamies-  was priceless:

son with bewildered expression: "why are you wearing that?"

me: "remember I told you I would be working in an office this week, like daddy?"

sister, on natural speed (as usual): "yes! remember? she is going to the office, like daddy. Coming home late, like daddy"

son, still unconvinced: " but do you have to wear that?"

me: " yes, when you go to the office you have to wear a suit"

sister bouncing around in the background "yes, like dadee, like dadee"

son, still clearly bewildered "even if you are a girl?!"

and that's when it hit me. He had taken our style choices (suit vs pjs) as linked to our  genders as opposed to our work environments.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I can't breath


I’ve worked hard for 10 days straight and finally get a day off. I’ve flown for over 24 hours and driven on  a beat up jeep for miles on end. I am beat and getting what is probably the best massage of my life. Earned and deserved. And then my mind wonders over to yesterday and puts things painfully into perspective.

I’ve worked in the development sector for over 14 years now, but until yesterday I never had a “beneficiary” cry during an interview. And it wasn’t even one, it was the whole lot. The translator turned over to me and said “they are all crying now” as if it wasn’t painfully evident.  As if that needed translation. I wanted to get up and hug her, but the table, the chairs, the computer, everything was in the way, and then the moment passed.

I’ve met women who’ve survived war, sexual abuse, domestic violence….  But my questions always revolve around “the project”. Yesterday I just asked about the old days, what was it like to be a woman. They recounted how the women looked after the house, the children, the agriculture and livestock, as well as cleaning and all other tasks.

“and the men?” I asked

“their job was to sleep and to order the woman around.”

The women could not leave the house nor look a man in the eye.  (This puts into context what a female politician said a few days back about how now a days women gave good speeches  with eye contact). She continued to tell me how the mother in law would cook tasty food for the husband, the children, for her, but not for the wife. The wife could only eat what was left over from the husband’s plate. “We are sold onto marriage”  was another woman’s response when I asked why she stopped studying when she got married “doing something for yourself is unthinkable”.

And the woman who broke down in tears, her story, she had served her husband tea and asked if she could have some. In response to such an outrageous demand he had proceeded to kick and beat her.

And here I am, getting a massage. It stings. It stings more when I think how back home women continue to beare an unequal share of the household work and the childcare, even if they are working full time. How women are paid  70cents to a man’s dollar. So far ahead and still behind. How everyone –myself included- keeps telling my daughter she should be softer and sweeter.  And I can’t help but wonder if we would hold a boy to the same standard. Then my mind drifts to the protests on the TV and truly, I can’t breath. The world seems rife with systemic injustice and it is too much to bear. For the first time I think maybe I should stop my work and go into politics. Fight for women’s rights in “my world” instead of hiding behind other’s struggles. Part of me feels like I owe it to them. Another part  is glad I am here because they received the news of our visit through the women’s group, and the men did not believe them. They did not believe important things could be transmitted through women. “even yesterday they did not believe them” says the translator. But we came. “They feel like today they won”. At least there’s that.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dreams of Africa



Zimbabwe



The earth here is not as red as in the East Africa I know, but it still rumbles under your feet, rebelling to preconceptions and to the meters turned into kilometers of telephone poles and cables I am not used to seeing in the “African landscape”.  Many things in Zimbabwe are not how I expected. But then again, I don’t know truly what I had expected. How could I draw a picture in my mind when all I knew was of politics and polemic?

I cannot, and I have no interest in trying. I am old enough to know my eyes can lie and seeing does not immediately mean I get to understand. My tale is another. One of a school bus filled with young and old, musicians, academics and other culture related practitioners charged with safeguarding the history, or rather, their story. As soon as we set off the mbira begun to weave us into it’s dreamy melody. Mild clapping came and went as did song, discreet, almost shy, with no defined end or beginning, just like a dream. As the bus moved on the earth around us was weaved into the story, reminding me of the innate human desire to create. The dream woke my dream up. That desire to grow roots from my groins, to nurture the seed that gives birth to the fruit. It made me want to sing and write. It made me see the light, the clouds, the colors and the sounds  around me with the other eye, the one that falls asleep when we are not paying attention. It brought me back to my own slumber and its dreams, usually kept hidden from me as secrets of the night, now laid bare under the African sun but still incomprehensible.

We danced and shared secrets like school children, while actual school children pointed and laughed at the color of my skin, calling me names that had no ill intentions. They told me of the rain maker that was able to stay dry, except for his feet, the clouds going out of their way to keep it that way. They told me of the ceramic pots left by no one, in the middle of nowhere, so that they could stop to eat during this long dry walk, and of stones that called out their names to share with them bits of their futures.  They told me of their childhoods immersed in instruments, and of early Sunday mornings when that child, now the community’s grandpa, is woken up by the children who try to steal his stories.  They sang about the white man and how his wagons brought with them an inexhaustible source of peanut butter.


They photographed me with as much curiosity as much as I did them. Then the bus stopped, the music stopped, I got off and we woke up.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

as we bid farewell....



to all that was good and all that was bad.

forever now, a part of us.

Best wishes to all in the new year. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Bubble- November Family self portrait




***
Like all the planets in this universe,
Like gas fighting for freedom in a glass of water,
I see you in the ballooning bubblegum emerging from the child's lips;
In the eyeball, eyeballing its loving object;
In the raindrop whose parachute has failed.

You are elemental, primal, visceral.
You take my words and suspend them over my head.
You bounce, roll, float and pop.

Take me in your void,
Suck me in your shelter
And protect me from the rough edges of life.


***
The family self portrait  project started in January 2011. 
I take one portrait of the whole family, myself included, once a month.  
The poem is a 2013 addition by a "ghost" writer

Every family should do this. 

In late 2013 a "ghost" writer joined the initiative and now each photo is accompanied by a poem.

To see previous months click on the links below:


***


Thursday, December 18, 2014

soul carrying rivers- photo post


This was hands down the most intense experience of my visit to Nepal. I don't think I had a right to be there and it felt wrong to be a witness of something that in our culture is  considered so private, but, still an incipient tourism industry, you can pay a small fee to access the temple where the bodies of the dead are traditionally and ceremonially  burned before their ashes are thrust to the river, whose job is to secure their soul's journey. I have always felt that this is the most beautiful (albeit not the most ecological) way to dispose of our dead.  I'll post more photos as I have time to process them -and my own thoughts on the visit.