Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ordinary woman 

When I read about the amazing courage of ordinary women, it is both humbling and inspiring. Here is a story from Devilstower at Daily Kos:
Here, let me tell you a story of someone I knew. Someone who made her life so light that in comparison I might as well be living under a rock.
She worked with me a few years ago, at a time when our office was going through one of its regular interludes of pointless but frenetic activity. In the midst of hundreds of people hurrying to "reform business processes" or "transform the supply chain," she was a Zen breeze. She came, and she went, with remarkably little "stuff." No house, no car, next to no furniture in her small apartment.
While the rest of us fretted about where we would work when this company recovered from its bout of mania, she was pondering a question of another sort: what were the lives of women like around the world? Not glamorous women in metropolitan hot spots, but ordinary women in ordinary lives. What did they think? What did they feel? What did they hope for?
So one day, she walked away from the job, reduced everything she owned to the contents of one small backpack, and went to find out.
She went first to Haiti. She shared a night in a hotel there with a woman from France who had won a ticket to anywhere in the world, and picked Port au Prince from a map because it was in the Caribbean and the name sounded pretty. Then she spent six weeks living with a family in a ramshackle home on a muddy slope. She helped with the chores, played with the children, attended a wedding, spent the long nights talking, and left with a larger family than she'd had when she arrived.
She repeated this experience In Macedonia at a time when eating dinner outside meant seeing the flash of bombs falling in the distance. She crossed China on a train where her ticket didn't allow her to sit down, clutching a piece of paper that had an address she could neither read nor say. She lived with families in Moscow, in Delhi, and Phenom Phen. She greeted the new year at the temples of Angkor Wat. My favorite picture of her is one in which she is defiantly removing her headscarf in front of a huge painting of the Ayatollah Khomeini on the streets of Tehran.
If all this sounds like the indulgence of a wealthy American, let me hurry on to the end of the trip. Eventually, she came to Africa and by train, and car, and on foot, found herself in Zimbabwe. The arrangements she'd made to stay with a family there fell through, but at a time when the country was in turmoil and even diplomats were being removed for their safety, she didn't leave. Instead, she took a job working at an orphanage. There she worked with the older kids, the ones no longer babies, the ones who at two or three still could not walk because they'd never had a chance to try.
Most of the children she worked with were thought to have AIDS. It was assumed that their short lives would involve only a crib and a coffin. It was also thought that, after so long without contact, these children would never be able to love. But when she looked at one young boy, she thought she saw a spark. She thought he has suffering from hunger and neglect, but only from hunger and neglect. She thought he was something special. The more she worked with him, the more she thought he was an amazing survivor in a terrible place. She took him from his crib and into the sunshine. She taught him to walk, play, and love. And she loved him in return.
She asked to adopt the child, but was refused. Zimbabwean law was strict on allowing adoptions by foreigners. So she stayed in Zimbabwe. Stayed long enough to apply for citizenship. Stayed long enough to badger the courts into agreement. Stayed until she won her adoption and got her child.
Then, in the dark of night, she took her new child in her arms and like thousands of other refugees fleeing violence and starvation in Zimbabwe, she walked across the border.
I've only seen the child once. He was laughing as he ran around a park in St. Louis, deliriously excited by water tumbling from a fountain. She looked just the same after all her journeys. Slender and beautiful, with blue jeans and a backpack, a half smile on her face as she watched her son. Just the same as I remembered when I would see her sitting on a park bench at lunchtime, reading Walden, or a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
They're in the United States now. She has an ordinary job again and a child to raise, but I'd bet that her life is not heavier, not even by a gram. She went to discover something about the lives of women, and she found it.

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