As the Planet Rotates

My friend Grant, also a member of WCI’s Board of Directors, is visiting Baraka Center in Nairobi. He went to see about the ladies for whom his consistent generosity has been a major enabling factor. He wanted to share with them his love of geography and astronomy and dance. The word comes back that the warmebos have a new favorite son.

One woman asked: “Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?” I could not remember when this piece of knowledge was installed in my mind. I’m sure I was a child. This set me to thinking about the gift of education, how its denial has been a source of shame and vulnerability for women young and old.

Fifty-five ladies come weekly, if not daily, to the Center for the splendid and taxing journey of mining human knowledge. For at least twelve learners, the 30-cent bus fare quickly became a deal breaker. Their choice was ‘Eat or Learn.” The staff and I squeezed travel stipends (a total of about $130/month) out of the Center’s never-enough budget. We’ll figure out how to make it up next month.

With barely a pot to piss in, Baraka members are generous with each other, pooling what they could for a gift to the family of Teacher Sarah, whose mother passed.

They’ve formed groups named Global Women and Digital Women and Precious Women Self-Help Group to support each other’s businesses. They envision bakeries and mushroom farming and mango exporting – dreams they now feel strong enough to describe out loud.

The 315 active members (of a total 572) support over 650 children, many as single mothers. They have that many reasons to succeed.

They show up at workshops to learn about HIV/AIDS and TB and other blights that weigh on their lives.

They celebrate with song and dance as often as they can.Group clapping

They’re clamoring to learn to use computers.

WCI and I serve as a catalyst for the changes these women want to embrace. Their achievements come sailing like bright kites in emailed reports. Of this I am sure: their genius in full flower will be a force of nature.

I have little interest in the notion of ‘saving the world.” This work simply is the right thing to do, given the odds stacked against women – poor women in particular. I’ve grown fevered about seeding this model based on two obvious (to me) truths. Women are stronger together. They are even stronger in a seedbed of opportunity.

History is rife with breakthrough ideas and partnerships rising despite (because of?) popular indifference during the early goings. WCI is just two years into its successes, still nearly invisible. Every day I ask: who are allies and where’s the money? Every day, I’m on the search. Life is full.

The Possibilities in Disappointment

 Sometimes I get disappointed. I feel it slither inside me when people don’t return phone calls or emails, leaving me to wonder how much energy can it take to type ‘Yes, got it’ or ‘No. Too busy” and hit ‘send’? I figure you make time for what’s important. It’s disappointing to be reminded in this small way of my unimportance.

I’m disappointed  (baffled!) when WCI’s donors don’t respond after news of successes or, more distressingly, after urgent requests for help to keep the good news coming.

I find it disappointing when people don’t bother to do their work guided by a standard of excellence. Life is short. Why piss away an opportunity to shine?

A recent disappointment provoked this train of thought. Last year, I’d submitted an essay for inclusion in an anthology by a women’s network purportedly dedicated to “leaving no woman behind.” The essay got accepted and I got a release to sign. I questioned why the writers (all women) had to sign away every right to their work without any compensation. I was informed that the last anthology made no money and this one likely would fare no better.  I could sign the release or be removed. So I signed.

At the recent book debut party, I discovered that my essay had not been included. Not a word of this from the editors. The readers at the event had not  been given even a complimentary copy – the minimum professional courtesy in publishing. And by way of introduction, the editor declared the previous book has been “well received” and a “bestseller.”

I care less about publication than about the business of ‘handling’ writers. It matters that we be treated with a modicum of respect accorded to other useful human efforts. Are women writers so undervalued as to feel flattered when their words end up a book without any compensation beyond “having our voices heard?”  Banks don’t honor that currency.

Perhaps I’m obstinately naïve, but I take it harder when dissed by women, from whom I expect at least a nod of consideration as sisters in a common struggle. Of course the dangerous word here is expect. Who am I to expect? Life is full of obligations pulling us from all sides.

Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth) offers a way to triumph over disappointment. I paraphrase:

Take your life’s situation AS IF it had been your intention – not literally, but AS IF it had been your intention. With that, you evoke the participation of your will to look for the possibilities in your situation.

So, I move on. I forgive real or imagined slights. I keep on my path, mined as it is with distractions and rejections. I’ve got enough allies to keep me fueled. And surely more will show up. There’s grace and serendipity in a life lived with intention to explore possibilities – without expectations.

Euphemism that oughta die

It’s my new side gig – railing against words and phases that have risen like pretty poison mushrooms on the fertile ground of humanitarian-speak.

Innovate. Introduce something new! We’re all seduced by ‘new’ – as if the old known and workable stuff we already have is not good enough.

When a mind can integrate – meaningfully – the pieces of known ideas scattered all around, can power ‘em up by making connections, then we got genius – and not the IQ kind. See the Helsinki Bus Terminal Theory. And stay on the bus.

Social entrepreneurs. (Let’s throw in Hipsters and Creatives). A sort of public masturbation with words, good for showing off, sounding important, forming cliques, but way too precious and ironically, isolating.

Social actors. This phrase shows up in application for grants to support development programs. (I wonder at the minds hammering out these dizzying documents, relentless in their quest to find new word orders for same information.) For me, ‘social actors’ conjures visions of auditions for improv theater. What’s wrong with people – men women, children, cops, politicians, donors, and bureaucrats?  Even ‘stakeholders’ is better.

Gender-based Violence. Gender is a polite word used in applications for credit. Adding the ‘–based’ neutralizes it with clinical detachment. SEXUAL add VIOLENCE and you begin to acknowledge the horror adulterating the lives of too many women and girls.

Social media. An oxymoron. What electronic media is not social? We’ve got chitchat masquerading as personal relationships. But, on rare occasions, you do have a shot an unexpected connection.

Recently, I was crazy enough to consider a UN “Call for Proposals,” those lobotomies on paper where the same question is posed in five different ways, each of them rife with terms like ‘social actors” and ‘innovations’ to ‘fill the gaps’ without ‘duplication of efforts.’

The answer I wanted to give (but passed on the whole project): The world is awash with human beings in need; duplication of efforts seems improbable. Visit a slum, get the stink of fear and desperation up your nose, ask what people need, and come through for them. Talent is everywhere. Distributing opportunities to use it is the task at hand.

For extra points: the word ‘Don’t’ – not euphemism but a point of view. Consider all the knee-jerk messages we all put out  starting with ‘Don’t.’For a whole week, practice re-stating every one of them as a positive statement. It’ll take some effort, conditioned as we all are to discourage rather than to inspire.

Stay safe. Make those tackles. Remember to call your mom.