Sisters in the Shadows

Written in April 2013

In one of the most painful and astonishing years of my life, I’ve learned two real kick-in-the-stomach lessons:

The “No Donkey in the Ditch” Rule

When you develop and launch a vision for a project, you must insist always on the highest possible standards for problem solving. It is the elemental nature of The Work. A big vision will not tolerate half-assed solutions on the road to full expression.

The “Wrinkles Rule” Rule

I’m mightily relieved to know there are places in the world where advancing age accrues social benefit. Traditional (though somewhat eroding) Kenyan reverence for the wisdom and pace of elders informed me that I’ve been no slouch about learning the ropes of humanitarian work. In fact, at 61, I’m damn sure of the exceptional quality of my wisdom. So kudos to Kenyans for enabling this insight. That said, I also endorse firmly sidelining an elder who’s a self-absorbed grouch, autocrat, cleptocrat, or general pain the ass – in order to reinforce the best of this tradition.

Working in Africa, where the sublime and the wretched flow side by side on horrific roads, spending my days with people whose practicality and humor I adore, always leaves me saturated with wonder and bewilderment. Though my soul finds grace in its spiritual home – Africa – my mind roils at circumstances so vastly degraded from what I’ve lived. I know the women (in Nairobi) struggle to view any potential for their lives.

Still, we are all women and in that have much in common.

In general, we think first of our children and their welfare, even above our own.

We know we are vulnerable to the random casual brutality of men.

We’ve learned to carry our traumas secreted in the locked closets of our thoughts, or to dull, but not obliterate, them with alcohol or drugs.

The woman in us who can do anything is powerful beyond imagining; still we are learning together how to become her.

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Remediation

The massively unmet needs of poor women, particularly black women, have fueled my thinking since I began working in Africa two decades ago. In my hometown, Oakland CA, I see as little progress stanching the pain.

Over the last eighteen months, I’ve grown more intimate with the realities of the sisters’ piled-on issues. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, breast cancer, addiction, abuse (historic and current), custody battles, low-wage quicksand jobs – because finishing high school never happened.

owc-logo-colorHealing the accumulated trauma requires a lot of courage. And support.

Every woman’s gotta pitch in to bring up every other woman.

Then we actually can reshape a vibrant future around what women are uniquely capable of doing. We are so much more than we’ve learned to be.