At a recent meeting, I was introduced to the term rematriation. Hearing the word sparked the further realization of how steeped in patriarchal terms our language is. The backlash resonates. Only fairly recently we’ve seen the inclusion of a gender designation after name on various online platforms. However that may solve somebody’s issues, I don’t need to know – and why would anyone insist I do?
We’ve accepted a culture of aggressive winning, with attendant violent words and phrases: conquer, annihilate, slap down, beat, vanquish. Sports in particular relish this vocabulary. There are no friendly competitions. Too much money and power at stake.
Also consider the rampant use of negatives, from the quotidian “Don’t forget”, “Don’t be late” to the more chastising: “Don’t quit” or “Never Leave a Fallen Comrade Behind”. Our brains withdraw from warnings and shaming but tend to hold on to positive input like “Stay Safe” and “I know you’ll do your best” and “Bring everyone home.” See Woman Warrior Code.
It’s a life practice to examine our words. They have enormous power. Wielding that power for better or for worse is our choice.
My blog identifies me as a Warrior for Women. By my own reckoning, I’ve lived an accomplished life. However, a visceral part of me still believes I am ‘less than’ men. After all these years, I’m still boxing my way out of the thorough early conditioning women – in all cultures – receive. I have to remind myself often that I’m an exceptional contributory woman.
We women have learned to live with too much shit: being talked over, dismissed, underestimated, objectified, underpaid, and dictated to about our bodies. We face the likelihood of violence at school, work, home, and on the streets. We risk our physical and/or emotional safety every time we dismiss a man. Our culture also perversely messages us that if we embrace feminism, we’ll wind up rejected, suspected, crazy.
We’ve lived with all of this as if it’s normal, but it cannot continue. Many earlier battles for women’s rights have been hard won. Many still require a fight – with an elevated fighting ethos. A Warrior Code informs how we organize, resist, and disable the forces that threaten our sanity and innate power.
Rather than reinvent long-standing codes, I’ve studied traditional (men’s) codes with an eye to molding them to womanist sensibilities. A Warrior Woman Code looks like this:
Foundational Virtues: courage, loyalty, and integrity.
Operational Code – recast for women:
Mission first. A woman’s biological mandate is to mother healthy, productive human beings. This requires tactical and logistical prowess: support the unfurling of a child’s unique purpose and gifts while defending them against predators, exploiters, and craven assholes. The same applies for our human mission, which may not include childbearing but which will always include some element of nurturing.
Plan to win (formerly: Never Accept Defeat). We may be tired and distracted, but together we are invincible.
Persevere (formerly: Never Quit). Sustained self-care and unity stokes the courage to advance.
Bring everyone home (formerly:Never Leave a Fallen Comrade). Women have a LOT of fallen comrades. The 700+ million stranded in extreme poverty, believing no one is coming for them, must have the tools to rise. The status of the poorest and least fortunate shapes the status of all. This belief compels me to advocate persistently for the global adoption of the Women’s Center Model, informed as it is by the ‘least fortunate’ women.
Elevating women, bringing them home to the sisterhood, requires seismic attitude shifts. Women’s Centers are base camps for this transformation. The Woman Warrior Code is how we suit up. I’m always scouting for co-conspirators.
On a train, a sleek steel behemoth on rails, you witness the sprawl of California through a different lens – if you take the time to look. On Amtrak ‘s San Joaquin route 714 on a January day, I watched the flash frames of urban squalor, coastal majesty, and then the aggressively agricultural heart of the state…
Rusted, gutted cars like metallic warts in a homeless encampment under a concrete overpass.
A freight train on a parallel track zip by hauling dozens of shiny silver tankers. Sometimes matte black or dirty white, they seem like torpedoes ready to detonate.
To the East, sensuously verdant hills bathed in mist. Everything green again with the Rains.
To the West, the northern San Francisco bay in all its flashing glory.
A marsh hemming an estuary where scaups and saddleback ducks, and hundreds of other seabirds skitter and dunk for lunch.
A pile of junked cars. Someplace like that is probably where my late Beetle ended up, cursed with a blown-out engine.
A neighborhood park with clever play structures just a stone’s throw from family homes. They are up close to the train’s rumble and bleat every day.
Garish graffiti shouting out from walls and bridges: “I have nothing better to do with my talent and this paint.”
A motor home park,. Do the residents love the auditory muscle of trains so close?
Another slum with shanties abutted to ruined cars, garbage heaped and strewn. Who can cope with this pissy chaos and retain sanity?
Big rigs cozied up to all the little maws of a vast distribution center.
Road detritus. My foraging habit triggered but denied.
A solar farm covering acres with pale blue panels. Glad to see progressive energy solutions!
Spikey Mediterranean cypress. The habit of planting them like fences annoys me.
Tri-County bus yard. Why are so many parked here at mid-day?
Central Valley agribusiness opens up. Straight rows of trees, ribboned with green, as far as the eye can see. Huge irrigation pipeline feeding mature orchards, new orchards. Probably some kind of nut.
A palm tree orchard! I would live in such an oasis!
Stockton’s backside. Modest homes. Graffiti on too many surfaces. Strip malls intrude.
Full throated rain horn – probably the loudest sound produced on land outside of a war zone.
Abandoned ranches. Wondering when they skin cattle hides in the slaughtering process.
McMansions tucked beside pastures feeding horses, goats, and sheep. Agro junk courtesy of the ‘toss it out back’ school of rural living.
Velvet green fallow fields awaiting the plow.
Bee hive boxes scattered across a grassy field. Work to do soon.
Transmission lines suspended on robot-like steel towers.
Fresno station is delightfully old-school Spanish-inspired station at Fresno.
Though it was a four-hour journey from Oakland to Fresno, heading North, then East and South, I found the rhythm of the ride soothing. Got to see things normally invisible from the highway. But not many fellow riders. Americans made the mistake long ago of favoring overpriced cars and manic freeways to the simple elegance of interconnecting trains. Makes me miss Europe.
“We are responsible for our own ignorance or, with time and openhearted enlightenment, our own wisdom. We are responsible for ourselves and our deeds or misdeeds in our time and in our own space and will be judged accordingly by succeeding generations.” Isabel WilkersonCaste: The Origins of Our Discontent
Ultimately we are all bozos on the same bus, chained and enveloped by values and beliefs we inherited at birth. We had no say in the early goings of our life, but we were deeply imprinted with messages that pierced our sense of self.
Ms Wilkerson writes that In a world without caste, being male or female, light or dark, immigrant or native born, would have no bearing on what anyone was perceived as being capable of. I was astounded by her adept and moving interweave of stories, most of which wrenched my soul. Her insights offer incentive to engage in vibrantly re-crafting of how we see and relate to our fellow humans.
The experience of being ‘woke’ both terrifies and liberates. It requires becoming, daily, a devoted seeker of understanding. Rather than calling people out, we learn how to welcome them into our presence in this world. Inevitably that leads beyond acceptance to a kind of love.
Understanding our unique purpose, a place at which we feel no threat, disposes us to empathy, a catalyst for ‘woke.’ The courage to take that path we means we manifest the innate beauty of living together on an astonishing planet.
The bristling dominance of American corporations may sometimes obscure the fact that they plunder at least as effectively as governments in ‘less-developed’ countries (LDCs). In LDCs, bribery, tribalism, and family ties conspire to exclude small businesses from important supply lines. The economic crippling of family breadwinners – mostly women – becomes invisible from the meeting rooms of five-star hotels and government offices.
This dynamic shifted into high gear at the start of the COVID pandemic. Africa needed PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment). My particular interest is Kenya where I know some back stories of the country’s COVID response.
In April 2019, the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), the Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations (KNFJKA), and The Micro and Small Enterprise Authority (MSEA) formed a coalition. In Kenya’s COVID response, MSEA was tasked with forwarding Ministry of Health orders (for PPEs) to the MSEs and paying vendors when the masks were delivered. (The acronyms are dizzying.)
In a speech on 24 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0K6UfZVFvcE (forward approx. 8 minutes to the relevant section) Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta promised 1.5 billion shilling (about US$14 million) to enable the Jua Kali (informal workers) to take ‘center stage’ in the production of facemasks for the domestic and export markets.
Informal workers contribute about 83% of economic activity in Kenya. Anything that supports growth in this sector has a huge impact on the country’s recovery.
Since March 2020, money has poured into Kenya for COVID response through 99 initiatives whose ‘known worth’ is about $15 million. This came from the usual suspects in the ‘rescue industry’: International Monetary Fund, World Bank, African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, USAID, and the Gates Foundation, to name the biggest donors.
Billionaire Jack Ma delivered a boatload of masks, test kits, and protective suits. Other organizations and businesses made smaller pledges or donated goods. The majority of these funds have been funneled through the Kenya Ministry of Health. The primary expenditure area is “COVID Response.”
The Train Wreck Begins
Now we come to the Kenyan tradition of corruption (not that ours or any other country has clean hands). Speaking on August 10, 2020, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said he and President Kenyatta are determined to eliminate cartels in the Procurement Department inside the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, 42 MSE manufacturers throughout Kenya have, or can acquire, the capacity to meet the government’s goal of getting 24 million masks on the faces of Kenyans. Thirty-four of the small businesses (80%) are managed by women.
Vague ‘orders’ for face masks were sent to some businesses in May 2020. The specifications stated both surgical and reusable masks. Every potential vendor was required to get examination and approval of their production samples from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). These cost were not insubstantial. As of August 10, 2020, vendors still had not received requests for delivery, much less payment for finished masks. An actionable tender appears not to have existed or been mysteriously withdrawn.
Kenya Medical Supply Authority (KEMSA) Chief Executive Officer Jonah Manjari said on 2 March 2020 that the government had banned local manufacturers and distributors from exporting N95 and 3-ply surgical masks “to ensure the country has enough stock as part of its emergency plan.”
According to some manufacturers and distributors, the price in Kenya for a 50-pack box of face masks had shot up from about 200 shillings ($1.88 or 3 cents each ) before the coronavirus outbreak to nearly 1000 shillings (about $9.60 or 19 cents each).
In December 2020, KEMSA issued new specifications for masks, sized to fit young children. Contractors were directed to source materials from selected businesses. Sewing and other machines had to be acquired. About 30,000 adult-sized masks produced by one small business still sit in a store room. Despite many inquiries, no buyers have yet been found.
For any small enterprise, holding a lot of inventory seriously limits cash flow. Workers cannot be paid for any further work. That translates into families going hungry. Some lose their homes. (Kenya has not legislated eviction protection, even in the slums.)
Finally, in January 2021, a tender came through the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) for young children’s masks, in red, with a government logo imprinted, packaged individually then in lots of 500 per carton, and delivered to the Ministry for distribution. The price paid – about 31 cents per mask – did not allow small businesses to break even.
Enter the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAFA). From their FAQ: “A PPE initiative of over 30 organizations dedicated to protecting Community Health Workers on the frontlines of Africa’s COVID-19 response in 24 African countries [including Kenya]. Key objectives: Find an urgent unmet need…protect community health services delivery.”
This is a bad-case-scenario for Kenya’s MSEs and Jua Kali. CAFA would be sending imported Western or Chinese-made masks, thus further depressing demand and prices in Kenya. This ‘intervention’ undercut Kenya’s economic engines – the small businesses; they will have a hard time surviving more foreign ‘help.’
Predicting when the COVID chaos will be sorted is difficult if not pointless. However, the next couple of months offer a major “opportunity window” to grow Kenya’s PPE manufacturing capacity.
The livelihoods of thousands of women depend on a trifecta of unlikely triumphs: a successful probe of government corruption, the rooting out of illegal PPE distribution cartels, and limits on the sledgehammer assistance of “well-wishers.”
Without such systemic changes, small businesses will scramble to survive; the closing of many will have dire consequences, particularly for moms and kids. The virus and hunger prowl the poorest communities. Residents won’t be vaccinated until July 2022.
Kenyans claim to be sick and tired of their self-serving government.
Some of the ‘rescuers’ claim to understand how damaging their support of the status quo can be.
Where does the fight for better opportunities for Kenyans begin? And who walks point?