Category Archives: The World at Large

Women – what a wonderful mix

There are no limits on the number of fabulous women in the world.  In doing the research on my book, I am coming across so many women I wish I could focus more completely on but who don’t fit the parameters in my subject area . . . women who have gone through, traumatic, tragic experiences have become great and are doing great things as a result.

It has three parts. A tragic event occurs.  The person overcomes it or moves through it.  And because of the event (s), achieves greatness and helps others in the process. The thing I am experiencing is there are so many fabulous women in this world, doing remarkable things to help others.  Many are enabled by their status in the world to help whether they be celebrities who can attach their name to bring focus on a situation, or are from privileged or “normal” families and have not experienced the trauma of the magnitude I am looking for. To those, I have much admiration and gratitude for their services.

But I am finding these women who have been subjected to tragedies that would flatten most of us and went ahead to achieve brilliance.  Normal people faced with extraordinary experiences.  Women who have started out with hard lives faced more trauma, and gave their lives to making a better world for women or humankind.  I am humbled.

I look at these women and think of my own life, wishing I could have that extra something to do the things I always wanted to accomplish and never had the where with all or courage to reach out and work toward attainment.  But I am one of the millions who strive to do their best through their days, having ups and downs but walking onward.  Having little accomplishments that build upon each other.

Reading and writing about these women energizes me, fuels me.  Each time I find a new one I am like a parched and weary traveler who has found an oasis.  I drink of their accomplishments, of the terrors they have faced, of their energy and ability to sustain where others can only marvel.

Not to take away from men, but women desperately need leaders of their own sex to spur them onward, give them hope.  There are still too few true female leaders out there for us to latch on. They have to be world-renowned.  They can be becoming.  They can be carving out that nitch that needs exposing.  We can have History books devoted to what Women have achieved – about how History has been changed or impacted by the actions of Women.  Or, dare I say it, History books that equally represent the actions of women and men.

Take, for instance, Shirley Johnson in Tallahassee, Florida.  She began being raped when she was eight years old. At ten she became pregnant. At seventeen, she was the mother of six, married in name only.  By the time she was 27, she had 9 children with two husbands.  The first husband was the church deacon who was one of those raping her, whom she was forced to marry at age eleven.  She had to drop out of school when baby number six came along.  She was shamed and ridiculed within her church, the pastor of which was one of her rapists.  Her mother publicly accused her of lying about her attackers.

At age 56, she has found her voice.  She is fighting hard to make Florida become the first state in the Union to pass a law outlawing marriage, for any reason, before the age of eighteen. She is a caregiver, something she knows well how to do.  Nothing of privilege, she is only now receiving support in her endeavors from organizations for bringing the bill forward through the legislature.  To me, she is great.

It doesn’t take much to make a stand in this world.  You need only have a voice and be willing to use it.  You can be a ripple in the pond, sending other ripples outward.  Or be the butterfly’s wings in the Sahara that creates a hurricane in the Americas.  You can be like Mairead Maguire, who stepped out of her house to join a protest passing by and became a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work bringing peace first to Ireland and then to other countries.

It only takes a step . . . .

The Teeming Hordes

They come…the teeming hordes. Four thousand in one day and so many more to follow. Still, the debates go on, politicians spout their rhetoric, systems overflow. The answers? There are many and so few at once.

They are people,the same as you and me. Caught in a world they didn’t create. Chasing dreams or fleeing misery. Trapped at an imaginary line…thou shalt not cross.

In my twenties in New Jersey, I saw one person follow another on he long road to California. They had to go to the Promised Land. Six months later they’d come crawling back home, defeated. They were migrants of a kind.

Now, because of that imaginary line and another language, they are held to a different standard. The World is a much different place than in my twenties. Its gotten larger and smaller in one fell swoop. As we face global crisis’ of prejudice, violence, dominance, and misaligned monies, we are at once all peoples and none of the above.

Our politicians don’t want to let more people in, particularly those who come with hands extended in mute appeal. There are many with fear in their anger, wanting to separate, to hold onto what they have, always grasping for more. Many more who wave the flag with the colors of egoism and dominance – who fear that letting others in will leave them with less, even as we have low unemployment rates.

Our nation once held so much promise. In a land of immigrants, we have become exclusionary. We have so much to give. Yes, there are those who want, who go hungry or lack shelter but these are systemic woes that are to be addressed in every society.

What we are facing is a shift in cultural diversity…a sea change. Another language is more and more dominant. In our diversity, we are more insecure.

But this is a country founded on immigrants.. It is ironic, therefore, that we are such Separatists. We are undergoing a crisis of expectations over what our country is and who is in it. But everywhere in the world, this shift is happening.

Wherever there is wealth in comparison to other countries, immigrants are seeking new homes. Wherever people don’t have a voice, or money, or security, there will be conflict. In our country, those immigrants have reasons just as just as immigrants have always had. In fact, in many cases, they are even more just.

We have to learn to move over a bit…to welcome others in. At the same time we need to assist the countries they are leaving and make them more habitable. It is not a wall that we need but acceptance and political action.

We need to stop looking at this country as a static place. We have entered more fluid times. Unless we address the systemic problems of our southern neighbors, we will continue to face this influx of illegal aliens (a phrase full of exclusions in itself). The world is smaller, we need to look at ours as one continent as well as separate countries.

Until such time, we can be assured of facing more of the problems we are facing now. We have entered a new world order. It is time we stepped up to rationally address it with kindness and consideration.

tHE yAZIDI

The Yazidi people are finally moving back into their ancestral villages and towns. They are faced with the daunting task of rebuilding their lives. But the women will no longer have to sacrifice their bodies to the machinations of ISIS warriors. The men can reclaim their rightful place in their society. Children can go back to school.

Regrettably, whole generations have been decimated. Children have been killed, women sterilized and made sex slaves, men maimed, older people eliminated. They will have to piece together their psyches even as they rebuild the physical structures of their communities. And they will have to find new markets for their wares. Farmers will face hungry times as they replant and wait for the next harvest

Their numbers are depleted, but these people have a powerful spirit. They have been victimized over the centuries and have remained intact. Genocide is not a new state – they have felt its sting again and again. But…they are finally free to return to the places they love. They can begin to reweave the tapestry of their lives. It will not be easy but they have faced worse and they can again live life on their own terms.

Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church

My soul is screaming

what once was now desecrated

the known ripped bare

shackles embrace me

no reason to soothe

the whirling in my brain

yet this isn’t happening to me

this huge event

that ripped asunder

the fabric of the institution

still, it speaks

to prevailing sentiment

beliefs I stand against

politics I abhor…

what is the Church then?

a voice of welcome no more

it casts out those not tolerated

leaving thousands upon thousands

gasping through their pain

their only recourse

to find a new home

if their faith

hasn’t been stilled

by this reckoning

of injustice

 

 

 

United Methodist Church vote on LGTBQ

This week at the annual conference, the United Methodist Church voted to disallow gay ministers and same-sex marriages.  The Church was clearly divided, conservatives versus liberals and the vote was 46% to 54% in favor of the conservatives.

It turns out there was a political agenda in sway.  The African and international Church is growing even as the American Church is aging and dwindling.  The African Church is finding itself in competition with Islam in attracting new members.  As Islam is very conservative, the African Church is finding it needs to be equally so, this in spite of the fact that culturally, in some areas, homosexuality is well established.  And since the international community stands at 36%, the Church voted to stand by them.  This is especially true as the African Church is funded by the Conservative body.

There are so many fine, good, Godly people impacted by this.  What does this say to those gays already married?  And those who were planning to be?  How about the gays who are members?  How can you freely worship in a church that discriminates against you?   What about those people who have studied and prepared for the ministry for many years, only to find their work is for naught?  I know the Bible says homosexuality is forbidden but times have changed.  We now know homosexuality is not a choice but something you are born with in most cases.  It is not a sin.

My heart breaks for the homosexuals within the Church and those homosexuals searching for a church to call home.  They deserve better.  Especially as so much of this is politically motivated. This decision, still waiting Judicial approval (may it not be supported), is not just.

Widow Cleansing

It might seem I am Patriarchal in my viewpoint, but that is really not the case.  I am finding injustices against women and children in this world that cry out for change.  When I find them, I need to write about them.  I need to know and I think others might as well. No matter where these circumstances occur, they need to be exposed.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there exists a practice called widow cleansing. Widows are forced to have sex with the brother, or another relative, of her deceased husband. In some cases, men, called joters, are paid to do this.

The cleansing lasts from 3 to 7 days.  At the end, the woman must burn all her clothes and her head is shaved.  Should a woman refuse to undergo this process, she is cursed and held responsible for her husband’s death.  Her home and property might be taken away. In rural Kenya, widows are treated horribly.  They are considered impure and the cleansing is to chase away demons.  Women who resist run the risk of losing their children.

One of the relevant issues these widows face is that of contracting HIV/Aids.  ln an area where HIV/Aids is highly prevalent, this risk of contagion is real.  Professional cleansers are not tested for sexually transmitted diseases. In Kenya, few men live beyond age 40.

Widow cleansing is a patriarchal, superstitious process that is best dealt with through education.  As a result, it occurs in rural areas more than anywhere else.  When education occurs, cultural expectations shift and widows can heal.

Of course, some women choose to go through widow cleansing by choosing the partner who will cleanse them.  One woman I read about, in time fell in love with her professional cleanser, although the man said he might be a cleanser again if paid enough.  In Kenya, pay for a ritual cleansing runs about $260.  Compared to an average income of $13, the money is attractive. Widow cleansing is slowly being eradicated as education moves into rural areas.

 

Breast Ironing

In Cameroon and it’s diaspora including Britain, West Africa, Kenya, Chad and the Ivory Coast, there is a practice called breast ironing or breast flattening.  In Cameroon alone, 1 in 4 girls experience this cultural phenomenon in a survey of 5,000 women aged 10-82.  Of girls under nine, 50% have had this procedure.  Thirty eight percent of girls under 11 went through this act.

It happens mostly in urban areas where mothers are trying to prevent their pre-pubescent daughters from attracting sexual attention and rape.  Many of these mothers fear for their daughters, not even wanting them to go outside when boys and men are outside.

As girls eat a healthier diet, girls are developing breasts at an earlier age.  Surprisingly, this coincides with an increase in education and literacy.  Mothers try to decrease  sexuality so their daughters have a greater chance for being educated or simply because it’s perceived as a cultural expectation.

Breasts might be bound but more often ironing occurs.  Leaves, bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles or spatulas are massaged or pressed on the breasts.  In many cases pestles, hammers, or stones are heated over coals and pushed into breasts.  Teachers have identified when this has happened when the girls have bruises or are unable to raise their arms suddenly.

Breast ironing causes both physical and psychological damage.  Girls suffer deformities of the breast, scars, and an inability to breastfeed, leading to a higher incidence of infant mortality.  Cancer can also happen at younger ages.  One woman who had the procedure when she was young, died of breast cancer at age 24.

It continues to amaze me what damage is done due to cultural expectations.  Like FGM, girls are subjected to horrible, life changing acts in order to reduce male sexual appetites.  The consequences of this act last a lifetime.  Mothers need more education about the deleterious effects and standing by their daughters needs. Their fears need to be allayed.

 

 

Emancipation

I recently heard about a movement to change the constitution to read –  men and women. I think it’s a wonderful idea whose time has come. It is been a long time getting here.

Until women can feel that they are wholly a part of the legitimacy of society and men can understand that there is no such thing as supremacy over the opposite sex we will not have a truly equal society.

Lately it seems that we are faltering in the Me2 movement. Man after man are getting away with sexual harassment and shifting blame or fault back on their accusers.  I almost hate pointing this out because I believe there are many good men who have women’s best interests at heart.  But as one political situation after another rises where the man denies his deeds, saying the women are just trying to get attention, as our President would say, we steadily loose ground.

It is my fervent hope that we can right the injustice of our Constitution deleting half of our population without it becoming a circus of sexual orientation.  One is not the same as the other.  We are talking about the basic acknowledgement of the female sex… the honoring of what our species is born as, two sexes.  What people become is something different.  And it is something I respect.  It just doesn’t have a forum in this issue.

I am looking forward to supporting the movement.  It is the right thing to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umoja

I read, this morning, about a village in the Sambura region of Kenya that is inhabited only by women and children. Umoja women escape to the village to avoid the injustices of a strictly patriarchal society.  Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and polygamy are pervasive in the Sambura culture.   Girls are married off as second and third wives.  Children as young as 9 and 10 are pregnant.

Umoja women place a strong emphasis on education. Within the Sambura culture, illiteracy runs at 76%, mostly among females. Girls with education are viewed as role models.

The women finance the village both through making beaded necklaces and tourism, providing shelter to people going on nearby safaris. The monies are brought to the village matriarch, who disperses income to villagers based on the number of children in each family.

Villagers run in age from 98 to six months. When a male child reaches age eighteen, he has to move out. Sambura critics say the women are radical and anti- men even as they say men visit women at night.

I’ve often thought that living in a community of women would be a wonderful experience. There is a freedom not to be found in a patriarchy.  Certain  mores don’t exist. There is a tactic understanding that defies interpretation. My friends and I used to talk about living next to each other in a supportive, interactive, loving setting. I would love the experience of spending appreciable time in such a community.

Mission Work

Since I was 13, I have wanted to be a missionary.  I’ve felt a calling to work in third world countries, or wherever I was needed, for the betterment of others.  There’s also the growth I would experience,  something I wouldn’t want to pass up.

I’m being given the opportunity to help on an upcoming mission to Puerto Rico.  I still have yet to jump through the hoops but it looks favorable.  And if my skills don’t match up with this mission’s needs, there are other upcoming ones.  Being a mission volunteer is not the same as being a missionary.  Being a missionary means living in a particular location for months or years.  A mission volunteer provides service using particular skills for a week or two.

Also, there are missions that are two or more months long where you can work as a volunteer. This means I would be paying to be part of the experience.  Some of these missions definitely meet my skill set.  Working with children in orphanages, particularly children with special needs, is a natural fit.  I’ve worked with special needs kids in the past.  As a CNA, my skills might be useful in a medical arena. Working with the elderly, or teaching, are other avenues.

As someone who is a jack of all trades but master of none, I have learned many things which would be of help. There are many places where love is the main commodity, where compassion and a willingness to lend a hand with activities of daily living, homework, and hugs are more important than anything else.  This I can do.  As someone who chides herself on the lack of a specific career, this is something where my diversity of experiences actually helps.

The United Methodist New York Annual Conference has many opportunities available. My excitement about being able to finally give back is driving me forward.  If I do the legwork, this can surely happen.  My heart will be answered.