Tuesday, June 16, 2009
It's something I've always recognized and usually brought to the forefront during my years working with homeless families. Women are the backbone of society. I mean, we all know this on some level, if nothing else than to prove our own personal worthiness but it's worth stating.
We are the backbone of society.
I remember time and time again meeting women with children, women who were going hungry to feed their kids, women working three jobs to keep a roof, women huddled in cars doing their best to stay warm and keep their kids safe. But here, here in a place where comforts are less and work is harder and things don't magically appear from shelf to microwave to table, here it's a whole other sort of backbone. Backbone times two. Everyday life here is consists of a lower poverty level than any client I'd ever met in the States.
Many households here are headed by single mothers. The family structure is different, here folks will live with all sorts of extended family members in the home, be it grandma or nephew or sister but two parent households are not the norm. It's one of the great issues here, children growing up not knowing their fathers and women having to scramble even harder to make it all work. And work is tricky too, most of the work for women here consists of housekeeping or cooking for tourism which often means they travel far and are gone for days at a time. My good friend, a woman who has lived here her whole life has been doing this for a long time, she travels part of the week for work and leaves her children in the care of relatives and whenever she comes back she says the same thing while she shakes her head there's nothing like having a mother in the home and it's true; when her kids are on their own things get slippery, when she's home there is always a pot on the stove and the place comes alive.
But it's a wicked catch-22. Stay at home and cook and clean and parent or go out and find a way to earn money so you can cook and clean and parent. One difference here is the village picks up the slack, folks keep an eye on other peoples kids and collectively keep them in line but it's still not the same because there is nothing like having a mother in the home. In the States we pay for the opportunity to work, we juggle childcare and perhaps housecleaning and two parent households divide up responsibilities but here it's looser, there is no safety net and we look to our neighbors to see us through.
Education is one of the solutions, but here is school is expensive and folks can't afford to send all of their kids. Often once the kids finish primary school they are unable to go on to high school, that costs even more so less than half of the kids in this country are in school past the age of 13. The ones that are lucky enough to go work their tails off to get good grades and graduate and are then facing another conundrum, there simply isn't enough work to go around and my gringa novice observations tell me that even then the best jobs goes to the boys.
My village friend has had a dream for a long time, a dream that will allow her to be home and to make money. She has long wanted to open her own little restaurant out of her house, a place that offers good local food that she can cook out of her home. She's a terrific cook, she's shown me how to make all sorts of local dishes from fry jacks to salbutes, beans and rice. She longs for this and even though it's not a lot of money it's more than she can save while being responsible for a household of kids. I fantasize about this along with her and have even looked into micro lending, something that is hard to come by here unlike other places in the world but so far it's coming up zeros and it will continue, this wicked circle game full of women holding up the shoulders of the world until their knees give out from the weight of it all.