Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the universal backbone

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.

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15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even with fathers day coming up, I was thinking the exact same thing last night as I struggled to hold my daughter as I cooked dinner. I am the backbone that keeps all this going. I work full time and I have since my a week before my daughter was born and 7 weeks after. My husband works offshore and is gone for months at a time so I am like a single parent a lot just trying to make my daughter feel sucure in just me. Its so hard sonetimes I long for help but I have such a hard time asking and mostly there is no one to ask. I could not imagine leaving her for days to go work, I guess I am blessed I get to be with her at night and on the weekends. Mom really does have the hardest job but I think its also the most fulfilling anf rewarding. Great post.

Jenny said...

So, so, SO true. My mom is a single parent and worked herself crazy to raise strong women. My mother-in-law went through hell and high water to get her kids out of a war zone and into a safe country only to find out that things can be really tough here in the U.S., too. But she keeps going.
Thanks again for reminding me how lucky I am and how easy I have it. And for reminding me that I can always do more to help someone else.

Bon said...

i think it's the systemic biases, particularly strong when there's no safety net, as you say, but present even here in the privileged north, that strike me as the most universal. whether they create that strength out of necessity or whether it is inherent, i dunno. but this made me think.

Omaha Mama said...

I'm glad I come here to read. It keeps me grounded and grateful, as my kids finish their shelf to microwave to table lunch before taking their air-conditioned naps.

Something you haven't mentioned yet and I am curious - homelessness in the jungle? Does it exist? I thought of this as you were writing about safety nets. I can't even imagine the poverty you refer to here, I wondered if it's an issue.

Magpie said...

Kiva? Does Kiva work there? Maybe that could be something you could work towards, if they don't.

And you're right about the women.

maggie, dammit said...

Yes.

flutter said...

so how much would it be? maybe we can come up with a group of investors...

Lara said...

I was thinking like flutter...

what can we do? there has to be something we can do.

what will it take?

Krysti said...

I found you through Holly @ Cold Spaghetti and like Omaha Mama, I am so glad I come here to read. You have an amazing voice. You talked about the family structure and two parent households being the exception. In my ignorance, I wonder if and how the structure has changed over time... are single parent households the new norm or a long-standing one?

And yes, as with so many things you say, you are right about the women.

alejna said...

Such food for thought. You always help me put things into perspective.

It would be great if something like Kiva could work down there for women like your friend. What makes microlending hard to come by in that part of world? Is there some sort of infrastructure present in places where it goes on that's lacking where you are?

canwekickthebarhere said...

I don't understand why no Kiva there...there must be a compelling reason.

The only good that comes from all this weight is that collectively, we are a strong bunch ~ I wonder what we can come up with?

Arleen said...

This might be an organization worth checking out.

Trickle Up

Bleached Blonde Babbles said...

What dollar amount does it take? We, the moms, are ready to take action. We want and need to know.....

krista said...

hey jen. this might seem somewhat unrelated...but i know a girl (friend of a friend) who started a company helping women in third world countries and...well, i don't know what the 'and' is but here is a link to her website:

http://www.globaldaughter.com/pages/about_us.html

i just feel there is a connection to be made somewhere in between here and there.

Maison Luxe said...

I read and love your blog. I would also love to help, how and what do you need? What does your friend need to start her restaurant? Let's make it happen for her! Tell us what to do, I bet you'd be overwhelmed with the response.

We are so rich in the U.S., we can all spare something, even a tiny amount, which seems like it might make a big difference for the women in your village.