Nepali Women’s Attitudes Towards Women

The Women at the Women’s Center, after singing the national anthem of Nepal

6 July 2011

I’m frustrated and depressed.   Most of the women at the center have never been to school or studied a different language, unlike their brothers and husbands.   They have been coming to English classes now for more than a year and still do not know how to conjugate the verbs “to be” or “to have,” not to mention any of the other useful verbs in the English language.  And then there is the problem of getting them to understand how to use the verb “to do” in combination with other verbs, as in “do you have a toothbrush?” or “she does not live at that address.”  If they cannot progress beyond this very rudimentary level, then how am I going to teach them to think critically about gender, which is what I imagined I would be doing with them?

I had this lovely fantasy of getting them to talk about their relationships with their husbands and their sons and daughters and asking them why they go along with certain customs.  For example, if the family is having meat for dinner, then usually only the men will get some.  Why do they regard women whose husbands have abused and abandoned them as fallen women?  Why do they think it is so shameful for a woman to get divorced? I had imagined having stimulating and revealing discussions about these and other, similar questions in class.

One of the women in the class is, in fact, divorced, but she doesn’t want any of the other women to know. This woman’s husband beat her before taking off and leaving her with three children.  She gets by on the earnings her 13 year-old son brings in.  She can’t reach out to her sisters for emotional support, because the women have internalized the cultural codes that stigmatize all women who have cut themselves off from their husbands.  The underlying, unconscious assumption is that women do not count in and of themselves, but have value only in relation to men, who alone have inherent value.  So, a woman who stands alone in society is valueless, without worth, and should be treated accordingly.  The very few Nepali women who have gone to college and established careers are beginning to challenge these assumptions, but they must fight their own and their families’ deeply-ingrained beliefs.  Women who marry work 40+ hour weeks and then cook, clean, and cater to husbands, sons, and father-in-laws.  Women who wise up and reject this drudgery are shunned.  It is an appalling situation that does no one any real good.

Rupus, June 30, 2011

He has been pestering Gehlu to let him go back to his auntie’s house since the moment he came into the orphanage.  Why?  He is six.  At the orphanage, he has to go to school every day and is never allowed to step outside of the small courtyard at his home.   In the afternoons, he had to sit with a tutor to catch up in school.

With his “auntie,” he runs through the streets with the other children and plays.  Here he is playing tag on the sandy mounds across from Sugandha’s house, where I live.  I can hear him laughing below my windows even now, as I write.

Gehlu had to let him go.  He won’t force a child to live where he doesn’t want to.  Also, once a kid states that he wants to leave he becomes a runaway risk.  And if a child escapes from the orphanage and gets lost, the state gets very suspicious and makes it harder for the institution to help children who really want to be rescued.

I don’t know what will happen to Rupus now.  Will he go to school?  Will he be loved?  He will probably not go to college.  He is happier now.  Will he be happier in the future?  Hard to say.  But now there is room for another child.

Nirmala very much wants us to bring her younger sister, who is three, to live with her and her sister, Krishala.  (By the way, Krishala got her medicine today because Maria brought it over.  She paid for it out of her own pocket.)   There is also an even younger sister, Moinjana, who is 1 or 2, still at home with their mother in Dolaka.  She sold or sent her older children into servitude after her husband, a drunkard, abandoned her.  He had only stuck with her because he was so desperate for a son.  After 10 daughters in a row, he left her.

Anura also has a brother, who is six, who is living somewhere.  Today Gehlu asked him if she wanted him to come and live with her.  She said she did.  She likes it in the orphanage.

Good Morning Nepal

This little boy, who is probably older than he looks, demanded that I take his photograph. He lives near Durbar Square.

Today is the first of my real working days here in Nepal.  For now, my schedule will be:

7am  Orphanage—where there are six children who have been rescued from the street.

9am –Breakfast of dal bhat and water

11am—Women’s Center, where I will be teaching very poor women how to speak conversational English

1pm—short break

2pm—Teaching at a local private school

As most of you know, I feel passionately devoted to working on behalf of women around the world, and my goal here is to make a small dent in the lives of Nepali women.  I had a conversation with the director of the program (Volunteer Society Nepal, or VSN) yesterday, and it seems that he would like to develop the women’s center.  I asked him if he would be interested in starting up a microcredit loan program, and also if he had interest in expanding the Women’s Center, which is currently housed in an orphanage (and that is why it only runs for two hours a day), into a full-fledged shelter for battered women and their children.  He sounded very enthusiastic about these ideas.  I have decided to stay for five months in order to help to expand the women’s portion of their program.  They already have started a sewing class to help women learn to become self-sufficient.  I have bought material to have two kurtas made by a seamstress who works there.  Half the proceeds she receives will benefit the women’s center (WC).

One of the women who attends English classes at the WC also works here, for Sugandha and Sova, as a cook.  She just brought me a cup of delicious Nepali tea, milky and sweet.  This was very sweet of her since usually the volunteers do not get their tea until 7am.  It is now 6:30am.  She speaks very little English and I speak very little Nepali, so we mostly smile broadly at one another to express our affection.  Last night she gave me a delicious hug in the kitchen.

Brave Egyptian Women Protest Against Tyranny: Egyptian Revolt, Day 6

I hope you have all been following the truly astounding events unfolding in Egypt, where thousands upon thousands of protesters thronged into the streets for the sixth consecutive day to demand an end to the government of President Hosni Mubarak, which most view as corrupt and repressive.

Many protesters have been shot, and the military has mobilized against the people in every major city.   This morning state television announced that the Egyptian authorities were “revoking the Al Jazeera Network’s licence to broadcast from the country, and will be shutting down its bureau office in Cairo.” This is obviously a deliberate attempt to quash the freedom of the press, which is not going to make Mubarak more popular with his own people or supporters of democracy around the world.

I am posting some photos from Al Jazeera that show women, many unveiled, taking part in these largely peaceful demonstrations.

Immigration and violence against women

The latest battle around immigration will concern the citizenship rights of children born to “illegal” immigrants, today’s New York Times predicts.   It seems some loud-mouthed policymakers in Arizona and other states want to deny the right of some babies born in the US to be Americans.    While the obvious argument against this misguided, anti-immigration strategy is that it arises from a racist, xenophobic desire to keep hispanic, asian, and other people out, I want to discuss the ways in which we should understand it as yet another expression of misogyny and patriarchal politics.

Consider the site of this particular battle: pregnant women.  The current effort to deny citizenship to the offspring of certain children is a direct and bold effort to manipulate women’s reproduction.  White men, such as Russel Pearce, who achieved notoriety for introducing the legislation that makes it a crime to be an “illegal” immigrant in Arizona, want to harras, demonize and punish women for giving birth where and when he says they should not.  In an email quoted by Virilatino, Pearce fulminates:

“If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.”

The wacko vision is that women deliberately enter the country and “drop” their babies, which become “anchors” that will allow hordes of relatives to slip in and steal jobs from Northern Americans.  There are a number of different and perfectly innocent ways that an immigrant can be charged with “illegal” status, but Pearce and his nasty, misogynist cronies want to “target” all women who fall into this category as though they were a herd of deer or rabbits.  They’ve declared open season and armed their rifles.

As the law currently stands, in this country as well as in a number of other new world nations, the citizenship of a person is determined according to jus soli, a Latin term meaning “right of the soil.”   Meddling reactionaries want to change the law so that citizenship will be determined according to jus sanguinis, which literally means “law of blood.”  They want effectively to overturn the 14th Amendment, which says that it doesn’t matter who the mother is, or what the race, class, or ethnicity of the child is,  but only where that child is born, that confers citizenship.   This important protection was hard-won against racists who wanted to prevent the descendants of African slaves from becoming Americans.

In the battle against undocumented and “illegal” immigrant mothers and their children today, just like in the battle against African-American slaves and their children before the Dred Scott decision, women are considered to be little more than animals that men impregnate, control, and move around for their own benefits.   Why and how a woman has come into this country, or stayed here, or, more importantly, why and how she has become pregnant and then decided to go through with the pregnancy, do not interest the men and women who want to change the law.  Their overriding concern is to limit and control the reproduction of immigrants in order to protect the interests of what they call “natives” (and they don’t mean native Americans).  By Pearce’s own admission, the best way to do that is to “target the mother.”

Let us  return to the opening scene from today’s NYT article:

NOGALES, Ariz. — Of the 50 or so women bused to this border town on a recent morning to be deported back to Mexico, Inez Vasquez stood out. Eight months pregnant, she had tried to trudge north in her fragile state, even carrying scissors with her in case she gave birth in the desert and had to cut the umbilical cord.

“All I want is a better life,” she said after the Border Patrol found her hiding in bushes on the Arizona side of the border with her husband, her young son and her very pronounced abdomen.

Now imagine what Pearce and his gang want to do to this woman:

Second Plein Air Painting

A little better today.  I spent more time on it and had a rag to wipe out mistakes and my brushes.  I’m learning.  The best think about painting is getting lost in the project.  I don’t think about anything else while I’m working.  I’m just trying to see what there is to see, and figure out a way to get it down in paint.   Even though I’m not good, I get a lot out of the process.  I feel authentically myself when I am painting, much more so than when I’m writing.  Maybe that is because I have no pretentions of being “good” at painting, while I do think highly of my writing skills.    

I think I indeed be quite happy living here.  The valley that you get to on Cactus Park Road here is incredibly beautiful.  I can’t imagine ever running out of things to paint there.

My first plein air painting in years

I have been driving around this gorgeous mesa that slopes south-west here in south-west Colorado.  I’m sloping south-west too, these days.  Continuously cursing myself for not having brought a camera, I’ve gone round thinking–that! that!  I want to paint that! And I have these grand Georgia-O’Keefe/Frida Khalo fantasies.  (BTW: Did you see that recent film?? What Dreck!! So insultingly saccharine! It was on the other night and I could not sit through it.)  Right. So, me and my non-Hollywood fantasies.

Right after I got here I bought a small set of oils, some decent but inexpensive brushes, a canvas board and mineral spirits.  But I didn’t go out.  That’s right, I procrastinated until the very second to last day here.  But I did, indeed, go out, to what has a become my favorite stretch of Rimrock road.  I sat in the dirt, cleaned my brushes on cow-grass and rock, and tryed to express what I was seeing.

I think it’s pretty awful, but I’m posting it anyway.

 

Off Rimrock Road, Looking up into the Grand Mesa, Colorado

A Pretty Good Skillet cornbread

Old-fashioned, hearty cornbread with a crispy crust and soft interior.

1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup stone-ground corn meal

1/4 cup “quick” oats

1 tsp baking powder

1-1 1/2 cups milk

1 stick butter, softened, plus 1 tbsp for pan

1/4 cup brown sugar (if you like sweet bread, add more)

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract

1 large egg.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and butter a med to large cast iron skillet with 1 tbsp. butter.    Smear the stick of butter into the sugar with a wooden spoon.  Break egg into butter mixture, then wash hands.  Whisk egg into itself first, then into the butter and sugar, which will begin to look curdled.  Whisk in vanilla and milk.

In a separate bowl, whisk baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt if using unsalted butter, which I do), and all three flours together.  Combine with wet mixture until quite thick, able to stand up on its own, but not too dry.  Add milk if it seems to dry, but don’t beat the batter too much.

Scrape out into middle of greased pan, allowing it to fall into place as it will.  It should be slightly higher in the center than at the edges.  Bake 20-35 minutes, depending on wetness of batter, altitude, and oven, until the edges are dark brown and a tester comes clean out of the middle. Let sit at least 5 minutes before cutting.

This is it: this is my life

So, tonight I woke up at a cocktail party and thought, ‘this is it; you have grown up and this is your life.’   So different from the way I grew up.  But which is worse? to grow up again and again in new worlds with their own particular customs and rules, or to grow up in the same place, again and again, with the tiny group of people you have always known.

So many people choose the latter, it seems, for safety.  I guess.  But I could never make that choice.  There is so little time left to me, I fear, and so much more to do, to see, to share.  In this brief existence, surely we are meant to learn as much as possible from as many different people and cultures as we can.  Surely we are supposed to try to understand and love one another.  So we should travel, and converse with, and learn to love, as many different people as we possibly can.  We should seek them out, and listen to their stories, and recognize our common divinity.  We should learn to experience one another with our hearts open and not closed.  I love to be on a bus or boat or train or plane in some place that is not home, and to encounter a person I would never have meant in my tiny little home world.  Sometimes  I resonate, admire, and even come to  adore, as in love, that person, or the person whom that person led me to.

What more matters, after all, than to have a good friend in life, someone you can truly count on.  A genuine friend who counts very few people amongst their real friends.

We don’t often meet people who, a) see us and b) respect us and c) call this and nothing other than this “love.”   Not that it has to be a sexual love.

But how could you love someone who can’t or won’t really see you, and whom you don’t respect?   That person might be in the category of just-met-and-really-fabulous, but you can never really love a person you don’t respect.   And you can’t really become available to be loved until you respect yourself.

So you have to do some diving.  You have to go down deep into what you call yourself and find out what it is that you really want, and how you really want to go about getting it.  You almost always really want peace.  But not death.   So there is this problem, this paradox, from the very beginning, and you have to sort it through.