Non-Feminist Women’s Day

When some girls at the university tried to get me involved in a women’s advancement group, I didn’t even give them my email. “Women” has never seemed like a cause for me, just like I’d never join a “tall-people-club”.

But a panel I went to in honor of women’s day changed my perceptions, if only slightly. It was part of a broader plan To Maintain My Sanity While in Law School (which basically consists of saying “yes” to events instead of my standard “no”).

pic

This is the part where you’re either going to stop reading because you hate feminists or will continue, because you love them. Disclosure: I have never called myself a feminist. I shave my armpits. I tell chauvinist jokes. With two older brothers who constantly make fun of my vegetarianism, naiveté and liberalist views, feminism always seemed like a little too much.

But these women not the usual, “go get ’em” girls cheering us to pursue our dreams. Adina Bar Shalom established the first college for charedi women. When she was six, she demanded to know why she had to clean the dishes and not her brothers. They were studying Torah, was the answer. When she protested, her father told her that one day she’d understand. She looked at us with a smile and shook her head, “I still don’t understand.”

Today, she gives hundreds of women the opportunity to study and learn and escape, if only momentarily, from an all-encompassing cycle of child-bearing and house-keeping

Lihi Lapid asked us why we have “career women” and not “career men”. A working woman is doing something radical (and of course, if her children have learning disabilities, the world will blame her). A man is just doing what men do.

When she was in charge of the Women’s section in the newspaper, Lapid filled it with different topics of interest. Her boss told her to include a recipe. She objected with a passion. “I can’t cook! I burn salad! Why does every women’s section need to have a recipe”?! But there would be recipe, or there would be no Lapid. “But,” she shared slyly, “even though the whole section was written in the female form (Hebrew is like French in that sense) – the recipe was written in the male form.”

Dalia Dorner, who was a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, presented a long list of women’s rights legislation. “But the reality,” she said, “is a different story.” She was a part of the famous Alice Miller trial, and is partly to thank for there being women in the Israeli Air Force.

In a biography she’d read recently, the woman was asked how one could know that full equality had been achieved. “When mediocre women and below will have key roles in society – then we will have achieved equality,” she answered.

We aren’t there yet. Nor do I think “women” will be high on my list of causes in the near future. But more than before, I realize that that is a privilege. I don’t fight for women’s rights because so many already did, before me and for me. What feminism needs is for the word itself to disappear – not because of people like me who are too afraid to use it, but because the world won’t need it.

The Ten Plagues – Uganda Style

Blood
We are four girls sharing rooms and bathrooms. Blood, in its monthly form, is a plague. I won’t elaborate.

Frogs
Besides  a few squished frogs in the road and some distant croaks, frogs haven’t been a big part of my experience. Snails, however, fall into the same slimy category, and they are around.

Snails have a good eye for real estate. They live on the banks of the stunning Lake Victoria – along with me. And along with schistosoma. Those tiny parasites hang out on the snails until they get bored, at which point they find the nearest human (hereafter referred to as “you”) and then penetrate your skin. Once settled inside your inner organs, they decide to grow up. And so, feeling quite comfortable and at home, the parasite develops into a baby, into a teenager, and into a full-grown-big-momma-real-live worm! Once the worm is ready to “find himself” he embarks on journey through your liver and intestines and wherever else he fancies. If he wants to be really adventurous, he will try to leave your body. The same way those beans and rice just did.

Bilharzia, snail fever and schistosomiasis are big names for medium problems caused by little creatures. But I’d rather not have too many Latin names inside my body, which can only be treated using other Latin names. And so I don’t swim in the lake, and am putting off whitewater rafting for now, at least until the scariness of the article I just read wears off.

Lice

Seems like lice have less of an eye for real estate than snails do. For some reason, lice have found charm in small, tall plot of land otherwise known as My Head. They think it’s paradise, and they’ve invited all their friends.

I would like to blame my curly haired roommate, shower-sharer, business partner and sitter-next-to-in-any-smushed-mode-of-transportation but it really doesn’t matter anymore. We are both in this together, and we want one thing. Death to the lice! We are both vegetarians who are trying to save the world, but every idealist has her limits.

When she broke the news to me about the cause of her scratching, I wanted to cry. Because if she had it, I had it, and if I had it, but didn’t have a comb or my mommy, there was no way I was going to get rid of it.

I picked up the phone and put on my best two-year-old, whiny voice. My mother, somewhat calmer than myself, advised me on all the latest lice zapping technology – did you know that conditioner stuns the lice? And that heat kills them?

Helpless and afraid, I did everything she told me (except for sitting in a sauna, which has been a little tricky to find – you think there’s one behind the chapati stand?) and unfortunately I had to use my friends lice comb (I never claimed I was smart), but I am still itching occasionally. I try  to convince myself that it’s all in my head. Not ON my head.

Beasts

Have I already mentioned that we are four girls, trying to share food and lives and at the same time maintain our sanity? The word “beasts” often seems like an understatement – but on the off chance that one of my roommates will ever look at my blog,  I’ll stop here.

This doesn't exactly capture the idea

Diseased Livestock

Well, there are slabs of meat hanging from numerous vendors along the road, but since I haven’t eaten any I don’t know if they are diseased. But I wouldn’t be surprised.

Boils

That leg is mine. Those hairs are not.

Thunder and Hail

People have been scaring me about the rainy season in Uganda for such a long time. I have my rain jacket, my rain pants and am emotionally prepared for rain, not an easy task for a sun-loving Israeli.

So far, though, it’s been sunny and gorgeous (except for one day with rain and hail, I am not kidding although I assume you won’t believe me). But I am sure it will rain, probably as soon as G-d read this post.

Locusts

Mosquitos. Malaria. My life.

For the first few weeks in Africa, I did everything I could to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos (but I didn’t do much to avoid monkey bites. See previous post…). I applied bug spray religiously, I never slept without a net, and I made sure to take my anti-malaria pill every week at the same time.

But when I saw I wasn’t getting malaria, I began to neglect my duties and stray from the good path. And began to get bitten. And so it has come to pass, that 50% of my day is spent scratching my feet, my back, and wherever else those little schmucks reached. The other 50%, if you were wondering, is spent sitting in traffic and eating. Whatever is left is for Saving The World.

Darkness 

At least once a day, my home looks like a mine: a bunch of girls trying to complete tasks and find things, with Bob-the-Builder headlamps screwed on. Because about once a day, the power goes out, and we are plagued with a lack of light. Most of our inner joy is sucked out, as well.

Because imagine if after every long, crowded, polluted, third-world-country day you had to come home to a dark home, a cold shower, spoiled yogurts in the fridge and no computer.

It’s become such an integral part of life that it seems perfectly normal to me, that in order to fry an egg I will use a gas balloon, or that I will eat a candle-lit dinner by myself. Wow, I feel sorry for myself writing this.

Death of the Firstborn

Well, despite the fact that Ugandans are BEAUTIFUL, I still haven’t had any babies, and, praise the Lord, none of them has died. More about the good-looking guys later – Happy Passover readers of the world!

Laundry Like a Local

Laundry is probably the task I look forward to least in my new Namulanda lifestyle (even though cleaning the toilets is a close runner up). Resourseful my ass – when I grow up I want to be rich and pay someone to wash my shirts and scrub my socks. It was okay the first time, connecting to the desperate housewife within, feeling like those local women I see outside their homes. They all seem so subdued and pleased to be making the world a cleaner place.

I’m not them.

I hate how you can scrub something for twenty minutes, but it’ll look just the same as it did before.

I hate the way the water is always brown and screaming “look what a dirty person you are!”

I hate how no matter how many clothes you wash, when you go back to your room, you will find at least one pair of dirty socks you forgot.

I hate how it’s impossible to wring out towels. And how emabrrassing it is that you actually feel like you’re getting a workout when you do it.

I hate how hard it is to hang up a wet sheet without becoming one yourself.

I hate how you know that you’re going to be in the same position one week from now. And the week after that.

But.

I love how I never lose socks anymore! Not single socks, not whole pairs, no laundry machine is eating them maliciously, no more fear…

Women’s Day

What did you do on International Women’s Day? Did you celebrate? We did.

African women are strong. They carry babies on their backs and baskets on their head. They also carry the burden of supporting a family and being unnappreciated and getting their behinds squeezed by strangers.

Women plant seeds. Women cook beans and rice for passers-by and they sell mangoes and air-time and single cigarettes. They make babies and take babies, when the men move on to other women. There are women doctors and teachers and ministers, but equality is a foreign concept, rooted in faraway countries that have quotas and affirmative action and McDonalds.

Because even though the women look strong and independent to me, they don’t know they are. And so they fall into early marriages and a life of toil and succumb to being used and abused. I’m not a radical feminist. I spoke to women and this is what I learned. Those who can go to university and put off the married life, do.

So on Women’s Day, a national holiday, we celebrated being women with our students at Muse School.

At first we spoke about which attributes are male and which are female. Turns out only women can be caring and only men can be intelligent. I was pleased when they said women can be smart, but soon learned that smart here means good-looking.

Then we spoke about strong women. We told them about Oprah and Rosa Parks and Rihanna (She was mine, actually. There’s a lot more to her than you think) And then we asked them to tell us about strong women in their lives. One girl told us about her doctor sister, but then one boy told us about his brother. It made me remember that they probably understand about twenty percent of what we say…

We moved to simpler modes of communication. We danced. They drummed with their God given rhythm and danced with their agile bodies. We had a professional dancer from the Ndere Dance Troupe show us some moves (I claimed I was incapable of following  because I didn’t have the proper Ugandan butt).

They’re about fifteen. But they have more curves and more flair and more womanness than I’ll ever have.

I don’t think we sparked the feminist movement in Uganda, but I did see a little change in their faces as the day went by. From nervous giggles and embarrassment their eyes filled with sincere hope, and their skin glowed with the realization that being a woman could have more to it than cooking and cleaning. An acceptance that maybe there was something to be celebrated.