Saturday, January 5, 2013

Women: strong, independent, inspiring

I have been living with the Barry family going on five months now and I can honestly say I have found my routine. I have figured out everyones personalities and have come to find everyone sort of predictable. My brother will forever annoy me, as brothers should I suppose, with his misinterpretation of the word privacy. His mother with her grandmother-like charisma and attitude towards life now as she gets to sit back and enjoy it more. His oldest daughter with her jokester type ways, always hiding behind corners trying to scare me, or race me down the street in which I never let her win. I am finally finding myself missing members of my family when I am away from site for a while which is something that volunteers say comes with time. My first couple of months here I would have never thought that I would find myself content with being at my house, away from other volunteers, and just living amongst my family. But I am. Just the other night I found myself teaching my little brothers, who are around twelve years old, about the stars and planets.
Random picture: My sister was so excited that
 I finally let her braid my hair! 
Side story; my uneducated mother pointed at Jupiter and told me it was not the same as the others. I am not sure if she was steering in the direction of the moon and comparing it to the other stars or if she recognized Jupiter as being different because of its glow but either way I was impressed. When I asked her how to she knew it was different she just pointed to her brain and said, “I know” with a little smirk on her face. It is entirely possible that I totally misunderstood her because we had this conversation in Pular but I don’t believe so. I love this woman. She is by far my favorite person in the house, with Mari (my brother’s wife) in close second. You know how grandmothers have that glow about them? She has this. She plays with her grandchildren all day. She walks around town visiting her friends. She cooks maybe once a week and when she does she looks about as proud of her accomplishment as I would have looked if I had said that I had made dinner.
The other day while Mari was preparing lunch we had one of our first significant conversations; usually she speaks to me in Pular to make me practice so our conversations don’t go much past where are you going or what are you cooking? I can’t recall how we got onto the topic but I somehow squeezed in questions concerning various topics such as how women react to men having multiple wives, women doing all of the housework, why they want so many children, the possibility of an education, and work outside of the home. Her answers mostly caused me a sense of sympathy for Senegalese women, and women in general that live in a society where they are repressed because of their gender. I know I have talked about this before but everyday I am forced to watch this smart, funny, intelligent woman sit home to cook, clean, and wait on her husband and children. I am not saying she is any less of a person for doing this but it’s the fact that she didn’t really have a choice in the matter that makes me sad for her. Sure they say they were not forced to get married at 15 years old and quit school to start having children. Sure one person may have not forced them but society certainly does. I guess I just wish that she finished school, maybe even went on to graduate from college, and from there if she wanted to start a family and stay at home then so be it; I think it’s great that there are children out there who are actually raised by either one or both of their parents. I just want more for her.
On the topic of marriage and multiple wives it seems women are split on the issue, some are for while others are against the idea. I have a feeling that a major reason why women are for the idea of having sister wives is that there are more hands around to help with all the chores. I would have to agree with them on that, who wouldn’t want someone doing laundry while you cook? Less work for you!
Though she never finished middle school Mari ensures me that she is going to go back to school and finish. This is something that we even hear a lot in the states but the truth of the matter is that it’s so much harder when you have the responsibilities of a family to finish school. I am not sure if she was just telling me that she would go back some day to humor me or because she actually wants to. But again, wanting to go back and being able to go back to graduate are two different things.
On a slightly different topic but still following the theme of gender inequality, I was talking with another volunteer in my stage, Lisa, just the other day about men and how entitled they feel in this society. A woman will raise her son and someday he will have more power in the house than her, the same woman who raised him and taught him all he knows about life and living. Just because he has a penis he is considered smarter, more worthy of an education, and more capable of running a household than a woman. Times are changing here and more and more women are finishing highschool, going on to higher education and landing great jobs but just like anything else there are still those people who are behind the curve and think women belong at home. It is really hard to sit back and watch as women are treated like second-class citizens but I think that’s why I get along with the women in this country more than I do men. I know I sound like a broken record right now but just bare with me. The Peace Corps also recognizes that in order to have a successful country all members of society need to be contributing members, men and women, which is why we work so much with womens groups. We help them become entrepreneurs and give them the training they need to be successful because once they are profitable the country can begin to be profitable. Women power! (Man oh man I should have been a Women Studies major. How interesting that would have been to learn about gender development over the years, but I can just hear it now, what kind of a job can you get with that besides teaching Women Studies?)
Thank you again fellow readers for reading on as I rant about how unfair life is. I am sure you all already know that and don’t need to read my blog for it to be reassured. Who knows maybe my work here will inspire me to work in civil rights or gender development?




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