I Can’t Keep Quiet

A Cambodian Girl (source)

put on your face
know your place
shut up and smile

Have you read Half the Sky? It’s written by award winning journalists who had to tell the stories their publishers weren’t interested in running. Stories about the plight of women across the globe. Stories that were not ‘news’ despite women being roughly half of all the people living on this planet.  The stories highlighted to me how very far we are from the things fair-minded citizens have fought for ….forever.  From the beginning of time.  The book put me in mind of another author’s work, Xinran; The Good Women of China.

And here we are, thousands of years into human existence; fighting for simple human kindness. An agreed creed against injustice. Fighting even for awareness that these things remain to be fought for. Fighting to show the younger generations that these issues are not new. Trying to convince our young ones that each generational wave can build upon the work of generations previously. Are more people all over the world making a noise, speaking out? Is it wishful thinking? Traction is hard fought won.  In Science, we have been able to build on the discoveries of others, stand, as Einstein put it  ‘on the shoulders of giants’.  Perhaps not with regards to climate change, but still. Yet in matters of equity, true cultural advancement; can we, are we even brave enough to carry on the work of people before us?

I don’t know exactly at what point the fight for interhuman respect became a fight between genders, but it did. It might have been when those invading armies destroyed an entire extraordinary culture in Ancient Sumer and with it, the first documented rights of women.  It might have been when the industrial revolution and rise of capitalism rendered mothering a non-valuable industry. It might have been the first rape. Or the billionth. At some point, the marginalised, the vulnerable, the consistently downtrodden of the world noticed that most often, the oppressor was male.  Stronger, shrewder perhaps, more aggressive. Force triumphing over Fair.

Stop whining, say the modern day alpha males. Stop whining and accept it. It’s just the way of life, the law of the jungle, the status quo  -and what about our rights not to have to listen to you whine? So, life’s not fair, swallow it and shut up.

But I can’t keep quiet.

Lately, the burning in my brain about women’s issues has been tearing me up inside. I’ve been shutting up, being a good girl. Not making waves. I’ve been doing that for so long it is making me crazy. Then just the other day, my beautiful friend Chloe who is volunteering in Cambodia, shared a story that broke me. She wrote about a little twelve year old girl from their school who has been abducted for the sex slave trade in Thailand. She thought she was going to be taken to see her Mum. I think of my own twelve year old and my guts twist.

I know that little girl and her even younger sister have been taken to the brothels, because her abduction is the classic m.o of the organised criminals who run these rackets. It has long been documented discussed and dissected by Not For Profit organisations working in the region. Ignored by governments, the media and by people like us, comfortable in our busy workaday lives.

Those little girls don’t have parents who can shout. They don’t have countrymen who can take time away from the graft of survival to search for them.  Even if they did, they’d probably end up killed. It’s a one way ticket into the brothels of Thailand. Children are briefly valuable commodities in the sex trade of Thailand; sought by wealthy foreign men taking their criminal sexual preferences to a more permissive political climate. And when those girls are no longer children they become grist for the sex trade mill. And it is not just Thailand. Brothels, even here in New Zealand profit from sex slavery. Each person held captive, ‘just another’ nameless woman, no freedom, no voice.

No one knows me, no one ever will
if I don’t say something, if I just lie still

I saw my friend’s post about those little girls on a day that was full of my own personal challenges. And then I saw a facebook post from Milck, the artist who wrote the stirring anthem sung at many of the women’s marches around the world recently.  In Goteburg, women gathered to sing her song in public as the snow fell. It’s a beautiful clip. It made me cry.

I’ve been a blithering mess lately, crying at everything. Feeling the weight of the world’s injustices as if every one is my own. So I decided to take my sensitive and sore soul off Facebook. It hasn’t stopped me feeling upset. It’s not revolutionary, nor a political statement. It’s not helpful to anyone out there struggling.  My sensitivities are only useful if I do something with them. I just mention it here to explain it to you if you’ve been looking for me out there.  I’m here. And I can’t keep quiet.

Below I have listed a couple of organisations I trust, if you too feel galvanised by your inner distress to do something.  Join me. I’m not on Facebook right now, but I am still here. Fighting the stupidity of humans hurting humans by using my voice. Fighting by sending money and goods to the organisations who can help. Fighting by raising my kids to be aware, kind humans. Fighting for myself, by regaining the emotional energy I need to continue the fight.

A one woman riot,

I can’t keep quiet
For anyone
Anymore.

All lyrics in bold italics are by Milck. You can see her song here:

Organisations:

SHAKTI:

Shakti has four ethnic women’s refuges in New Zealand. You can donate using the details below, or credit card donations are possible through their website. Donations go towards ensuring safety to vulnerable women and children. Items needed include beds, bed linen, duvets, kitchen ware, groceries, sanitary products, toiletries, etc.

Direct Deposit: Shakti Community Council Inc (Donations)
ANZ Branch, Mt Roskill Branch
Account Number: 01-0183-0243434-03

AUCKLAND WOMEN’S CENTRE

Helps over 3,000 women a year by offering:

  • crisis intervention to women with complex needs
  • support, information, advice and referral for emergency housing, women’s refuge, rape counselling, child abuse reporting, abortion, parenting
  • links to AWC’s low cost community education programme and counselling
  • referral to the right service based on particular needs

UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT FUND FOR WOMEN

Keep abreast of global issues for women.

HOUSE OF HAGAR, Cambodia
Chloe tells me this is absolutely the organisation making a difference for victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Immediately after the girls were taken, Chloe got in touch with them and House of Hagar are working with contacts to try to extract the girls and return them home.

HAMLIN FISTULA HOSPITAL, Ethiopia
The kids at our school knit peggy squares for these exceptionally brave women. I urge you to read more about them and their plight and consider donating or helping them in any way you can.

Travelling Companion

471BC, Themistocles established a great military port at Piraeus, near Athens. More than 2000 years later, Joyce, my intrepid travelling Granny, is deep in consultation with her Arthur Frommer’s guide book.  Apparently, the walk to the old Port is a free thing to do, and well worth the effort (FYI… these days, not so safe, so perhaps you don’t want to follow in her footsteps if you are a single female traveller. Just saying!)   Before tackling the port walk however, she pauses over her breakfast at the youth hostel to talk with another tourist.

Their topic is travelling as a woman, alone. Specifically the exasperation both travellers feel being subjected to the unwanted attention of local opportunistic lads, keen for a chance at the burgeoning tourist dollar. These hustlers make pocket-money selling holiday romance by means of flattery and fake infatuation. My Granny, accustomed to male attention but uncomfortable with the cynical commerce of this form, asks her new friend what strategies she adopts with the Greek lotharios.

“I let them carry on, right up until they try to kiss me!  Then I just point to my cheek and say… there, kiss me there. As you would   -your mother.”  The way she nods afterward, suggests this method has served her well.  Joyce smiles at her, finishes her breakfast and takes to the streets in search of ancient port walls.  She doubts whether her fellow traveller’s advice will ever be useful.

___

The day was dry and hot. Joyce walked at a pace, seeking the refreshment of sea views and perhaps a stone wall to perch upon. Suddenly she felt a firm pinch on her buttock. “Oh!” she exclaimed and turned to see who had perpetrated such affrontery. A young boy, around 12, grinned up at her, “Have you got a boyfriend?” he asked flirtatiously. She raised an eyebrow at him, then adjusting her spectacles, looked at him sternly across the top of them. Quickening her pace slightly, but not so much he would fall away, she watched to see what he would do.  He fell in step easily, her spontaneous travel companion.

After a while, they began a simple conversation. When they reached the sea walls, Joyce asked him if he would like an ice-cream. His eyes lit up. They sat there in comfortable silence, eyes on the sea, devouring the cold sweet treats. It was nice to see the boy being a child, nice to be in his company. When he had finished the last lick of his ice-cream, he drew that street bravado back over his young self. Bold as brass, he winked and propositioned Joyce for a kiss. She smiled, remembering the advice of her friend.

“Well,” she twinkled as she pointed to her cheek,
“you may kiss me here…   as you would your mother.”
She would later reflect that she had been correct: that particular advice had never proved useful again, not in all of her travels.

——————————————————————

Last week, my Granny was my travelling companion as we crossed the North Island skies. I leaned in to hear her over the engine noise of our aircraft.  She asked me, if I were able to choose any destination in the world for us to travel to that day, where it be? That was easy.

“Europe,” I replied. I knew she had travelled at least seven times to Europe. I imagined she would be a fascinating travelling companion. As we flew on, she told me tales of her travels; sharing a meal with perfect strangers in Portugal, a heist on the Siberian Railway, her time in the Swiss Alps. How she managed on $25 a day by enjoying the hospitality of travelling clubs like Servas, or patronising youth hostels, finding work whenever she needed to. My Granny makes things happen, it is just how she is. Every time she travels, she has a brilliant time, people adore her. I liked her sweet story from her time in Greece, I thought I’d share it with you.

When our brief trip was up, I took her back home to her little flat. What a wonder she is, my Granny. I leaned in and kissed her soft cheek. Promised to pass on her love to my brood. How fortunate we are to still have our GG. To still have the chance to listen to her stories and sit beside her.  It’s a rare thing to be a grown woman with a granny. For my children to have such an extraordinary Great-Grandmother.  As I waved goodbye a little lump caught in my throat and I found myself hoping I would have another chance to travel with her.

She tells the best stories.
As you would, if you too had 96 years of adventures to draw from!