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.

Neil Diamond & The Lounge Lady

 

I woke up yesterday morning with tears running across my cheeks. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, times are hard around here right now. But I was. I didn’t wake up crying even when my own Mumma was dying. I didn’t wake up crying when I thought my type of Dysautonomia would progress until I could barely function. I didn’t wake up crying any of the times in my life when it might have been warranted. But yesterday, I did. I stumbled out to the kitchen that is so full of memories of times with my in-laws. I popped the kettle on and thought about how integral having a cuppa was to my relationship with my mother in law, Mary.

We didn’t always agree on things, she and I. But we did agree on the necessity of a good cuppa.

Mary has Parkinson’s Disease. She was diagnosed not long after I joined the family and I remember well how it rocked everyone. Mary and John are stoic and proud Englishfolk. It was clear over the years that they would deal with it their way. Our wider family, the social workers and district nurses, the network of support around them, watched on with a kind of admiration for their determination.  John doggedly problem solving his way through her caregiving, devising natty little devices for pill dispensing, modifying her walker, endlessly adjusting, adapting, and rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. And Mary herself, a consummate non complainer, tried hard to mitigate the ravages of Parkinson’s on her brain and in her body. Eventually, as seems to be the pattern for elderly couples where one is terribly sick, the caregiver gets increasingly rundown and their own health struggles set off a cascade of events. It has happened even to John and Mary, the indomitable two.

This week, I’ve been with Mary while John is in hospital down country.  She’s in a nursing home in their little regional town. He’s having rehab after spine surgery. Mary’s nursing home is so beautiful. The views across Buffalo Beach take my breath away. But I’ve noticed that the high needs residents don’t appreciate the view. That the ravages of age steal distance vision.

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These unfortunate few stare mostly into space, occasionally focusing on the person in front of them who is typically asking loudly and brightly a series of questions.  A nurse enters Mary’s room:

“HELLO MARY!  HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”
Mary jumps at the sound of the voice so close. Her rheumy eyes try to focus, her hand reaches towards the stimulus. The tremors are bad today and her body is almost bent double, contracting up and in on itself. Muscles tight and unwieldy.
She mumbles something but her words are indistinct.

“LET’S GO TO THE DINING ROOM SHALL WE? TIME FOR LUNCH!” the nurse shout-speaks chirpily.  Lunch will be in half an hour, but it takes that long to wheel and cajole everyone into position.  Mary’s eyes brighten momentarily, and very slowly, she licks her lips. She likes her food. I smile at my memory of this whippet thin woman, carefully  portioning out her own meals to half the size of everyone else’s at family dinners. She has thrown caution to the wind. Food is good. I think of the bucket of liquorice allsorts I sent up last weekend, now half gone. I’m glad she can still find enjoyment in something.

“HOW’S THAT CAST? SORE?  MARY, ARE YOU SORE?”
“I’m-alright-thankyou” she whispers, barely audible, but they are the first words I’ve heard today. I know it is habit, her responses to questions like this. Every time she moves, she winces. The cast is heavy and cumbersome against her constantly moving frame. Her frequent falls have resulted in a complication in her already broken shoulder. The bones beneath her socket joint hang loose and jut into her ribs under her arm.

“OK THEN! UP WE COME… ARE YOU READY TO STAND? I’LL JUST REACH AROUND AND HELP YOU UP …GOOD GIRL!  HERE WE GO…”  the nurse braces to lift our waif-like Mary. You’d be surprised how heavy a waif can be when you are lifting all their weight without assistance.

“OH DEAR, DOWN WE GO.  MARY?  ARE YOU WITH US? MARY!  HELLO MARY? BIG DEEP BREATHS, MARY!”
Mary had momentarily fainted. It happens most times she has to stand. Her eyes roll back in her head and she is a ragdoll. Quite different from her usual rigid bodied self. Now ensconced in the wheelchair the nurse takes her down the hall to the dining room. It is next to the Lounge, the communal area lined with other octogenarians, glumly sitting and waiting to be taken in for their hot lunch.

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Neil Diamond is on the telly. A gentleman fixes his tearful eyes in my direction. I have come to expect emotion in this place, I wonder if maybe Neil’s crooning is making him sad.
“Have you seen my wife?” he asks me, his voice trembles slightly as though he knows the answer will be bad. I remember being here when his wife passed away. I pat his hand. “No, I haven’t, I’m sorry. I am sure you will see her soon” I feel guilty as I say it. But to tell him the truth again and watch the grief anew. I just can’t do that (I’ve seen the nurses tell him many times and he is always so distraught. “Was I there for her?” “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” “Where did they take her?”  “Oh no… no…”  he’d keen, his hangs wringing in his lap and the confusion and distress furrowing his age spotted brow).
No. It’s too unfair.
Within minutes he has forgotten again. His face is blank.  I’m glad I didn’t tell him.

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Mary has nodded off. I let Neil’s music transport me back to happier situations. I am toe tapping and humming. I see the slippered foot of the man in the chair beside keeping the beat. He grips my hand.  Meanwhile, Neil drawls and gyrates in his sequin jacket “I’M ALIIIIVE”! The irony is not lost on me.
“I would have been a jockey you know!” say the earnest man. His eyes are twinkling, one of his pupils is blown. I wonder if he did that falling off a horse. “I could do things with horses other people couldn’t do.  But no. No… encouragement…” he sighs, suddenly dejected.
“Oh do shut up!” shouts the lady just past him. “I’ll kick you in the butt one of these days!”
“You shut up, you fat slob” says the woman beyond her. “Take no notice, Love” she says pointedly to the man beside me, rolling her eyes openly at the upstart.  Many of the elderly could care less about politeness. They’ve run out of time for niceties. They just say it like they see it. This Lounge can be a brutal place.

A nurse aide moves Mary into position at her dining table, deftly swinging a giant bib across the front of her. As she does it up, she tells me that Mary helped her children learn to read at the school, some thirty odd years ago.  She was a teacher aide at Mercury Bay Area School. Suddenly Mary is animated. She says the name of the nurse aide’s kids. “That’s right, Mary!” she smiles and then, turns to me, “-sharp as a tack! There’s a lot of people who love this lady”. She pats her gently on the shoulder.  I nod. Kiss Mary on the forehead and say my goodbyes.  I’m sad. We love this lady too. It stings a bit that she can remember those kids, but she has forgotten who her own grandchildren are. The synapses that connect that information to her conscious mind have been stolen by Parkinson’s Dementia. She’s had only one thing to say to our girl Bee this week. That she never did like the colour of Bee’s hair. She hasn’t been able to notice that Zed is even here. These kids who come with me every day to see their Nanna. These kids who have never complained about the grim realities of spending time here with her.  They love her too. Regardless. Gosh I am proud of them. They hug her and kiss her goodbye and she clings to them. I think she knows at some level, some basic biological level, that they belong to her. I comfort them with the facts that her brain misfires sometimes. Tell them, for her, that she loves them.

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I’ll be back tomorrow. She won’t know me then either. I’ll be just another friendly face among the many attending to her. My voice will be loud and bright like theirs; do we do it to dispel the despair of it all? She’ll look at me with confusion. She might shout at me like yesterday, or stretch her face into a semblance of her beautiful smile. She might hold my hand, or demand I help her go to the toilet. She might just be drifting, somewhere between Life and the After, talking indecipherably with her long passed sister, long red braids twisting around her youthful hands, skipping along a street somewhere back in England. I hope that she feels loved, wherever her mind has gone. That the warmth of my hand transmits all the humanity of my heart for this frail, vulnerable lady.

I guess the tears are okay. I guess they are just a part of the lifelong process of accepting mortality. Someday, someone might have tears about me. Mary once told me that she thinks of this mortal coil like a fixed sized plane. As babies get born, all our souls get kind of crowded here. Sometimes, other people have to get off, making way for new life. She said it made her feel better thinking of it that way.

Everybody has their time and then one day, they move over. That’s just the way of it.   Take it away Neil:

…everyday

There’s a brand new baby born
And every way
There’s enough to keep you warm
And it’s okay
And I’m glad to say
That I’m alive