As the evening sun hits the windows on the side of the room the temperature quickly reaches something a bit closer to an oven then a classroom, and I can’t help but be a bit grateful that it’s Staula up in front of the women now instead of me. When Staula told me about this group’s particular requirement for every workshop I couldn’t wait to meet them. Any group of women that requires every presenter to show them how to run some form of business was bound to be an interesting group.
But as Staula stirred the huge spoon in the five gallon bucket, demonstrating how to make liquid soap, my mind drifted back to the evening before, as I drank tea in Staula’s home and listened to the stories of this little community by the lake’s edge. As I look out the window now, one story in particular comes back to me. The room we’re in now couldn’t be very far from where it happened. Looking out the window I can see the path that Staula must have been walking on.
A rocky stretch of dirt that cuts down like a little valley, carved into the earth by the floods and the deep rains, brush overhanging it. Once you were in one of those gulleys you couldn’t see farther than the next curve. Even now when the sun was still high enough to bake us in the class room the shadows are gathering. Forty minutes to the water’s edge (my sore feet could attest to that), forty minutes back and with a bucket as big as the one she was currently mixing soap in on her head full of water.
Looking out over the room of over 30 women I had to wonder how many of these driven, ambitious women shared her story. As her words came back to me I was afraid I knew the answer.
“The women today are dealing with the same challenges that my mother faced, the same challenges that I faced as a child. These young women are facing the same problems, even children.
“It is too hot during the day to collect water. The sun beats down even just a few hours after dawn, the buckets are heavy, and in the heat you can get dizzy. If you drop the bucket then you have to go back and get more water and it’s only going to get hotter, so you go when it is darker. You go either early in the morning before the sun, or you go in the evening. But in the dusk the men are waiting to take advantage. I went to get water one night, tired already because I had come straight from school. I walked down the path behind the house to the lake and there were men ready to assault me.
“They grabbed me and threatened me to keep me quiet. If I had screamed they would have hurt me. Even if I had screamed I didn’t know if anyone was close enough to hear. I was already hurt, and I was tired from carrying the water, and they were so much bigger than me. I was only a girl.
“But I was one of the lucky ones.
“Who saved me? It was another woman.
“A man does not face this hardship. It is easy being a man, he goes away all day and expects dinner on the table when he gets home. Cooking, cleaning, washing, that all takes water, the woman must get it. If we do not change it then when will it change.
“For my daughter?
“For her daughter?
“No…We must change it.”
As I look back I can see Staula lifting each ingredient of the soap in turn. After almost three weeks spent in these amazing communities, I can at least recognize the numbers as she tells the women the price of each item in Luo. Each woman in the room is hanging on her every word. After the past few years I can’t help but wish a bit wistfully that the college students I teach in the US had a fraction of their focus. The only sound in the room is the skritch skritch skritch of the pens as the women studiously take notes. Even the baby girl that the women have all been taking turns holding today is sound asleep on her mother’s lap. And I can’t help but wonder…
For my daughter?
For her daughter?
No…Staula is right.
We must change it.