100 Women!

I am not gonna lie. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling a little deflated and angry that the divide in our country is still so great. I fear for how families I care deeply about will be affected in the coming months and years. I grieve for good people, who worked so hard, had much to offer, yet lost the election. Yet one common thread of hope keeps popping up in my news feed; 100 women elected to the House! Native American Women. Muslim Women. Queer Women. Democrat Women, Republican Women, Women of all ages and backgrounds. Women!

I think that across the aisle, the commonality we find is that we all want change. The beauty of this movement, of these 100 women, is that women innately know in the marrow of our bones that, while change can be sparked in a second, delivery of that change first requires a long time in a safe womb. This understanding is in our DNA and it gives us the strength to persist, to endure, to carry,  to bring forth and to nurture. These women give me hope because I know that they have it within them to birth change, to be forces that are life-giving in a life-threatening world.

I think back to those precious moments right before the birth of my sons. The moments I hurt so badly that I wanted to die were also the moments I was the strongest. As women, we are the strongest when we are in the most pain, because we choose to push through that pain until a new reality is born. That is who we are and that is what gives our country hope.

 

Reasons to Vote

Weary, so weary. Stories of injustice clog my ears. My tears turn to lead as I hang my head and wonder how we got here, to a place where beautiful souls are gunned down in a place of worship, where cries of greatness have turned into building walls and ripping children from parents. A place where protecting the life of the unborn is more important than caring for those who already breathe in the air we share, where we incarcerate African Americans at a much higher rate than “white” Americans for the same offense. Where thousands in my city are not registered to vote, convinced that their voice would not make a difference. Where women are squashed like unwanted bugs and choose to stay silent because they are not believed, where abusers are protected and victims are shamed.

So I am not going to vote in hopes that some greatness will find us. The greatness is already here; we have just shut it down and hidden it in a box or a cage or a cell. The greatness we seek is best seen in the least of these. So I am going to vote for the sake of these –

  • For the woman on the other side of the wall who ran to keep her children safe from gang-lords. For the boy who works the night shift then goes to school all day to care for his family because of what ICE has done in my city. For the families in hiding, though for years have been trying to be legal like me, whose hard working tax dollars benefit everyone but themselves and now they wonder where their next meal will come from.
  • For the families in my district who cannot own homes or borrow a dime to improve their spaces. This ensures that property values and taxes stay low, so low that not enough goes to fund the schools and their children are fought instead of taught by teachers who exhausted and under-equipped.
  • For the African Americans unjustly incarcerated who line the cells of private prisons while the owners line their pockets with billions. For the black bodies laying on the ground through no fault of their own, silently screaming for us to take note. For the daughters of the woman who remembers her uncle being tarred and feathered and hung from a tree for just being who he was. For the same woman whose last words to her daughters were, “Don’t ever stop.”

I will not stop. I will remember these and I will vote for their sake.

 

Prickly Privilege

Two handmade crochet fairy dolls, one black and one white.

If the word Privilege causes you to prickle, especially when combined with the word “white” here are a few things you may want to think about.

This year all three of our boys had spring break during a different week. I only took off work for one of them. I drove 425 miles with my son to see his new baby cousin and to hang out with the bigger cousins.

He had hours of alone time with mom, which he rarely gets.

…several fast food meals, which he rarely gets.

…a trip to the aquarium.

…countless basketball games with his cousin.

…late night TV with his uncle to watch his favorite team play.

His brothers had to fend for themselves over their spring breaks. No special treatment for them.

He realized it was a special.

He was grateful for it.

He did nothing more than his brothers to deserve this trip.

He didn’t rub it in their faces.

This is privilege. If his brothers would have pointed out to him that he had a week of privileges, he probably would have simply agreed with them. He wouldn’t have felt that they were insulting him or that something was wrong with him. He would have owned it.

Here are some ways I see I am privileged:

  • I can set my cruise to 9 miles over the speed limit and not worry too much about being pulled over.
  • I can take my nieces and nephew into a museum on my sister-in-law’s pass and not be asked for id or bag check.
  • I can trace my ancestry back to the shores of other countries.
  • I can walk into the movies or any store with a very large purse and not once am asked to open it for inspection, not once am I followed around.
  • I own 51% of a small business in a country where white women still make less than white men and women of color make even less. See more here.
  • I had an educational opportunity to complete high school in 3 years.
  • I have incredible credit rates and was able to take out a mortgage during a time we had virtually no income.

These are just a few examples of ways I have come to realize I am privileged. I didn’t earn them. I’m not a bad person for having them. I see, though, that the playing ground is not level and many others do not have these same privileges.

Michael Harriot breaks it down as not being an insult nor an accusation but rather a measurable gap. You can read his article here.

I own my privileges. I am very grateful for them. And where possible, I will use my privileges to work towards leveling the playing ground for all.

Press for Progress

This is Chonda. The real deal. Not an actor paid to play the part. She is the heart and soul of a change that is gaining momentum in Bangladesh. Her face will tell you a story, if you take the time to let it capture you.

Nestled across the river from the Sundarbans, the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest and home to the Bengal Tiger, is the small village where Chonda and her husband Rabindranath have made their home. For years, Rabindranath caught larvae from the river and sold it in the market to support his family. If he caught enough, the family ate well. If not, they were hungry. When the Bangladesh Forest Department banned the taking of natural resources from the Sundarban as part of a conservation program, Rabindranath had no choice but to become a day laborer. Now, instead of being at the mercy of nature, he is at the mercy of local employers who may or may not need temporary help.

Chonda longed to do something to help. As a woman in a conservative Hindu village, she was not allowed to become a day laborer and no local shops would hire women either. She dreamed of starting a small business in her home but lacked the capital to do so. Then one day she heard about Hathay Bunano, which means handmade in Bangla. Hathay Bunano had started a work center near her, where other women gathered daily to knit and crochet  soft and colorful Pebble toys. Robindranath agreed that Chonda could take the training. During her training, she not only learned how to knit and crochet, she also learned the values of Fair Trade, as well as her value as a woman deserving of equal opportunity. For three years now, she has been working as an equal to her husband in providing for the family. They no longer worry about whether they will have enough to eat. They are able to send their daughter to school, which is significant in a country where schooling is not free and education is not mandatory. Chonda has opened a bank account and has been saving money, instead of living hand to mouth, dependent upon her husband’s earnings. She and her husband are now talking about starting their own business together someday. Chonda has become a powerful voice in her community, challenging other women to realize their value and equality, pressing them towards progress and being a living example of hope and change.

 

Basha: The House of Hope

Imagine living in a place wrapped in green all year, where warmth and color are alive, swirling from the rice paddies to the rickshaws to the ever growing stream of people. Imagine waking up to the smell of curry and the sound of the call to prayer. Imagine falling asleep to the rustle of palm branches and the banter of neighbors. Imagine a place where shopkeepers call out greetings as you walk by and no one is a stranger. Imagine that tea is a language of its own, poured out fluently on every corner, pausing time so friends can catch up and deals are sealed. Imagine a place where everyone is family and no one cares about your given name because you are sister, brother, uncle, auntie, grandmother, grandfather, someone who belongs.

Imagine being born daughter in this place where your physical beauty, the shade of your skin and the status of your family determine the course of your life for you. Where education comes at a cost your family most likely cannot afford. Imagine if your father, your uncles, your brothers decide who and when you will marry and how much they can pay to make that happen. While in many families, daughters are welcomed and protected, there are many more where the desperation of poverty and centuries of male dominance have led to these daughters growing up voiceless and vulnerable.

Imagine being daughter in a family that has lost its income and protection because it lost its father. When *Shanti’s father died, her mother had no choice but to take her out of school and send her to work as a maid in the home of a wealthier family. There Shanti was raped repeatedly until she became pregnant, and was thrown out onto the streets.

Imagine being forced into a marriage that you found repulsive, like *Rani, who protested against the arrangement and was beaten by her brother for objecting. Or *Jasmine, whose worst fears were realized when her new husband abused her and then abandoned her and her unborn child. Or *Lucky whose husband pimped her out to support his drug  habit.

For women like these, there is little hope. Their families rarely take them back and, more likely than not, they are blamed for their situation. In a land where employment for women is harder to find than cold water in the desert, and with their protector gone, women like these often turn to prostitution as the only way to survive. Filled with shame, their only bit of dignity left is their voice which they use to demand payment for what would otherwise be taken from them anyway.

Imagine all this. The beauty and warmth of this land of belonging and then the loss of that place of belonging. Where once you were celebrated, now you are treated like the mud that clings to the bottom of sandals in the monsoon. Where once you saw friends, now the women hate you and the men use you.

There’s little hope for prostituted women in Bangladesh. While it is quite rare for a Muslim country to legalize prostitution, most of the estimated 100,000 women carrying out the trade have not chosen it. Most of them would choose anything but prostitution, if only there was an “anything but”.

When Robin Seyfert moved to Bangladesh in 2006, she fell in love with the beauty and hospitality of the place. As she got to know some of these women and saw that there were so many who wanted an alternative, she knew she had found her new place of belonging by creating safe spaces of belonging and opportunity for these women. She says that:

“starting and running Basha, a social enterprise, was completely unexpected and has been the biggest challenge, terror and joy of my life”.

Basha, named after the Bengali word for hope, Asha, and the Bengali word for house, Basha, is a house of hope. It has grown from thirteen women in one small Dhaka apartment to more than 100 full-time production workers in five production centres throughout Bangladesh.

As you can imagine, the needs of exploited women go far beyond their need of a new source of income. Women coming to Basha begin with a training program that gives them time and space to heal. This six-month training provides basic literacy, basic English, life skills, values, conflict resolution, health and hygiene, and they are taught how to make the beautiful, one of a kind Basha products. The monthly allowance they receive allows them to completely cut ties with abusers and focus on their healing and discovering their true worth. As dignity is daily mirrored to them, their shame begins to fade and hope is born.

Not only is Basha a strong agent of change for so many women, it also works hard to give the children of these women a different life than their mothers had. It provides a daycare program which educates, tutors and and feeds the children. Basha has also opened up a hostel for young girls who used to fend for themselves on the streets. You can read some of their stories here.

I’ve gotten to rub shoulders with a few of these women and sit in hallowed spaces with them, where time stops as stories poured out mark the journey from shame to dignity. My eyes and heart overflow because I cannot hold it in, the sacred beauty of shame turned dignity. Isn’t that what we all want, our shame to be reshaped into dignity? Isn’t that what makes us brave and causes us to give ourselves away again and again, to also help the shame of others be turned into dignity?

This is where you and I can help; the building of Basha is far from over. You can read more about Basha in their journal and here are tangible ways for you to give and be involved in creating dignity for the women of Bangladesh. There are monthly and one time gift options, made easy by credit/debit card, as well as bank transfer. You can choose what you would like to support: the hostel, the training program, the nutritional program, daycare, or support for the foreign workers, like Robin, who are committed to being agents of change in Bangladesh. You can also purchase beautiful hand-crafted works of art made by Basha Boutique. Here is the list of stockists around the world who sell Basha products.

Imagine with me: Suffocating shame being transformed into breathtaking dignity.

Become a part of the Basha story.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the women.

 

 

Pro Life?

Standing among friends and strangers at a rally in the town of my birth, I wore my heart on my sign. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say. How do you fit a journey of the heart into a tiny sign? After a night of little sleep and unsettling dreams, this is what came to me.

Pro Life? Then stand with those who fear for theirs.

Something fundamental is lost when a pro life stance is only pro birth. If I only care about preserving the life of a wee babe until it is pushed out from the safety and comfort of the womb, then I care nothing about that wee babe, only about making sure that someone else is keeping the letter of the law.

There is a pretty big difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life. Anti-abortion will do anything to make abortion illegal. It is a political stance that hopes to influence policies, without personally needing to put in any of the work needed to serve those wee babes or their mothers.

I carried this sign because I wanted people to reflect on the idea that being pro-life should change the way you do life. Living eight years in a country where abortion was illegal showed me that laws do very little to change things. Abortions happened frequently there and they were only more dangerous to the mother because of the ways in which they were done. It got me thinking a lot.

Can we say we are pro-life if we marginalize and demonize the woman who has had an abortion instead of seeking to restore her to community? Can we say we are pro-life if, when that babe is hungry and her mom can’t make it on minimum wages and applies for food stamps, we judge her and call her lazy or entitled?  What about when the babe grows up and can’t get health care because of a preexisting condition and he dies? Are we pro-life when another babe grows up and spends days running through the jungle from a genocide in her country and we close our borders because she might be a terrorist? When the babe of one skin tone grows up and ends up having his blood splattered on the sidewalk though he was unarmed and was not threatening anyone but the one who took his life walks away scot-free, whose life are we really for? What about the babe who grows up and embraces his culture and decides to kneel during the national anthem as a way to signal to the rest of us that there is a group of people who fear for their lives because of events that keep happening throughout our country?

Pro-life is for life on either side of the womb. It gets to know the moms contemplating abortion and does life with them helping to carry their load. It shares food with the hungry. It works tirelessly to ensure that lives of all races are treated with dignity and it speaks out against injustice. Pro-life does not discriminate. It listens to people of other races, socioeconomic levels, religions and beliefs. It loves. It serves. It is never only pro (rich white American) life. It is for all life.

I also wanted to signal to those who are living in fear for their lives that they are not alone. Their voices are heard. Their pain matters.  Their life has value. I’m adding my voice to the cry, putting my body on the sidewalk with them and for them.

Pro life. It’s not a political or religious stance.  It’s a way of living.

 

Honoring the Mother of our Nation

Like a moth is drawn to the light, I flutter as near as I can. Quiet soul that I am, I struggle to find the words to tell her what I see. History is wrapped in her ebony skin and in the map of her face I see that she is the daughter of a noble people. Through no fault of her own she was kidnapped, beaten, sold as property, raped again and again by white men who said they followed God. Stripped of her clothing and put on display, dignity in shreds, she stands. Forced to bear children only to have them wrenched from her, she is treated like an animal for 200+ years. Her life not her own. Hunger, exhaustion and shame her only constants.

When I see her today, I see the horror of her history and I weep. Like a sack of rocks she continues to carry it – not because she wants to but because we, the children of a not-so-noble people continue to treat her as less-than…but she is strong and brave. This country was built on her back. She cut the cane to satisfy our sweet tooth. She cleaned up the messes that no one else would. Her fingers plucked the cotton that built our economy and her womb birthed greatness. She nursed the children of her “owner”. She, more than anyone, is the mother of our nation.

Today I honor her, the unsung hero who paid a price that we were so very wrong to demand of her.

To her daughters today, wrapped in beautiful shades of ebony, cinnamon, butterscotch and caramel, I say you are not less-than. You are more-than for you have endured. You are strong and brave and beautiful.

I look in your eyes and I see your nobility still. I am not worthy to say it…that I am sorry for all you endured. Thanking you for your service to this country seems paltry and lacking but I want to honor you. So, when I see you, I see your skin and I honor you by acknowledging the story it brings with it…painful as it is.

I dream of the day when the last rock will be removed from your bag and you can walk with your head high as the equal you are without fear or discrimination. In the meantime, I won’t hold back when talking to my sons and those near me about the history of our nation, hoping to help fashion a future that is different from but doesn’t gloss over our past.

World Fair Trade Day 2017

Saturday, May 13, is World Fair Trade Day. Started by the WFTO in 2004, the second Saturday of May has been set aside as a day to not only raise awareness of Fair Trade but to celebrate the way it has impacted millions of lives.

Simply put, Fair Trade means:

Opportunities are created for the poor to have jobs.

In Fair Trade, the supply chain is accountable and transparent from start to finish. Unlike certain large chocolate chains who say they cannot know for sure where their raw cocoa comes from, Fair Trade chocolate can be traced to the source.

Fair Trade ensures prompt and fair payment for goods. For the Pebble toys we sell, it means we provide advance payment so they can purchase the raw materials and pay wages during their production period.

Fair Trade ensures safe and empowering working conditions. Not only does it insist that working conditions are physically safe, it must also be free of discrimination and harassment.

Fair Trade ensures the rights of children. This means no children are working to make the items in your shopping cart. It means the parents are making enough money to feed, cloth, protect and educate their children.

Fair Trade is kind to the earth. Environmentally sustainable practices are taught and implemented through the entire supply chain.

To sum it up, Fair Trade celebrates cultural diversity and gives a voice to the poor and marginalized. No one is forced to work in slave like conditions. Entire communities are transformed and local economies boosted. In countries that have no Job and Family Services, no Unemployment Benefits, no place to land when they are falling, this is huge. This is dignity for every person. This is loving your neighbor as yourself. This is reason to celebrate!

Lenten Rememberings – The Rohingya

The Rohingya, one of the world’s most most persecuted ethnic groups, are a Muslim people who have lived for generations in Myanmar. Denied the right to vote and given nearly impossible rules for acquiring citizenship, they are hated and looked down on by the Buddhist majority around them.

The Rohingya speak a dialect of Bangla and are seen by many as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many of them can trace their family history in Myanmar for many generations. While they represent roughly 2% of the total population, their Buddhist neighbors fear they will take over and try to make Myanmar a Muslim country. Untold numbers have been hunted down, raped and murdered in a genocide that the Myanmar Government continues to deny is happening. Many have escaped across the border into Bangladesh or by boat to Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines where again and again they are turned away.

Bangladesh, the most accessible country by land, is currently planning to house them on an uninhabited island that is immersed in water during the monsoon. Many are taking the risk of returning to Myanmar rather than lose their lives to nature. A small number have been accepted as refugees into the US, Canada and Australia but, for the most part, the Rohingyas remain an unwanted and fiercely hunted people group.

Rohingyas eat rice, fish, vegetables, milk and chilis. Meat, such as this Beef Curry is served to guests or for special occasions. We shared this meal family and prayed for a place of belonging and safety for the Rohingyas.

Somebody’s Daughter (A book review)

Somebody Daughter Image

Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them

It took me months to get through this book. I was busy, yes, but the real reason was the way it tore at my heart. Here in our own country 100,000 children are trafficked for sex every year.  Sometimes that means a child is kidnapped and sold but most kids involved in prostitution began either as runaways or throwaways, trying to escape sexual abuse and violence at home.  Rape Is, a website that seeks to educate about rape culture, compares the experience of prostitution to that of rape. Nobody chooses to be raped. While prostitution may look like a choice in this country, the only ones with real choice in this multi-million dollar industry are the pimps and the johns.

Prostitution is another face of modern day slavery.  90% of prostitutes have pimps. Whether they are kept in a hotel room or walking the tracks, he owns them. The author describes it this way:

Once a desperate teenager finds herself under the spell of a pimp, once she is drawn in by the lure of fancy clothes, money, and undying love, she clings to the promise of emotional and economic security, things every child needs – and every neglected child craves. Abusive relationships at any age involve control, dependence, and elements of brainwashing.

If we could see prostitution as a symptom instead of a crime, we would be able to take some baby steps towards true dignity for women and children.

Halle Berry wrote a moving letter to the girls of our country and opened with these words:

Being a girl isn’t easy. Today in New York City, a girl will flee an abusive home, only to be approached by a pimp-trafficker who will promise her love and protection. He will not deliver on these promises. Instead, he will assault and degrade her, and later sell her repeatedly to johns. I have never met this girl, but she is my daughter.

America, it is time to value our daughters…every one of them!