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Reflections of a participant at the JASS Feminist Writeshop

25 February 2013: Reflections of a participant at the JASS Feminist Writeshop

I am sitting in a big conference room with four big tables sitting 8 participants each, all feminists from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. The venue is Wedgwood Lodge in Melville, Johannesburg in South Africa, and the event a Feminist Write-shop running for 3 days from 25 to27 February 2013. The objectives of the workshop are clearly spelt out in the introductory session: to build coherence in feminist methodologies, shared analysis and political strategy across the globe; to build teams of activists working in country regionally to support feminist knowledge and movement building; and to build a common regional feminist communication strategy of amplifying voices and empowering organisations to communicate more effectively in Southern Africa. The process is facilitated by Shamim Meer , Margaret Mapondera and Anna Davies .

“I like the writeshop, it is well thought out and well organised. The facilitators have really put a lot into it and the idea of having us send our proposals for what we would like to write on was excellent because everyone came prepared and knowing what to focus on. The session so far has been participatory and practical, and I have learnt a lot. I have enough ideas to re-work my proposal and produce my feature article on ARVs and women’s health rights in Malawi,” enthuses Sibongile Singini, a Malawian feminist.

Day 1 opened with a session on Tai Chi, a Chinese healing method for the heart, mind and body. This was followed by the real Writeshop, and the three topics for the day included ‘Exploring feelings about writing’; ‘Organising your ideas;’ and ‘feminist analysis and writing practice. These were spiced up with timed practical sessions on ‘Freewriting’ and on ‘Peer Feedback on proposals’, three minutes each. Two articles below are what I produced during the 3 minute practical writing sessions.

Sample 1: Exploring feelings about Writing

When I think of writing I feel like a sojourner, setting out on a journey to expose what I have left behind me, to explore possibilities of the future ahead of me, and what the past can add to it. It is a future I know nothing about, but soon to discover. I feel energised. I feel emotional; happy, sad and angry at the same time, but always ready to listen to the voice that says,
slow down Dudzi
slowly re-direct your energies
slowly channel your rage
channel it in positive directions
So, when I think of writing, I feel like the creator of new possibilities. The creator of a destiny once dictated by my past, by society, but ready to be re-shaped by my new feminist beliefs, and my pen.

Sample 2: Freewriting session

The day I first made love
When the cork crows for the first time we are already up and straightening our dresses to face the new day. We quickly dash out of the girls’ sleeping hut and rush to the kitchen to grab our water buckets in good time to catch up with grandma. We bath in the cold flowing waters of Mutorahuku river everyday, and on our way back we balance water on our heads, in good time to warm for our brothers’ baths before we all leave for school. We walk silently behind grandma, and as soon as we get to the river we silently remove our clothes and find our positions in the freezing cold water of this June morning.

“Squat, what are you waiting for?” That is grandma. She has no time to waste. The ritual has to be done quickly while the men are still sleeping, least they pass through the river and discover the secrets of our womanhood.

I squat in the flowing waters and they coldly come up to the level of my burst. I am still anticipating fully bulging breasts, I only have small ones, the size of eggs grandma’s hen is laying under the granery. Tari’s breasts are twice the size of mine. I feel the water flowing, freezing cold water, flowing between my legs. I remain in that same position, and slowly the cold turns into warmth around my vagina, and I feel at one with the flow.

“Touch the parts I showed you yesterday with both fingers on each side and pull the flesh forward.” Grandma’s instruction is clear enough but today I choose not to pull the labia, but rather to caress my vagina in the warmth of the flowing Mutorahuku waters. I continue caressing it, slowly. Caress, up and down, and sideways. I caress, east west, north and south.
East west
which place is best
East west
V….

Suddenly, I hear the sensational surge coming. I feel the warmth, and more heat. I groan, once, twice, and I want to urinate, to jump, to, I want, I want, I want. I don’t know what I want to do but I want to … I scream, and let go.

“What is it you?” that’s grandma.

“I want to pee grandma,” I lie.

“So why are you making noise, why don’t you just pee and go on with the business before the sun rises on you.”

We do a lot of stuff at Mutorahuku, and the all welcoming river keeps flowing. We bath and wash clothes, we bath here and sit by the banks to share the village news. Tari, my cousin always summarises the village gossip, and she has it all on time all the time. As we walk out of the water to take a proper bath she whispers in my ear,

“Don’t step on that stone, this is where Nyarai threw her baby last week.”
“Which baby Tari?” I ask, in whispers. Grandma, who is now busy filling up our water buckets upstream does not have to hear the conversation.
“Don’t you know Nyarai was pregnant? She gave birth and threw her baby here. The police came to fetch her and locked her up. Mudhibhisi, the father of that child reported her.
“But I saw Mudhibhisi yesterday, he is not locked up.”
“So why do you think they would lock him up? Did he kill any child? He gave life to that child instead, before Nyarai killed and threw it in the river. That will teach her never to open her legs to men before they pay lobola for her again, that is if at all she is lucky to come back alive from Mutimurefu.”

“But Tari….?”
“But what Miss But? You ask too many questions, can you bath and let’s go!”

Grandma is here and we zip up our mouths. My question sticks with me, Tari maintains her sissy-knows-it-all attitude as she quickly rubs her whole body with the piece of green soap while I stretch my hand towards her for my turn. My question sticks with me, and Mutorahuku River flows still, peacefully.

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