Went looking for a story - came out with smiles and a thankful heart
There I was, amidst welcoming faces. Welcoming, but unfamiliar faces! I was on a mission; looking for the perfect ‘woman story’.
I am listing ‘people stories’ to bring to you, to enlighten us all.
I spent 90 minutes of my time listening to a group of active community women. And those minutes were effortless. So many stories unfolded. Some of it was sad. But it was enlightening, liberating and heartening.
I am debating in my head how to bring the stories to you the way I felt it sitting amongst them. I was there to witness their triumphs, hear their struggles, to learn about solutions that can be applied to other women, other situations. In the process, I felt a healing. It was me, the humble I, who was learning from their idea of a solution to women’s struggles. It was not the purpose – but it also was!
A few days before that, I was discussing with a friend about prospective women who I could interview and she told me that sometime back she was on a quest to document women’s work that goes mostly unnoticed, under-represented and undervalued. She said she had been documenting the lives of street sweepers, cemetery attendants (jamaaiytherin), people who made short eats ('hedhikaa')... and the like. They all sounded wonderful. But I wanted the cemetery attendant. Why? Because not too many people are in that profession and I believe it requires a lot of guts to care for the soulless body.
So there I was. I called her and arranged a time to meet. She invited me to her ‘trees’. Said there I could also meet the rest of the people in the ‘farm’. (I use these terms in quotes because in our local terms we say 'gasthaku therey' -- ‘in the trees’ -- to indicate greenery; and we use the word ‘dhandu’ to indicate crops grown for agricultural purposes.
So yes! There I was. And we were not alone. She, Rahuma -- a funeral attendant (I am still looking for the correct English term for ‘jamaaiytheriyaa’, the attender to the deceased body), me -- the seeker of stories.
There also were: a tutor who gives tuition at home for students from grades 1 to 7, a seamstress, a mature housewife, a civil servant in an administrative job, an elderly who I assume to have retired from all aspects called 'work', and another young woman who didn’t say much and I assume her to be a housewife. Everyone except the elderly and myself, were farmers in that community, in that group. [Note: they didn't consider their farming as work. It was time pass, it was a hobby, it was their healing point, their meeting point].
I explained what I was doing with World Pulse, and why I was sitting there with Rahuma. I was trying to zero in on Rahuma. She was comfortable in her group and within minutes I was comfortable in theirs. I did get some insight in to ‘her story’. I will share that some other time. Our talks turned onto the role of women in society, the undue hardship most of us face, and the cruelty we sometimes are subjected to.
On that point, there was an out-pour of emotions, a rush of explanations, justifications, and from there on emerged a tribute to the vocalized women movement. There was admonishment, a gush of advice to have faith in whatever hardship, to have faith that this world is transitory, that the persevering and the humble will be rewarded one day. There was also the power for women to seek help, seek support, and mingle with others in the society.
My subject was now her. Let’s call her Fathimah. This out-pour of emotions was strong and loud and commanded attention. Once she started, she couldn’t stop. It was obvious she had been hurt in more ways than she could voice out or a listener could stand to listen without breaking apart. But what was important was to know she was content and that she had found a way to comfort her soul; the lines on her face radiated the contentment and gratitude. She had a beautiful smile on her face that spoke volumes about what she had endured and triumphed.
This group sitting around me - that group exuded camaraderie. In loquacious out-pours she constantly sought agreement from her more silent soul mate (let's call her Sabira), sitting shoulder to shoulder with her. It was obvious that the strength of the group was our Rahuma who was sitting across them. Fathimah, now and then also tried to bring in the soul perched on the border, the elderly woman who sat a little to the side outside the circle and listened intently, with a face that said she had carried the world on her shoulders, and as ‘we’ talked, she just silently re-lived her life flash by flash that only seem to have held sorrow. I saw that on her face. I so wish to talk to her, to reach her. Alas…
All in all it was a therapy group; they were their counselors, their therapists, and their support mechanism. The message they emitted was the importance of a communal spirit of sharing sorrows, seeking a laugh, and being there for each other.
When asked how our women can overcome the varying levels of abuse, Fathimah vehemently said ‘we cannot cure it by pointing fingers at the partner, by humiliating him in the public, by putting him in custody. What we can do is show unmatched kindness and be the best we can be with also a strong foot. Eventually they will break and eventually you will win. If not on this world, in the hereafter you will win. The most important point is not to lose oneself into a place of self-oblivion.’
I applauded her loquaciousness, and our serene Rahuma quietly said “Fathimah has changed. She was meek as a mouse earlier.” And Fathimah, with love and respect shining in her eyes, thanked her group for being her support, for holding her hand, for showing her that life is bearable when one can laugh off the sorrows with people who cared.
I was so moved and so humbled. I left them with a lightness in my heart, thankful for all that I have.