Saturday, March 21, 2015

Blooming in the moonlight

              Announced on NPR this morning was the fact that first lady, Michelle Obama, is working with CARE and Peace Corps to promote girls' education. The familiar reasons for this push cited, (economic benefits, better health knowledge, and so forth) I think of three of my own.

      It's 2007,  I'm assisting in facilitating an adult literacy group mainly for women in rural Gambia. By assisting, I mean that the guy who comes to Paka to instruct this group doesn't really feel like it any more, and has handed me some Mandinka language readers and assumed I had a relevant skillset. I don't, but I want one. Everyone's complaining about holding a pencil for the first time and they have begun to read syllables in Mandinka and copy these into their notebooks. Suddenly Fatou gets up and goes into the house, we're at her house- I assume she's fed up. She returns with her three children's health cards. She points to the name, "La... Lamin?" she says, pointing to the name on the card.

      A man is traveling from Banjul, presumably he used to be from some village up in Central River Region, Our bus rolls into a Kiang village that looks like it's exploded with giant green mangoes. A dozen girls are pushing their bowls of fruit up to the bus windows, hoping for a sale. The traveler selects a bag from a girl, handing her a bill she cannot identify. He chuckles, lifts her money pouch from the bowl, selects his change, and hands it back to her. "Kiang!" he laughs, as he chips a bit of skin off the first mango and spits it out the window. The girl sits back down by the side of the road to wait for the next bus to come.

     I gave Betembo an old Nokia phone. I've literally had to write the numbers on the worn-out pads with sharpie and the thing looks like a homemade toy at this point. She wanted the phone, but she only received calls from the two relatives we gave the number to. One day, she's standing by my door with the phone in one hand a little torn off piece of cigarette carton in the other. She instructs me to teach her to dial. We go through reading the numbers on the paper and the keypad, and she makes her first phone call to her brother in Kiang. She yells at him for a couple of minutes, insisting that he visits, hangs up, and tucks the phone into her skirt, grinning.
                          Of course it's about the bigger picture- women entering the formal sector, girls delaying marriage to a healthy age, passing knowledge of health and habits onto ones' children, gaining access to the parts of the world that require literacy. It's also about something so much more personal, too. With each little piece of power, you gain another choice in your life. It could be as small as handing the right health card to the doctor with dignity. It could mean knowing the value of your small enterprise, or the freedom to communicate by phone like any other person.