Being a woman hasn't changed much.
I am sure you are all disagreeing quietly in the back of your minds. Of course our lives have got easier. Our children are more likely to live till adulthood. We have appliances that do the hard work for us. We have tiled floors, motor cars, the internet connecting us to a community drawn from all nations. We have homes with doors and windows and roofs and security systems. We have hospitals and ambulances and antibiotics. In this world we should never be lonely, tired, dirty, sick or afraid.
This week I was lonely, tired, sick and afraid. I was even dirty (although not for long). Yes, I am in awe of the environment and circumstances that women have had to endure in the centuries before us, not so long ago in fact, and even today in a large part of the world. But having the comforts and benefits of living in a wealthy, stable Western society does not protect me from the fundamental pressures of living. I still have to learn to deal with them in my own way. In fact, the romantic postmodern rural movement would have us believe that life was in fact easier when there was no city rush, no noise pollution, no fragmentation and decimation of the family from the land. I'm not sure I agree with them wholly. I think I would go mad if I had to boil my laundry and spend the day working my knuckles to the bone getting out the grease from a week's worn clothes, or milk the cow every morning just so we could enjoy breakfast.
It's so easy to look at different times and places and compare ourselves to those situations saying, "I ought to be grateful", or, "They had it so much better than me". My aim this week is no longer to compare myself and say, "If only", but rather to consider what others have been through, or are going through, and say, "What can I learn from them?".
During this time of moving to another country, I am so grateful that I am not moving because of genocide, famine or unrest. My grandmother had to leave Kenya in the 1960s with her five boys, leaving my grandfather behind to fight a guerilla war in the jungle. She went on a ship to England, and lived there on her own for two years. What anxiety she must have suffered, when she would not see her husband for a year, wondering whether he was still alive. How difficult it must have been to move away from her family and the only life she had known to a world of terraced houses, smog, crowding and particularly cold and rain, after the wide plains and warm winds of Africa. My move now to Indiana is like preparing for a vacation in comparison. I can learn from her that homesickness is inevitable, but that we are stronger than our emotions. I can learn that no matter how far we are from our family, the bonds can never be broken.
Most of all, I am trying to think about how she would have dealt with all the little details of moving a family to an unknown place. She is so practical, has such ingenuity and above all finds such joy in solving the small problems of everyday life. She lives life almost as though in a children's story book. Everyday objects get special names, plants are talked to like old friends, routines become little rituals that rise above the profane and bring a spiritual quality to mundane tasks.
This week, I am going to try to keep the magic, in the midst of forms, boxes and lists. I am going to look for the little things that sparkle. I know they are there. My granny's legacy to me was gently opening my eyes to see them.
My granny, Beth Fey.