Happy New Year!
Lima carried me away upon arrival, preventing me from giving the Dominican Republic it’s proper space on this blog. And more specifically, to share the beautiful moments I had with women. Brave and inspiring women who became my friends, my teachers, my companions.
So I’m going to celebrate them in my first 2016 post, which means going back to November of last year . . .
Every Friday for three hours, around 22 women and me carved out a space for ourselves. Here, we were unapologetic and loud. We spoke of nosotras, todas, and las as we told our stories and affirmed others. We were between the ages of 18 and 61, and although challenging sometimes, it was mostly fruitful and lively. Our differences allowed us the opportunity to talk desde el ‘yo’, from the I, and outwards to each compañera.
This was a group of giants. Women who weren’t afraid to tell you how fantastic they were with a grin and little pop of the hip. They proudly gathered their accomplishments and demanded that you hear them.
As community leaders, educators, mothers, sisters, and daughters, this sense of self-worth was their shield against the disgusting amount of violence they experienced at the hands of politicians trying to evict them; their fellow male activists who only assigned them secretarial and clean-up duties; the men sexually harassing them outside of every Colmado and riding–sometimes servicing–their guagua.
One of these women is Francisca, who I got to know very well as the weeks went by. She is 61, and has been raising her older daughter’s three children after she was murdered at the hands of her partner 9 years ago. How did Francisca prevent getting swallowed by grief? With her hands.
Francisca is an amazing basket weaver and can repair your old wooden chair or table into beautiful furniture that’s intricately woven. One afternoon, she showed me how to make a small basket and told me how she was going to start giving classes to the women in her neighborhood, so that they too could use this talent to make an income.
Patricia is another woman who like a Phoenix, rose from the ashes. She led my team, Poder Social, was finishing up her social work degree, and taught Taekwondo and theater on the weekends to the kids in her neighborhood.
“Patricia es una tigre” everyone would say, mighty like a tiger that you dared not trespass. We shared a love for batidas de lechoza, and as we each drank our own one evening, she told me about the seven abusive years she survived with her ex-husband. I’ll never forget her voice, low and flat. Or how her body remembered it all still, and would begin reenacting the painful memories that left her mouth.
I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with Patricia and listened to her delegate tasks as well as sing old Mexican songs from her desk; to see her school projects as well as her fancy dancing skills; and to call this mujer libre my friend.
I went with Patricia to an Encuentro on November 24th, where I met other mujeres libres. These were feminist, activist women who were coming together to write a set of demands that would be read at a press conference the following morning to commemorate the International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Throughout the day, these women, all past their 40s, broke into chant with their fists in the air. Take a listen.
I can’t explain how incredibly happy it made me to be surrounded by these women; simply knowing that empowered women were organizing themselves across Santo Domingo (and reminding themselves to use feminine pronouns) filled me with a lot of hope.
The following day I arrived to room filled with cameras and reporters, giving all of their attention to the women sitting at the front of the room, loudly reciting our demands.
After all the reporters had shuffled out of the room with their microphones in hand, we drank coffee and made plans for future organizing. We were all wild with excitement and anger – the kind that empowers you once you’ve decided to break silence.
While all of this was happening, I had a wonderful roommate who helped create a comfy home out of our Airbnb house. Aside from her wonderful baking and her cool Spotify playlists, Elsi was always there to listen to me complain about how tired I was on long days and would distract me by showing me how delicious pancakes can be when eaten with cheese or sugar.
I shared wonderful trips with her around the DR and fun week nights in Santo Domingo, which I miss a lot. Being on this trip by myself is making me grow in ways that aren’t completely clear to me yet, but that I know are big and make me feel extremely fortunate. But having someone to share the excitement of these discoveries is very comforting and I feel I learned a lot about myself through her – by listening to her dreams, her worries.
During my Watson interview, I was asked to reflect on what it would mean to fail if I were obtain the fellowship. I remember looking down at the table, unsure of how to answer. As a million things passed through my head, I heard myself saying that I could only fail if I didn’t form relationships with other women.
Now that I’m 25 weeks into the Watson, the concept of failure feels even more elusive than it did then, sometimes manifesting itself as my own sword of Damocles and other times appearing inapplicable at all to this experience. Nonetheless, what I said that day has continued to ring true. I am carrying into the new year all of the stories and special moments I’ve shared with the women I’ve met so far, and never have I felt so fortalecida, so very right.