Sixth Watsoversary – Mujeres Libres, Buenos Aires

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Six months means my second quarterly report to the TJW peeps was due. Enjoy!

Dear Watson Foundation,

Can you believe it’s been six months since I sent that first email from Barcelona? I can’t.

Surely, experiencing summer for 27 weeks straight has something to do with my disassociation with time (I’m conditioned to Midwest and East Coast weather). But mostly, I think splitting these past six months into four full chunks—each with different people, trips, methodology, sites, bus routes, and beds— has allowed the daunting six-month mark to sneak up on me.

Now, I never thought I would reach a point in time when I would fear my Watson trip coming to an end, but experiencing the possibilities of an independently crafted life has done that to me. And I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. During my travels, I’ve met so many women who have structured their lives around their freedom. Women who got a taste of independence and wrapped themselves around it before venturing to a new place, leaving their husband, opening their own business, becoming a student, smiling before naysayers.

It may sound cliché to argue that women want/like independence but to break down that word and see it play out in front of you reveals the depth that lies in such a statement. Especially when it’s evident to me that women must still defend their independence in one way or another. For six months, the Watson has granted me not only the resources and time to make my own choices, go where I want, and live as I please, but it has also given me a safe pass from having to defend myself for doing so. The ending of this temporary shield that prevents others from questioning my freedom is what scares me. My hope is that in the next six months, my journey will prepare me for that culminating day and equip me with the necessary strength and self-confidence to hold on to my dreams like all of the women I’ve met.

As for the past six months, they’ve been wild. Lately, I’ve actually been feeling like I’m constantly trying to catch up with my Watson life! Every country I’ve been to since leaving Barcelona has taken me by the hand and twirled me around before I could properly introduce myself.

The last time I wrote to you, I was a few weeks into my time in the Dominican Republic. Right after making contact with the non-profit Ciudad Alternativa, I began going into the office for 12-hour “work” days! The organization took me in as one of their own, allowing me to join their community and office activities, as well as letting me design and facilitate a series of 10 workshops for women community leaders and hold focus groups and talks with women in different communities around the topic of gender violence.

The entire time I was simultaneously terrified and extremely excited: instead of being an observer (as originally imagined) I was introduced as the “gender expert” and allowed to go as far as I wanted to with that title. I had never experienced so much trust and validation before. In eight weeks, the women I met and collaborated with at the workshops, the office, and my team of “Poder Social” became my family. As you can guess, it was very difficult to leave Santo Domingo. I cried all the way to the airport in the backseat of my cab that Sunday morning.

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Best good-bye present ever!

Although my time in the Dominican Republic was incredibly fulfilling, I must admit it was also very exhausting. I missed having time for myself to unwind, to get home on time to cook dinner with my roommates, or simply to go grocery shopping before it got dark. So when I arrived in Lima I knew I wanted to spend it totally different. My main contact fell through, and although I reached out to some organizations I didn’t follow through and opted to just go into the mercados and meet women on my own. Luckily, there was a small mercado around the corner from my place so I’d hangout there most mornings and every evening.

I would sit on the edge of the sidewalk, on top of a green egg carton in front of my friend Goya’s soy milk cart. As I drank my two cups of her delicious warm milk, she would introduce me to her customers and tell me stories about her life. She even taught me some Quechua words and invited me one day to see the house she was so proud of having built with her own money.

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Good-bye lunch with Goya

I have so many fond memories of Goya and all the other women I met at the mercado. Women who welcomed me into their lives, fed me, invited me to spend Christmas with them, took me to their churches, and made me feel looked after like a daughter again. Before departing Peru, I spent some time in Cuzco and fell in love with the city! The mercados were colorful and full of surprises, the New Years Eve celebration at Plaza de Armas was a blast, and visiting Machu Picchu was the icing of the cake on the fantastic year that was 2015 for me.

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I am five days into Buenos Aires and I’m so excited about what’s to come! Today I made my first contact and visited a radio station where activist women hold a weekly show (today’s topic was labor rights). Plus, I had empanadas for dinner.

 

Thank you for this opportunity and for giving me the space to reflect on my journey. Until next time!

P.S I added some red streaks to my hair– I had to look “cool” for Buenos Aires 😉

~Mayra

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Here’s to six more months (and hopefully more furry friends)!

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