Monday, December 19, 2016

Don't cry, my child, we are fighting for our rights

It's my last night in Swaziland for a little while, and it is the end of another journey. Yes, I'll be back, probably to continue the work that I've been doing in the past year and a half. But tomorrow I'll be leaving with the knowledge that something has already changed.
If you've travelled, if you've lived in places different that your hometown, if you've made connections out there in the world, you know how it feels: that moment when you know you've traded a piece of your heart for something else, something that is not explainable in a few words. That moment when you that, yet again, you're breaking an umbilical cord and you'll never be fully able to re-attach it.
For me, change is scary...sometimes I hate to admit it but it is. It's actually the "want-to-dig-a-whole-in-the-ground-and-stuck-my-head-in-it" kind of scary. To say it with Rachel (from Friends), sometimes change is "just kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic". Sometimes I cry for hours looking at pictures of what is soon to be in the past. Sometimes I want to deny and stop change so badly that I get angry, I get mad, I shout, I fight with the people around me, even with the things around me, covering a cry for help (Please make it stop! Now!) with angry words. I don't how many people could relate to this, most people seem to be dealing with change just fine, but that's how it feels to me.
So why do we do it, when we don't have to? I chose this field, this career, this kind of life. I knew change was an inevitable part of it, I knew change was actually its foundation. In particular, the work that I'm doing right now is all about developing social change. But I still chose it...why?
Well, because in the end change gives me energy. All this fear, all this sadness, all this anger, is nothing but energy, nothing but the "inner me" coming out and taking over. The "inner me" doesn't have it all figured out, but is very brave. It costs me so much to say it here, but change brings out my bravery. When I go through such a big change, I confront my fear, I live through every moment of it and then I come out on the other side, still scared, but also excited and fierce.
This year and a half in Swaziland was...easy. For the "inner me", at least. Of course, for the rest of me there were countless nights of no sleep because work is worrying me, hours and hours spent on working through difficulties in my relationships, way too many mistakes in planning expenditures within a budget and in organising events. I felt overwhelmed and upset and extremely disappointed in myself. I wanted to quit a few times, thinking I was not up to the task. So, that was hard....
But for the "inner me", it was very easy. After a week of being here I had already found my dance lesson. In a month, I found my favourite club. In two months, I found a partner that was incredibly willing to accompany me through all the hustles. In the space of six months, I had adapted so well that I spent Christmas and New Years here and it felt like any other time, like I was at home. Throughout all the difficulties and the hard times, I was happy to be here and I knew this was more that I could have hoped for.
....And this was before meeting "the women". "The women" have kinda become one entity in my head because of the way they make me feel. When I say "the women" I mean the groups of women who have walked this path with me, who have gone through this journey with me. The part of me that is disappointed with myself might have given up at some point, if it weren't for them.
They have, of course, individual names and stories. Khanisyle likes pink, she is always very pretty, she's quiet and shy, but she knows what she wants and how to ask for it. Busiswe is strong and opinionated, she gets emotional very easily, she likes telling me off but she is also quite funny (one day I asked her if her husband had more than one wife, she said "yes, of course, we are swazi!". A few moments of silence than she starts laughing, without saying anything, but I knew that what she wanted to say was "you really think I would let him have another woman??". The others confirmed she the only wife). We cried together when I told her I was going to leave Swaziland. Dlaliswe is a business woman and she loves being a business woman. She doesn't speak much about her private life, but I heard she used to make varnish wit her sister and she has lung problem for that. She's been telling me I drink too much Coca Cola, and she's right. Most importantly, she's a true  leader. Make Yende is sweet, she is always smiling and she always has some words to express her gratitude and happiness. She is also very reliable, the women of her coalition want to make sure she is always involved, in every activity, because they trust her to make the right decisions. I found Nomcebo scary at the beginning, she was always looking at me with a facial expression like "are you sure of what you're saying? I don't like you". Then she became something similar to a best friend and I understood that those looks were actually of concentration and focus on what I was saying, so that she could quickly form her opinion and respond, to have a real dialogue. She is the one that speaks english better in Lwandle, so she's been translating for me. She's young but she already has 3 kids. Her husbands supports the activities of the Women Centre fully and she would not accept any less, although she is also grateful. Nosisa was a colleague, but she is also one of the women. She unfortunately passed away in March, and that is why I took over the project, but she has left a big void. She knew how to relate to the other women on a personal level, she was a professional and a friend. She was a "gogo" and while none of us used to call her like that for fear of offending here, we all considered her a bit our still young "grandmother". She was simply amazing, and so is Nosipho - another colleague - who sings and dances with the women like that's what she was born to do. She's had to deal with her own family issues, she never thought she was gonna get married and now she happily is, with three kids, and can't stop talking about how her and her husband are most and foremost friends. There's a lot more of them...400, to be clear, and I love each one of them so deeply. 
All the women have welcomed me as their daughter and as their sister. They were worried when they realised I had a partner and they calmed down only when they met him. They were worried when we were meeting obstacles in our activities, just like I was, and we worked together to beat those obstacles. We were sad together when something couldn't happen, we were happy and satisfied together when we achieved some goals, we were grateful together for all that has been going well. I tried as hard as I could to have their back when other people were challenging them, and they always had mine. I fought with them a lot to, sometimes it was really like two deers locking horns for a while, but with love and respect. 
At the time, I was actually unhappy when I was asked to get more involved in the WIN project (at the beginning of the year). Until then, I had done a lot of work focussed on civil society, on human rights, etc... I thought working with rural women was going to be boring, too easy, less challenging. 
I was wrong.
The work with the women has taken and shaken me in ways I would have never expected. It has humbled me to my core, it has made me grow and turned me around. I cannot begin to write down everything that I've learnt, because there is no formula or dictionary. It is all in the human connections that I've made. When I talk with the women, the word "grateful" comes up a lot of times. Many times, they are grateful to my organisation for the work we do, but most of the times they are grateful to God. I know we have different ideas on this, but I have myself become more and more grateful in the last months, by being with them. I'm grateful to my colleagues, to the women, to everybody who made all this possible. A little part of me is also grateful to myself for not giving up and for being open to receive all that I have received. I hope I don't sound selfish.

When I think of how to describe my experience here, "my" Swaziland, "my" Africa on a social media, I always have trouble. For me, Swaziland was not pictures. It was not words to put on a status. I think this becomes clear when you look at my Facebook page lately, where I have written little compared to before. I didn't do it on purpose, it's just that if there's something I wanted to share, it is the sounds. The Swazi internet connection doesn't allow me to share many videos or audios, unfortunately. 
For me, Swaziland, or Africa, are its sounds. And the main sounds I have heard are coming from the women. 
The women sing, the women pray, the women tell their kids off, the women cry, the women give instructions, the women get angry, the women ask for help, they women speak their determination. The women make a lot of noise, a lot of sounds, and Ilove all of them.
When somebody then comes and tells me that man should help women get their voices, should help women speak up, it makes me very angry. Women have very loud voices, I hear them every day. The problem is that nobody listens.

So how does all this rambling tie up? Not so sure, but I think the point is that I'm scared and I wanna run away from this change, back to the comfort of my women. However, I am also aware that those women seemed like an impossible challenge one year ago, they were out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to run away from them to run into another "home". My life has been full of these "in and outs" of comfort zones, and I love it. 
I hope I am half as lucky in my next adventure, whenever that might start. I think it's clear by now that a part of me feels like it's already starting. I know for sure that I bring with myself a lot of new experience, a lot of wisdom from the women, a lot of beautiful memories. I also know (and again I am aware that I might sound selfish and self-centred) that nobody will love those women as much as I've loved them. They know it too.

It's time to go. I'll be looking for that hole in the ground where I can put my head to pretend like none of this is happening. Until the next women arrive.