Never too late to start: Jarina

“It is untrue that we women are weaker, we all are very special and have our set of strengths and weaknesses. We need to start talking about weaknesses before the pressure of being strong and perfect wreaks our possibilities and happiness.”

I have always been a strong, independent girl. Since childhood I was really good at sports and academics. A trunk full of medals and certificate was usual sight for me. But no one really paid much attention to it in the society I lived in, not even my parents. So it didn’t matter to me as well. I boxed and played basketball at the district level. I didn’t have to worry about my yearly test results for I was hard working and got ranked first or second in school.

My parents were never around when I was being applauded and appreciated by my peers. I never blamed them since they came from humble backgrounds and probably didn’t realize that these awards and ceremonies mattered. I had decided to be a nurse unaware of the fact that my parents had their own ideas about what it meant to be a nurse. Apparently nurses ended up becoming maniacs.

Mom said, “Uncle will take you to get your admission done” when I was helping her in the kitchen, chopping vegetables. I told her exam date for entrance was not near and it would happen only after a few weeks. “I am talking about management, not nursing” she explained. I told her that why I wanted to be a nurse. We ended up arguing and I lost my temper. People have wounds and scars from physical accidents but mine was different. I took the same knife I was chopping the vegetables with and carved lines on my wrist. But things ended up being the way they wanted and I had to study management, which I had never imagined myself doing.

I am 28 years old now. I worked in a bank which was a strange experience. Mostly because banking is not nursing. I always felt that void in my life, unhappy and unsatisfied that comes from not being able to progress towards a dream.I stayed at home, hardly got out, watching TV and doing nothing. Recently I started Zumba, it kept me fit and I’ve finally made new friends. During the recent earthquake I finally got myself out of house, together with my Zumba friends and started relief work. My contribution might not be big but I was moving ahead each time with the hope that it might make a little difference. I started working on building a school.

One day we were walking up a hill when a villager approached us and requested to help with a delivery case. The first thing I saw was a mother laying on the bed. The room was full of screams, pain, sweat and blood. Suddenly I found myself helping to deliver a child. I had never seen or experienced anything like it before, just the memories gives me the chills. The sight of the baby’s head made me nervous and anxious. I heard people shouting at me “Jarina, get that baby, hold him in your arms.” I could not believe what I was being a part of.

I was the first one to hold this new life and I could feel power, love, hope and magic.

“Slap the baby, he is not making any movements”,

How could I slap such a harmless thing? But the baby really was not moving. I tried hopelessly, hurting the baby and finally managed. He started crying and I cried along with him. I had delivered a baby, become the nurse that I always wanted to be. I will never forget that moment in my entire life.

It is untrue that we as women are weaker, we are all very special and have our set of strengths and weaknesses. We need to start talking about weaknesses before the pressure of being strong and perfect wreaks our happiness. Women do not need to be told what to do and how to live their lives, it is time we realize our strengths and accept the way we are.

It is never too late to start. I have become independent. 

This experience taught me that it is not the weaknesses in people that stops us from being happy and progressive but the social system that constantly restricts us from exploring new avenues and forces us to live the life of someone we are not even connected with.

My unwritten story : Sanu

A typical day in the village started with my parents doing their chores and hunting, my siblings: three girls who worked in the fields and six boys who went to school. Our days would start pretty early; we would be in the field by nine in the morning to six in the evening. Sowing seeds, harvesting crops, playing in the rivers and watching the birds was really recreational. We did not care much about school or anything beyond in life.

My grandmother was a conservative person and dictated most of the household.She thought education ruined a woman’s life since it gave us independence and liberty. It was incorrect for women to get educated as it motivated us to make unethical and culturally incorrect choices, hence she decided that we stay home. My grandmother sent my aunts to school and they were literate but it did our family no good. My parents bought land and needed people to till and work the land so all his girls; me & my female siblings; were put to work in the farms instead of being sent to school. They thought that operating the land would provide a better future for us, more than getting an education would.

I remember that day very clearly; there were some strangers at my place, probably purchasing something from the shop my father owned. There was a man who I could partly see; he was behind a tarp sheet. He seemed like a healthy, tall person. After he left my father said to me, “I know you will keep my words and value my honor. It is time we get you married. Do not let us down.” It was then that I realized that the man I had partly seen was the guy I was going to spend the rest of my life with.

“I will never be able to write my story, and even if someone else did it for me, I will not be able to read it”

I did not know what was happening but I did not get angry or mad. I was nervous. I tried not thinking about it as much as I could until that one day when I was in the fields with my sisters. It was just another day and we were headed home.

“Your soon to be in-laws were here today. This will be your new family” father said as we were walking indoors. The feeling was exciting this time; I was the eldest out of all my siblings and still single. Most girls in my village were usually sent off by 15 or 16 years of age. I was the luckiest; my parents got me married once I turned 22. I knew that from now everything was going to be different, my friends and guardians, my home, the environment and my family.

After our wedding I went with him to his village and stayed there a few months but our life together started in Kathmandu. I feel lucky to have him in my life and a daughter that I call my family today. Marriage for a woman is different than for a man, the fact that we are not educated and self- sufficient that makes us the weaker sex.

My husband is a good man and it has already been ten years. He takes good care of me. When I look around I feel I am in a better place and very content but there are those days when I feel like a parasite, not capable of reading or writing or take a bus with confidence when I hate life and regret being born as an illiterate rural woman.

Although I have not been to a school, I saw how it makes the men in my family more confident and wise. Education is extremely important to know how to read, to learn, to know what the world is like. It is important because it is the most effective way to become economically and socially independent.
This ‘modern world’ does not have much space for people like me who are not literate. I send my daughter to school and tell her my story so that she lives her own life and not a life like her mother’s.

If I were to turn my life upside down for better, I would not even have to go too far. All I had to do was to be born as male in my family, if not educated I would at least be literate. I can express myself verbally and that is all. I know I can never express or write down my feeling, my story or even my name. One thing I will always feel dejected about is the fact that I will never write my story; I will always be the character someone else has imagined me to be.

I will never be remembered in the books and even if I am, I will not know since I cannot read.

 

It is ok to be different : Micole

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Family and society whose main purpose is to exist in harmony and contribute to growth has instead become something that plays with power, puts us in boxes and demotivates us. It is the things we are told and the way we are brought up that abstains us from honing our potentials, eventually making us the ‘weaker sex’. We are discouraged from exploring and this is how our chances of excelling in life automatically drops.

I was expected to get the best scores and I complied, they asked me not to be honest in my expressions or be flamboyant in my actions and I complied. They told me that women should not make their choices and I took orders. Such fostering where we are taught to give more weight to our shortcomings is where I started becoming unaware of my true self.

I remember those days when I was just out of my teens, I had just started standing up for what I liked. My family that I had loved left me. It is then when I understood how social beliefs can be mightier than love. This is when I was at my weakest. My friends understood what I wanted and gave me the strength to fight. In no time I was ready to fight the battle all on my own with the unconditional love my friends promised me.

Desire would have had a set of parents but her father chose not to be with us, he chose to let us find our own way. We didn’t just come from different socio- cultural backgrounds but were brought up with different set of religious beliefs as well. I tried getting our families together to start a new life with the baby and I let him choose. He chose to escape and I accepted it.

When I could not manage a social tie that would have certified a relationship with Desire’s father a lot of my own people persuaded me to abort. The most difficult part was to accept that I was going to be a single mother, something our society does not ratify, especially when it is a choice that a woman makes.

I chose to fall in love and then I chose motherhood. I also chose to fill my body with art. I painted Desire‘s palm on my skin which will stay with me even after I die. My life became tough when my choices started making me happier and I finally started saying no to things that did not matter. In legal terms isn’t this what human rights constitutes of? Are we all not fighting the same battle?

Today I am in love with the single mother that I am; my daughter is two and a half years old. It makes things pretty virtuous, almost perfect; the changes have been more inside me than outside. Her name is Desire. It is the only name I could think of since she was conceived. She makes me a better person each day, everyday.

The most difficult part was to accept that I was going to be a single mother, something our society does not ratify, especially when it is a choice that a woman makes.

I still do not have the answers but I am content in what has become of me. I have understood that my struggles helped me understand my real strengths. I learnt that I had to pay a price if I wanted a promising future for my daughter. The word ‘Aama’ gives me power to fight my blues and build my strength. I have lived a human life for the last 25 years but nothing compares to the emotions and beauty I have seen as a mother.

Long ago when I did not know the definition of feminism and human rights, it pained to see how worthless our lives were. The only way I could redeem myself for being a part of this unforgiving society was by contributing something positive in somebody’s life. I helped some kids from the streets to go to the school and a few to get married. IMG_1795

I have always advocated for a just and equal society but when I got pregnant I realized what it actually meant to be a feminist. I made a choice that felt right to me. But I was abandoned, no one cared that it made me happy, not even my mother.

As human beings our animal instincts stimulate us to attain what we desire, to feel accomplished and be happy. However our society is constantly disheartening us, teaching us otherwise, dislocating our spiritual balance and killing budding dreams. This turns us all into unhappy souls who end up contributing nothing positive to the social institutions and other realities, this is where the real problems thrive.

Why is it wrong for me to have a baby all by myself? Why was I left alone? Where were the women who talk of equality and humanity, what were the women in my family thinking? Why couldn’t the survivors help me in my struggle?

I do not have a plan for my daughter really but I do think that I will support my baby with all the choices she makes. I try to transfer the little wisdom that I have but I do not wish to dictate her life or make decisions for her. If the social norms do not help our growth we need to fight it and change it. From my personal experience I can tell her that it will be a difficult journey but it will also be absolutely worth it.

Today I listen to my heart and it guides me on the path of positivity and compassion. When I started taking my decisions is when I realized that it is ok to be different.

 

Most importantly, I wish for the betterment of my family: Phoolmaya

Phoolmaya was born in the early 1970s in the Terai region of southern Nepal. Her young mother abandoned her while she was an infant, followed by her father also leaving to pursue a life outside of the responsibilities of being a parent. She was left with and raised by her grandparents, both of whom she experienced a deeply loving relationship with.

A few years after relocating from the Terai to Kathmandu at the age of 11, Phoolmaya’s grandparents passed away, and she was left in the care of an aunt, until she was married at the age of 19. Uneducated and illiterate, Phoolmaya moved with her husband to the rural village of Dandatateri in Sindhupalchok, where the two of them shared a single room home as well as a plot of land.

Phoolmaya’s marriage proved to be the cause of many hardships, as her husband, who was a construction contractor, fell into the world of addiction.

Amidst the years in which she birthed four children, alcohol was a constant in her husband’s life.

As he became immersed in the ways of drinking and gambling, Phoolmaya worked to keep their children’s needs met by doing local labor, filtering sand for plaster, moving loads of stones and cleaning stoves on the side.
Throughout the years, Phoolmaya suffered both verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her husband until, when her third child was four years old, he was convicted and sent to prison for money laundering. He remained in prison for the following 4 and a half years.

Upon his release, Phoolmaya became pregnant with their fourth and youngest child.

A few years later, without consulting her, Phoolmaya’s husband sold their plot of land for 7 lakhs. He spent the money within a matter of months, leaving the family destitute but for the money she earned working labor.

“In April 2015, Phoolmaya was one of the many people in Nepal who experienced the devastation of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She and her five years old daughter were inside the house when the earth shook and the house began to collapse around them.”

In a state of desperately wanting to better the circumstances for her three oldest children, Phoolmaya sent two of them to Kathmandu, where her oldest son found work and her oldest daughter, a teenager at the time, took on duties as a domestic worker sewing and cleaning for a family. Finally, through Phoolmaya’s efforts in approaching multiple homes seeking domestic work, she was introduced to a local aid organization through which her two oldest daughters were successfully sponsored to attend boarding school and receive a quality education, as well as the necessities of physical care and nourishment.
Phoolmaya remained in the village with her youngest daughter, who was not yet of age to attend school.

In April of 2015, Phoolmaya was one of the many people in Nepal who directly experienced the devastation of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake. She and her daughter, five years old at the time, were inside of the house when the earth shook and the house began to collapse around them. Escaping the house with their lives intact, a wall of the house came down upon Phoolmaya’s leg, crushing her knee and leaving her unable to return to any kind of labor work moving forward.

Their family home destroyed and her husband’s whereabouts after the earthquake unknown, Phoolmaya returned with her daughter to Kathmandu to join her other three children, now aged 21, 20 and 14.

The five of them are currently living in a single room apartment. While her 20 year old son has a labor job in iron work, the family continues to struggle economically, having nearly been evicted onto the street more than once due to their inability to make rent payments.

Through the efforts of Phoolmaya’s eldest daughter seeking help, their basic needs including rent and groceries are currently being met through the donations of international friends who have offered to temporarily assist them until their economic situation improves. Her daughter is currently in the process of pursuing work overseas as a housekeeper or factory worker in order to support the family.

Phoolmaya’s husband has recently been located in Kathmandu. He has expressed no interest in reconnecting with or supporting their family, and has made verbal threats against Phoolmaya’s physical wellbeing should they see one another again.

When asked what her wishes for the future are, Phoolmaya responds simply. She wants to live happily. She wants to be free from trouble, from the problems that she has experienced, and she wishes to be healthy. Most importantly, she wishes for the betterment of her family, for her children to live without the trouble she herself continues to experience.

To see her children happy.

To see her children succeed.

story & photos contributor: Mandy Glinsbockel
http://www.mandyglinsbockel.com

Our identity and existence has been dependent on our male counterparts: Maya

A usual day was waking up at dawn and working all day; chores that were never ending and tiring. I could not be demanding but I remember asking ‘my family’ to send me to school. “You get enough to eat and survive, what is with these additional demands?” That is where it always ended; after all I was only a maid who was being taken care of.

I was 12 or 13 when I started feeling and understanding things, had they let me read and write or sent me to school I would have praised them my whole life. I could not bear it when the violence started becoming extreme and inhuman. Sometimes the simplest of things would invite terrorizing humiliation. Verbal and physical insults had no defined structure; sometimes she would spit on my face in front of people.

“They told me I was bought for 50 dollars when I was 5 years old from Guwahati, India. I grew up with a lot of negative reinforcements; slaps and punches were a part of my daily life.”

I grew up in Boudha with a Sherpa family; they told me I was bought for INR 5000 from Guwhati, India when I was 5 years old. I grew up with a lot of negative reinforcements; slaps and punches were a part of my daily life. I shared my life and bed with the dog they had, sometimes I felt it had a better life than mine. That is pretty much what I remember of my childhood.
1When things started getting too harsh at 14, I ran away for the first time and started working in a hotel. They found me and told me that things will get better and we will be a family this time, promising me with more smiles and dreams. It turned out to be the worst nightmare. This time I had to experience sexual abuse from the son of the family.

I was no one’s daughter with no family which is probably why  even when I ran away it was only to go back to the same people. Whenever I demanded to be sent to school. “What you are getting now is what you are worth, you are a maid” is the only education I ever really got. “If I am a maid why am I not getting paid?” I told them to pay me for all the years I had worked for free. Nothing ever happened however.

I was 16 years old and had already experienced so much pain and fear.A friend had told me about a marketing job in North India and I fearless decided to take that voyage. I even went to Guwhati looking for my parents but found no one, how would I anyway? I did not know their names or what they looked like. I spent a year in India selling sweaters, learning marketing,human behavior, relationships and most importantly myself. I learnt how fragile and temporary relationships were. I was feeling wiser and happier and things were working well until the owner started getting frisky with me and life became difficult again. I went to the owner’s wife and told her what was going on, for a change,she was actually a nice person. She bought me my tickets back to Nepal and helped me out. It was the first time in my life where I was taking my decisions, doing things I liked and stayed away from what I did not like.
Maya's daughterOnce I came back to Nepal I went back to the same place one more time, what other option did I have? They did not have anyone to do the chores and I had no food to eat so they took me in. This time it was not for too long, they started accusing me of being too flamboyant and that I was getting out of control.

A friend told me that Pokhara was the place to be in and make a living so I left for Pokhara. I worked in a cosmetic shop and started learning things faster than I thought I would. I found someone I felt connected with and attracted towards. My boss found out about my relationship with him and fired me. They took my phone, my sim card and put me in a bus to Kathmandu. I had lost all hopes once again but this time things were different. The first time he came to see me, he was hardly in his senses, half covered and no shoes, he rode his bike all the way from Pokhara without wearing a helmet and had bought me a phone.He would come to Kathmandu every week to be with me. We then got married at Pashupatinath temple, he made regular trips to Kathmandu but never stayed here with me for too long.

I got pregnant and things were still unclear. He brought money to get my baby aborted but I had decided that I wanted this baby; I wanted to have a family.I was lost in that phase and didn’t realize that his visits were becoming irregular.I was three months pregnant and something told me to go to Pokhara. After endless trips to his parent’s place I figured out that he was married to a new girl who was his real wife because she was his legal wife. I was not even a legal person.

I had no money to eat or even pay for my transportation. I walked kilometers each day, everyday. After uncountable trips to the guy’s house and the police station I got 1500 dollars to take care of my daughter. I bought a little gold because I did not have a bank account. I could not read or write. I was not an orphan, I was no one’s wife. I was identity less. It was especially during this phase that I did not even feel human because I could not even prove my existence, my identity.

Life started again with Yuma.There were days when my body could not produce milk and I had to “crush” beaten rice to produce milk like stuff to feed her to survive. Things were painful but the scariest part was to apprehend that my kid might have to live a life like mine. I went back to my ex-husband and asked him to get my daughter a birth certificate and he didn’t take it seriously. It took cops, and an educated lady who helped me through this and lots of courage to fight for the two of us. She took good care of me for one year.

I ended up working for a leading spa, training a team of masseuses. Things started changing, and life started getting more stable. Yuma is 6 years old today and goes to school. I run a spa in Kathmandu and work as a therapy trainer.

I have no papers or any thing proof to my nationality and identity. Today I am thankful that I managed to get my daughter registered legally so she can call herself a Nepali. It is a disturbing feeling to know that your birth and your death in this world does not make much of a difference. As women we suffer cultural and social setbacks but we have also been ignored by our government and the political systems. Our identity and existence has always been dependent on our male counterparts and the relationships that would validate our life, which is not fair. I do not know much legalities but I have had it difficult as a family-less person, a mother but mostly because I am a woman.

I am a merchant and I can’t count: Babita Das

I was the fourth child out of five that my parents had. They took good care of us and we grew up happy. We had a content, playful childhood and kept busy with games and other things we saw others do.

It never even occurred to us that there was a world outside of Malangwa -which is where I was born and raised. The closest school was about 4 or 5 kilometres away from Malangwa; the capital of Sarlahi district. None of us ever went to school; it took me a very long time to understand that proper education was not just important but a necessity in today’s world. Our ignorance, social setting and inconveniences were probably distancing us from education more than the physical distance itself.

“The ignorance, social setting and inconveniences were probably distancing us from education more that the physical distance itself.”

I got married off at a young age of 15 and had my first child at 16. Having a child as a teenager is a painful experience. Moreover the physical, psychological and emotional journey can be overwhelming, sometimes even devastating. Today when I see someone pregnant, it makes me uncomfortable and anxious, reminding me of my days of struggle. If I could go back in past and redo things, I would choose education over anything else and raise my voice against child marriage.

Babita Das, 35, lives in Baneshwor and owns a garment store at Ason.
Babita Das, 35, lives in Baneshwor and owns a garment store at Ason.

I have three grown up kids who go to school. I have understood how important schooling is for various reasons but primarily to know how to read and write. I own a garment store and have no option but to rely on my staff for almost everything. It is in times like these when I cannot do the simplest things, like maintain a logbook or read a newspaper, I feel helpless. There is nothing I can do about it since I am an illiterate person. I feel education makes you independent and self sufficient in the real sense, just like knowing how to cook helps you survive.

Babita Das. She is the story.