Why We Blame the Patriarchy


And if you’re wondering why we continually blame the patriarchy, read this:

12 year old Yemeni girl drugged, raped by 50 year old husband

Filed under: ChildrenCivil RightsHodeidahWomen’s Issues — by Jane Novak at 10:30 am on Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seeks a savior

Hodiedah: In an interview with Marib Press, 12 year old “Hanadi” said she was forced into marriage by her impoverished father to pay a debt. Her husband tried repeatedly to rape her, her tears were no deterrent, and he threatened to beat her. After three days, he drugged by her with sleeping pills in her juice. She woke up bruised, confused and bleeding. The child ran away and is currently in the Hodiedah CID, appealing to Human Rights Organizations to save her. A medical exam proves the child was violently raped. The father and husband were interviewed by police. The father asserts the husband promised not to engage in intercourse until she was older. The husband says he didn’t touch her.

“12 year old Hanadi launched a distress call to the Ministry of Human Rights and human rights organizations demanding urgent intervention and to direct the security agencies to arrest the looter of her childhood and to investigate him and refer him to the judiciary.”

The issue is where is she going to go live. And its questionable if either the father or husband will be charged with a crime. There is no law in Yemen designating a minimum marriage age. Without publicity, she might have to go back. If she does not return to her husband, the father’s debt is still in force because she was basically sold like a slave. Children are frequently used as chattel. At least half of all marriages in Yemen occur before 16. Unsurprisingly, Yemen’s youthful female revolutionaries are quite determined to overthrow the system.

Getting Sick in Nepal


Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad scare this morning.  As soon as I got through the orphanage gate, Bipin rocketed himself at me and landed with his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck.  Rupus was right behind him, and then Gorima, Nirmala, and Anura were on me.  Only Krishala stayed behind.  She was sitting on a mat in front of the door.  She has been complaining of headaches and stomach trouble for the last few days, and I have been worrying about her.  Now she was very ill, hot with fever and a racing heartbeat.  I don’t have a cell phone, so I had to walk over to Sugandha’s house, where I hoped to find Pete, one of the fifth-year medical students volunteering here as part of a third world medical course.  He had already gone to the hospital, so I borrowed Sugandha’s phone to call Kat and Maria, Pete’s classmates,  who came straight away.  In the meantime, at my prompting, Bimila had called Tej, who called Gehlu.

Kat and Maria examined Krishala, who had a stiff neck, a fever, and extreme sensitivity to light.  These are classic signs of meningitis, which can kill within hours.  Gehlu came a few minutes later, propped her up in front of him on his motorcycle, and roared off  to the hospital.  We checked there about an hour later, but could not find Krishala.  Hospitals and clinics are notoriously bad here (the doctors don’t come in when it rains, for example), and we could not get a straight answer from anyone.    The staff could not seem to understand why we were concerned about a little Nepali girl, not another westerner.  Finally we tracked down Gehlu, who could tell us nothing because the results of the tests had not come back yet.  He told us that the doctor did not think it was meningitis, however.  We went to check up on Krishala, and she did seem a little better. There was nothing that we could do until we got the lab report.

I taught my class at the women’s center.  Deelu, who is very wonderful but also very demanding, insisted that I start to teach them math, so from now on Fridays will be math days.  I hated math when I was a kid, so I was happily surprised to find that I enjoyed teaching it.  Most of the women can do easy addition and subtraction, but only a few can multiply and divide.     I gave the two advanced women more difficult problems to solve.  In addition to other topics that I never thought I’d end up teaching, I’m instructing the women in basic business skills.  I’m trying to show them how they can make money by borrowing, investing, and repaying, and reinvesting.   Like all things in Nepal, it will take time to get this program underway.  We are beginning from a rudimentary level.

Nothing moves quickly.  I’ve been pestering the landlord to turn on the water and clean the apartment where the women’s center is for over a week.  Shreezanna, who directs the sewing classes and manages the center, simply laid a plastic floor covering over the cement and set up shop.  I want to wash the floors first, but I need some help.  The whole center is still really dirty—the kitchen is covered in construction dust and the toilet is filthy.  I had brought a bucket and some Lysol-like stuff and started to clean the bathroom during our break.  Devi, Menuka, and Rayphati would not allow this.  They snatched the bucket and rags out of my hands, and within twenty minutes had all the tile, ceramic and chrome gleaming.  This was a miracle, since the toilet is a squat-style contraption on the floor, and workers had ground the dust and dirt into the groves where you stand to go.  Their cleaning was truly remarkable.  The Nepalis are nothing if not industrious, but it can be difficult to get them to start or finish a project.

Speaking of projects completed, I got my kurta suruwal back today.  It was finished a couple of days ago, but I wanted to have it taken in at the waist.   I had bought fabric in Kathmandu and brought it to the women at the center.  They charge very little for their services, but they also double the price in order to benefit the women who are learning to become seamstresses.  So, it cost 200 rupees (about 3 dollars) to sew each kurta and suruwal, but I paid 400.  These women will likely be the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of the micro-credit program that I’m setting up.

In my new Kurta Suruwal on an Elephant at Bhaktabur

After class, I took a bus—the wrong one, of course—into Kathmandu to meet Kat and Maria for lunch.  I ended up walking for long stretches without having any idea where in the city had I gone, asking people in my broken Nepali the way.  Finally, one young man in a motorcycle helmet told me to get on a bus that was just pulling up, and so I did.  It took me a little closer to my destination, Thamel, but I still wandered and begged for directions for another half hour or so.  Getting lost is never really a problem, because people are friendly and kind, and taxis are plentiful.  I don’t like to spend the money on a cab, since the buses cost about 15 cents and I’m trying to get my bearings by walking.  I finally arrived at the restaurant, La Dolce Vita, a touristy joint that claims to serve the best Italian in Nepal.

It was great to be eating penne pomodoro with what looked like real basil leaves on top, but I won’t be going back there again.   I could not finish my meal because I got sick halfway through it.  I thought I had simply eaten too much and needed to walk it off.  When I started to collapse on the street, Kat and Maria rushed me into a café, where I threw up into an airplane sick-bag that Kat miraculously whipped out of her backback just in the nick of time.  Then they lay me out on three chairs and pressed a cloth with ice in it to my forehead, wrists, neck, and cheeks.   I felt like a complete idiot.  There I was, pale white woman with golden hair in a green and red kurta, having a fainting spell.  Somehow it seemed so cliché.  But Kat and Maria insisted that this sort of things happens all the time.   When I sat up I was still quite nauseous and dizzy, but Kat produced an anti-emetic from her magic bag.  They said I had become dehydrated, which made some sense.  I still wanted to blame the food.

Of course the monsoon broke just as we tiptoed out into the road to go home, and there were no taxis available.  When you don’t want one, taxis pull up and pester you every five minutes.  We took a bus, but had to change at Ratna Park, where we waited like beggars in the rain for the bus to Pepsi-Cola.  After we were thoroughly soaked we snagged a cab, which cost us another 400 rupees, leaving both Kat and Maria broke.  They had each changed $20 and spent every cent.  It is true that one can live here very cheaply, but not if one is going to tourist restaurants and taking taxis and fainting in cafes where bottled water costs 10 times the price it should.  At any rate, by the time we got home the anti-emetic had kicked in and I felt a lot better.  I took a shower and headed over to check on Krishala.  The report had come in and Gehlu had rushed her back to the hospital.  She did not have meningitis, thank goodness, but rather a viral infection of her tonsils.  I found her shoveling dhal bhat into her mouth with the other kids at the kitchen table.  On the refrigerator were the medicines that the doctor had given her.  She was fine and would get better.

There is an even happier ending to this story.  While Kat and Maria were examining Krishala, they noticed that the children have no toys whatsoever, not even so much as a ball to throw.  They told their parents, who now want to donate some money to buy toys.  They are planning to give the toys to the children at a party.  Since so few of the kids know when they were born, Kat and Maria want to celebrate all of their birthdays at once.  They want to have cake, and candles, and lots of presents individually wrapped.  It’s a grand idea.  I wish I had the money to get each of them something really wonderful, bicycles, for example.  I would love to teach them how to ride.  If you have any ideas, or want to give, please let me know.

The Children at the Orphanage


Nirmala. She is 5. Three weeks ago, she and her sister, Krishala, were rescued from a village house where they were enslaved as servants.

I brought a camera to the orphanage this morning.  The kids loved it.  First they each wanted to pose wearing my hat.    Bipin then got hold of it and rushed around snapping shots of the house, his mother, Bimila, and us.

He also took this one of the open refrigerator and gave me a test:  “What is this food?”  He asked.  I really wasn’t sure.  I guessed oranges, apples. “No!” he cried, delighted,  “It is EGG!”  Later on, Anura had the camera, and she photographed this chart on the wall of their class- and play-room.   It has a nice new carpet, all over which I spilled tea on the first day, during a game of ring-around-the-rosy.  Bimala, Bipin’s mother, brings me a fresh cup every morning.  On my second day she suggested that I drink it down right away

VSN runs three or four orphanages.  The largest one holds 16 children, who I understand are all terrified of their “mother,” the woman who keeps the house, bathes, feeds, and clothes them with funds that VSN volunteers and donors provide.  A few years ago, a young Dutch couple came to volunteer for six weeks.  While they were here, they raised over $2,000 from family and friends for VSN in general, which was just getting started.  They later raised enough to found and support another orphanage, where my co-volunteer and friend, Dalina, works.  She brought a lot of craft projects for the children to do, and she also brought cases filled with pens and pencils.  The children showed their delight by opening them, peering inside, and zipping them closed again.  They have never had anything to call their own.  The children’s mother, who is very strict, insists that they spend every minute of the day studying. She took the pencil cases and contents away and locked them into a closet.  She said that the children would break them.  Dalina said she didn’t care; she had brought them a gift and wanted them to have it.  She complained so much about it that the housemother relented and gave them back.  But she still would not let them play games.  Here were five-, six-, and seven-year olds sitting straight in their chairs, never fidgeting, because they were afraid. After Dalina’s prodding, the housemother allowed her to do craft projects with the children for 30 minutes every day.

The “mean” housemother is not as unkind as she sounds.  From her perspective, the children have one chance to save themselves in this society in which family and village connections mean everything.  They must excel at school, and excel they do.  The children from this orphanage are at the top of their classes at the Career Building International Academy (CBIA), which VSN also runs.  This school is a private school, sustained by tuition from parents in the neighborhood.  VSN volunteer fees sponsor the orphan children.  Most Nepali schools emphasize discipline and rote learning over creative analysis, and they do not seem to have the concept of recess.   When school lets out, the fields fill with kids who have shed their uniforms for play-clothes. Keep in mind that the fields are also covered with trash, which is occasionally burning and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.  They play where they can.  There is a slightly cleaner football (i.e., soccer) field where and exciting match between high schools took place this afternoon..  I love to walk about the neighborhood at this time a day.  Every child cheerfully hails me because I am white,  piping “Hello! Hi! How are you?” They are very friendly.

I don’t know how the children I am teaching will do.  I expect very well, since they are l very bright. Like children the world over, they have short attention spans.  I play games with them.  It is actually quite challenging to work with them, because I don’t have a blackboard or a whiteboard to write on, no books with which to teach—not even picture books—and only a room with a new carpet and a few sleeping mats ranged around the walls.  We always begin sitting down in a circle, but the children want to tumble backwards, or get up and go to their room to bring me something.   Yesterday Anura offered me hair oil and Bipin sprayed deoderant under my arms.  “Are you trying to tell me I smell?”  I asked.  “No,” he replied and sprayed all the other children’s pits.

I allow them a lot of freedom because I know how controlled they must be in school.  I incorporate movement into our lessons to keep them smiling.   Yesterday I taught them Simon Says.  When they get too rambunctious, I switch to modified yoga. Breathing deeply and regularly, they learn “in” and “out.” They tumble and wiggle again, just as Brendan did when he was little.  Bimala, their housemother, indulges them, too, thankfully.  They have finally come to a home in which they feel how much they are loved.

Don’t be fooled by their smiling faces and cheerful, loving dispositions.  These kids have seen desperation, death, violence and abuse for most of their short lives. I’m still finding out their story, but as far as I have gathered the children were rescued from other, terrible, dark, dirty, and crowded hovels that pass for orphanages, where they received very little food, and almost no protein. VSN found them and brought them into this family home, where there are a mother, a father, and two children, 10 and 13.

Krishala. Until about three weeks ago she was enslaved as a servant. She is eight.

Krishala is eight and very shy.  I have to coax her to speak.  But she always knows the answer before everyone else, and is starting to get more confident with me.  It is hard for her, Gorima, and Anura, since they are far behind their classmates, who have always had mothers and fathers and who have been going to this very rigorous school for years.  Gorima is the joker, the coyote of the crowd, always making mischief.  If I have a pen or a book in my hand, she grabs it and examines it carefully or insists on writing out her numbers to show me what she knows, or drawing a flower to give to me.  Since I had been so permissive with my hat, she assumed that it would also be okay to pull the glasses off my face.  She put them on and laughed.  Then Krishala snatched them away from her, and we had our photo taken.  Of course we had to do another with Gorima wearing the glasses.  And then Bipin, Bimala’s outspoken and self-assured son, wanted them on.  I couldn’t tolerate this for much longer, since these frames were outrageously expensive and I had already had to replace them once, when my dogs found them on the table at home and chewed them up.

Gorima. She is 8.

Gorima is surprisingly solicitous of me.  I have a wound on my hand from a bicycle that I tried to unhook and bring down from the garage ceiling back home.  It fell straight down.  I ducked, but the gears cut into the back of my left hand.  It’s hard to keep a bandage on it, and the cut has become slightly infected.  I’ve ignored it, but Gorima would not.  She found a bit of dirty plastic tape on the floor, and pressed it on the wound.  Then Bipin brought me a clean bandage, which one of the other volunteers had brought from home, removed the tape, and bound up my hand.  It was a little band-aid, for children, from the US.  It had cats on it and tt fell off the first time I washed my hands.  But Gorima’s concern for me got me to take the wound seriously, and after dinner at Sugandha’s house, I allowed on of the other volunteers to attend to it.  She’s a fourth-year medical student in Newcastle, England.  She cleaned it properly and applied a much sturdier plaster.   Because of Gorima, my wound will now heal.   Maybe she, too, will go to medical school.  Her fate will depend on the success of the VSN project.  As long as volunteers keep on coming, and if donors from around the world help to support the project, she will have a chance.

See how beautiful they are.  If Nirmala, Gorima, Krishala, and Anura had not been rescued by VSN, they very likely would have spent their lives in sexual slavery.  Krishala and Nirmala, in fact were found enslaved as servants.  When Krishala first arrived at the orphanage, about three weeks ago, she went around cleaning everything because she had been made to do so.  I will get more details very soon.  Sugandha does not know their story as well as Gehlu, who brought them to Pepsi-Cola.  VSN has been good to Bipin and his mother, too, as well.  She has no husband—another story to find out and tell—and had been living in a hovel before VSN rented a flat in a beautiful house.  Bipin, who is constantly doing headstands and somersaults, thinks he’s living in a palace.  He and his mother sleep in the same room with the other children.  They have two other rooms—the children’s play and lesson-room, and a kitchen.  They also have flowers in pots in the front courtyard, and Bipin always thinks to bring me a flower when we play ring-around-the rosy.

Anura. She is 10.

Today I showed them videos of my dogs and cat on my computer.  I have been missing my dogs very much, and wondering how I will get through the three months after Brendan leaves without anyone to hug or hold.  Freya and Baldr are very affectionate, like most well loved dogs, and much cleaner and healthier than the dogs around here, who survive on rotting, maggot-infested food and scraps, and who have all sorts of diseases and infestations.  When I’m lonely or sad I can pull them up onto my lap or fall asleep with them at my side.  But here I have no such friends.  Even if I could find a young puppy, clean it up and bring it into the house, which I can’t, I would still have to release it back into the streets when I return home, and that would be cruel.  So I have been feeling sorry for myself in anticipation of future loneliness.  There is no way I’m going to have any kind of romance with a Nepali man.  First of all, they are very short.  Second of all, most of them have very strange ideas about women.  We could never get on.   Thirdly and most importantly, I’m not even close to being ready for a new relationship, and look forward to the time alone.  I will be living more or less like a nun, as I have been, rising early, working hard for the benefit of others, living on simple food and water, and going to bed early and sober. It will be lonely at times, of course, but I will not lack for love.

The orphan children hang on me, crawl into my lap, and all try to hold my hand at the same time.  Nirmala, the youngest, gets the most attention from the other kids, but she also loves it when I pick her up.  In fact all of them want me to pick them up and hold them.  All of them except for Gorima, the dreamiest, shyest one, who nevertheless wants to touch me in some way.  How to express how happy this makes me, how it satisfies the mother in me who was starved of mothering for so many years?  But this story will have to wait until the next post.

Bipin in my hat