Earlier this week I was out in a village where people living with HIV/AIDS and orphan caregivers were gathered. They come together to encourage one another, to learn, and to stand together. There was one particular woman, a grandma, who just loved to sing and dance her heart out. When I asked to take her photo, she smiled and laughed and made merry. Later, I caught her as she stood inside. Two sides of a woman. I love the second photo, but I wish you could have seen her dance.
The water crisis is often told through the eyes of women – women who walk many hours and long miles to gather water, often dirty, for their families. The HIV/AIDS crisis is often told through the eyes of women – grandmothers carrying for their orphaned grandchildren and mothers unable to care for children. No, these are not crises that exclusively impact one gender, but the burden of both is high for women and their stories, faces, and images are compelling.
This short, three day trip that brought me to both the eastern and western side of Kenya and on the road with four local organizations and one international business, brought these women and their stories front and center. Normally my trips are filled with organizations and strategies and plans, but this time I was along to just see, experience, and learn. As I sit back and flip through my memories of this trip, it is the women that come to my mind. Their smiles, laughter, strength, and depth of story. Everywhere we went the women filled the space with life.
There were young girls walking home from school hand in hand whispering stories. Teens who recited poems and performed dramas to teach others how to treat their water to make it safe for drinking. A young woman who joined the men’s acrobatic and tae-kwon-do team. Women standing with vibrant colored skirts as they talked. Young mothers and old grandmothers holding children they loved. Women of all ages washing clothes, carrying dishes, and gathering water. Pregnant mothers and grandmothers who had HIV and were fighting to live fully for their families. Weaved through all of these women was strength and character and smiles. Yes, there are hardships in each of these stories. To deny that would be to deny a significant part of each woman. But to glorify those hardships denies their strength – a much larger part of who they are.
I cannot blame anyone for using the stories and images of women to talk about the water and HIV/AIDS crises. That is what I do here today. I just hope that the telling of the story brings out the strength of the women. I hope that is what you see through these photos today.
I love the posture and poise I find in so many women here. And I wish I could wear a head scarf with such stunning style. Just in case you were wondering: no, I do not love that there is a huge Land Cruiser in the back of this photo or the one below, but some things simply cannot be helped.
Meet Lily. I met her at a well and her smile captured me. When I asked to take her picture, she looked at her clothes and felt embarrassed – she was dirty as she just come from working in the fields. But, I said, your face is beautiful. She agreed to the portrait. I am glad to say that seeing her portrait on the view screen of my camera also made her smile.
Laughter and stories. Clanging metal tools. As I approached the outdoor shelter that is the small biosand filter factory, I wanted to join the work so that I could be a part of this team of women. Their job is to make biosand filters several days a week – the small “factory” needed to increase their output, and these particular women had proven their skill and work ethic in recent trainings. Extra income for the women, extra output for the factory, and more people with safe drinking water in their homes. A good day.
Each one of these women has a story that deserves to be told. But today I only have time to tell you about one, Dainess. She is 25 years old, is married, and has three young children. She has an engaging smile, can read lips in Bemba, the local language, and writes basic English. Our conversation began with me writing, “My name is Pamela. What is your name?” Then the other women joined our conversation and simple sign language combined with lip reading took over. I am hesitant to say it, because I do not want Dainess to be categorized and put in a box, but she is deaf-mute. I dislike labels and boxes because they evoke specific emotions that might or might not be appropriate. Here, Dainess’s deafness is part of who she is, but does not define her. Instead it is her family, her smile, her work ethic and her interaction with her peers that tell us about her character. Given the opportunity, I would choose to work beside her and hope that she would want to be my friend.
This entry was written for Blood:Water Mission. Check them out at www.bloodwatermission.com/blog.