I would like to spend the rest of my days living in a place so silent – and working at a pace so slow – that I can hear myself living.
Alma in Signature of all things. Elizabeth Gilbert.
I have not found myself sitting here for a long time. I have missed this chair, this desk, the way the sun drapes itself across the floor of this room, from the window to my feet.
There has just been no time. No time for writing. Thinking. Daydreaming.
I mean – I have been writing. Emails. Hastily scrawled text messages. Even a bunch of stuff about child marriage and education for girls…
And I have been really busy sitting with each of my kids every single afternoon, trying patiently to be with them and guide them as each of them navigates the various school/emotional/social challenges they are facing, working with each of their individual brilliant little minds, which each need such a totally different approach to learning, and their sensitive zealous little hearts which each need such a totally different approach to nurturing…
That’s another story altogether, but lets just say that mothering through puberty, dyslexia and ‘gaps’ due to poor early schooling is a somewhat time and energy consuming process right now.
It is all important and necessary. It is just one of those seasons. And the past few months have left me in a bit of a spin.
The film premiered here last Friday. The build up to the premiere was intense. The director May Tahazardeh flew in. The film has won 5 awards globally thus far including best short foreign film. It is getting some attention on the international film festival circuit, and here in Malawi it is causing something of a stir.
When my friend, May, and I started the research, concept and writing of this piece we truly had no idea just how provocative it would turn out to be.
It is a story, which cuts right to the heart of the deeply entrenched societal ethics and values around girls, and their right to education, and the issues surrounding child marriage.
It is designed to be a platform for discussion and to stimulate conversation. It is a tool. It presents honest questions, which need to be asked. It is uncomfortable.
The Malawians don’t like it.
But I have heard it said that ‘Great change is always proceeded by chaos.’
The facts are these. Here in Malawi:
Just 13 girls out of 100 finish secondary school. Of those 13, only 5 will pass their final examinations. That is 5% of girls that will graduate from high school. In rural area’s, girls are outnumbered by their male counterparts 6 to 1.
1 in every 2 girls is married before their 18th birthday, and as a consequence, risk early death in pregnancy and childbirth because their bodies are simply not ready.
1 in 5 girls are sexually abused in childhood.
Research shows that half the reduction in under 5 mortality can be traced to increases in schooling for young women. If all women had secondary education, there would be 49 per cent fewer child deaths globally.
Children of educated mothers are more likely to receive vaccines, see a doctor if they are sick, receive rehydration if they have diarrhea, sleep under insecticide-treated nets, and benefit from other health-related practices.
The film Mercy’s Blessing is a story about a brother and a sister and about the brutal hard choices people, here in Africa, make every day, due to meager resources and severely limited options.
Most of us will never be able to get our heads around this kind of poverty. It’s useless even to try. Most of us will never know what it feels like to have to decide between two children. To feel so desperate that we are prepared to give our daughter to an old man for marriage at 12 years old.
But here’s what I have learned on this journey so far.
Yes, much of this comes down to scarcity of resources and desperate measures for survival. I do not for one moment belittle or under estimate the intolerable circumstances of most Malawian families.
But I have also learned that some of these problems are due to deeply entrenched societal attitudes, and the harmful traditional practices that are so rooted in the ethos and philosophy of this nation, that they sit and fester like a gaping wound in the very framework that holds Malawian culture together.
In the opening comments of Friday’s film premiere, we gave this analogy;
Imagine that humanity is like a bird. This bird needs two wings to fly. If you clip one wing the bird cannot take off, let alone fly. But when both wings are strong, healthy, and equally balanced, the bird; humanity, can soar.
In the West we take the education of our girls for granted. I will never find myself in circumstances where I might be subject to the horror of giving my beautiful daughter, Esther, still a child, to a man to be used, abused and possibly raped in the name of marriage.
I will never know the distress of not knowing if I can get food in the bellies of my children today.
I will never have to choose between my children in terms of their education and their future. My little girl has every bit as much right to pursue her dreams and live out her God given potential. History has paved the way for her.
I cannot, as a foreigner in this land, ever truly empathize with the terrible and hard choices people are faced with daily.
I get it. It’s not my context. Not my culture. Not my daughter.
People feel indignant . People feel worried. People don’t want what they know and accept as culturally integral to their society, to be challenged. That is true for all of us.
But without this chaos will not see change. And hell, Malawi needs change. We know that. The Malawians know that.
But change is scary. And chaotic. It just is.
Now we go into a consultation period as the UN joint program for girls education builds a structure for taking the film, as part of their on going work with girls, into the schools and villages of Malawi.
The film will have the opportunity to do its work.
Heck, I am looking forward to carving out space.
To notice the sun creeping across the floor, and say hello to the hummingbird that visits my window each morning, and delight in my kids playing bum notes on the piano and in their tiny daily discoveries.
I am looking forward to space and in the words of Alma, in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of all things to once again ‘hear myself living’.
Over the noise.
Just for a while.
I’ve missed daydreaming. I’ve missed writing down my daydreams. I’ve missed me.
It feels good to be back.