I find myself unusually thankful that I was born in this country, at this time. And not for the usual reasons you’d probably see in the news or in the ads.
Unlike many women and girls in the third world, I wasn’t put to hauling firewood or water as soon as I could walk. I’m not expected to carry a large pottery jar on my back to the nearest water source and haul the water back. Every day. I wasn’t last in line for meals behind my father and brothers. I wasn’t cheated out of my full growth by overwork and inadequate food. I wasn’t married before I even entered puberty or beaten for running away from an unwanted husband. I wasn’t kidnapped out of a market place and forcibly married.
The nearest local hospital is about a mile away, and, like so many other Americans, I have my own set of wheels. I don’t have to make a six hour hike and a multi hour bus ride over dirt roads to get to a hospital in the city. If I can even afford the bus fare.
I’m not faced with the possibility that every time I get pregnant I could end up so damaged that my husband deserts me and my own family suggests that I might be better off dead.
I don’t have children, but my sisters had access to decent nutrition, pre natal care, clean hospitals and they were fully grown when they had their children. There is almost no chance that any woman in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />United States or Europe will be faced with problems of the Ethiopian women in a documentary I saw on Nova last week.
The film is called A Walk to Beautiful. The spirit and courage of these women is not only inspiring but humbling. I was touched most by a tiny 17 year old named Wubete. And I do mean tiny. The Australian doctor who helped start the hospital with her husband stated that she was about 5’3”. The girl didn’t even come to her shoulder. Even with her shawl on her head.
Corrective surgery at a special hospital in Addis Ababa helped but didn’t correct all her problems. The injuries she suffered in a week long labor that left her with a still born child also injured her bladder; almost destroyed it, actually. The doctors were able to give her some control over her problem, but the kind of care she continues to need makes it difficult for her to return to her native village. And the lack of any support from friends or family left her extremely reluctant to return in any case. As in “I don’t care if I have to beg in the streets, I’m not going back.” Providentially, she found a place at Grace Village run by the Oasis Foundation. Not as an orphan, but as a care giver. She has several small children in her care.
Like Wubete, a few of the patients cannot be treated surgically or the surgery doesn’t correct all their problems. There are ways to manage their cases, but the treatment options either aren’t feasible in isolated village situations or they have no support from family or friends. Many of these women work at the hospital as aids or in other support positions. The foundation supporting the hospitals has even started a village called Desta Mender (Village of Joy) where the women can live and support themselves. In a country where the illiteracy rate for women is over twenty percent, they have access to basic classes, raise food for themselves and the hospital, and create handicrafts to sell to support themselves.
We take so much for granted here. And I seldom hear the thankful “there but for the grace of God or fortune, go I” from many of us. Instead there is a sense of entitlement that would outstrip Louis XIV at his most ambitious. That, and a small minded pettiness (in my opinion) that only proves that too many of us have far too much time on our hands and an inability to walk in some one else’s moccasins.
Cross posted in Cottage by the Hedge.