Thursday, September 22, 2016

Women

As a woman myself, and having studied women in Middle East History, specifically, Middle Eastern womens' situation is of great concern to me. Most of the refugee women have spent much of their lives in extremely male-dominated, female-suppressed societies. Though this is less true for the Syrians, it's extreme for the Afghans and the Iranians--and as Syrians are the most privileged (by the EU) and are much more often able to leave for one reason or another, the majority of our camp residents are Afghan or Iranian.

Since most of the women live in cultures where womens' space is private space, gatherings for women are problematic. Other than out in the open, we have two large tents (like the Rubhall shown and described in earlier posts from Lesvos) where activities are scheduled. One of the tents has been divided, providing two semi-private rooms. I say semi-private because the doors don't have latches, and even with a volunteer guard at the door to maintain privacy, children, especially the boys, simply duck under the outside walls of the tent.

Other than in the food line, there are few women to be seen walking around the camp.

A lovely Spanish volunteer who is a psychologist started a women's expression group a few weeks ago. When I arrived, I joined the team for this event which is held Monday and Friday evenings. The first time I attended was pretty good. Probably about 20 women came, and we had an Arabic translator for a brief time, as well as a couple of women who could speak some English as well as their native Farsi or Arabic.

We were able to convey that we were each to count off the fingers of one hand with:

1. our name
2. our country of origin
3. our age
4. Something we liked about our physical selves
5. Something we were good at

A lot of us liked our eyes or our hair, and a lot of us liked, or thought we were good at dancing. We had music, and though getting a connection to play it was a little challenging, many of us danced. There was, and continues to be, a little bit of a rivalry between two women in particular, one Syrian, the other Iranian, on which country's music we should play, so we're going to make a mix on a flash drive to forestall further bickering over the music.

The next session was not as well attended. Our lovely volunteer leader wasn't feeling very well to begin with, and was a little down. It's hard to spread the word about events sometimes, and it's hard to get people to come out to an event--I learned that at kaleidoscope, my former performance gallery.

Anyway, no women showed up for the first 15 minutes or so, and we volunteers spent the time throwing around ideas of what we could do and whether or not we could accomplish anything without translators, and finally decided that we would bring (in addition to the tea and cookies we always bring) some girly things--nail polish, hair ties and bobby pins in pretty colors, some sewing supplies--and that we would make a real effort at inviting women to come. Some women did eventually show up that evening, and we talked and danced a little.

When the day came for the next meeting, our volunteer leader had written out an invitation and we had it translated into Arabic, Farsi, and French. It wasn't in Urdu as I recall; I'm not certain the translation group that works in camp has any Urdu speakers. With our multi-lingual invitations in hand, we split up to go door to door throughout the camp, asking women to come.

Over 60 women showed up!

That's maybe 20-25% of the women in camp. It was phenomenal. We had women from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (even without the Urdu), Sierra Leone, and Somalia in attendance. People were painting each others' nails, divvying up the hair supplies, and talking to each other, often with gestures. We also had paper and colored pencils and some women drew. This is one of the drawings from that night I found particularly poignant. It needs no explanation.


And of course there was dancing. The two women who each want their music played danced, as they always do, and more and more women joined in. There we were, women ranging in age from teens to we older women, from different countries, religions, ethnicities, speaking different languages, all dancing together. Many headscarves came off; the dancing got wilder. We were having so much fun and being so noisy that apparently we made it difficult for the arts and crafts session in the next room to function. Whoops. But oh, we did have a good time.

If you read the blog entry just prior to this one, you read one of the most depressed entries I've ever shared, and sometimes it's like that. But sometimes, sometimes, we all come together as people to people and everything works and I know why I want to be here so much.