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The Story of Women's Work

In 2003, my husband Peter found a job posting on Findajobinafrica.com (really! There is a site!) The job called for a manager of a game reserve. We applied as a management couple, and much to our surprise, we were accepted. So we sold the house we were never going to leave and everything in it and flew to Botswana with two kids, 13 boxes, and our dog.

Our time at the game reserve was wonderful, but unfortunately we came to realize that the reserve was not what we thought it was. Making the decision to leave our thatched roofed cottage with rhinos grazing on the lawn, warthog rooting in the garden, and spitting cobras raiding the hen house, was a difficult one, but one we still believe was the right thing to do.

We moved into a nice neighborhood in Gaborone and started our own business. I returned to journalism and wrote magazine articles on travel, plus we marketed and advised on eco-tourism ventures. While working on a story about Gantsi Craft, I got the opportunity to go on a craft buying trip to a remote Bushman settlement and had a life changing experience.

A "good" road in the Kalahari

The journey had started years before, after we had moved out of New York City and up the Hudson River to the small village of Cold Spring. It was there that I decided that I was missing something. I looked for it in my involvement in various school groups, non-profits, Zen Buddism practices, in Reiki, and in Astrology and found some semblances of reason and hope. But it took me until I set off for a weekend out in the middle of nowhere with a woman I had just met to experience a culture so foreign to me that up until living in Botswana I had not known existed. But once there, the setting, the people, the cause, the very idea of being able to bring income to people who wanted only to continue with their way of life, finally rang true.

I sat huddled in front of a fire trying to keep warm. The winds blew sideways, making it impossible to shield yourself from their biting power. The sun shone true, making me squint and my eyes tear. While I watched women and their children come to me from all directions--what started out as tiny dots, grew into stick figures then full forms of women layered in dresses, shirts, jackets, and blankets wrapped around their torso carrying one child, and in many cases, a toddler in tow. From the folds of their clothing, they extracted beads upon beads of necklaces and bracelets, headdresses, dancing skirts, and if I were lucky, beautifully beaded purses.

The ostrich eggshell beads that the women used are the oldest beads known to human-kind. This practice dates back to their ancestors, but as with the hunting, the bushman gladly sold their rights away in order to bring some meat to their table. The meat is canned, not freshly slaughtered as the last of the hunter/gatherers once feasted on, as many of these women can still remember when.

!Xho Bushmen women waiting to sell their crafts

As I watched and took pictures of the crowd before me, a child shroud in brown, layered and hooded in mismatched hand-me-downs caught my eye. She was shy and reserved, not making eye contact with me or anyone else there. I wiped the tears from my eye. I wiped some more. What I thought was from the wind, dust and bright sun, turned out to be tears of realization, sadness and joy. I was sobbing and it would take me years to find out why.

Those tears were for the women I saw, the women I'd met along the way, the woman I would become. That child was the spitting image of my nephew, whom I had barely known before leaving him and all of my friends and family behind for a life, up until that moment was undefined. Now, I knew why I had come and what I had to do. My mission is to bring the sadness and the joy I felt on that day and for many days to come to anyone who would listen.

After many spiritual starts and stops, I have found my ignition. I have seen my life's worth and am grateful. That work is to be instrumental in making people aware of the kind of person they can become. That the world can be opened up for inspiration and know that many of you will unfold and follow. That there is a way each of us can make the world a better place, a place that we would love to be a part of and a place safe and nurturing that we can raise our children in. And that world doesn't exist inside or outside the United States, but inside us-each of us. A safe haven, harbor, home exists within us all.

Over the years, I've made many of you aware of the San Bushman's plight, introduced the idea that women around the world are struggling for/with the same things we struggle for/with each day--the wish to bring up our children ourselves, our way, with our values and concerns. The hope to provide nutrition, neutral ground free of bias, hurt and pain, along with enough resources to nurture them so that each child can grow up to reach their full potential. And because I firmly believe that this is a message I've gotten across to all of you, I know you will not let my dream of awareness and awakening and activism die.

If you wear a piece of jewelry, display a basket, recommend some marula oil or tell others about the work of women's groups around Botswana and beyond, if you never let a day go by without being grateful for what you have, knowing there are many without, if you see for a moment that you matter and we all matter and together we can make a world of great matter. And if for each day you are on this earth you believe that each breath taken, each word spoken, each deed done brings a benefit to us all, than my efforts will not have been in vane.

2006-8 Womens Work All rights reserved