Human Rights

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You may think — that it is easy to help a widow in a village.

I can tell you from experience: It isn’t.


As the widows stand in a strange doorway — encouraged by their friends to investigate a new work opportunity,

— several realize, as theirs hearts beat fast —

— that if they were — not-– by my side hoping for our help —

— that they would be doing something — that they know how to do.  They would not have to   to conquer any of the insecurities — of a task unknown.

A lack of formal education leaves many feeling shame — and with a fear that they can’t learn.   Many — understandably — fear opportunities — more than they hope — for the good of them.

But not all — are so fearful. Some are brave.

Their bravery — creates a challenge — of it’s own.

One widow, who had a better education before she was removed to the village of the destitute (as women are not allowed to own property) spoke up — encouraged by the opportunity to work with an international NGO.   She had once been advised of her labor rights, and her act of bravery was putting those long-lost lessons to the test.  She knew to ask foreigners harsh questions and negotiate a good deal.  The only problem?  That foreigner — happened to be — me.

“Now. You!”  She says in a way that makes me jump. “You say that YOU want to have a rug of these cloths.”

“Yes.” It was true.

“You! say that you! will pay us to do this work. Is THAT the truth?”

“Yes.”  I answered honestly.  We were ordered to get a rug for our facilities, but thought perhaps we could make one out of our old clothes.  Instead of buying a rug — we decided to try to hire the widows, to give them a day’s work at a man’s wage.

“And…”  she pauses, “How is it that you! expect us to cut these cloths?” As she points to the teetering tower of rags and remnants.

I’m already a little bit tired of being ‘me'(!). I looked back at the teetering pile of unsalvagable laundry.

It’s important to say that knives are used — to do — just about everything in the village.   A knife can be used as a fork,  knives — can cut grass, protect from thieves, deliver babies, cut umbilical cords, prepare foods — they can be heated to repair the soles of shoes — and cut clothes.

But — I forgot to ask them — to bring their own tools today.  I admitted this, blushing.

“Well, well.” Says the widow. “You! are not prepared for us laborers!”  She cackled.

“I’m sure we can find something to use.” Confidently, and a little more tired — I sent children to rush around looking for supplies.

Out of knowledge, I asked, “Now, what would you use at home?”

The widow laughed, slapped her knee — and started to dance — with her hands making cutting motions. “What do you call theese!!”  Her arms cut through the air as she giggled.

I blushed. “Scissors.”

“YEs! YEs!” She cackled, and the women also blushed. “We need your little — contraptions!  Those little machines!!  That do like this!” She laughed and danced cutting with her fingers through the air — and some of the anxieties.  If we were unprepared, it was enough that — in the humor of the moment — the other women were relaxing and also hiding their smiles.

I still blushed.  It was funny.

After all — how did any civilization get so “advanced” that we needed something as complicated as scissors to cut up cloth?  It did seem funny, in the village.

“So when can we start?” Asked the widow.

“Right now if you’d like.” 

Children were showing up with all kinds of sharp edges, offering their possiblities.  There were a few pairs of Crayola scissors included in the mix — that I was both ashamed and proud of.

“We need to have the rug — before the magistrate comes to re-inspect. They never tell us what time they are coming — so — I hope by the end of the week we can be finished.”  I explained.

Still laughing, the widow cackled with a dry voice pretending to be an uppity movie star, “We need 50,000 each to be properly equipped to do your job. And we get to keep the tools. Agreed?”

In other words, they were asking for about $70 worth of scissors.

I laughed. The widow went solemn. “We are widows.” She said all of a sudden seriously.

I nodded in acknowledgement of the title.

“You have to respect our rights, and equip us as you would have yourself equipped. Otherwise we cannot work for you.”

I sighed.  It was going to be a long day.

And they wanted scissors.

And this is how it started.

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