I fall into the arrogant category sometimes.  It’s that space where I think that what I am living and experiencing is ‘normal’ and that the advantages, privileges, and opportunities that have been part of my life are just naturally available as simply as the air that we breathe.  What I mean is that I have been able to enter the workforce, earn money and make choices in my life.  Do you fall into this narrow-mindedness too?

It’s easy to think that women all over have the same possibilities as I have had because we do live in new times for women.  I see myself take this for granted and then I am not aware of the real changes that have come about for the things that describe my life, and when I do this I’m not aware of giving credit to those who came before me to open the way for me.

I admit my arrogance because it’s important to see, and a place to develop perspective.  This is a centering of not only where our lives as women have changed but also the change that we can inspire in the future.

I had a real wake-up call that I’ll describe to you when I recently went to Ethiopia.  I got to see the lives of women there and wonder about the conditions that they are in the scope of their lives.  After all, we are all women, with childbearing capabilities, hearts and souls, and dreams about what life can be. 

I traveled with ten others to Awassa, Ethiopia.  I was excited to go because we were going to the Hitata Genet School there, and I had supported a child named Kebebush here for about 6 years, and this was an opportunity to meet her.  There were 232 kids in the school that benefited from sponsors for their education, medical care, and support to grow their lives.  Little did I know that I’d be transformed by this experience and humbled in my thinking.

The school serves wayward kids that otherwise would be on the street because their parents could not afford to cloth, school and give them a life.  Going to Ethiopia, I was concerned that this state of poverty would depress me, instead, I found new understanding and appreciation.  I got that I have a whole lot to be thankful for in my life now, and a sense of the responsibility I have to be aware and a conscious part of the change for women.

I met Kebebush and loved her.  She’s fifteen, with will and determination that I could readily see in her.  She’s got that beautiful Ethiopian skin, erect posture, and ‘old soul’ being.  And I could see her struggle in the culture of her battle with the kind of life that her Mother has lived and he kind of life that she envisions living.  The contrast between the two was much bigger and sharper than anything that I had seen in America.  This gave me the opportunity to really widen my perspective.

Kebebush is one of eight kids.  This is very common for women in the parts of where we were in Ethiopia.  Eight or nine kids was part of the norm, and when the family couldn’t support the kids, it was also the norm to give them away, almost like giving cats from a liter away in my world in the States.  This shocked me.  Kebebush had been given away by her family when she was very young. 

Here is the moment that it hit me.  When I saw the full contrast of women’s lives from being here on this planet and having very little to say about the shape of their lives, to my world where with grit and grind I’ve been able to shape my life from my perspective.  I’m not saying that I haven’t had hard times, or that I haven’t been disappointed and frustrated along the way — but I’ve had choices.

Kebebush is struggling to go from life without choice, to a life where she can make choices and also experience her intelligence and capabilities as a woman.  I respected the fight that I saw in her. 

Now back to that moment.  I am almost embarrassed to tell you.  It was a very truthful moment for me.  I felt my biased point of view and then compassion swept over me.  I was standing on the stage at the school, along with the eight other women who were with me on the trip.  We were celebrating the Mothers of the kids at the school with a coffee ceremony, a traditional celebration in Ethiopia.  Cammie and Jill had visited the school the previous year and they had wanted us to do something for the Mothers of the children to honor them.  We had introduced ourselves to this large group of Mothers, and there was a comradery building between us as women who see life from the perspective of childbearing, heart, soul, and life — more important than Ethiopian and American. 

The Mothers had come in their Sunday best and were very grateful and appreciative of the afternoon we were spending together.  They sang a rocking song to us in Amharic, their language, and we sang to them in return.  Then, I had the strangest thought.

Standing on the stage, I thought ‘Why are we celebrating all of these women who have had eight, nine, sometimes ten children that they can not support? It’s there something wrong with that that they should not have kids that they are not prepared to rear and nurture?  Why are we celebrating this?’

Then I got a deeper understanding which related directly to my life and the blind parts of my thinking.  Here’s the deal in this culture, and what still prevails, sometimes more subtly, in other cultures.  These women did not have what I had, the posture to be in control of their own lives.  This was the struggle I saw in Kebebush.

Women Taking Ownership on Business

Photo credit to huffingtonpost.com

In Ethiopia, in this part of what I was seeing, women did not have access to the economic system.  In fact, they were forcefully blocked from rights that gave them leverage in directing their lives.  Their choice was to marry and be at the will of their husbands because life without a man was doomed.  If a woman is married in Ethiopia, and her husband dies, I understand that any assets will readily be taken from her.  I was looking at a whole sea of women, from my vantage point on the stage, who were all living the same life of the cook, child bearer, and confined to the life under their husbands.  They had no leverage in their relationships because they didn’t have options.  How could I fault them for having large numbers of kids, when they didn’t have the freedoms to say ‘no’ to husbands that controlled their lives?  What choice did they have? 

They needed to be celebrated because these women were largely unseen in their culture.  They couldn’t rock the boat of the life of pregnancy, laborer, and housewife that they’d been born into, without being ostracized.  They didn’t have any schooling, they couldn’t read, and life did not afford the opportunity.  They were trapped, and I suddenly got a wave of gratitude for the life that I’d lead which was full of possibility, hope, and advancement. 

I’d been born into a life where I saw my Mother go to work.  In fact, I often say that the happiest day of my life was the day my Mother went to work.  She was happiest to explore her talents and skills, cut her teeth on the economic possibility, and expand her understanding of herself.  She’d reared and cared for children and gone on to other avenues of life.

Here’s another arrogant moment on my part.  I said to Pamela, who is my trusted and valued friend, that the “Women’s Liberation Movement” was not all that helpful to women.  She retorted with vigor, that I should rethink that and that she and I would not be sitting here with professional achievement and asset holdings without the work of women of that era who gave us these freedoms.  Those women unified for a spirit and advancement of women that changed things for women in our culture, and also in other cultures, that moves on today.  She couldn’t believe that I would say such a thing!  And, I gulped, and immediately took it back!

Because standing on that stage in Ethiopia, I could see in sharper contrast, where my lineage of womanhood had started as ‘unseen’ beings, without the privilege of holding assets, with no economic access, bound into marriages that could be unsatisfying, and confined in life — to owning a house, a business, a choice of friends and mate, and most importantly, a choice in what I believe in myself.  Wow!!  This was a huge contrast.  And, the life lived, I was to be suddenly grateful, appreciative and respectful of those who’d come before me to foreshadow this possibility.

This was the struggle that I saw in Kebebush.  She is on the forefront of this change in her culture as if my perspective went back fifty years in time and flashed all the way forward to the present and beyond.  She has the fire in her and will come up against the resistance to change.  The internet has not yet reached her.  She’s not connected, but she feels the spirit, the undeniable wave of knowing, that says to her that she cries out for a life that gives her more choice.  She’s seen the life of her Mother, and she is fiercely opposed to living it. 

On the third day that I was at the school, Kebebush came to find me and was all smiles, beaming ear to ear.  In her hand was a pink folded card.  It was her report card.  She handed it to me to see.  What she wanted me to see was that in graduating from her ninth-grade class — she finished #1 in her class.  This was such great news because it means that she is in good stead to go on to university and on to a job and place of contribution.  Semerette, who was our guide in Ethiopia, was also a compassion care child from a poor family that could not support her.  She took full advantage of the funding that she got and went on to university and then to get her masters.  Semerette says that she has to ‘pinch’ herself to believe how much her life has changed and the happiness of her marriage and career today. 

I stand on the shoulders of many.  Today, I own property, I openly advocate for women’s wealth, and now I can imagine the progressive change that has occurred for me to live with choices.  I’m over my arrogance, thank goodness.  I’ll continue to financially support Kebebush and be in contact with her as a light for her dreams.  It’s better for us, as women, to come into our fullness, to have a voice, and my dream is for us to lead the way to a better world. 

I’m saying thank you, thank you…that I can get up in the day, plan for my personal profitability, chose where and how I live, get on a plane and travel if I chose.  Even on the tough days, the days when I doubt my skills and abilities, the days when I have to do something new — I have the freedom to take risks, to expand what I think and what others think, to offer new products to the marketplace, to speak the truth, to envision my life’s contribution.  This isn’t where we started. 

Ethiopia taught me to open my heart, we’re all in the process of becoming.  Neither greed nor poverty should hold us because both have their element of handicapping the spirit.  I’m thankful for my Mother, for the women before me, and for this lineage and opportunity that I have that’s given me choice and economic power in my life.  This has created my stability and chance to enter the gateway of my own authenticity, life expression and life of contribution.  This is the path of the journey that benefits women and the world.

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