Friday, July 29, 2011

Broken radiator, fried brain

I want to say so much about the past 48 hours, but frankly am just too pooped to write anything analytically coherent at the moment. Past two days I circumnavigated a small island with my friend R., had an amazing conversation with her about our shared passion for researching post-genocide gender dynamics and her dreams of documenting the experiences of victims of '65 on film (let me know if you're interested in giving a cool $25K to fund this...Bueller? Bueller?), then today went with an attorney who was one of my research informants to her village about 2 hours outside of Depasar. Well, 2 hours, that is, if your SUV's radiator doesn't have a big hole in it.

Long story short: This lovely legal aid attorney had invited me out to her village because she wanted me to see how the water conflict here (several remote villages are having their water diverted for tourism purposes) is impacting rural women, and hear a bit more about her activism on behalf of domestic violence victims. I will get more in depth with the issues around DV once I am back in the States and writing with more than 3 braincells, but for now let me leave it at 1) the mystique of the 'Balinized' woman- bare breasted, quiet and compliant, paired with 2) the pressures of tourism, patrilinial inheritance, and 3) the World Bank's and other international interventions following the fall of Soeharto to strengthen local customary law have left women that find themselves in violent marriages with very little recourse. Their husbands retain custody of their kids, they lose their family home once they marry, if they bring a claim against an abusive husband they are seen as attacking the 'culture' (because a woman is supposed to follow and serve her husband, not question him, period- much less publicly), and they have little economic independence because they are responsible for hearth, home and temple, making ritual offerings sometimes from pre-dawn to midnight when prepping for major ceremonies, and a large portion of the day when there are no major upcoming ceremonies, just the day-to-day responsibilities of keeping up the family temples.

At 9AM, my friend M, acting as my intrepid interpreter, and I went with my attorney pal to her village. About an hour into the (very) bumpy ride, the hood of the car starting smoking. Now, many things in Bali tend to smoke- burning trash, most of my new friends- hell, even I have started causally smoking clove cigarettes (only for participant observation purposes, clearly), but a car hood smoking seemed an occasion for a bit more alarm than the other smoldering things I have come across on this island. One hour, one beer (for M.) one begged use of warung owner's bathroom (for me) and several phone calls later, the attorney's cousin pulled up in a second SUV and we continued our journey, sans smoking car.

Meeting with some of the women who are caring for seven children with no access to direct water was really eye opening in some ways, and in others it was a little underwhelming. This sounds really, really fucked up (because it is), but I feel like in between my work in Miami, my time in Cambodia, and the research and reading I have done at school, that seeing yet another woman being crushed under the burden of corporate exploitation, government mismanagement, and societal indifference was just another brick in the wall. The list of injustices that so many people face, not just in developing countries but even in the US, is just so staggering that when confronted with another living, breathing,and, most terrifying, feeling example of the havoc wreaked by human indifference and corporate/government greed what I mostly feel is impotent.

I'll go way more into detail, I promise, once I am well-slept and slightly recuperated from trying to pack too much research into too short a time, but for now I just want to confess that I am feeling burnt out, and then compacting the burnt out with feelings of guilt about feeling burnt out (yes, there is a hole in the bucket, dear Liza). Here I am, about to lie down to sleep in a safe, mostly bug free room with access to clean- even hot!- running water and safe drinking water, unencumbered by unwanted pregnancies, multiple children abandoned by neighbors that just couldn't handle another mouth to feed when their husband died and they needed the security of a new marriage, and looking forward to going shopping and relaxing at a spa tomorrow, despite my complete misgivings about indulging in the tourism industry here. Where the hell do I get off feeling overwhelmed and upset by the amount of pain other people are feeling?

Honestly, I don't know. And I don't know what to do about it. And I don't know how to be a part of unraveling all of the interrelated webs that keep women trapped in cycles of oppression, poverty and ignorance. The best I can do, at 1:18AM, ensconced in my comfy bed, slathered in my 20% DEET bug cream to ensure that my most frustrating experience with Dengue fever will be trying to spell it, is to say honestly that I don't know how to help, but, perhaps in at least saying it, testifying to the truth that these issues are so much bigger than anyone of us, is at least a step in the right direction.

I started this little blog project because I wanted to give myself a space to publicly say I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I AM DOING because perhaps, just maybe, you might feel the same way, too. I am not superwoman, and never will be no matter the pressures I feel from school, work, family, comercials on TV, what-have-you, to try to be more than I really am. The problem is, I wish I could be superwoman enough to be able to do more than press RP$50,000 into the hands of the two women who took the time to welcome me into their home (perhaps in the hopes that I would do such a thing) to hear a bit about their lives. Sitting on a front porch of their family compound, looking into the eyes of a woman who lacks even the hope of access to the things I take for granted that make it possible for me to lead a self-determined life- water, health care, education, birth control, a government that I truly believe in some ways has my best interests at hearth (even if it is at the expense of the rest of the planet and its people)- every part of me felt powerless.

At this point I even question my desire to help. Interventions seem to have so many unintended consequences that I question what mess might come from some well-intended person deciding that she knows how to 'fix' what's missing in these women's lives.

Lots more to say on all of this- intervention, self-determined aid and resources, ripple effects of government corruption and, so much.

For the moment, however, I am just going to have to take it the same way we did on the way back to Depasar in the aforementioned smoking SUV: one mile at a time, stopping very frequently to refill my reservoir because I can't be any good to anyone while I am so burnt out.

At least the rice fields along the route offered beautiful backdrops for our many stops to pour water into the radiator.

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