Over the last few days I’ve sat down to write this blog post no fewer than four times. The first time, I spouted some nonsensical metaphor about the unfamiliar, the unknown and a deep, dark body of water. I was trying wayyyyy too hard.
The next two times, I felt like I wasn’t writing for myself at all but for some random group of strangers and it felt terribly dishonest and not genuine. “What do you want to say a week before you leave,” I typed sarcastically. “Please donate more money so that I can get this fundraising lady off my back?” Obviously I scrapped that draft.
The fourth time, I wrote a full page and a half in my notebook before stopping mid-sentence and scrawling “blah, blah, blah, it’s all sentimental bullshit” in huge sloppy letters across the rest of the page. I can’t explain why I’m struggling so much with restarting this blog. I can only admit openly that I am.
I’m less than a week out from my departure date and I knew I wanted to write something. But what? I’m ashamed to say that all my previous drafts focused entirely on me. In one of them, I told the story of my hairstylist calling me brave. In another, I talked about some of my worries and anxieties about going on this trip. The last draft I wrote was verging dangerously close to the “travelling can change your life if you just open your heart” stereotype. I had used the words “excited” or “exciting” about a dozen too many times.
Even this draft has consisted mostly of me recounting my previous drafts so far.
And then, I was out at the lake camping with my parents and I decided to ask their opinion. First, after a day of floating and sun-baking on the water I asked my mom what she thought. “I want to write a blog post but I’m hella struggling with it,” I confessed to her. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much in the way of advice (again, I’m ashamed to admit) but she asked me “can you think of an example, even here in Canada where you saw a girl shamed or discriminated against?” About a gazillion and one examples popped into my head.
“That’s why you’re doing this, right? To help women? Tell that story.”
Well shit. There I was trying to write some nonsense about how going to a new country is like treading water, giving readers the low-down on my packing routine (as if anyone reading this has never packed a suitcase before) and my mom was thinking about how I could use this opportunity to actually pull at some heartstrings and say something important.
She reminded me that behind all the anxieties of packing up and moving my life to another country, there exists a deeply rooted drive to create change. She reminded me that this trip isn’t about me. This trip is about doing anything I can to help an organization that is genuinely working every single day to dismantle the patriarchy. This trip is about trying to empower girls to thrive in a society that is systematically built against them.
A little bit later in the evening, I asked my dad a similar question. “What should I write about on my blog? What do you enjoy reading?” His answer was incredibly blunt.
“Nothing about you,” he said. “People want to hear a story. It’s more like you’re taking people with you that way.”
Guys. I just got schooled by my parents in the best way possible.
So, after their advice, here’s a little story for you.
We sat in the dark on a grassy hillside at the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary, facing a thatched hut that wrapped half way around a wooden stage. Four naked lightbulbs illuminated the performance space with a harsh light. There was a red couch, a red chair and a wooden stool for furnishings and that was it. This was not a high budget production. In fact, it wasn’t even a legal production. It was Malawi’s very first Vagina Monologues.
Before the play got underway, a woman stepped onto the stage and told a story. She told us how they had applied for a production permit with the government of Malawi, just as they were supposed to do. She told us how not only was that permit denied but they were forcibly prohibited from moving forward with the performance of a play that was so “vulgar”and “harmful to family values.” She let us know that the performers were aware they were breaking the law but believed in the value of the play and also the cause they were supporting.
I’m pretty intimate with the details of the Vagina Monologues and how it all works so let me break it down for you. The play is leased out every year to performers all over the globe. The requirements are that you charge an admission fee and that 90% of all proceeds go to a local feminist organization in your community. The rest of the money goes to V-day, a global feminist organization.
The Lilongwe Vagina Monologues was raising money for an incredibly important cause. A cause these women believed in so strongly, that government censorship wasn’t going to slow them down even a bit. That night, we raised money for sanitary kits for girls. What a simple thing, right? Pads, tampons, pantyliners. Things we take for granted every day.
The woman on stage talked about how when young girls in rural Malawi got their periods, they often couldn’t afford these types of products and were forced to use things like rags, or straw or other less than pleasant (and sanitary) alternatives. But that wasn’t the worst of it. These girls were dealing with both the intense stigma surrounding menstruation and also the difficulty of not having a way to adequately control their bleeding. This meant that most girls took at least a week off from school every month because of their periods. This in turn led to higher drop out rates as the girls would fall behind or be forced to leave school altogether. They were being unwillingly strong armed out of an education because they couldn’t afford to buy a sanitary pad.
So, the women of Lilongwe went ahead with their performance. Because supporting girls and standing up for them is the most important thing we can do. I had been a part of three productions of the Vagina Monologues at this point in my life but I can tell you right now that those eight women on that tiny stage made me laugh and cry and feel more than I thought was possible in the span of an hour and a half. My eyes were glued to that stage and my heart was soaring with love for these women who were risking it all to support the girls in their community.
There are people all over the world fighting for girls. There are people risking their safety and their freedom to make sure that girls are given an equal shot in life. There are people who dedicate their entire lives to this. And I’m going to be one of them. That’s what I want to say a week before I leave for Nigeria.
…but also here’s the link to my fundraising page…