Friday, December 10, 2010

"¡Se oye, se siente, las mujeres están presentes!"

While my friends and loved ones were celebrating together and giving thanks for myriad blessings last Thursday, I marked a very different observance that, this year, coincides with Thanksgiving: the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It was nice to have something special to pour my energy into that was not related to Thanksgiving. It helped me not feel sad and adrift while eating my traditional scrambled eggs and gallo pinto.

The Center for Integrated Attention to the Costena Woman, or CAIMCA, home to the Nidia White Women's Movement, where I teach dance classes to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, organizes an annual celebration of this day. It is especially meaningful in the RAAN department, which has the highest numbers of women dying in acts of violence in the country. We commenced with what was the most exciting march I have ever participated in. I was honored to be able to march side by side with the girls that I work with in the shelter. Not too long into the march, it began to pour mercilessly. Our numbers dwindled as the less enthusiastic sought shelter along the route. The core that remained became even more determined, our paper signs disintegrating into wooden sticks for smashing injustice.

As we rounded the corner into the central plaza, we were met with reinforcements for our reduced numbers. Several groups from the communities surrounding Bilwi were waiting for us there with their own signs, banners, and loudspeakers. They began to rally: "Where are the women from Sasa?" And a sector cheered. "Where are the women from Waspam?" And another section cheered. I felt a little sad that I had no hometown to cheer. And then I heard: "Where are the women from Wisconsin?" I was thrilled. They were, of course, referring to the small community of Wisconsin, Nicaragua, but who's to judge?

Normally, I'm not much for marches and mass enthusiasm. I feel shy, uncomfortable, and awkward, even if it is a cause I support. This time, however, I felt proud and determined. Maybe it was the dynamic women who led the march, or the fact that I was marching with the girls I work with, or because I´d been mugged just the weekend before. Maybe it was because of the variety of ways gender-based violence affects my life here, much more than in the US, in both first- and secondhand ways. It's ubiquitous. Some studies say that 4 out of 5 women in Bilwi experience some form of domestic violence, either sexual, physical, or psychological, during their lives. The fear, insecurity, and stress that engenders is palpable in all settings of social interactions. Whatever the reason, I actually was angry, and the rally was both therapeutic and empowering.

When we arrived triumphant back at the CAIMCA, the girls in the shelter insisted I ask the director to allow them to dance in the act. They had worked hard at a choreography I had given them, only to have their slot in the show revoked due to bad behavior. I spoke with Chira, who said, "Okay, they can dance, because they have been behaving well and because their teacher interceded for them." They were thrilled. I think they forgot that they were supposed to do the moves they had been practicing in the order they had practiced them. Still, they got up in front of everyone and had fun and I couldn't have been prouder.

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