Strong Woman Who?

December 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

You might have seen (or read?) the Help. In it, Aibileen, tells a blond haired Mae Mobley three things: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

She repeats it over and over again, firm in her belief that a person becomes who you tell them they are.

Morris has never seen the Help, but he and Aibileen have some things in common – the first of them being that he somehow knew to tell me who I should be, instead of who I feel like I am. And so, over and over again, this man has told me that I am a powerful woman, I am a strong woman and that I am a woman full of love for his people.

Nobody told me that work in Africa involved misunderstanding – misunderstanding, even, about whether or not my work is important, misunderstanding of my motives, of my actions – of my place.

Nobody told me that cultural differences can become so devastatingly huge that we can’t see each other as people anymore. Instead, we become issues. We become blockades. We become hurdles, set down to trip over as we try and get things done, or keep what’s important to us.

Nobody told me that cultural misunderstandings – in the midst of 12 hour work days – would make me want to quit.

I gimped my way through this week – tripping over people I had turned into hurdles, and struggling to see the good of being in a place where my words, my actions and my attempts at doing the right thing, are often taken as wrong because of cultural differences.

And, in the midst of my usual shut down – the refusal to keep loving, the “I’ve had it!” moment in the middle of Target, furious texts, the refusal to keep discussing a painful situation, Morris had three choice words for me:

“Strong woman who?”

And, in that moment, I knew who I was.

I knew that I was strong.
I knew that I was powerful.
I knew that I had love.

And, I moved on to make one small, strong, powerful, loving choice that got me through the day and, slowly, the difficult situation I was facing.

I moved on to behaving as the person he has begun to convince me that I am on the inside.

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