For very woman who has wanted to be strong/er

Who among us has not spend a moment or two feeling tired, over wrought, overwhelmed, inadequate to the demands of the situation, feeling just not enough, feeling weak? Well, for those of us who have, I offer up this most wonderful of poems by Marge Piercy.  May it touch your heart with a gentle hand, even as it binds up your wounds and strengthens your soul!

For strong women by Marge Piercy

 

A strong woman is a woman who is straining.

A strong woman is a woman standing

on tip toe and lifting a barbell

while trying to sing Boris Godunov.

A strong woman is a woman at work

cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,

and while she shovels, she talks about

how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens

the ducts of her eyes, and throwing up

develops the stomach muscles, and

she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.

 

A strong woman is a woman in whose head

a voice is repeating, I told you so,

ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,

ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,

why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t

you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why

aren’t you dead?

 

A strong woman is a woman determined

to do something others are determined

not to be done. She is pushing up on the bottom

of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise

a manhole cover with her head, she is trying

to butt her way though a steel wall.

Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole

to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.

 

A strong woman is a woman bleeding

inside. A strong woman is a woman making

herself strong every morning while her teeth

loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,

a tooth, midwives used to say, and now

every battle a scar. A strong woman

is a mass of scar tissue that aches

when it rains and wounds that bleed

when you bump them and memories that get up

in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

 

A strong woman is a woman who craves love

like oxygen or she turns blue choking.

A strong woman is a woman who loves

strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly

terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong

in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;

she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf

sucking her young. Strength is not in her, but she

enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

 

What comforts her is other’s loving

her equally for the strength and for the weakness

from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.

Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.

Only water of connection remains,

flowing through us. Strong is what we make together,

a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Katharine Lee Bates

My interest in finding women heroes continues unabated.  Recently I was reminded about Katharine Lee Bates and thought I would share a bit of her life with you. She was born on August 12, 1859 on Cape Cod in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Bates died in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on September 28, 1929, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery at Falmouth.  She lived just 69 years, but what a 69 years they were.

Katharine Lee Bates is best known for the song, “America the Beautiful,” but she was also an accomplished author and educator. She also popularized “Mrs. Santa Claus” through her poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride (1889).

She graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in 1880. In 1888 she returned to Wellesley as a member of the faculty, first as an English instructor, later to become the head of the English Department.

In 1893 Bates spent part of the summer in Colorado where she lectured at Colorado College. During her visit, she went on a hike to Pikes Peak. Later she remembered:

“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.” That view inspired her to write “America the Beautiful” her most famous poem. She quickly wrote the first draft in a notebook she had with her on the trip.  “It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind,” she later said, according to the Library of Congress web page on “America the Beautiful.”

Bates’ teaching career was the central interest of her adult life. She believed that through literature, human values could be revealed and developed. She wrote for popular magazines to supplement her income and was quite prolific. She was also involved in social reform activities, working for labor reform and planning the College Settlements Association with Vida Scudder. Over the years, she became an accomplished academic and a respected scholar of English literature. She retired from Wellesley in 1925.

Bates never married. But for 25 years she lived with Katharine Coman, who was a history and political economy teacher and founder of the Wellesley College School Economics department. Bates and Coman until Coman’s death in 1915.

In 1910, when a colleague described “free-flying spinsters” as “fringe on the garment of life”, Bates answered: “I always thought the fringe had the best of it. I don’t think I mind not being woven in.”

Of course some of us describe the couple as lesbians citing as an example Bates’ 1891 letter to Coman: “It was never very possible to leave Wellesley [for good], because so many love-anchors held me there, and it seemed least of all possible when I had just found the long-desired way to your dearest heart…Of course I want to come to you, very much as I want to come to Heaven.” Others people will contest the use of the term lesbian to describe what they see as a “Boston marriage”.  Those who contest the use of the word lesbian say that we cannot know the sexual activities of a couple. Maybe so. But to be a lesbian is not only about sex. We do know that Bates and Coman live together for 25 years. After Coman died, Bates said, “So much of me died with Katharine Coman that I’m sometimes not quite sure whether I’m alive or not.” We know that they were intellectually deeply engaged with each other, that their letters and Bates poems expressed love between them.  For me that is enough. As I have often said to my life partner, I always assume the best of everyone I meet. I always assume everyone I meet is lesbian or gay. And I can count on heterosexual to declare their heterosexuality within the first 5 minutes of conversation. Given these threads of evidence about the relationship between Bates and Coman, I will continue to assume the best about them and will believe that they were women who loved women and were lesbians who lived together for 25 years.

In 1922, seven years after Coman’s death Bates published Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance, a collection of poems written “to or about my Friend” Katharine Coman, some of which had been published in Coman’s lifetime.

So, the next time you find yourself singing “oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain  . . .” do remember that it was written by Katharine Lee Bates of Cape Cod, a professor of English, and the life partner of Katharine Coman.

 

If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop by the town of Falmouth were the Bates family home on Main Street is preserved by the Falmouth Historical Society.

 

Hannah Arendt and Banality

There is something about the word banal. I just find myself liking the way it feels in my head, on my tongue. Banal – for an ordinary, common, cliché, overworked, overused, kind of word, there is just something about banal that feels fresh, original and interesting to me. But that probably has to do with my earliest substantive encounter with banal. I was introduced to the word through Hannah Arendt, and her use of the phrase “the banality of evil.”

Hannah was a Jewish German born political theorist. She escaped Europe during the Holocaust and became an American citizen. Her theoretical work dealt with the nature of power, democracy, authority and totalitarianism.

In 1961 she was working for the New Yorker, and was sent to observe the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Her observations and reporting evolved into the book: “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil.”  That was where she coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” In the book she wondered if evil is always intentional, or if perhaps some people thoughtlessly obey orders or follow group opinions without critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inactions, none the less, leading to the perpetration of evil in the world.

Here are two of the many quotes from Hannah that resonate for me

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

So, for all of this? Let us always remember to be awake, to be aware, to think about the long and short term implications of our everyday actions. What we do, what we choose to do, it all makes a difference. Life lived fully, life lived well is anything but banal.

 

 

Corrie ten Boom and forgiveness

Sometimes being ordinary is enough. Sometimes being ordinary is extraordinary.

On April 15 1892, Cornelia ten Boom was born to an ordinary family in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Ten Boom family was devoutly Christian and they were serious about putting the principles of their faith into practice. Family, friends and neighbors were always welcomed into their home and at their table. After May 1940 when the Nazi’s invaded the Netherlands and began arresting Jewish people, the Ten Boom family remained an ordinary family who welcomed family, friends and neighbors into their home and at their table. They did not discriminate based on religion. If someone came to their door, the Ten Boom family welcomed that person into their home.

So one day in 1942 a Jewish woman appeared at their door, suitcase in hand. Her husband had been arrested. Her son had gone into hiding. The police had already questioned her, and she was afraid to return home. She had heard that the ten Booms had helped other Jewish people, and so she came asking for their help. Corrie’s father Casper welcomed the woman into their home and promised to help her.

Corrie managed to acquire extra ration cards, and they became very active in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jewish families and helping them to escape to freedom.  In February 1944 a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family’s work. Later that day the entire Ten Boom family was arrested and sent to prison. Casper, Corrie’s father died ten days later. Corrie’s brothers were released, but Corrie and her sister were to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944.  Corrie was released on December 28, 1944 through a clerical error.  Shortly after her release, all of the women in the camp were executed.

All of the Jewish people that the Ten Booms had been hiding at the time of their arrest remained undiscovered, and all but one, an older woman, survived the war.

After the war Israel honored Corrie ten Boom by naming her “Righteous Among the Nations”. She was also knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work during the war. Sometimes being ordinary is indeed extraordinary

But this story that Corrie tells about her experiences after the war is what I find most extraordinary. She says that she was traveling in Germany in 1947, giving lectures on the importance of forgiveness. After one of her lectures she was approached by a man who she recognized as one of the cruelest of the guards from the Ravensbruck prison camp. She understandably felt a myriad of emotions – forgiveness not among them. Having lived all of her life as a devout Christian, Corrie did what she had done all of her life. She prayed. She took the hands of the former prison guard, and she prayed from the depth of her heart. And she found the grace to forgive him. That I find most extraordinary.

She also wrote that in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi inhumanities, those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.

In 1977, 85-year-old Corrie moved to Placentia, California. In 1978, she suffered two strokes, the first rendering her unable to speak, and the second resulting in paralysis. She died on her 91st birthday, 15 April 1983, after a third stroke. Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. I think we can all learn a lesson or two from her – forgiveness among them.

Corrie ten Boom wrote a number of books, perhaps her most well-known book is The Hiding Place, which describes the work of her family during the war years. You should give it a read.

Emily Greene Balch a Woman for Peace

Time and place do matter. Where and when you were born, who you know and associate can make all the difference in how your life plays out, and in how your actions and work are regarded and remembered. Sometimes even monumental greatness is overshadowed by another person’s fame.

For example, Jane Addams comes as close to achieving household recognition as is probable for any social worker. And rightly so. She is a grand mother of the settlement house movement in the United States. Her Chicago based Hull House was the home to dozens of nationally recognized reform minded women. She helped to found the Women’s International League for Peace and freedom, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

And then there is Emily Greene Balch. “Who?” you ask.  To which I reply, “my point exactly!” Emily Greene Balch, born on January 8, 1867 in Boston, MA; died January 9, 1961, 94 years old. And what a 94 years they were.

Emily Greene Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 when she was 79 years old. It is interesting to me that even discussions of her as one of very few women Nobel Laureates often begin by noting that she was a colleague of Jane Addams.  But, Emily Greene Balch stands as her own woman who warrants recognition for her contributions and accomplishments.

Emily Greene Balch graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1890, a member of the college’s first graduating class. She was awarded Bryn Mawr’s first Fellowship and used that to study Paris’s economy which led to the publication of her first book, Assistance of the Poor in France. She was 26 when the book was published.  She then returned to the United States, took a job as a social worker with the Boston Children’s Aid Society, and founded the Dennison House Settlement. After further studying economics, in 1897 she became a professor at Wellesley Women’s College where she taught for 21 years until 1918.  Of course while she was teaching she remained internationally active, working to improve economic and social living conditions, and actively advocating for peace throughout the world.

So, she ‘left’ Wellesley in 1918. Why would she leave an academic position when she was only 51? Clearly that was too young to retire. Depending on how you read the story, the long and short of it is that she was ‘let go’ by the college for her outspoken peace work.  Emily had taken a leave from Wellesley to study the living condition of Slavic people.  As the conflict of World War I spread throughout Europe in 1914, she became more vocal and active in her work for peace, working with Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton.  Emily asked Wellesley to extend her leave so that she could continue her work for peace, and Wellesley not only declined to extend her leave but choose to terminate her contract instead.

Undaunted – well, daunted but undeterred, she took an editorial job with the Nation and continued to write books analyzing economic and social conditions and advocating for peace.  She was active with the International Congress of Women and helped to cofound the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She remained active within the women’s peace movement throughout her life.

Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech is titled: Toward Human Unity or Beyond Nationalism. If you are of a mind, you can read it at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1946/balch-lecture.html.

It is worth the read.  Here are the last few paragraphs:

I have spoken against fear as a basis for peace. What we ought to fear, especially we Americans, is not that someone may drop atomic bombs on us but that we may allow a world situation to develop in which ordinarily reasonable and humane men, acting as our representatives, may use such weapons in our name. We ought to be resolved beforehand that no provocation, no temptation shall induce us to resort to the last dreadful alternative of war.

May no young man ever again be faced with the choice between violating his conscience by cooperating in competitive mass slaughter or separating himself from those who, endeavoring to serve liberty, democracy, humanity, can find no better way than to conscript young men to kill.

As the world community develops in peace, it will open up great untapped reservoirs in human nature. Like a spring released from pressure would be the response of a generation of young men and women growing up in an atmosphere of friendliness and security, in a world demanding their service, offering them comradeship, calling to all adventurous and forward reaching natures.

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the comer. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals.

 

Shortly before she died, Nobel Peace Laureate Emily Greene Balch wrote a poem she addressed to the “Dear People of China.” The last stanza read as follows:

Let us be patient with one another,

And even patient with ourselves.

We have a long, long way to go.

So let us hasten along the road,

The road of human tenderness and generosity.

Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark.

 

Let us all hasten along the road of human tenderness and generosity, groping to find one another’s hands in the dark!  Not a bad way to spend a life, I think!

Sheryl WuDunn and Women of the World

I’ve been wanting to do more here about strong women. Apparently Sheryl WuDunn’s is also very interested in highlighting the accomplishments of strong women.  Ms. WuDunn has a good bit more focus and discipline than I do however. She has written a book “Half the Sky” that investigates the oppression of women globally. Her stories can be shocking. They can also be exhilarating. Her emphatic conclusion? Only when women in developing countries have equal access to education and economic opportunity will we be using all our human resources and will there be any hope for social and economic justice and human rights.

So, please by all means give her book a read.

If you need a bit more motivation, so hear her TED Talk, where you can hear her tell stories like this one:

So, let’s start off in China. This photo was taken two weeks ago. Actually, one indication is that little boy on my husband’s shoulders has just graduated from high school. (Laughter) But this is Tiananmen Square. Many of you have been there. It’s not the real China. Let me take you to the real China. This is in the Dabian Mountains in the remote part of Hubei province in central China. Dai Manju is 13 years old at the time the story starts. She lives with her parents, her two brothers and her great-aunt. They have a hut that has no electricity, no running water, no wristwatch, no bicycle. And they share this great splendor with a very large pig. Dai Manju was in sixth grade when her parents said, “We’re going to pull you out of school because the 13-dollar school fees are too much for us. You’re going to be spending the rest of your life in the rice paddies. Why would we waste this money on you?” This is what happens to girls in remote areas.

Turns out that Dai Manju was the best pupil in her grade. She still made the two-hour trek to the schoolhouse and tried to catch every little bit of information that seeped out of the doors. We wrote about her in The New York Times. We got a flood of donations — mostly 13-dollar checks because New York Times readers are very generous in tiny amounts (Laughter) but then, we got a money transfer for $10,000 — really nice guy. We turned the money over to that man there, the principal of the school. He was delighted. He thought, “Oh, I can renovate the school. I can give scholarships to all the girls, you know, if they work hard and stay in school. So Dai Manju basically finished out middle school. She went to high school. She went to vocational school for accounting. She scouted for jobs down in Guangdong province in the south. She found a job, she scouted for jobs for her classmates and her friends. She sent money back to her family. They built a new house, this time with running water, electricity, a bicycle, no pig.

A Tale of Beatrix Potter

Better than half of the human beings in our world are women. Women work hard and long. And yet, far too often our stories are not told, our contributions to the life and well being of our communities, countries, and planet go unrecognized.  So, I say, let’s celebrate women and our accomplishments, for better or worse, and more often than not for better. Today I would like to celebrate Beatrix Potter.

Many of you will know Beatrix Potter for her Peter Rabbit books. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter were early joys and first friends for many of us. And for that contribution alone we owe Beatrix much. Her drawings still adorn pottery, clothing and an array of home goods. Her animals are both realistic and unthreatening, they are downright cute. And Beatrix Potter was so much more than that.

Beatrix Potter was born Saturday, 28 July 1866. She grew up in Manchester England with all the comforts of a home with its own staff of servants.  One of her earliest fascinations was with sketching the pets and small animals that populated her home and surrounding lands.  By the time she was seven her drawings had an individual personality to them.  By the time she was 31 she had submitted a scientific paper to the Linnean Society in London. By the time she was 35 she had produced almost 300 water colors of mushrooms and fungi which are now in the Armitt  Museum in Cumbria, United Kingdom.

But it was her ‘picture letters’ that she looked to as a way of earning a living. She produced the Tale of Peter Rabbit herself as a Christmas gift for family and friends in 1901. Shortly after that Frederick Warne & Company in London began discussions with her about printing it.  By 1902 the Tale of Peter Rabbit was published, and she had The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester ready for publication as well.

One thing led to another and in July 1905 Beatrix and Norman Warne were engaged.  But on August 25, 1905 Norman died of pernicious anemia.  Beatrix was grief stricken. She left London and moved to the Cumbria where she had already been planning to buy a small farm, Hill Top. There she continued to create characters and to write, and she began to develop merchandise that would make her a woman of considerable means.  She steeped herself in the land and the community. She became a champion of farming causes. And she began to buy tranches of the beloved lands around her, gathering together as much as four thousand acres, all of which she left to the National Trust.

In 1913, eight years after Norman died, she married William Heelis, the country solicitor who worked with her to acquire the lands around her Hill Top Farm.  Frank Delaney tell the story of Beatrix Potter walking along the road near Hill Top Farm when she came upon a tramp walking along road. The tramp assumed that she too was a homeless traveler, and he greeted her, “Brave hard weather for the likes of thee’n me, missus.”  Delaney says that she had in that moment done the thing she most desired, she had merged with her countryside.

Indeed, Beatrix Potter merged with her countryside, she lived its life, told its quiet hidden stories, and left it better than when she found it.  What a marvelous legacy.  What a delightful contribution to the dignity of all living beings.

Doris Haddock, John McCain, Robert Lessig and me

It is not very often that I find John McCain and myself admiring the same woman, and yet here I am about to write about a woman who McCain called a true patriot and a blessing to our nation. Something felt a little fishy … but, it’s all Lawrence Lessig’s fault.  You see, in the 2014 Thanksgiving issue of Time Magazine, Lessig was asked to comment on who he admired and was grateful for, and he waxed enthusiastically about Doris Haddock.  So, of course, off I went to find out a bit more about Mrs. Haddock (I am just trying very hard here to refrain from some comment about swimming up stream to find information about her, but that would be too fishy even for me, so I will try to reel myself in).

So then, what is it about Granny D, as Mrs. Haddock preferred to be called that resonates with me?  Well, I have to admit that now that I am retired, there are days when I look back at my life and think, I did OK, but . . . but there are so many things that I wanted to do that I never quite got around to trying, things I started and never quite finished.  And I am inspired by an 88 year old woman who looked around, said to herself, something is not right here, and set out to draw attention to that!  Here’s what she did.

Back in 1995 Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold proposed some legislation to regulate campaign financing.  Short version of that story, their efforts failed.

Somehow, campaign financing caught the attention of Granny D.  The story goes that on January 1, 1999 Granny D left the Rose Bowl Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena California and set out walking.  She walked about 10 miles every day for 14 months.  She walked across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, heading to Washington DC.  Of course she made speeches along the way and gathered mass media attention as she progressed along her 3200 mile route across the country.  On February 29, 2000 a number of the members of Congress walked the last miles with her from Arlington Nation Cemetery to the Capital Buildings on the National Mall.  And, the McCain-Feingold Act addressing federal reform of campaign financing did pass shortly after she completed her walk.

Now, you need to realize that Granny D did not wake up on New Years Day 1999 and say, ‘what the heck, I feel like taking a bit of a walk today.’  Granny D did not decide this on her own. A trek like that takes lots of preparation, planning and people.  Granny D had a team of support people, she had a community backing her up. She had experience – in 1960 she and her husband campaigned against the testing of nuclear bombs in Alaska; in 1972 she served on the city planning board in Dublin, New Hampshire, her home town.  She was well known and active in the community. And at 88 she set out on a 3200 mile walk to raise awareness.

Granny D subtitled her autobiography, which she coauthored with Dennis Burke, “You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell.” That’s my kind of woman!!  So, let’s go out and raise a little bit of hell today in the spirit of Granny D!.

 

Granny D AKA Ethel Doris Rollins Haddock

Born January 24, 1910 in Laconia, New Hampshire, U.S.

Died March 9, 2010 (aged 100) in Dublin, New Hampshire, U.S.

Occupation Political activist

 

Malalai: the Joan of Arc of Afghanistan

 

When Malala Yousafzay was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I of course, had to scour the web to find some info on her. And you should check out my post “Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarthi and the Nobel Prize 2014” to read about how and why she earned the prize. As I read about her, I came across a line that mentioned that she was named after Malalai, an Afghan heroine. So, off I went again in search of info on Malalai. I was all set to gather and collate and draft something, when I came across this blog by Garen Ewing, http://www.garenewing.co.uk/angloafghanwar/biography/malalai.php, which I happily share with you here! Indeed, I am happy to celebrate two young women (Malala and Malalai) who dedicated their lives to working for human rights!!

 

Malalai
Afghan heroine of Maiwand

While in Britain, no one has heard of her, in Afghanstan Malalai (or Malala) is a legend. Smaller facts in the story vary slightly, but although it is Ayub Khan who became known as the Victor of Maiwand, it is said that it was Malalai who actually saved the day.

She was a native of Khig, a tiny village on the edge of the Maiwand battlefield, and the daughter of a shepard. Both her father and fiancée joined with Ayub’s army in the attack on the British on July 27th 1880 (which some say was also her wedding day), and like many women, Malalai was there to help tend to the wounded and provide water and spare weapons. Eventually there came a point in the battle where the Afghan army, despite their superior numbers, started to lose morale and the tide seemed to be turning in favour of the British. Seeing this, Malalai took off her veil and shouted out:

“Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand,
By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!”

This gave many of the Afghan fighters and ghazis a new resolve and they redoubled their efforts. At that moment one of the leading flag-bearers fell from a British bullet, and Malalai went forward and held up the flag (some versions say she made a flag out of her veil), singing a landai:

“With a drop of my sweetheart’s blood,
Shed in defense of the Motherland,
Will I put a beauty spot on my forehead,
Such as would put to shame the rose in the garden,”

But then Malalai was herself struck down and killed. However, her words had spurred on her countrymen and soon the British lines gave way, broke and turned, leading to a disastrous retreat back to Kandahar and the biggest defeat for the Anglo-Indian army in the Second Afghan War. Ayub Khan afterwards gave a special honour to Malalai and she was buried at her village, where her grave can still be found.

British sources, unsurprisingly, do not mention Malalai. Her actions may not have been noticed by any of the British, or they may not have seemed as consequential as they were to the Afghans. Afghan women are very rarely mentioned at all in the reports and narratives of the war (Hensman mentions that one woman was found among the dead at Ahmed Khel). Interestingly, it is the Afghans who provide some of the evidence for one of the other legends born at the battle of Maiwand, as it is from one of Ayub’s artillery colonels that we learn some of the details of the famous last stand of the 66th, clutching to their company colours, in a Khig garden, where indeed the fallen bodies were later found to be lying.

As well as Malalai, there were many other factors in the Afgan’s favour on that day, including preferential terrain and positioning, superior numbers, skilled use of outnumbering artillery, and perhaps some bad decisions on the British side of things. But certainly her actions were enough to turn her into a national hero where she is still revered today. Schools, hospitals and even a women’s magazine have been named after her. It is also a popular girl’s name, with Malalai Joya a rare female voice in post-Taliban Afghan politics.

Article by Garen Ewing ©2005. Separate from other articles on this website, I grant a creative commons license so this article may be used elsewhere to spread the word about Malalai. Please include this credit line.

 

 

Malalai of Maiwand
Da_Maiwand_MalalaiA drawing of Malalai holding Ayub Khan’s flag at the battlefield of Maiwand in July 1880
Born 1861
Khig, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Died July 1880 (aged 18–19)
Maiwand, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
Nationality Afghan
Other names Malalai Nia, Malala and Malalai of Maiwand
Ethnicity Pashtun
Known for Battle of Maiwand

 

Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye

Red Brocade

Naomi Shihab Nye

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

 Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

 No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

 I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea. 

© 2002 by Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East.

 

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri. Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother a Swiss-German-American . She spent her adolsecnece in Ramallah, Palestine; the Old City in Jerusalem; and San Antonio, Texas. Her experiences of cultural difference weaves throughout her writings. She is known for bringing a fresh perspective to the ordinary within her writing.

She earned her BA from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas where she continues to live and work.

Naomi told Contemporary Authors: “ I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late – there’s that rich possibility of noticing more in the meantime . . . poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”

I hope you enjoy Naomi’s poem and that you go out and explore more of her writings. I hope we all take a breath and pause to notice the shimmer of abundance that surrounds us. . . . Let us pause and feed each other, nurture each other until we are such good friends that we don’t care about the past or the details, that we simply cherish the humanity and dignity of each other. Let us take the time to brew a cup of fairness and justice for each other even as we snip fresh mint for that tea.