Pumpkins are melting into sodden orange lumps on doorsteps. Womens’ magazines feature yet another recipe spread for a low-fat Thanksgiving dinner, which seems terribly surreal to me. No matter what anyone may say to the contrary, eating real food instead of the processed fast food we eat the rest of the year is the whole point of Thanksgiving for most of us. Well, that and waiting for Santa to arrive and open the official Christmas shopping season after we’re entertained by huge, inflated creatures bopping each other and threatening to injure spectators. (This could be a description of either the Macy’s Parade or a football game. Take your pick.)
Yes, once again, the season of goodwill and peace on earth is upon us, which means it’s time to get out our skinny little wallets and shop for America. Unfortunately for the retailers, this year things may be a tad less remunerative both online and off. I’m not buying the hype that online sales will be higher than last year, because people can’t afford mall prices. I think online and offline sales will both be smaller than last year.
I know my budget is having a hard time stretching to cover oil and gas and food and I assume I’m not alone. I know this because of the posts in parenting forums where mothers are trying to figure out how to have the Christmas they always have on a third of the money they usually spend. We don’t overdo on Christmas. As a matter of fact, we celebrate more of a Solstice-y, Winter Holiday as an excuse for celebrating sort of thing and presents aren’t a big part of it. But we’re still cutting back.
Perhaps as we all tighten our belts around our bulging American bellies, it might help us to feel a little less deprived if we consider the families around the world who aren’t having a problem figuring out how to fit toys into their December budget. I’ve been doing that a lot lately and it really gives me a different perspective on the holidays and our whole way of life.
Even if you don’t watch the news, it’s impossible to ignore what’s happening in Darfur, Rwanda, DR Congo, Iraq and so many other places. That the brunt of this falls onto the already overburdened shoulders of women and children is what bothers me. As Slaid Cleaves sings,
” Women cry as the men kill
Always have and always will
You know we’re never gonna run out of blood to spill”
But while the men fight the wars, women are left behind to try to feed and shelter their children. You see them digging up roots in Africa, even though the roots make their children sicken and die. There’s just flat out nothing else to put into their bellies, and the roots do keep them alive a little longer. I know without being told that I’d do the same thing, hoping that the war would end and food would come from relief organizations in time to save my child.
They’re starving to death in tiny rooms in Iraq, because if they go out without a male family member, they’ll be beaten and maybe raped. We’re texting in our cars and IM’ing our friends about the latest surprise on Survivor. Their orphan sons are foraging in gangs and getting kidnapped by rebel armies where they’re taught to kill by the people who killed their parents. We worry that our sons spend too much time online playing World Of Warcraft.
Their toddlers are watching their mothers starve while ours are watching their mothers try to stick with the latest diet. We obsess about picking the best pre-K for our daughters. Their mothers gave up on school for their girls when the teacher was gunned down by militant fundamentalists in front of the class for teaching their daughters how to read.
We have so much stuff that we need books to help us figure out where to put it all. They cling to a battered pan, scraps of cloth to cover their children at night, a cracked cup just in case they find something to put into it. Their husbands, sons and brothers are lost to them, whether or not they’re killed in the war or missing or prisoners, or just too tired and dispirited to come home. Ours are in the living room watching sports, stealing marshmallows off the sweet potatoes in the kitchen and cuddling with kids on the couch watching the parades.
But what can we do, eh? We didn’t start the wars. Well, maybe the one in Iraq, but really it was Saddam’s fault for saying he had weapons of mass destruction. Besides, the people are a lot better off now than they were then, just like we’re better off now than we were before the Iraq War. Or not.
Maybe, though, we’re a little less smug and a little more able to sympathize with what’s been happening in so much of the rest of the world all this time. As we slide back on the scale towards where so many women and children are trapped in poverty, war and disease, maybe we can understand a little better a tiny portion of what they feel when they can’t give their kids what they need.
In their case, of course, it’s food, shelter and health care. In our case – this year – for most of us – it’s toys and luxuries and the standard of living we and our kids are used to. Next year? Who knows. Maybe things will turn around and we’ll be back to “normal”, if normal means consuming over a quarter of the world’s oil and ruining the environment in the name of jobs.
But maybe, just maybe, things won’t turn around. Maybe things will get worse and next year we’ll be even closer to a Rwandan or Congolese mother, unable to afford medical care for a sick baby or heat for our house. Worse, maybe we won’t be able to afford a house at all. If we’re forced to go into an apartment or even a homeless shelter, where will we put our stuff?
Is that why we turn away from the despair and hopelessness on the faces of women who cradle babies who are so still that even their mothers can’t tell if they’re still alive? Is it because we know that it’s only a fluke of fate that keeps us from what they’re going through, and fate is very fickle?
They could be us. She could be me. I could wake up some morning and find that my world is gone, taken by war, taken by losing all my wealth, taken by disease. You could too. That’s why I’m doing what I can now to help the women who can’t help themselves. My first present this holiday season was to the Women’s Commission For Refugee Women and Children. Quick, affordable and I didn’t even have to wrap it.
I would be so chuffed if this post got one other person to donate or to write a post in aid of aid to women and children who are displaced by war, threatened with starvation, subjected to gender-based violence or forced to live without food, shelter and peace for any reason. I know how lucky I am no matter how bad things get for me financially. I hope that the small gifts I make will give another woman a little bit of what I’m so fortunate to have.
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