I always say life is the greatest storyteller of all. If you are willing to listen, people will tell you the most amazing, unexpected stories.
It happened to me today. I was having a manicure in the usual place but this time it was a different girl. All the manicurists there are Brazilian – they are considered to be very good professionals – and as usual we talked. After some inconsequential chat she began telling me stories from her homeland Brazil. She said her great-great grandmother was a native Indian, who had literally been captured by her great-great grandfather; he had stormed into the village riding his horse, taking her away from her tribe by force and later marrying her against her will. Curiously this must have been usual as only a few days ago a Brazilian colleague was telling me a similar story, how an Indian ancestor had become pregnant by a Portuguese man, who then abandoned her. Apparently, her child would not be accepted by her family, because of its father, so she had no option but to give her up for adoption. In the first case, however, the couple remained together as the Indian girl, even if taken against her will, had to accept her fate for her family would not take her back. Apparently, this marriage, that had begun inauspiciously, held for many years – happy or not – and was very fruitful, with no less than eighteen children!
One can hardly imagine a woman going through pregnancy and childbirth so many times…in addition to all her living children, this woman had a few miscarriages, and at times they would happen unexpectedly, as she was working in the fields, or gathering fruit in the jungle; when it was over she would resume her activities and go on with her life as if nothing had happened!
Now I have heard many stories about how life was harsh for women in old times and still is in some places in the world, but even so I listened entranced, shocked at what this girl was telling me. And she went on with the story of her grandmother, one of the eighteen surviving children mentioned above. She was married at thirteen – barely a child and against her will – to a man who abused her in many ways, namely burning her with cigarettes. At fourteen she bore her first child and in the years that followed she had three more children. Her husband mistreated her and the children, and neither did he provide for them, and her life was hell. When she turned 21 – legally coming of age, as by marrying as a minor she had gone from the custody of her father to that of her husband – she took her children to her mother’s house and left her husband for good, going to the district capital to find some work that would allow her to escape the state of slavery she lived in. Her granddaughter proudly told me how she became an esthetician, a great professional, soon having a successful career and being able to bring her children to live with her. I could see the girl’s eyes shining when she told me she immensely admires her grandmother, the bravest woman she knows and a role model to her.
As spoke, I thought how lucky my generation is in having access to education and equal opportunities. Even in last week’s post I mentioned how my own grandmother did not have the chance to go to Medical school as she would have wished for in her time that was not considered suitable for a girl, whose fate was to marry and bear children. Even so, Granny (my maternal grandmother) was happy in her marriage and her husband cherished her. Whereas my paternal Grandmother was not so lucky. Having married my grandfather for love at eighteen, much against her family’s wishes, she bore him thirteen children, but that was not the worst. She had an unfaithful, unrespectful husband, who went as far as to introduce her to his mistresses as his sister – and she had to accept it as she had no way out of that marriage.
As the girl finished I thanked her for her work, but most of all for the stories she had shared with me. We agreed we are so lucky not to have to live the tragic fate of our ancestors. As I said goodbye, again saying I had had a wonderful time listening to her, she told me something that made me smile: “You can tell my stories, if you like”. I nodded. Her story deserves to be told, and little does she know that I’m a writer. May we, free, privileged women of today, never forget what our grandmothers and great grandmothers suffered in a male chauvinist world. And may we never forget how so many sisters, even today in many countries still suffer that horrible fate. Of course, I thought, I will tell her story. So that we all, women of today, may read it and do everything in our power, no matter how small our contribution may be, for a world where women are no longer forced to be with any man they don’t want to, or to become child bearing “machines”, or to suffer abuse or lack of respect without being able to slam the door on the one who mistreats them.
Oh yes, I thought, as I headed for the car. Lucky me to have been born in my age, in my country, in my family. To have been born free, and to have always been able to choose freedom, no matter the cost.