Friday, July 24, 2015

אשת חיל Eshet Chayil

Today is my last day of work at National Heroes Institute. I leave Kananga in less than forty-eight hours. This is real. I would be remiss to leave without writing this post that has been brewing since the first week I arrived in the Philippines.

Everywhere I have visited in this country, I have felt the trademark "Filipin@ hospitality." I have been welcomed with open minds and felt the love of people after mere minutes together. Most times I am welcomed by the arms of women, אשת חיל, eshet chayil. The patriarchy is alive and well, make no mistake, but the majority of my relationships that have blossomed are with the women who make society run. These women are leaders and role models, no matter whether they are ten, twenty-five, thirty-three, forty-six, fifty-two, or over sixty years old. I am in awe of the way they carry themselves and manage to care for anyone and everyone who surrounds them.

This year has awakened my soul to an array of realities and convictions, one of which has been a renewed dedication to feminism. Fueling this revival have been the writings of some powerhouses of the faith, Barbara Brown Taylor, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans. I can thank the one and only Emily VandeWalle, an אשת חיל, eshet chayil, in her own right, for introducing me to their work. As I was reading Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist, I first learned of the reclaiming of the Proverbs 31 woman, who has long been championed as the model for Christian womanhood as the superior housewife, child-bearer, and one who willingly submits to her husband at all times. The original Hebrew in Proverbs 31:10 is אשת חיל, eshet chayil, is normally translated as a virtuous, worthy, good, or competent woman. However, as Rachel Held Evans also points out in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, a better translation of the Hebrew is a "woman of valor." The epitome of womanhood is not in keeping the house or raising the children, but in becoming a woman of valor, wherever that may take you.

To the women who volunteer to teach Indigenous People in the mountains of Compostela Valley despite increasing militarization, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who kept a fire going to provide food through a typhoon and slept outside to make sure others stay safe, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who collect shells to make necklaces for mere pesos, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who weave bobo traps for fishing, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who use theater to advocate for social change, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who continue struggling after sexual violence and abuse, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who face the demons in their mind every single day, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who have given birth to no children, yet mother anyone they meet, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who never marry but dedicate their lives to making the world a better place, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who lead as heads of organizations or by example in their daily lives, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who protected their families as Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the land, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who open their arms, hearts, wallets, and homes to anyone in need, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the girls who will grow up to great role models and leaders in whatever they do, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who work with partners to keep the family running, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who use their voice unapologetically to speak the truth and spread the Word, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the girls who play dead in order to save their lives, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who raise families on their own for whatever reason, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

To the women who slave away hours before and event and stay after to clean up all the messes, אשת חיל, eshet chayil.

I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing women who are all אשת חיל, eshet chayil, no matter their marital or parental status. These relationships with women from all generations will continue to provide inspiration and examples to emulate when this year is but a memory. Amongst all of these, my relationship with my supervisor and one of my many host moms stands out.

Mrs. Dobert Mahika Tindoy Moriles

Twinning in our stylish uniforms. Are we school administrators or flight attendants??

When I was feeling lonely and friendless, it was only because I had not allowed myself to fully recognize the kindred spirit I had found in Ate Dobert. She is truly one of my best friends accompanying me on this journey. We can share our struggles and burdens, and most of the time we agree with each other. We can laugh together over plenty of shenanigans we've gotten into. We can talk for hours, each of us taking turns talking and listening. We are both proud card-carrying members of the strong independent woman sisterhood. We can scare and frustrate each other, but we will always come back to love, overwhelming, unconditional, and unending love.

Recently, I was reminded of my favorite piece I performed with the Washington and Lee University (Chamber) Singers: Dan Forrest's Entreat Me Not to Leave You. The significance of this piece changed from October to December to May as we performed it in my senior year. As I listened to it, the lyrics spoke again a different message to me relevant to where I am in the journey.

The lyrics are from the story of Ruth. Naomi's family goes to Moab, and her two sons marry women from the area. Naomi's husband and sons die, leaving Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah alone. Naomi returns to her family's home and encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their families in Moab since widowed women without children have little to no power in the ancient Near East. Orpah returns, but Ruth refuses, insisting, "Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For where you go, I will go; And where you stay, I will stay; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If ought but death parts you and me" (Ruth 1:16-17).

This year I have been Ruth in a land I do not know far away from my family. Thankfully, I have found not one but many Naomi characters who have taken me in, cared for me, and tried, unsuccessfully, to set me up only a few times. I have been surrounded by many women of valor, אשת חיל, eshet chayil, in my community, and I am so thankful.

When I was first placed at NHI last June, Dessa, my site coordinator, told me I was the answer to their prayers. As I leave, I can say that this site with these people have been the answer to mine.

No comments:

Post a Comment