By Elayne Clift, Womens Feature Service
Some years ago when I was working internationally on maternal and child health issues, I visited a deeply impoverished neighbourhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The poverty there was crushing.
Most Americans would have found it inconceivable that families shared wooden platforms for beds, eat rice while squatting on dirt floors and a foul sewage running past the door.
I was welcomed into a home in such a neighbourhood by a young woman in a thin sari with a baby on her hip. I’ve never forgotten what she said to me through our translator: “Forgive me, my house is a mess. I didn’t know you were coming!”
In that moment I was struck by the universality of womanhood, for whom among us has not said the very same thing to visitors, no matter how posh or poor our surroundings?
Over the years, as I travelled to diverse communities and countries. I’ve been struck repeatedly by the way that women speak to each other and by the things that we share as priorities. Whether among incarcerated women, women in poor communities of urban America, affluent women in the world’s capital cities, bank tellers in Kenya or beauticians in Thailand, it’s been my experience that what we talk about is always the same: Our kids, our relationships, our challenges and how we overcome them.
Much has been written about the difference between women and men in terms of their communication styles and topics. That is not the point of this reflection. Rather, what I am struck by is the immediate, genuine, shared intimacy that exists among women, irrespective of class, culture, country, age, race or other seeming barriers.
I find it extraordinary that a desperately poor woman in Bangladesh would say the same thing to me as a well-heeled matron in Buenos Aires might. The same thing also that a woman I’ve only just met by chnace would invite me into her home and open her heart with such obvious pleasure.
Once, while at a writer’s conference in a small New York town, I stopped at a local shop. I watched a woman there whose husband was nagging her in a way that made me sad for her. Our eyes met, the understanding that passed between us was palpable.
The point is, women’s connection to each other is an extraordinary thing. I am reminded of it everywhere I go. Just as my oldest friends are dear to me because of everything we’ve shared, so too are the new friends I make because of everything we have understood about each other’s lives. Even in fleeting moments of exchange, there is something real and rich about women’s lives crossing because of our universal reality.
Such moments of convergence are a true gift, freely given and accepted with gratitude, woman to woman. They are gifts without a price and without boundaries.
(Elayne Clift writes about women, politics, and social issues from Saxtons River, Vermont.)