Today is the annual Women’s March on Washington Reading about the scheduled activities reminded me of when our publisher Linda Ligon went to Washington, D.C. for the first march in 2017. She wore, somewhat reluctantly, the signature handknitted “Pussy hat.” Linda later wrote about how the experience of attending the march changed her perception about those pink hats, how she became “overwhelmed by the solidarity they implied.”
I’ve been thinking about the solidarity of women. The strength of women. The beautiful persistence of women. That’s a theme that runs through just about every one of our books Like the story of a rug-hooking artisan in Guatemala using her own rug money to help neighbors afford plumbing for running water. Or the disabled women in Marrakesh, Morocco forming a cooperative to sell their embroidery as they work toward self-sufficiency, dignity. So many of these women artisans’ stories have kept with me, inspired me, humbled me. One I have visited over and over is the story of Nargisa, a khamak embroiderer with Kandahar Treasure, a widow, a mother, an extraordinarily resilient woman figuring out how to survive in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Here is just some of her story from Embroidering within Boundaries by Rangina Hamidi and Mary Littrell.
Nargisa’s small compound of uneven outer walls, two inner rooms, and a rutted dirt courtyard attests to the story of its construction for her family of seven. For many years, Nargisa embroidered khamak and sold it in the neighborhood wherever she could to support her family. A small revenue stream from a few khamak sales continues. After some time, she secured a job as a cleaning lady in the Department of Women’s Affairs. Nargisa earns 5,000 afghanis ($73 US) per month, 1500 afghanis ($14 US) of which goes for her bus transportation to work. Somehow, across the years, she managed to save 60,000 afghanis ($875) to buy the land for her house on the far outskirts of Kandahar.
At first the family lived in a tent. Upon returning home in the evenings Nargisa would collect water and make adobe for building the compound walls and the rooms where the family resides. In one room, the green and white textiles of Nargisa’s embroidered wedding trousseau from many years ago cover the walls and storage trunks. Across the courtyard, a string of crooked poles holds up the jerrybuilt wiring that brings electricity into the house.The young girls have commandeered a walled-off section of the courtyard for their playhouse. The girls giggle as they arrange their dollhouse and dress stick dolls in fabric scraps.
As we sat in the courtyard with juice drinks, Nargisa talked of her life, work, and worries. Somehow, under what seem insurmountable physical, economic, and social conditions, she has garnered the strength and resources to provide her children with a place to live. Spending time with Nargisa, watching her children play, and learning of her life as a mother to six children added poignancy to her earlier welcoming greeting when we first arrived, “This is our home. I built it brick by brick.”
March on, women, march on.