By Jordan Arellano
It poured down rain as Sidi and I pulled up outside of Maseray’s house. Rarely had I felt really cold on the continent of Africa, but the rain brought with it a cool wind, and I almost shivered as I jumped out of the Women of Hope car, and ran to the porch. I was expectant, ready to meet the woman and the family whom would invite me to do life with them for the day.
As Maseray came out onto the porch, she was followed by a crowd of people varying in age, including a gaggle of giggling children who stared at me with wide smiles. She introduced her four children and seven grandchildren, not to mention the many nieces and nephews who are staying with her during their school vacation. I was immediately overwhelmed by the names: Bishe, Sallymatu, Aminata, Maite, Zainab, and the list continues. I spent most of the day rehearsing them, repeating them, and matching them to their owners; by the end of the day, I was proudly successful.
As Maseray moved about the house, I noticed a limp that made it difficult for her to walk. I soon learned that it was a result of contracting Polio as a child. Not asking too many questions, I just observed how Maseray’s life was different from many other African women I have known over the years. While she has a strong and profound presence in her home, Maseray’s ability to work was severely limited.
As the morning turned to afternoon, the rain turned into a gray overcast sky that allowed us to venture out and start some daily chores. It was clearly painful for Maseray to perform many of these tasks herself, so I went out with the children to pick cassava leaves off of the tall stalks next door. The young girls were so adept at all of their tasks, from rinsing the picked leaves, to pounding them in a mortar with long sticks that beat the cassava into a bright green paste. Maseray helped with tasks when she could, but it was obvious to me that it was much easier for her to sit back and allow the strong young girls do the physical labor. They invited me to give a try at pounding the leaves, and then everyone laughed at my uncomfortable posture. Later that day, we cooked it up into a sauce with fish to be served over rice.
During the afternoon, Maseray received a call from Isatu, the head of the fair trade cooperative at Women of Hope. Isatu invited us to come visit her house, which was a short walk away. The distance was short, but the journey was long as Maseray slowly made her way through rough and puddled village paths. As I trudged beside her, I thought of how much Maseray must need to walk—to the market to sell cakes, to Women of Hope to make fair trade cards, and to perform the many other chores and tasks that we all do to sustain our lives. For her, this usual mode of transportation was made twice as slow, twice as painful, and twice as challenging. It was the first time I really had a taste of the daily challenge of disability in the developing world. It made me admire Maseray and Isatu and the many others with Women of Hope who have found strength and perseverance to keep walking, working, and supporting their families.
Before I knew it, I heard Sidi arrive again with the car. I finished my dinner that had taken us so much time and energy to prepare, and I stopped to thank Maseray for the day we spent together. I waved goodbye to the family, once again repeating the names that had finally become familiar, and telling them that I hoped to visit again some day. As we drove away, I reflected on the day. Maseray’s life is so uniquely challenging from anything I had experienced before, though I know her story isn’t unique to so many women with disabilities throughout the developing world. I was encouraged by
the opportunity to do life with her just for one day and I prayed for the courage to pursue my own life with as much steady vigor and perseverance.