Monday, November 06, 2006

Some Lines Were Meant To Be Crossed

Some lines were meant to be crossed, some norms are just waiting to be violated. At least that is what I kept telling myself as I wondered if I would have the courage to do what I have wanted to do for two months now. Taking a deep breath, I stood up and tried to pretend I did not notice the ceasing of conversation at the table of 20 some people I have come to call my Bolivian host family. I kept my eyes down, perhaps even closed, fully anticipating what would come next and wondering if for once I would find a way to take the moral stand my heart was screaming at me to take…

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? I have learned to show up to meetings late just cause everyone else does. Despite my intense craving to never see another tomato, I smile at almost every lunch and do my best to enthusiastically comment on how delicious the tomatoes are.

But this day, I could no longer follow the old adage of when in Rome. A choice was to be made and there was no grey zone: stay silent in respect of the culture, or speak up, possibly offend some people, but maintain my dignity if for no one else, myself. Bernadette Devlin said that to maintain our dignity, we might have to give up everything else. As the tension escalated in the room, I prayed she was wrong.

Anyone who is familiar with the machismo of many Latin American communities can perhaps vividly imagine what the show down looked like that day at lunch as I went around the table picking up dishes. ¨Sit down, it’s a woman’s job, you don’t have to do this,¨ etc...

I wanted to go on a diatribe that very moment about the equality of women. I had an entire speech, a soap box waiting to be stood upon. But instead I smiled, thinking of my sister, my mother, and the many strong women who have and (God willing especially after this moment) will continue to support me and said ¨I think my mother back home, a single mother, might disagree with that... And so, no disrespect, but I need to help.¨ Silence… until my host mother finally laid down the law (it might be a macho culture but make no mistake, it’s the women who will have the last word when they want it) ¨If this is how he was raised, then we respect that.¨ I walked into the kitchen to begin on the dishes, heart beating, dignity soaring.

I have learned a lot from my Bolivian host family, they are all great people who have so much to offer. But maybe, just maybe, this day the student became the teacher. I did the dishes with my host brother tonight (first time two men have done this task), I could not help but wonder if maybe soon enough there would be two male feminists living in this house.

In other news, I spent $8 to fax my absentee ballot back to the United States. I make $60 a month, so you do the math of how much of my salary just went to pay for democracy… Inherent in this statement should be the obvious: with all the hurdles I just jumped to get my one vote in (I just told you about the cash, don´t get me started on how hard it was to get a ballot), I will be disappointed in anyone who does not make it to the polls. And if my people do not win, I will cry, not only on the basis of my values, but on the fact that I also lost 1/6 of my monthly salary!


isabel arrastia said...

patrick furlong, you inspire me so much. i absolutely love reading your blogs. you are not the only one being transformed by your experiences because you are also deeply affecting those who have the gift of reading about your time in bolivia. gracias un millon.

NatNat's world... said...

I never cease to be amazed by your writing. You truly have a gift of words and I look forward to all of the stories you will publish on your blog. Also, as a child of a single-mom family, way to stick up for all of the women out there who are constantly fighting for equal rights. You rock!

NatNat's world... said...

Patrick- I am always amazed when I read your blog. You have such a natural knack and gift of writing! I can´t wait to read the entries over the next two years. Also, as a product of a single-mom home, way to stick up for women, not only here in Bolivia but all over. Basically in a nut-shell, you rock!

Anonymous said...

You are an inspiration to everyone you meet.

Anonymous said...


Don't try that in our house. Your second Mom will have none of that and I don't want to be doing dishes..

I enjoy reading your stories, keep them coming.

Chekc your math, it was 2/15 of your salary.

Mr. Wunsch