Last Friday, March 8th, marked International Women’s Day: an official holiday celebrated in countless countries and communities around the world. This holiday is meant to magnify the innumerable accounts of women’s strength and their uncanny endeavors to gain equality, justice, and peace for all.
Decidedly, I’m not a big fan of international or national anything days. I’m not convinced that these arbitrary calendric celebrations necessarily do all the much to improve public understanding and recognition of the issues being celebrated. All the same, Mollie & I went out to observe the celebrations taking place here in Nkongsamba.
Unsurprisingly the festivities were being presided over by the typical plethora of masculine bureaucracy which governs every aspect of women’s daily lives here in Cameroon. The prefet of Nkongsamba (the government appointed leader) rambled on for an hour about women, somehow incorporating the topics of vampirism and bestiality. When he (finally) finished, there was the traditional parade and dancing. A dance team, of sorts, started off the festivities by dancing, and during their dance they received donations of money from various men of importance in Nkongsamba. Something about that just doesn’t seem right, especially on Women’s Day, but I guess that is besides the point. After all of that, the parade started. Women walked with their association or work, so the telecommunications company had a group of women walk, each school had a group, the hospital and bank had a group. The redemption in the parade was that the women did seem proud. They were happy to be honored by the governmental figures in Nkongsamba on their day.
After the official activities were over, women had the day off. Now, this is a big deal! The women are responsible for feeding the whole family, cleaning, washing all the laundry by hand, getting water, and all other daily household activities. And, Women’s Day is the one day a year they do not have to do these tasks. This is where the redemption of the day came in.
Mollie and I went to the bar with Katie and Gillian, our two other PCVs in Nkongsamba, and a group of our market mamas. These mamas are all of the women we go to when we buy any of our fresh produce; we see them, chat with them, and interact a few times each week. These women are also our biggest supporters and protectors. If anyone is hassling us in the market, these mamas will quickly tell them to get lost, claiming us as part of their family, and generally providing us with the greatest sense of belonging we feel here. All that to be said, our mamas were barely recognizable! All dressed up in their women’s day pagne, with new hair dos and makeup that usually doesn’t get worn for a day vending at the market, these women were bringing their A-game to their day. It was really fun, and refreshing, to hang out with our mamas, have them be so relaxed, carefree, and full of laughter. Even if it is just for one afternoon a year, even though they undoubtedly deserve way more recognition than that, I am happy that we got to share in an afternoon of peace, celebration and laughter together.