Pen and Paper
By Kymberlie Adams Matthews
It’s mid-April and winter is still here. My apartment smells of
musty furnace fumes, old books and well-chewed dog toys overlaid by the
of split pea soup simmering on the stove. I have a second glass of red
wine by my side and with each intermission in my reading, I take a sip
hoping it will provide me with much needed warmth. I am editing a recent
interview with Malalai Joya, thinking how there is something very intimate,
and very private about the interview experience. It dawns on me, that of
all the things I have learned from my time at Satya, it is the conversations
I have had with virtual strangers—the movers, shakers and changers
of the world—that have affected me the most. The interview is truly
about the person on the other end of the line and I merely serve as a conduit
for their message. My mind begins to drift as a manifold of voices envelop
my thoughts. I put down my pen and welcome the memories...
It was an early morning call to India, 7:45 a.m. to be exact. I had been
up late preparing the night before. Now, three cups of coffee later, I
was ready to talk. There is always a bit of trepidation to conquer before
dialing the number. Will this be a good conversation? Will she be an easy
talker or will I have to pry a bit more with my questions? Do they want
to do this or am I an invader of privacy?
This morning I was calling Ruchira Gupta, a young journalist who had ventured
to brothels in Bombay to document sex trafficking. Witnessing the conditions
of the women and children, she realized she couldn’t walk away. Four years
later she created Apne Aap an organization that has helped many regain their
That interview turned out to be one of the best I have ever had. Her words touched
me. Ruchira is similar to many of the women I have interviewed over the past
three years—simply unable to turn a blind eye to the atrocities surrounding
Not an Activist
Many of these women do not see themselves as activists, or even feminists. They
aren’t attempting to climb a social or political ladder, but only to make
things a little better, a little more decent in a very rough environment.
In the small town of Kumba, Cameroon, two female state prosecutors, Vera Ngassa
and court president Beatrice Ntuba, spend their days battling cases against child
abuse, domestic abuse and rape. They told me how it feels to be members of a
mostly Muslim community where women are considered second-class citizens, the
tools of men. And I learned how they deal with the pressure from their families
and community members to remain silent and obedient. But the values they bring
to their community are so clear to me—the broader social legislation benefitting
Ngassa and Ntuba stand up strong for the women and children of their community
using the law as their weapon of choice. In a world where law and religion are
often hand-in-hand with violence, these women prove the power of women as peacemakers.
I’ve also learned about the influence tradition has on a community. Even
in the U.S. it cannot be discounted or overlooked that religion is a huge a factor
in politics. We are key players in a game where religion is used as a pawn to
justify war, strengthen the invasion of civilian privacy and create an overall
state of fear. Religion is also being manipulated to take away some specific
rights of women, from reproductive freedoms to basic human equality. The U.S.
has certainly seen better, less dogmatic days.
But putting things into perspective, we still have it pretty good. Many of the
women I have talked with live as invisible victims of a country in turmoil—turmoil
largely due to upholding religious traditions. With a passionate voice, Soheila
Vahdati Bana brought me to the streets of Iran where the practice of stoning
to death is an acceptable and legal punishment for woman who commit adultery.
Yanar Mohammed took me to a U.S.-occupied Iraq where our government has literally
replaced Saddam’s reign with horrible religious zealots—a place where
women face great oppression and brutality, including public executions.
My eyes have been opened to a world where lives are ruled by patriarchal religious
thugs. Yet these women and countless others are trying desperately to regain
their rightful place. They are literally standing in the line of fire to fight
for their basic human rights. Talking with them, hearing the pain and determination
in their voices is something I can never forget. It just puts all of my struggles
into perspective. What right do I have to complain about anything ever again?
My president and government I will continue to question, but I am not witnessing
my friends, my sisters, strangling from frayed ropes knotted around their necks,
dangling from poles as I walk to the bodega for a bagel.
The interview process has allowed me the opportunity to look up from my own struggles
and make connections between women’s battles across the world. By writing
about the experiences of women in other countries, I can show readers the blatant
injustices women face are global. We need to understand these connections so
we can foster international solidarity. In divisive and polarizing times, individual
citizen voices can seem futile, but the printed venue enables participants to
learn how to tell their own stories as a way to affect change.
For over a year, Thembi Ngubane, a 19 year-old from the township of Khayelitsa,
South Africa, verbally recorded a diary of her struggle living with AIDS. Thembi
demonstrated the power young people have in sharing their stories. Their naturally
emotional points of view are often angry, passionate and funny. Thembi took her
story on the road, reaching out to young adults in the U.S. as well as South
Africa. Using her personal story as a powerful tool, Thembi offered all she has
learned to help those on entirely different ends of the globe.
Of Words and Wrinkles
I sip a bit more wine, turn toward the wall mirror and examine my face for evidence
of deepening creases. Are those double lines between my eyes widening? The bags
under them darkening? I look for signs of wear and tear, of signs that I am aging,
of how I am changing. It doesn’t matter that I still get carded at bars,
I look different to myself now, older, somewhat wiser. My face is catching up
with my life. Knowledge and compassion can be downright exhausting.
Each and every story has been an a-ha! moment for me, an awakening. I have always
viewed my duty as the interviewer to capture their words, dedication, strength,
as well as their sorrows, as best I can. It has been an honor passing their stories
on to you. Then it becomes your turn to be the conduit and make sure others hear
these powerful words.
My interest in writing began in the second grade, with a journal I received as
a birthday gift. My parents must have thought it would encourage me to bravely
conquer penmanship. But they never dreamed of the doors it would open for me.
I began to record everything. From family illnesses and hailstorms, I wrote in
my diary religiously, eventually accumulating volumes of dreams and fears, events,
facts and thoughts. I captured others’ stories, and learned that both the
simple and the extraordinary held promise.
I have worked for Satya for three years, and soon I will pack up my desk and
say goodbye. In many ways the thought of starting anew terrifies me. With
a third glass of wine gone, and the moment before sleep takes over, it will be
exhilarating to imagine myself able to taking pen to paper and sharing stories
once again, wherever I may be.
Prior to becoming managing editor of Satya, Kymberlie Adams
Matthews spent over six years working with national animal advocacy
hopes to continue
her career path in social justice
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