Women Are Half the World

Nikita Zook spent six weeks in Ayacucho, Peru during the summer of 2013. As part of her final project, she conducted informal interviews with several women who were part of her daily routine in various ways. She wrote what she had gathered of their stories, trying to capture some of their resilience and strength. Her goal was to describe the value of their ordinary, day to day, past and present experiences, and to do that as honestly as she could, in spite of the language barrier. The following was written to be read out loud or performed as a series of monologues.

I. Luz

My story is very sad, she tells me, shaking her head.

She’s standing in the middle of her tiny kitchen as she says this: sink, two burner gas stove, wooden table, two crowded shelves, several broken appliances. She rummages through a dusty canister that holds small bags of canela, cinnamon, rice, dried things I can’t quite identify.

I was abandoned when I was three months old, she says. I don’t have a family.

I can tell by the way she looks at me, brow furrowed, pushing back dark hair with one hand, that this is a line she’s repeated many times before.

She scans the cluttered table for a knife, finds it, starts peeling a potato.

When I was six, I hid sugar in the ground in a plastic bag. I was buena inteligente, she tells me with a grin, I was smart, it was my secret.

And that’s why you have no teeth! her eleven year old daughter shrieks beside me.

Her lips close together quickly. But then she laughs. It’s true, she’s missing a few bottom teeth. I’ve never noticed that though. When I look at her, it’s her eyes–they light up when she laughs.

A Walk Through the Thorns

On a hot afternoon in Olanchito, Honduras, I walked back on the dusty streets from the edge of town after my last home visit for the day. I loved my SST service assignment teaching adults in a banana plantation town how to read and write. I would visit their homes several times a week for an hour or two of tutoring in Spanish.

One of the families had four students: Senora Alvarado and her three oldest daughters. The visit would last the entire afternoon, and I treasured our time together. Senora Alvarado lived in a very small, one-room cabin with her 13 children. We always had our lessons on one of the benches outside the house, as all the space inside was taken up with hammocks and cots. I had never been invited inside, but I could see those hammocks through the cotton curtain that covered the doorway.

Her cooking fire was outside, and every day she would prepare strong coffee for me from freshly roasted beans. It seemed that coffee beans and bananas were all they could afford. It didn’t occur to me until much later while in medical school that the explanation for the blond hair and protruding belly of her youngest child was malnutrition.

Tangled Paths

The children stopped to stare at the green truck as we passed. Our eyes locked: mine memorizing their angled arms and milky palms, theirs taking in my strange, thin hair and pale skin. Their mothers picked their way along the uneven ground at the side of the road, balancing wide ceramic bowls, eyes steady and careful.

After six weeks of study with the other SSTers in Abidjan, the largest city in Côte d’Ivoire, we were all heading au village. My destination was a tiny village beyond Danané, close to the western border of the country. I sat in the front seat of a Chevy pick-up, smashed between Charles, a Baptist pastor in Danané, and Lydia, his wife. Their children rode in the back. It wasn’t very far, but not knowing what lay ahead, I wished the drive would last forever.

The road was full of potholes and ruts, losing ground to the thick green vegetation. Some puddles were as long as the truck.

“The name of this village is Bougle,” Lydia said.


They laughed. “Bwug-lee.”

I repeated it over and over until she nodded, smiling. Bougle’s buildings were white-washed mud huts with packed dirt floors. Chickens ran loose in the road. An old woman sat bare-breasted on a low stool in the shade. She stared as we passed.

One Question at a Time

A very pregnant, soon-to-be mom wobbled bow-legged down the hallway as my guide led me on a tour of the Nyarero Health Clinic. We continued our walk down the long, sun-streaked hall until we reached the birthing room. Yelling, she hopped up on a wooden table draped in green plastic, and with not another word, a newborn slid right out onto the table. The nurse and I stood back in shock (though most of the shock was probably mine).

“Don’t touch anything,” she said as she darted out in the pursuit of gloves. I stood alone in the middle of the room. The questions “What’s going on?” and “What do I do?” were racing through my English-speaking head. I just stared at the (thankfully) wailing child still attached to the relieved mother. I was petrified as I watched the birthing juices flow off the table into the bin perched below, apparently placed there for that very purpose. I would later see the pit where this bio waste was disposed, not far off from this very room. I came to think of it as “The Placenta Pit.”

Todo El Mundo Me Da Miedo

I was walking my wonderful 4-year-old host sister to school, holding her hand as we walked along a street on a steep hill. There was a little drop-off by the side of the road. I carefully helped guide her as she walked on the curb between the street and where the road dropped off. She looked down, and I asked her if she was scared. She replied, “Todo el mundo me da miedo” — the whole world scares me.