women’s work

July 8, 2014 @ 2 p.m.

Today, two of the biggest scorpions I have ever jumped from the ceiling. OK, maybe they didn’t jump, but I have never seen a body so long, a tail so set on murdering whatever is in its path or little legs move so fast across a floor.

No centipede or spider, no roach or rat in D.C.has anything on the scorpions breeding here in El Amate.

This is the stuff of Discovery Channel or National Geographic. Up close.

Look at your hand. Lay it flat in front of you. From your wrist to the tip of your pinky finger is how long each of the scorpions were. If you have an especially long hand, I’d look at the thumb.

Yeah. That long.

It wasn’t any man who sprang into action as I screamed in registers reserved for the Apocalypse. It was women — two younger than me — who were unafraid of a scorpion’s tail that hurts 10 times worse than a bee sting.

Glenda snatched the nearest weapon, a rag, and commenced to chase, chase, the first scorpion under the dresser, while Milly grabbed a stick twice the size of us both. All this with Abuela Aminta’s voice directing the operation from her chair. Abuela’s voice — a volcano slowly erupting its rumble — was made for moments like this. As Glenda assassinated the first scorpion, another dropped from the ceiling, moving so fast she almost stepped on it mid-assassination.

All this while I’m screaming, “Dios mio.”

Glenda, Milly and Abuela Aminta were clearly expert killing machines and this was not their first battle. Those scorpions didn’t stand a chance.

And get this, there was a third one still in the rafters. Milly injured it and it slinked away. They abandoned the chase and I left, but when I returned, they had finished that one off, plus another one they found in the kitchen.

Since I’ve been here, a guy has twice said, “she doesn’t have anything else to do, so she takes care of the kids [or] she takes care of her grandmother [or] she takes care of her mother.”

I see women, cook food, buy food, take care of food (chickens and pigs) that will soon be on the plate, wash the dishes, clean the house daily — and I mean the kind of cleaning one does for company — walk the children to school, take the groceries up and down an incredibly steep hill, take the children to the doctor an hour away, take their husbands to the doctor, care for their children and others, while still caring for themselves. A few have door-to-door businesses, while others operate pupuseria stands and local tiendas. And they do this even when they are sick themselves.

The women here work. And so do the men.

The men tend to take care of the cattle and horses. There’s a lot of them, just looking at the turds that pepper the roads of El Amate. The men fix cars, drive the autobus/taxi, and I’ve seen more men as door-to-door salesmen than the women. They have a more public role, one that leaves the house.

The statement that “she doesn’t have anything to do” is an explicit valuation placed on one type of work over the other and one that disregards the kind of labor that women must do every day here.

It is a dangerous statement that beckons one to think of the women here, or perhaps everywhere, as having a utility and purpose based in the idea of caring for others and ignores the fact that they have other things to do, too.

How does this translate in the classroom?

My female students, regardless of ethnicity or race, overwhelmingly complain of days when they miss school because they have to stay home and care for their younger sisters and brothers instead of coming to school.

One student even brought her three younger sisters and brothers to a school dance because it was the only way she was able to go herself.

Yes, some of my male students stay home and care for siblings, too, but it is a much more rare occurrence.

One could say that the male students are not talking about it. Maybe, but most teens and tweens I’ve taught seem to consider it a sin if they missed an opportunity to voice a complaint.

The room is too hot or too cold. My voice is too loud. The work is too much or too hard. Someone stood in their chair (probably me to reach something on the board) and now there are footprints in their seat. They can’t see the words on the board. The class is too dark. The class is too bright. They need to call home and ask their parents any number of things that they could have asked mom or dad, grandma or aunty, uncle or sister, brother or cousin before they left school or the day before. Their parents are getting on their nerves because they won’t buy something, allow them to go to a party, let them go out with a girl or boy they want or listen to a specific grievance. Ms. Cooper, the room is too hot or too cold…again. You get the picture.

But I digress.

“I don’t want any children,” one of my students said, her brow furled into a frown. We were reading Jane Eyre and talking about the role of the governess in Victorian society.

“Ever?” I countered.

“No, I already have one,” she said referring to her sister.

The idea of the woman as a caregiver does not begin when s/he has children of their own, but when they are children themselves. The message those students hear is implicit, but unmistakable: You will always be expected to care for someone other than yourself.

The fact that most of them are female is no accident, either.

I know I will hear, “She doesn’t have anything else to do.”

When I do, I will ask him what he means, then ask him what he thinks will happen if he says it her face

Glenda, Hady, and Tania at their house in El Amate. Tania is Glenda's daughter, but because she is in school, Aunt Estella (pictured in the larger photo in this post) and Uncle Freddy care for her. Hady is Glenda's older sister and is a teacher at the El Amate school, which goes up to 6th grade.
Glenda, Hady, and Tania at their house in El Amate. Tania is Glenda’s daughter, but because she is in school, Aunt Estella (pictured in the larger photo in this post) and Uncle Freddy care for her. Hady is Glenda’s older sister and is a teacher at the El Amate school, which goes up to 6th grade.


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