Perfect winter travelling weather on rural Alberta roads led me in November to the village of Plamondon. It might be a small place but her heart is huge, and it was a joy to laugh, cry, and simply ‘be with’ the more than 200 women in attendance.
These days are gifts to me. To be in the presence of the women who build our communities; who are deeply caring and forever striving to make house a home; and who have gone from humble beginnings and shaped their passion and dreams into thriving businesses.
It is the brutal honesty we share in rural communities that is so profound. No family is without sorrow, no woman without challenge, no home without heartache. Telling our stories in sincere and honest ways bridges the pathways, and as women we become buoyed by the beauty of those unifying strengths.
Where the journey started does not necessarily determine the future. As in nature, there are no straight nor linear roads — there is no playbook for coping with change, no truly accurate predictors. Bodies break, dreams fade, people leave us. Deeply rooted in rural living is that drive to carry on and to always see a glimmer of hope.
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In my personal travels, it is true that I have been ripped off, roughed up, and robbed. I have been delirious with altitude sickness, paid bribes to stay in primitive hospitals, bought my antibiotics on the street, and I’ve many a time been on oxygen, lost, lonely and afraid. I’ve had a gun held to my head, been caught in civil unrest, tear-gassed, and snuck out of the Andes in the back of a car. I have known a little of hunger, thirst, and been temporarily without shelter. I’ve helplessly stood by and watched people die, and for my own safety have jumped out of a moving car.
At other times I was in formal dress, shaking hands with dignitaries, dining on the best of foods, carefully protected sitting in gilded rooms, and whisked away in a limo. But at all times and in all places, be that in a farmer’s field or a prince’s palace, I was first a woman and a mom, missing my kids and aching to be home.
Far away from home and my beloved children, I knew I could go to the company of women and depend on them for help. And so whether it was my team taking turns sleeping on the floor beside my very unconscious self in the Middle East until I could be transported home (which the rural girls arranged) or the ancient grandmothers who grabbed the ears of drivers and made them swear to take me direct from point A to point B on remote roads or the Calgary woman who gave up her flight home from Frankfurt so I could get to medical care; I have been blessed in the company of women and in particular, rural women.
That it has been a privilege to sit around hundreds of rural kitchen tables is not lost on me. I am humbled by the generosity of so many hosts and the creative ways they have made rural living work for them. Some sought to fully experience rural living, others struggled with the isolation. Some loved to keep a home while others brought in the business world. All found solutions and were foundational in building their communities. Businesses thrived at the hands of female entrepreneurs, and some of the most amazing products and services were born from rural need and ingenuity.
And while women are carefully constructing or reconstructing life and community, there are watchful eyes. To someone, somewhere, what you do as rural women and as an independent person brings hope to another.
There are many places I have been and in particular developing countries, where women simply wanted to be touched by the traveller, shake the hands of the stranger, or share a smile of knowing. At many times, our being in a space represents to the oppressed both all they will never have and also at the same time, all that is possible.
It doesn’t end there. Rural women — regardless of economic or cultural class or caste — look to each other for help, inspiration, and empowerment. They find those who build themselves up and they hold out for all that can be.
I am profoundly grateful to those rural women in my life who provided safe passage, food, time, direction, inspiration, help, care for myself and my children, comfort, ideas, and who challenged me to grow and think bigger — to those who reminded me of the importance of dignity, faith, gratitude and humility, and who gave me hope.
As rural women around the world enter into this new year, I salute their strength and courage and I remember with gratitude all those who touched my life and without their knowing — changed it.