Climb to the brow of the hill and sight
where my darling’s caravan will sleep tonight.
–A landay, author unknown
When it comes to travel we don’t mind investing our time, money, and spirit into a destination. The reasons we travel are endless. We go, we enjoy, and we return home, hopefully sated and, if we’re lucky, having made some new friends. The good times we have are provided in some measure by the people who live there.
In light of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a militant group, 4 weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about what we bring and what we take away from a place. And what gets taken for granted.
“Those poor girls.” “Their poor parents.” These are two thoughts I’ve heard the most over the past few weeks. I’ve thought them myself. Most of us take our education and the access to it for granted. We don’t worry about extremist groups freaked out by the idea of educating women.
Any place on the planet that has a good standard of living for its citizens is a place where women have the right to an education, contribute to the work force and are empowered. It raises the bar for everyone, and it contributes to a country’s tourism dollars. If there’s a country you have a desire to visit but are skittish about traveling to because it might fall somewhere on the danger zone, chances are its female citizens are marginalized or uneducated.
Being here on the other side of the world from Nigeria, it may be easy to just pray for these girls and hope for the best because you can’t see any way to help them. But for anyone interested there is a way. The Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa by investing in the education of girls. It doesn’t cost a fortune and a few bucks go a long way. I could give you the lowdown on it all but Nicholas Kristof’s recent op-ed article What’s So Scary About Smart Girls opens the book on why educating girls in this part of the world matters so much. He does an excellent job explaining why books are more powerful than bombs and drones.
This is a travel blog, my intention is not to get wrapped up in politics but the situation involving the girls who were kidnapped doesn’t begin and end in Nigeria. I’m not traveling there any time soon but one day I might. I don’t mind investing a few dollars to enhance the future of someone who could contribute to making her country a more inviting and progressive environment for the women who live there and for anyone visiting. To quote Kristof, “To stick it to Boko Haram, help educate a girl.”
Journalist Eliza Griswold has been traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. In 2012 she returned to the Pashtun area, a border region and Taliban stronghold between these two countries, to collect landays, an oral tradition of folk poetry that’s been around since 3400 B.C. The landay is two lines of 22 syllables and named for a poisonous snake because it is sharp and to the point. While poetry is revered in Afghanistan, these poems are a clandestine activity and a secret way into the lives of these women. Another country where women are marginalized, in this region over 20 million Pashtun women live a hard life surrounded by violence and suffering. Many of them are illiterate but despite the societal traditions, laws, violence and suffering, these women aren’t passive. Their voices find expression through the landay. For the women who write them down, discovery of this poetry can cost them their lives.
Griswold’s recently published book of translated landays I Am The Beggar of the World gives anyone curious about the culture a way to connect with these women. It’s a way to take a fantastic journey and dispel any stereotypes or preconceived notions you might have about them. It’s a passageway towards a day when we can hopefully travel to this place and meet some of the women brave enough to share their enlightening and empowering words. If you’re interested in learning more about landays, check out the Poetry Foundation.
Travel opens doors and enriches us.
For the places we can’t visit, we may have to crawl through a window to contribute, connect and invest in a different kind of experience with the people who live there but chances are it’ll be well worth the effort.