Catpaws Cafe

Random musings from my virtual fountain pen

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Catharsis

I haven’t posted anything on this blog in what feels like forever. Occasionally I have ideas; after all I’m a writer and that’s what I do. Or I do write something, but by the time I get around to typing it up, I have sort of moved on….?

I have however written quite a lot. I intend to look through it and see if anything still feels relevant enough to share. This is from today, sparked by a video-clip someone shared.

Catharsis

I should be happy
and all the other shoulds in life
is what’s actually ruining lives
The constant pressure to ‘be happy’
or at least put on a happy face
to be acceptable.
We could learn from our ancestors
their stern faces in early photographs
there is nothing wrong with not putting a happy sticker on.

It comes with immense pressure
and invisible fingers pointing out
not happy.
Not being happy
suggests
no implies
you’ve failed
as a person
and at life.
Denying what we feel is perpetuating it
allowing to feel can be the first step towards
feeling better.
When it comes to depression
‘fake it till you make it’
really is the worst piece of ‘advice’ and
one of the cliches I hate indiscriminately
with a passion that’s completely disproportionate tells me
it’s the worst thing I could do to a best friend
-and thereby also to myself.
We were given a range of emotions
all as valid as the others.
The stigma surrounding depression and other related states of being
prevents us from being able to be open about it
perpetuates it
prevents us from seeking and receiving help.
Nobody wants
that label,
and yet it is part of who we are
every last one of us.
Sometimes it takes chemicals to redress the balance
Other times all it takes is to be heard
really listened to.
Think about that all you habitual chatters
who can’t get enough of hearing your own babbling voices.
When was the last time you said
no really, how are you? and meant it.
Allowed the other person to reply with something aside from
Fine thanks.
But don’t push.
They may not want to.
They may not want to be seen as
a undesirable state however temporary.
They may not want you to know
or want any unsolicited advice,
or allow them selves to be that vulnerable
fearing comebacks
in a world so inclined to judge
anyone who isn’t happy
a write-off
a failure.
May be judging themselves
just like I judge me.
I should be happy
I should be grateful
I have no reason to -fill in the blank
Hot on the heels of should is guilt
I’m not grateful enough
I’m a bad ungrateful person
I’m not enough.
I haven’t tried hard enough
because if I had
I’d have got this
done that
been
happy
successful
and I’m not so I clearly have not
must try harder.
And like a punctured balloon
or every spoon
drains out of my being
faster than physics would say is possible
but it is
because it’s letting me know
I’m on the wrong track.
Not that I know what do do with it
in that moment
or the next one
or the next day
the next week
month…
The feeling of letting myself down
judging myself by the lack of outward signs of success
is my hamster wheel.
I know what I want and
I haven’t got a f-kin clue how to get there from here.
I refuse to accept maybe I never will
refuse to lower my standards for myself
setting myself up for more failure
Not allowing myself to recharge and regroup
sufficiently fortified with rest and care
because I’m not worth that
because I have not tried hard enough…
No rest for the one who has nothing to show for it
who has not accomplished enough
for their own liking.
I know what I want damn it
or not.
And I plain refuse to kill myself trying to prove just one thing.

To give up my entire existence for one goal
when I want realize so many more.
Even I recognize the madness in that.
Still I refuse to give up trying
because then I’d be lazy too
another unforgivable trait in my programming.

Sorry for taking your time
I have to go now
and pursue that holy grail once more
the one of joy and happiness.
It’s what I say
when I don’t want you to see how much I am really hurting
being a failure in my own eyes
longing
for what I thought was a given
craving
what I clearly can’t have.
Not in this life, buddy.
Get over it.
Take one for the team, loser.
Who the hell would want you as a friend?
Freak.

But I really am sorry for wasting your time.
I love you.
Remember that.
If you remember nothing else

remember that.

And never tell anyone to ‘smile!”
or ‘fake it till you make it’.
Or I will make it a point to haunt you when I’m gone.
You will not like it.

Birthday weekend special offer!

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Because it’s my birthday this weekend YOU get the presents! All weekend my book The Spirit of Flying is $0.99 as an ebook on Amazon. And as Amazon have not found a way to pay me  it’s going to charity, to The Cats House on the Kings. Here’s the link for the USA but it’s available on ALL their sites.

https://smile.amazon.com/Spirit-Flying-Softspoken-realit…/…/
If you like it please leave an honest review.
And if you are on facebook head over to my writers page and check that too:
https://www.facebook.com/gatotepress/?fref=ts

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Phineas the thumb-cat inspects the very first copy of the bookbook!

Red’ed, Rojito update

Red is doing very well, he’s got his appetite back (and then some!) but he is still very skinny. I guess putting some meat back on the bones needs to happen slowly rather than fat.IMG_20160420_171125

He’s such a writer’s cat: he sleeps when I work and only ever interrupts if I’m late with their dinner.

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Being greeted with his sweet little face (and Milou and Tabita) in the morning reminds me that every day together is a bonus, a gift of allowing us to love them.

Rojito, our miracle cat

Red

Tabi and Rojito, a few months ago.

This is our Miracle cat, Red’ed or Rojito, meaning little red in spanish.

Red and Blondi were left behind when their family moved away. For approx. six months living the indoor life, the next fending for themselves on the street.

Little by little they began to trust us, and found our kitchen a safe place to sleep, hang out, and get a little food. Blondi was the shyer or the two: never wanting to be touched but happy to play with Tabita. Needless to say, they’ve been my saving grace being stuck in the house providing me entertainment and company.
Then about a month ago Blondi was gone and and a week later Red disappeared too. And most cats in the ‘hood, a neighbourhood dominated by cats. We were left coming to terms with not expecting to see either of them again.

Sweet Blondi

This is Blondi, Red’s brother, a month before he disappeared.  Gentle, shy and a picture of health.  How anyone can consider such beautiful beings vermin and kill them is beyond comprehension.

Thus I was overjoyed to see Red come through the door but it quickly turned to heartbreak seeing his condition. He can only be described as a skeleton with fur. He was weak but he’d come to us for help. Make no mistake, we are his furever home for as long as he wants it to be.

So why didn’t I rush him to a vet? It was Sunday evening. I got one leg in a cast and need help to get out – but who and where? My husband have been working for four weeks without a day off. The language barrier were I to go on my own in taxi etc. And of course lack of money. Red did not appear to be in any acute pain, though I know cats have a very high pain tolerance level. I don’t know where he’d been or come from or how he’d made it back. He was very weak and coughing blood. Frankly, we didn’t think he’d make it through the night and didn’t want to break his trust by putting him in a box, in a taxi, to spend it in a steel cage surrounded by fear and strangers. If he was going to make it he’d pull through, and if he didn’t, he would die at home surrounded by love and friends. He picked his spot – my floor cushion by the back door – opposite the bedroom.

I sponge bathe him when too weak to groom, scratched when it looks like he’s got an itch. Fed him scraped fish mixed with water every two hours and whatever else he’d eat. Sometimes a teaspoon, sometimes a tablespoon. One day at a time.

The basics; Red is approximately a year and a half. Now if someone told me he was 15 I’d believe it. That is how much he has aged in the week he was missing thanx to human cruelty. He eats very little but he eats. He drinks. Goes to the sandbox. He coughs but he’s stopped coughing blood. From a healthy and well muscled young male to an affectionate ghost of his former self.  I can only presume that the newest cat-hating neighbour followed up on his threat to put out food laced with rat poison “to get rid of the kittens” he called vermin.

Red is such a little fighter. He’s come so far. I’d like to take him to a vet still to be checked over and get whatever extras he needs to help recover his health. Without it there’s no knowing what internal damage has been done. He finally started grooming again last night so after two weeks of round the clock watching and worry, I’m beginning to relax a little.

I used to say If you can’t afford to take your charges to the vet, don’t have any. But my vulnerable heart can not turn away a cat in need at my door. I can not close the door and say go away you are not my responsibility. I will do what little I can to help, and right now it isn’t a lot. Clean any wounds, put vegetable oil on ticks and a bit of kibble, and always have clean water available outside for any passing cat or dog.

We struggled to find the money to feed us all at times but somehow we do, we find a way. Now there’s only three left and I desperately want to find somewhere else that is safer for the cats and move. I feed them and keep them in at night because that is all I can do.

I wish I was in a financial situation where I could do more. I wish I had the money to donate to every free clinic there is and sponsor opening ones where there aren’t any. I wish I had the language skills to enthuse locals about trap- spay or neuter – release. I wish I had the energy to volunteer endlessly. I wish I had a car to pick up and bring those who need help to make it to a vet clinic.

Most of all I wish I lived in a world where respect for all life was the norm and sick care and health care was free and available to all everywhere.

If I put this on my fb page I’ll have to deal with “How dare you ask for money and help again – you should be ashamed of yourself” so no gofundme. If you want to help, please help. If you don’t, then don’t. I understand and I won’t judge you. The cats will be very grateful if you do. If you can and want to help go to the top of the page to “Other ways to connect” and then click on Miaowser’s fund. It will take you to paypal. And like the Tesco add says, every little helps.  On behalf of Red and us, thank you for reading.

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Red, now, back for two weeks.

The Pound

(10th March, 2016)

The pound.  Just the words makes dread spread through my body. Red, Blondi, Naranga and Albina are missing from the neighborhood, as well as less frequent cat visitors I have not named in my head. The neighbourhood cats are my friends; we hang out and chat, which is what friends do, right?
I don’t know if they have been rounded up and caught, poisoned or what.
Apparently there is a “pound” in town. Noone I’ve asked knows where. There’s no way of knowing how long they hold onto the furfolk they bring there to give humans a chance to reclaim their furry family members. Or if they are “destroyed” straight away. I don’t want to dwell on it or think about it. To me it is equal to murder, and I want to scream someone is murdering my friends!!!

So many thoughts and feelings running through my head. They’re my friends – what you are doing is a feline holocaust. I’m anthropomorphising I know, but I can’t seem to stop. I’m wondering what they will think of me for not coming to look for them. I feel I have failed my feline brethren even though it is not my obligation for lack of a better word. I can’t keep the whole world safe.

“You should have run, been even more careful!” I cry. ‘Everything is a co-creation’ I tell myself but it is scant comfort. If you want to be a creator you have got to let everyone else be one too. In this instance it’s no comfort at all.

What if we did find out where it is and went there, and were greeted by fifty – a hundred – hopeful or despairing furry faces? And only could bring home one or two? Could my heart bear to walk away from all the others, knowing their fate? Knowing they’ll be murdered? It would feel like it is my fault, I’ve been found lacking when it comes to being able to help our feline and canine sisters and brothers out of their predicament.

I tell our two to be careful every time they step out of the house and not eat anything suspect, to stay out of reach of humans. I make sure there’s always food in the bowl. “It’s not you I don’t trust” I whisper in their ears, “it’s other people I don’t trust any more.”
I detest how so many common people have no respect for other forms of life, unless it is a darned chihuahua.
Who teach their offspring cats are dirty and vermin. Cat’s aren’t dirty! They keep rats, mice and snakes population under control, and Tabita is very talented at killing any cockroach she sees. They are far too small to remove a bag of rubbish from a bin. Here it is the dogs who drag garbage bags into the street and rips them open, but it’s not out of malice, they are just hungry.

Why are there so many? Because people here seem to inherently dislike having their pets fixed, even with free spay and neuter clinics. And because in low season a family may not have enough to feed that dog so let it out in the street to forage for itself as best it can. It’s not a cute little puppy for the kids to play with any more, and thus it joins the feral’s.

I miss our orange boys, their sweet faces greeting me at the door in the morning. They only want a safe place to hang out, a place to sleep and rest, some food and love. Just like you. Just like me. I miss them a lot but probably less than Milou and Tabita.

I can’t get away from feeling I have failed in my self appointed role as their guardian, even though they are their own responsibility and not really mine at all. That my love and softness somehow set them up for perhaps letting their guard down with others. It makes me once more ashamed to be associated with the human race.

I pray whatever did or will befall them, it was/is quick and painfree.
“I’m so sorry, so so sorry” I whisper to the night air and tears run down my already wet cheeks. Forgive me for letting you down, please forgive me for not trying hard enough to find out.  Forgive me for not going to look for you.  I just cant do it.

Laundry musings


In my warped little world it be like this…

Behind the scenes :
-It’s election time again, oh goodie. What can we do that hasn’t been done before… what can we do for a bit of fun this time?
All behind the scenes thought really hard which mercifully did not take long.

-Let’s take our old skool politician but in a female body and see how many falls for that one. That should be popular and ‘politically correct’, he he he. Everyone who wants ‘change’ will vote for her and we’ll be all set….

To make sure he, I mean she, wins, let’s put ol’ moneybags to represent the opposition. Surely no one will take that foul-mouthed bigot seriously? And if they do perhaps it’s because they think he will use his moneymaking skills to help this country… deluded sods.

Now we got the voters well and truly confused, let’s throw in an underdog just to make it a bit more interesting. Someone who represents all the things the establishment fear to make it more thrilling, and see how the old activist does…
Then if there is any comeback we can just point and say you had your chance and you still voted for the devil you know…
All in favour? Good. That’ll be a titillating political saga to follow in the news and on TV.

 

Only it’s 2016… Never expected the world really is changing, did ya? Or the media of the masses to be quite as effective in relaying events as they happen?

Here’s me doing my bit cheering on Bernie Sanders, and for Jeremy Corbin – who’d have seen that one coming?

Sometimes the best person for the job simply wears a man’s body.

Now I half expect s’one to knock on the door and there’ll be a washing machine with an anonymous note saying “now shut the fuck up.”  And to that I’ll just say

Feel the Bern!!!

bernie and corbin

(I hate) Being sensitive

IS peace and quiet in your own home a privilege reserved only for the moneyed?
Why? Does not people from all walks of life have the right to a have that choice also?
Do you really think HSP (high sensitivity) is something that only happens when affluent? It’s no blessing, it’s a curse, unless you can afford a secluded cabin when the world around you gets too much.
With a baby howling out back in the neighbours courtyard (and has done for over an hour now), three soundsystems pounding out techno, rap-reggeton and something else I have no name for, the feeling of panic in my body is steadily rising and the impossible need to get away is threatening to suffocate me from within.

Last night I was so sure I could write that last missing chapter in the morning, but waking up to this? How am I supposed to even stay sane with this? How am I supposed to work in this constant bombardment? I’m not a successful author so there’s no money for an office, let alone a soundproof one. I work at the kitchen table. I like working from home because I like the love of our cats around and the comic relief they provide. When I get stuck I can wash up or do the laundry.

Now every nerve feels frayed, my heart is pounding a tattoo in a RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!! and I can’t stop it. I can’t think.  I seriously can’t think.
All my ideas have fled and are out of reach, every last one scrubbed away by the auditory torture and I don’t even know what I was going to do. My hands are shaking and the rest of my body trembling. All I want to do is lock myself in the bathroom and cry. Cover my ears with pillows and and blankets, and rock back and forth in catatonia. So that’s what I’m going to do.
loud people
I’ve come to hate Cancun. I hate how no one gives a shit about being considerate. I hate being sensitive, it’s a fucking curse and I’d happily swap it for being more hardy and be able to live and be more at ease in this loud world that to me feels more like assault every day.
Who the hell wants to be sensitive and feel deeply?
I can’t get away from it because there’s nowhere to go. Everywhere is full of people, and where there’s people there’s always someone who thinks it’s their duty to make as much noise and pump out muzak as loud as the speakers will go. Unless you have a car and can drive and park up in the jungle somewhere.

Now it’s finally stopped – after 3 hours+ for this time. Every muscle in my body is still tense, tighter than a piano string. Every idea I had is gone, Every single idea, every nuance I had to guide the word magic to weave together a story is gone without even leaving as much as a trace. The word notes on the paper from last night means nothing any more. And that makes me cry even more. Now all I feel is empty and crushingly depressed.  12742607_1028001063927972_7883913622580101030_n

Re-writing my life?

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With the leg still in the cast this is more true than ever I suppose. Writing has become my life – because it’s one of the few things left in it, even with the challenge it is to find a position to write in. It’s a trade off – less pain, muddled head. Clear head: spine, head and neck hurts.

I very much look forward to getting a splint in a couple of weeks, and with that hopefully some more mobility. I know the cast was to immobilize me and that it has done well, but I still have stuff I need to do. I want my mobility back, and a life.  And I look forward to be able to feel the cats tails under my feet again so I don’t tread on them quite as often…IMG_20160203_093625

To catch you up, I was in a traffic accident 3 months ago. I have no insurance and is now faced with perhaps choosing how much mobility I will have for the rest of my life. Wasn’t planning any marathons, but I’d like to be able to walk easy etc. Do I have surgery and work to pay that cost back til I die and have no money to do the things I want to do, or do I live with a splint and hope for the best? And be grateful to still be here? Focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t? I should add I love long walks, rambling and hiking. And I don’t want to have to write that last bit in past tense.

It’s not as if there really is a choice, no bank will lend an unemployed unknown author that kind of money anyway, so the question is mostly hypothetical.

Strange as it may sound at 47 I finally had a body I was happy with. For a brief year I could look myself in the mirror and like what I saw. Now that’s gone by the wayside, at least for now.  To say that I’m not bothered and not grieving would be lying.

To get back to the topic of writing, like one of my inspirations – Daphne DuMaurier – I write from a longing to be someone other than myself and a need to explore other possibilities, the ones not available to me in this life thus far.
Terry Pratchett said he didn’t want to get a life because he already felt as if he was trying to lead three already. I on the other hand feel more like Katharine Johnson, (a close friend of Nikola Tesla) in that it feels like I’m still looking for my life, and that so far I’ve mostly lived someone else’s.

My books are set in locations I have dreamt of visiting or would like to re-visit. Places that intrigue and inspire my imagiNation. They are also a case of the story choosing the writer, a phenomenon I hear more and more author’s talk about. Right now I couldn’t even get around an airport without a wheel-chair.
I write to live. I can’t imagine not writing. If I was stranded on a desert island with no hope of ever publishing I’d still write.  It’s part and parcel of who I am.

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That said, I hope there will be readers who will love my books as much as I loved writing them. And that my writing will bring me a new life, new friends, travel and the purpose I have always craved.

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Small Victories, 1 December 2015

I’m counting small victories. Being able to sit up for ten minutes. Having a shower unaided. Manage laundry. Still to come are simple things like mop the floor…

This is my first time at my computer in a while. After researching for almost a year, I wrote the first draft of Seeds of Soultraction in a month during October and early November. I’d gone back to editing Andino Andina, then walked to the local market and stocked up on vegetables. It was an ordinary day, or so I thought. When my husband came home we considered shopping before or after dinner: I was hungry, he wasn’t, and since he often falls asleep after dinner I chose to go before dinner… straight forward.
I knew to leave my new phone on the kitchen table, didn’t question why and since I expected to be gone for less than an hour my rational mind agreed.
Off we went. Supermarket one, supermarket two, purchases stored in the compartment under the seat, back home. Easy peasy. Only on the way back we got ourselves hit by a drunk driver. We had right of way and were going slow (25-30km/h). I was looking the other way, and the first I know is screeching breaks and shouting. A drunk youth on a borrowed bike, without a license, ran a stop sign.

It all happened very fast and I don’t remember much, and what I do remember is in odd snapshots. I remember screaming until someone got our overturned bike off me. Too stunned to move, I just lay where I’d landed after pulling free, in the middle of the intersection. Two young men carried me to the curb. When the ambulance came I could not remember where we lived, or even my date of birth. That’s when I observed I must be in shock.
I stared at my left leg and knee that had taken the full impact complete with road-rash, swelling, disfigure and Hurt, as did my neck on the right side. The arm that had protected both our faces on impact was scraped a little. Other scrapes and bruises were at that point to minor to worry about. I could not move and when I tried to stand on my other leg, nausea and blacking out forced me down again. I scanned my body and my guides confirmed no bone was broken, but tendons and ligaments were torn etc. All I could think was “They’re going to cut off my favourite pair of denim shorts -indeed the only ones I have right now. Crap.”
Just touching the knee made me retch with pain. Later, back home, any time I tried to stand up, the nausea would be instant and the feeling of fainting immediate.

Then everything is a blur again. A young man who spoke good English bought me a bottle of water and an icepack. He also reminded me the bike was not as important as us being alive. Much as I agree, well, it’s darned useful to get around and we’d only finished the repairs from last years incident three days prior. Honda no longer makes spare parts for the BizPlus.

The next day in a desperate bid for coffee I’d made myself stand up, holding onto and retching into the sink. That’s when I saw the portal open and understood. It was classic and so bright it was difficult to look at. This had been a choice point, the pain I felt in my neck was where the other me had snapped hers. The fainting spells was where she surfaced briefly to consciousness. I felt rather than heard a voice say Are you coming? And I mentally stated NO; I’m not leaving my husband, our cat, and I have two books I want to see out in the world first! I felt the other me die and the portal closed again. It was 11am and in the moment of closing the nausea and faintness was gone in an instant.

It took me a while to process. I was almost vegetable state, snoozing and staring at nothing for the first three days. Milou slept with me on the mattress, purring whenever the pain got too much in spite of the med’s. All energy I had had to be preserved for getting to the toilet.
I was not angry, or resentful, and that surprised me. Somewhere in my mental fog I knew there were bigger things at play here. Seeing portals and feeling the word co-creation on replay in my head does that.
We could have screwed the driver and the bike’s owner for every penny they would earn for a very long time, but ruining their lives just was not the way forward, I knew that.

After a week I had the bright idea of “I could spend this time writing, just give me a pencil and paper”. I found I could not. There was severe mental fog going on as well as a knee filled with what felt like razorblades and a leg under constant Chinese burns. I read some books instead in my waking moments. I could only sit up for minutes at a time.
Still, I was truly grateful. It sounds odd but it’s true. I was at home, I could recover with my beloved cat, instead of in a hospital I could neither afford or wanted to be in. Here, in ordinary hospitals, few speak English and family is expected to provide most of the care. In my case that would have meant Mario, before and after a 14 hr work shift, still recovering himself? In a room with several others, in pain, comings and goings all the time, no mosquito protection and the food… It does not bear thinking about.
Milou overrode her inherent dislike of sleeping close to anyone – cat or otherwise- and have spent most nights next to me – except on the full moon when she took the night off from nursing me to attend the cats allnighter party!

Thus, no matter how long it takes… there’s a lot to process. Some really old stuff that I really have zero desire to revisit. And sure, I rage against that, but I’m not going to bore you with it. I also rage against desperately wanting to move house and being stuck at home. How can we look for houses when I can’t walk? It’s likely to be a long time before I can, and before I can ride pillion again. I’m learning to ask for help and being dependent and I’m not enjoying it one bit. So here I am, watching the slow aurora borealis of bruising come and go on my leg from mid thigh down to my toes and occasionally wondering wtf?

I also sad because wanted to do the December Art & Crafts market on Isla; I spent a lot of time this summer and autumn making things especially and here I am… There’s work I promised to do and that now has to wait, and more work that I was looking forward to do that I will not be able to in the foreseeable future. There may be emails and enquiries in my mailboxes that I have not been able to reply to as I’ve not been able to get to the i-net cafe. I’d only had my phone for three days and thanx to being left at home it is intact, but I’d had no opportunity to download any apps for it before this happened. It makes me worry that I’ll thereby create for myself a reputation for being flaky and unreliable.
I have a little go-juice but equally it can be zapped by pain in minutes. When it’s spent it’s gone; all I can do is pass out on the mattress for the rest of the day. .
I was listening to a recording of Wendy Kennedy being interviewed by Rob Gaultier on a downloaded episode of Enlightenment Evolution Radio where she mentioned choosing the slow road rather than a near death experience, and that helped with the processing too.
I want to take this time to thank the Sisters of perpetual disorder on isla who helped in our time of need, with a care-package and crutches so I can hop around the house. Your help is so appreciated you have no idea and has helped enormously making life less difficult.

I know I’ve asked for an exit point quite a few times in recent years, but one where my beloved blames himself just would not do. Not one where he will forever ask himself Could I have done it better? No. I never blamed him. He did all anyone could have done in that situation, certainly more than I, being a lot more experienced at driving a bike.

It also makes one question the self, what if we had gone shopping after dinner? What if I hadn’t gone back to get… whatever? The queue had been shorter? What if we’d driven just a little bit faster/slower? What if the bike had started on the first kick? You can drive yourself crazy thinking like that. If it’s going to happen, it will, one way or another. My soul clearly thought I needed this experience so here I am having it. As the little voice after the X-files used to say (at least on English tv) I created this (or was it I made this?). If the option was to have died, no matter how long I take to recover, it is progress…
All things considered it’s something I’d have preferred not to have had to go through.
So please, next time you’re tempted: drink OR drive. One or the other. This is one way you don’t want to change another’s life, trust me on that.  And always wear good knickers.
The furry Angelic wants her dinner. I can do that.

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Lauren Z accident

Women & the Mexican revolution

With (Inter)NationalNovelWritingMonth underway I’ve had little time to work on anything else, so I apologize this is a bit rough and not really how I wanted it to be after feeling so deeply inspired after visiting the Museo Nacional del la Revolucion in Mexico City.  Maybe next year…

Women & the Mexican revolution
November 20th is the day we commemorate the Mexican Revolution, one of the most brutal struggles of the early 20th Century which lead to the end of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Mostly we are only reminded of the men: the leaders and the politicians, more often forgotten are the women. Revolucion museo

It can be hard for people today to imagine the cataclysm that gripped Mexico during the Revolution. At the beginning of 1910 the population was around 15 million; by the end as many as 2 million people had died or left the country – that is 1 out of 7. The physical destruction and social disruptions were immeasurable, but on a more positive note workers gained previously unimagined rights; the campesinos won the right to own the land they worked, and the status of women improved immensely.

So many of the photos of the Mexican Revolution were taken with a train or rail road tracks in the background. Rail roads played an monumental role in the struggle. One of the accomplishments of the pre-Revolution Diaz regime was to criss-cross Mexico with rail road tracks. These were built, operated, and owned by foreign corporations. It is difficult to appreciate the importance of rail travel in Mexico in those days unless you understand how mountainous and difficult much of the country is. Up until the mid-20th Century roads were often little more than dirt paths. With a rail roads, armies could travel distances in hours that would have taken weeks on foot.

the real revolucionariesThe word Soldadera comes from the Spanish soldada, a small allowance a soldier received so he could hire a servant. A wo/man who collected the allowance was therefore a soldadera, a person who cares for soldiers.
The Mexican armies at the start of the Revolution lacked many important facilities possessed by more modern armies such as commissary and supply departments, and a medics.
Soldaderas performed many of these functions, but on a relatively informal basis. They set up camp, fed the fighting soldiers, cleaned their clothes, patched them up when they got wounded, retrieved their bodies from the field if they were killed, searched the bodies of the other dead for supplies and equipment, and performed innumerable other small tasks that made their men’s lives, and the life of the whole army, more bearable.

The Mexican Revolution saw two types of Soldaderas: the female soldiers who fought alongside the men, and the majority of the Soldaderas—the women who accompanied the soldiers but were not soldiers themselves. These soldaderas were sometimes called Adelitas (more about this later) and were mostly women who followed behind the large battalions, carrying kitchen utensils, and sometimes even their children. When the soldiers made camp, the soldaderas found ways to procure food from nearby villages and cooked and washed for the fighters, as well as kept them company at night.
Though the Soldaderas played a crucial role in the Mexican Revolution they never got the credit they deserved. What more, the story of these brave women have been suppressed, distorted, or simply forgotten.

As soon as they safely could, most of the revolutionary generals disbanded their female units and rid themselves of women of all ranks. This despite their military value and the proven heroism of individual soldaderas. It was simply too much for the leaders of the time to handle. Most women did not draw wages as they were not official members of the various armies. Aside from being summarily dismissed, many were denied promised pensions for their own service or that of their slain husbands.
Unfortunately this rather reinforces the major perception of soldaderas as simple, unthinking camp followers, women of easy virtue who might even be prostitutes.
Those who could went home and some had difficulty adjusting back to civilian life, dealing with social shame and sometimes with no family left to rejoin. Many died in poverty.

The public image that remained of the soldadera has gradually been taken over by film makers and marketers and distorted further. More often they show female revolutionary soldiers as femme fatales, curvaceous and long-legged, holding their weapons suggestively and they gazing seductively.

The real life of the Soldaderas was tough. The army’s horses were often better treated because the generals viewed women as expendable. The horses on the other hand played vital combat roles.

The Mexican author Elena Poniatowska describes them as:
“…slight, thin women patiently devoted to their tasks like worker ants–hauling water and making tortillas over a lit fire, the mortar and pestle always at hand. (Does anyone really know just how hard it is to carry a heavy mortar for kilometers during military campaigns?) And at the end of the day there’s the hungry baby to breastfeed.”

Anxious on train“Anxious on a train” is one of the most famous photos to come out of the Revolution. The woman on the left scans down the train for her man, while the very young, and very pregnant, girl on the right gingerly makes her way down the steps. The women behind them carry wicker baskets of provisions. More often the women were left to travel on top of the railway carriages, which could be argued was better than to walk (carrying supplies and heavy cooking utensils) but it still left them dangerously exposed to the elements such as sun, rain and wind.

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Another painting, Las Soldaderas (1926), by José Clemente Orozco. Orozco’s murals captures the feeling of long marches, the weary women trudge behind their soldiers. Their heavy bundles contain the food and other household goods that make their life in the field.

What happened to these women when her man was killed or she otherwise became separated from him? There was often no place to return, and had she done so it could be very dangerous for her. Rape by passing soldiers or deserters was a common fate of Mexican women in this period. According to Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, women of every social class were kidnapped. Stolen women would often become soldaderas. Having been dishonored, they could not return to their villages. Women who lost their men would often quickly form new arrangements with other soldiers to survive.

Working conditions for the people living on Mexico’s many haciendas were nothing but slavery. Beginning in 1910, workers rose up, raging against the oppression they and their ancestors had experienced for hundreds of years. Often they killed the owner before they left. Indigenous women often followed their men into battle, and later (with their men gone) many remaining women chose to simply take their chances on the road rather than be sitting ducks for rape and pillage.

Adelitas

Adelitas

As the revolution progressed more and more women became actual combatants. Unlike in the early days when a woman might pick up the gun of her wounded or dead spouse and plunge into combat, these (mostly middle class) woman appear to have been mobilized as a unit, and such units began to appear more often as the war continued.
Some generals were reluctant to accept a combat role for women, much less give them leadership positions. So women may disguise themselves (like Petra Herrera, initially calling herself Pedro) in order to be allowed to fight and to gain promotion, this under Pancho Villa.

Poniatowska writes :
“They nicknamed her ‘El Echa Balas’ (The Shooter) because of her violent character. She’d shoot her carbine squatting behind adobe walls, her aim better than that of a torpedo. On one occasion, two soldiers argued over who would be the first to rape a young girl they had kidnapped when ‘Pedro’ rode up to where they were and claimed her ‘for himself’. The soldiers, afraid of her aim and her knife-handling skills, let ‘Pedro’ take her. Once they were far enough away, Petra Ruiz opened her blouse and said ‘I’m also a woman like you’, and allowed the confused girl to go free.”

“…Herrera blew up bridges and demonstrated extraordinary leadership abilities…having gained a reputation as an ‘excellent soldier’, one day she showed everyone her braids and shouted ‘I’m a woman and I will continue to carry out my duties as a soldier using my real name!’ … Petra Herrera continued to fight in combat and took part, together with some 400 other women, in the second Battle of Torreón in May 30, 1914…Perhaps it was because her worth as a soldier was never formally recognized that Petra was motivated to form her own brigade which quickly grew from 25 to 1,000 women.”women of the mex rev

The female soldiers often ‘belonged’ to bands of rebels fighting against government troops. Many of them dressed like men, acted like men, rode horses, marched and fought like any of the other revolutionaries. One of the best known is Margarita Neri, a Mayan from Quintana Roo who became a commander in Emilio Zapata’s army.

Soldiers in arms

Soldiers in arms, men and women fighting side by side.

Some Soldaderas were feminists and socialist activists who not only fought on the rebel side, but fought for women’s suffrage, fair wages and affordable housing. More often middle-class, these soldaderas and revolutionaries were often educated and motivated by ideology much more than a desire to accompany their men.
Dolores Jiménez y Muro (previously a school teacher) was involved in drafting the ideas behind the “Political and Social Plan” which led to the Complot de Tacubaya. And even though that attempt to overthrow Díaz and install Madero as president failed, her writings influenced Emiliano Zapata’s own ideas of social reform.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Emiliano Zapata was a true social revolutionary rather than a simple opportunist. He was also famed for his respectful treatment of women. Zapata’s forces was described by one as “not an army, but a people in arms.”

Children too accompanied many of the armies, sometimes participating actively in the battles. The fierceness of the young who grew up practically in the revolution is hard for most to comprehend, yet testimony of it exists. In 1916, a girl named Elisa Griennesen Zambrano was living in Parral, Chihuahua when US troops arrived looking for Pancho Villa. Thirteen-year-old Elisa was outraged when the local Mexican men did nothing as invading troops arrived. So, she took charge. She got the women and children together and asked them to bring whatever was at hand: weapons, sticks, and stones. Infuriated, with their arms in the air, the women surrounded the American commander and forced him to shout “Viva Villa, Viva Mexico” as he ordered a retreat.

So when next you visit a Mexican restaurant and see the popular version of La Adelita: a beautiful woman wearing a pair of ammunition belts across her chest, holding a bugle in one hand and the Mexican flag on the other and smiling, know that there is so much more: When you hear the song Adelita, the classic corrido (soldiers’ ballad) that pays homage to all the Soldaderas. Adelita is a powerful ballad of love, bravery and patriotism and tells the story about a young woman who is in love with a sergeant, and he with her. Adelita is beautiful and brave; she follows her man into war and has even earned the respect of the colonel. In one version (there were many) she died gloriously by blowing herself up to prevent Diaz’ forces from seizing Villa’s ammunition supply. It was so popular among soldiers that the name became synonymous with the term soldadera.

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I hope this has given you something to ponder and remember on this day, and in this current state of affairs. Where do we want to go with this? Focus on that. Peace.

 

As far as i have been able to find out, all pictures used are public domain.  If not, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add credit or replace said picture.

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