Possession and Dispossession
In looking back on my decade-long work in post-war countries, several stark images and impressions remain.
One I will always recall is that of a statuesque woman striding along a long strip of beach just as the sun was setting. Her carriage and dignity were striking, so I looked up from my book to observe her more closely.
Her features were outlined starkly against the sun and her stunningly beautiful face was a mixture of extreme distress and determination, her pride incalculable. Her clothes were old, torn; she was barefooted. On her head she carried an old and ragged bedroll, which could only have held minimal possessions.
I sensed instantly she might be the victim of domestic abuse and violence, and had decided to make her way on foot away from an unbearable situation, possibly walking swiftly for several hours.
Her stride was long, and she passed so quickly I barely had time to assess more fully or decide on an appropriate strategy.
I rose from the chair and made to move toward her to see if I could offer her some help, any help, her needs were palpable. Some money or information on charities who might assist her; but I had neither with me.
I wished to engage with her. I wondered if she would understand the only language I spoke, but even before I could approach close enough to speak, with a clear toss of her head she indicated her contempt of any offers of help, or pity.
She was full of fire and anger, of wounds long unhealed. She had made her choice. Hard choices, no doubt, after years of anguish, of endurance.
Her future was clearly uncertain. I would never know which bush or shelter she might have sought in the approaching darkness, or whether a welcome in a familiar hut awaited her; whether she was able to recover and re-piece her life, or begin another.
My heart ached; I was well aware of the communal and societal restrictions imposed on women, but also because I had been unable to help, too hesitant to impose myself; too slow to act, or too awkward perhaps.
Maybe the time was not right, I justified to myself. I knew what might await her: stigma, ostracization, exclusion, loneliness, further destitution.
I can only hope for her that somehow she has more than survived, made her life more bearable.
I believe that her strong spirit enabled her to rise above her condition and thrive. She certainly had the determination and mettle, absolute, and distinct.
Just sometimes, one needs a little extra help to keep resilience alive, even thriving, no matter what.
In my more recent work with women in refuges, in marginalized, disadvantaged or elder communities, I am using laughter as a tool.
Drawing on the medical research and now established method known worldwide as Laughter Yoga invented by Dr. Madan Kataria and his wife Madhuri Kataria, this system also emphasizes inner growth and alignment with that which is outside us, and perhaps as some of us intuit, far greater than us.
An enabling tool–for insiders and outsiders, helping build resilience, immunity, and community.
Anna R. Korula is a former UN Senior Human Rights Officer who worked in post-war countries for a decade and prior to that in an international think tank. She continues to offer her knowledge and skills as a mediator, human rights and wellness expert. Find out more about Anna at www.equalityrights.co.uk