With women in the United States losing such an important right, the right to choose whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, I believe it is more important than ever to share women’s stories. The strength and resiliency of women all through history are what keep us going. We must never forget this. Our abilities to cope with adversity, to think on the fly and to creatively find solutions or workarounds that enable us to continue are just some of our superpowers. We have so many.
Recently, I read two books about women that inspired me and reminded me of these things. I thought I would share them with you:
The Weight of Sand by Edith Blais
In December 2018, Canadian, Edith Blais, and Italian, Lucco Tacchetto, were kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist group while driving in eastern Burkina Fasco. What followed was 450 days held captive in the desert. During the first three months, the two were together; but then they were separated. For some months Edith was kept with a group of women. After that she was kept alone in the middle of the desert with only a single tree to shade her from the intense sun and heat.
There were times when she wasn’t allowed to move or walk around. Other times when she cooked her own meals. To stay sane she wrote poetry with a pen given to her by one of the women she spent time with. Even when the ink dried out, she scratched her words into cardboard with the tip. Her story includes many of her poems. She discreetly did yoga to help prevent atrophy. She created art with sand and rocks. She held hunger strikes, both with Lucca and on her own. She details the unending heat, sandstorms, religious discussions with her captures, and how she had to deal with women’s issues around men who didn’t discuss such things.
Finally she was reunited with Lucca; and on a night when the wind blew enough to hide their footprints, they escaped and made their way to a road. They attempted to flag down passing vehicles, several sped away. The men who stopped, drove them, knowing the danger involved, to the safety of a UN checkpoint.
Edith’s story is precise and not written with malice. She began by detailing it for family and friends. But Perhaps it became therapy as writing such events can allow one to move forward. It is a compelling story from an inspiring women who knows and appreciates how lucky she is to have her freedom back.
The Nine by Gwen Strauss
Inspired by her great aunt’s history, Gwen Strauss tells the true story of Nine women, six French, two Dutch and one from Spain, who ended up in the German women’s concentration camp, Ravensbrück. They were members of the resistance during WWII. All young and well under thirty, they were arrested by the French police, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. They spent time in several different French prisons before being deported to the German labour camp.
The women form a strong bond, a network of friends looking out for and taking care of each other. The book mentions the humiliation of parading naked for selection on a regular basis. Selection could mean the gas chambers or the brothels for German officers. The horrors of the camp are also touched on. But, more importantly, the way these women coped is front and center. They recited recipes, wrote and memorized their own poetry, put on plays, sang songs, covered for each other, carried each other when necessary and did everything possible to keep each other from getting depressed.
Towards the end of the war the women were among the thousands forced to walk miles in the so called death marches. They escaped as a group, hiding like dead bodies in a ditch. They spent the following ten days trying to make their way to the front. Every village held new challenges as they never knew if the villagers would be friendly or turn them in. They were cold and hungry and frail but kept going, eventually crossing paths with an American jeep.
Afterwards, like much that took place during the war, they couldn’t talk about it. No one wanted to hear about it. Moving forward was the goal of everyone. Some of the women wrote private accounts, perhaps just to get it down. Another wrote an article for a magazine later in life. Strauss, interviewed her great aunt only once, plus any living relatives and friends of the remaining woman. Her research was extensive, yet she admits that there are gaps because much of the story died with the women. What she has done is present what remains of the story along with the backstories of all the women and believe me it is powerful.
Both these books are a worthy read no matter who you are. Because, as I said above, it is important to share women’s stories and not just with women.
Thank you for reading.
Photos: Header – Vonecia Carswell, Unsplash; Books – Goodreads