A hand comes down upon Lidia’s body while she sits in class. You can hear the crack of the teacher’s hand from across the room, I know. No one looks up. Her body coils back in pain. She starts to cry, heavy hiccups that she silently lets loose while tears build in her eyes and flush down her cheeks.
I’m sitting next to Lidia and I am in pure shock. Sitting right next to her and helping her to paint a picture as the hand comes down. “WHY aren’t you working?!?” the teacher shouts. SMACK.
Bill and I are teaching a computer class to a group of students in Haiti. A good amount of our teaching during our time in Haiti has less to do with computers and more to do with teacher training but in this class there aren’t enough teachers so we’re giving the class ourselves. The teachers that are here walk around and help us. But sometimes perhaps they help too much.
I understand that there is open physical punishment in Haiti. That is known to me. Yet there is something different about watching it happen to the student that I am speaking with. I feel directly insulted as a teacher and as a woman. I am even angrier that I cannot say something because this is the teacher’s domain. I put my hand on Lidia’s back and rub it as it rises and falls in jerks while she cries. I whisper to her softly, “It’s ok, you’re drawing a beautiful picture, don’t feel bad.”
Lidia wears a thin shirt and you can see her breasts growing underneath. They are beginning to peek through. This is what angers me most, to see this 30 year-old teacher hitting a fifteen year old young woman. The feminist in me is reeling as I watch this abuse in the classroom. What do you do when someone hits a girl? What do you do when that girl is in the process of becoming a woman?
I have written articles before about my qualms with anti-feminist cultures (see “Sexism and Candy” for one of my very first rants). I think the most difficult part of being an uncompromising feminist here is not being able to speak up; or not knowing what to say if you do. How can you challenge years of culture and tradition in that one moment? Can you really impose your own beliefs on a system, even if you so strongly believe that they are right? Doesn’t the teacher hitting this young woman truly believe that he is doing the right thing, too? Or is he just acting on instinct, on aggression?
How can you be a young woman and fight for the rights of other young women in a country that is not your own? Is it possible to do?
I watch the tears fall down Lidia’s cheeks as she cries. Born with an eye condition that caused her right eye to jut far out of her face, she recently received surgery for it and during the whole week afterward acted like she was queen of the world. How else would you act if all your life you are hideous and suddenly you realize that you are actually so beautiful? Yet the ego boost fell in that one moment as she coiled backward and within herself once again. I knew she wouldn’t speak up anymore.
I wonder what the teacher has done. I wonder what I have done, believing I am so powerless to stop it.