Thursday, April 28, 2011


Unlike my outgoing, talkative dadi, my momi is quite shy and known throughout the community as being a quiet woman. While my dadi tells elaborate, exaggerated stories, she is content to sit in the background, her hands always working - peeling taro, weaving a basket, or rocking one of her many grandchildren to sleep. When he gets to a particularly ridiculous part of the story, she might raise her eyebrows at me or scrunch up her nose and shake her head, but her great affection for him and her quiet nature keep her from outright contradicting him.

This incredible woman whose saucepan is always full and whose kitchen is always open to hungry grandchildren daily endures the indignities of small hands pulling her hair, small feet dirtying her clothes, and small runny noses being wiped on her skirts, but she never loses her good humor. It is easy to make her laugh and when she finds something truly funny she squints up her eyes, throws back her head, and lets out a huge laugh unexpected from such a quiet woman.

Momi Evelyn has no interest in village politics or community development, but she loyally shows up to every meeting, every community work day, and every workshop. I know she would prefer to stay in her peaceful kitchen undisturbed, and her presence at these policy-making events is purely to show her support for me, my dadi, my sister, and whoever else might need to see a friendly face.

Despite her gentle demeanor, my momi looks out for me like a mama bear and woe to the man that gets in the way of my eating or sleeping. The first day of my workshop, as we neared our lunch break momi discreetly approached to tell me she had food waiting for me at the house - she knew I had been too busy to think about it that morning. At the break some participants came up to ask individual questions and I saw my chance to eat quickly slipping away. At this point my unobtrusive momi came up to our group and said some very sharp words in the local language. Although I didn't catch the exact meaning, the hasty retreat of the questioners told me momi had voiced her displeasure that they were keeping me away from my simboro. I am never allowed to go hungry and always the best of her garden - the ripest mandarins, the biggest tomatoes, the sweetest mangoes - find their way to my already overflowing plate.

I get great comfort from my momi. Her quiet, consistent presence makes me feel peaceful, and she seems to be the only one in the village who doesn't have the need to constantly pepper me with questions or requests. Often we can peel taro, rasras bananas, or roll simboro without talking - content to just sit together. She never fusses over me and without comment lets me crouch down around the fire with her, subtly teaching me how to cook, wash, and paint mats - imparting her vast knowledge of what it means to be a woman in this culture.

Surely I would be lost without this soft, loving woman, and her calming presence makes living this crazy experience possible.

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