June 24, 2010: the Netherlands

By: Caroline Fish

My interviews have taken me in and behind the surface of cities, into women’s homes and offices; I’ve laughed with people marked with wrinkles, sighs, and sunlight. These “research participants” have given me empowerment and inspiration and hugs—I’ve fallen into a well of human good nature and hope.

In that spirit, yesterday, I told a friend that slowly I’m realizing something as I travel: People are the world’s greatest resource. As I see the wealth of power, courage, and hope in these individuals, I am coming to understand that investing in people is the most valuable thing anyone can do. I believe in my project because I feel like I’m investing in human bravery, heart, soul, sweat and tears—women who’ve slaved and fought and cried for their rights and for an end to violence for the past 20, 30, 40 years. I wrote to my friend, “The oldest woman I interviewed has been in rights work since the 1960’s. Fifty years later and she’s still fighting. With a smile on her face. She has the most brilliant sense of humor—and that’s what I want, in the end. To give the world her fight and her smile… that she’s seen the darker sides of discrimination and terrorism, and she’s still smiling.” Still fighting.

Then, today, I had my first terrible interview. It went so badly, it took the wind out of my lungs. I couldn’t fathom going into my next one feeling as discouraged as I felt. I sat in a café and tried to focus on preparing for my next interview and transcribing a bit—I ended up walking for an hour and sitting on the edge of a canal to watch the sun on the water. For some reason, one disinterested soul had dashed my dozens of other successful interviews to pieces.

I entered the building for my second interview of the day. I rang the office doorbell and a dog barked inside. I was ushered in, sat in the lobby. I still didn’t have the heart for the interview—I sat in the chair trying to remind myself why I was pushing forward with this, with all my hope and inspiration, trying to hear women’s stories and voices.

The director of the institute came out with a brilliant smile, and she shook the wavering fears of discouragement from me; we sat in the sun and talked. At the end, she asked me how my connections were going in Holland, trying to get interviews. I told her, “Badly.” My goal is to have ten interviews per country, and only six Dutch, out of dozens of people I’ve contacted, have confirmed. She immediately walked me back to her desk, personally emailed all the women who’d been ignoring my emails and asked them to speak to me. She said, “I’m good friends with them,” with a wink to reassure me.

I left the building with a soaring heart. I thought of the women who I had interviewed the day before who had told me about their work with trafficking, “We meet a lot of good people, and a lot of good will.” Discouragement be damned—the world is filled with good people and good heart.

I’ve crossed continents and oceans and cities already, and I will continue to do it. It’s invigorating and inspiring more than it’s ever wearying. While some days, I might think, “What am I doing?” I know what I’m doing. I’m listening. I’m learning. I’m quietly taking it all in and processing. I’m finding my path. I’m uncovering the good will. I may turn over some disenchantment along the way, but… May the good will shine through. May the good will always shine through.

Through all these travels, I am so deeply grateful for the scholarship and this incredible opportunity. I’m reminded of a picture of Eve where she’s holding her palm up and she’s written on it, “I want any excuse to work with my classmates and help them do what they want to do because that’s what I wanted to do.” And I know, she’s doing that, still. The scholarship in her memory is helping me do what I want to do… and I feel endlessly blessed. I’ve been given an opportunity to do what I want to do, and what I want to do is hear people, learn from people, and share their insight with the world.

Before my first interview in Iceland, I was so cold and nervous, I wrote a passage to myself to remind me of my purpose. I scrawled out: “I want to inspire young people, to show the many paths and ways to give back, incorporate empowerment into their life and lift them up, prove they can do anything, they are valued, they are heard. I want to hear stories on women’s work now and past, to inspire women’s work for the future, to evaluate what’s been done, and encourage for improvement of society by saying this is now, this is what we care for and why we care.”

Thank you, Carolina, family, friends—I am grateful for this chance.

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