WILPF Gathering June 17 - 23, 2004:
notes by Robin Lloyd
We had our fourth Women's Internation League for Peace and Freedom (WIPLF) 'Gathering' at a farm in Rochester, Vermont, earlier than usual this June. The spring flowers - daffodils and iris - were past but beautiful clumps of peonies and lupines illuminated the spacious gardens and invited us to play among the fronds.
Some 30-40 women took part from Boston, New Jersey and Vermont. There were many high points. Executive Director of US WILPF Mary Day Kent spoke on 90 years of courageous women's activism (2005 is the 90th anniversary of the founding of WILPF). Sunday afternoon we enjoyed an author's roundtable, including state poet Grace Paley. Monday, a Solstice celebration included the 'croning' of a now-wise elder.
On the first day, three Vermont women presented separate talks on their involvement with far distant cultures: Paij Wadley-Bailey on Rawanda; Sas Carey on Mongolia; and Barbara Soros on Bosnia. The women were not casual visitors to these places. In middle age, they had formed life-changing relationships that transcended the usual categories of giving and taking.
Paij Wadley- Bailey recently returned from her second trip to Rwanda. "Since I turned 60, I dream more and more about Africa" she told me when we talked a few days after the Gathering. "I guess I have this roots thing going on..."
On her trip in April, she brought 23 copies of Where There is No Doctor and helped organize a health conference for women who wanted to form a WILPF section. Her visit coincided with the 10th anniversary commemoration of the genocide there, when up to 800,000 Tutsi men, women and children were slaughtered under the direction of Hutu tribal leaders. "I could see that people's hearts were heavy with remembrance of the genocide". It was especially hard on the high school students. They were six to eight years old when it happened. They were like zombies. There are no therapists in the schools to help them get through it."
Paij has visited some of the commemoration sites where hundreds of skulls line the church pews. "Rawanda is a country that, 10 years ago, was forsaken by the world, including me. I want to make up for that for the rest of my life. My life work now includes international activism."
Sas Carey runs the Lifenergyheal School in Middlebury, VT and is co-clerk of the Middlebury Friends Meeting. She has been to Mongolia six times. Her seventh journey began July 9th for a month and a half. Her first trip, 10 years ago, was with the American Holistic Nurses Association. She was 49 years old at the time. "That was when I met my teacher. We were touring an institution of traditional Mongolian medicine and our guide, Dr. Boldsaikhan, shower us how he was putting all the medicinal herbs of Mongolia on the computer. My heart started beating fast - it was a Quaker moment - and I asked him would you take an American disciple?"
He agreed and Sas returned and studied for three months at the Mongolian Medical university in Ulan Bator. For Sas, Mongolian traditional medicine became a model for holistic health that she brought back to her school in Middlebury. Finding yourself, healing yourself, and choosing your spiritual path is the mantra she has developed that unites eastern and western medicine.
"This is a life commitment, a spiritual leading. I don't know where it will go. I'm grateful to my friends who help me out. I worked briefly for the U.N. and World Bank during one of my trips, but that's not what I want to do. I have my own work. I know I don't want to live there full time. I am committed to my life here in Middlebury, although a lot of my time is now spent preparing for going there."
When I spoke to her on the eve of the departure she shared the good news that she had received a small grant from the Mongolia-American Cultural Association and was going to bring vitamins to the Reindeer people of Northern Mongolia.
Barbara Soros was also drawn to travel to another country 10 years ago. In. 1995, she joined a group of Europeans witnessing the destruction of the Bosnian War, at a dangerous time, when the Dayton Accords were not being honored. "When I got there and saw this beautiful mountainous land with all the buildings destroyed, and filled with refugee camps, it was a shock for me. Professionally, I had worked with traumatized people, but never a traumatized society. Going there changed the focus of my life. I couldn't rest."
After she came home, she knew she wanted to return, but she didn't know how she could be useful. "A cultural organization asked me whether I would be willing to raise money for the rebuilding of cultural sites. It was something I could do with a different energy from my regular work, a refreshed way. This lead to landmine removal work and with victims of torture. I used my own savings to do the work. I had a hard time realizing I had to let go of my work as a therapist. But that is what being present in life is. I was being asked to do things I never imagined I would do. I became a flexible ally to a lot of groups because I wasn't working for the UN. I learned more than I gave."
She's working to complete a book about her experiences: Sarejevo Winter. Once the book is published, she says "I hope to step into speaking more publicly. I don't want to stay connected, as to an umbilicus, to my Bosnian experiences. It's been 10 years. I hope to go on to other, related things."
These women have had the courage to cross borders to find meaning, and in doing so have brought meaning into the lives of others. Courageous Crones I'd call them.
Thursday, June 17:
Eight people: Glenn Hawkes and JP Sembuko, Char, Dian, Buzz (Bayard’s brother), Bayard (doing the cooking), and Katherine, a WILPF member from Boston.
The first evening, JP Sembuko from Rwanda, escorted by Glenn Hawkes, former head of Parents and Teachers for Social Responsibility, sang to us on the terrace. He said the mountains of Vermont reminded him of the mountains of Rwanda. His people have been traumatized by genocide; in his song, he joyfully affirms his right to live.
Friday, June 18:
Three women talked about their involvement with far distant cultures. Paij Wadley Bailey on Rwanda; Sas Carey on Mongolia, and Barbara Soros on Bosnia. Barbara told us about the graveyards of Bosnia; how they are fraught even now with landmines. We talked about child abuse; how an abused daughter was told by her mother that she must see her father’s abuse as preparing her for marriage.
Tomorrow is another big day. We saw a solstice fire across the valley near the top of the mountain. Dian wanted to drive to it but we restrained her.
Saturday, June 19:
Secretary of State Deb Markowitz spoke on upcoming elections, WILPF Executive Director Mary Day Kent talked about “90 years of Amazing Women,” and urged us to make plans for the 90th anniversary of WILPF next year. In the evening, Nancy Brown of Military Families Speak Out asked “How can we bring the troops home A woman whose son is stationed in Iraq at a National Guard post near the airport spoke to us about the impact of war on those who wait for news. She was driving to work one day and heard on the radio that two National Guardsmen (their names were given) were killed in Iraq, and four were injured (they didn’t give their names). It took her the rest of the morning to compose herself to call and find out the names of the injured. Her son was not among them. ‘Every day is like that’ she said, ‘carrying around the fear.’
Sunday, June 20:
Some 26 women attended Grace Paley’s poetry reading in the barn. Elayne Clift irritated Grace with her comment that pacifism is pollyanna; Peggy Luhrs didn’t like her fictional piece either: “no sense of what it’s like to be a lesbian.” Annabelle Westling came, and her husband Robert Williams dropped by, ruddy and scraggly, but vibrant, driving a silver car…
Later we joined the Rochester community with a picnic dinner – salmon and asperagus – at the park. Band music as the sun sets on the longest day.
That evening Sandy Hass, David Marmor and Marian Leonard came up and chatted with us about living in a small town in a small state.
Interesting discussions ranging from bioregionalism, to the threat of a single superpower in the world. Sandy H. is running as a progressive for the state legislature.
Later, a late night walk to the pond. Yodeling and barking in preparation for the solstice tomorrow.
The solstice ceremony itself was a tempestuous event. Competing witches wanted to control the event. Ultimately, it was beautiful. The women croned me, Robin, and then set a memory boat afloat on the pond with four votive candles aboard: one for grandmother, mother, me, and Rosika Schwimmer!!
Monday, June 21:
Gretchen Dutschke-Klotz: told the story of her husband: ‘Red’ Rudi Dutschke.
“We had a barbaric, beautiful life’ together, she said. Rudi was voted “the 4th most important person in German history”. He was leader of the student movement in 1968, shot in the head in ’71, and died in the bathtub in ’78 from his wounds. In between, they had three children together. Read the whole story here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudi_Dutschke. She has written a biography of Rudi in German which became a best seller. She was on tour for two years. We were mesmerized by this story of revolutionary fervor, which documents a time as vibrant in Germany as were our US protests during the late 60s against the Vietnam war and racism.
A proposal was made earlier in the week to assemble a list of the descendants of the women who took the Noordam to the Hague in 1915 to end WW1. We could call it ‘the Noordam Society’. It could become a travelling photo exhibition.
We watched “Signs Out of Time,” a documentary by Donna Reed and Starhawk about the life and work of archeologist Marija Gimbutas, whose work reveals evidence of Goddess-worshipping in pre-historic Europe. Donna Reed came down from Canada to lead a discussion; she is a big, joyful woman: we enjoyed her presentation.
We ended with evaluations. Bring young women. Too much emphasis on the negative; more games; make tasks in the garden, teach survival skills. One summary: “The waves of dying flowers, lapping and succumbing to the next wave: daffodils and iris – now passe; followed by peonies and lupines… We played amongst the fronds, rolling down the hillside; spontaneous, fey women power, talking, talking, talking.”
- Article in Vermont Woman, July 2004