Wednesday, June 23, 2010

68: The Self-Empowered Woman: Juana Bacallao

Dear Followers,

Do you ever find yourself feeling tired? Ever wonder what it would be like top retire or take a permanent vacation? When you learn about today's Self- Empowered Woman, it just may reframe your thoughts about being too old (or too tired) to follow your dream...

Juana Bacallao is a Cuban diva who still performs (in a blond wig and a slinky red dress) almost every Friday night at the Havana nightclub Gato Tuerto (One-Eyed Cat) even though she is over 80 years old.

Nobody knows exactly when she was born, but some people suggest that she may be 93 years old. Her birth name was Neri Amelia Martinez Salazar and (1: No Paternal Safety Net) she was orphaned at the age of six. At that time she was sent to a Catholic boarding school (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

By the time she'd become a teenager she'd landed the job of cleaning houses. Fortunately, a powerful music director (Obdulio Morales) heard her singing while she was sweeping, and immediately decided that she had what it took to become a star (4: Supportive Someone).

When most of us think of a female Cuban chanteuse we think of Celia Cruz, but Juana never left the cabaret scene in favor of becoming a TV or recording star. And although she still has not received a visa to perform in the U.S., this year she will travel to Mexico and Moscow for performances.

The now-elderly singer has always been known for her "unpredictable" behavior (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest). It's not unusual for her to interrupt her performances to adjust her wig or makeup or even taunt male audience members for staring at her too intently.

Juana makes no secret that retirement is not an option. She told the AP "I will never retire. I will only stop when death has come for me...I have no age" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Obviously, there's no tonic like doing what you love.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

67: The Self-Empowered Woman: Beka Ntsanwisi

Dear Followers,

These days it seems that everyone is paying close attention to soccer's World Cup Competition in South Africa. So I thought - in the spirit of Self-Empowered Women everywhere - that you might like to meet an amazing woman named Rebecca Beka Ntsanwisi.

She was born in 1968 at Nkowankowa Village outside Tzaneen in Limpopo, a province of South Africa. Her father was an educator, and as a youngster she was encouraged to work hard at school and help improve her community (2: An Early Sense of Direction). After graduating from high school she attended the University of Venda, where she studied music (9: Music).

In the 1990s, she began working at a radio station, and soon became the head of its social responsibility program. She has been particularly effective at helping those in rural areas, especially impoverished people.

In 2003, Beka was diagnosed with colon cancer and two years later was wheelchair dependant (12: Hard Times). During her illness she worked with the Department of Health to a) form support groups for people with cancer and b) fight the belief in witchcraft that still exists in some communities.

During her own treatment, she often visited public hospitals and was saddened by how many elderly female patients were treated. Many of them seemed lonely, depressed and/or confused, but Beka felt that exercise (particularly soccer) just might give these women the lift they needed.

Today, the group that Beka founded in 2005 is known as Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies) and includes 35 players from 49 to 84 years old. The team has become so well known that it has been invited to come to America in August to compete in the Veteran's Cup (for teams with players 30 and over) in Lancaster, Mass. (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

After Beka's husband died the Grannies helped her deal with grief, and another player who lost eight of her twelve children found that the soccer team became an extended, supportive family. When the Grannies were young girls playing on a soccer team simply wasn't an option, but today - thanks to Beka - these women have an acceptable athletic outlet (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Beka has won numerous awards including (five tines) the Black Management Forum Limpopo Woman of Excellence Award, the Limpopo Achievers Award, the Premier's Award and the Nkowakowa branch of the South African National Civic Organization honored her for her work to help the helpless.

Today, Beka's cancer is in remission, but she considers her work for the poor and Grannies Grannies to be her legacy.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

66: The Self Empowered Woman: Pearl Buck

Dear Followers,

Today's remarkable woman, managed to combine the multiple careers of wife, mother, author and activist long before doing so was fashionable. Pearl Buck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for her best-selling novel The Good Earth, and in 1938 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her "rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."

The daughter of Caroline and Absalom Sydenstricker, Buck was born on June 26, 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia, but moved with her parents to China so they could continue their work as Southern Presbyterian missionaries (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

Her strict father was so committed to his work of converting the Chinese that she rarely saw him (1: No Paternal Safety Net). As a child, she learned to speak Chinese before English, and when she wrote "The Good Earth" she mentally composed it in Chinese first and then translated the story into English.

By 1911, she had left China to attend college at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia, from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa (10: The Critic Within). In 1914, she returned to China and three years later married a missionary/farmer named John Lossing Buck. Soon after, she became unhappy in her marriage, gained a great deal of weight, and even described her gray-green eyes as "wild-beast eyes" (6: Life is Also Not a Beauty Contest).

The 1920s were difficult (12: Hard Times). Three years after they were married, the Bucks had a daughter (Carol) who was afflicted with Phenylketonuria, and the next year, Buck's mother died; soon her father moved in with the young couple and their ill daughter. When they returned to the U.S. for John's one-year sabbatical, Pearl Buck earned her Masters Degree from Cornell University before returning to China in 1925. In 1927, the "Nanking Incident" forced the family to seek asylum, and they were forced to move to Japan for a year. In 1934, they permanently left China.

Buck actually had two Magnificent Obsessions (7). One was her outrage at the cruel way women were treated in China. Wives could only speak if spoken to, and female babies (as in today's China) were considered far less "valuable" than males. Her second "cause" was the plight of "mixed race" babies born to Asian women wherever American soldiers were stationed in Asia. She became a critic of the "racial superiority" that she witnessed among the missionaries, and was brave enough to challenge racism and sex discrimination in both China and the U.S. (5: Life Is Not a Popularity Contest).

In 1935, she divorced her husband and married her publisher, Richard Walsh; after his death she chose an Arthur Murray dance instructor (Theodore Harris) to be her companion (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

Even though her children were critical of her, Buck appears to have been the Mia Farrow or Angelina Jolie of her era; her family included seven adopted children (16: Intensive Motherhood). In 1949, she established Welcome House, Inc. which was the first international, interracial adoption agency. She also established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation as well as Opportunity Center and Orphanages to "address poverty and discrimination faced by children in Asian countries."

Because of the way she portrayed Chinese peasant life, Buck was denounced as an "American cultural imperialist" during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. She was heartbroken when Madame Mao and Chinese government officials prevented her from accompanying President Nixon on his groundbreaking visit to China in 1972.

Pearl Buck, who wrote over 50 books, died in 1973 when she was 80 years old. She is buried in Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania; she designed her tombstone, which is inscribed with the Chinese characters that represent the name Pearl Sydenstricker.

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

65: The Self Empowered Woman: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Dear Followers:

Can't believe that it's already June! Today I'd like to share the story of a remarkable 40 year old woman who has risked everything in order to work as an outspoken, prominent critic of Islam.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born on November 13th (my birthday) in 1969 in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father was politically active and because of his opposition to the Siad Barre government he was imprisoned (1: Non Existent Paternal Safety Net).

Her father had studied abroad and was opposed to female genital cutting, but while he was in prison Hirsi Ali's religious grandmother (3: Belief In the Unbelievable) submitted the five year old little girl to what most people refer to as genital mutilation. But she explains it by saying "I have the stitch-up part. If should remain a virgin until your wedding night [your family is] going to apply the approach where you get sewed."

Ayaan's family moved from Somalia to Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and then Nairobi, Kenya. During those years she received a Saudi-funded education, studied the Qur'an, and wore a Hijab with her school uniform. But after finishing secondary school, she enrolled in a secretarial course in Nairobi and became introduced to Western culture and values. And like other Self Empowered Women (Madeleine Albright, Sandra Day O'Connor and Sonia Sotomayor - among so many others)became a big fan of Nancy Drew mysteries.

In 1992, Ayaan's father instructed her that she would marry a distant cousin who she considered to be both a "bigot" and an "idiot." On a pre-wedding trip from Kenya to visit relatives in Germany, she bravely traveled to the Netherlands and requested political asylum (11: Risk Addiction).

Since that time she has worked tirelessly on behalf of battered females, especially Muslim girls and women. In 2002, she renounced Islam and became an atheist. After her book "The Son Factory" (which criticized Islam and Islamic culture) was published, she began to receive death threats. Today, wherever she travels she has armed escorts (5: Life Is Not a Popularity Contest).

Hirsi Ali's activism in the Netherlands has caught the attention of feminists around the world. Her 2007 memoir "Infidel" became a bestseller and last month her new book "Nomad: From Islam to America" showed signs of being equally successful.

Looking forward to your comments...