Dear Dill, Women, We’ve Got Eyes

Dear Dill,

I’ve been faithfully carrying around Women with Moxie cards with me–one of the only things remaining in my purse after I emptied it out in preparation for leaving town. I left only the bare essentials: ID, $60 emergency American cash, a few favorite doTerra oils, vitamins for tummy troubles. And yes, those fabulous business cards. They’ve made it through three countries in Africa, and tomorrow will head to Sri Lanka with me. Those beauts are well-traveled, indeed! And the sweetest smile spreads across my face every time I see them and think of you.

I’ve been taking some time to reflect on the year ahead, and begin to map out a 12-month calendar of intentions, priorities, goals, and expectations. If 2018 shapes up as I’m anticipating, there will be a somewhat related conglomeration of work and pleasure opportunities that I’m are a few things I’m looking forward to with most excitement–one of them being supporting you and Moxie. Being away has helped me remember how much sustenance I receive by writing, and how grateful I am to be able to provide the service of my word-weaving to you and others. I cherish letting my creativity be a way to contribute to my community, and give back to organizations like yours.

I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be a Woman with Moxie. As I travel through vastly diverse locales, I’ve been surrounded by women of all stripes, shapes, and backgrounds. Many of the women I share these streets with are radically different than me in nearly all ways: their life views, their religious backgrounds, their societal orientations. It’s fascinating for me to realize that us female entrepreneurs truly are a minority worldwide; so many women have different paths and trajectories that make business ownership something outside of their realm of comprehension.

And yet, somehow, we are all still variations on a theme. Us women, we share common threads. It’s an interesting reflection for me, as it’s so easy to be distracted by the blatantly obvious differences I see. There are women around me whose skin shines in hues darker than I’ve ever before encountered. Women with noses with distinctive curvature. Women with hips that swell unlike mine, waggle unlike my sisters, shimmy unlike my neighbors. Women here in the Seychelles, whose lips form Creole words that haven’t ever graced my ears; women in Botswana, whose language of bright clicks sounds not only incomprehensible, but impossible for me to replicate even the most basic of words.

But here’s a quotation from Alexander McCall Smith’s marvelous book The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which takes place in Botswana and centers around a fabulous female character, Precious Ramotswe.  Reading this was particularly enjoyable when traveling the literal lands where the story takes place! Mma Ramotswe remarks to a know-it-all lawyer: “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with eyes.” Sage words, indeed. You and I have eyes that see in a way that’s very much like African women do.

And yes, everywhere I’ve been there have been women doing business. Once again, they look different than the entrepreneurs I know at home, and they embody their power in a different way. But these women share a resourcefulness and a savvy. They share an ability to identify a need and meet it. Many of them traits that I see in you, Dill: a generosity of spirit, a way of making others feel welcome and at ease, a sparkling wit and an enthusiasm for their craft. Many women are bright energetic beacons for their communities–be these communities families of 5 or webs of 10,000.

In Botswana, it seemed that all the safari camps we stayed at were owned by men, but several were female-managed and also had women as a much stronger daily presence in the shaping of the experience. Women greeted us with songs, their voices in bright and exuberant harmony; they made delicious meals, introduced us to the facilities, and made sure we were welcomed and taken care of. Men were “in charge,” but women made sure everything ran smoothly.

The South African climate is unique because it is unsafe for women to be alone in public places–and as a result, any work that involves interacting with the public is relegated to men. And in a particularly striking example, Over the course of two weeks, every single one of our several-dozen Uber drivers was male, and even restaurant employees were rarely female. To throw another factor into the mix, most racial and ethnic groups in South Africa have lengthy history of women being less important and deserving of power than men, and therefore, as stated wisely by the Wikipedia gods, most African traditional social organizations are male centered and male dominated. It is not a place where I saw many women publicly excelling.

I know there are many hard-working women in South Africa, but I also know they are working positions that are protected in a certain way: in schools, surrounded by security guards; as housekeepers, behind high walls with electric fencing. Women work in call centers, reception, administration–and also the arts and sciences, with increasing frequency. Our family friends in Johannesburg have one daughter who is studying to be an engineer, and another who will soon graduate university with a degree in theater. But I didn’t meet any women who were building businesses on their own; women advocating for female empowerment and community. I imagine there are circles in which this is present in South Africa, but their minimal presence externally left me thinking of you, Dill, and Women with Moxie. What powerful work you are a conduit of. How important it is. I know there are creative, resourceful, brilliant women with South Africa, many of whom are likely less in the public sphere–due to lack of physical safety, due to a history of repression and inequality, due to fear and insecurity that is perpetuated by a lack of community. You–we!–are facilitating an opportunity for women to begin to understand and take advantage of invaluable online resources, via networking and all the other amazing events and texts you have made available. And there’s a first level of disruption that’s also a vital catalyst in communities worldwide: simply making women aware that they have support, and don’t have to go it alone. Helping them harness their inherent creativity, and allow it to blossom. To encourage co-creation, rather than isolation.

I started this letter by mentioning the Moxie business cards. There’s only been one occasion where it’s been the right occasion to share. In Pretoria, there was a woman proprietress of our boutique hotel, whose daughter provided primary support in the running and operation of all essential parts of the business. Her daughter, a wry, fast-talking firecracker, lived in Australia, and managed a successful clothing business online–with a presence on Amazon in 8 different countries, and several dozen daily sales. She and I spoke for awhile about how much we liked to connect with other smart women living out their dreams; I gave her a card, told her to look us up, she said she would. Walking away, I realized she was the first female entrepreneur I’d met in two weeks. Many women I encountered were too immersed in simply making ends meet to consider building a business; others I simply couldn’t access, due to barriers of language and economic background.

And that’s something that I’ll keep thinking about, Dill. If there is a way for me, as an individual, or Moxie, as an organization, to reach and serve women who deeply desire and long for connection, across language and cultural and socioeconomic divides. They clearly are just as deserving of community. We all are deserving of community.

And that’s where my gratitude again begins to creep in: for you, for the Vibe Tribe, for my famiyl and friends in Portland and worldwide. It is truly an honor to be on your team, Dill, and to have you on mine. Cheers and love! Here’s to much more Moxie in the year ahead.

PS Today’s cover photo hails from steps outside of our bungalow here on the island of Mahe. We’ve had a few truly extraordinary sunsets, which pictures only begin to do justice.

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