Collaborating across distance
"My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times".
Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women who Run with the Wolves
Is there a new acronym for the times ‘pre and post Trump inauguration’? Regardless, I flew to Namibia for 3 weeks soundly in the ‘pre’ time, and arrived back in the ‘post’. The stark contrast of a 6am landing at Heathrow in early February with the hot, bright and colourful world I had left only 12 hours previously echoing something of the difference of the eras.
While I was never on a media blackout in Africa, the inauguration and the first weeks unfolded at something of a distance from me. More so I think than had I been in the UK, working, playing and no doubt ranting on a daily basis with my usual colleagues, friends and collaborators. I’d still been having plenty of conversations about Trump, global politics and inevitably Brexit with my Namibian colleagues and friends and while no-one was naive enough to think the shift in global politics holds no impact for this or other southern African countries, the perception of immediate and direct impact on the lives of people did appear to be more limited and less tangible.
There was no women’s march in Windhoek, or anywhere else in Namibia as far as I am aware. Initially, gorging on the posts and blogs by friends, collaborators and fellow activists on social media about the solidarity, spirit and fun they had found in London, Manchester, Washington and Bristol I felt somewhat bereft. I felt keenly the loss of the opportunity to stand solidly with so many other women and men and simply say, “no, we are not going to put up with this, we will not quietly accept misogyny and racism and we will find ways to support each other”. I felt like I was letting myself and others down by not being there.
But then I began to think about what I was doing instead. I couldn’t have marched on the Saturday if there had been an opportunity; I was on the Angolan border teaching a group of under-10 girls to ride bicycles and helping train local women as cycling coaches. Throughout my stay in Namibia I was working with women who are passionate about opening up the opportunities to cycle to all children in Namibia, but particularly to girls. Encouraging women and men at regional cycling projects to make sure girls have equal opportunities to learn, and to race and enjoy; encouraging older boys to teach their sisters and their sisters’ friends to ride bicycles; and making it clear to the younger boys that they need to make way for the girls and share the bicycles and helmets.
And maybe this is only cycling. But I don’t think it is, or if it is then it’s only the start of something bigger. It’s about leadership and opportunities and role models and facilitating spaces for girls and women to make the world they want to see. Encouraging girls to try, to not apologise for their presence, to pursue the goals that they want, and not just wait patiently in line when the line doesn’t seem to get any shorter for them but does for others.
Regardless of the differences between our experiences, and our reactions to what was going on in the world, across distances of geography, culture and understanding we were women finding common purpose to make change happen. In this space it was specifically about cycling but more broadly we were learning to collaborate, to share and how to build together our voice, influence and reach. Whether on marches, or shared projects or just through taking the time for a conversation with someone this is what matters and what we all need to keep doing if we are going to be "made for these times".