Akha Women's Retreat - 2009
In January, I had the honor of participating in the annual AOF Women's Retreat. While any women's retreat is a blessing and allows for the women to "get away from it all," this is especially true for Akha women who labor from morning til night, working in the fields, carrying water and firewood, cooking the meals, and hand washing the clothes & dishes! My role in the event was mostly "observer" with a little bit of "translator" and "photographer" thrown in. For one of the sessions, we were blessed to hear from an American friend, Marlene. Having been a family counselor for many years, she shared out of her expertise about the different stages in a woman's life. This is an important topic for Akha women, because in traditional Akha culture it's generally considered taboo to talk about things like menstruation or menopause, which often leaves women unprepared and scared when natural changes occur. In any case, I was elected to translate for this session.
Although I've been here for nearly 4 years, my language is not what you would call "microphone worthy". So I stumbled through the session saying things like "Do you understand me? Did I say that correctly?" and "How do you say _________?" It was like being tossed in the deep end and told "Sink or swim!" While moments like this are difficult, for sure, I'm grateful for the opportunity to step up to a challenge and find that, even if I can only doggy paddle, at least I didn't drown!
My other, less challenging, job was to take pictures during one of the craft times. My mission was to capture a picture of every woman for the slide show scheduled for the final night. As an added bonus, I got to witness the skilled craftsmanship of nearly a hundred women making traditional men's headdresses. Take a peek at the pictures to see for yourself!