Five years ago, my mother had a midlife crisis. Both of her daughters were in college and it seemed time to ask herself what it was she wanted for the many years she had left. While having time and resources is a gift, it’s also a bit of a curse. Being able to decide where your life is heading is a blessing but it’s also fairly burdensome.
She wasn’t the only one in the midst of a mid-life crisis. I grew up on the border of Rancho Santa Fe, California: one of the wealthiest communities in the country where a midlife crisis is a very expensive rite of passage.
Many women head to India for a posh yoga/self-discovery adventure, others buy cars, get surgery until they’re made of as much plastic as Barbie or go on 3-week long spa vacations. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking any of this. (Except maybe the plastic.) I’d certainly never turn down a 3-week long spa vacation or a trip to India… but it doesn’t seem like the activity one needs to really get a handle on making a transformative life evolution.
My mother has always been an outlier in our conservative community. She never ceases to raise eyebrows. She was at a dinner party the night Sarah Palin was named Vice-President on the McCain ticket and one of the attendees stood up and said, “I’d like to propose a toast to Sarah Palin and all the wonderful things she will do for this country.” My mom rose her glass and said, “I’d like to second that toast—to Sarah Palin, thank you for putting the last nail in McCain’s coffin.” My Dad, a closeted liberal, nearly sank under the table.
The point is that nobody was terribly surprised when she announced that she had decided to travel to Peru for a month—to volunteer in a women’s prison. You see my mom didn’t see her ‘mid-life crisis’ as a time for self-indulgence; she saw it as a time to give of herself, to remind herself all she was capable, to make an impact. Sufficed to say, I’m one proud daughter.
On this trip, she fell in love with these women. And they fell in love with her. Most of the women were incarcerated for drug trafficking convictions—they had been approached in terribly exploitative situations and offered meager incentives to swallow a condom full of cocaine and transport it. Since so much of the Peruvian government’s foreign aid money is dependent on proving quantitatively that they’re fighting the drug war, when the women here were captured they were charged not as mules but as full-fledged members of drug cartels. The same sentences were passed down for them as would be for a drug kingpin. My mom was non-judgmental and to the judgmental individuals who constantly berate her with questions along the lines of: why are you helping women in prison? She responds kindly, “because they’re not much different than you and me. They were just born into a different reality. They made bad decisions but for the right reasons.” Though my mom long ago abandoned in her Catholic roots, she still lived her life by one of her father’s favorite sayings: “you never know what crosses people bare.”
So with these women she loved and with these women who loved her, she decided to begin a non-profit. She would capitalize on their indigenous knitting skills by bringing in top-end baby alpaca and having them create beautiful products. She would pay them fair-trade wages and bring the products to the US to sell. All products would be returned to the women in the form of classes (reading, English, self-confidence, job skills). The non-profit would work on a number of levels, it would give the women a source of income, it would give them a source of confidence and pride in their work and it would prepare them for reintegration into society so that they could find viable employment and wouldn’t have to again result to drug smuggling.
It’s been five years since MAKI Women was born and it continues to change the lives of women in need. It also continues to enrich my mom’s life. So I think it’s a pretty fair deal.
The point is I’m lucky enough to be with her in Peru for two weeks and spending time with her Peruvian familia. We’re working on new designs and initiating new ideas.
I’ll continue updating from Peru. And if you want to learn more, check out www.makiwomen.org or take a look at our new promotional video.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/41151104″>Maki Short Promo</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3808566″>Carina Kolodny</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>