25 June 2009

Kavlaoved news

Hi everybody have a nice day.lalit
by: Anat Mordechay, La'isha

“The sea, in particular, surprised me. Facing it for the first time in my life at the age of 31, its enormous magnitude hit me. It was the first excitement I had in Israel. I also had to get used to the fact that everything is flat here and I won’t see mountains from the window as in Katmandu” says Sharijna Mahat (33), one of ten thousands Nepalese who came to Israel in recent years to work as caregivers and as agricultural laborers. “And, of course, I had to get used right away to work with old folks at your homes that are so different from our homes and to the Israeli culture and to the terrifying encounters with the Immigration Police”.

The most difficult thing, she says, was leaving her daughter, Nisrita, who was only 9 when they separated, two years ago. “It is hard to live, and the longing, with the immense and oppressive loneliness, that only gets intensified because of the feeling that life flows here as if I do not exist. Over the last two years I met wonderful people here, but I still feel that most Israelis fail to see me, as if I am transparent.”

Immigration Police in the middle of the night

Since her arrival, in February, 2007, she already worked for several employers who insulted her when she got sick. She even left the employment agency that recruited her in Nepal after they treated her inhumanely when she got sick. She found a new agency. Well, unlike the majority of the Nepalese workers in Israel, she knows how to get by. She knows how to communicate; she has a second degree in economics, she speaks English well, and despite her softness she is not afraid to ask questions and to demand what she deserves.

She therefore joined the activity of “Shoulder Giver” operated by the Mesila Aid & Information Center for the Foreign Community at the Tel-Aviv municipality. Already in her first months in Israel she went through a process of empowerment and training in a course organized in cooperation with the women organization “Akhoti” (“My sister”). Today she is one of thirty volunteers active in the Nepalese community in Israel and helping these women survive. A few months ago she even founded an organization “The Voice of the Nepalese Women” with a mission to assist and support about 8,000 women who arrived to work here. She wants to empower and strengthen these women as well.

"For what reason?"
We have many problems and only in Israel I realized that not all the women are as strong as I am. In Nepal, a man who travels to work abroad is considered a hero and gains a great respect. However, a woman who does the exact same thing is considered a criminal who made an awful mistake. Until a few years ago no woman dared to do that. We are, in fact, the first generation of women who left home and moved to another country to make a living.

We did not do that willingly. There was no choice. In Nepal there is 50% unemployment, and the average salary you can get as a woman, unless you have a very good profession, is $50 per month, if you are lucky enough to get work. $50 is the exact cost of school for your child in Kathmandu. “I and my friends left everything behind in order to give our children a better life, and yet our society treats us like criminals. On occasion I even hear these voices from my own daughter, Nisrita. She blames me in our phone conversations for not being with her, and that hurts terribly.”

“How do you respond?”
“I explain to her that all that we both go through is first and foremost on her behalf. I already can do it because I got stronger, but there are women, who got hospitalized due to this mental pressure. They simply broke down mentally due to the working conditions in Israel and these attitudes from home.

“It is necessary to understand that we all live here in a very complex and frustrating system of pressures. It is even depressing. Most of us have husbands who remained at home and are certain that we sleep around, and they keep reminding us of that. There are children who are angry that you left. There are the elders that you always try to appease but don’t always succeed. Some of us work with people, who simply don’t pay according to the contract or don’t provide sufficient food or basic living conditions such as the ability to take a shower. The problem is that it is hard to figure out what to do since there’s constantly the risk of losing your employment and mostly the fear of being expelled.

“Even I, with all my confidence and courage, and I know all the rules in Israel, I got filled with fear a few days ago when, in the middle of the night, somebody knocked on our door, while a few of us were sleeping on our free day. The Immigration Police decided to check who lives in our place. I have a valid visa and regular employment; I already met the Immigration Police officers and got questioned by them, and yet, when they wake you up like that in the middle of the night you simply get paralyzed with fear.

“I established our organization because I want to help these women. I did not know them and did not meet similar women when I was at home. It happened here, thanks to my encounter with Israeli women and thanks to the training I received here. In Nepal I focused on the house, on my job and on my private problems. I was not a social activist. Only here, when I saw how you live and progress, I got the courage to act. I understood that you can influence even if you are a woman”.

The division to castes, just like in India.

Sharijna’s parents, who come from a village near Kathmandu, are educated. “The education is not self evident in a country, where half the population is illiterate. Their decision to have only two children is also unusual in Nepal. I have a brother, five years younger, and despite the fact that they invested in him a lot more, according to Nepalese customs, my father always said that I was able to do everything since I am talented. Unlike most Nepalese women I met here my parents did send me to study. I was a brilliant student I, and particularly excelled in mathematics.”

Due to her talents and with her parents’ assistance she started studying at a university at an early age of 14. “This is really rare in our country since in Nepal there still is a system of castes, just as in India, and social classes are strictly defined and very restrictive. My good fortune was that my family is Hindu and belongs to the Chhetri caste which is a caste of warriors who serve the kingdom. My caste is slightly lower than the Brahman caste who are the priests, but higher that the Vaisya caste of merchants and traders or the Sudra caste, the lowest class in Nepal consisting of farmers. Women and men of this caste are forbidden from entering the kitchen of people like us, and until recently they could not even spend time in our company or work with us”.

The property and the children belong to the husband.

To her great surprise, the enlightenment of her parents vanished when the time came for her go get married.

“In our country, when you get your first period, you turn from a girl to a woman. They put you in a dark room for seven days, during which you are forbidden from seeing your father or brothers, and then declare you to be an adult and start discussing marriage with you.

“It is difficult to be a teenager in Nepal. You may be talented, succeed in your studies, and yet everything around you focuses on the subject of your designated bridegroom. I was already 19, I had a first degree in mathematics, economy and the arts, I worked in children care and had no interest in getting married, but tradition in our place is rigid. It is necessary to get a daughter married at a young age, and if she does not get married by the age of 21, she causes great embarrassment to her parents.

“I tried to ignore that, but one day came 6 people from the bridegroom’s family selected for me by my parents, dressed me like a doll, and lead me like an object to the living room. I cried and I protested, yet everybody at home continued to talk about the marriage. They told me that it will be good for me because he is educated and older than me by seven years, and they told me that he was a senior officer at a governmental office, that he has a good income, and that he comes from a family of high caste. That’s how it works there. The parents are the ones who make the decision. In the majority of cases, you don’t even get to see the bridegroom prior to the wedding.

“Until then my relationship with my parents was wonderful. That’s why it was so hard for me to accept their decision. But to my mother, who went through the same process when she got married, it all looked natural. She even told me: ‘What’s the problem?’ We’ll get you married as we are expected to do, and you will do as you please. Today she feels guilty. She understood that by succumbing to tradition, she prevented me from succeeding.”

Eventually, after many bitter arguments and crying, she married the man her parents selected for her, “since a girl in Nepal has nowhere to escape. You are not sufficiently mature to have the courage or the necessary funds. You cannot rent a room on your own or earn a living without the backing of a man and a family.

“We have a traditional concept according to which the woman has to be at home and take care of her children. Most of my female friends think, to this very day, that their husbands are God. They live like slaves and obey every word of their husbands. Through their entire lives, from the moment they get married, they look humiliated, and they accept responsibility for every problem between the couple and every difficulty at home. They cannot even get a divorce since a woman, who leaves her man, is going to simply end in the streets. Her belongings and her children belong to her husband. In our society women are blamed for everything. They say that if a couple has problems it is because the woman has a bad character.

“In the first few years of our marriage, I declined to obey to my husband, yet managed to maintain a good relationship with him for the sake of maintaining a warm house for my daughter. However, after 6 years of marriage I rebelled. I decided to leave and resumed studying, and in order to avoid being blamed for neglect, I spent a lot of time educating my daughter and maintaining the house. I lived in my husband’s parents’ house as is the custom in Nepal, and kept cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry for the entire family. I did everything possible to prevent any complaints. I worked as a math and economics teacher and was promoted”.

"How much does a woman earn in your profession?"
“$250 per month, and this is barely sufficient for survival. I think that this is the reason why most Nepalese women feel like prisoners. We are citizens in a democratic country with women in the parliament and feminist organizations, but invisible barriers continue to exist, and it’s hard to overcome them.

“Today, after a process of empowerment, I understand that in order to cross these barriers a woman needs a lot of courage, and such courage cannot be achieved without mutual support. In Nepal there is not much support for women. The majority of women don’t even imagine that life could be different. But I decided not to surrender to tradition. My daughter will be capable of making her own choices, would know how to conduct her life, with whom to marry and when.”

"And yet, you decided to leave her and come to Israel."
“In recent years I understood that it was not sufficient for me to be near her, educate her, and be a good mother and a good friend. I understood that I have to guarantee a better economical future for her, and that this can only be done by working abroad. My husband, like most Nepalese men, has a traditional point of view. He objects to my outlook on life. But I understood that it was not sufficient to take care of my husband and the house, as I was expected to do. I saw all the time the case of my brother who studied pharmacology, and built a career, and earned a high salary and an outstanding reputation. He achieved all that just because he is a man. Many times I asked myself, why was he able to get education, while I was forced to stay at home, and why did I not reach similar results? I am talented too.”

Dreaming about traveling to Canada

“At the beginning I thought of traveling to Canada or the USA. However, when I heard about care giving for the elderly in Israel, and received training that lasted six months, I arrived here in February 2007. Alone. I had to pay $6,000 in Nepal to the agency that promised me a visa and a good employer, who would supply food, a place to live and clothes.”

"How did you get the money?"
“We all took loans from acquaintances but we have to pay the loan as quickly as possible. That creates pressure since the initial salary is $550, and I pay for my Tel-Aviv room $200. Today I realize that my situation is relatively good, as there are Nepalese women who are required to pay $8,000 just to get here, and are then stunned to discover that they are not being paid as promised, and that the working conditions are not good.

“These are difficult conditions and some of the women have had a mental breakdown from all the difficulties they face. Sometimes it is sexual abuse of the worker or just being exploited. In many cases these women don’t speak English and are not capable of explaining and reporting what has happened to them. In addition, they all have to return a lot of money, and they realize that if they lose their position, it would be very hard for them to find an alternative position and to return their loan.

“Yet, this is not our main problem. The hardest problem is to leave children and family members behind. In this shaky mental situation that reaches its highest intensity in the first few months in Israel it is necessary to take care of sick people, lonely people, Alzheimer patients, and to be nice as is our custom, while sometimes the employers don’t trust you or even suspect you. We have to endure all that without support from home.

“But I am not going to give up. I don’t even have a place to return to. The condition in Nepal is not good. They are having an economic and political crisis. At the same time there is globalization that opens the world to us and shows us that it is not longer possible to live in the past. I therefore constructed a plan for myself and I stick to it. I intend to move to Canada after working here four years. I would like to get a PhD in economics and then return home, only after I conclude my education. I will return to Nepal and will try to influence the country. Why should women be the saddle of their husbands in the 21th century?

“I went here through a process of empowerment and saw how women can help each other get stronger. I dream to improve the status of women in Nepal. The truth is that I started working on that already. I wrote articles in the newspaper Nepal Chautari that is published in Israel. On every opportunity I explain the right of working women and men in Israel, and in particular I empower our women. Yet in Nepal they still don’t dare raise their voices.

“I and our thirty other activists encourage women to talk. We encourage them to tell stories about their employers, who deprive them of food or a proper place to sleep, or abuse them. The Nepalese women must learn to open their mouths. In our culture, even if you get raped, you tend to blame yourself for the rape, and this is of course a mistake. We go to their apartments on weekends, we meet them in the park on Levinsky Street, we distribute fliers and business cards and encourage them to study and to express themselves.

“At the beginning there was a lot of suspicion directed at our activity. However, today we receive seven or eight daily phone calls from folks who need assistance in health or in getting their wages, or who have experienced abuse, or encountered the Immigration Police. On occasion I refer them to appropriate authorities, and when necessary I serve as their translator, without charge, of course.

I feel that I have a lot of responsibility to my community. I display a lot of power, but when the weekend arrives, and I fail to reach my daughter on the phone, this power suddenly vanishes and in these moments I am ready to immediately return home.”