In the last year, since moving to Manhattan, a lot of things have changed in my life. One of those changes has been my book club. In St. Alban's, I had a real, live, wine drinking, gossip sharing, shoulder-to-cry-on book club. We would meet once a month, discuss the book (sometimes), listen to each others' problems (half of the time) and laugh (all of the time). Now, I have a new kind of book club - an online book club, attached to the wonderful, NYC Mom's blog that I am lucky to write for. Each month we read a selected book and post a blog about how the book as made us feel. Has it made us think about our lives in a new or different way? This month we are reviewing 'I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced' by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui.
Nujood Ali, the author and protagonist of this book, lays before the world, in this her true story, how she came to be seeking a divorce from a Yemeni court at the age of ten. It is an insight into the plight of some children in the Yemen, who are forced by their family to marry when they are still in the depths of their childhood. As harrowing as her story is, it is also very inspiring and empowering. Nujood fought against all of her upbringing and had the courage to demand a divorce, alone. As I began the book, I wondered how on earth such a cruel life could relate to my own life? But the further I got into it, Nujood's voice was so compelling, fearless and engaging that she forced me to consider the wider issues of the power of independent thought.
The scale of controlling people's behaviours, thoughts and freedom is a very large one. On one hand, you have the world that Nujood lives in. Extreme poverty, strong religious beliefs and a complete disregard for the sanctity of a child's mind. On the other, you have Manhattan. I have tried before in previous blogs to analyse what it is that makes New York so special. Looking at this unique city through Nujood's eye, I fall in love all over again with it's liberal principles. No matter what creed, colour, sex, point of view you come from, you have a place here. Independent thought is positively encouraged. Frankly, it is a prerequisite. Try turning up at the school gates without an opinion on the lead in the New York Times and you'll soon learn.
I was brought up in rural Northern Ireland. The phrase 'children should be seen and not heard', was a regular part of my childhood. I'm not claiming to be quite able to relate to Nujood, but I feel an empathy with her plight that perhaps my liberal, Manhattan children never will. One of the reasons we were able to leave behind their English prep school education was because we loved the progressive teaching at their new school. My kids are actively being taught to think for themselves on a daily basis. There is not enough room on this blog to talk about what an incredible change that has been for them, safe to say that it is making my job as a parent (sometimes you just need to do what you're bl**dy told!) much more difficult.
So, how did this child, Nujood aged 10, come to have this powerful ability to think beyond her poverty, her family's expectations, her society's pressures and beyond, even, her age? Sometimes, it isn't your post code, your zip code or your remote Yemeni village that decides your ability to think against the common grain. Child brides happen even in my new adopted country (ok, freak suicidal cults make headlines but are not exactly mainstream) and Yemeni women maybe think the niquab is better than ripping their faces with scalpels, in the way that some 'Western' women do in order to 'fit into' their society. Independent thought is not for sale, it can't be bought. But it can be taught, fostered and nurtured in all of us. You just have to say what you think and fight for it. Hmmmm, that sounds like blogging to me...
yours, thinking independently,
Dishing the dirt: I was given this book by the publisher for free. They know that my independent thought protocol is so strong that their kind gift will not influence my view of the book. But, if you click thru and buy the book - it will help pay for my kids' 'free thinking' education. JOKE! It won't.
Interested in Nujood's Story? She was nominated, along with Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice as Glamour Magazine's Women of the Year in 2008.
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