“So I heard your country has a new president now,” Sibiri mentioned casually as I handed him a nail. He was standing on a stool in my kitchen, helping me install lights in my house.
I instinctively cringed. It had been two full days since the election results and the hurt was still raw. It was always jarring to hear the news delivered to me again by a Burkinabé, a painful reminder of how visible and far-reaching our government is. Even this little village of 1000 in the middle of nowhere knows about our election.
“Yes, Trump won,” I said, already feeling the anger and desperation rising. “He was running against Hillary Clinton, who I support, but in the end, he won.”
“Ah, yes, there was a woman running for office this time! But she didn’t end up winning and—”
“Which is total bullshit!” I cut in, slamming the counter in frustration. “The man, Trump, is racist, misogynist, xenophobic, a known rapist, doesn’t believe in climate change. The most basic human rights of so many vulnerable minority groups are at risk—and my country elected him to be our president! The woman, Hillary, is a million times more qualified for the position—”
“Like not even looking at their policies, Trump had absolutely zero experience working in government, while Hillary was our First Lady, a senator, our secretary of state, and—”
“Victoria!” Sibiri cut in again, almost laughing.
“What, Sibiri?” I snapped angrily.
“Oh, Victoria, Victoria, you’re speaking like a child!”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“You’re being naïve. Yes, your woman worked hard on the campaign, but ultimately, it would have never worked out. A woman cannot possibly run a country! It just can’t be done. Can you imagine? Madame président?” he tested out the sound of the phrase, still chuckling softly as he continued nailing brackets into my wall.
“Are you even listening to me! A woman can damn well run a country if she wants and Donald Trump is dangerous and incompetent—and he hates Muslims!” I said desperately, hoping that this fact alone would change the mind of the devoted Muslim man standing in front of me.
But I knew it wasn’t any use. The fact that Clinton was a woman was damning and completely insurmountable for Sibiri. Nothing else I was saying was being absorbed.
I wanted to scream. To raise my head towards the waxing moon and let out a deep guttural primal cry. To release a bit of the desperation that has been threatening to swallow me whole since Wednesday morning.
Sibiri is my community counterpart, my main liaison with the village over the course of the next two years as I try to accomplish development projects. Not only that, but he’s known all the past Peace Corps volunteers in Tioyo (all female), is a father to a beautiful daughter, and is one of my closest friends here. Yet, despite all of this, thinks that a woman is incapable of leading a country. Most people here, including the women, would share his sentiments. Gender divisions are strict and intensely internalized. I recently saw a woman be elected to a position in our local parents’ association and watched with shock as she firmly turned down the position because it “was not women’s work”.
I often get discouraged when I wonder how I’m supposed to do anything here if the community thinks that I am inherently less competent than a man. How am I supposed to get anyone to take me seriously? How do I get people to listen to my ideas and respect me independent of the fact that I am a woman? How can I tell if they are actually listening or if they think I’m overstepping my boundaries as a woman?
This is the reality in Burkina Faso. I’ve reluctantly accepted the place of women in Burkinabé society as something that will have to change over the course of a generation, not over the course of my service here. But on my worst days here, I take solace in thinking that at least in my own country women have more rights.
Ha. What a fucking joke after the election results.
I spent a lot of that first day crying because:
1. More than anything, I had wanted to go into my 7th grade class that morning and be able to tell them that America just had its election and that we elected a woman as a president for the first time in our history. Just to see the looks on the faces of little girls who have been told their entire lives that they are worth less than the boys they grow up alongside.
2. Most importantly, because it fucking hurts like a bitch to know that your country elected a man whose campaign was built on racism, xenophobia, and misogyny—just such hate. For Christ’s sake, the man is a rapist. My entire existence as a woman of color and the daughter of immigrants feels like it’s under attack by my own country, which is, quite frankly, not a new experience, but to have it so definitively proven to me on such a scale that I am unwanted, that my body is not under my own jurisdiction, that I am less American, less human—it is nothing short of devastating. I spent much of my young life internalizing these messages from mass media and have spent my adult life trying convincing myself otherwise. And yet, here was this election showing me again that I was right all along.
I’m worth nothing as woman, both in Burkina and at home. (Can I even call such a place home?)
I was hardly able to string together a coherent thought in those first 24 hours. I still can’t. The second day, so filled with news of racist acts and panicked women looking into getting IUDs to reclaim control over their own bodies, was not any easier. I’m terrified for those I love.
Small things that give me hope. That there are millions of people as angry and sad as I am. That I’m friends with people that will not take this sitting down. That so many of my friends are getting out into the streets to protest and fight for a better world than the one that was elected. That my little slice of America believes in my worth—not despite my heritage or my gender, but for it. That I work for an organization that believes in spreading peace and promoting equality. That my co-workers believe in the same values of equality and justice as I do. That we are an apolitical organization, independent of American foreign policy.
Even if we have elected a hateful, bigoted man as our president, my little village will never meet him. Instead, they have me for the next two years. After the election results, I’m more motivated than ever to stay here and represent America in the way I’ve always dreamed it could be: kind and open to difference and change. Because even if I’ve rarely been shown that that side of America, the people of Tioyo deserve to know it. Donald Trump will not be representing my country, not in my little corner of the world.
The American that the people of Tioyo will know is not quite as blue-eyed and flaxen-haired as they expected. But she’s American to the core, passionate about individual freedoms and accepting of all the diversity our world has to offer. She’s female, and determined as hell to show both her own country and this one that being a woman means control over her mind and body and that she is just as powerful and capable as any fucking man.
Stay nasty, my friends. It’s not over yet. This fight is just beginning.