Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate (Proverbs 31:31).
Africa has served as a mirror for me, reflecting back my own perceptions — my judgments and distortions. As I watched the women of Burkina Faso, specifically the women in the village of Seno-Baani, an immense respect for these committed, tireless, strong women planted deeply within me. At the same time, an unexpected realization came to the fore. I became aware of my own distortions about working women, and, to my shame, I realized how these distortions have subtly poisoned my perceived value of every American woman.
While in Burkina Faso, Africa, I observed many admirable qualities in the African women. They are hard-workers and care-takers. They are resourceful, hospitable, and elegant. Among their own people, their motherhood is valued and their femininity is honored. Although the gender roles differ, the men and women appear to be equals, not caged in a hierarchy of competition and malcontent. Genders are interdependent.
In terms of work, physical labor is not feared by the women. Pounding millet or carrying gallons of water to and from the well are common activities. I saw women work with others, whether with women, youth, or children. It is uncommon for women to be seen working alongside men. Oftentimes, children stay near their working mothers, whether strapped to their mothers' backs, walking happily alongside, or running ahead of them. The children are never left behind, even when mother visits the well, prepares the meals, or sells goods at the market many miles away from home.
The women are resourceful. A mother may go to market, selling soured goat's milk, but also weave a mat while she waited for customers to arrive. The mat may later be sold or used by the family. When the sun sets, even after a full day's work under the 90 degree heat, the women of Seno-Baani still manage to greet us, their visitors, with white-toothed smiles and warm welcomes. The women seem unaffected by the day's activities. Perhaps they understand these daily and necessary work rituals ultimately benefit their families. These simple tasks then become honorable work in God’s economy; they are activities borne from love.
Prior to my visitation in Africa, my world view valued working women who came from prestigious organizations and quality education. I idolized women who emerged out of misfortune and sexist environments to become wealthy, renowned, and respected. In many ways, the honor I gave these women seemed harmless. They were leaders and role models to me. Still, in my pursuit of excellence, I neglected to remember and value the women who have formed and are forming me to become like the women I admire and idolize. My mother cooked, cleaned, and cared for me, as did my grandmother, aunts, and neighborhood mothers. I have neglected to honor these. As a consequence, I have unwittingly devalued all the American working women who form and are forming the beautiful people around me.
I never expected my time in Africa to dislodge such well-nested burrs in my world view. Yet, as humbling and embarrassing as the process has been, I am grateful. The working women of Africa inadvertently became tools in the refinement of my character.
Now, when I remember Burkina Faso, Africa, the culture, the people, and the colorful sunsets of Seno-Baani, I will remember that women — both African and American — labor sun-up to sun-down to raise children who will one day grow to become beautiful adults. I will remember that respect, honor, and admiration are earned, but also given; I should never hesitate to adulate these who are most deserving. Lastly, I will remember that it is God’s creative way to use the most unexpected, ordinary experiences to confound anyone, even the "wise." When I remember the sunsets in Seno-Baani, I will remember all these things.