Seven years ago, I walked into a governmental office with only the simple goal of looking for a job that would allow me to pay off the twenty-thousand dollars debt that I had managed to accumulate over the four years spent working towards a bachelor of Science degree. Dressed in my best outfit, I was hoping to impress upon the interviewers my ability to be a professional, despite the fact that I was still studying for the exams of my last courses. I walked into a large office filled with natural lights to find two very different people – a tall, middle-aged woman and a much smaller man sitting with her. The woman seemed to be the one with the authority. And so my attention drifted towards her immediately. However, the attraction that I had towards this woman quickly became less strategic and more natural as the interview progressed.
Instead of having to convince the interviewers of the reasons why they should hire me for a position that was as familiar to me as the moon would be to an astronaut who was about to go on her first mission, I found myself listening to the woman telling me of her adventures in the far away and mysterious continent called Africa. She told me of the projects that she and her husband headed in Madagascar, their beliefs in biopesticides, their passion in contributing to the reduction of poverty in developing countries, and their decision of having and raising their children in a rural African village. I was mesmerized. Such is a life that I could only dream of or only have seen in movies, but here was a woman in flesh and blood sharing these stories as her own lived experiences. Hours after the interview, I was still captivated by the stories that I had just heard.
Seven years later, Imme has become a colleague, a manager, a friend, a mother and a mentor for me. In these seven years, I have changed from a twenty-four year-old girl to a maturing woman thirty-one years old. Working with Imme, I have been confronted to the challenge of holding high ethical standards, and applying creativity and accountability in the rigid and conservative bureaucracy called the public service. During my first week as a public servant, one of the most senior public servants shared his career wisdom with me: keep your head low and stay off the radar. I did not fully understand the meaning of this concept until a couple of years later when I watched Imme being marginalized for her beliefs and corresponding efforts in trying to bring result-based solutions to problems that Canadian farmers were facing. After a few years of struggling with various political powerful persons and a complacent governmental body, her position as an advisor to the top authority in this government agency was reduced to a presence that was to be feared and avoided in the workplace.
Rumors of the annoyance and discomfort that her ideas brought upon people exceeded her actual interactions with them. Isolation, harassment, mobbing, discrimination, discrediting, and humiliation were used as tools to discourage her from pursuing the ideas that she believed would bring solutions to the issues that she had thought she was hired to resolve. Imme struggled and persevered through all these hardships with creativity, compassion, intelligence, and most importantly with extremely high ethics. Seven years and countless days of pain and personal sacrifices later, Imme is finally seeing some of the changes that she has been recommending.
Working side by side with Imme over these years, watching her struggles in her quests, I have gained tremendous amounts of knowledge and experience in dealing with the difficulties of being an agent of change. Through her experiences, I have come to know the incredible demands that such as role places on a person physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. I have also learned to stand by my own ethics while being open to the situations of those whose actions and beliefs are in violation to the ethical standards that I ‘m trying to live by. Through her mentorship, which sometimes resulted in my own anger being directed towards her as I struggle to shift my own views, at the age of thirty-one, I can now assertively and strategically negotiate my positions and actions as a public servant with ethical standards that allow me to hold my head high while proudly announcing to the world that my job is to serve the public. A position that is still very foreign to many of my colleagues, who enter the public service in order to use it as an assurance for a certain life style and who have given up personal creativity and integrity in order to fit into a bureaucracy that asks its members to assimilate in order to thrive.
Imme’s struggle as a public servant, and my involvement and witnessing of this struggle led me to embark on a journey towards a professional development in academia. As I turn my soul inside out to understand the turmoil around Imme, I realized the importance of social relationships. I realized that I needed to understand more, and I needed to figure out how groups of people can work with each other to improve our respective situations as inhabitants of Earth without causing the pains that we have been inflicting on each other for centuries. However, having been out of school for a good number of years, I questioned my own ability in this new endeavor. Would I be intelligent enough to pursue an education at the graduate level? Was I too old to be sitting besides students who were years younger than I? What about my responsibilities as a wife? Shouldn’t I be focusing on having children and providing my nuclear family with the most comfortable life style as best as I knew how, instead of sitting at school debating about how to make the world a better place? Throughout all these doubts, Imme was there to help me think through my options and weighing between my different dreams and goals in life. Through her own example of working through two levels of graduate education in Science while she was with child, at a time when a woman in Science was a rare phenomenon, she inspired me to go through with my own dream of a higher education.
I am now working towards an academic career as an anthropologist. Her mentorship throughout this process has allowed me to develop a strong sense of self-worth and the humility to lay out my thoughts and feelings to be shared with the world. This honest approach that I’ve learned from her has been a constant reminder for me to approach academia with a sense of self-worth and accountability to academic freedom of thoughts and expression that I never exhibited during my earlier education. As a young girl, I have always dreamt of living life as a philanthropist even though this terminology had not yet been introduced into my vocabulary. Until I met Imme, this dream was always put aside to make space for a more materialistic life in which I struggled to be content. Imme’s mentorship and love have not only provided me with the courage and guidance to follow my heart, trust myself and optimize my own ability to follow a dream that so many others have discarded as unrealistic, they have also enabled me to believe in my ability to embark on another journey that I hesitated to undertake for over thirty years of my life – motherhood.
Growing up without the stable presence of my mother, I have developed the deeply rooted fear of my inadequacy as a mother. I love children for the beauty that shines through each child’s soul and I love children for the endless possibilities that they hold as the next generation of humanity. My soul yearns to, one day, be the mother that will enable her children to live life to its fullest. But with the experiences that I have and the parenting that I have seen in my environment, I did not want to bring any child into the world. Although, this fear might have not prevented me from entering motherhood, I believe that its presence would have had tremendous negative impacts on my life as a mother and the childhood that my future children would have experienced. Over the last three or four years, through my relationships with Imme, her two daughters (Malin and Hannah), her son (Matthis) and her husband (Jacques), I am starting to see, in myself, the potential for me to be the mother that I hope to be. Lovingly, Imme helps me experience and become aware of different ways that children can be raised and mothers can experience motherhood. She has patiently and lovingly shared and discussed thoughts and ideas of how to raise children with me. Rather than imposing rules and standards of parenting, she engages my heart, soul and intellect in thinking and imagining different ways that I would live motherhood. Liberated from my fears of my own childhood and the limitations of my environment, with Imme’s help, I have gone through the growing pain of learning how to love myself so that I can love my future children. Through her example, the possibility of motherhood becomes a reality that can be lived hand in hand with my other goals in life.
In choosing to live her life the way she has lived it, Imme builds a new vision of feminism. The feminist values that she has been living help me to shed the social shackles that I have been wearing as a woman and as a person in my past and present cultural environment. As I’m collecting my thoughts to share with you how this incredible woman has changed my life, I wonder how I could possibly, in a few words, describe the difference that she has made in my life. No amount of words could possibly do justice. Her journey started in Europe and mine in Asia; here, in North America, we have crossed paths. A stranger from a distant land, Imme has become an anchor to which I turn as I steady myself through the turbulences of the beginning of a life with consciousness.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to My Story: Holding Hands.