I Laugh So I Won't Cry: Kenya's Women Tell the Stories of Their Lives By Helena Halperin

Thick, like an encyclopedia of experiences that can't be digested in only a few sittings. I appreciate how HH focused on the women's stories via translations of voice recordings and that she's comfortable with nuance. She keeps her own views limited and is scientific in her approach. The book gets a bit political towards the end, but maybe I'll appreciate that more as time passes. Helena Halperin After American Helena Halperin taught secondary school in Kenya, she wanted to learn more about Kenyan women. She designed a research project and eventually interviewed 150 women choosen from many communities around Kenya, as well having a number of group discussions with other women. The women are varied. Most had little formal education but some did.

She first interviewed women in 1995-96, then followed up with as many of the same women as possible in 2002. The result is an impressive and moving, very readable book, with many accounts in the women's own words. There are chapters on subjects like women's work, arranged marriages, husbands, and the high cost of sending children to school (before 2003, with an addition by Halperin in 2003 because of the return of tuition-free public schools). Women's lives may have improved since then, but this book likely still describes the lives of many women.

The women's accounts make it clear that their lives are hard. The term working class is something to be proud of: it means you have a salary. Most of the women scrambled to get by, often, if they were lucky, by selling produce or crafts. Many said their economic situation was worsening and they went hungry to pay for educating their children.

Almost all the women were in arranged marriages. Almost all said husbands beat their wives. Other men will shame the husbands if it's known that they don't. Mothers told daughters not to rebel if their husbands beat them. A few educated men--I hope the number is larger now--don't. Husbands may refuse to let their wives get jobs or join in cooperatives with other women. But quite a few women do join women's groups that try to raise money for members, either simply by sharing when one of them is in need or by trying to start a business.

For me, the saddest discussion ensued when Halperin asked the women what they enjoy. Few said they enjoyed anything in their present lives. If they enjoyed something, it was usually a time in their childhood when they herded cattle or went to get water and had a chance to climb trees on the way.

This is a valuable book. I strongly recommend it. Of course it covers much more territory than I am mentioning in this review.







Helena Halperin So many small nuances are woven through and practiced daily, but I think they would be lost on someone unfamiliar with the customs and culture. All of the emotions universal to women are included, love, happiness, and sorrow. Many of these women who wrote or told of their lives also observed changes in younger people that present a cultural shift. These changes are met with a sigh of relief but also fear anytime there is change. To understand the content of the book and the women's lives, a few lines can tell it well. We were taught to respect our husbands and that we must persevere with him even if we were being beaten. That is why our marriages would last. Discord between the different generations of women brings more pain. Because the younger women are exposed to a broader life, they treat the older women and ideas with anger. This book is full of difficult stories and rightfully-titled. I would have given it four stars and the women deserve it, but the book presented in a somewhat dry manner while the potential of these stories could have been spell-binding. Helena Halperin I haven't read them all- you have to do a bit at a time. Moving, and often heart breaking. Helena Halperin Good concept, but academic in tone. Could have used a fierce editor. Helena Halperin

In I Laugh So I Won’t Cry, Kenya’s women tell their stories of love, struggle, happiness, and tragedy in their own words. I Laugh strikes a balance between intimate acquaintance and a comprehensive view. In-depth portraits allow readers to know a diverse selection of women intimately. Topical chapters feature the voices of a large range of women talking about the subjects closest to their hearts. Chapters cover: marriage, childrearing, work and getting by when there is no work, women’s self-help groups, genital cutting, ethnic tensions, and the new government that has promised huge reforms. I Laugh shows the full panorama of women’s struggles in sub-Saharan Africa without sacrificing the vivid details of individual lives. Subsistence farmers, herders, beggars, sex workers, office workers, hawkers, business executives and a few friends who stopped an ethnic war all speak in I Laugh So I Won’t Cry. I Laugh will interest readers who seek to understand the multiple realities of contemporary Africa. Excerpts from I Laugh So I Won’t Cry: On Husbands “You know, men don't like laughing with their wives. Other men will say, ‘Don't laugh with her. You are showing her that you love her too much. She will shame you. She will make you serve tea.’ So they just sit stony-faced.” “A man wouldn't like the woman to know how much money he has. If a wife asks her husband to buy something that is needed, like soap or tea, he will ask himself, ‘Now, how did she know that I have money in my pocket?’” On Education “Women who have been educated are respected. A husband knows that she is also an independent person and can do things on her own. The man is scared. He thinks maybe that if he hits her she is free to leave, but an uneducated lady is just forced to stay even if she gets problems in her marriage.” On Female Genital Cutting “Our mothers live with us. They will say it must be done. I can't disagree with my mother regarding my daughter. But for my daughter's daughter, it will change.” “There's the social pressure, even when they are very young. Because it is being done to all her friends in school, she would feel that you are denying her right. “ I Laugh So I Won't Cry: Kenya's Women Tell the Stories of Their Lives

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