This is not a post about the history of the day or the meaning of the day or even the point of the day. I don’t know when the celebration of this day started, I know the first time I was aware of it. I had no idea there was such a day. I knew there was a mother’s day and a father’s day but a day just for women, you know the bog standard type, not even mothers!
I was on my first big trip when I came across the day for the first time. I was 21 and travelling in Vietnam with a couple of friends, I’d never even been on a plane before and we flew to Paris for the weekend and then on to Hanoi. From there we’d gone on a few trips to various places in the north of Vietnam near the border with China. While my friends had travelled before it was all a huge eye-opener for me so maybe that’s why, for a person like me with a notoriously bad memory, I remember this day so well.
We were staying in a guest house the night before and woke up to find that the guy who owned the place had left a flower on the floor outside our door in the morning. When we asked him why, we were told that of course it was International Women’s Day! I’d never heard of it before in the UK.
We left that morning for a trip we’d booked to stay somewhere in the countryside outside Hanoi, I can’t even remember where. We had booked it with a local guide and because there wasn’t enough other tourists interested (showing my age but this was 14 years ago before there was much tourism in Vietnam) we ended up with just the three of us, a guide who spoke english and a driver in a really old russian car. We travelled most of the day to a village of stilt houses on a flood plain. It was just before the rainy season so pretty dry but when it rained those people took boats to each other’s houses. The community was, I think, a Thai tribe and the houses were very impressive. They were built completely of bamboo using no nails or metal of any kind, other than the massive tv which was the only furniture in the main room!!
I think we had really forgotten our experience of International Women’s Day that morning and I guess it didn’t really strike me at the time, but afterwards as I look back I’ll always remember how important it was for the wife, mother, woman of the family we stayed with. The men always ate separately from us, in this case they had a table at the other side of the room that they sat at to eat. The woman of the house ate somewhere else, probably the kitchen with the children after she served them. But, on that day, International Woman’s Day, and because they had guests and western women, she was allowed to come and sit with us for a while and drink a toast. We drank a toast of rice wine to us, to women.
I think I appreciate that moment more now than I ever did. Now I appreciate how lucky I am, how much freedom I take for granted, how easy my life is.
I appreciate more than ever the women that have come before me and those that will come after. I admire the strong women in my life and I thank them.
On this day, have a think. Think of those women in your life that have given you something special, a memory, and join me in raising a glass.
Slainte, your health. To the Vietnamese woman whose name I do not know, to Fiona, to Georgie, to Susan, to Beth and to Neve. Most of all to Lau. Women who inspire me.
Photo credit: Horia Varlan