Wednesday, October 7, 2009


"A woman who's on her period can't hold a rose. If she tries, the petals will all fall off." The forty-something YANA client who told me that was dead-serious. So was the woman who explained that her daughter's ghost never visited her because the girl understood that her mother was "afraid of dead people." Her daughter restricted her appearances to other family members out of consideration for her mother's nerves. As far as I could tell, everyone else in the room seemed to believe that this was an immanently reasonable decision on the part of the ghost.

YANA women tend to be pretty literal. A rose is beautiful. A period is nasty. So, never the two shall meet. Or something like that. And people you love don't just live in your mind as abstract ideas. They're real people. So, if the mother never walks in the girl's old bedroom and sees her sitting on the bed ready to talk, the way her uncle has, it must be that the daughter is a good daughter, respecting her mother's wishes.

Their language, too, shows a surprising level of respect. Almost all YANA women are Christians, and I can't think of a single time I have ever heard any of them take the Lord's name in vain. Generally, they try not to swear at all in YANA, but when they do, they say bitch or the "f" word. Even little Tina has been known to announce that she "don't play that shit" when she thinks she's been insulted. No blaspheme, though. They don't mess around with God. They don't wear skull and cross bones motifs, get devil or hell fire tattoos, or dress, even remotely, Goth. And they certainly don't like Halloween.

I have been wanting to do more in the way of decorations and crafts, but I knew we'd be pretty limited with Halloween. There'd been some thought of getting a Halloween movie for our VCR, but no one was thinking Jason or Kruger. Even so, something that suggested any level of physical danger seemed like it might not work for our ladies, and the things I would consider fun -- like making scary masks or drawing pictures of goblins and skeletons -- well, I had the feeling they would be a problem too. Superstition, after all, is limiting, and superstitious people have limited lives in large ways and small. Then someone mentioned today the rapes that would be coming up soon with Halloween.

Rape is not something I associated with Halloween. Oh yes, several women explained. It's big challenge time with the gangs, big initiation time. Around Halloween, our local Bloods and Crips like to make a competition out of how many people they can rape or kill. Sid confirmed the explanation. That's what the gangs do.

Think of living your whole life in a neighborhood like that. Think of being one of the prime candidates for the raping or killing. Imagine that you're out at night quite often, and that at least once in your life, possibly many times, you've slept in abandoned houses or under bridges wondering whether someone would come out of the darkness to attack you. Then think that images of witches and demons have turned into rallying symbols for the attackers. Revulsion and terror start to sound like very good reactions to me. Amusement and abstraction -- not so much. I've begun to rethink my little syllogism. Maybe it's not that people who are superstitious end up with limited lives. Maybe it's that people with severely limited lives had better end up superstitious if they want to survive. They might miss out on holding roses at certain times of the month, but they also might find a place to hide when the wrong person or the wrong holiday draws near. And if they find comfort in their dead children's continuing acts of respect, good for them. That sounds like another good way to survive.


  1. I continue to find these posts fascinating. Anything I have to say feels trite. Just letting you know I'm reading.


  2. Thanks, John! I love knowing that people are reading, especially if they profess fascination. I find the women fascinating myself. And, really, nothing you say will sound trite to me. I'm very interested in knowing whether people are appalled, sympathetic, surprised, shaken or confirmed in their old beliefs, etc., etc. It often takes me a while to know how I feel about my experiences w/ our clients.

  3. Sympathetic yet shaken fits me. Also I run the emotions from guilt (for having male desires) and relief (not being the one adding the problem or having to deal with it). The closest brush with prostitution I've had is from a poor command of Spanish. In my late 20s I was in Mexico, at a bar with friends. Some locals started talking to us and I thought they were asking if we liked women. Of course we did, we were eager to declare. It became obvious that they had asked if we wanted women, for they left and returned with a prostitute. My friend and I cowered at the bar, pretending to find the countertop fascintating as we pondered how to get out of this situation: Do we have to sleep with her? Can just one of us do it? To be clear, we wanted no part of this as were hoping the situation would go away. It did. Ignored (and not appearing all that eager anyway) she left after about 10 minutes. Though the story has a humorous twist to it, I never told it for that sake. Reading your blog exercises that small part in me that knew the story really wasn't funny.

  4. Great comment, jg! But please don't feel guilty about having "male" desires. I don't think anyone in our group thinks that men are the problem, or that sex is. The women respond very well to male staffers and volunteers (don't the women in the pictures look happy to be with my son, Daniel?). They really don't have any problem recognizing and appreciating good people.