Women of Courage

Good morning… I am the Pharaoh’s daughter. Did you notice that, in the Bible, I don’t have a name? On the other hand, the Bible tells of two midwives, Hebrew midwives, more or less slaves, who do have names. Shiphrah and Pu’ah. In some ways, I was a slave too. A pampered one, of course, but there were big plans for me! I was to be traded – they used kinder words of course, but that is what they meant. I was to be traded to another country, and to a king, as part of a treaty. The king already had a hundred or more wives, and he was far older than I was and I was to be his latest. I had no intention of becoming a plaything for someone in a strange land, with strange customs, strange language, strange religions.

When my father, the Pharaoh, told me, I nearly collapsed… I felt as if I were being pushed around like the slaves who were making mud bricks… For a moment, I started to slide to the floor, but I caught myself… I stood up as straight and tall as I could, looked into his eyes, threw my head back and glared, and stated firmly, “Never!” For a moment, I thought I might be thrown out to be with the slaves, but my mother stepped in to smooth it over… No, of course, she isn’t named, either, but I loved her deeply and thanked her in intense silence at that moment.

Then, very slowly and with all possible respect, I bowed to my father, the ruler of all Egypt, the son of Ra, the chief god, and I slowly backed out of his presence, while he looked at me in disbelief. It may have been the first time in many years that anyone had spoken back to him, and he didn’t know what to do. And so I came away with my life.

I also came away with a real interest in these poor people, and in the country outside the palace. There was something different about these Hebrew people…For one thing, no one seemed to know how they got there… But there were a lot of them, and they were put to work making mud bricks to build two new cities. Apart from being covered in mud most of the time – at least, when I saw them, they spoke their own language, and, quietly, they sang their own songs. There seemed to be so many of them. And that was what sparked the complaining. And the talking… Some days, if I walked through the town, I would hear the Egyptians complaining: It was good to have these strange people there to help with the building, but did we need so many of them?

Of course, the talk filtered into the palace, and my father, the Pharaoh made a decree. No more Hebrew boy babies! The midwives to the Hebrew women were to kill the boy babies at birth. I don’t know how he thought that would make a difference. After all, it is girls who produce babies! But that’s the way it went. But it didn’t seem to make a difference… There seemed to be lots of boy babies, anyway. So the chief midwives were called to account. I managed to be in a corner, and heard the accusation and the explanation… It fit with what everyone in Egypt already knew… The Hebrew women were stronger, more active, and could handle pain better than the Egyptian women.

And the midwives always seemed to get there too late, and the boys lived. So, the midwives said they had almost nothing to do except note that a child had been born after all. That only made the rules harsher.

And, all this time, I put in my time… Walking among the reeds, watching the Egyptian boys fishing. Wondering if I would ever have a real husband. Wondering if I would ever hold a baby of my own.

Then, one day, I heard a strange little noise, and went looking to see where it came from. Naturally, my serving girls went with me, and we found a little covered boat, about so long… The girls pulled it in for me, and opened it. Inside was a baby, carefully wrapped, as I had been told the Hebrews protected their children. It had to be a boy!

When he looked at me, I felt warm all over…But he started to fret. I didn’t want him to make a loud noise, in case the authorities came and took him. The next thing I knew, there was a young girl at my side, bowing and looking right into my eyes at the same time. She spoke my language, but with strange course R’s and other letters that seemed to come right from her throat. What a beautiful baby I had, she said. I looked at her in surprise. Did she think that the baby was mine? From the look on her face, I could not tell. He seems to be hungry, she said, with the same serene look on her face. Would I like her to find a wet nurse for him? She had to know that I knew something was going on. But my arms now held a real, live child…I was, in some ways, his mother! Yes, please, I said. And the girl almost disappeared into the reeds. In another moment, there was a woman by her side, reaching for the baby and opening her gown to nurse him.

So he grew up as my son, and I cared for him as a mother…At the same time, his nurse cared for him, fed him, changed him, and loved him through his years of childhood as he became a wonderful young man. I called him Moses. Some thought that I misunderstood and that it referred to water. It really means Son! The son I thought I would never have. And, except for Shiphrah and Pu’ah, I probably would not have had a son. Without their courage, and their readiness to stand up against the cruelty of my father, the Hebrew people would have suffered far more. Those midwives and I stood together against the unjust cruel law that my father decreed and found a way to preserve life in the midst of death. Those midwives were amazing women of courage.

Think of women of courage in your time.

Zara Alvarez, a human rights activist, paralegal and a member of the Negros Integrated Health Program. She was shot down in the street in Bacolod City tonight, 17 August, by “unidentified perpetrators,” the latest victim of the extrajudicial killings of the fascist regime of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Zara Alvarez is a former political prisoner – while imprisoned, she wrote a public letter to her family, concluding with the following words: “Still, one voice is a noise, but more voices is a voice of freedom, soon we realize, everybody are singing the song of the people, taking a stand to end political persecution and demanding justice to all victims of human rights violations. Time will come that no amount of fear can stop us in cultivating everybody’s freedom.”

The founding members of Idle No More: Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean who felt it was urgent to act on current and upcoming legislation that not only affects our First Nations people but the rest of Canada’s citizens, lands and waters. These 4 women from Saskatchewan (Indigenous and non Indigenous) decided that they could no longer stay silent in the face of what is a legislative attack on First Nation people and the lands and waters across the country. Together, they organized a “teach-in” event at Station 20 in Saskatoon titled “Idle No More”.

Little did they know what was being birthed.

El Jones, poet, professor and activist living in Halifax. She was Halifax’s Poet Laureate from 2013–2015. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization. Since 2016, she has co-hosted a radio show called Black Power Hour on CKDU-FM, an educational program which provides information on Black history and culture aimed at incarcerated people.

These and so many others are demonstrations of women standing together against injustice and oppression.

Shiprah, Pu’ah and subverted Pharaoh’s lawfully given instructions. I challenged his belief in a daughter’s place in the family. Our actions enabled Moses, my adopted son, to live and to thrive. And to eventually become a leader among his people… The one who led them out of slavery in my home of Egypt. Just as there was slavery and oppression in your time, there is still slavery and oppression in your time.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Be women and men of courage… Say no!
Stand up, stand together, and may God bless you.

© Catherine MacDonald

Exodus 1:8 – 2: 10
August 23, 2020 – SMUC

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