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Wonder (Grand) Women

MayaDe Vries Kedem29 March 2018

Author: Maya de Vries

Recently the world celebrated International Women’s Day. In the Arab world, another important date taking place in the same month is Mother’s Day. Not in all cultures is this day still celebrated; for example, in my country, Israel, Mother’s Day turned into Family Day. Instead, it has become more and more popular to celebrate Women’s Day in workplaces, universities, and private organisations. During Women’s Day, special events for women, including lectures given by women, take place and there are lots and lots of discounts on all sorts of “women”-oriented products, an act one can criticize, of course.

In the Palestinian village of Dar al Hawa (دار الهواء), the field site I am conducting research in with the ASSA project, Women’s  Day was also celebrated in a unique form of a special day tour—just for women of Dar al Hawa of all ages—outside of the village as I was told by the women group I joined.

Photo by Maya de Vries, February 2018.

Dar al Hawa is located in the city of Jerusalem. It is not contiguous with the other Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem since part of it is considered West Jerusalem.

Photo by Maya de Vries, February 2018.

Nowadays, Dar al Hawa has a mixed population of Muslims and Christians and around 13,000 people reside in it. The majority of the village are young, mainly between the ages 21–40. The elder population in the village (61–74) is only 5.38%. The older women in the village do not go out to work, as when they were younger it was not so acceptable that they work; they also do not speak well Hebrew—the dominant language in work places.  Usually, when visiting Dar al Hawa in the morning, you can see women walking around to make run errands, or visit family or friends as happens in the intimate women’s group I have been lucky enough to join. This group of six older adult women meet every Tuesday at 11 am since 2006. Each time, they meet at a different house. They shared with me that they started to meet just to pass the time and that they enjoyed talking together. Usually a few grandchildren, from babies to toddlers, accompanied them,[1] so they could play together.

During their last meeting, I learned (among many other things), how they celebrated Women’s Day.  The entire group went on a day-long field trip to the Sea of Galilee. The trip was organized by the village’s Community Centre and was open to all women of Dar al Hawa, so others joined as well.  I was surprised to learn that the women in the group did not enjoy the trip at all. When I asked why, they explained that the trip was not suitable for their age; it was too long; and they did not have any breaks for coffee and shopping—everything was too fast. They even said that they would not register again for any trips organized by the community center. I thought to myself that they look so strong and vivid to me, so how could it be not suitable for them? Was it only the physical aspect or is was it also other, emotional aspects, such as loneliness or depression that may affect their feeling discontent?

I realized that they act like “wonder grand women as they take care of the entire family, clean the house, take care of their children, their husband (if he  is still alive), and their grandchildren in addition going out on fieldtrips. They also cook for the entire family. It is important  for them, according to their  testimony, to help their daughters and brides with their children, but throughout our conversations I heard other voices saying it is hard for them be with the little ones throughout the day—and that is one of the reasons  they established this group—to be together, with the grandchildren. I also heard that it is not easy to cook for so many people— sometimes twice a day. The tension between their love for the family and the burden they feel comes up quite a lot in their conversations.

Furthermore, the fast and easy communication channels we have today is also an integral part of their lives. All of them carry a smartphone, and they communicate with their families through it, mainly using the WhatsApp app.  They exchange recipes and photos of the grandchildren and give the grandchildren the smartphones so they can watch YouTube.  Nevertheless, although they also enjoy their phones most of the time, they are afraid and anxious for the young generation, as the phone has “stolen their childhood.”

Sitting with these impressive women, I keep wondering if and how their daughters will act when they will be grandmothers. Will they be “wonder grand women” as their mothers are?  I prefer not to take the position of a prophet, but I have a feeling that we are facing a change (as has happened in other places) in the perception of aging. Smartphones and other technologies have a lot to do with it. How exactly is the perception of aging changing? Is it different between men and women? What is happiness for older people today? These issues are what I hope to learn through the older adult population in Dar al Hawa.

[1] There is a shortage in day care institutes of young children, hence grandmother are babysitting quite a lot.