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Did you have a YaYa, Babushka* or Oma who influenced your life?


A superhero is how many children view their extraordinary grandmother or the one standout relative (there's one is every family, right?). I saw my grandmother as an Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc or Beryl Markham.


I muse sometimes on how different my life would have been had I never met my grandparents. Some people have never met their grandparents. I was fortunate to know mine even though they lived far away in Germany. I feel grateful for that.

Oma means grandmother in German so that's what we called my paternal grandmother. She was a journalist in her daily vocation and adventurer by avocation. Germany in the 1930s was a time when women were not identified with either of those fields and were strongly discouraged from "unladylike" activities. They had predetermined roles in the typical ways--mothers or caretakers, grade school teachers, typists.

Oma could do and in fact performed all of the above roles very well--but she thought of herself as would a contemporary person of today. Her creativity and strong will impelled her to demand more out of life. She was just 100 years ahead of her time!

The image above is of a woman who changed her life. Let me explain.

As an outspoken journalist, Oma criticized not only forced child labor in the Italian lead mines but also the rise of fascism in Germany. She was probably on or headed for Hitler's watch list. Her employer, the newspaper and book publishing company, assigned her to report on how the fascist occupation (by Mussolini) had adversely affected North Africa--its land, crops and its various indigenous cultural groups.


The most significant cultural group in her mind was the warrior women who skirted the farthest reaches of the Sahara desert. She had read about these women--a small matrilineal group of camel and goat herders who carried daggers under their long skirts. She was an activist and feminist, so of course she wanted to find them! She said "Yes" to her new mission. In order to find these obscure warrior women Oma trekked to the remotest oasis of the Fezzan (Libyan Sahara) - a total of 1200 miles by jeep and by camel. The farther she traveled from civilization into the searing sun and vast emptiness of the Sahara, the more she encountered mishaps and threats from the authorities. She was frequently in danger and frustrated by delays in reaching these extraordinary women. Troubling her also was the reality that these women might not even exist! Eventually to her surprise she came across the group of "amazons" that had been legendary for centuries. Amazingly, after some research, I found that the Tebu women actually do still exist today as nomadic goat and camel herders. Today they still recognize the location of every watering hole along their Saharan routes--even though the winds change the dunes continuously. There are no obvious landmarks. When danger arises from marauders they magically disappear into the rocky outcroppings (called Wadi).


The above image is of the woman who changed her life. "The Most Beautiful Tebu" was Oma's title for her. When she met her she felt an kinship that confirmed her belief that non-European cultures that allow women to live independently, self-sufficiently and on their own terms--can and do exist . Oma's spirit must have been soaring!


Oma wrote the long-forgotten book from which I derived this image. In it she described her journey to Africa, her observations, opinions and her final jubilation at finding the group of Tebu women.

It's a mythical and almost magical story in our family. We cannot all be heroic but take heart! We are all artists, teachers, learners in our own right to those with whom we are in contact. We sow the seeds of inspiration onto hopefully fertile soil so that we can all thrive!


Be well.


If interested in buying this print it is available in "Work on Paper: Prints" Collection 20% OFF SPRING SALE. Don't Miss Out. Sale Ends Soon!

*Fun Fact: It's pronounced BAH' boosh-ka with emphasis on first syllable. And it is not the head scarf but what my maternal grandfather called my grandmother!

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