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On the Ground with Nicholas D. Kristof: What Are You Carrying?
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On the Ground with Nicholas D. Kristof: What Are You Carrying?
In eastern Congo, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof learns first hand how difficult a woman's burden can be.
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Segment 1

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The New York Times Opinion: Op-Ed Columnists
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International Women's Day: What Are You Carrying? By Nicholas D. Kristof. March 8, 2010
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF [Writer, New York Times]
One of the problems in traveling in a place like Congo is you don't get exercise. There are no gymnasiums, no clubs to work out in. But there is, in a place like this, the "Congo Exercise Plan." Here's a perfect demonstration: just strap on a heavy sack of flour or cassava root, then carry that long distances over muddy, uneven terrain. There's just one catch. The plan is exclusive to women. One of the puzzles of the developing world is how much of the hard, physical labor is done by women. For example, in Africa and Asia fetching water is invariably considered women's work, even if women have to lug huge jerry cans of water for miles. Meanwhile, drinking beer is considered men's work.
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
In a refugee encampment in eastern Congo I photographed a woman carrying a particularly impressive load of wood. I decided to find out for myself just how heavy it was. Boy, it's heavy! Okay, one thing I've learned is that maybe the Congo Exercise Plan isn't for me. Boy, I think my neck is going to get broken. This is an awful lot heavier than it looks. It just puts incredible pressure on the back of your neck.
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Some women do get paid for their work. This is the construction site for City of Joy in Bukavu Congo. It's a community of rape survivors devoted to women's empowerment. The men were hired to prepare the cement while women transported it. They made balancing 40 pounds on their heads look effortless. I decided to give it a shot. Can she teach me? Okay. It's full of cement and it's about to fall over and splat me and everybody else. It's pretty heavy but it's mostly, it's just really hard to balance.
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Bear in mind that most of these women porters are malnourished and have huge parasite loads such as intestinal worms. As a result, many have levels of anemia that would get them an immediate blood transfusion if they turned up at an American hospital. I have just tremendous respect for Congolese women who endure such hardship with dignity and grace. It gives me hope to see a place rising like the City of Joy. These women have shown me that they are incredibly strong and the question is just whether we can harness that strength for the good of their societies, economies, and nations. In Congo, who has stronger necks? The men or the women?
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The women!
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
For the New York Times, I'm Nicholas Kristof in eastern Congo.
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[end credits]