• #ThatCyclingChick

Day 96

I don’t really have much to say about the road. 88 km of asphalt going east. Voilà. You know everything.

No, today, the trail takes me by Monticello: Thomas Jefferson’s plantation (or residence, in plain English). I enquire about a visit but it’s $28 and lasts for over 2 hours and I have neither the money nor the time (it’s already 1 pm and I have 80 km to do before it gets dark). And even if I did have the money, I find the ticketing steep: even the 5-century old Versailles Palace, which is not only older but also bigger, is cheaper to visit ($24, if anyone asking). And, and… Jefferson actually tore down the first version of Monticello after his visit to Paris and decided to rebuild it taking after the French architecture. So, you know what, I can actually admire the originals in life and colour back home. I’m not frustrated.

There is however a free 15-mintue film on Jefferson showed at the museum’s cinema: great, an opportunity to become less ignorant and learn something new. I go in, sit down and relax. Three minutes in, I break down in tears.

So, I learn two things during that screening.

One: Thomas Jefferson believed that all men were born equal and should be free. Well, apparently, he did not believe that hard enough to free his own slaves working for him at Monticello.

This passage of the film gives me goose bumps and makes me weep. I am really surprised, for I NEVER cry. What is happening? I realise it is the question of slavery - the ultimate form of social injustice – that shakes me to my bones.

I have always been very sensitive to any form of maltreatment, harm or wrong-doing: by anyone to anyone. The cause that has been closest to my heart though, has always been women’s issues. Because I’m a woman and I CAN RELATE. This afternoon though, I cannot believe the anger I am feeling for all of the enslaved people. Why, all of a sudden, do I feel so touched by the question of slavery? Poland has had none (“pańszczyzna” is a different story) and it has never been a part of our narrative.

Well, I figure it is because of the contrast between the enslaved and myself. I find we are on the exact opposites of the spectrum. I feel today the most free I have EVER been. I am living out the free dream I have always imagined for myself. I go wherever I want, I do whatever I like, I am free from the social norms, conventions and restrictions. I AM “the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood” as imagined by Susan B. Anthony.

It’s this vast difference between those who slaved at Monticello and myself that affects me on such a profound level. Because it’s unjust. Because I am so randomly lucky. Because I won the life lottery ticket and was born into a Caucasian family and endowed with two loving and caring parents. And not sold to a drug cartel by a dysfunctional household unit.

Somebody tells me that Jefferson freed 5 of his slaves and was actually in love with one of his workers: Sally. They apparently had several children together. I somehow cannot help but ask myself: was this relationship consensual and mutual? Did Sally love Jefferson or had she simply no option that to succumb to his advances. Because, really, can you imagine a female slave saying no to the President? I don't think so.

I leave Monticello with a heavy heart. My mind is still up there. And then, an hour later, the following podcast pops up on my phone: “modern day slavery.” Oh my gosh, is this for real? I have never thought of it, although I am pretty sure that on some level, I have always known that “sex trafficking” was a form of modern day slavery. Just called a different name. Being sold. Being forced to do something against your will. Being held captive. Checks all the boxes, doesn’t it? But then, the podcast takes it further and discusses some other forms of forced work I have not thought about. Debt bondage, child slavery, forced marriage, domestic servitude and forced labour, where victims are made to work through violence and intimidation. The latest figures reveal that more than 40 million people are living in slavery today. That’s like my entire home-country: Poland. Enslaved. A report was released on September, 19th with the latest data. You can read about it here and here.

And guess what? With forced marriage enslaving over 15 million girls and forced sexual exploitation holding captive almost 5 million women, modern-day slavery disproportionately affects females, who account for some 71% of all of the enslaved.

This is PRECISELY, the reason why I am raising funds for 2 feminist organisations: Feminoteka and Astraea. Because women are still so much worse off. Because we live in a man’s world. Because women are so much more vulnerable. And because injustice and inequality are here to stay if we don’t do something about it. Therefore, please pleeease donate to my fundraiser if you haven’t done so yet. Anything that helps and empowers women contributes, in one way or another, to changing this world into a better place.

And the second thing I learnt at Monticello? Well, you know what, in the light of what I wrote above… nobody cares. So, get your VISA out and do some good today!

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