Category Archives: Human Rights

Time…the heart of Mozambique?

Mozambique is a hard teacher. The days are long and harsh; the sun is heated and the air cloys with sweat and sticky dust, peeling from your sunglasses. The last few weeks I have been literally sweating out my stress during these summer days, shedding the old cliché that I am a female, thus I cannot perspire. Far from the truth.

Two days ago, I opened a school I helped put together for months. We built it where there used to be a simple one-classroom hut into five, with administrative offices and desks for 250 children. It is really something.

It doesn’t change the bitter note I tasted when I was asked for special accessories like air conditioning (I’m sure Mac Air computers and tablets are not far behind) on the very day I presented the entire school with Christmas gifts and a brand new library. No one understands the money that is already behind this school.

Nacala kids

The rewarding piece is that the children are innocent and smiling, giggling while hiding behind trees when they ask me, “How are you?” despite my various attempts to speak in both Portuguese and the local language, Makhuwa. They want to catch my attention. I do what I do for the one child who might recognize the opportunities of going to a school with a real desk and a chalkboard. The 7 year old who might grow up to study law, lead her country, change corruption. The engineer who starts his own business in 10 – 15 years. The children can see. The men and women who lead Mozambique today…often they just can’t.

It doesn’t, however, change the fact that Mozambique is a hard teacher. Not just Mozambique – but Time. Time is as harsh as the ground my conflict boots are treading.

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable. …

… Desire itself is movement

Not in itself desirable;

Love is itself unmoving,

Only the cause and end of movement,

Timeless, and undesiring

Except in the aspect of time

Caught in the form of limitation

Between un-being and being…”

  • “Burnt Norton,” The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

 

It has been several months since the last epistle on this travel blog and in no small part because of the amount of work and the kinds of challenges I have faced in Nacala. Today is a chance to reconnect with my audience as the heart and soul of la vie in Mozambique has been wrapped so much around work that sometimes it is easy to be distracted from the amount of time that has passed by. A line caught my attention today from T.S. Eliot about the stillness in a moment – only in that moment, he said, can we find the dance. I thought it was a beautiful place to start considering where time has brought me today, and I found Eliot’s musings on the ticking bomb of movement a good place to be.

Rather more puzzling than illuminating, Eliot seems to be stating the enigmatic matter of time and coincidentally, literature. Time is strange certainly. Perhaps most of all it is strange because one can wake up and wonder if the events happened in just the few waking moments before sleep or if it truly was hundreds of days before.

I said Mozambique is a hard teacher, but really it is Time that gets to us. Time is constant, but it is also moving. The movement is the elusive bit. As Eliot states, “Desire itself is movement / Not in itself desirable / Love is itself unmoving / Only the cause and end of movement , / Timeless, and undesiring…:” When I think of the Moçambicanas I am surrounded by each day, I am reminded of my own love for what I do. If I really do have passion for human rights and for the people who are on the losing end of this battle, I cannot move. It is the same for the passion I feel for my kindred spirit here in Nacala, and for my family back home in the U.S.

But I still have bad days.

I guess the reason that love is so complex is that it always begins with desire. The desire to change something here in Africa. The desire to care for my family. The desire to be a good girlfriend. Really loving something though – to want to do something with my whole heart – means that I must not let the desire come and go; it is just desire. Love is that which does not waver, does not move, and is somehow still stuck in the movement of time. The complex nature of it is that love is the cause and end of movement – so it must be that which makes me want to keep going.

So the sun will set again tonight and the clock keeps on ticking. I simply cannot be between what is being and unbeing – the honeymoon is over Mozambique. You have been kicking me down, but I will not move. I am driven to love this country because it is a challenge. It has heart. And so have I, Nacala. So have I.

 

The author taking life seriously as always.
The author taking life seriously as always.
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If you’re about to jump off that cliff, what happens when you look down?

What I write today is what what I’m not supposed to say.

A landmark Supreme court case recently ruled about one of the most controversial things in the developed world even today.  Next to Euthanasia, it is still potentially the most highly-charged subject (excluding gun control, of course).

Abortion.

It divides dinner parties, it separates women and highly-held opinions about mothering, child-bearing or the right to lack thereof and polarizes those with genderized images of femme fatales, love/marriage and having children.

Beatrix Kiddo goes on a "rampage of revenge" when her so-called friends are responsible for attempting to kill her and the child she carried.
Beatrix Kiddo goes on a “rampage of revenge” when her so-called friends are responsible for attempting to kill her and the child she carried.

In popular culture, certain 90s films dictated possible dealings with the choice of having a child as a teenager (i.e. Singles) but generally we tiptoe around the subject in Hollywood.  Other liberal countries like France don’t often give it a second thought, but conservative ones like Ireland advocate the right to life over right to women’s choice. Yes, even in 2014.  While it isn’t a subject two sides usually can persuade in a political forum (Ask any republican/democrat debate on the subject… ) what is often forgotten is that the individual choice is the one that matters.

Now while this decision did not change U.S. laws on the subject it did make a case that a Massachussetts law preventing anyone from standing within a 35-foot buffer zone of an abortion clinic was ruled unconstitutional.  The case decision recognizes people as agents of change.  Autonomy.  What does a woman feel before she makes that all-important choice?  No one pretends that it isn’t a bit like taking a dive into deep waters, but we try to ignore it if we can.

Autonomy in these kinds of decisions is remembered but not often discussed at least not in the circles I run.  The only honest discussion I ever had was with a roommate when we lived with another college acquaintance.  When the subject came up, we both still kept hushed voices even though it was 7:00 am and there was no one around.

“I know this is a sensitive topic but I don’t think it is easy for anyone to decide.  Well [Emily]…”

“Yes, what about her…?”

“Were you aware she had an abortion?”

“No, of course not. We aren’t very close.”

“Yes well right before Emily and [Trent] broke up they had to go through all of that.  She’s never been the same.”

“That must be rough.”

“Well she says now that it needed to be done at the time but she dreams about it almost every night and has for the last 2 years.  She talks about her nightmares and sometimes I can hear her sort of crying.”

Now I know that this isn’t what women’s rights activists want to hear.  They’ll say it was her right to choose what the best thing was for her body and she made the decision to protect her right to freedom.

What is forgotten in this conversation is that the choice itself is not just a difficult one at the time.  In fact, like many difficult decisions, they often come back to visit us years later. Whether Emily’s choice is ultimately one she will respect as her college self versus the adult self she is today, I will probably never know.  I don’t know where she is but I presume there are many ‘Emily’s out there.

Why do I think so?  Another conversation I had with a friend , [Jane] who confessed she’d been lost for almost 12 months because of the same decision she made.  Then she spontaneously burst into tears over a secret heartache no one knew about.  Only this woman was closer to 30.  It seems the choice doesn’t get easier no matter the age.

So when I read this article today about “The Last Person You See Before Getting an Abortion,” it allowed me to ponder the ramifications of such decisions.  The Supreme court (SC) ruled unanimously that there should not be a buffer zone around Planned Parenhood and other such clinics to detract those who seek to make a statement.

It was an unusual decision in a place like the U.S. which has never been conservative on this issue since Roe vs. Wade.  The SC ruling, however, was based on a protection of free speech. The clincher in this Atlantic article was not the dialogue around the first amendment, it was the conclusions about altercations which occurred (or didn’t) between women going into clinics and those standing outside.  An SC Justice, Roberts stated that Boston police were not able to show evidence for more than barely 5 arrests although they attempted to discuss police clashes:

Roberts wrote, it’s not clear that these kinds of clashes are actually happening…Indeed the facts of the case suggest that something more interesting than scream-filled protests was happening at these clinics:  People have been trying to persuade others to change their minds about having an abortion — Even though these direct, personal interactions may make some women uncomfortable, Scalia wrote, that’s what the First Amendment is all about: allowing people to speak their mind and try to persuade others to see things the same way.  This is especially true in politically charged public spaces like the streets outside abortion clinics…

So, Roberts and Scalia made the case that when people speak to others in a polite, non-threatening way, some people were actually persuaded not to have abortions.  That certainly is news.  The fact that the decision was ruled unanimously also tells us something about how convincing the argument was.

The reason this made me think of Emily, Jane, and countless other women who may have had to face this kind of decision is simple. It is that it underlines a fact we ignore.  That the choice is an emotionally-charged one and recognizing that may be something.

In a continent like Africa, where 6.4 million abortion occurred in 2008, only 3% were performed under safe conditions.  By unsafe, WHO defines this as performing a procedure by a person with the lack of mandated skills or qualifications or an environment where the minimum standards of hygiene and/or medical skills are kept.  Mozambique, as an example of one of 18 African countries where abortions are legal if the woman’s physical health is at stake.  Abortion is not permitted under any circumstance in 14 additional African countries.  As it stands, this isn’t stopping women from choosing to do so.  The average is 29 abortions per 1,000 women. As stated earlier, most of these are not remotely safe.  So living on a continent with limited access to such procedures and opportunities, I realized all over again what a gift it is for people to choose.

To choose to say yes.  To choose to say no.  To change one’s mind.  To listen.  To make a decision knowing she will stay healthy (and wake up) after going under the knife.  Or stay healthy whether she says yes. Or no.

The Bride makes her final stand against one-time close friend, O'ren Ishii in Wintery Japan.
The Bride makes her final stand against one-time close friend, O’ren Ishii in Wintery Japan.

Or to decide like The Bride that slicing and dicing your old bosom buddies and team players is necessary for anyone who tries to take that decision away from her.   Kiddo may have a point. Just saying.

 

References

Green, Emma. “The Last Person You See Before Getting An Abortion,” The Atlantic Monthly.  26/6/2014. Accessed 26, June 2014.  http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/the-last-person-you-see-before-getting-an-abortion/373526

“In Brief: Facts on Abortion in Africa,” Guttmacher Institute.  Accessed 27, June 2014.  http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/IB_AWW-Africa.pdf

 

Red and yellow, black and white; we are precious in his sight

TRUTH & FEAR IN A MULTI-COLORED WORLD

A rumor began a month ago that someone had been throwing around the phrase “No blacks allowed in the bar.”  You might think this is serious but just wait.

That’s the question.

How far is too far?  I guess the reason why it seems so questionable (pardon the metaphor) is the path between crying and laughing around the tiptoe-lined boundaries.  My mother used to say, “Life isn’t fair.  You’re going to have to get used to it.” So you can either split a lip or laugh at the dumb things people say, (or) you can waste your screams and tears over it.

Woody Allen dealt with this in a cult film not too many audiences saw: Melinda and Melinda is a story about a woman’s life told as if it had gone two different directions for the same person.  This isn’t a new tale but it is an interesting one – life as it could be re-told as both a tragedy and comedy.  So one could say the narrative was (either-or), or simply (and).  I prefer to think of Melinda as living in parallel universes, both going on coincidentally, simultaneously, and without the major elements of the other.  It replaces the question of “If only,” with the statement: “It is.”  If you can’t follow, better watch the video.  *Smirk.

The rhetoric one is left with confronts both the cynics and optimists  who can accept that racism exists in its pure form of self-righteous anger, but may also in the state of the absurd.  What is left?  Hope.

This is a convincing step towards nonchalance.

My last post on racism touched on the dangers of fear-mongering when we use swear words to battle ignorance but in so doing create more  hate speech.  So what about comedy as an alternative?  Truthfully I was always against this until I arrived in Nacala.

My life has changed in the past three months as I have been forced into acceptance for the ways things just are here.  I used to believe that laughing about things that were serious meant you just did not care.  This is not always the case.

For a while I was force-feeding my disdain into my throat and smiling to feign acceptance.  Doctors, however, assert that the movement of facial muscles may influence our emotional response – so when we smile we begin to actually feel endorphins.   Endorphins can allow people to feel positive. Strange isn’t it?  So maybe I was okay.  Maybe that’s why I’m still not ‘happy’ about the prevailing attitudes here but I can still ‘deal with it.’

Pragmatism and rationality is always appealing because there are a structured set of rules and I like being practical.  If  one follows these, then the conclusion is predictable.  Hence, it is easy to see that if the premises state racists will continue to show us the ugly side of their opinions, it is logical to assume the response feels ugly, as well.

It should come as no surprise then, that there is so much negative backlash.  What if the choice was a nonchalant, cool head? What if comedy allowed people to simply ignore the ugly?  It may allow the angry less credence.

A lot of people know who Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear are.  The ones who are often forgotten are the jesters– the court humorists who play off the foibles and hubris of everyone around them.  It is one of the bard’s most delightful and often-overlooked tools to seduce his audience into listening to the most serious.   By making them laugh.

All the world’s a stage;

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances…   —Jacques

>>Act II. Scene vii, As You Like It

 

A plague o’ both your houses.  –Mercutio

>>Act III, Scene i, Romeo & Juliet

Heard it before?  Thought so.  Is not the fool, as Jacques, Mercutio and many others were – always there to tell a good baudy joke (sexual innuendos have never gone out of style!) but also there to twist the foolish into the profound?

In a digital age where Shakespearean language is buried underneath Twitter and Twilight fans, it is useful to think of how the poet always knew to capture his audience by showing the funniest side of life, then turning the last quip over to show the dirt underneath his fingernails.  Literary scholars say this was a device wherein the jester was the only one able to tell us the ugly because guess what? IT WAS THE TRUTH.

After hours of making the audience laugh over stupidity and So I guess in coming back to racism today, the reason why it is so hard to deal with the ugly is that it is true.  Maybe that’s why our jesters today (Will Ferrell, Conan O’Brien, Ben Stiller, and Eddie Izzard) are always offending people!

Why not use that logic to deal with what we don’t like and just laugh about it.  People may not like it – but if we laugh then perhaps we can say whatever racists, philanthropists, even IRS agents and their ilk don’t like.  As Woody Allen shows us, life can be both tragic and comic.

When people say the ugliest thing imaginable, they are really showing their true character of darkest heart.  Instead of letting them win, laugh at their stupidity please.

See? I said it nicely.