Writing: The Story of a Dream

Usually when I am having a nightmare I tend to wake up, turn around and go back to sleep, forgetting the nightmare and dreaming or not dreaming of something else. Same thing if I am having a nice dream - if I wake up in the middle I will never go back to it again. For the first time in my life (or I suppose that I can actually remember) a few weeks ago I had a dream that ran through 8 hours of sleep, multiple eyes-open-I-am-awake pit stops and actually had a real beginning and a real end. The nightmare-dream was so vivid and real that I can still imagine the scenes today... In any case, this is not a short story, just the strange dream in words. It was as if I was living a movie that I was watching in my head. I'll just keep this as a reminder of how brilliant our imaginations can be when we let them loose.

A Story of a Dream
Two years ago
They sound like loud fireworks, the kind that the city lets off on the 4th of July. But there is no coordination or choreography to these gunshots, mortar shells or bomb explosions. They go on and on and on and then stop. Just when you think that it’s safe to venture out to find lost ones and food and water they start up again. Daytime, nighttime, dawn, dusk; it never ends. The ground shakes, the dead pile up and the pillaging goes on. The electricity has now been out for weeks and radio communication is sparse: batteries have all but disappeared from any of the shops; shops that have no owners or employees anymore, and practically no food, dry or fresh.  All that is left of my apartment is a shell of a building, first it was attacked by snipers and then a large bomb finished it off. Troutman St, Jefferson St, Bushwick Ave – they all look like a war zone in the Middle East, not like the residential part of Brooklyn that they were six months ago. I fled with my cat, a blanket and a few belongings last week, over the Williamsburg Bridge to join some of my friends in Union Square. Our places of work have been closed for weeks, all of the alcohol gone, rats roaming over the Lower East Side eating the crumbs of what has been left behind to rot. 

What happened? One day everything went about its business as normal, the next nuclear missiles were flying all over the world, hitting the most random of targets and setting off what would become a war that no one could make any sense out of. No strategy, just a race to see who could kill the most people off in the shortest of time. Instead of uniting in fear and politics this country has become its own civil war zone, groups of people fighting against each other for no other reason than a need to be bigger and better. The government has long since disappeared into silence, maybe dead, maybe hiding, and we have no way of communicating with anyone within the city, let alone outside of the country. I have no idea how my family is faring, and now my only thoughts are on survival. Survival of myself, my cat and my close friends, the ones that I have been able to remain in contact with.

A few of us have created a little fort in front of Union Square, piles of boxes and bricks, a safer place to sleep, especially when we are huddled in numbers. There are fewer bombs dropped on Manhattan now, but the sniper dangers still exist and we are all scared of what could happen to us at any moment. Food is so scarce and the last bridge went down a few days ago, so, unless one of us can find a boat we are practically stranded on this island that has no light, no public transport, scarce food supplies and no working hospitals. I’ve seen people throw dead bodies into the rivers, just because there is nowhere to bury them on the island and the stench of the rotting flesh was beginning to putrefy the air over the city. We have nowhere to go and nowhere to stay. People are setting up homes in the tunnels of the subway lines, in broken down and bombed out buses and houses. Our Union Square spot is unsafe but none of us have been able to find a safer place to rest yet, our main concerns are staying alive and finding food and water. Those who didn’t know how to shoot rapidly learnt and we use bottles of whiskey and cigarettes, stolen from our bars when we knew that we would never go back to work in them again, to barter for food and firearms.

Two Years ago
Two days ago the fighting got worse again, and a group of heavily armed individuals moved into Union Square just as a general protest was starting up. I hid in our shelter with Luna while the sounds of explosions get louder and louder. At one point someone broke in and tried to carry me away with him, obviously not with any honorable intentions in mind, but I fought and screamed and a good Samaritan heard my cries and fought him off for me. We ran away down a side street and hid there until the fighting moved away. I went back to find my friends and grabbed those who had made it through, probably never knowing if those who are unaccounted for are dead or alive, hiding out somewhere else. We had become so used to having instant communication via text messages that now we don’t know how to handle the fact that once someone disappears you may or may not ever see them again.

One year ago
Seven of us found an apartment in an unfinished government subsidized housing building up in the far northern area of the island. It was supposed to be one of those high-end buildings with a pool and a gym and laundry rooms and upscale appliances in each apartment, constructed for families in need of a cheaper rent. Of course there is no running water and no electricity, but we are making do, the seven of us and my little cat, who has survived all of this with us. She roams around the building, but always makes it back within a few hours, sleeping in my arms or in her travel bag, the same one she used to refuse to get into. Now it is her safe spot. 

We have started to organize ourselves into a larger group of like-minded individuals, other people who don’t agree with the fact that this is the way that the world is going to revolve from now on. The group of right-wing people who have taken control of the island are only concerned about power and wealth and killing anyone who won’t agree or act according to their rules. Anyone who is part of the ruling party has running water and electricity again, while we continue to live day by day, in fear of being caught and killed. There is no way that I can live like this, hiding in a hole, not doing anything but surviving. We meet up in established safe houses, communicate via message drop offs and plan actions that will overthrow the “government”. I remember when we used to complain about our democratic government, back before this war and chaos, but at least we had our freedom. Now all we have is each other and our plans to do everything we can to create change again. I always wonder what life is like in the rest of the country and in other countries. Have whole nations been wiped out, places taken over by dictators and despotic rulers hell bent on creating a world that only belongs to them? Have other countries managed to build themselves back up in unity again? 

If we have to resort to physical violence to stop the horrific happenings around us we will. I am no longer against the use of explosives and guns to bring some kind of good back into what is becoming pure evil. They don’t hesitate to torture and main us if they capture us, one of us died in their hands, his head stuck on a pole in the middle of Union Square, right wear the public demonstration was squashed last year, as a reminder of what they are capable of. There are other families who are also squatting in the building but we all tend to hide from each other, as no one dares trust anyone except for those close to them. And even then our greatest fear is that at some point, as we grow, a mole will find its way amidst us and will quash our revolution before it is even underway. We are mainly in the planning area now, uniting different groups together so that we can act as one. Politics are put to the side for now; it is going to be the People against this evil that has penetrated our world. We remain positive that we will be able to overthrow them, as it will be a mass against a small group. They may be armed to the teeth but we are not afraid to die to ensure that we have a better life again. 

I walk around the city in constant fear that I will be caught and taken in, randomly questioned about why I am not working in one of the work force groups around the island. Every foot I take outside is a risk, and the alleyway of steps near our home is full of lurking shadows. I carry meeting notes and maps and important information around with me, information that I leave in drop boxes and secret pick up locations. If I were to be caught I would be tortured. Or if I were attacked by a random stranger for money or food or just because he/she felt a need for violence, and were found with incriminating documents they would surely sell me off to the party, for a few crumbs and a feeling that they helped find another one of us revolutionaries. Luckily there are more and more people who feel like us, and not as many people who live for fear and violence.

It’s finally over. Or maybe over isn’t the exact word to use, more like there is a new beginning in the air. The party was brought to his knees and we have put a group of people in their place, not a real government, just an interim group of people who will bring back some kind of normal life to this island while we create new political parties and voting systems. The streets are safer nowadays and some cars have returned, although it will take a while to get the electricity and water running everywhere again. We now have boats running over to Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey and a preliminary mail service on horseback has been set up. I still have no idea what has happened to my family and they all probably assume that I am dead, but in the future I hope to make my way across the States to find them, once I am happy with the stability of life in New York. I can only assume that there are nuclear bomb craters all over the States, cities that have been wiped out and other cities that are fine, just cut off from everywhere else. Or maybe there is nothing left out there?

I still can’t really walk down the street with confidence and without an inkling of fear. There still are shadows in the corners and lurking conflicts. The streets are much safer than they were last year, but there is still a lot more work to be done. People will not feel completely secure until we have a strong and healthy government in place, and this is something that may take a while. Sometimes I wish I had kept a lower profile as I know that there is a price on my head out there somewhere, but it was necessary, just for the greater good of this city. I’m just ready to leave for a while, travel and find out the fates of my family members and other missing friends.

While waiting in line for food rations near the old Post Office building in Midtown she was killed by an acid bomb. He came out of nowhere, pushed me aside and threw the bomb at her stomach. Amidst all of the chaos he got away, and she died fast, with so much sadness in her eyes. I will continue the mission she was so invested in, and I will also search for her family members so that they know exactly what she accomplished and how she helped a cause that was necessary. Résistance toujours!

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I love that moment when you read the first sentence of a book and you know that you are immediately hooked. Your eyes widen, your hands clench the book a little tighter and you feel yourself sinking into the words... That's exactly the way I felt when I opened Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love historical fiction and I am particularly interested in recent African history at the moment, so the fact that this book caught my eye is a no-brainer, but there is SO much more to it than that (more about that a bit further down).

Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria in the early and late 60's, before, during and a little after the civil war that ensued after Biafra attempts to secede from the rest of the state of Nigeria. Adichie takes us from the independence from Great Britain in 1960, through the military coups that follow, the rising ethnic clashes and violence (specifically against the Igbo) and resulting secession and declaration of independence of Biafra and it's struggle to survive amidst a civil war that breaks out. We follow the story through the eyes and words of five very strong characters: Ugwu, a houseboy who comes to work for the revolutionary university professor Odenigbo; Odenigbo's lover, the beautiful and well-educated Olanna; Olanna's twin sister Kainene; and Kainene's lover Richard, the Englishman who makes his way to Nigeria to write about Igbo art, and falls in love with both the country and Kainene.The story weaves through these characters lives and portrays an image of life in Nigeria before the war: the passion of the Igbo and the creation of their own state, the interactions with life in the villages, life within the urban middle-class and the remaining British ex-pats who keep themselves away from the Nigerian population, hanging on to what is left of the colony days. Adichie provides us with a beautiful story of love, hatred, war, death and humanity (as well as inhumanity).

There is no need to be interested in African history to enjoy this novel, although if you are it is definitely a must-read. Adichie's prose is pretty much sublime in my opinion - she builds such a passionate story line, and develops her characters so intensely well that you are standing there with them all the way, hurting when they hurt, laughing when they laugh, falling in love when they fall in love. My favourite character (after much deliberation) is Ugwu, the young boy who becomes an indispensable part of the family that hires him. I also love Olanna's fierce independence that is coupled with her fear of losing everything she loves... Each character is completely human, imperfect and real, I feel like there is a part of everyone in all of them. There are many difficult parts, specifically the descriptions of massacres, rape, death and starvation, but all are important in understanding the complexity of the situation and the passion of the people to be free of outside, controlling power.

I cried a lot reading this book, and it probably wasn't a good idea to finish it on my subway ride back home last night, with tears running down my face; and many a time I felt like I was being punched in the stomach, but all the same, I couldn't stop reading. I could literally see and smell the country through the words, and this is something that I admire so much in a writer - the ability to really create a world that I have never seen before right before my eyes. Adichie is only a year older than me, and I feel like she has created a beauty of a novel, set in very disturbing times. I can't wait to read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. So very inspiring.

More information:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website

Articles: Some interesting articles from today's paper

 Work is quiet so I just spent the last hour reading through today's paper, looking for something to write about... I started off with one article and ended up with 5, so instead of writing multiple posts about each one, I thought it would make more sense to make one post and provide my own comments/opinions. Most articles come from the New York Times, but I've added other similar articles from other sources in some places. It's quite Middle East-heavy, but, then again, why wouldn't it be?

Afghan rape case is brought before the authorities (NYT article can be found HERE)
I've followed the plight of women in Afghanistan for many years now, long before 9/11 and the US invasion of the country. In the late 90's (I think) Marie Claire published an article about the treatment of women by the ruling Taliban power, something that most news outlets never bothered with, forcing the world to acknowledge there was a real problem in the country. Remember the recording of public execution that was released to world, taken via stealth, the camera concealed beneath a burqa by RAWA in 1999? That was some amazing investigative journalism - because if the reporter had been captured, he/she would probably have been executed in the same fashion. The video was sent to different press outlets at the time, none of which wanted to publish it because of it's ability to shock the world. However, when foreign forces invaded Afghanistan, all of a sudden it was all over the news. Yes, we went in to save these women that a year before we were turning a blind eye to. Nothing more than the usual hypocrisy of the world, another country's plight only becomes important to us when we actually have something to gain in said country. Anyway, this article is interesting because it portrays a few different points; one being that in certain places the laws haven't really changed, even if the Taliban has lost most of its stronghold. Another being that instead of following the unwritten law of the ages, the victim's family have decided to bring it to the public and gain their daughter's honour back by seeking justice via trial.
What we all tend to forget is that Afghanistan is a very unique country, where different ethnic groups/tribes live together, all with different rules of living, many unwritten. In many places, especially remote, rural areas, the honour of the family remains of most utter importance. To destroy or tarnish that honour means certain death, as death is the only way to rectify the balance, and restore the lost honour. To us this may sound backwards and horrific, but this is the way it works, and has worked for generations. I find it admirable that Lal Bibi is looking for her kidnappers and rapists to be brought to justice WITH the support of her family. I hope that they succeed, because if they don't, she will die, either at the hands of her family, or by her own hands (as seen in the article). What a brave, brave woman.

Mubarak is sentenced to life in prison (NYT article can be found HERE)
Life in prison for the deaths of the unarmed protesters last year, however, all charges of corruption were dropped. I'm honestly not really surprised at either ruling, although I think that it is interesting that the police commanders who gave the orders to shoot at the crowds were acquitted. Surely there were more than two people who were responsible for all of the deaths? In any case, I suppose at least some sort of justice has been done, even if the country is still without a democratically elected government (when will those promised elections ever take place?!), although how real this justice is will be seen if the ruling doesn't fall down on appeal. With all other charges having been revoked, if Mubarak wins on appeal he could walk away a free man.
What I found the most interesting about this article is the comment section. They go from right to left, zig-zagging through different opinions, some highly well thought-out and others just plain stupid and actually laughable. Yes, Mubarak was a US ally, but that doesn't make him a saint, does it? Let's all think back to the lovely Shah of Iran people and look at what the good that did to the world. Mubarak wasn't all evil, but he outstayed his welcome for more than a few presidential terms, and stole way too much money from the people he was supposed to be protecting to not be punished for it.
For those commenting on how the world is letting fundamentalists take the power in Egypt by the removal of Mubarak: if this happens, then it is what happens. The Egyptian people fought for change, and will probably stand up and fight again if they feel the government they elect is not acting in their best interest. In the end, we don't have a say what should happen in Egypt - it's up to the Egyptian people to decide what to do. The median age in Egypt is 24 years old, meaning that the population is young and will not stand for any further domination. I'm interested to see how it all plays out in this country. Read all those comments - it's highly entertaining to say the least.
BBC News articles on the same subject HERE.

Russia refuses intervention in Syria (NYT article can be found HERE)
Quelle surprise! Although I am completely against any type of outside military intervention in Syria, I do feel that more pressure should be put on Assad to stop the massacres that seem to be happening on a regular basis in Syria these days. Then again, I understand the plight: if he listens to the UN and withdraws his troops from the areas of uprising it will most definitely lead to civil war. I mean, he could stand down, and be replaced by a democratically elected president, haha, but we all know that is not going to happen. If he continues to let his troops massacre men, women and children in villages it will just create a louder uproar around the world. It appears that the bloodshed is not going to end too soon, and we may just have to sit back and watch it happen. Although, I have no doubt that the West is already smuggling weapons and agents into Syria, and helping the rebels.
Another article on the subject, BBC this time, can be found HERE.

Oh, by the way, there is renewed fighting in the North Kivu area of the DRC, strongly reminiscent of what happened in 2008, see the Al Jazeera article HERE. As always, no one really cares about what is happening in this country, even after years and years of civil war and millions of deaths. It breaks my heart that it is still happening.

Last, but not least, American nuns fight back against the Vatican criticism they face (NYT article can be found HERE).
Interesting how the Vatican plays down all of the child abuse allegations and insists on covering them up, while at the same time accuses a large group of American nuns of challenging "church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” So it's OK for priests to sexually abuse children, but it's not OK to promote free healthcare for all?! Because, oh no, this may promote the usage of birth control, and even worse, abortion! In essence this criticism goes completely against all of the real teachings of Christianity. My own thoughts on religion aside (having had a mix of Anglican, Catholic and free spirit education in my youth I decided to go with the latter, without scorning any of the former), I think this is highly despicable. Nuns dedicate their lives to educating and helping others, while giving up everything to live with their faith. The Vatican condemning them for promoting homosexuality and feminism is just plain old gender bigotry. It's time for the Vatican to get with the times and stop acting like they have the right to twist religion in a way that suits them best. Religious freedom means that we have the right to choose our religion and to live by it in the way we see fit. There is no place in this world anymore, or at least in the world I imagine, for men to dictate how women should live their lives. If these nuns are promoting radical feminism, then I really wonder what my views would be called! More radical than radical? I'm SO happy these nuns are taking a stand and continuing to promote what they believe in.

Thoughts: Violence/Non-Violence/Terrorism/Revolution

I started writing this years ago, lost what I was writing, and then started again a few months ago based on something I heard on the news. I then left it sitting for a while and picked it up again today to try to wrap it up. That ended up being literally impossible as I just asked myself more questions than I could even answer and realised that I could just go on forever asking the same questions. So I just closed it out with a "To be continued..." and will continue on my musings, probably after I have finished Mark Kurlansky's Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, as this may give me further ideas to discuss.

Every day you switch on your television, phone, computer or radio and you hear the word “terrorist” in all types of news flashes. It will be used in connection with any act of violence committed against a government or a country, or on a group of people by another group of people. We hear about demonstrations and protests and tear gas and violence and non-violence and rebellion and oppressing governments and public uprisings. We hear about sit-ins in public squares, of students being arrested and of protestors being shot at. We hear about air strikes in other countries, about dictatorships being brought down from the inside and from the outside, about dictatorships being pandered to and blind eyes being turned. Public uprisings become acts of terrorism and lawful mass murder gets swept under the carpet. Acts of terrorism are stopped in their tracks while others are successful. Successful democratic elections are held in war-torn countries while at the same time in others women are still not allowed to leave the house without a male companion. One day you will hear about the Palestinian terrorist who blew himself up on the bus on the way to Tel Aviv, but the people who in return pounded Gaza with an airstrike are called soldiers. Gaddafi called the rebels seeking to bring him down terrorists, but to the rest of the world they were portrayed as saviours, and were given the help they needed to fight for and win their cause. Where can you even start discussing this topic? Words are open to a different interpretation by each individual. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; one man’s popular uprising is another man’s violent revolution. The main keyword here is “violence”.
Oxford Dictionary definitions:
- Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
- Terrorist: a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims. (Origin: late 18th century: from French terroriste, from Latin terror (see terror). The word was originally applied to supporters of the Jacobins in the French Revolution, who advocated repression and violence in pursuit of the principles of democracy and equality).
- Freedom Fighter: a person who takes part in a violent struggle to achieve a political goal, especially in order to overthrow their government.
- Demonstrator: a person who takes part in a public protest meeting or march.
- Protestor: a person who publicly demonstrates strong objection to something; a demonstrator
- Violence: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something; the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.
- Non-violence: the use of peaceful means, not force , to bring about political or social change.
I remember having these thoughts going over and over in my brain years ago, through many an occasion. In the past, or more my past, so the late 70’s and the 80’s, even maybe the early 90’s too, it seems that the media had a specific group of terrorists that it had pointed out and referred to: Palestinian (or more specifically, Hamas or Hezbollah), IRA, Libyan. Nobody (in the general public) cared or really knew about anything else – these were the organized groups that blew people up (including themselves in some cases) and spread fear across countries. Small to large acts of violence that were sure to make it to the newsreels as soon as they happened. I’m not saying that this really was all that there was, but this is what we were fed by the media. IRA bad, Palestinians bad, Libyans bad (or were they always bad – I know that the US government supported Gaddafi at some point in time, but then turned around at another point, but that is a little off-topic for now). “Good” was what was called “Democracy” and “Freedom”; “Bad” was anything that we couldn’t fit into the definitions of “Democracy” and “Freedom”. This didn’t always match with the real definitions of these words, but yet again, semantics are the main tool in politics: words take on meaning in the way you choose to interpret them. Social uprisings against totalitarian governments are applauded, and aided in some cases. People fighting for freedom are called rebels, and rebels are considered revolutionaries. But of course revolutionaries can be good or bad, depending on how it is portrayed to you in the media and how you interpret it. If I had stood on CNN or BBC and tell you in a deeply emotional speech how good Saddam Hussein was for Iraq and how much he had done for the US, instead of hearing the words “weapons of mass destruction” and “nuclear war” thrown about, the public opinion on the man himself may have been different. It’s all about what you see and what you read about. Seeing as most people get their news from the most popular channels on television and maybe a newspaper or two, you can only expect most people to believe what they read and see. Not that our media is always wrong, but it’s not always right either. In the end it is just a form of communication, and also a form of propaganda, because communication via the media is the best way to get a message/thought/intent across to the general public. So, in the end, it is up to us to make our own opinions up, and to research alternative viewpoints and ideas.
I myself define freedom as the right to live in the way I want to, within the boundaries of society – meaning that I, as a person, respect the lives and lifestyles of others, and expect the same in return. Freedom means the right to free speech and education, the right to worship any god I want to (or don’t want to) without persecution. Freedom also means the equality of all human beings, no matter where they come from and where they end up. Freedom means that I can portray my thoughts and opinions without worrying about being persecuted. Freedom does not mean that I can kill another human being and/or many human beings because I do not agree with what he/she or they believe in, or just because I don’t like them. But I do rebel against the society I live in, in a non-violent fashion. I disagree with many of the politics of the country I live in, I pretty much always have, no matter what country I have been in. There is always something I will disagree with and want to fight against. But I have mainly lived in countries where I can open my mouth and protest about something that I think is wrong – I don’t know what I would have done if I had grown up in a country where I was openly oppressed and where I could not speak my mind. How would I have rebelled against this? Would I have just tried to live my life within the boundaries set for me or would I have tried to break away and change things, by any means possible?
During WW2 the French Resistance and the Russian partisans blew up buildings and strategic areas that would damage the German advances and army (trains, ammunition dumps, prisons etc), killed traitors who worked with the Germans and basically did anything they could to revolt against the German occupation. I feel that I would have done the same. These days with the technology that we have it would probably be a lot more difficult to actually rebel/revolt in the same fashion and stay in hiding, so if this type of war were ever to occur again, how would the people stand up and fight? How would one fight against an occupation? This al comes back to the same topic I started off with in the beginning… What can be considered an occupation, a revolution, an act of terrorism and an act of rebellion? In the end, where violence is used the result will always be the death of one or multiple people, innocent or guilty, and that is something that those committing acts of violence, those living through them, and those dealing with the aftermath will always have to deal with. Terrorism is always going to hurt the “innocent” first, because the “innocent” are the ones targeted and the ones who will be damaged. While typing this another thought comes to mind… If a group of people planning to blow up a subway station in NYC are considered a group of terrorists then why aren’t a group of government army fighters in Sudan considered terrorists when they destroy a village and kill all of the inhabitants by locking them in a house and setting it on fire? I feel that once I started writing this piece it just opened a bottomless can of worms, as one idea comes up, followed by several contradicting ideas, and more images and questions that anyone can really answer. Words are simple, but once they are used to determine a specific group of people or a specific act become complex. As I have said before… It all comes down to your own interpretation, and how you are then going to portray this interpretation to others.
To be continued…

Book Review: They Poured Fire on Us From The Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

They Poured Fire on Us From The Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak, Judy A. Bernstein

We have all heard stories of war and famine in Sudan on the news, especially over the past year as the famine has been widespread, extremely deadly and finally people have started taking notice (for a little while anyway). The North and the South have now become two separate countries and hopefully South Sudan will now be able to create an environment of peace again after so many years of war, mass killings and atrocities committed by both the government of the North and rebel army fractions from the South. Children have literally grown up in refugee camps after fleeing for their lives and managing to survive alone, through great hardships and without their families. I'm not going to go into detail on the decade-long conflict here, but there is more information on the country HERE.

During the years of war, millions of boys (and girls) from the ethnic Southern Dinka and Nuer tribes ran for their lives when their villages were attacked, walked thousands of miles over years through famine, desert, starvation and death, and survived. About 20,000 or so of these boys (and much fewer girls) ended up in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. These boys were colloquially named the Lost Boys of Sudan, and the name stuck. More information on the Lost Boys and literature regarding them HERE. The 20,000 refers to only the boys who survived and ended up in refugee camps, the numbers of displaced children go into 2 million or so, so many dying before they could ever reach safety.

I literally could not stop reading They Poured Fire on Us From The Sky. It accompanied me everywhere, until I finished the last page yesterday and felt a little at a loss on what to read next. What can follow on after such a heartbreaking but heartwarming book?! The book revolves around the true stories of three of the Lost Boys of Sudan, told in their own words after their arrival to the USA in 2001. While in a refugee camp in Kenya they applied to the program set up by the US government and the UNHCR to have a certain number of lost boys (and girls) resettle in the USA.
Benson, Alepho and Benjamin are brothers and cousins from the Dinka tribe of South Sudan, born into villages where they spend much of their time helping their families by guarding cattle from a young age. When war broke out and their villages were attacked they literally fled for their lives, with just the clothes they were wearing. For years and years they ran, across southern Sudan, to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, and finally all ended in refugee camps in Kenya. They lost each other many times, but miraculously found each other again, on multiple occasions. Each chapter is written by one of the boys and recounts a story, an occasion, or a memory of something that happened along their journey. Atrocities, death, starvation, wild animals, bombs and so many tears, but also hope, love and at utmost will to survive.
I honestly could not even imagine my 5 year old self trekking across thousands of miles of bush and desert, running away from death without knowing if I was actually going to run right back into its jaws again; not knowing if I would ever see my family again, whether they were alive or dead. How they survived all those years seems pretty much like a miracle to me.

Buy and read this book, you will cry (unless you are really heartless), and it will break your heart, but it also may open your eyes slightly, if they aren't already wide open enough.
More information on the book and the authors HERE.

Of natural disasters and changes in life... Part 1

It's been a few months of many thoughts and ideas, sleepless nights and tossing and turning. And finally, of seemingly impulsive, but actually well thought-out decisions. More about that another time, as the thought of it all is making my stomach churn slightly, and I don't want to put anything in writing until it is done.
Moving back to what I initially wanted to write about... Change. Around this time ten years ago I was waiting to start my MA courses, looking for a thesis idea or 10, loving my apartment, my life, my friends and my teaching/tutoring job. And then 9/11 happened. One day I was going about my daily activities, and the next I was watching 2 planes fly straight into the World Trade Center towers, and subsequently see them fall to the ground, into a cloud of dust, with my own eyes. As we all know this triggered off a set of major events in the world, most of which are still going on today, with no real positive outcome in sight. At the same time my idealist view of the human being was shattered into a million pieces, and I fell into a deep state of despair, culminating into depression that I couldn't run away from.
Ultimately this state of depression lead to a positive outcome, leading me away from the dream-like world I had created for myself, which included blinkers to anything that didn't correspond to my vision of what the world should be, and, finally, culminating into me being able to consolidate my idealism with the real world, and now to move towards using my ideals to maybe make at least some kind of difference. But it was a long road to get here, from that feeling of utter helplessness to one of strength.

And now it's time for another chapter, hopefully it won't take ten years for this one to close.

All that to really say: this week I sat through a 5.8 earthquake on the 40th floor of a high rise in Manhattan, watched (via Al Jazeera) a dictator of 41 years be removed from power (Gaddafi in Libya of course) and am now waiting for Hurricane Irene to pass right over my head sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. If this doesn't say that a change is needed, then I don't know what does!

I shall update on Irene tomorrow (if we still have power), as right now it's just bouts of heavy rain and a little wind.

Helping at home VS Helping abroad

Something else that has been bothering me over the past few days... For any of you who read my blog and/or my Twitter feed know that I am very much aware of what is going on in this world, always strive to learn and understand more, and am pretty focused on what is happening in different African countries and want to help create a better life for people who literally have nothing right now, and whose children have nothing. There is a severe need for not only reactive response (emergency aid for war and famine victims), but also proactive response (education, political stability, safety etc etc). I'm not saying that throwing money to all different types of organisations is the answer, but there are many actions one can take to help, that don't actually cost money (or very little at all). I've posted a lot of links below.

I usually ask people the question "so what are YOU doing", and hope that this will raise some type of awareness. The other day I asked someone this same question and was given the response of "well if it's not happening right in front of me then it doesn't really exist". Cue frothing at the mouth with anger on my part (deep breaths before continuing), as this is a standard response that makes me want to bop people on the head. Then said individual went on to say that he is a strong believer in helping out at home before looking to help other countries. To which I gave my standard response of "well there aren't millions of people dying of starvation in this country though are there?!".

And then I started to think. Is he right? Should I spend more time looking at what is happening around me? Am I trying to help people who are beyond help when I could be helping people next door? Are there REALLY thousands of people dying of starvation in this country?

So let's do the research and a little comparison. Nothing really beats hard facts when faced with them:

MOWAAF survey in 2007: 750,000 seniors suffering from hunger ( I couldn't seem to find stats for non-seniors in the limited search that I just did on the internet)
WFP Stats: There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the US, Canada and the European Union.

Child mortality:
US, 2006: 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
World Bank, 2009: 128.2 deaths per 1,000 live births

(Please don't hate me for my less than deep research - I would do a better job if I gave myself more time, but I think these stats just show what we all know anyway).

So, I'm still confused. Or maybe confused isn't the word... Thinking too much into this? Should I do something at home too? Work in a soup kitchen? Tutor young kids for free? I think that can never be a bad idea, right? In the end, the only reason that I keep thinking about this is that I now feel that I am not doing enough. But at least I am doing something.

Women for Women
Plan USA
War Child Canada

Megan K. Stack - Every Man In This Village Is A Liar

Megan K. Stack - Every Man In This Village Is A Liar

I picked this up at St Mark's Bookshop a few weeks ago as it had a lot of those elements that make me grab a book, pay for it and start reading it immediately: woman writer, war correspondent, autobiography, Middle-East...

I finished it over a week ago and haven't really stopped thinking about it since, and I've come to the conclusion that I can't make my mind up about what I think. This statement probably only makes sense inside my head, so I invite everyone to read it and let me know what you think. It's sometimes easier to talk about a book when someone else has their own opinions you can bounce yours off.

Megan Stack is a foreign correspondent who works for the LA Times. and has covered some of the main events (for events see mainly wars) in the Middle East over the past decade. Her book describes her personal experiences and views of the invasion of Iraq, life in Saudia Arabia and Libya, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan, the invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban, civil war in Iraq, elections in Egypt...
Megan really doesn't hold back, and for that I am grateful. I found her at times insanely brave, and others irritating, but in the end, so human. My favourite part is Megan's remembrance of Atwar Bahjat, the female al-Jazeera reporter who was murdered in an ambush in 2006. I tend to use Atwar Bahjat as an example to counter-attack a generic statement that "all Muslim women are oppressed" that I hear too often in these parts of the world, so it was interesting (and terribly sad) to read her first hand experience as her friend, and then her death.

Last of all, I have to say, this book is unsettling. It rocks your beliefs somewhat (whatever those beliefs may be). Just a warning - it's far from an easy read.

Still can't form a real clear opinion. Maybe that is just the way it's going to be with this book.

Alan Furst - Take me back in time...

I discovered Alan Furst a while ago while I was one of my regular bookstore trips, browsing through the aisles, looking for something to catch my eye. I read everything, with a particular preference for historical fiction, especially historical fiction based in the 1930's and 1940's in Europe, so Furst's novels really fit all of the above.

I picked up The Spies of Warsaw and raced through it. Intrigue, passion, history, politics, Europe, 1930's, Nazis, Communists - what more could you want? Oh, and he writes really well too :-)

My favourites so far have been The World At Night and Red Gold , but I am biased because I grew up in France and love France more than any country in the world. These two novels really depict France at her best and worst. I would love for Furst to bring the main protagonist of these two novels, Jean Casson, back in another novel at some point. I feel that his story doesn't end with Red Gold...

But if you are more interested in Eastern European intrigue, politics and culture, try Night Soldiers or The Polish Officer. Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia...

I miss the old world. Someone build a time machine for me please.

Netherlands calls for arrest of Nazi war criminal Faber

Netherlands calls for arrest of Nazi war criminal Faber

I can't believe this... The guy escaped prison for war crimes, ran off to Germany and has been PROTECTED there since 1952?! First of all, why has it taken all these decades to call for extradition? Second of all, why was he ever given German citizenship? Some things will just never, ever make sense to me.