My friend and I watched the documentary “Miss Representation” (http://www.missrepresentation.org, it’s also streaming on Netflix) last night, and now I’m feeling all blog-y. It covers women’s representation, or lack thereof, in the media and a bunch of gross statistics about how women are underrepresented in the media industry.

30 Rock did a taped live episode a la SNL that I just watched, and Jane Krakowski does a bit as a female Fox News anchor (complete with flowing blonde hair) where she sounds like she’s about to introduce herself as a news anchor (“I’m Walter Cronkite”), but says “Good evening everyone, I’m…blonde.” This was basically “Miss Representation” boiled down into a one-liner, which is why 30 Rock is the only thing I watch ever.*

*Besides Golden Girls sometimes. Variety is the spice of life.

The documentary featured a lot of famous ladies/men from nonprofits, etc. and a lot of high school students that you can tell are probably going to be everyone’s bosses someday. Some reflections:

Women make up some ridiculously small percentage of leadership roles in media corporations. It’s obviously fine that men have their views on the table, but for popular media to be broadcasting to the entire “democratic” nation, it’s not obviously fine that women are not equally represented regarding the content of television. Trash/guilty pleasure television is generally competition-based, and it’s usually women fighting for one thing and turning against each other. Trash/guilty pleasure television is marketed toward mostly women and made by middle-aged men, and it teaches women to compete against each other to be the most “ideal” female image. I typically have terrible strategy, which is why I hate board games, but I do know that creating discord amongst your enemies is the easiest way to defeat them.

(Fun Fact that proves my point: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan director, subtly pitted Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman against each other when they weren’t shooting, so the on-screen tension of competition would be stronger. Like that movie needed to be more tense.)

Back to Miss Rep. Another point was that the dehumanization of any group is the first step toward justifying violence toward them, which was basically all I thought about my senior year at college (woohoo!) The stock image of a beautiful Western woman, however that came about, is crafty genius because basically no one can look like that, and whoever does naturally gets a ton of money to try to sell that image to other women. Those few famous models get a ton of money because it’s a good investment for the businesses that pay them – they get to perpetuate that image and make more money off of it. While 99% of girls are not able to look like this and they know it, there’s still the niggling worm in their brain saying “Maybe you could still try.”

The attempted cloning of young women in this image makes me think of lumping genocide-targeted populations into the same uniform, under the same heading, and ignoring all personal differences – dehumanization. It’s not exactly the same. But it’s not exactly the most different. Any society where individual differences and abilities aren’t celebrated is generally not going to be remembered favorably. Except that whoever is responsible for the popular media content are being manipulative geniuses about it, and making half of society do the work themselves by focusing with hatred on superficial aspects of themselves and competing with others, and trying to win the competition by spending money.

Seeing the high school girls in the documentary talking about issues was all fresh-airy. Those girls juxtaposed with the footage of reality show ladies made the latter look like freakish cartoons, and it makes me feel hungover and gross just to look at their faces. There’s so much time and money spent to make women waste time and money, with some mysterious end goal. If I could just get my stomach flatter – If I could just get my legs slightly smaller – If my face was shaped just a little differently – then…what? You’ll be happy? All the boys will like you and all the girls will be jealous and that will make you truly fulfilled forever and ever? The “prize” of approval at the end is elusive, because a girl with that mindset will never see themselves as complete. Contempt breeds contempt.

As an aside, there’s nothing wrong with trying to look nice. Humans have been decorating themselves since they found shiny stuff. Doing your hair and putting stuff on your face to highlight what you actually look like is not bad. Doing a bunch of crazy shit to make yourself look like what a bunch of crazy 30-50 year old dudes in media want women to look like is (I’m going to be judgmental) bad. It’s bad because it makes girls chase something unattainable, and spend a bunch of money doing it because it’s such an unattainable image for the majority of women.

None of what I just stated are really new ideas, and I’m not really looking for Hallelujah sister! responses. It just is fun to call attention to the fact that our society doesn’t have to be stuck in this rut. I’ll go out on a limb and say there are better ways to sell things than having a weird plastic-looking lady’s legs sticking out of the trunk of car like she was murdered, and then dumped in the trunk of a car while a man digs her grave. I can’t believe that sentence is a thing.

All of this seems so obvious, but then we see an ad with a lady’s legs sticking out of the trunk of a car, and our brain says “Oh, just another sexist ad of a lady’s legs sticking out of the trunk of a car LIKE SHE WAS MURDERED AND DUMPED IN THE TRUNK OF A CAR and that makes me want to buy expensive shoes, sort of.”

And it’s not like it would be Girl Power! if the woman was digging the man’s grave. Let’s just stay away from stirring our psychological cravings for buying stuff by killing either gender, how’s that? Is that all we have creatively? I know a lot of creative people, but they’re busy educating kids rather than making money in the advertising industry. (Another 30 Rock quote: Tracy Morgan is talking about how much he’ll make for being in his new movie, which is “1 million…teacher salaries!”)

Sucks to suck, USA, if the nation is freaking out about falling behind internationally, but we  continually settle for bringing out the worst in people through popular media. Clearly there are good people doing good things, but when the dominant voices in our daily lives serve to distract us rather than develop us, that’s scary and sad.

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Young adult fiction!!

August 2, 2012

My sister over at Miles and Laurel tipped me off to NPR’s huge gigantic list of best young adult fiction novels, at which you can vote for your favorite top ten. There were some I had read, loved, and disliked, a ton I hadn’t read at all, and of course a ton that I was enraged were absent from the list. My top ten is thus:

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caufield, while possibly whiny and an addict to the word “phony,” reminds me of a lot of my male peers in my life. Also, I love how boys can act toward little sisters, and Holden’s relationship with his sister Phoebe always gets me.

Judy Blume’s Forever…: I read a piece about Blume speaking on why she wrote Forever… (she just wanted to feed her addiction to ellipses, I think), but basically it was because her daughter wanted to read a book where a teenage boy and girl have a sexual relationship and neither of them dies or gets pregnant. I appreciate that about this book, but I also appreciate that the couple in the book has that relationship, it is great, but then things get a little sour and it ends. Just like a lot of relationships do when you’re 18 and you commit to forever! I would have liked Michael and Kath (the couple) a lot more if they hadn’t had to stick the damn word “forever” in there when they first said they loved each other. Other than that, it’s a great book about hormonal adolescents with common sense.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver: This was referred to as a series in the list because of its “companion” books Gathering Blue and The Messenger (Beck, they’re good ones). The Giver’s been the only futuristic-y science fiction book I’ve been able to like because it’s a little quieter than most books, in that it doesn’t make up a whole gigantic world and language and complicated things. See Harry Potter for my one exception to this.

Anonymous, Go Ask Alice: The cover of this book is terrifying. It’s kind of the adolescent-girl form of Requiem for a Dream. I’ve always been a little enchanted with the 1970s and 1980s scene of the United States, and this book is a reminder to not get too enchanted…

Interlude: Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted wasn’t on the big gigantic list. Way to keep down the female empowerment version of Cinderella, NPR.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: I got hooked on these when I was 11 and expecting my Hogwarts letter. As I said, I dislike a lot of huge series that make up a whole new world, language, etc. – I always liked to stay in realistic fiction. But HP does that and still manages to be understandable and beautifully written. I was reading some bad writing the other day and caught myself thinking, J.K. would have written that a lot better. I don’t know when she became my status quo, but there you go.

Ann Brashares’ Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Get your scoffing out of the way. These are upper teenage ladies learning about real things and it’s expressed not annoyingly, however annoying the characters do manage to get sometimes with their character flaws. Brashares tackles the topic of sex a whole lot differently from Judy Blume, though – when Bridget loses her virginity to a coach as a 15-year-old, I was reading it at about the same age and I don’t know if if I actually knew what had happened. I got it, but I didn’t get it. “The intimacy between them had been unfathomable”…??? If you’re going to go for that topic, the author has to go for it a little more I think.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak: As a quiet person myself, I enjoy novels that get into the heads of people who have a hard time communicating their thoughts/feelings orally. This is a sad one, but really affecting. And a tidbit, Kristen Stewart apparently was the main actress in a movie remake, which serves her penchant for lip-chewing quite well.

Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl: Remember to be an individual human being, and it might suck when idiots make fun of you, but you’ll generally be a happier and more successful person in the long run.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: Nailed it. The part I remember most is the man who drinks Coke in a paper bag so people think he’s drunk, and won’t question him when he acts crazy (read: not racist). I guess he understand Stargirl’s lesson partly, but just…pretends to be a drunk.

Lastly, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting: I had never read this until last year, while I was in Rwanda and missing Minnesota. Her way of writing is super visceral, and the descriptions of the hottest, deep summer week of August before it turns to that crisp air of fall precisely got my emotion button.

 

I concur with those that express incredulous disbelief that Twilight had to be on the big list. “Best-ever” or “popular for having sexy love-struck vampires”?

Anyway, I love reading, and it’s been one the best parts of my growing-up life. Right now, I feel like I’m constantly concerned with what I’m going to do next, which makes it hard for me to invest energy and attention in what I’m doing at that very moment. Maybe it’s a side effect of being on Twitter and Facebook more, and constantly scrolling through a news feed, but I miss just holing up with one story for hours and hours and being glad that it’s hundreds of pages, because that means I won’t get to the end too fast. Reading like that feels like a nourishing, delicious meal, and I think a lot of my reading lately has felt like random smatterings of junk. YA fiction is the equivalent of comfort food to me, I probably need to try some wacky new Ethiopian-food book or something.

In headline area news, it’s blisteringly hot in the Twin Cities, and in headlining news of my apartment, I’m attempting to make iced chai lattes and my cat is parked on the floor in front of the fan, staring at me darkly when I try to tickle her stomach. Tomorrow’s the 4th of July, and I will spend most of it making music for sadists who enjoy watching sweaty people march down a street in the noontime sun. Ah, but really, I’d rather have a full parade route than an empty one, although the empty stretches do give you a chance to wipe the tears sweat running down your face.

So that’s my real world update. I’m going to stray down the rabbit hole just a bit for now, and I will begin that jump by mentioning that I intern with The Center for Victims of Torture. I will also casually mention that if you’re interested in refugee mental health issues, you should visit www.cvt.org, or follow CVT’s Facebook page and receive alternately encouraging and devastating news updates.

I was at the internship this afternoon, listening to the radio and trying to digest some news stories (recycled paper really doesn’t go down that well). Do you ever remember a glimpse of something for seemingly no reason, and it just flits into your mind and kind of hangs there for a while? I feel like a word I was reading or maybe some note in the song I was hearing triggered that in me today, and the memory that flitted into my mind was one of my childhood library in Champlin. It was a magnificently cozy split second, because I remember writing in my journal it was “one of my two favorite places in Champlin” (the other being Snyder’s drugstore where I would purchase babies of the Beanie nature). I thought about the pushing into the perfectly air-conditioned lobby after locking up my bike outside on a sweaty summer day (ok maybe that’s what triggered it), the tasty drinking fountains that were just inside, and the equally tasty prospect of procuring some reading material, be it Sweet Valley High or otherwise.Oftentimes my eyes were a little bit bigger than my brain, and I’d end up with way too many books and accrue more in overdue fines than many college grads have in loan debt.

All of this entered my mind in an instant, and I can’t pinpoint exactly what triggered it. It was comforting to me, but it also made me think about the people that Center for Victims of Torture works with – people who need psychotherapy because of the trauma that keeps recurring in their minds. I’m a lucky person to have no truly violent or traumatic memories – I have embarrassing ones that crop up, but no dark ones that limit my functionality. I’m extremely interested in the field of psychotherapy, but I lack the ability to personally understand the feeling of needing it. I compared my triggered memory today to what things must be like for a torture survivor – anything at all could flip some switch in his or her brain, and a terrible memory would flit in and disrupt their train of thought and functioning. Although mine was a good memory, it was a strong reminder of how much we can’t help what we think about, and for many people, it piles up and limits their ability to live a happy life.

So that’s a little bit about what my internship makes me think about. Feel free to respond, comment, or Google pictures of Welsh corgis for a lift. By the way, I mentioned corgis to a bank clerk, and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. If you haven’t heard of this particular dog breed, well…

 

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If you haven’t heard of me, I’m just going to “pup” up in your mailbox!

 

I just e-mailed my Mom about a new phone venture, and I think I accidentally sounded a little British (what an awful mistake ) with the use of words such as mummy, and telly. Maybe my recent Harry Potter binge is influencing me in less than favorable ways.

I’ve had my phone for over two years, and I wish it had saved every text message I ever sent. I always like re-reading my journal (that I’ve diligently [not] kept since I was 14) for an excavation into my past. Mostly I just cringe at the maelstrom of ridiculous feelings, but I generally like having it around as a record that maybe I’ve aged a bit. Actually maybe not, I still just write about boys. And any cats that I am in possession of at the time.

So having a phone that deletes friend conversations after 30 days is a bit heart-wrenching for me. And getting rid of that phone is even a little more painful; it was the phone that communicated me through most of college, saw a lot of arguments play out in 160-character Cold War snippets, exchanged sweet nothings and sweet somethings. There’s nothing tangible or archivable after it’s gone, all you remember is the feeling of getting that particular message or call. I suppose that’s the (well, my) problem with phones in general, their method of communication is meant to be more fleeting.

Really, it’s essentially just a hunk of plastic to which I’ve attached a lot of meaning. And my journal is essentially just a hunk of fancy dead wood pulp with ink and graphite in it. But both are symbols of my personal history, and it’s hard to let go of those no matter which form they take (maybe that’s why I’m reading Harry Potter lately, who saw me through my adolescence).

Lives are spliced into many eras though, so I guess the era of my little orange phone is ending. It’s funny; I generally have a the-grass-is-greener mentality (just ask my roommate when we were apartment hunting), except when it comes to giving up things that I’ve learned to trust. Then the other grass is definitely a brown, crackly, parched, late August lawn. Anyway, I guess I’ll just have to learn to gamble and take a few more risks (that are carefully researched and calculated).

And OMG I’m going to have smartphone with apps and games and twitter…I jest. Well, not games, I don’t like games. Generally I don’t think anyone with less than three important appointments or meetings a day should have a smartphone, but they’re all that exist in stores anymore! What is this rumpus!?

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A most over-glorious view of Kigali

 

Take a bit to read this article. It’s written by Josh Ruxin, a man who gave a really engaging, frank lecture to the SIT students in Rwanda last spring on how Rwanda is developing and emerging out of its violence-stricken recent personal history. Reading his piece took me back exactly a year, when I wrote a blog (actually probably only a couple of entries down…) about Rwanda’s annual genocide remembrance beginning on April 6th.  The city of Kigali was dead quiet except for some motos who were charging through the roof, and I went for a walk in the morning. This year the 6th happens to fall right around Easter, a day to celebrate rebirth and hope – things that are celebrate-able, regardless of religion. Seeing as how Rwandans were the most enthusiastic people in church that I had ever seen, I hope the sentiment behind Easter is used to inject a feeling of literal reincarnation into a very somber three months of remembrance for that country.

Toward the end of his piece, Ruxin riffs off a quote from a young Rwandan saying that the main feeling of being poor is the lack of freedom. This is something I feel that the United States could take a hint from – there’s a general animosity toward the poor; they live off the state and are content with that. But anyone who is held hostage at the mercy of bureaucracy, whether it’s in Rwanda or the United States, is feeling that same inability to take ownership over their own lives. This is also echoed in a book I’m reading again (also last reading it in Rwanda, go figure), The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The Hmong mother in the book acknowledges the ease of American life over the difficulties of life in a Thai refugee camp, but admits her frustration over cultural ineptitude and the feeling of not being charge of her own life when government stipends are handed to her. It may sound like “oh poor woman, what a problem to have,” but when your agency is taken away and you are at the whim and decision-making of someone else, your feeling of an independent human being ebbs away and making things happen of your own accord begins to seem impossible.

Modern day slavery is alive and well; to poverty, to mental anguish. Abolitionists don’t have to be from your American Civil War history book either – right now there’s a need for everyone to be one.

Businesses are made up of people. Business decisions are sometimes labeled as cold, calculating, and devoid of human emotion – but what else is there besides humans acting upon what affects them most (that typically being profit)? My view of business is that there’s an incentive to remain middle-of-the-road on polarizing issues – to a degree, there’s an incentive to do that in politics as well (politics being the business of “development”).

But businesses have always supported certain things and influenced the direction of societies. In the past, this seems to have happened more behind closed doors, but now it’s coming to the public, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Starbucks recently came out (I’m just going to roll with that pun) in support of gay marriage, which spawned a large thank-you movement as well as a large boycotting movement by the conservative National Organization for Marriage.

On one level, it’s tremendous to see such a global corporation take a progressive stance on this issue, when obviously the decision-makers knew full well it would alienate a substantial amount of their customers. On the other hand, the website for the thank-you petition (to show Starbucks it had supporters of the decision) explicitly stated, “When it passed, the bill’s lead sponsor said that support from business convinced moderate legislators to vote for it. Without support from companies like Starbucks, the gay marriage law might have failed.”

This is vaguely chilling to me. Suppose someone else had been in charge of Starbucks, who had different beliefs, or was less willing to attach political views to the company? As the website stated, the support from business convinced moderate legislators to vote for it. Why weren’t the voters the ones to convince moderate legislators? What, exactly, was the convincing factor in this decision? Are we supposed to assume it was money, or that Starbucks made a Mr. Smith-Goes-To Washington-style filibuster and sweatily persuaded moderate lawmakers to stand up for human rights?

I’ll stop the rhetorical questions for now (they don’t have to be rhetorical though if you answer back!). But it seems more and more that businesses are acting publically as electoral colleges – the vote that actually counts. And again, the only new part about this is the open publicity about it. Maybe it’s chilling because these representatives (I’m talking about business owners) of our society are influencing so much, and their credentials are based on the fact that they have economic savvy. The people who are affected by their opinions being put into action did not elect them. If political decisions are influenced so much by businesses, then we essentially live in an indirect dictatorship – regardless of whether the decisions are progressive or not.

“Medium” has negative connotations in multiple ways. It’s not great, it’s not awful, it’s in the middle, and things in the middle tend not to elicit response either way. In the context of communication, a medium is simply a means to an end, a way to convey information. Our world is saturated with media and fora (O Latin plurals, let me count the ways!) through which we talk with, or at, one another.

A reason I struggle with gravitating toward pursuing being a “medium” is because it’s not the catalyst for changing anything. The ever-wise Billy Crystal from the cinematic tour de force When Harry Met Sally had a line toward Meg Ryan’s aspiring journalist character: “So you’re going to write about what happens to other people?” This sort of attitude has kind of stuck with me (damn you, Crystal!) and made me feel as though working toward being a medium is side-stepping actual work and goals.

The evolution of humans into our modern state relied primarily on our ability to manipulate materials of the earth into tools, which contributed to us achieving our ends. Everything in our world needs a tool or a medium to make itself work, whether it’s light, sound, or ideas.

I would’ve utterly failed as a town crier. My voice has a range of about a foot in a crowded room. That’s not really my best medium to communicate anything. But writing is a tool that I’m probably best trained how to use…one day I’ll learn about power tools, but maybe those should remain other people’s media.

The thing to be careful of is people thinking of themselves only as media. This crops up so much in social media and development activism, where a person initiating action has to also be a medium in order to get their mission out. Quality often gets lost in quantity of information or people spreading information; depth gets sacrificed for breadth and ease of access (yeah, I’m looking at you, Kony2012 Facebook campaign). If people were motivated to learn more about an issue through reading one article or watching one video, then great! But if it just gets reposted, even a thousand times, the people who really run our world could care less.

So, there’s a balance to find, between the quantity and quality of media in the world. I’d like to work on finding that balance, and would love to encourage any sort of conversation about it. For now, I’m working with The White House Project and contributing to their blog on Tumblr, and would also love to hear feedback about that. Basically, I just enjoy reading about or experiencing issues and writing about them (damn you, College!), which is what I’ll aim for with this personal blog. So let the critical-thinking post-grad fun begin!

A smidge of justice

May 2, 2011

I’m starting to write this as my fellow student licks yogurt from a bowl with big eyes and burns herself every five seconds in the kitchen. Paper-writing has ensued, clubbing skirts are getting shorter and shorter, while temperaments are becoming curiouser and curiouser…

First, a little Rwanda-spouting – it’s been pretty scenically beautiful lately, what with mists in the hills/rainclouds passing in front of your face because of the elevation/leaves and flowers hanging out in the afternoon sun, etc. Also I’ve been listening to instrumental music that was made with the Appalachians in mind, and it absolutely reminds me of American landscapes (if not the Appalachians, rural Wisconsin I’d say, or my childhood front yard at sunset during the summer. But that’s just general). So I’m feeling more what it means to be attached to a familiar physical place. And even if I didn’t grow up in Rwanda and I don’t associate memories with its lovely landscape, I understand how some Rwandans subscribe to the proverb that “God spends the day elsewhere but he sleeps in Rwanda.” Maybe I’ve talked about this in a previous blog, actually, but it’s worth spitting out again.

And now for some justice! And musings on Osama bin Laden’s death. The organizer behind the major attacks on American soil, people, and the symbols/gathering points of world trade was killed by American soldiers. This reeks awfully of justice served, or how someone voiced it “America – 1, Osama -0” (which is technically incorrect given the circumstances). But as I’m learning this semester and that ol’ Gandhi preached, an eye for an eye tends to fail miserably as a strategy for solving conflict. How are we measuring justice by the death of bin Laden? Does his life equal the roughly 3,000 lives killed on September 11th, or the thousands of other victims targeted by his network of terrorism? If we equate his death to justice, that really doesn’t do each of those people justice, does it? I may continue asking rhetorical questions…

Estimates of Rwandans killed during the genocide range from 800,000 to 1.3 million. The number of those guilty, or genocidaires as they were called, also number into the 800,000s (the total population of Rwanda was about 10-11 million). If those thousands of people need to be killed for the survivors to move on and feel that justice has been served, well, let’s not allow that to be an option. Ultimately the perpetrators are not evil at heart (which many survivors have acknowledged), and it is upbringing that instills attitudes which lead to violence. Killing people does not kill those attitudes; it amplifies negative sentiments and leads to more complicated ones.

Bin Laden’s death has allegedly made big strides toward the end of global terror. To me, it seems to be just the symbolic catalyst for people to believe that terror (against the United States) is over. While ideas for the organization of al-Qaeda may have been his, there no doubt remains strong organizational networks of terror all over the world, from the United States to Sudan to Iraq to Mexico. Global terror did not start, and will not end, with the destruction of one person, and to use bin Laden as a lightning rod for “the end of terrorism” and for atrocities committed by millions of people all over the world does not do the gravity of the situation justice in the least.

I hope America specifically wasn’t waiting for ten years to kill bin Laden and then think about pursuing peace – oh wait, we were. The hunger for justice and “hunting” the primary perpetrator down consumed the national agenda and budget for a decade. Now that we snatched our prey, sorry for the hunting lingo but that’s what we were doing as developed First World 21st century humans, what is our goal going to be? As we know from romantic pursuits, the chase is sometimes the best part. (And if love and war can be equated, that saying also applies. Maybe making a theoretical stretch here…) Hopefully our future chase (speaking as an American) doesn’t attach national feelings of anger and resentment toward one person.

I’ll go brain-vomit elsewhere now, but that’s my opinion as an American grrl who feels wistful for rural Wisconsin, teared up after Jon Stewart’s Daily Show speech concerning September 11th and when Bush watched someone else take his spot as national leader.  I don’t take for granted our free speech and peaceful power transfers, but hopefully we generally mature a bit, and have more of a “work” mentality than “hunt”.

Title thing

April 8, 2011

So it’s April 7th, which is a national day of commemoration in Rwanda as it’s the anniversary of when the genocide began in 1994. It was just a generally quiet day in the city, people either stay home or thousands go to the main stadium (called Amahoro, meaning peace) for a 24 hour ceremony/gathering/memorial.

For me the day consisted of a morning walk at 7:45 (since I naturally wake up at 7 now, it’s a shame), which was nice for some chill-out time since I was already stir-crazy. Also Rwanda is pretty and misty in the mornings, at least when the dark clouds don’t literally roll directly into your neighborhood while you’re walking to school and people run for cover (this happened).

I guess also on such a morning you start to think about what was beginning to happen 17 years ago. A lot of the things we’ve learned on our program is how the Rwandan government pushes a certain storyline of the genocide, and how people can be arrested on “genocide ideology” if they speak out against the government. So the government can be accused of using the genocide to retain/gain power, and there are other political snafus that go along with that as well, such as the Hutu refugees in the camp in Uganda we visited who do not feel welcome back into Rwanda since they feel they will be blamed by the remaining Tutsi in the country.

Today though it was more of a time to think about what had happened and be in the present a little more, rather than be confused about the amorphous or sketchy truth/lies that are being thrown at us as American students. Personally I’ve been panicking/thinking about things in the future a bit lately, so being a little more present (if not able to be totally a part of) in what the country was experiencing was less panicky.

As a student group we’ve been talking about memory lately, in the context of collective/cultural memory, and debating if memory is necessary for a country to move on and develop. The Rwandan government may dictate a culturally “right” memory, which unavoidably alienates some people. I don’t think dictating a memory is the right option for any society, but if Rwanda were to make no mention of the genocide, it would be avoiding or stifling of memory which would eventually manifest itself in further violence (my opinion). I’ve been reading The Emotional Healing Strategy by Gael Lindenfield, where she basically states that “time heals all wounds” is stupid, which I agree with. Eventually pain will become duller or lessen, but if you don’t air things out and get them into the open, you won’t understand them or address them how you need to.

Even though the human memory becomes garbled a lot and usually doesn’t make sense, it’s still necessary in creating every person’s individual context. When I first got to Rwanda I felt like a blank slate, or a sponge into which things were seeping. Maybe my brain was just in wicked shock, and it was actually helpful because I wasn’t so much like “wow this is crazy” as “my brain is accepting this how it is”. But also I felt separated from actually experiencing the new place since I personally felt absent and wasn’t able to apply my new experiences to what I felt before as a person.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t remember things from before, but I was so plied with new information that there was no room for what I used to think about. I was out of context within myself, which felt weird and like I couldn’t really properly process what I was taking in. I was glad I wasn’t experiencing massive American cultural bias, but it was like I lost what I knew of myself for a bit to take in a lot of new things. So! I think memory (with an open mind) is necessary toward analyzing yourself and other things in the present, as well as supplying lessons and knowledge on which to base a future.

Also, I was in Uganda for 12 days. We got our omg-we’re-in-Africa thing out of the way with a drive through a national park with giraffes and elephants, and a boat trip on the Nile with hippos (ugly terrible things) and crocodiles. Also learned a lot about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in northern Uganda, which is one of the more ignored festering humanitarian catastrophes of the last 20 years but has cooled off in the past several, in Uganda anyway.

Also bargained a lot at the main market in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, along with getting a fever for two days and sweating it out in the small town of Gulu that liked to play music loudly at bars 24 hours a day. We can bitch that it’s loud, but in the grand scheme of things, people who were ravaged by guerrilla warfare for years can play their music if they want.

About to start our four-week independent projects that finish off our program, mine will focus on the effectiveness of therapy methods for trauma-affected women (hence the emotional psychobabble in much of this entry). Six of us ladies on the trip will be living in a neat house we rented for the month; ready for it to become a cesspit of academic stress and various Rwandan cookie varieties. Love to you allll.

Art n’ such

March 17, 2011

For starters, the variations of fried dough here are delicious (in this case, chapatti).

Yesterday we watched the movie Sometimes in April, which chronicles a fictional storyline of a family during the 1994 genocide. One of the main actresses from the movie, Carole Karemera, met with us today at a cultural center (basically an auditorium with a stage) and rattled on awesomely about art in Rwanda for an hour and half. Some main points I remember were:

-Rwanda has a short history with certain kinds of art, particularly theater. She said that taking that into consideration, theater people can do anything they want without worrying about any kind of tradition, which is both freeing and burdening. It’s interesting to me comparing European history and culture, which I’ve been used to mostly, to modern Rwandan culture which is almost America-ish in some ways. I see a lot of my culture at home as a blank slate influenced mostly by things that are happening in the present rather than traditions in the past. Obviously Rwanda has a lot more deep-set extended family ties, but they seem to be mostly a blank slate for culture as well, like anything that the people can think up now will be what the culture is.

-Another one: Art as action and interaction. Mostly you think of people on stage as “acting” out a story, they’re not really themselves, but everyone in the world is acting in the literal sense of the word all the time. Carole talked about a group of women who got to release tension and emotion through acting out a play about rape, rather than admitting straight out that they were rape victims – essentially “acting out” (like a toddler would act out) but even playing a character contributed to reaching a point of catharsis for them. She also spoke about art as an alibi, to essentially have a cover of playing something else or representing something, but ultimately it is you communicating to other people. Her saying that gave me sort of a performance itch, since I think that’s what I love about performing – the feeling of communicating a certain type of feeling via some other medium, whether it’s music or words that have already been written, and having that feeling bubble out of you in the form of a scream or facial expression or sigh. And if anybody needs catharsis, it’s genocide survivors, good god.

Where was I! Kigali, Rwanda. I’ll toss out a gigantic blanket statement and say that studying abroad is hard and this program particularly makes me think about terribly difficult things, but overall such things needed to happen, my brain was going a little numb before.

This past week has just been visiting NGOs and an art gallery, and other such things. The guy who owns the art gallery/painted the art will have an opening at the Hotel des Mille Collines, the big main swanky main hotel of Rwanda. We may go there and then hit up a bar with the other expats of Rwanda for St. Patrick’s Day, as both are tomorrow. I realized that last St. Patrick’s I was in a bar in Trinidad, and will now be in a Rwandan one. Hoping to keep up this tradition of partying in foreign countries whose people could care less about such holidays. Also, ah, classmate Liz and I made a visit to Gisenyi in the west right on the shores of Lake Kivu/the border with the Congo. The lake had massively awesome mountains the background and the sunset was appropriately also awesome. Liz had a connection to a Rwandan guy who works for the American Red Cross and was in charge of this Barefoot Artists Village, which was basically a normal village but emphasized art for kids and their concrete buildings had pretty things painted all over. We also visited people who sew, make pottery, etc. and they were all like yeah everything’s cool, nta kibazo (no problem , nahchibahzo), whatevs. So, point of story, they probably didn’t have toilet paper and cold milk but it’s all good. It makes me think about “development” and what it means in our Western heads but that’s another blog.

So we finish up this week and then leave for our two-week trip to Uganda! We’ll be in Gulu first, in the north, massively close to what is now/will be soon South Sudan I’m thinking. The world is big! But also small.