Newt In A Tea Cup

{September 22, 2007}   May I present my new girlcrushes?

Or how stereotypes make you loose money and make everyone miss out.

Wendy Cooling of Bookstart sounds damn cool to me and she gets it. So does Amanda Craig who sums it up; “Publishers are quite lazy on this issue. They know that girls are more likely to enjoy reading, so it’s easier for them simply to target them. They don’t seem to realise that boys are capable of just as broad a range of reading as girls, once they get started,” she said.

Literature is important because not only is it fun but it also enriches your experiences and paints a new extension on the frame throughout we see the world. If it’s really good literature it helps you vocalise what you’ve known all along. Growing up I would gobble down Enyd Blyton, The Odyssey amid a plethora of mythologies and Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Even now the benefits of such an education arise and it mostly comes from the fact it truly was an education that I pursued of my own volition and it was not a curriculum. Not only that but the more you read the more you can read. Look, I hardly enjoyed studying T.S. Eliot and, no I don’t understand what he was on about either (apart from doom, death, snobbery and sex naturally) but at least I didn’t have to look up every other word or reference.

Now imagine missing out on all those good books because some ass of a publisher decided to stereotype them to hell in a way that would make any self-respecting girl ashamed and any boy bullied.


Second girlcrush of the day: Emma Thompson.

As if Jane Austen and Harry Potter weren’t fabulous enough Ms Thompson is throwing down the gauntlet against the sex industry and prostitution.

There may yet be change in the air. Let’s get this rolling.

{September 11, 2007}  

Rest in peace Anita Roddick – An absolute inspiration in her legacy of showing the world that a successful business can be ethical.

{September 6, 2007}   My Rwanda

I find it quite hard to write sometimes, mostly because when I write to this blog it tends to be fuelled by a cocktail of anger and sadness. Desperation, I think. The truth is that I need to keep busy and at that point I’m naturally optimistic and happy. But when I’m not busy and my mind sinks back onto itself I end up feeling incredibly down. It’s predictable like clockwork; vacations are the worst. Those days I can’t face people so I spend what feels like hours fighting back tears and hoping no one notices. If it weren’t for the absolutely amazing friendships I’ve made throughout high school and the last two years of college I don’t know where the hell I’d be.

The other day my sister and her youth group were giving a talk about their experience in Zambia. After I overheard a mother berating her boy for not really saying about all that they learned and focussing on the Victoria Falls and Safari instead. I took pity on him because I know how hard it is to talk about that stuff when it’s so fresh – especially in front of people who you don’t think will understand.

So I talked to her about my own experience in Rwanda in 2005 and how much I’ve changed since then.

It was getting up to sing for our hosts that gave me the seeds of courage to become a confidant woman. I didn’t notice that for ages, but some of the things I’m happy doing now I could have NEVER done then.

Rwanda made me politically aware of social justice in a way I’ve never been before. The difficult questions of racism where thrown in our faces in a seriously uncomfortable way – the way people would gawk at my skin and act so honoured to see me was horrible.

And I told her how my predominant feeling was anger.

And this bit is completely messed up- I was angry at the poor people.

Because they had nothing and were happy to see us. Because they had nothing and still sat down and thanked us personally for the work of every Aid Agency in the country. Help is from white people and aren’t we white people too? Because they gave us food and hospitality when I would have said piss off in their place.

Because they smiled.

How dare they? They are dying! Living in squalor! The children have no parents and no clothes and no food! They have had a genocide for Christ’s sakes! Don’t they know what that means?!

That was wrong of me and yet my intentions were right.

When faced with those atrocities anger is appropriate.

Children are dying. Children are dying. Repeat that phrase with every inflection until you know everything it means.

The children are dying.

For all our wonders and technology and every single damn thing we have ever achieved the children are still dying.

Who is guilty? This is a crime. Someone must be at fault. Who? That’s something that I really don’t think any of us can answer properly. Yes, the big corporations don’t help but there are so many strands of culpability it is impossible to fix or blame one single thing. The closest I had to visualise this problem was what was in front of me. I was angry at the Rwandans because I was going through so many different experiences and shocks that all I was certain of was the smile on their faces which never flickered no matter how threadbare their clothes.

I felt like I was arriving empty handed and yet they were begging to receive 10 pence for a meal.

The anger festered a lot and I’ve been having to deal with it since. The important thing is that you focus the anger. I’m only responsible for me. It’s wrong of me to be upset at them for taking what they can from life. I don’t like that they think they have been blessed by a white presence; it is seriously problematic. But they have so little that means something – what’s the situation? Do I take that away? What is ethical here?

But where does the anger go?

I want to talk about something else. Most people know Rwanda for it’s holocaust. The HIV/AIDS infection rate is so high because of the mass rapes during the attacks. There were very, very few men that we saw, a fair amount of women and absolute legions of children under 14. Think about the reason why.

Under the insistence of our hosts we went to what was supposed to be a school before it became a memorial. Outside a man talked to us, but not really… His eyes were rimmed permanently red, his voice was quiet and his demeanour was like he was living in a reality transposed unto ours. But what really drew the gaze was the smooth, bullet sized indent on his forehead.

When the killings started the people had been maliciously told the school was a centre of protection in the hands of the French so 65000 flocked there. The water and electricity was purposefully cut off. They fought against the Tutsis with stones. It was a massacre.

He told us of how he fled through the rainforest, across the vertiginous hills and into the next country with that bleeding head wound. But only after hiding in the bushes and seeing his wife shot. The children were all buried alive around the school.

Today it’s quiet. Walk down the path beside the green grass where it’s kept even and no one comes. To your right there is an elevated mound and a flag flies above it. The solemnity and grief clocks the air and worms into your lungs so every breath you take is a prayer. God, no. God, why? No, no, not this. Please, God, please. Answer me. Where were you, God? Why? Why?

Behind the modern building there are some twenty odd typical African classrooms. The walls are bare, cracking a bit and the floor is grey slate. You walk down where children would have learnt to change the world; where they would be reading and playing and growing to help the country become something amazing. You’d visited a few classrooms the day before and had been amazed at their aptitude. The lessons are trilingual, the pupils had been apt and eager, well dressed with the girls in the blue uniform and the boys in brown. Here there is no one.

But first you smell something strong. When you look in the classroom what you see is a frozen moment of time.

The body’s have been dug back up and are thrown onto low tables. They are preserved in lime- bleached white, still wearing their clothes and some of them still have their hair. Every wound is visible. The position of the body has not been altered and the facial expressions are agony. The mouths are open, contorted in their last screams of pain that no one hears now or listened to then. They are still trying to scream.

The first classroom is full of only children. And so is the second. And the third.

You can’t step in the room but look from the door. You feel sick from the smell. They show you a pile of tattered clothes and shoes.

When you walk back out you understand what he meant when he said 40 000 people were buried under that mound with the flag on it. You imagine their stretching arms reaching, up, up but beat back with dirt thrown on them by caterpillar trucks.

Right then you understand something. And you feel the anger it brings.

Every single one of those contorted, smothered people loved, was loved, dreamed for tomorrow (do you know how precious being able to dream is?). They thought about things- Oh, my God, they imagined and reasoned and that blows your mind away. They had ambitions and families and they laughed. Do you remember that? Stretch your mouth open, get that rolling wave of sound rise from your throat and watch your eyes crinkle in the mirror. Isn’t that absolutely incredible? They liked things, saw beauty and created beauty in so many different ways. There is nothing so earth-shattering as seeing what a miracle this life is. You see that if there ever was an image of God it is right there in front of you. Think about what that means; what it really means when all the mundane is revealed to be something so astounding that we could not do anything but marvel about it if we truly understood it. People aren’t just people. They are everything they experience and more.

And someone decided to take that away – because they felt like it.

My anger made me a pacifist from that moment. Nothing and no one has the right to take someone and violently murder everything that they are and had and could be. It’s absolutely vile that it can even be considered.

When you leave the memorial at Murambi a group of children run up to you, hands out for money or a touch of your elusive pale skin. They’ve most probably worn the same shirt without changing it for years and now it’s a brown colour with stains and rips decorating it. Their feet are bare and they have no one to supervise them. Most must be orphans of war or aids. After a while death is all the same thing. In a few years time the malnutrition or the malaria will have killed a handful of them. If they survive to adulthood they’ll be old before their time and live in the drudgery of poverty with no options of escape or relief – not from the dirty muddy water which will surely infect their families or from the growing debt gnawing at the last portion of food. The girls will give birth in the dark alone when they are much too young and watch their children die or die themselves.

You know this.

They are still smiling.

Murambi Memorial Pictures. Not safe for anyone. But then, it wasn’t for them either, was it?

et cetera