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A Tirade Against Clubbing

July 22, 2013
With Ms. Emily, on a boat ride on the Thames.

Drinking champagne on a boat is sooo much classier, after all.

I don’t understand why people go clubbing.  I’ll go further: I think clubbing is the biggest scam of the modern twentysomething’s lifestyle. There.  I’ve said it.  I have whistle blown this entire malarkey wide open.  Seriously, have you ever actually thought about the merits of this seemingly ubiquitous social phenomenon?  It makes almost no sense.

Let’s consider the clubbing experience for a moment.  A recreation of this recreation, if you will:

It’s a Saturday night, and you are pumped: going clubbing!  Your friend knows a friend, and she said he knows a bouncer at the very exclusive, hip and trendy club “Plennus.”  This bouncer could get you and your friend into the VIP room of the club for some mad dancing and drinks!  So you don a very short skirt, a sparkly tube top and your highest high heels.  You teeter like Pisa as you put on your makeup and tease your hair.  Your friend arrives and promptly chastises you for not wearing slutty enough clothes.  Do you want to get into this club or not? Chagrined, you change and add more eye liner.  Now you both are late- already 10:30pm- and you realize you’ve spent over an hour and a half getting ready.

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The Rwandan Genocide of 1994: What Remains When a Country is Killed?

July 17, 2013

“We will squash the infestation. We will kill the cockroaches.”
-Hutu Power Radio

“Rwanda is clinically dead as a nation.”
-Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Los Angeles Times, 11 May 1994.


Outside of the Ministry of Finance building in Kigali. A reminder of ‘Never Again.’

The first thing that hit me was the stench of rot, of sickly sweet decay, death and embalming lime.  I had never smelled anything like it before.  Then I noticed the bodies.  White caked figures of preserved sinew and skin.  The bodies of children, their skulls split open.  Women with a bit of preserved hair and curved pelvic bones.  Thigh bones heaped and intermingled with fibulas, with shoulder blades, ribs, feet.  Thousands of bodies, hundreds in each room.  They lay in many identical little wooden houses on top of a hill, the site where they were brutally killed almost twenty years ago.  These people were herded there, with promises of safety, protection by French soldiers.  They didn’t know that the local Hutus were being evacuated from the area.  They didn’t think that once they were on top of this hill that there was no place to run and hide.

Five days after 65,000 people fled to that unfinished school at the summit of that hill, the genocidaires came for them.

I began to heave ragged breaths of air.  The smell continued to follow me from room to room.  Every room was the same, more desiccated bodies, more lime-white crooked forms, but I couldn’t stop myself from entering again and again.  These people died horribly, and somehow that meant that I felt that I had to acknowledge their suffering, it was my obligation, my duty, my burden to at least see.

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Constructing Narrative: Introduction to Rwanda

July 9, 2013
Rwanda scenery, taken in June 2013.

The scenery of Rwanda, land of thousand hills.

If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I was driving down a small highway in Pennsylvania.  Conifers and deciduous trees both dotted the side of the road, and the night air was percussive with the sounds of insects, perhaps cicadas.  The road curved gently back and forth, and stars sometimes were faintly visible ahead of us.  It felt like a long car ride up the east coast of America, even though I was halfway across the world.  Rwanda was all at once nothing like- and everything like- my mental schema of it.

Everything I saw in Rwanda, I fit into a larger fabric of comparisons to my previous experiences.  Kigali is like Amman; a hilly, relatively clean, safe and boring city for the region, a capital made from nothing, with a limited history beyond a colonial past.  But on the streets of Kigali I saw women dressed in a riot of colors, with matching turbans, shirts and skirts of bold patterns.  They carried baskets and buckets and bananas on their heads; this reminded me more of South Africa.  Even the few Muslim women I saw were wearing bright abayas and hijabs of red and yellow, blue or purple. Trying to envision them in the Middle East was a mental challenge.  And the children I saw and greeted, those who swarmed around me in friendly and exploitative curiosity, asking for pens and money and photographs and to touch my hair, they reminded me strongly of when I was in the Caribbean when on every island we stopped at, the children would meet us on the beach and yell “D’argent! Donnez-moi d’argent!” with seemingly unabashed avarice.

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The Strange and Lovely Philosophy of Graham

May 8, 2013
Barcelona, Sitges, Paris, London 021

Statue of a boy from Barcelona. I like to think that he is ulating in ebullience, completely in the moment.

He started to take the piss out of me the moment we met.  I was standing in line at the Double Shot coffee shop on Tavistock Road, rummaging in my wallet.  I wasn’t sure how I seemed to only have Euro cents in my wallet, as there I was, trying to pay the nice man making me a cappuccino.  I jokingly complained out loud how living in London was so tough, a euro-less life in a European world.  And there he was, sitting at a table close enough to hear, blue eyes sparking with interest as he interjected that London was a terrible place to live, the worst, he should know.  He then proceeded to list five or six worst cities to live in, simply based on the difficulties of using their currency.

We ended up having a chat together, him drinking his pink fruity water unabashedly, me with my caffeine habit and little spoon to go with it.

Walt Whitman would have liked Graham.  Not only was he handsome in a squashed nose, red-heady sort of way, but he contains multitudes.  He is an entrepreneur, a business man, but he hates labels.  He frowns at notions of identity, saying identity affiliation is a crutch, a way for people to stay psychologically safe.  His mum is Scottish, his dad English, but he doesn’t consider himself either.   I told him he didn’t feel English to me, but perhaps he had an Italian soul?  He said that he was better at picking up women than the Italians.  His soul was just a human soul, that is all.  Like anyone’s.

All people's are Graham's people.  Including Shrek.

All people’s are Graham’s people. Including Shrek.

He speaks a little bit of many languages: in our conversation alone, he spoke to me in Portuguese, Arabic, Italian, Spanish and English, though he said he was also fluent in Polish.  He learns these bon mots from lovers- his version of pillow talk.  As he joked, he too studies ‘international relations.’  He loves loving women; Graham admits he is a bit of a tosser, but he’s that way because he was made that way and not because he saw it in some movie and got socialized into it.  Besides if women love him back, isn’t that just good for everyone involved?  I said he should visit India, considering he said he like meditation and Indian food and the kama sutra.  He said he’d think about it.

He doesn’t drink, or smoke, or use any substances.  Life is sensory enough as it is, for Graham.

All people are Graham’s people.  He is a citizen of the world.  Seven billion people are like Graham, and Graham likes seven billion people.  I asked Graham how he can like people like the Boston bombers, like those men who throw acid on young women’s faces.  He says they aren’t real to him, he doesn’t read the news, he doesn’t engage with those people.  He’s never going to meet them- the only way they exist for him is if he lets them by learning about them.  They are merely concepts in his head, figments of his imagination for all the form and substance and effect they have in his life, so why should he be fussed?  News has a narrative that is constructed; facts aren’t facts but like a bread crumb trail- placed deliberately, leading to some overwhelming conclusion.  Only what he experiences, his personal sensory information, is real and genuine.

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The Complexities of ‘Doing’ Good: When Should One Intervene in Daily Injustices?

May 3, 2013

This is the second post in a series about the intimate, daily moral dilemmas people face living life in an increasingly globalized world. The first post in this series was about a personal, failed attempt at Western humanitarianism in the West Bank.

The cavernous belly of mass transit.

Taken in the metro system of Washington DC. Maybe the Gallery Place stop?

We were waiting for our train platform number to be published when it happened.  Three security guards in front of us pinned a man down to the concrete of the train terminal.  The security men were casual about it, twisting his arm against his back at an unnatural angle.  One of them placed his knee on the center of the prostrate man’s back, keeping him flat against the floor with minimal effort.  The man on the ground was middle aged, ill shaven and had white sallow skin.  He was dressed in a jacket and knit cap.  Nothing about him seemed out of the ordinary- except that he was on the floor, screaming about his rights being violated, kicking his feet in the air aimlessly like a toddler having a tantrum.

He said something about how they were holding him down simply because he took a photograph.  He said he took a photograph of the security guards, and for that he was being arrested.  He said that this is what the country had come to, that this violated everything Britain stood for.   He peppered his declaration with so many profanities, it was sometimes hard to understand him.  Still, he seemed completely rational, just (understandably) pissed off at being held down.  His eyes bugged out slightly as he pleaded for crowd intervention.  People shifted uneasily in a wide circle around him.  Some people took videos.  The security guards had called in the police, and now there were six people surrounding this man.  Handcuffs flashed under the fluorescent lighting.  The man kept screaming.

My friend and I hadn’t seen him do anything wrong at all, but then again, we weren’t looking for illicit activity.  My whole body was tense- what would a moral person do when confronted with this situation?  Was I perpetuating the bystander effect by watching without acting?  Was I witnessing police brutality and arbitrariness, or was this a legitimate use of force?  It certainly was violence, but violence is acceptable if it is applied justly by a legitimate state apparatus….  I wanted, desperately, to do the right thing.  But the right thing isn’t always easy to identify.

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When the Abyss Looks Back: On Procrastination

April 28, 2013

Rappelling down a cliff in Israel.

Looking over my Google calendar for the next three months is like looking out over the side of a precipice.  I stare at color coded assignments and deadlines, and feel the rocky crag of the edge of oblivion under my feet.  I look down over the lip of the mountain.  Rugged, jagged rocks stick out from the sheer sides of the cliff.  I have to make it down into this abyss, somehow, without dashing myself to bits.  It will happen soon, whether I like it or not.  In three months, I will be on flat land once more.  The question is merely how I will get there.  Through falling, to land hard, bruised and battered, with broken bones?  Or an easy rappel into soft air, gliding through the work and time with a careless grin and a strong harness of support?

So does the end of term time- with its unique blend of studying for final exams, taking said exams, preparing for a trip to Africa, and researching and writing a dissertation while worrying about the same- appear to a weary student.   And miles to go before I sleep…  Touché, Mr. Frost.

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Young Love… Nerd Style

April 16, 2013

What follows is an actual conversation that occurred.  Seriously.  Enjoy the sweetness of nerd romance.  

Taken in Loudoun County, VA, USA at a tiny, awesome coffee shop.

Trivia cards: useless knowledge that you somehow, nevertheless, feel great when you guess right.

Boy:  When mom saw my neck she said, “You are so bruised up, you look like you’ve been to war.”

Girl:  Tell her you have been to war! Say it was intense and that you don’t like to talk about it.  You know, PTSD and all.

Boy:  I’ve seen things no other man was ever meant to see…

Girl:  Exactly.  Then make sure to twitch slightly.

Boy:  You are so very traumatic, after all.  So if I get flashbacks, it is not naughty, just my PTSD flaring up again…

Girl:  Hmmm.  That is a good loophole.

Boy:  So…. Want to reenact some battles?

Girl:  Yes.  Gettysburg or bust!

Boy:  I could storm your beaches?

Girl:  That’s D-Day, dear.  Wrong war, wrong century.  The history major in me cringes.

Boy:  Pardon, m’lady.  I will think of some more historically accurate sexual innuendos for you.

Girl:  Thank you, kind sir.  I’m thinking that alliterative pirates pillaging is in order, too.

Boy:  I will brush up on my Viking lore as well, then.

Girl:  Mmhm… Samurai and geisha…Butler and lady of the house… Holmes and Watson…

Boy : Which one of us is Holmes?

Girl:  I am, of course.  I’m the butler and the samurai, too.

Boy:  …I feel so used.

And scene.