Desert Flower

October 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm (News) (, , , , , , , )

0688172377.01.LZZZZZZZI recently picked up Desert Flower – The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad after finding out a German filmmaker had managed to snag the rights to it. I had heard of it before, but seeing as I only recently officially came into being a snot-nosed feminist, it hadn’t occurred to me to read it.

Waris Dirie’s story is at once heart-breaking and inspiring. One of twelve children, she was born into a Somalian pastoral nomad family and raised in the deserts among those goats and camels. With no ability to read, write or speak a language beside Somali, she didn’t seem to be destined for great things. In fact, she was rather average for a young Somalian female. She tended goats, played with her siblings, had no shoes or education. Like every girl she was expected to marry whoever her father wished in exchange for more camels.

And like every other girl, she was subjected to the awful, awful practice of female genital mutilation when she was only five years old.

Waris Dirie is now a renown supermodel and UN special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. While I read this book, it felt like a small part of me died when I came across her experiences with FGM. When she was five, her mother woke her in the early morning before anyone else was awake and taken out to the bushes where the “gypsy woman,” as she was referred to, waited for them. Dirie was given a root to bite down on and held down by her mother. The gypsy woman herself used a razor stained with the blood of countless other young, helpless girls that this woman cleaned with her saliva and nothing else.

By African standards, this is relatively cleanly, apparently. Anything can be used – razors, glass, sharp rocks and when nothing else is to be had, teeth. The severity of the mutilation ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood to the full on removal of the labia majora, minora and everything else, then the girls are sewn shut. Dirie experienced the latter form – thorns from a nearby bush were used to create punctures for the sewing. After this, Dirie’s legs were bound together in order to create a minimal, “tidy” scar and she was left in a specially built hut to heal for a whole month.

Many girls die from blood loss, tetanus, infection, gangrene and other horrific side-effects of the “operation,” which include pelvic infections, severe UTIs and more. One of Dirie’s sisters bled to death. Dirie herself suffered for many years because she was left with only a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood were supposed to be allowed to escape. She was able to get surgery later in life, but will never regain much of the feeling in that region of her body because the surgery was performed back in the 90s. Nowadays, with medical advances, there are doctors who specialize in reconstructive surgery in order to help women regain feeling and a sense of pride in their bodies again.

I remember being in an Ethics class and the topic of FGM coming up. I argued against it because I feel, as a woman, that it is a cruel, unnecessary and awful tradition to uphold that gives a whole continent a bad reputation. I was told my Western privilege was showing – that it was necessary to approach some traditions with respect and the dignity it deserves because – while it is not my own culture – it is someone else’s cultural practice.

I call bullshit on that. I agree that the Western way is not always the right way, but I see no reason to accept a practice that is so barbaric. Many of the cultures FGM is practiced in are Muslim; men argue that the Q’ran demands it. Nowhere in the Q’ran does it state that you are to maim and brutalize your women. FGM – I refuse to deign it with the term “female circumcision” because it undercuts the severity of what is done – was invented by men in order to oppress women and make them pliable through their pain. Those who argue that male circumcision is equally cruel – what on Earth are you thinking? We do not cut off young boys’ penises. We don’t divorce them from their sexual organs in order to oppress them. There is a vast difference between a small surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed and the hacking off and permanent crippling of young defenseless girls.

It makes me sick to my stomach that around 2 MILLION girls a year are at risk of being victims of FGM. I hope that, through education and redirection of practices, it will be possible to decrease and maybe eliminate the practice entirely, though it will take a long time. Meanwhile, here is the trailer to Desert Flower where Dirie is played by Liya Kebede:

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Grumpy

September 28, 2009 at 9:16 pm (Life) (, , , , , , , , )

grumpy This was my expression throughout the majority of the Torah services, Yizkor and Musaf and the beginning of the Avodah (at which point, we left).

I have realized I am not cut out to be the member of a congregation as large as this. There were well over a thousand people present. This means it is loud, people are always talking, it is hard for me to concentrate on the actual prayers and it is super crowded. There was absolutely no room for me to move during the Amidah. Someone behind me was constantly basically shoving their book into the back of my head.

Again, the rabbi felt it was appropriate to ask for money. During Yizkor. OF ALL TIMES, DURING YIZKOR. Did it ever occur to him how incredibly rude that is? People have passed away and we’re trying to say prayers for them, and you’re asking us to reach into our pockets? The man moved further up my list of Obnoxious Things And People I Dislike. This is a rather affluent community, I’m sure he could have asked for donations for Israel Bonds or their synagogue at some other point. His stories and interjections were absolutely moot, pointless.

If there is a God, S/He will not make me go back to this place. Ever. Please, please, please let me have transferred to a different school and a different community by then. I can’t deal with this again.

I made sure to email all my professors about my absence, so everything was alright on that front. I finally managed to weave my way through the automated phone system operated by TriCare in order to inquire about getting new contact lenses through someone here in the area. It seems they are willing to cover it, but I apparently still need to talk to someone back in Europe as to how exactly we want to proceed. Simple, people – I need to see an experienced ophthalmologist who can deal with eyes that have been operated on, have a high astigmatism and off-the-charts diopters. Ugh. I hate life.

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Braincrazy

June 18, 2009 at 1:37 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

Mental illness is a recurring theme here. My family has a history of it in various forms. I am severely unstable when not medicated and, while it makes me a little sad, I realize that this is in no way my fault. My body has a faulty configuration. I have no influence over how much or how little serotonin it produces – my medication patches up a hole in my body’s programming. I will not find out for quite some time how effective this medication is or will be in the long run; I have had too many breakdowns – episodes of major depression, if you will – that went untreated  to say how long I will be on medication.

I was told two years for one or more major depressive episodes. More than that, and a patient is never taken off the medication.

I sometimes forget how fortunate I am to have grown up in a family where, for most part, it was understood that I had little to no influence over my irrational, sometimes violent, behavior, my self-injury, my low self-esteem and my anger. It was understood that it was a matter of genetics. It was never something I had much control over – gaining even a modicum of control takes years of cognitive therapy. I have no ability to put that much trust in one person nor the strength to start over each time as I physically move away and have to find a new therapist. I am not seeing anyone right now and I am quite comfortable with this.

It’s outside of my family that the misunderstanding and the queer looks started. People do not know how to separate the symptoms of the invisible illness from the personality of the person fighting it. In the minds of the unafflicted, they merge and you, I, we become the disorder. Suddenly a nameless, looming, silent evil part of the psyche has a face. Suddenly they do not know how to treat you anymore or describe you.

And thus, we remain silent to save face. We become bearers of a stigma and feel as though we carry the plague into the unwitting masses. We are taught by others that our illness could be contagious, even when we rationally know it is not. When we are found out, we are shunned as lepers for something beyond our control.

My aunt’s friend has a severely ill daughter who was recently hospitalized for her mental issues. This friend, let us call her Joanne, had never let on how sick her daughter – henceforth Hanna – truly was. Hanna spent her first night in the high security ward under suicide watch and remained in the institution for a week. She was released on a combination of three medications, mood stabilizer, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic. I had assumed Hanna was severely depressed and had equally awful body dysmorphia. What I did not know was how she would sneak up on her mother when Joanne was brushing her teeth until she was inches from Joanne’s face, only to start screaming incoherently. What I did not know was that Hanna randomly threatened to kill herself in order to pressure her parents into pitying her. What I did not know was that Hanna’s therapist was somehow unaware of his client’s behavior and the true extent of her mental illness.

I am sad that Joanne did not feel as though she could turn to either my aunt or someone else she trusted. I know Hanna was sick; sometimes, in those rare instances when Joanne and I had a spare moment together, I would reach out. I told her my parents had almost institutionalized me at one point. I told her I, too, was ill, much like her daughter, and that it would pass if they all pulled their share. I told her Hanna would have to be ready to make changes because her parents were currently doing all the work. Medication and treatment would make Hanna better, I promised, and if there was anything I could do, I would do it. I offered to reach out to Hanna once she was ready.

My own experiences make me capable of empathy, but I also find it almost too easy to be judgmental. Hanna is deeply entrenched in her illness at this point in time. She does not see that she is acting immaturely, that her hostility will eventually wear even her sweet parents’ patience thin. I do not expect her to make sudden changes and see the light of how stupid she was acting, but I still find myself wanting to be angry about how she treats others.

I did this. I should know better.

I hope I did the right thing in opening myself up to Joanne that way. I wanted to let her know that her experience was not out of ordinary, that it happened to other families as well. I wanted her to see that, with the right help, her daughter would be alright. Most of all, I wanted to comfort someone who needed it.

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An Open Letter

June 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm (News) (, , , , , , , , )

Dear Sir,

I realize you thought you were doing a good thing. Your thoughts were tainted by the grandeur of martyring yourself for the cause, ending a reign of terror, a genocide. You were stopping a godless murderer from ending the lives of defenseless children, those who had no voice. You and your friends, you were to speak for these innocents, you were going to protect them.

What you call ideology I call madness. What you call an innocent child I call a cluster of cells, a the half-formed beginnings of what – after birth – will be a human being, with no personality or viability. What you call murder I call choice. Those you condemn I support.

What you do not realize, sir, is that you have no right to make decisions for someone with little choice in the matter. For every woman who, in utmost emotional pain, fells the decision to have a “late-term” abortion does so with a heavy heart. It is a traumatic, invasive, terrible procedure. Those “children” are wanted. You have no concept of the terror and anger and sadness these women feel as they grasp their partners’ hands throughout the procedure. You have no idea of how these people have to pick the pieces of their shattered dreams and hopes they pinned on that pregnancy. Everything they’d wished for is dashed with one visit to prenatal care.

You may think you have the right to judge and shun these women and men, harass them and shame them. It is my duty to correct you, sir.

You are no hero. You are, in fact, an awful human being, as is every single one of your friends at Operation Rescue. How dare you take it into your own hands to pass judgement on someone else when you spend so much time arguing your belief in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. You are nothing but a useless worm. Do you think this is what your God wants?

How ever did you think it was right, even just to shoot another living, breathing human being? You are no martyr, sir, you are an asshole. You committed a heinous crime against another person, defying one of the Ten Commandments, if you feel inclined to placing worth on your own goddamn Bible. Does “thou shalt not kill” ring a bell? No? Then perhaps you are not as familiar with your own scriptures. You are a horrid person, sir. What you and your friends are doing is called domestic terrorism. You shot a man providing invaluable, important services to those who needed them the most. You shot a true humanitarian. Countless of Dr. Tiller’s patients are stepping forward to tell their stories. You are instilling fear in the hearts of innocent people, making them afraid to seek the help and make the choices they need to. Did you know all of them are anonymous because they are afraid of you, of the things you do in the name of a God who surely condemns what you did just as much as anyone with even an ounce of brain matter does?

I hope you rot in Hell.

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Marriage Crisis

May 27, 2009 at 11:02 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

My older sister had her wedding ceremony on Saturday. My mother did not attend.

I have noticed an increasing amount of people being extremely judgmental about this little fact that I do not care for. I don’t think many people understand the circumstances of the situation. It grates. I almost didn’t attend the ceremony either because I somehow, in my gut, just knew it was going to be awful and I would want to kill myself. My gut feeling was right.

My mother does not necessarily approve of interfaith marriage because she herself had bad experiences on that front. My father officially converted so they could get married by a rabbi. HOWEVER, my mother did not insist on him doing this – she told him she would not be leaving him, regardless of their marital status. She was absolutely fine being a domestic partner, but if they were to be married, she’d prefer to do a religious ceremony of her heritage because she had some issues with Catholicism. My father had turned his back on Catholicism by the time he hit college, taking courses in comparative religions and taking a shine to Judaism. So, there is that. Grandma and Grandpa turned out to be horrificly bitchy about it, repeatedly attempting to interfere with the way my parents were raising us by encouraging Christmas and Easter and various other Christian holidays with us. It reached a point where my mother had to threaten they would not be allowed to see us if they did not cut it out.

This may seem harsh, but she has a point. My grandparents had no damn right to interfere with our religious upbringing, if there was to be any. We are their grandchildren, NOT THEIR CHILDREN. Repeatedly making attempts to put Jesus in our life and telling my mother she was an awful horrid Jewish woman who took their beloved Christian angel off the path to righteousness are not appropriate.

On to my sister. S. is not religious at all; she does not identify with Judaism anymore than she does with Christianity, but I think she may inadvertantly be culturally Jewish. A year ago, she married a German Lutheran in a civil ceremony, the way it is done in Europe. She has also had all these fantasies about what her wedding should be like, white dress and flowers and all; she’s had those since she was a child and it dumbfounded and confused my mother and I all the time. S.’s husband, F., is also not at all religious. He’s a could-not-give-a-shit athetist with some leftover guilt from his upbringing.

There was no need for a religious ceremony. Legally, they have already been married for a year. They could have gone with an anniversary party. S. could have worn her goddamn dress to her civil ceremony. But no, she wanted to wear her dress in a big fancy building. Fine. I can deal with this. However, she and F. complied with his parents’ wishes to have a religious ceremony in a church where F.’s mother had worked for twenty years. In Germany, you get whatever asshat runs the majority of the services in that church. The pastor was a total and complete cad.

His idea of interfaith, somehow, meant that he was entitled to make jabs at the Judaism and the fact we do not believe in hanging up a bleeding corpse on a cross for everyone to pray to. He pointedly referred to Judaism as a tradition rather than a faith. He interjected things like, “And now, you have come here to reaffirm your marriage before God, by which, dear bride, I mean JESUS CHRIST.” He gave them a bible as a wedding gift from “the community.” He made the couple kneel before the altar so he could bless them with the crucifix motion despite the couple having said they did not want such a thing.

I was very close to walking out throughout the whole thing. I thought it was rude, inappropriate and does not at all speak of the Christian values I know some of my friends represent. There was no kindness, no love or charity in his sermon, his actions spoke of great disrespect for other human beings who happened to not agree with every word he said. Basically, all he did was ensure stereotypes of interolance within church walls were reaffirmed.

That is why my mother did not go. She had no desire to see her daughter shamed before a congregation for being of a culturally and religiously different group. She had no desire to sit for an hour, staring at a depiction of Jesus Christ bleeding on the cross. She had no desire to have unfriendly encounters with the church servants and the pastor the way I did. This is entirely reasonable, especially since the whole ceremony was completely unnecessary. I wish people would stop talking about how “sad” they were when they heard their “friend did not attend her daughter’s wedding.” It is none of their fucking business to judge when they don’t know the whole story.

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It was . . .

May 21, 2009 at 6:16 pm (Life) (, , , , )

a dark and windy night in Southern Germany when she decided to update her blog again.

My mother flew in from England. I am happy to see her, but somehow, I feel things have changed over the five months since I last saw her. I am loathe to say I have grown up because I pretty much feel the same as I always did. I never sense that I have changed. It is others who remark upon such things happening. I never notice it. I don’t feel different, I don’t want to feel different. While I had my flaws, I kind of liked who I was five months ago, even almost a year ago when I graduated.

It is late where I am right now. I think I’ll be able to focus my thoughts better tomorrow morning. I also have an appointment to get my hair cut tomorrow, so I will post before and after pictures and whatnot. I will also be hunting for shoes for the wedding (one more day until I can forget all about my sister’s gosh-I’m-so-pretty party!) and buying a new curling iron.

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The Final Countdown

May 10, 2009 at 5:25 pm (School) (, , , )

Photo 76

I have jury tomorrow. That just about sums up how I feel about this.

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The Idiot Pandemic

May 9, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Life) (, , , , , )

I truly believe that is what we are fighting these days. Not swine flu, not cancer. The idiot pandemic. Idiocy spans the globe and is somehow distilled down to its essence by the time it reaches the internet, making for one gigantic influx of stupid that kills your brain cells by simply looking at it.

A recent development in my Facebook news feed has left me with the distinct feeling of wanting to smack my forehead against a wall. Preferably solid brick wall. The stupid is just insurmountable. Somehow, a lot of my German friends have taken to calling each other “homo.” A lot. Every other status update, its comment section or wall post includes the word “homo” as an insult or greeting.

Now, in theory, it should not bother me. The root of the word is in Latin. Simply, it means “human.” However, I will not accredit them with that much intelligence. What they mean is “homosexual.” Their goal is to insult each other.

I fume at the misuse of said word, turning a simple description of someone’s perfectly acceptable sexual orientation into something bad. This is exactly why we’re having such trouble. So many people are latently homosexophobic and because many homosexuals are afraid of being outed, no one tells them these people are being assholes. The fact people seem to think it’s okay to use this word as an insult or form of greeting is horrid. I know that at least one of these people has an openly homosexual friend. That is what ticks me off most – you have a friend who has entrusted you with the knowledge of them being different from about 97% of the population. And yet you see it fit to use their sexual orientation to throw around carelessly?

I do not like the implications of this ignorance. I have made a point to point it out in my own status update, but I still feel that all of the offenders deserve this:

middle-finger

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A Piece of My Heart

May 6, 2009 at 8:53 pm (Life) (, , , , )

I called my mother on Monday to – apparently – reassure her that I was still alive. For Mother’s Day, I sent her a package. It contained sock yarn, curry, books, an Arvel Bird CD I had purchased when he, along with other Native American heritage composers, performed at my college. I also included a couple of CDs from my voice lessons because my mother had been complaining about not getting to hear me. Personally, I think she was wondering if she was getting her money’s worth, but never mind that.

She told me that she put a CD in. My dog is usually very lethargic in the evening, but Lena perked up immediately and then went on to search the entire house for me. She’s always been fairly musically inclined for an animal. Right around the time we got her, when I was thirteen, I started singing a lot more frequently. She seemed to enjoy being sung to, especially in the evenings – I believe it may have assuaged the loneliness she felt at no longer sleeping with her litter mates and family.

Back when I still took piano lessons, she would attempt to wedge herself between my feet and the Yamaha electric piano in our living room. She quickly learned this was not particularly comfortable because I needed to tread pedals on occasion. She then settled for sitting next to me, her tail thumping in time with the metronome. When I took up singing on a slightly more professional basis, she would always make sure to be nearby when I practiced. She would become very excited and, sometimes, she would join in.

Ever since leaving her back with my mother in England, it feels like a part of me was ripped from my chest. When I am home, Lena and I are pretty much attached to each other at the hip. Where I go, she goes. I admit to somewhat obsessively planning my schedule around hers, making sure I am not away from home too long, planning walks and preferring my interactions with people to be capable of involving her somehow. That’s just how the two of us work. When errands need to be run, I try to make sure I can get there by foot or by bicycle or, if it’s not too long, by public transportation. I feel lonely without her.

img_5208This sort of brings me to today’s dilemma. When my sort-of-adopted-aunt came home, we went about making salad for dinner. As I was washing the portion of baby portabella mushrooms to get rid of the massive amount of dirt, she pretty much dropped a bomb on me.

“You know,” she said as she sliced some sweet pepper, “if your parents can’t afford to have you go back to Germany this summer, I’ll send you. You need to see your dog.”

I wanted to choke up for a moment, so I concentrated on wiping some particularly stubborn clump of dirt stuck on a mushroom. “It’s up to Mom and Dad, I guess.” Studiously avoiding facing someone else when talking about an uncomfortable subject is a specialty of mine.

“If it’s possible, you know she could come live here, right? We could somehow work it out.” I protested a little feebly, pointing out that Odin – her 11-year-old mean cat – would probably not take too kindly to a large dog invading his territory. “Well, he gets cranky, but he usually adjusts. We’ve had a Rottweiler over before. For a few days. But they sort of worked something out.”

There is nothing I would love more than to have her here. So my first, rather irrational, response was to wait until she’d left for the Neighborhood Association meeting so I could let the tears flow as I looked up airline regulations on pet travel. At the same time, I knew it was stupid. My mother had – off-handedly, jokingly – remarked that she would love to send the dog with me. I have no doubt she would love to finally be able to rightfully hand over the responsibility for my dog to the person she actually belongs to. But Lena’s not exactly young anymore at seven-and-a-half. Our old dog, Whisper, nearly died when she flew from the US to Germany back in the early 90s.

I realize that airlines must be much better about pets traveling these days, what with the involvement of animal rights agencies and so forth. I am still loathe to think of putting my poor, sweet dog in the cargo hold of a noisy airplane. If I could take her into the cabin with me, as people with small dogs or cats are allowed to, I would do it in a heartbeat. Alas, Lena weighs a great deal more than 17.5 lbs.

I feel a bit like a recently divorced parent with extremely limited visitation rights to their child. I don’t even know if I should attempt to broach the subject with my mother. I would love it, but on the other hand, it is my responsibility to ensure my companion animal’s well-being. I somehow don’t see an airplane fitting into the equation because I am a doting mother hen.

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