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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So-so

September 1, 2009 at 5:35 pm (Life, School) (, , , , , )

Another successful day. I was at the college at an exceptionally early hour, but that turned out to be okay. One of the guys came over to talk to me because he was just as early as I was. Polishing up my social skills: success! I picked up both the recordings of the pieces we will be singing in chorus this year and the soprano part, so I should be alright. I also signed up for a practice room. I only filled out one time slot, on Tuesday, but I might check back for a second because I just don’t know how much I will have to practice just yet.

After my last class, I headed over to the student services building where I picked up the form I’ll need to fill out in order to get a confirmation letter from the college that I am enrolled in the fall semester. For what I need it, I do not know, but my father requested it and so I hopped to it. It’ll cost me five bucks. I can deal with that, even though it’s like, uh, I’ll be picking it up, so it’s not like you guys are paying postage. Seriously?

I am still a little jet-lagged, but what else will you expect? I made it until 09.30pm yesterday and then collapsed into bed. I felt a little ill, so I couldn’t sleep at first. Downed a phenergan. Sleep was imminent. I have found that packing my stuff the night before allows me to sleep a little longer if I want to. I might even start laying out my clothes like an elementary schooler again if it saves me time and stress in the morning. Getting to school early saves me a lot of money because I only have to pay for the bus fare in one direction. I am also still waiting for the books I ordered to arrive. I need my schoolbooks, Amazon. I can only deal with irritated professors for so long. On the other hand, I don’t feel as though they have any right to be snappy – schoolbooks cost a fortune. Even with the discounts and the books being used, it still made me cringe; it’s no wonder everyone is heavily in debt. Jesus.

I have also started keeping a hand-written journal again. I figure it is a quaint, if slightly anachronistic, thing and that such written forms keep for a while. Who knows? Maybe my future self may need it or find it good for a laugh. If nothing else, if anything happens to me, there will be something in paper for people to hold on to. I would know that feels; Lena’s box has been in my bed ever since I picked it up from the vet because it helps me sleep better. It makes her memory feel a little more tangible, even as I hurt inside.

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A Heavy Heart

July 23, 2009 at 7:31 am (Life) (, , , , , , )

There has been a lot of silence on my part lately; partly because my life is just not that exciting, and partly because a lot of emotionally draining events have taken place. The one I am most concerned with occurred yesterday.

My dog, while chasing a deer, jerked something around in her back, keeled over and started screaming like there was no tomorrow. Her hind legs and tail are completely paralyzed. After wailing and twisting in agony for a few seconds while I stared in horror, she managed to throw herself onto her stomach and somehow managed to drag herself through half the yard on two legs, towards me. It was like watching war footage in which a soldier has lost his legs to a mine. I ended up screaming my head off for my mom to come downstairs while I raced to the dog, made her lay down and tried to calm her down.

It turns out even my mother heard the dog scream in pain – while she was on the second floor of our house, in the shower. Our house is a solid brick building and pretty good at naturally dampening down noises. My mom managed to fly downstairs, onto the lawn. I called the vet. I managed to barely keep it together. I don’t even want to get it into Lena’s panicked struggling when she realized we were going to move her, she was definitely going into shock and so was I.

We left her at the vets. They took x-rays. One of her discs has been compressing her spinal cord because she has an arthritic vertebra. When she ran, she must have jostled something and thus cut off feeling. The dog is high as a kite on pain killers from what I know, they’re treating her with steroids in hopes of the swelling going down. She has a 50-60% chance of recovery. If she doesn’t, we’ll have to put her down.

This is the most traumatic, awful thing that has ever happened to me. I just can’t forget how she screamed and fell. I’d like to express my thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive and willing to listen to my obsessive ramblings about the state of my dog. I am not ready to lose her yet. I want for her to live and chase stuff until she is eleven, twelve, thirteen, then pass away in her sleep the way she deserves. Yes, she may have injured herself doing something she loves and because she leads a high quality life, but she is still in pain right now, in a cage in a strange place and not home.

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Life Goes On

July 15, 2009 at 7:16 am (Fun, Life, Music) (, , , , , , )

Since I am in England and this is where I can get all my health care, I decided to do the full shebang. I went in for a refill appointment last Thursday and am now all stocked up on the various medications I was running low on. Yesterday, I had a dental appointment since it has been over a year. One small cavity and a cleaning – I get the cavity taken care of next Tuesday.

The technician doing the cleaning was a lovely, bouncy young lady, maybe five or six years older than myself. Her office was covered in music paraphernalia, including an ukulele on the wall, various pictures of Elvis, some certificates of competitions she’d entered and several decorative guitar statues. Our shared love for music made for a good time.

When it was time for my cleaning, she handed me her iPod and told me to pick what kind of music we’d listen to. Navigating an iPod Touch was a little confusing at first, but I managed after a while and then settled for Lady GaGa telling her that she amused me. The technician laughed and said, considering I was majoring in classical music, that was a strange choice. “Yes, but she’s so absolutely batshit crazy that you can’t help but sort of like her. Besides, she actually has TALENT.”

We proceeded with the cleaning, all the while talking about Lady GaGa. At one point I stated I hoped her second album wouldn’t be about fame again, because it just gets tacky after a while.

“I heard she’s gone bankrupt, like, four times now!” the technician exclaimed. “How does that even work? I mean, seriously. She’s making a lot of money.”

“In that case, I suggest a cover of ‘Gold Digger’ for her new album.”

She laughed. It was probably my wittiest moment in weeks.

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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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Firebird

June 14, 2009 at 1:41 am (Music) (, , , , , )

I watched Fantasia 2000 on the treadmill tonight because I had not yet seen it. (Way late, I know.) My expectations were low, my younger sister had said she didn’t like it. Some pieces were better than others, but I enjoyed all of them immensely. Which brings me this next clip, set to Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” I think it is the most gorgeous piece of animation I have ever seen.

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Day Terrors

June 10, 2009 at 10:30 pm (News) (, , , , , , )

I can shrug off many things, but the shooting at the National Holocaust Museum earlier today has left me shaken. Jezebel compiled a bunch of information on the shooter, James von Brunn. It turns out he is a white-supremacist, anti-Semite, pro-Aryan nutjob. The sole person he shot has died. His website includes gems such as:

The “American myth” (created by JEWS) alleging our Founding Fathers intended that all races, from pygmy to Ainu, be invited to our shores, is based on Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence: “…all men are created equal.” The meaning of this much quoted statement has been distorted by the ILLUMINATI which subjectively is re-writing history and wielding the “HOLOCAUST” like a battle-ax at the heads of those proclaiming genetic certainties: Men and races are NOT created equal. Jefferson’s statement can be understood only in context of his Era. Our Founding Fathers were Aryans, men of good breeding who understood, empirically, the great differences existing between strains of horses; strains of live-stock; races of men; and between individuals: knowledge confirmed today by the natural sciences of Genetics, Eugenics, and Anthropology. Hitler, as American boobs are beginning to learn, was not all wrong.

I am, in all honesty, terrified. The kind of hate-speech he promotes seems to be directed at me. I am Jewish – but do I not look Aryan? What about those who do not have the protection of such genes?

I did nothing wrong. I have never participated in conspiracies against anyone. I believe in social justice. He does not know me or my family, nor does he know any other Jewish family. He does not know our friends. This, however, would mean he had to think and get treatment for his brand of crazy.

So why does he hate us so much?

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A Swine Flu Update

May 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm (News) (, , )

I figured you guys might find this interesting. My mother (an epidemiologist) is currently attending a medical conference in Hungary. She sent me this.

Swine flu is spreading more widely than official figures indicate, with outbreaks in Europe and Asia showing it’s gained a foothold in at least 3 regions. One in 20 cases is being officially reported in the US, meaning more than 100 000 people have probably been infected nationwide with the new H1N1 flu strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the UK, the virus may be 300 times more widespread than health authorities have said, the Independent on Sunday [newspaper] reported yesterday [Sun 24 May 2009]. Japan, which has reported the most cases in Asia, began reopening schools at the weekend [23-24 May 2009] after health officials said serious medical complications had not emerged in those infected. The virus is now spreading in the community in Australia, Jim Bishop, the nation’s chief medical officer, said yesterday [24 May 2009]. “I think we will see the number rise,” Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio today after confirming the nation’s 17th case and saying test results are pending on 41 others. “This is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint.”

So far, 46 countries have confirmed 12 515 cases, including 91 deaths, according to the World Health Organization’s latest tally. Almost 4 of every 5 cases were in Mexico and the US, where the pig-derived strain was discovered last month [April 2009]. Most of those infected experience an illness similar to that of seasonal flu. The main difference is that the new H1N1 strain is persisting outside the Northern Hemisphere winter.

Summer disease?

“While we are seeing activities decline in some areas, we should expect to see more cases, more hospitalizations and perhaps more deaths over the weeks ahead and possibly into the summer,” Anne Schuchat, CDC’s interim deputy director for science and public health program, told reporters on a 22 May 2009 conference call.

The US has officially reported 6552 probable and confirmed cases, Schuchat said. “These are just the tip of the iceberg. We are estimating more than 100 000 people probably have this virus now in the US. There have been 9 deaths and more than 300 known hospitalizations,” she said. The fatalities exclude a woman in her 50s who died in New York over the weekend [23-24 May 2009].

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I Don’t Caaaaaaaare

May 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm (Art, Fun, News) (, , , )

What you say about Disney. I AM FUCKING PSYCHED FOR THIS MOVIE. I have a long-standing love affair with animated movies like this, and that’s not going to change.

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Amazing!

April 10, 2009 at 1:41 pm (Life, News) (, , , , )

My father sent me this link to CNN. It’s a video featuring a long-time friend of mine named Ines, who is currently interning for a news agency in Strasbourg.

Now, check this out. Interviewing my motherfuckin’ president during a press conference. I am so proud.

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