February 08, 2009

Disappearing World

Last night's sunset over Blackheath.

January 30, 2009

V-Day Article

I have an article in Seven Magazine this week about V-Day if anyone is interested...

"V-Day turns 10 in London this year; not, of course, the V-Day associated with shiny red hearts gleaming in high street windows, February roses sold by the dozen, and restaurants booked to capacity. This V-Day doesn’t mix love with consumerism. This is playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s V-Day, a “V” that stands not only for valentine, but for vaginas and victory over violence. It’s a V-Day that cynics can embrace and one that inspires even the single women." Read the rest here:

January 19, 2009

Innocence and Innocence Lost

This weekend, I went to a free screening of Until the Violence Stops, a documentary of sorts on the creation and purpose of V-Day (Eve Ensler’s movement to raise awareness of violence against women.) I went because I’m writing an article on the Vagina Monologues, her play that is put on in many countries around the world to raise money for this movement. It is the 10th anniversary of the London V-Day this year.

It was a difficult film to watch, though funny in parts as well (and the seats in the Belsize Park Everyman theatre are comfortable reclining couches). I remembered the first time I saw the Vagina Monologues, the moment I sat in a crowd of people where the women who were abused in the past were asked to stand; among them, many of my own friends. And then the people who know women who were abused stand and after that, everyone who promises never to let a woman be abused again. It’s a powerful play.

The documentary we watched included interviews with Japanese “comfort women” who served the sexual needs of soldiers during the war. One of them spoke of how she was shunned by her family for the shame of revealing her story and seeking justice. In the film, they spoke to a community of Native American women where there is a long history of domestic abuse. It showed Eve Ensler visiting Kenya where a centre for education on female circumcision was set up. They explained the different types of female circumcision, one of them cutting everything away, sewing up the girl with only a tiny hole for urine and menstrual blood. When the girl is married, her husband will sometimes use a goat’s horn to force through the wound.

On top of that, I’ve just started a book called The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam. It’s her memoir of growing up in Cambodia abused and sold into prostitution at the age of 16 where she was treated horribly. She felt dead inside. Her story is an amazing tale of survival and she is now an advocate for sex trafficking, working with young women rescued from brothels in Cambodia where she lives with her three children.

There is so much violence and anger in this world.

Here’s a short excerpt from Somaly’s book. Page 63-64:

My punishment was harsh, but the way they punish prostitutes today is far worse than anything I ever had to suffer. When I was with Aunt Peuve, except for that one time with electricity, the punishment was mainly beatings and our own fear - things like snakes. Now, I see girls in brothels with nails hammered into their skulls. That sounds unbelievable, but we have photos. Girls are chained and beaten with electric cables. They go mad. We've rescued several children from brothels who have completely lost their minds..Recently, some dead girls were found in the sewer of a brothel: they had drowned. Another time, after a fire, the police found several girl's bodies, still chained up. They know who owned that brothel - everybody does, but he isn't picked up and nothing is done about it. He has too many connections and the girls are nobodies. .The cuts and weals we see on escaped prostitutes these days are unbelievable. The clients do it, or the pimps. Maybe it's the influence of Chinese films; the pimps watch them avidly, like a lot of other men. They're full of scenes of torture. .Nowadays, the girls are much younger, too. This is because men in Cambodia will pay thousands of dollars to rape a virgin for a week - it's always a week, for a virgin. Sex with a virgin is supposed to give strength. It lengthens a man's lifespan and even lightens his skin..To make it clear they offer true bona fide virgins, the brothels today sell children. Often, they are very young girls, five or six years old. After the week is over, they sew the girl inside - without an anaesthetic - and quickly sell her again. A virgin is supposed to scream and bleed, and this way the girl will scream and bleed again and again. They do it maybe three or four times.

Tell me, can you read that without sadness and anger?

These are the reasons we need V-Day and what makes it important. It is not a male-bashing event, as some people find it. It’s supported, in fact, by many men who understand what it is about. It’s about empowerment of women, to help them feel comfortable with their bodies, to help them understand that their bodies are their own. To cast a blanket over dark pasts, to help those who aren’t strong enough to help themselves, to bring women together in compassion for one another. For peace.

January 03, 2009

A Letter to Halima Bashir

Here's a book recommendation: Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir.

It's a true story of her survival growing up in Darfur, Sudan. It's a place in the world that has become synonymous with violence and genocide, but Halima breathes life into it by sharing stories of her playful childhood and loving family life. She becomes a doctor and helps her people which gets her into trouble. Eventually, she does escape to London where she lives now.

Her story is incredible. And so I wrote her a letter, sent it off to the head of media at Aegis Trust, who she mentions in her book and asked him to forward it to her. He did. He read it as well and sent it to the CEO of the company who asked if it was okay to forward it to everyone there as a sort of motivational end of year email showing the chain of people their work has touched.

It's nothing special, but this is my letter:

Dear Halima,

For the past week, the part of my day I looked forward to most was my morning and after-work commute during which I could absorb your story in Tears of the Desert. It was one of the most heart-breaking and vivid stories of life and survival I have ever read and the first book to make me cry on public transport.

I’m the sub editor for an online magazine called Seven (www.sevenglobal.org) and had edited a story about a woman who travelled to The Hague with 47 survivors from Darfur. The author's story touched me and, in it, she wrote that someone had recommended your book to her. The next morning before work, I went to Waterstones and bought it. When I turned the last page, I felt I had to write to you. You are such a strong, inspirational woman and your ability and courage to speak out about such horrendous events is extremely admirable.

Having grown up in the comfort of an American suburb and lived in London for the last two years, it has been nearly impossible for me to fathom such inhumanity to this degree. I have read many articles about innocent people dying in Darfur and the torture and desperation that has been forced into their lives, but being so far detached from the situation makes it difficult to fully understand and easy to push behind you.

Your book is important because it will give people the crucial ability to see the situation on a different level. When westerners see facts and figures quoting hundreds of thousands of lost lives and millions displaced, those numbers are cold and empty. Reading a true, personal account of someone who was actually involved - someone who had a warm and loving family life and childhood that we can relate to – will make a difference in understanding and empathy.

One aspect I loved about your story was the glimpse into the true culture – learning about the food, how people live and work together, the traditions and beliefs, the environment and the languages. Most stories about Darfur focus on the violence. Your story also brings us the love and humanity of the people, the strong family bonds, hospitality of neighbours and the innocence of childhood.

I admire your dedication to your education and the way you were able to help people even if, at times, it was slipping them a bit of aspirin to make them feel “treated”. How you found the strength to face the girls who had been raped, I will never know. It absolutely broke my heart just to read about it. But thank God for your knowledge so that you could help. My boyfriend is a doctor in London and he has a dream of being able to go abroad to places where people have so little in the way of medical supplies and make a tangible difference. I’m going to buy him a copy of your book because I know it will inspire him even more so to follow it.

Thank you for sharing your story. I want to send my deepest condolences for the loss of your friends and neighbours, your strong grandma and, of course, your beloved father. Best wishes to you in your search for the rest of your family. It makes me thankful for my own family because, even though they are 3,000 miles from here, I know they are alive and safe. I can not imagine the pain of not knowing and all that you have gone through. You are in my thoughts.

All the best,