Our social justice tour

I wanted to come to Washington, D.C., to visit my friend, M. I intended to come last weekend but didn’t because of the forecasted snow storm.

My teen wanted to come, but I rescheduled the trip for this weekend and she had school… so I thought… what if we made it a social justice tour in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

So, I signed her out of school to “explore social justice in our nation’s capital.”

We ended up on the campus of Georgetown University’s Law Center. And had a sandwich nearby where I tried my first pastrami.

I don’t know why I never had pastrami before.

We then attended a rally for Marzieh Hashemi, the African-American journalist and American citizen who lives in Iran and works for the English language Iranian Press. She is also a Muslim convert.

Marzieh recently came home to the United States to visit family when she found herself “kidnapped” by the FBI and transferred to two different detention facilities, where she was not offered halal food nor allowed to wear her hijab.

I had heard Marzieh’s story on NPR’s Morning Edition and saw M posting some updates on her situation on Facebook. When he mentioned a rally and protest today, I wanted to go.

She called her 11-day imprisonment an act of “intimidation” and encouraged all of us to make sure we make a difference with our lives because we will all eventually die.

Meanwhile, my daughter ended up on Iranian TV. See the little blue globe in the photo and the brown haired girl in the jean jacket? That’s my baby.

Check out my YouTube videos of this event:

The beginning of the event:

https://youtu.be/1Bl4A5NoE7g

Marzieh’s son talks about growing up in a home that the FBI raided without reason:

https://youtu.be/BAOPut6jVH4

Marzieh arrives:

Marzieh speaks:

https://youtu.be/ZcgL2Iog0s8

When your writing career carries on without you…

 

So today I got an unexpected email from the folks at SAGE Academic Publishing. About four years ago, I wanted to write some short encyclopedia entries for them and they said no because I didn’t have a Ph.D. It was one of the things that made me consider graduate school.

They advised me that if I could find someone to co-author who had the necessary credentials, I could write for them.

I enlisted my college era friend Annette Varcoe, a brilliant scholar in American history and Women’s studies who had a freshly-minted Ph.D. after her name. She allowed me the pleasure of helping her edit her final dissertation.

The topic at hand was one of my favorite places in the world, Djibouti, and the article was based on a capstone project for my international affairs degree I had just completed. She knew nothing about Djibouti but her critical eye brought life to my dream and she got hooked on this region of the world and conditions there. Our first article was on poverty in Djibouti. She approached me a few months later and asked if I would consider doing another on security.

We did. Both pieces were submitted fairly close to each other. We probably wrote them both in 2014. The poverty piece was published in July 2015. I got the email that the second has now been published. March 2018. My career looks current even if I have stalled a bit!

This refreshed my memory that I never actually saw a book review I submitted to Global Studies South. Since my husband is home from work today using up his vacation, I asked him to look me up in the academic databases to which the Lafayette College libraries subscribe.

And here I am!

Journaling across generations

I started keeping a journal after a writing workshop at University of Pennsylvania that I attended as a high school student. I kept them faithfully for at least a decade, tapered off in my consistency after the birth of my daughter, experimented with forms (most recently adapting a bullet journal style) and renewed my habit in the last few years but still not with the same devotion I once did.

I used to fill a standard cheap journal in a month. Larger, fancier volumes took longer. I color coded a lot of my text. One color for fiction, one color for poetry and another for personal experience. That sort of thing.

The blank ones included sketches. Briefly, I used calligraphy pen and even briefer a fancy fountain pen.

My current fascination is Alphabooks, blank journals in the shape of alphabet letters. I found the A on clearance. My husband had recommended his mother buy me the N for Christmas as it is the second letter of my name, but I fooled them and mentioned if I had the chance I would continue the series with B and write alphabetically.

I also have an affinity for Sharpie pens. I bought a set in August 2016 and they are still going strong.

Eventually, my journals ended up in a box in the attic. Or, several boxes, more accurately.

My now 13-year-old daughter has always been captivated by the written word, always written in notebooks, constantly starting projects and ripping out pages (and never finishing). She has started working on her own stories, but journaling hasn’t held her interest.

 

But she keeps asking to read my journals. I cringe.

I tell her she needs to remember that journals have a lot of angst in them, a lot of unfiltered, unedited thoughts and that what I say in these journals might not always be… well… nice or even what I would say on a different day. And some of my tales might color her opinion of the people she knows, even her own family.

But she keeps asking.
I bought her a nice journal for Christmas. And a HUGE set of Flair pens. She has journaled for 15

days straight. She starts on her journaling journey as I wonder if mine has been worth it. Who wants to read that drivel? There are so many volumes are they worth sifting through? Do I say hateful things?

She asked again. She volunteered to get them from the attic. We sorted through the boxes and at some point I had labeled the cover of the journal with the major events of that time period. I selected a pile of about ten I said she could read.

She started with the journal that included when her father and I got married.

She’s read me excerpts: story ideas I’d forgotten about, adventures and misadventures,

my life as a vegetarian. My favorite thus far has been a poem about my nephew when he was about 3, and a page where he scribbled in my journal. Then my daughter found a journal where she was 2, and I let her scribble in my journal.

So I guess those journals are worth something.

Parenting, Existential Angst and a Book Review

My semester off from my master’s level work on World History has reached its end… only a few more weeks left until the academic session I skipped comes to a close.

I want my degree. I love African history. I am fascinated by colonialism, Islam, Francophonie and obscure languages. But I am forty-something and my daughter, at almost 13, floats between child and young woman/ angel and royal handful.

So my place is here. At home. I get it. But parenting is a thankless job, even with love and a well-behaved-almost-adult as its reward. Sometimes it gets hard to exist only as the nag, the disciplinarian, the cook, etc.

And sometimes I miss long discussions debating the similarities of the industrial and technological revolutions. 

I have been reading, and enjoying, Philip Gourevitch’s book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda. It is a sobering book.

More on this later… my daughter is on her way home and I have to sneak a doughnut before she arrives.

Movement in the face of stillness

My mother taught me never to stand still. She wanted to teach me that I should always make my bed and I should never leave the house without doing all the dishes, but I failed in those lessons.

I spent much of my twenties doing exactly what I thought I was supposed to do: I embarked on a career, I bought a new car, I rented an apartment, I got married, I paid off my student loans.

In my thirties, my husband and I focused most of our energy on our daughter. My career as a journalist became more precarious. I went to work part-time as I earned a second bachelor’s in International Affairs.

By my late thirties, I started traveling with a friend. I realized maybe I didn’t want a traditional professional occupation, but I couldn’t label what I did want.

Now I’ve crossed 40. I am working on a master’s degree in world history at West Chester University. I’ve had a few small acceptances with some of my creative writing. I’m contemplating pursuing more paid freelance writing work.

And I also might take a semester off from my master’s work. My daughter is nearing 13 and I never realized how much she’d need me now.

These are the thoughts I was thinking this morning as I held my office hours as a graduate assistant in West Chester’s history department. I stumbled upon one new publication that may be a good fit for me as a journalist wanting to return to the trade and some of my more alternative leanings.

And while I sit quietly, alone, in this office, I ask what will I do with myself this winter with no schoolwork and only my tedious retail job? And I realize this time will be introspective and hopefully give me more stillness so that my true desires come into focus.

While I ponder these thoughts, which are not easy thoughts, I receive an email.

“Thank you for your revisions.” “We’ll contact you with a publication date.”

An essay I submitted to an online literary magazine a few weeks ago seems as if it has accepted my piece. The piece is about weather, Djibouti and broken bones. It’s a quirky publication too so this may be a sign…

I must keep writing.

Seeking perspective: the story behind my travels

This is the rough draft of a presentation I have been asked to give to a class of my graduate school peers at West Chester University next week. My faculty advisor asked me to give a talk about my recent travels in Somalia. We’re all working on master’s degrees in history or genocide/holocaust studies. 

In my case, I’ve recently discovered I’m not the European History MA candidate I thought I was but apparently I’ll be studying World History, with an emphasis with Africa, followed by minor fields in the Middle East and China. 
My true interest is post colonial Francophone Africa, and how the ramifications of European colonialism have an impact on contemporary issues regarding the overlap of Africa, the Middle East, and terrorism. Islam has become the new communism as the dangerous ideology the West must destroy.

Life circumstances have forced me to move away from a successful 15-year career in local print journalism. But my interest in information, sharing information and researching perspectives on the world has led me toward an eventual Ph.D. 

My career in journalism featured a variety of restructurings and lay-offs. When perpetually faced with a shifting marketplace you are forced to face your fears and your complacency. Every small event in life can lead to an unforeseen path. For me, I turned my focus toward my daughter and part-time professional work. A friend steered me toward hosting a French exchange student which led to me enrolling in an undergraduate French class to see if I still had the language I once majored in rolling around in my head.

I did.

That class opened my eyes to my love of academia. It also exposed me to the “Muslim problem” in France. And I made new friends. 

Although I had a bachelor’s degree in English/French from Moravian College, I enrolled for a second bachelor’s in International Affairs from Lafayette College. It would be the perfect way to see if I could balance life, school, work and child. Plus it would give me academic credentials in fields I knew about from my journalism experience: politics and economics. I just never anticipated that I would develop an affinity for history.

Up until this point, I was a total French whore. I visited France for a month in 1995 and fantasized about a return to Paris. It was 2010.

My part-time professional job imploded. I developed severe anemia that left me lying on the living room floor at three in the afternoon until my five-year-old could make a cup of coffee for Mommy. I got a job in retail, because I didn’t have the strength for professional work. I wanted to punch a time clock and go home.

Around this time an old friend from college the first time reconnected with me via Facebook. He offered to take me to Paris. He felt sorry for the rough patch I had hit in life and he had the ability to make my return-to-Paris dream a reality. We went to Paris for the weekend between my orientation for my new job and my first day of training. There were twelve of us in that group at orientation, and we had to introduce ourselves. We were asked to share something random about ourselves. I remember saying, “I’m Angel and I leave for Paris tomorrow.”

M and I had a great time on that trip. I was in a history seminar on 20th Century French Identity and the Muslim problem and religious history in France was a key component. My travels in Paris had included a visit to public Muslim prayer in the streets. I went to ethnically diverse neighborhoods where the European Paris I remembered did not exist. What I found was a multicultural Paris swimming with Africans, Asians, Indians, gypsies and Arabs. I recently had a poem published in StepAway magazine about this revelation.

My studies kept leading me to Algeria, and I became convinced that the complex issue of religion in France should not be one of the French against Islam, but the French addressing their stereotypes of Muslims created during the colonization of Algeria. The no headscarves in schools law and later the anti-niqab law focused on visible Islam, but the issue was French perpetuation of the 19th century prejudice that Muslims were inferior people. These stereotypes came from the Algerian colonial project. This became my honors project.

I am typically afraid of my own shadow. But it was around this time that M suggested a research trip to Algeria. His visa never came through. Mine did. 

  
So we did an immigrant’s journey instead. We started in Paris, fly to Tunis (visited the ancient ruins of Carthage) and finished the voyage with a few days in Marseille soI could see the Arab influence. It opened my eyes. 

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for France, after all I have read the 1905 law on the separation of church and state and the constitution of the Fifth Republic in the original French. But setting foot in North Africa changed me. There was such a crazy blend of European influence and African beauty. From fresh baguettes covered with flies and soup made of lamb sausage and harissa (known as ojja) to the diversity of the architecture… We had arrived in Tunisia on the one-year-anniversary of the abdication of President Ben Ali and the initiation of the Arab Spring. And we had done that by accident. The streets were teaming with people, citizens shot fireworks off balconies, and a random North African guy grabbed my ass.

I had certainly gone beyond my comfort zone. And I started to realize that sometimes the thing that scares you most is the thing you most need to do.

My next academic interest became Djibouti. After the Algerian War for Independence (which ended in 1952, an abrupt and tragic decolonization that led to the more-or-less overnight displacement of a million French people and caused, in my opinion, the psychological issue that has further exploded into the contemporary “Muslim problem” in France), the French moved their primary military presence in Africa to the horn, to the small colony of Djibouti, a strategic point between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

France had a conscript army until 1999. This means that when the French left Algeria, a multitude of the next couple generations of men served their military service in Djibouti. M had visited Djibouti just prior to the original trip to Paris he and I took. I begged him to take me to Djibouti. He did. In April 2014. During the beginning of the hot season. When I had a broken right hand in a brace. For a side trip, we did Yemen. Old Sana’a. Where I discovered they love to climb to roofs.

I loved it. We went to Moscow and Siberia in 2015. The Siberia trip was a one day visit for pizza. (Stories about all these trips can be found on this web site.) I have literally walked through what felt like good-block, bad-block, reminiscent of communist era Russia. And ridden some amazing old subways that are more than 100 years old. 

This year we returned to Djibouti. A war has since broke out in Yemen so while the State Department may frown upon my visit there, I am so glad I saw it when I could. (And for the record, I technically did an internship for the State Department. I worked in communications at USAID.)

Somewhere along the line, I said I would visit Somalia. So we did Mogadishu during our January trip. It’s strange to visit places where you become the one who doesn’t speak the language or have no ability to read. It’s surreal to be escorted everywhere by men with machine guns. But it also teaches you how much of the world lives and why knowing what happens around us— knowing our history— is so important.

The plane on which we traveled between Djibouti and Mogadishu was the same exact plane where a suicide bomber killed himself and blew a hole in the plane. That happened less than two weeks after we left. A week after we left there was a hostage situation at Lido Beach, our first destination when we arrived in Mogadishu. 

But look at what’s happened recently in Paris, Turkey, Brussels. A house caught fire in the middle of my block and took out three neighboring homes. The weekend before I left for Africa, I rescued someone from a heroin overdose in my own house. I broke my ankle in August walking down the street to buy a salad. Safety is an illusion. 

M handles the arrangements for our trips. He’s headed to Syria next week and while he invited me to join him, I declined. Safety is one of the reasons, but not the most important to me. I have faith in his research and contacts. He’s been doing this a long time. You can’t be careless, but “adventure tourism” is a real thing. As historians and academics, we have to remember where our perspective comes from and that we can’t rely on the media for our viewpoints. If you aren’t sure of your sources, sometimes you need to tackle it yourself.

Lido Beach thoughts 

I heard about the attack at Lido Beach while at work today. I visited Lido Beach last week. Last week.

I flew to Mogadishu on a flight from Djibouti, a stopover on a flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I and my travel companion, M, stepped onto a plane full of black African men and women in black niqab.

The flight was originally a Jubba flight, but it turned into a code share with Daallo, the Djibouti national airline that had once gone defunct.

I noticed immediately that the staff appeared to be Eastern European and not very happy about their current assignment. Part of the problem was apparently the baby that a preschooler had on her lap. A preschooler was holding a baby on her lap before take-off! 

I think, perhaps, the enthusiastic flight attendants were bickering over who needed to deal with that. The woman crew member finally gave the baby to the man who might have been the father and moved the girl to next to the potential mother.

The flight attendant went for the baby lap belt extender and somehow, the baby ended up on the child’s lap again. This flight attendant, receiving no help from the male staff member (I swear he folded his arms, huffed and went and sat in his fold-down seat), seemed on the verge on losing her mind.

She finally forcefully grabbed the baby, realized how gruff she seemed, and made some sort of Russian-esque “coochie coochie coo” noise. She passed the baby to the mother and buckled everyone in before they could move.

And we didn’t see flight attendants again until landing.

  
I don’t want to digress too much with the beginning adventures, but now that I’m safely home I can tell you we stayed at Hotel Sahafi and I found it amazing.

  
There staff did a wonderful job feeding us and protecting us.

  
The first place we visited was Lido Beach, the most recent site of a terrorist event. Last week I was there. Last week I was frisked (in that special intimate kind of way that only happens in Muslim countries) and passed through a metal detector to go the beach.

   
   

And I did think it odd to have such tight security for the beach, but I had just arrived and it hadn’t really sunk in where I was.

Mogadishu.

And we had four armed guards with us as the local population frolicked on the beach.

  
The woman swam in their long dresses and headscarves. Boys and young men played a game of soccer in the sand and joked that we were scouts from FIFA.

But Mogadishu suffered a nearly 25 year civil war, a tribal war that only ended in 2012. Hopefully someday this gorgeous city and delightful population will be a place safe enough to visit without security.

But today it is Mogadishu.

  
Of “Black Hawk Down” fame.

   
 
Where Pakistani tanks line the streets in addition to American military carcasses.

 

A land of barricades.  
 
And passive defense systems to protect against suicide bombers.

   
    
 
And battered buildings, many “destroyed” but occupied.

  
Even what used to be embassy row… Now protected by barbed wire and suicide bomber walls because peacekeeper soldiers sleep in the wreckage of what used to be the embassies.

   
 
But in the end, I went back to a cozy hotel room.