The last time

Tags

We exchanged vows, you say
Sacred and beautiful under the shade of the riverside willow tree.
You held my hand – you remind me – in the dusk of a lazy Saturday
It was April
You were wearing your finest checkered shirt
and your cleanest jeans
Yet you still looked like an old, shabby bourgeois
– that I never dared mention –
And under the mournful branches of the willow tree
the same one that we always sat under when the weather was nice
and you were in the mood to read me passages from your favorite authors
Kerouac, Bukowski, de Maupassant and all your other tortured heroes
so fixated on reality, they made my spirit flee
We promised from that moment on

Two will be no more
One feeling, one thought,
the wisdom of the world
the kindness within
Attainable to us
And when our mortal mantles are rent
immortal our souls will become
incandescent specks scattered in the universe

All these, I really meant, you whisper
with your gaze fixed on the wall behind me.

Now you pack your bags.
You got a new job
– the pay is significant higher and with more tax-free benefits –
You can take care of yourself, you state coldly.

The wooden cat you bought me
is still by the window, looking outside, waiting for you to come home every evening
Like it always did.
The dirty pans in the kitchen sink
The half-empty bottle of shampoo in the bathroom
A domesticity abandoned.

This is the last box, you announce.
The floor is dirty.
I need to hoover after you leave.

All of a sudden, how quiet the house will be.

Advertisements

Home again?

Tags

, ,

Time and time again I thought about returning here, to my old blog. However, daily tasks, procrastination and other concerns have prevented me from doing so. Hopefully, this won’t be a hello and goodbye. Hopefully, with a little discipline, I will get to share once again with whoever would like to listen, my thoughts and interests.

Epik High is one of the newest ones. A few days ago, as I was digging through Tablo’s solo material, I discovered a song of haunting beauty. It is the story of a man experiencing heart-rending pain and to cope with it, he enshrouds himself in a protective cocoon of sadness. His self-imposed isolation shields him from the malice of the world, yet at the same time feeds the pain in his already vulnerable soul.

PS. If you have some free time, please visit Oblamov’s Sofa. It is the blog of a sharp, wise, eloquent, gifted young woman who has recently departed from this world to go help the stars shine brighter at night.

Making History, Inspiring A Generation

Tags

, , , , , ,

London 2012’s motto is “inspire a generation”. However, this has been achieved not only by the organisers’ efforts to urge young people to get involved into sports, but also by the participation of certain athletes that push boundaries and create a precedent that will certainly influence many athletes to come.

Until Beijing, all countries would send athletes, but not all the delegations would include women. After years of negotiation between the International Olympic Committee and last few countries that had never sent women to the Games, the olympic family is now complete: Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia finally agreed to send female representatives. One could argue that “sports don’t matter” and that the participation in such a “commercialised” event doesn’t really do much for the women in these countries as a whole. Allow me to disagree.

First of all, women’s visibility allows them to be considered active participants in their  societies. If traditionally there is a private sphere (where women are supposed to be in charge) and a public sphere (occupied by men who are in charge of the bigger life issues), then the participation of women in public events questions such a strict division. The Olympic Games is an excellent such platform because of the IOC’s efforts for inclusiveness and the variety of competitions offered. From permitting women to participate wearing a sports hijab or an equivalent that will meet the individual sports’ requirements and health and safety rules to offering such varied events as synchronised swimming and shooting, there is something for people of all tastes and lifestyles to enjoy. At the same time, such event can bring glory to the country when a medal is won. As women’s and men’s events are treated the same way, they are considered of equal importance and follow the same medals ceremony, the glory is of the same level. Therefore, women have the opportunity to bring pride to their nation and stand next to people of the world holding their heads high.

Female Golfers in the Paris 1900 Olympic Games.

But is competitive sports important for women? Can’t they just, you know, study and go on with their lives without indulging in activities that can be considered offensive by conservatives? First of all, an athletic body is neither feminine nor masculine. It is strong, admirable and full of potential. It radiates health and strength. Sports also allow people of different shapes and tastes to find an activity that satisfies their needs. Sports allow people – men and women – to maintain a healthy lifestyles in regards to diet, physical well-being and mental health. It also makes people understand their body better and meet its needs. Furthermore, it desexualises nakedness – a worked out body on the move can be called “sexy”, however it is not provocative. Few people with consider a young trampoline athlete as a sexy athlete while she performs shapes on air. Sports also accommodate competitiveness and offer self-confidence boosts. Therefore, a person doing sports can be a person with self-esteem and excellent physical health, that can take pride in their achievements and have learnt important life skills, such as team work and respect towards opponents. Such qualities and experiences can only have a positive effect on the person, their work and their personal relations.

Saudi judoka Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani in the London 2012

Will the participation of a handful of women bring actual change to their countries? In the short term no, in the long term, maybe. Don’t forget that in the second Olympic Games in Paris, only a few women participated and the US didn’t allow its athletes to compete in sports without wearing long skirts. A 112 years later, the difference is striking, given how difficult is for social change to take root in societies. Therefore, expecting Saudi Arabia to send gymnastics athletes in the next Games is not only naive, but potentially harmful. For true change to take roots in a country, the values that it represents need to be translated in local terms and understood as essential for the well-being of the citizens, not as something “imposed by the West”. Therefore, it will take time for people to identify the values that sports promote and their compatibility with their culture and understanding of the world. Interventions from foreign bodies and organisations must be done in a respectful and tactful manner. For example, they can support people like 16-year-old Saudi judoka Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani who, despite her lack of experience, blue belt and young age, went to the Games, handled pressure with grace and said after her defeat “Unfortunately, we did not win a medal, but in the future we will and I will be a star for women’s participation”.

Oscar Pistorius in London 2012

Inclusiveness of course should not be limited to women, but to anybody who desires to compete as an equal. The case of Oscar Pistorius comes to mind. He is not the first person with disability to participate in the Olympics. However, he is the first double-amputee, Paralympic golden medallist and record holder, who decided to fight the system to gain a spot in the 400-meter heats in London. He agreed to participate in exams that would measure the possibility of his artificial legs offering him an unfair advantage. He fought in court to be allowed to participate. He worked for years to bring down his time and qualify. And after all this emotionally and physically draining work, he went out to a packed stadium and came second in his heat, advancing to the semi-finals of London 2012 400-metre race. This is not the story of a super-human. It is a story of a man who refused to accept a restrained life, became the best in his category and then wanted to show the world that he can stand among able-bodied athletes and compete with them fairly and as an equal in a mainstream event of global coverage. This alone leaves a legacy and brings a refreshing change in the image of disability. Disability is not only the helplessness of a disabled beggar on the street. It is also the strength, handsomeness and wholesomeness of a young athlete standing tall with the help of society and his own courage. It is a positive image that shows that the only true disability is to be afraid to go out to the world and try your best.

Racist jokes in the social media era

I had promised to do a post about Greece and the social-political consequences of the crisis. Then everything got really busy and yesterday that happened. Long story short, Voula Papachristou will not compete in the London 2012 due to a racist tweet, which, as unfortunate as it may be for the athlete herself, offer the premises for a very interesting discussion. To begin with, my feelings on matter are quite strong. I condemn all forms of discrimination, especially tasteless jokes, not only because they are hurtful, but also because they undermine meaningful dialogue on crucial social issues.

 

Many people may disagree with me, but yes, she is a professional athlete. She doesn’t play little league during the weekends just for the fun of it. She signs contracts and people invest money on her career. Thus, as in every profession, she has certain responsibilities and obligations. One of them is to align her words with the official stance of her team/sponsor and when her private opinions differ, to keep quite and discuss it with her close friends and family. Otherwise, she should have parted ways with the team and the sponsors.

In addition, she is a representative of the Olympic Spirit. Here I am not talking about Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. Here I am talking about the volunteers who put great effort to make the Olympics happen, other athletes who compete to bring glory to themselves and their countries and sports fans who participate in the festivities by buying the tickets and boosting the ratings (and you can call all of these people delusional consumers if you please). Furthermore, she represents me and every other Greek as she is wearing the colours of my country and everything she says can be easily blown out of proportions and turn into a racist circus on its own.

Many interesting comments have been posted on-line on the topic. Many argue that such a reaction by the Greek Olympic Committee was violating the athlete’s right to freedom of speech. Others consider it a hypocritical reaction and believe that Papachristou became the scapegoat of left-wing parties. Many point their fingers at some members of the Greek Olympic Committee who have been involved in political scandals. Finally, there are those who question all this sensitivity expressed by the Olympic Committee on the topic given their limited reactions in previous years towards other issues (with more notable the exclusion of women).

Firstly, it is an intellectual mistake to associate different issues with the reaction to a particular event. The Greek Olympic Committee, its current members included, decided against being dragged into a snake pit and allow the team and by extension the country to be accused racism. Furthermore, the Olympics are organised by the International Olympics Committee that is not a political organisation and requests political views to be kept private. At the same time, it demands that all athletes show respect to each other and fights against discrimination. If somebody wants to participate in the Games it is not irrational to assume that they need to comply with their rules. After all, participating in the Games is a personal choice of the athlete but once decided upon, it is compulsory to comply with the rules. It is also unfair to discuss the IOC’s previous decisions to allow countries with no female participation to compete. For an athlete to compete, they need to have a performance that doesn’t fall too below the Committee’s standards. There have been many instances where the Committee allows athletes, including women who don’t meet these standards to compete. Especially when it comes to the delicate issue of Saudi Arabia, the way they handled it should be praised. It is very difficult to find ways to embrace such a colorful texture of cultures, faiths and costumes, as well as delicate political situations and sports requirements. Therefore, the least that the participating countries and athletes can do respect the rules and regulations.

Finally, the person who is to blame the most is the athlete and after her, her coach, team, family and friends. The twitter account was not hers and only hers. It was a sponsored account. That means that she didn’t just represent herself but she also represented the sponsor who provided her with money and equipment to continue her training to the highest standards. Once again, having a sponsor is not compulsory but it comes with responsibilities. These responsibilities she didn’t realise and nobody in her immediate circle considered necessary to explain to her. There could have been an easy way to avoid the whole situation: the day her sponsor agreed for the company’s logo to appear in her account’s background, her coach and team could have sent her to one of major communications/PR agencies in Athens for a one-day seminar on social media, their advantages and their dangers. Furthermore, at any point somebody could have stepped in and warned her that she shouldn’t be posting comments unrelated to her sporting activities on-line. She was in the limelight, and it is the eve of an international event that could have been the highlight of her career. However, it becomes apparent that in Greece many are still struggling to understand that in social media the private is very often interwoven with the public.

As for the freedom of speech argument, nobody prevented her from expressing her opinion among her friends or even publicly. She could have created an account with  a nickname not associated with her personal brand (because her name IS her brand) where she would be able to express any opinion she liked. Many people have blogs, twitter and facebook accounts where they use a nickname or they abbreviate their name to separate their person views from their professional life. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if the nature of the person’s profession is such that requires them to maintain a certain public image. In other words, if you are a professional athlete that enjoys retweeting posts of the Golden Dawn (the Greek far-right party that has been accused of physically immigrates) and making racist jokes, then it going by a different name could prove to be a wise choice to protect your team and your status, as a person associated with the Olympics that firmly opposes racism. So, talking about freedom of speech in a general way doesn’t take into account the specific circumstances of this athlete.

Going back now to the original topic of racism in Greece, I would only like to address one issue. The discussion on racism is often highly polarised, without meaningful arguments or any desire to listen to the interlocutor. This can only lead to a terrible management of the present situation. The left will keep insisting that nothing is wrong and the right will be further radicalized and more incidents of violence against immigrants will take place. There needs to be an in-depth conversation between all interested parties (European institutions and country representatives) on the pressure that Mediterranean countries experience due to illegal immigration. However, only soberly and education among the population and the politicians will bring the desired results. Otherwise, events far more unpleasant than a few unsettling tweets will take place in parts of the world were democracy should have be cornerstone of the state, not the goal.

Painted Man

Tags

, , ,

رجل أرسمه

حبيب مثل كل الألوان

هو بني مثل نخلة في الصحراء

هو ذهبي مثل نور في ليل مخيف

هو أحمر مثل حمار ديونيز

هو رمادي مثل الغيمة الوحيدة

هو أسود مثل الحزن في قلبه

هو أبيض مثل البحر الذي يفصلنا

Painted Man

My love is like every colour

He is brown like a palm tree in the desert

He is golden like light in a frightening night

He is red like the wine of Dionysus

He is grey like the lonely cloud

He is black like the sadness in his heart

He is white like the sea that keeps us apart.

 
– A first attempt to write poetry in Arabic
with help from my lovely teacher 

Shattering the Self

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

In moments of despair,
Break my friend.
Let the fear overcome you.
Let the sadness become you.
 
Because only there
In that dark pit of pain
True happiness can emerge.
Happiness so pure so glorious
That will put a shadow over the sun
And will fill with peace your tortured heart.
 
Do not fear my friend.
Dark times will come.
And you, you will break.
Break graciously my dearest
For you will rise again.
Shamed or proud
Pure or poisoned.
You will rise again.
The path of life though is yours:
You can keep crawling on the ground
Or you can fly high above.
 

Love Like Death

Tags

, , , , , ,

إن كنت صديقي.. ساعدني 
كي أرحل عنك.. 
أو كنت حبيبي.. ساعدني
كي أشفى منك
لو أني أعرف أن الحب خطيرٌ جداً 
ما أحببت  
لو أني أعرف أن البحر عميقٌ جداً 
ما أبحرت.. 
لو أني أعرف خاتمتي 
ما كنت بدأت… 
إشتقت إليك.. فعلمني 
أن لا أشتاق 
علمني 
كيف أقص جذور هواك من الأعماق 
علمني 
كيف تموت الدمعة في الأحداق 
علمني 
كيف يموت القلب وتنتحر الأشواق 
إن كنت نبياً .. خلصني 
من هذا السحر.. 
من هذا الكفر 
حبك كالكفر.. فطهرني 
من هذا الكفر.. 
إن كنت قوياً.. أخرجني 
من هذا اليم.. 
فأنا لا أعرف فن العوم 
الموج الأزرق في عينيك.. يجرجرني نحو الأعمق 
وأنا ما عندي تجربةٌ 
في الحب.. ولا عندي زورق.. 
إن كنت أعز عليك .. فخذ بيدي 
فأنا عاشقةٌ من رأسي .. حتى قدمي 
إني أتنفس تحت الماء.. 
إني أغرق.. 
أغرق.. 
أغرق..
 
If you are my friend…
Help me…to leave you
Or if you are my lover…
Help me…so I can be healed of you…
If I knew….
that the ocean is very deep…I would not have swam…
If I knew…how I would end
I would not have began
I desire you…so teach me not to desire
teach me…
how to cut the roots of your love from the depths
teach me…
how tears may die in the eyes
and love may commit suicide

If you are prophet,
Cleanse me from this spell
Deliver me from this atheism…
Your love is like atheism…so purify me from this atheism

If you are strong…
Rescue me from this ocean
For I don’t know how to swim
The blue waves…in your eyes
drag me…to the depths
blue…
blue…
nothing but the color blue
and I have no experience
in love…and no boat…

If I am dear to you
then take my hand
For I am filled with desire…from my
head to my feet

I am breathing under water!
I am drowning…
drowning…
drowning…

– Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998), رسالة من تحت الماء – Letter from Under the Sea

Legend of Korra: Preparing for Battle

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Lately I have been too busy to write a serious and coherent piece on Greek elections and the financial crisis (even though I will try to put my thoughts into words by the end of the week). For the time being, I’ll stick to lighter topics, that’s to say, to the latest developments in the Legend of Korra which has turned from one of my weekend’s must-see (alongside the now finished Indian Hospital, Game of Thrones and the loathsome Girls and now True Blood) to an intriguing series with depth and interesting characters.

This week’s episode was truly a revelation and the perfect set-up for the forthcoming season’s finale. When Korra first started, I was impressed by the character and set design, the details in the fight scenes and the care of the producers for the creation of a world that would both intrigue and absorb the viewer. What I had felt back then was a lack of connection with the characters which I had – correctly I believe – attributed to the fact that the series was still in early stages. As this is a project of a limited number of episodes, it was obvious that the creators had carefully planned the development of the characters in order for the revelation of their past to coincide with major plot events.

The development of the character of Lin Beifong has strengthened this belief. When she first appeared, chief Beifong seemed like a strict and calculating individual with little empathy. Yet, her relationship with Tenzin only reveals the impulse level to which her emotions can lead her. In fact, this love, which once made her imprison Tenzin’s then-girlfriend and current wife, led her in this episode to lose what was most important to her, her bending. Her bending, in fact, was more than an ability to her: it was her work, it was her strength, it was her way of life and it was her connection to her mother who had developed metal bending. She is a true heroine, strong, emotional and ready to give her life for everything she loves, without neither being a mother figure nor losing her femininity.

However, it can be argued that this amazing character development comes in direct opposition to the development of the three main characters, Korra, Mako and Bolin – as the fourth member of the group, Asami Sato has already demonstrated important aspects of her personality. Even Amon, without anything about his past having revealed yet, has turned from an uninteresting opponent to mighty antagonist. It is true that besides the mostly awkward triangle and in times quadrangle between the characters, little is known about the two brothers, Mako and Bolin. Nevertheless, they show great potentials for various reasons: they are orphans (which is always good ground for sobfests), the do not look alike (which may or may not imply something) and they have still many challenges to face.

Korra, on the other hand, does not have the emotional baggage that, say, Aang had. She comes from a happy family with her two parents still living and breathing, she has pretty much mastered three and a half elements (she needs to work on her air-bending but, oh well, nobody’s perfect) and she is genuinely cool. In fact, she at times resembles an oh-too-perfect girl to the point of being annoying. She didn’t have the ethical dilemmas of Aang in relation to fire bending or his guilt about abandoning the air temples. She has been given a clean start. This is why for all I know, something will probably happen that weaken her to a breaking point. Just like the death of Mufasa was Simba’s lowest point, Korra’s lowest point may be related to a death or the loss of something dear (parents? friends? I dare betting that it will be something more than a few Republic City buildings).

Talking about a torturing life, it is my firm belief that Asami will remain one of the most interesting characters even during the next season. She may not be a bender, but she is called to fill in the gap left by Mai’s character from the Legend of Aang. She is the one that is asked to choose sides not based on fear of demise, but out of desire to fight beside the one she loves and stand up for what is right. What distinguishes Mai and Asami’s characters is the element of jealousy that will probably play a major – yet possibly temporarily – role in Asami’s loyalties. However, the two women look alike in another way as well: they both come from affluent families and have black hair, porcelain skin, smooth features and an internal strength. This is why I could tentatively see a connection between Asami’s character and General Iroh.

Let’s go now to General Iroh. General Iroh was definitely the highlight of the previous episode and made many old fans (including myself) rave at the sound of Dante Basco’s voice. Iroh does not resemble Zuko only in voice but in fact he looks in many ways like him and it is almost certain that they are related. This was definitely a treat to the fans, a kind of loyalty present. It also highlights the effort to maintain a continuity between the current and previous Airbender series, as many old characters make cameos as adults or are brought back through relatives and stories. This continuity also applies to the last episode’s realisation that if Tenzin’s family dies, airbending will be lost forever, which was a key issue in the previous series. Now Korra is preparing for a large scale battle which will probably allow her to release the Avatar state and – maybe… – connect with Aang. Therefore the end of this season seems not just promising, but genuinely moving and exciting enough to make people come back for the second season, which, hopefully, will include even more good story-lines. At the end of the day, what is animation if not the visualisation of compelling storytelling?

PS. For the first and only time I will confess that I now believe that not disclosing Ursa’s (Zuko’s mother’s) whereabouts at the end of the previous series was an excellent choice. It is one of these highly distressing events that keep fans loyal to the last episode in order to find an answer. Just please dear producers, give it to us.

Sincerely yours, A.

Why pro-choice is pro-life

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Turkey is experiencing a politicisation of abortion, a phenomenon widely observed in the US. The Islamist government intends to bring into voting a law that will only not allow abortion after the fourth week of gestation. This, is practically a ban, as Dr Mustafa Ziya Günenc stresses, as no termination of pregnancy can be performed at that stage.

The political motive of the bill becomes clear from the Prime Minister’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan statements that “There is no difference between killing a baby in its mother’s stomach and killing a baby after birth” and that abortion and elective caesareans were “secret plots” to slow Turkey’s growth.

The government’s intention to pass a law that eliminates the possibility to have an abortion drove dozens of women to protest

There is a widely held feminist argument that maintains that such bills pass because the people drafting them are men. It is, in fact, narrow-minded and manipulative to relate such an important, serious and personal decision to politics. It is true that abortions are deeply embedded to local culture and the people’s standing on matters of life, death and spirituality. Furthermore, laws that fail to capture the society they aim at regulating are vacuum and often dangerous. However, the motive behind the legalisation on abortions has never been solely the promotion of liberal agenda. As proven by statistics, banning abortions is a public health hazard, as determined women will be willing to put themselves at risk to undergo the procedure.

Abortion is not a novel procedure. In Ancient Greece it was a wide-held practice, which even caused a philosophical debate on whether people acquire their humanity after birth. In Rome the practice was outlawed, but widely performed. Christians in general opposed it, while 19th century feminists were divided on the matter. Regardless of the moral, ethical and philosophical issues embedded to the practice, it was and still is widely performed due to special circumstances that force women to choice it instead of carrying the foetus full term.

Seeing abortion only as a choice, rather than a necessity is limiting. There are many reasons why a woman may choose to terminate a pregnancy. Medical reasons are usually projected as a notable reason with its own complications. In the case of a non-life threatening, but serious disability, for example, a couple may feel unable to cope with the responsibilities associated. It is not just a eugenics mentality, as one could argue, but pure, old-fashioned human incapacity to cope with an overwhelming reality that may result to more harm than good.

However, special consideration should also e given to the social and personal circumstances of that force the living, breathing and fully developed women to take such hard decisions. An underage girl may be too fragile to continue with a pregnancy caused by an unfortunate moment with an equally immature boyfriend. An older woman may just feel incapable of taking care of a baby and her social positioning will most likely prevent her from giving it up for adoption. A student may choose to go on with her education instead of going through with the pregnancy in hopes of being able after a few years to offer her future children with material goods and the type of affection only a fulfilled person can give. And I won’t even discuss cases of rape or incest.

Many people debate at length on the actual pregnancy and the presence or absence of humanity of the foetus instead on concentrating on the life prospects of this creature once born. In fact, in the majority of countries limited assistance is offered to these women who choose to keep the children and even when they are offered that option, balancing out all their responsibilities is almost impossible, especially when they feel that they have been forced to have the child. This reality may create an unhealthy environment for the child and expose it to great dangers, cause emotion scaring and start a circle of violence, negligence or poverty that could be reproduced for many generations to come.

In a post-modern world, quality of life should prevail over quantity and family planning should be at the heart of health education. Allowing abortions to remain legal is not the solution, but only part of a greater scheme. This practice should always be accompanied with access to contraceptives and information materials targeting especially tweens and teens. Such information can be adapted to different cultures without loosing its central message and should expand to issues of STP, sexual violence and gender relations. After all, offering people choices is the best way to make these choices accepted by the wider population, thus preventing the stigmatization both of the person deciding to abort the foetus and of the person deciding to continue with the pregnancy. Each option is presented as a choice, rather than as something forced and shameful.

On the other hand, outlawing abortions is a step back, both metaphorically and practically: it positions the health of women, the vessels of society, in the hands of  professionals that in the best case scenario they have knowledge but lack equipment and in the worst case scenario they are charlatans that will cause the patient serious disability or even death. Moreover, as the statistics have shown, the legalisation of abortions has indeed saved many lives: the lives of women that would have ended up dead if the procedure had not be performed following the medical community’s standards. And the lives of those who committed suicide out of despair.

An open-minded society has the potentials to be self-aware and morally sound. Sexual acts will continue to take place regardless of the legislation and it is a reality that should be accepted by all parties involved in this debate. In such a context, pro-choice means pro-life in more than one way. It is pro-life as it protects women’s life, it is pro-quality of life as it assists in the safeguarding of the children’s quality of life and is it pro-life without stigmatization, as it exonerates pregnancy. This may not be easily understood by men, but as a woman, I firmly believe that if I was in such a position, I would find it empowering to face society and say having or not having a child is a choice that is fully mine and I stand behind it, rather than hold my head low, be silent and internalize frustration, disgust and disillusionment that I will eventually channel to the people close to me. And this is a harsh reality that often eludes politicians too ambitious and driven by their personal goals.