Author: Roxanne

Brief tricolored reflection on the politics of grief

I am writing these words in my attic in the suburbs of Boston. Every time the wind howls, the apartment shakes a little. Enough to make your heart be surprised with each gust, but not enough to lose faith that the center will not hold. I crawled out of bed this morning with the intention to continue reading for my dissertation on the politics of victimhood and the hierarchies of suffering that emerge in transitions from armed conflict. I have, instead, spent the morning browsing the news about Paris and Beirut and Baghdad, trolling social media for that one post that will help everything make sense or that will at least dislodge my heart from its place of numbness, even though I know better than that. I am consuming news almost mindlessly. The reports are on loop, reproducing narratives I have already heard while the authorities seek to unearth new information, and yet I cannot help but be glued to them, as though that is an act of meaning and use. At a time like this, writing …

Desynchronosis

My dear friend Erin, with some help from Alexander Pope, likes to remind me that “hope springs eternal.” With all the love for Erin and poetry alike, I struggle to believe in eternally springing hope this week. One of the disorienting aspects of watching the crisis in Greece unfold from afar as an immigrant involves reckoning with joy. On Saturday night, on the eve of the referendum on austerity measures in Greece (or, depending on whom you ask, on the future of the Euro and our lives as we know them), I found myself sitting next to a two-year-old. Every four minutes, like clockwork, he would exclaim “Fireworks! … Fireworks!” Fireworks, indeed. Eight different displays of them, in fact, all visible from the same porch. We were splayed against lawn furniture, the type that defined the image of New England for me before I could identify the region on a map. Since I ever watched those Steve Martin Father of the Bride movies with Greek subtitles in the early 1990s, I have wanted an Adirondack chair, even before I knew its …

In search of human dignity in Greece

I remember when people would gather to watch the war. This usually consisted of sitting on a hilltop and watching the bombs fall not even two miles away. Hearing the sonic boom, seeing the smoke rise, then quiet. In other situations, a crowd would gather to watch a lynching or another paradigmatic punishment for a perceived war-related crime. I would find myself in these situations as a humanitarian practitioner in conflict-affected areas, and I remember being puzzled by the callousness of watching the war as though it were a film, as though it were the fictional story of someone else’s life, as opposed to a reality unfolding so close you could touch it.  There is ample research on the psychology of crowds in war, and much as I read it, I cannot get over the paralysis of watching suffering, when the act of observation is not one of documentation, assistance, or advocacy, but merely of voyeurism. Earlier today, Athens-based photographer Mehran Kahlili tweeted that “ATM shots are the new crisis porn.” All around Greece, my …

This feminist’s fatigue

Or: an assorted list of arguments I’m tired of. 1. Explaining that we love men. Most every feminist argument I’ve engaged in or witnessed recently, and which attempts to critically examine masculinity or patriarchy, has had to include a caveat along the lines of “don’t get me wrong, I love men.” I am tired of having the choices be ‘thoughtful critique with caveat’ or ‘presumed man-hating.’ When is the last time we heard someone say “don’t get me wrong, I love socialists,” when they engage in a critique of socialism? “Don’t get me wrong, I love aid-in-kind,” when they argue in favor of vouchers or cash instead of direct food and soap distribution in humanitarian settings? Critics of systems other than patriarchy get to engage in deconstructing and pointing out the holes and offering the counterpoints — the very things feminist gender analysis seeks to do in patriarchal systems, only we have to bathe in caveats first, lest we be discredited for man-hating. 2. The choice between likeability and assertiveness. Here, I turn to the …

Jogs of shame

Elijah and I are walking to the gym. This is a sentence I have never uttered before. Every piece of it feels foreign. A few years ago, I was talking to my friend Katherine about how at home a morning swim makes me feel, and she interrupted me amusedly: “You … work out? I never pictured you as working out.” I never did either. I loved to swim, but swimming was not “working out”  in my mind, and “working out” was not something I associated with myself or to which I aspired. I blame my childhood in Greece, where–between the complete lack of sidewalks and seemingly collective disregard for the state of our arteries–nobody ever seemed to jog back then. My mother’s sense of exercise extended to imitating the aerobics segment of morning television programs that self-professedly catered to housewives. On the screen would be a supermodel in Jane Fonda socks, counting “and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4” while gracefully swinging long limbs everywhere. Across the screen, my petite mother in her leggings-worn-as-pants (in an era …

Call You By Your Name

(With thanks to Andre Aciman, for a variation of the title.)  “Very healthy, we believe you. A girl, though? Impossible! This family only has boys.” That was, allegedly, my parents’ reaction upon learning a very healthy baby girl would enter their world. My mother took great pride in that being the last time the label ‘baby’ was attached to me. “You were Roxani from the womb,” she insisted. This is the story of a name and, inevitably, of the stories we tell ourselves. Many Greeks name their children after the grandparents, a game that invites the kind of social gymnastics that need a flowchart to explain: Which set of grandparents goes first? Do the living or the dead ones have priority? What about if you have multiple children? Or just one? What about your siblings’ children? What if–gasp–you don’t like your parents’ or in-laws’ names? What if–further gasp–you just want to name your children something other than what their grandparents are called? Ρωξάνη. For a little baby (fine, a huge, 10-pound baby), my grandmother’s majestic name felt …

In your country’s shoes

“I have a question for you… Why do all the Greek girls here wear those shoes that could kill cockroaches?” I was 17, and part of the Greek National Debate Team contingent that competed in the World Schools Debating Championships. I am not sure which is more astounding: that I ever recovered from that level of … coolness, or that to this date, I look back on that experience with the kind of sincere, boundless gratitude that faux teenage coolness could never inspire. Our team had just managed an upset victory in a debate against Scotland, a country which had for years produced debate powerhouses (Yes, “debate powerhouses.” Ceaseless coolness, I tell you.) When it dawned on us that our team full of vividly gesturing English-as-a-Second-Language debaters just might beat the polished Scots, I remember thinking back to all those subtitled movies about underdogs that Greek TV loved to broadcast on Sunday afternoons: the Jamaican bobsledding team that wins in the Winter Olympics, Herbie the Beetle that beats the much cooler cars. As it turns out, …

When the syrup makes a sound

I am standing over a pot on the stove, stirring the syrup. Are you supposed to stir syrup? Or are you supposed to let it sit and boil undisturbed? Does it even matter? Cooking inspires an uncharacteristic resignation in me. I succumb to the bubbling honey. It will either congeal, or it will not, and I can live with the worst outcome. I shrug, stare at the mix, and keep stirring noncommittally. “How much is 180 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit?,” I call out to Elijah in another room. “You’ve lived here all these years! Come on!,” he sighs exasperated. “You can’t at least look it up?” I have stubbornly resisted translating some pieces of my immigrant life to the language of its new home. I think in meters and kilometers, rendering my instructions for parking useless and my sense of distance impractical. I measure heat in Celsius — but cold in Fahrenheit, because it was only here in Boston that I learned this kind of cold. These dilemmas are all arising in the context of my determination …

In Northern Ireland, unaccompanied by grief

If you asked me what one of the greatest paradoxes is in processing my work in the humanitarian sector so far, it is that the settings of the disaster or violence are often stunningly beautiful places. There is a dissonance to interviewing people who experienced wartime sexual violence one day only to make finding a waterfall your greatest driving force the day after that. Ancient ruins and modern ones, side by side. Giraffes and refugees. Crystal clear beaches next to injustice. The urge is there to shout from a hilltop atop I perched that Colombia (or Egypt, or Syria, or Uganda) is unequivocally beautiful – if it weren’t for the critical voice that remains in my head and remembers to ask “for whom?” I have never quite known how to process the beauty or our hunt for it in those environments. Can one truly apologize for beauty? How can we take it in, draw hope from it, without romanticizing what is at the foreground? Is this beauty accessible to all and, if not, what are …

Migratory silences

September 1, 2014, Acadia National Park “I feel like we have done this before.” We are at a campsite at the very edge of the woods near Acadia National Park on what feels like the last weekend of summer. He loves it, the privacy, the vastness. I wish I had googled “bears at Acadia National Park?!” before I lost reception. We are wearing all the clothes we brought on top of themselves, sweater above sweater, shorts above jeans above leggings. He makes a comment about how “tight European pants” are no good for layering when it’s 38 degrees at night on what should have been the last weekend of summer, but we both know he hates those pants in the city too — at all seasons. He is making me my first ever s’more. I am watching for bears.We both forget I didn’t grow up here sometimes. He insists I must have eaten a s’more before. We are now at the deep end of splitting hairs: “a marshmallow yes; a s’more per se? No!” “What about at …