All posts tagged: Beautiful World

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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 …

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Reconstructing the everyday

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Greek, I spend a lot of my time thinking about debt. The debt in question at the moment is a narrative one. Is there a shelf life to the stories we haven’t told, but wish we had? Is it best to consider them told, wipe the slate clean, and start the new story right where we are? I have also been thinking about our capacity to write. As I have learned this year, I can produce words, hundreds of words, thousands of them, almost on command (and caffeine). But I can only produce one type of thousands of words at a time. When my capacity to write is entirely consumed by footnotes, the more reflective, personal words do not flow. And thus this space has been gathering cobwebs, as I have been caught between hesitancies: I am hesitant to write the this-is-what-I-had-for-lunch posts, orthe my-life-is-sparklier-than-yours posts. In many senses, this has been a time of constants: I am still relearning how to walk. I am still recovering, still grieving.  I am …

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A fall diary of the moments in between

If this fall were to have a narrative arc, it would read like a bibliography full of texts on narratives, memory, and patterns of violence, with titles like Killing Civilians and Precarious Life and Extremities: Trauma, Testimony, and Community.  James Dawes, whose own book Evil Men has also dominated my thoughts and research this fall, speaks of the moments in between. Dawes and his team, consisting of a photographer and a translator, interviewed convicted war criminals who committed atrocities in the second Sino-Japanese war. He had the following to say about the moments in between the interviews and, while he is referring to interviews and field work in situations of mass atrocities, his words also ring true of the moments next to those consumed by research and thinking about mass atrocities: “I don’t understand how to put these things next to each other. It is like somebody has taken a crowbar and pried open the seams of the everyday, so that the evils we cover over, block out, are now suddenly there, implacably next to …

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Field notes from Colombia: Farewell

  There are those moments on the Avenida Circunvalar when the clouds lift momentarily and the whole world is flooded with light. In those seconds, the weight of my work here lifts too — momentarily, as though coaxed to evaporate by a patch of blue sky and impeccable clouds. When I think of joy in Colombia during this field project, I think of a taxi zooming through mountain turns on the Circunvalar. I will miss the conversations with the taxi drivers. A few remain at the top of my mind: The woman who was navigating the city on her first day as a taxista. Perhaps a place is truly a home when you give your brand new taxista directions 100 blocks North and reassure her that you will neither be lost nor be run over by a bus. When she gets terrified, you encourage her to turn up the Carlos Vives bellowing from the radio. If these field notes had a soundtrack, it would be a marriage of Carlos Vives and Fonseca. Other taxistas would …

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Field notes from Colombia: Narratives

In one of my favorite TEDx talks, Chimamanda Adichie cautions against the dangers of a single story. As she narrates, we are “impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story,” a disarming property of storytelling that I have come to cherish. However, she goes on to point out that this is a risky vulnerability when certain narratives emerge, become dominant, and overwhelm the others. In Adichie’s words: “But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Colombia is rife with single narratives of the type Adichie describes – and, almost paradoxically, they exist side by side. There is the image of Colombia as the land of Pablo Escobar, the guerilla, the paramilitaries. It is the Colombia of guns and bombs, an image that nests most frequently in the heads of those …

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Field notes from Colombia: The honesty of street art

Out of the approximately 271 times I have nearly been run over by traffic here in Colombia, my standing in the street to photograph graffiti accounted for at least 200. My fascination with street art stems from my impression of it as an honest medium of expression: It cannot easily be directed or manipulated by anyone other than the artist herself. For similar reasons, it cannot easily be censored or controlled. Street art tells truths — multiple, often contradicting truths, layered under fish faces or bright colors. In a country that is navigating multiple narratives of conflict and injustice, and the budding inklings of collective memory, even the street art needs the veiled layers. Tell a truth too clearly and you will be painted over. When I left the house this Saturday morning, Bogotá was still asleep, save for its soldiers, who lined the streets more thickly than usual. It is Colombia’s Independence Day and I decided to celebrate by joining Christian on a walking tour of Bogota’s street art. Christian, a street artist himself, …

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Remembering warmth

I am the person who is perpetually cold on airplanes. I fly to the Equator wrapped in a pashmina, to a desert in a coat. The layers are a necessary hug in the middle of transition, as though I need to hold myself tight to face the new winds. And then there is always that moment of stepping out of the airplane and into the warmth. The shedding of the layers, of skin that does not feel necessary anymore. The return to warmth has always felt like a release, like a return to self. For four years, while I was working in the field of gender and armed conflict, I shuttled from desert lands to countries straddling the Equator. My bones forgot winter. When I first landed in Boston, I did so with a nostalgia for the seasons and a commitment to celebrating them. Celebrate I did. I photographed fall with the curiosity of what Mary Oliver calls “a bride married to amazement.” I was born for colored leaves and crisp mornings, and for summer seas …

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In fear of spring

In late July, as I was photographing a friend’s hands clasping pebbles from a Greek beach, I pronounced myself a “summer person.” I did so with the awareness that being Greek and being a “summer person” was, practically, a tautology, but I declared myself one with certainty regardless: “Definitely a summer person,” I said, and I was off to the water once again. By late October, as I was pointing my camera up at a red tree whose leaves reminded me of everything I missed about New England autumn, I had changed my mind. “I’m a fall girl, I declared.” Not even for the sake of a writerly analogy can I pretend that by mid-February, as I was trudging through the post-snow slush, I was a full convert to Boston winter. And still, something about the sound of synchronized snow shoveling interrupting the piercing quiet after a heavy snowstorm that resonates with me. Elijah caught on to how fickle I was with my attachment to seasons and remarked, “You are, apparently, an all-seasons girl. I …

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Reflections on an experiment: One photo a day

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) vulnerability, mortality, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” — Susan Sontag“ Darling, do we have to sleep with Susan every night?,” he asked, pulling Sontag’s Reborn: Journals and Notebooks from underneath his back. “She pokes me!” Well, she pokes me too. We seem to seek the jarring comfort of particular writers’ words at different epochs and this is the Susan era. Actually, it is always the Susan era, the Joan days, the Mary mornings. Even though I am currently absorbed in Sontag’s diaries, only to realize she was a more complex, eloquent 16-year-old than I could have ever aspired to be, I was first acquainted with her during a course on authoritarian cinema as an undergraduate. I do not remember the text, I cannot provide you with a reference, but I remember what the page that contained the excerpt I am recalling looked like. Her passage spoke …

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Whatever floats your boat

I was reading a research study on the motives of individuals who choose to participate in acts of mass violence. My heart was heavy with Rwanda and genocide and the questions of coercion and conformity, fear and racism. My concentration was interrupted by what sounded like elephants procreating in our living room. I stepped away from my desk to find Elijah pumping air into his brand new inflatable kayak… and sitting in it, perched atop the coffee table, as though boats are naturally meant to live there. As though Sundays are for boyfriends in bathrobes pumping air into boats, as though the burgeoning plastic and genocide reading can co-exist under the same roof, separated by a wall and whimsy. For as long as I have loved him, Elijah has wanted to own a boat. For as long as we have loved each other, we have mostly lived on the most woefully landlocked cities, hundreds of meters above sea level and many drives away from rivers and lakes. The return to Boston and to its Charles …