All posts tagged: Equals Record


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 …


Field notes from Colombia: Nostalgia

This field notes dispatch was compiled, as most honest thoughts are, through excerpts of emails to loved ones. It was inevitable. Do not even pretend to be surprised. A few times a month, I publish a column at The Equals Record titled “Eternally Nostalgic” and this weekend I have lived up to its namesake. A recent New York Times article asked “What is nostalgia good for?” Starting from the premise that it used to be considered “a neurological disease of essentially demonic cause,” the article sought to debunk myths surrounding nostalgia and illuminate its positive sides. An unintended benefit of nostalgia is that it, apparently, raises your body temperature, making you feel warmer. In search of warmth, I write to you from Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I arrived in this country to find myself taken aback by the July chill of Bogotá and the coziness of outdoor space heaters. This weekend I fled to Cartagena, in search of fuller, humid air and warmth. If Cartagena were a color, it would be a …


Untranslatable words, saudade, and linguistic nostalgia

Every so often an article catalogues untranslatable words from around the world. For example, as this Matador Network piece tells me, mamihlapinatapei means “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start” in Yagan, an indigenous language of the Tierra del Fuego. According to the same article, the word ‘tartle’ in Scottish refers to “the act of hesitating when introducing someone because you have forgotten their name.” And then there is my personal favorite: saudade. Not quite nostalgia, not quite longing or yearning, not a blend of both. There is more to saudade — and perhaps its magical grip lies in that untranslatable space the other words do not quite capture. In my column today at The Equals Project, I explore untranslatable words, linguistic nostalgia, and what happens when you feel your mother tongue slipping away from you. Wander over here to read it. 


Don’t unpack the coffee-maker yet.

What is it that grounds us in a new home? Is it our feet on the ground, physically through the new doorway, keys in hand? Is it the first story that we tell about it? The first memory we make?These are the questions I seek to answer in my column today over at The Equals Project, ominously titled “Don’t unpack the coffee-maker yet.” It chronicles the process of making a new space a home, complete with getting locked out on my and Elijah’s first night of living here. *** Home begins with light, with a story and a memory. More here.


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 …

The homes that inspire nostalgia

This essay appeared first as my Eternally Nostalgic column on the Equals Record this week.   We first met when I was on the cusp of nomadism and she was on her return voyage.I was about to embark on my first true field work in conflict management. I did not know it then, but that year would hold memories of Egypt, Uganda, Colombia, and Guatemala. Her journey stretched from Liberia to Indonesia and Boston to the Hague. We both swam in the pool of conflict management professionals, spoke with our hands, loved every baked good we met, and shared a passion for wander and wonder. In many ways, she inspired my own path with her courage, whimsy, curiosity, and attachment to service and to making impact. Meeting her kindled my faith in humanity—and sparked my consequent overuse of the term.We are now sitting at her dining table in Washington, DC, five years later. She and her loved one built the bench atop which I am perched, and everything else in the house too. Even if …

For all the tables we have danced on

“It is always important to dance.” This phrase recurs in my friend Jonathon’s book, as a life philosophy that merits reiteration. I had never thought of dancing as something that invites the adjective “important” until I moved to Guatemala, where Jonathon and my friendship was born. My Guatemala was steeped in importance and imperatives, in trauma and injustice. It was an outsized kind of importance, the kind that shows you the limits of your knowledge and highlights the boundaries of what you can do to understand mass atrocities and serve their survivors. At no point did I feel qualified for the tasks required of me in Guatemala; and even if in some universe, I were qualified to perform the tasks themselves, no part of me was prepared for the emotional weight, vicarious trauma, and ceaseless heartbreak. It seems curious, then, that Guatemala was where we danced. We danced with vigor and with no shame, with no reservation and with gusto—every single time, with gusto. We danced on beaches and atop volcanoes, in living rooms and on coffee …

The responsibility to love

This post first appeared as Roxanne’s column on Wednesday, November 7th, on The Equals Project. Life had been reduced to a stack of flashcards in the past week. The green ones contained information on United Nations peacekeeping missions: mandates, areas of deployment, challenges. The blue ones referred to peacekeeping doctrine. The orange ones summarized relevant legal citations. At the top of the flashcard stack rested a question: “What is the legal status of the Responsibility to Protect?” Affectionately dubbed R2P, this refers to the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The questions of whose responsibility this is, how to uphold it, and where it fits on the spectrum of legal duty or interpreted responsibility are complex and controversial. Last night, at his speech upon being pronounced the winner of the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama articulated a different set of responsibilities, both on the part of leaders and of citizens. Among the many issues he touched upon, one stood out to me: his articulation of the responsibility …

Death by reading

“Oh my God, we are going to die.”After three years of living and working in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world, I did not expect to hear the above sentence uttered outside a library in Boston, Massachusetts. “We are going to die, I’m telling you.” This time it is neither of cholera nor of rocket fire, neither of a mine nor of malaria. You see, we will allegedly die of . . . reading. “Four hundred pages. A thousand. Eighteen thousand six hundred and fifty eight.” People try to calculate the number of pages we will have to read per week to complete our graduate coursework in law and diplomacy. We signed up for this, just as we did for that stint of work in Sudan or Colombia, in Uganda or on the Iraq border, and our freedom to parachute in and—most importantly—out will always make every page turn feel like a privilege to me. Imminent death does not feel like autumnal breeze, the laws of humanitarian intervention, or blank pages waiting for ideas …


Telling a new story

“Roxanne Krystalli is a gender-related development specialist in conflict and post-conflict areas.” What do you do when the first line in your biography no longer fits? I am between stories at the moment, a process that involves consistently living off the top two layers of my still-packed suitcases, debating the merits of paint swatches, and confronting the reverse culture shock inherent in returning to what used to be a home with the task of sorting out the disorienting dance between the unfamiliar and the too familiar. And the first line no longer fits. Having worked in conflict and post-conflict areas, I know not to confound conflict and war. Conflict, human pain and strife exist in Boston and Colombia and Guatemala and Jerusalem and I have called all these places home at some point along the journey. Yet, you would hardly call Boston a “conflict or post-conflict area.” You would hardly call me a specialist. I have grown wary of specialists and experts. The longer I have worked with women affected by conflict worldwide, the more …