Monday, July 31, 2006

Grenades Hit Home

As I was taking a personal moment of silence to reflect on what's going on in Lebanon and the shock that we all feel, it dawned on me that silence is the last thing we need right now in the face the human rights abuses being committed throughout the Middle East.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times frontpage showed a moving image of two Israeli soldiers who'd made it back across the border. Meanwhile, immigrants from other countries whose governments have little clout remain trapped inside Lebanon. As do the Lebanese who cannot or will not leave their homeland, understandably so. So I'm pausing today to listen to some of these far-away voices.

Naeem Mohaiemen, a mixed media artist who co-created DISAPPEARED IN AMERICA, a project that uses films, installations, & lectures to trace migration impulses, hyphenated identities and post-9/11 security panic, collects some of these unheard voices on his listerve Shobak. I'll share just a few...

Emily Jacir, a writer in Lebanon and one of the few residents who as of last week still had access to phone, reports that the media is looking desperately for people inside who can speak to the press. Emily wrote following in one of her e-mails:

If you live outside of Lebanon and Palestine and you know people around you who have loved ones in either place, please recognize that they are in a lot of pain, are not sleeping, and are trying to contact their loved ones on an hourly basis. Life is very much abnormal and it is important to acknowledge that. It is not business as usual for many of us and it hurts when people contact you as if nothing is happening. For some this is not the "news."

Another brave voice: a Rabbi's son, Michel Warschawski who left
for Israel at the age of sixteen to study the Talmud:

When a country has created borders that it has continually expanded in violation of every rule of international law; when the end, that is, the Jewish state, always justifies the means; then it should be no surprise that respecting Israel's own rules turns out to be terribly difficult.

Zena el-Khalil, an artist asks:

The question is what am I to do if I had the opportunity to leave? Would I leave? What do I do with my friends? My family? My art studio?....What about art work in my studio? What about all my brushes and paints and glitter and books! All my books!...What about our photo albums? All our family pictures? The memories...What
about the doodles I drew on my balcony a few summers ago when I was
suffering from a bad break up? What about all the love letters I have
saved? Letters that document my youth that I wanted to some day give
to my daughter.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reporters without Borders, Explorers on Safari

Did you see the article about the Tin Tin documentary in the New York Times today? Actually, the film is about Herge, Tin Tin's Belgian creator, a journalist who created the comics about a young, adventurous, traveling reporter, and wrote them in the 1930's and 1940's. The documentary, by Anders Ƙstergaard, is showing on PBS's acclaimed, independent POV series. I'll post my review tomorrow.

Strangely, the Times reporter's dry review brought back a flood of childhood memories about the cartoon series. Tin Tin was a fixture in entertainment in my household. At our house, the BBC reigned over NBC, and so for my brother and I, Tin Tin was at the very least on par with Archie, Spiderman, and even Choose Your Own Adventure Books. What memories of Tin Tin's travels! Tin Tin and the Temple of the Sol, Tin Tin in Tibet, Tin Tin in "the Blue Lotus." Everywhere he went on his globetrotting, Tin Tin was accompanied by Snowy (a terrier with the French name "Milou"), the adorable, white-furred, spunky and loyal companion who was ever-at-the-side of his master. Though he was no more than a cartoon, Tin Tin inspired me. I admired him for his courage and dreamed of traveling to the places that he did. By the time I graduated from college, I'd actually made it to a few of them.

But there was the dark side of this comic, one that even at the age of 9 or 10 I vaguely remember being disturbed by. Like the image of Tin Tin, threatened by the man-eating, fire-toting naked savages of the Congo. Herge was an explorer of "exotic" foreign lands, a man who caricatured cultures through his writing. Arguably, he was the worst kind of colonizer, since he'd not even traveled to most of the places he wrote about. And so for me this morning's story suddenly raised all kinds of ambivalent feelings. Here I am, the Brooklyn-based writer of the Global Parish, writing about places and events which open a window into a wider world, countries I have not always been ready or able to dwell in. Finally, after years of denying my inner adventurer, I've been exploring the real possibility of returning overseas to work in the area of human rights reporting. But at the end of the day, really, what makes an intrepid reporter different from a Livingstone explorer, or a travel writer, or worse, a sedentary journalist with a colonialist bent? With no answer in sight, I can only think of poking fun at my own dilemma. So I'll post some funny travel anecdotes later.