Monday, March 23, 2015

Selma, Martin Luther King, the movie and memories

The movie 'Selma' is moving and very well conceived. I love how Martin Luther King keeps making the case for continuous non-violent action against all odds. The film brought tears to my eyes and made me proud of what the people, often at high personal cost acchieved. The cast is sublime, the humanity of the main characters shines through.
My late husband Tony Mafia once mentioned to me that at the first march to Selma he went along with some friends in an old Volkswagen bus. He lived in Los Angeles at that time. What he told me was indeed that on the bridge the local sheriff and the cops really went out of their way with their batons to hurt as many people as possible. He even mentioned that German shepherds were send in against the marchers. Many black people and lots of young hippies were injured. He didn't go to the other marches not liking the violence, not liking to see how people around him got shot or killed in other ways.
I was a young teacher in an interpreting school when all this happened. I was the teacher for English interpreting and spoke also about all things American. Sadly, the message today still needs to heard. Sadly black children still live all too often in dire circumstances and shamefully black boys still are killed by white cops and vigilantes who all too often go unpunished.

We are one race: the human race and we are all born equal.

 Here you can see the trailer of the movie.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Journalists and writers under threath in Nigeria-

What about freedom of expression? What about safe working conditions for journalists?

I was lucky to have visited Nigeria when I still worked for the European Institutions. I found it to be an enchanting place, with a lot of possibilities, yet where things on the human rights spectrum still go very wrong.

I quote: Since 2009, five Nigerian journalists have been targeted and killed while no perpetrators have been brought to book. Nigeria ranked 11th on CPJ's 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

It is of paramount importance that the authorities ensure Ekpimah's safety. The commissioner of police is not protecting him, stating "I do not care about you."

It is also impossible for the journalist to collect money to defend himself...

How did this story start? The inforation about this says: "Etim Ekpimah, correspondent for the daily PUNCH newspaper in the southern state of Akwa Ibom, told CPJ he received several threats via phone and text message on Sunday from individuals who said they would force him out of the state over the story he had published that day. The story, called "Akwa Ibom: State where commissioners, others, kneel for Akpabio's wife," recounted how government officials knelt toward the wife of the governor of Akwa Ibom state at a political rally and at the Independent National Electoral Commission office, where ministers were being presented with certificates.

There is a real thread when a person from Akwa Ibom one should be very cautious. The CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists takes the threats seriously and they stated that "Etim Ekpimah, correspondent for the daily PUNCH newspaper in the southern state of Akwa Ibom, told CPJ he received several threats via phone and text message on Sunday from individuals who said they would force him out of the state over the story he had published that day. The story, called "Akwa Ibom: State where commissioners, others, kneel for Akpabio's wife," recounted how government officials knelt toward the wife of the governor of Akwa Ibom state at a political rally and at the Independent National Electoral Commission office, where ministers were being presented with certificates.

Emmanuel Ojukwu, spokesman for the national police, told CPJ in a text message that the alleged response of the police commissioner would be investigated. "The mandate of the police is to protect the lives of all citizens. ... The life of every journalist falls in line with that mandate."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fatena in the Lazarus chappel in Rumst

After a brief introduction about Pen-Flanders and what we do in defending freedom of expression and authors world wide who get into trouble for their writing and for refugee authors like Fatena and many others. It is quite a feat for a poet who is a refugee from Palestine to do a reading. It involuntarily turns into a haunting reading in Arabic and whomever is accompanying her reading the real fine Dutch translation of her work. Yet people see her Palestinian scarf and soon the questions become political: The ancient writings as the Bible and the Koran are invoked. (yes the capitals matter in this case). One speaks about the destruction in the Gaza strip, the family living in the same house, because so many houses have been bombed to smithereens... Interesting is that when Fatena is in Palestine, she feels not death around her but life, people carrying on the best they can, children playing in the rubble and new life coming into this world. So the will to survive is stronger in the volatile situation in Gaza than in Flanders, yet she thinks more about death when here... Was it a gloomy morning in the wonderful Lazarus chapel? Not at all! People listened to her even not understanding a word, were captivated by the beauty of the sound, understanding the content only when read in Dutch. Having just heard how she read the particular poem, which stanzas were loud and fiery and which one quiet and plaintive, I could kind of follow in her footsteps. The discussion went on after the the time was up, with a warm kindness, a glass and some nibbles and questions and opinions flew around in a real meeting of the spirits. Again, an inter cultural encounter, with widely differing opinions, some being pro Jewish, others more differentiated in the way they expressed their questions or worries. The appreciation for having learned something new and  having heard beautiful poetry was the prevailing mood.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Interculturalism made easy and fun thanks to poetry

Fatena Al Ghorra is a star. She writes well and performs well and binds people to her across cultural differences. So she organized a well attended evening in the Stadsmagazijn. People read in Arabic with translation, read in English and in Dutch. Current PEN-Flanders president Joke Van Leeuwen read from her book Four ways of waiting. A lot of people from the cultural scene were present, mainly those working with learning the language and showing newly arrived refugees the way through the long corridors of the institutions, helping to get their papers in order. The poetry was great and so was the music. The sitar player choose popular tunes which all the Arab speaking crowd joining in and singing along.The amount of food was spectacular, three women had cooked all day, thinking about dishes that were vegetarian, nice salads, rice with chicken. All that with the specific spices of North Africa. It all was tasty and cozy. Cake and falafel, home made hummus, it was all there to be tasted.

Her book 'Gods Bedrog' is a bilingual edition: Arabic and Dutch, published by Uitgeverij P.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

City Poems for Bruges

Sometimes a request to translate poetry into English leads to more than just the translation and the corrections. This certainly was the case for this translation of the strange and strong poetry by Lies Van Gasse. Luc Vanneste was great in reading through the text and publishing it and for giving me a lot of food for thought.
I have a lot of sympathy for the Lapperfort Poets Society. It reminds me of the thoughtful anarchy I strive for.

Last year I translated the poetry of Peter Theunynck my then co-chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN-Flanders. His writing is deep and thoughtful, knowledgeable about the history and present of Bruges. Some jobs just bring their own rewards.

Enjoy the links to these two beautiful poets!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chokta Lobsang: in memoriam

                                  Chokta Lobsang, a kind and warmhearted young Tibetan monk who was a writer and advocate for freedom of expression has been brutally murdered. He told me that when he was 16 going on 17, he left Tibet in winter and with a group of 56 people crossed the Himalayas through the deep snow into India. He knew his life wasn't safe in Tibet. Two of his nephews had immolated themselves, to keep out of the hands of the Chinese secret service: The ultimate form of resistance, out of free will and choice. People working for the latter dis-service raped and killed his young niece. During two PEN-Conferences I met this amazing young man and we had several warm, personal and serious conversations. He told me then that a couple of times a years - not having seen his mother for 17 years - he would call his mother. Yet then they could not speak freely, seen the aforementioned 'service' was always listening in. With a kind of code, they managed to at least a bit of personal  exchange. Probably the biggest joy for this young man was hearing his mothers voice.
He was an unwavering Vice-president of PEN Tibetan Writers Abroad always defended colleagues in trouble, literature and freedom of expression. Many of us having met Lobsang at PEN meetings over the last number of years, including the PEN International Congresses in Reykjavik (2013), the WiPC Conference in Krakow (2013) have been touched by this thoughtful and kind person. In India he was a teacher to the young monks. His murder was gruesome. And we might never know the full story of who did pull the strings. Heavy hearted, saddened yet also grateful to have been touched by this extraordinary person I want to remember our last meeting when he offered David, the then president of PEN-Flanders and myself a white scarf which we both hold dear and cherish.
Thinking of you in gratitude for having known you.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Fatena in Zedelgem and St Niklaas

After the long drive to Zedelgem, we were rewarded with an interesting bunch of people who had braved the rain and darkness. Karl introduced Pen-Flanders and the work we do for authors who had to flee their country. Fatena is from Gaza and she read from her book "Gods bedrog" (freely translated in English as "Gods Cheating").

The  question and answer part was very interesting and also the texts she wrote by pictures taken during the last 51 days war in the Gaza strip. It was heart wrenching to see the children who has been killed and the unsurmountable grief of the parents... People asked question also about religion. Fatena having read the Koran and the bible spoke about having worn the hijab and how by reading the koran
she stopped being 'so radical'. Her performance in Arabic is haunting, her rendition in Dutch by Karel was heartfelt. Here to the right you see him next to the very enthousiastic Misses "Hemelwater" as we accidentally called her.
The young people were very inquisitive and asked questions, not only about the Koran, and the war in Gaza, but also about PEN-Flanders. Some private talks with the students afterwards were quite interesting too.