How true stories of real heroines put nationality, freedom and humanity in perspective

The fact that I, as a Dutch woman, can travel (almost) anywhere with ease, a quick look at my passport and everything is ok, has always amazed me. Your place of birth largely determines your chances in life: health, education, work, happiness. Your nationality can even be a matter of life or death. If you are born in Afghanistan your chances of an early death are more realistic and all the more if you happen to be female.

An Afghan woman forced to marry a Taliban fighter and lead a life kept out of sight and practically invisible, can escape only by death, whereas the most pressing matter for a Dutch woman is that she earn the same as a man in her position.

Selective women’s rights

After watching the Netflix documentary In Her Hands about the fearless youngest mayor in Afghanistan, Zarifa Ghafari (26), who fights for the education of girls, forbidden by the merciless Taliban under whose terror girls and women must fear for their lives, western feminists suddenly become irrelevantly self-obsessed. The fact that women’s rights only seem to exist selectively, is every time a painful realisation in itself and the silence of western feminists concerning the terrible predicament of women under strict Islamic regimes even more so. Consider the deadly repression playing out in Iran at the moment.

As a husband and father you don’t want to reside in a country in which your wife awaits an existence without rights, and your daughters who wish to learn, run the risk every day to be murdered in cold blood by extremists.  The images at Kabul airport of thousands of desperate Afghans trying to flee, clinging to an aircraft, women and children trying to catch the last flight away from a home which will become a prison, leave you gasping for air. The mayor Zarifa narrowly escapes with her husband, mother and younger brother in a plane heading for Germany, where they are received as refugees.

Continuing the fight

Shortly before the Taliban had executed her father in front of his home and young son due to Zarifa’s public role, which she had refused to give up. Despite the threat to her own life, she travels back to Afghanistan on her own a few months later to continue the fight for the right of women and girls in her homeland. In Germany she no longer held a high office, she was an asylum seeker with a life on hold, and the control, again, out of her hands. All be it without the constant mortal danger, but for Zarifa not important enough to stay for.

When the bombs drop

Another such true story which burst into your safe life and rages on long after, is The Swimmers, a biographical movie about two Syrian sisters who are also talented swimmers, Yusra and Sara Mardini.  On the horizon you see the bombs exploding on the edge of town while the sisters let themselves go on the dance-floor at a party.  The start of the civil war in Syria.  The situation escalates and the sisters lives are in danger.  Their father grudgingly supports their decision to flee to Germany along with a cousin. A harrowing life-threatening journey awaits them. On their way they quickly fall into the hands of unreliable people smugglers.

The hellish journey, especially the chilling crossing the sisters make in an overloaded rubber dingy from Turkey to Lesbos is made by countless people every year.

Thousands never set foot in Europe but end namelessly in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014 more than 29.000 deaths have been registered along the flightpaths to Europe, including this crossing to Lesbos, most of the victims are from Syria. All the antics the sisters perform and the dangers they brave to reach this island where the inhabitants can’t wait to see the backs of them, seem surreal but are at the same time very real.

Salvation

The viewer gets a feel for the years-long beaurocratic process, waiting on stamps and signatures.  It feels like you are in a Kafka novel.  The endless waiting that slowly extinguishes the last remaining bit of life-force, but not so for the sisters.  Their crib stood in Syria and then going to Europe to establish yourself, away from the bombs and bloodshed, is far from matter of course.  The combination of their courage and daring with a clear goal is their salvation.  These make the difference in the end.  Although the goal for each of the sisters turns out to be different, it is what enables them to regain control over their lives in a foreign country.  The movie slung me back and forth between hope and despair, but more the first than the latter.  The Syrian sisters got me thinking. 

Fort Europe

I never had to supply stacks of documents to get government clearance to come and live in Spain.  My partner, cat and I just went, now some 8 years ago.  We can come and go as we please.  No-one ever asked us for all sorts of information, our Dutch passports were enough.  We did not have to wait eons on permission from the authorities to reside within the Spanish borders, because there is free movement of people within the European Union.  We are what you call “fortune seekers”.  And we were not even unfortunate in our country of birth.  And yet, that is what we are, because we wanted more.

Second-rate citizenship

The right to come and go as you please, in your own country and outside it, (freedom of movement) as determined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is beautiful on paper, but in practice far from reality. Especially for those with less desirable passports; those who have a high chance of becoming second rate citizens. Those men and women who will never feel equal to their compatriots who were born there.

For now, I really recommend watching In her Hands and The Swimmers, just like that they might awaken a humanity which I often find sorely missing when it concerns refugees and migrants.  A little more compassion won’t kill us.

It is too proud to think that the bombs will never fall here or that the water will never rise so high or dry up, making flight our only chance at survival. When it is us rattling at the gates or embarking on harrowing journeys to escape war or natural disasters, we will hope for some humanity instead of a lifetime as a second-rate citizen.  

As it was written some 2000 years ago: ‘Pride comes before the fall.’

Timeless wisdom which reaches far beyond all borders.

In her Hands and The Swimmers are now screening on Netflix.

Previously published in Dutch on Reporters Online.

These philosophical words about our planet we all should cherish.

Words can be so powerful, truthful and consoling. They change the way we look at things, they change the way we see our existence. This unforgettable speech by scientist Carl Sagan is something I truly adore and every now and then I listen to it on youtube. It makes me feel both humble and magical.

This tiny dot is where it all happens for us. This small planet Earth is where we love, kill, celebrate, mourn and destroy.

The delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe is challenged by this point of pale light,” Sagan said. We are arrogant by thinking human is the centre point of the universe and we’re wrong too. We could do better by being more humble to start with. Humbleness in our culture is discouraged and seen as weakness; it shouldn’t bring us far in life. Well, we see where arrogance has led us. If we would encourage our children to be humble and see it as a quality instead of a weakness, we have more self-confident, self-loving and self-respecting men and women in the world who make it a better place.

So here’s to humbleness and respect to our home!

Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University (October 13, 1994):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWPFmdAWRZ0

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Con Amor,

Eva

Photo credits: Seth Macey on Unsplash

“Will You Witness Me?” Spreading understanding through poetry and human rights advocacy.

The world needs the poets, artists, musicians, painters, writers and photographers to help us witnessing and understanding the suffering in the world. Especially the pain of “forgotten people in forgotten places”.

Words about war, justice, humanity, understanding and…the weather

As I write this, there’s thunder in the air and it rains softly. The sky is dark grey packed with layers of clouds. The sun doesn’t feel like coming out of bed today. I have waited for this day for so long now. The light sea breeze cools off the air right now and I just love it! And how I missed the rain!

Doors open, the rumbling sound of thunder in the air, a sleeping cat on the chair next to me and my cup of coffee within reach. The air smells so fresh and pure and to stand outside in the rain soaking up this refreshed air is all I need right now. The best thing of a life close the sea is you see bad weather coming from miles ahead. It’s spectacular to watch the shift in colors of the sky and the sea, to notice the dramatic clouds coming closer and closer. I don’t think the clouds will open up today, but that’s just perfect right now.

By coincidence I came across this amazingly beautiful and thought-provoking speech on ted.com this morning: A young poet tells the story of Darfur.

It’s about the genocide fifteen years ago that took place during the civil war in Sudan that she was able to escape from.

“I wrote poetry to convince people to hear and see us,” Emtithal Mahmoud says.

How she uses poetry to heal her trauma and asks all by-standers “Will you witness me?” I would like to share here with you on this Friday afternoon.

It’s something we can learn from. It speaks to our humanity and her appeal today is very much alive. Stories like these need to be shared widely. Her words should be written on the front-page of every newspaper, broadcasted on television and shared on every webpage you can imagine!

 

 

The world needs the poets, artists, musicians, painters, writers and photographers to help us witnessing and understanding the suffering in the world. Especially the pain of “forgotten people in forgotten places”.

Eventually I was wrong about the sleeping sun. It looks like the clouds slowly break open. The sun awakens and the rain has already evaporated. After all, it’s still Ibiza. September has arrived, but summer will stick around for a while.

 

Con Amor,

Eva

 

 

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