All I want for Christmas

‘War Is Over! If you want it. Happy Christmas, John & Yoko.’  Billboards in eleven world cities showed these words. It was 15 December 1969 and The Beatles singer John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono launched the peace campaign War is Over (if you want it). The peace message appeared on buildings and walls in the streets of London, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Toronto, Athens, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Berlin and Tokyo. At that time the Vietnam War was raging on with no end in sight. 

Not just advertising, the couple must have thought. John and Yoko’s message was accompanied by a Peace For Christmas concert in London to which famous musician friends, such as George Harrison and Eric Clapton, contributed.

Ukraine

Fifty-three years and some wars later, not much has changed. We may disagree on an aweful number of political issues, no one wants war. In the last month of the year, there is no prospect of an end to the war in Ukraine, which was unleashed by Russia’s invasion at the end of February this year.

After two difficult and uncertain ‘pandemic years’ for many, 2022 has also by no means been a jubilant year. First, the outbreak of war on the European continent, not even that far from our safe havens. Second, all sorts of crises, such as the energy and Dutch nitrogen crisis, which have created chaos and uncertainty among countless (Dutch) citizens. And leaders don’t seem to know the way out of the chaos and noise. 

Disunity

As facts have become opinions and opinions have become facts, the social climate is unstable with ever-increasing strife. What is truth? For instance, climate change, besides natural climate change also at the hands of humans, is for some a leftist ideology, a belief. And a belief, of course, only serves to instil fear. If it isn’t the earthly sacrifices for a place in heaven instead of hell, it is the hell and damnation hanging over us if we do not act now. Fear as a driving force, in other words. Don’t fall for it, say the deniers. As if the unprecedented, apocalyptic floods that hit Pakistan this year and the ongoing drought and water shortages in southern Europe in particular, were not clear signals that we must start living differently.

Culture war

Rather, we war – between the believers and non-believers, the liberals and conservatives. Not bombs and grenades as war language, but rather moral superiority for instance in the battle over climate, one of the main subjects of the culture war which blew over from the United States. According to the non-believers, we can sit back, nothing is wrong. With Christmas just around the corner, the steaks and pork tenderloin are served in large numbers because “they won’t take that away from us”. Some think we will soon find ourselves in such an unlivable world that freedom no longer has much value and others think our freedom is being taken away under the guise of climate change. 

‘War is over! If you want it’  fifty-three years later is not just about the war in Ukraine. It is also about the culture wars that divide countries and families and friends to the bone. Verbal violence may one day no longer be the only weapon.

Awareness

John Lennon said the following about the campaign at the time: “When we stick posters around saying, ‘War Is Over – If you want it’, we’re trying to promote an awareness in people of how much power they have, and not to rely on the government, or leaders, or teachers so much that they’re all passive or automatons. They have to have new hope.”

For hope and confidence in the future, we do not depend on governments and leaders.  A universal and timeless message. A billboard can’t change that wars will always be there, I hear you thinking. By the way, the campaign is still running – after all, the desired result is still lacking – and posters can be printed from a website to stick on your windows. I once saw such a poster on a window in Amsterdam and I had to take a picture of it. It may be just a seed, a pebble that ripples in the river as soon as it hits the surface of the water. But that seed grows and the ripple effect reaches further than you think. If enough people want something, it happens. The idea of the billboards was to make people aware of this power. Enough people actively wishing for peace can make war stop, John and Yoko thought. Naive? Maybe, yet we all know what King and Ghandi set in motion.

Anti-war Christmas song

Two years later, the War is Over slogan turned into a Christmas song with an anti-war message, Happy Christmas (War is Over), and – it took a while – eventually became a worldwide Christmas classic. And every time, the images of the music video give me goosebumps. 

‘So this is Christmas and what have you done.’

In spring 1969, John and Yoko proclaimed their peace message at the Amsterdam Hilton from their hotel bed. For a week between white hotel sheets, the famous hippie couple called for world peace. For this, they invited photographers and journalists to spread their message. “It didn’t smell to fresh in there,” said Henk van der Meijden, a tabloid reporter at Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and John’s hair remained unwashed. A crazy idea, but the bed-in got a lot of publicity and worldpeace became a mantra – without, incidentally, the desired result.

Band Aid

Flowerpower may be decades past, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear a similar message from contemporary musicians? The time is now I tell you! Just like Band Aid at the time. Musicians coming together to record a song with a (political) statement? As happened in 1984 with Do they know it’s Christmas to raise money to fight famine in Ethiopia. Later in 1985, USA for Africa followed with the legendary song We are the world

Music connects and makes hope come alive. I can only think of old(er) rockstars, like Bob Dylan, Bob Geldof and Bono, who remind us – through music – of the power of the individual to start a movement that can make a difference. Is the power of the individual perhaps weakening in individualistic times we live in? Are today’s famous artists too busy with themselves?

Concert for freedom

U2’s singer and guitarist Bono and The Edge played at a Kiev metro station in May this year, at the invitation of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, in solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine. A concert for freedom.

John & Yoko’s War is Over, Band Aid, USA for Africa, U2 for freedom, that is what I want for Christmas. Europe for Climate maybe. Who will lead the way? You don’t have to be a floating hippie or a sentimental old geezer to know that music is the catalyst for change and connection. It is a primal feeling and I dare say it’s what we all crave so much. 

Merry Christmas! 🌟❤️🥂🎄

Con Amor,

Eva

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.

What health means (to me).

Peace, war, sickness and health, it’s all happening. More than 2000 km away there is ravage and death. Lost humans and homeless animals in stifling fear. It’s surreal to realise that battle field isn’t extremely far from our safe houses. In the meantime I have been to my motherland to be there for — and with — my family. My sister has been diagnosed with breast-cancer on valentine’s day. Her tumors were removed and she will get treatment soon. The hospitals still have lots to catch up due to covid-19, so my sister is waiting for her first treatment to begin. Let’s hope she can start soon. 

Another confrontation that life can change all of a sudden. A severe attack of the human body is not that different from an invasion of a country. You trusted it to be safe, but under the skin there was tension, sickness, an underground battle fought between parties. Worlds are turned upside down. The major challenge will be to regain faith in your body, to shake off the fear in fighting your enemies. Those in war are bearing arms, and eliminating “the other”, the sick are using mental bullets as their weapons. And the heaviest bullet will be trust. Trust in the body and mind that is capable of healing, in its incredible strength and flexibility. Despair bends into courage, pain into hope. Remember that rebounds are just temporary. 

But you will only know this when you are the one who must get through this. As everything in life, you first need to experience all of it yourself. Only then you will fully understand what it means to live in a sick body or having a sick country as your home. 

What do we know about war? Only our parents know what war is when they are old enough. But we, the spoiled generation, we don’t know a damn thing. What does it mean to flee our home and country? To be a refugee? We are not able to even grasp a thing of it. Maybe we will know when sea levels rise, fertile lands turn into deserts, biodiversity is gone and our soils are completely depleted. Maybe one day we will understand as we knock on other gates.

We live in a sick world in sick bodies. More than ever we need health in our lives; for both our bodies and minds. Health means to be a guardian of nature. It means respect, acceptance, knowledge, compassion, trust, love and friendship – with yourself and those around you. But also art, craftmanship, music and dance. It’s all that nourishes life.

Con Amor,

Eva  

“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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