Black in Japan

Every time I see a black person I turn and look him straight in the eye. There is a major part of me that wants to reach out and connect with him. But every time I look at him he stares at me inquisitively. It doesn’t seem like he has a yearning to connect. Maybe he hasn’t been raised in a society that thinks so little of him. Maybe he isn’t a subordinate citizen here. It’s possible that he is not reaching out to me in the way that I am reaching out to him because he is comfortable, stable, free. I am still trapped in a Black American state of mind. Wanting, hoping, needing to connect to another second-class citizen… but where are they?

 

No One is Flawless: Embrace the Imperfections

I have a short toe on my left foot. When I say short I mean it! My middle toe is shorter than my pinky toe on my left foot and there is no bone inside of it, just a thin nub of cartilage that stretches barely half way up the tiny toe.

2014-08-04 17.03.52

I walk perfectly fine—actually I strut—the only major downfall occurs when I run long distances—by long, I mean more than 7.5 miles. When I run long distances the toes around my short toe get bruised from all the force. I’ve even lost toenails because of all the pressure (sigh).

I’m sharing my most prominent imperfection because I’m no longer ashamed of it. I wear flip-flops and go bare foot all the time, now. Okay, here is my full disclosure moment: when I was younger I wanted to hide my feet because I was so ashamed of my foot not looking like everyone else’s. I didn’t want anyone to see that I was different. My family ALWAYS made fun of my miniature toe, (thanks, punks!) and so of course I developed a little complex about it.

As I grew up and began to meet people with actual physical disabilities I realized that I was being supremely immature. I realized that no one is flawless and if the one thing that I’m ashamed of on my body is an undersized toe I needed to relax.

I’ve become thankful for this physical flaw and I’ve embraced it. I’m pretty sure that everyone on the planet dislikes some part of his or her body. I hope that everyone can take a step back and really think about their imperfection. Embrace it. Your difference makes you who you are.

No one is flawless.

 

My FYI on the ICC

Although this may seem morbid, I’ve been reading a lot about genocide and war crimes lately. I’m intent on figuring out why world leaders often stand idly by as genocide and other war crimes occur—setting aside morality as they debate political strategies. As I was reading, I found myself fixated on national (US) and international court systems and nonprofit organizations. In my exploration, I began studying the International Criminal Court (ICC) and realized that I knew little about it. Therefore, I created this post as my brief “for your information” about the ICC. I believe the ICC is one of the most important institutions in our global society and I want to make sure that my readers know what the ICC does.

The-International-_2166929bThe International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up through the Rome Statue in July 2002 in Hague, the Netherlands. Unlike the International Court of Justice, established by the United Nations in 1945 to settle disputes between countries, the ICC can prosecute individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity throughout the world. The ICC is charged with ensuring that individuals who might not be prosecuted in their own countries for crimes will have their day in court. For example, the ICC has charged six government officials from Sudan with genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes in Darfur, Sudan, understanding that these individuals may not be held accountable in their own country. One point about the ICC to keep in mind is that it can only investigate crimes committed since its inception in 2002. In my opinion, this is good and bad—good because the court can focus its limited resources on current events and bad because individuals who’ve committed war crimes prior to the inception of ICC may not be prosecuted.

As a US citizen, I’m ashamed to report that the US has declined to join the ICC. This refusal isn’t totally shocking to me since the US has also declined to join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US has also declined to sign international agreements like the Landmine Ban Convention (ICBL) and the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming.

There is more information on the ICC website, but hopefully this brief FYI helps my readers understand the importance of this international court.

Related Information:
The Tower: Abbas Mulls Bid for International Criminal Court
All Africa: Kenyatta’s Defence Team Tells ICC to Drop Case Again
Foreign Policy: Threat of Justice: Israel fears prosecution in The Hague, and the Palestinians know it.
 
 

The Forgotten Rohingya in Myanmar

I’ve heard that the test of a fledgling democracy is not just how it cares for the majority, but how it protects its minorities. If this statement is true then the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, a new democracy, is failing miserably because it is not protecting its Rohingya minority.  According to the United Nations, the Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

The leading political party in Myanmar is the Union Solidarity and Development Party made up of the ethnic-Rakhine majority, who are mostly Buddhist. It seems that because they are enjoying greater freedoms in the country they now control they have embarked on a brutal and inhumane campaign of what looks to be ethnic cleansing intended to drive Rohingyas out on Myanmar. Although most Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar since its colonization by Britain (1824 to 1948), the Rakhines in power see them as recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Rohinya

Currently, 1.33 million mostly Muslim Rohingya live in Myanmar’s insolvent western state of Rakhine (Arakan). Since the country’s transition to democracy in 2010, Rakhine mobs have killed more than 200 Rohingya and displaced more than 140,000 others from their homes. The tension between the Rakhine and Rohingyas reached a peak in 2012 when riots broke out in the north. These riots came after weeks of sectarian disputes and as a result 75,000 Rohingya were displaced.

hqdefaultThe international community continues to claim that genocide will “Never Again” happen, but whenever I turn on the news or open a newspaper I see evidence of it happening or clear indicators that it is about to happen. I’m sure claiming that genocide will “Never Again” happen is meant with the best intentions; however, they are hollow words. Action is needed around the world to prevent genocide not just pretty language.

 
Related Articles
Foreign Policy: Preventing the Next Genocide: Burma’s Rohingya minority could fall victim to full-scale genocide if the international community doesn’t intervene
United Nations: Press conference by special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar
The Library of Congress: Bill Summary & Status 113th Congress (2013 – 2014) H.RES.418
SFGates: Desperate Rohingya kids flee alone by boat
Save The Rohingya, a blog by Jamila Hanan
The Economist: Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar

 

Chicken by Efemia Chela: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

Efemia Chela’s short story, Chicken, brilliantly revolves around a young woman attempting to find financial stability and emotional support in a world made for men.

africaKaba is a recent college graduate who finds herself entering into a job market that currently has no use for her. Her rich parents believe that she’s wasted her time in school pursuing personal passions instead of attaining a law degree which they believe will make her financially stable and independent. Defiant to the end, Kaba embarks on a difficult adventure. She moves to the poorer end of town and takes a position as an unpaid intern at a global firm. She hopes to move up the ladder to attain a paid position. But as time passes she realizes that there is no room for promotion in this particular firm, filled as it is with delinquent male drug addicts and thieves.

When Kaba decides to disobey her parents they elect to withdraw their financial support. Kaba is left to fend for herself for the first time in her life. Although her parents think this tactic of withholding financial support will bend Kaba to their will, in actuality it only drives her farther away from her parents and from the world she knows.

Efemia ChelaChela’s story is a coming of age tale that tackles issues of prostitution, egg donation, and same-sex relationships.This short story is written with the utmost skill and attention to detail. As a reader, I was drawn to Kaba’s passion and determination to live her own life free of her parents’ desires for her and demands of her. Chela manages to manipulate the reader into sympathizing and empathizing with Kaba even in situations where the reader may want to reprimand her for her poor choices. The craftsmanship and artistry of this short story is mesmerizing and inspirational.

After reading all the Shortlisted Caine Prize stories of 2014, Chicken is my pick to win.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

Phosphorescence by Diane Awerbuck: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

A story of family bonds, community gentrification and human excrement, Diane Awerbuck has created, in Phosphorescencea story featuring handsome prose and an elegant plot.

ocean-phosphorescence-800x546Alice is an older woman who has, for the last 50 years, swam daily in a man-made reservoir, Graaf’s Pool, near her home. Unfortunately, the local municipality has ordered its demolition. This looming reality devastates Alice. Although the crux of the story is the age-old tale of older values versus modern opinions, the story is driven by the unshaken commitment Alice has toward her community, by the empathy the reader develops for Alice’s granddaughter Brittany as she attempts to become an independent young woman, and by the beauty and spoilage of Graaf’s Pool, which is incandescent in the evenings because algae feeds on the raw sewage from a nearby plant that flows through the pool. Although Alice knows that her treasured pool is unclean, perhaps even dangerously so, she chooses to ignore this. Instead, she submerges herself in the glowing pool each day.

Alice and Brittany’s relationship strengthens due to a series of unfortunate 2014_awerbuckevents that force them to protect one other.  Their relationship triumphs despite their age difference and their vastly different perspectives and beliefs. Awerbuck has constructed a plot that is at once familiar and innovative. I found myself lost in the beauty of her prose. I would recommend this story to any reader who is interested in exploring how community transformations can impact and positively revamp family relations.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

My Father’s Head by Okwiri Oduor: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

1236631_236483393170240_322203887_nIn Okwiri Oduor’s short story, My Father’s Head, the narrator is a young woman mourning the loss of her father. In her grief realizes that she has forgotten what her father’s head is shaped like. The words of a priest prompt her to dig through the repressed and painful memories of her childhood to rediscover what she has lost.

The narrator decides to use art to summon the image of her father’s head. Her attempt at finding his image through drawing proves challenging:

“…his head refused to appear within the borders of the paper,” the narrator says.

w1611She draws many pictures of him but in her pictures he remains headless—there are facial features but no shape to his head. Her focus and determination is admirable throughout the story and the reader can easily sympathize with her agony in the search and her hunger to remember.

Oduor uses descriptions of food to propel the story by enabling the narrator to sort through her memories with vivid descriptions of the smells and tastes of the world around her. Oduor is also able to briefly touch on the famines and violence that have ravaged the African continent through the narrator’s memories without overwhelming the reader with too many doses of misery. In my opinion, Oduor works too hard at placing descriptions of food at the center of the story and in doing so obscures the prose and stunts its development. However, I enjoyed reading and learning about the different foods this community and the power that food has on cultural development.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

The Gorilla’s Apprentice by Billy Kahora: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

Part Ismael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit and part Life of Pi, The Gorilla’s Apprentice, by Billy Kahora tells the story of a young man learning about humanity through the eyes of a gorilla.

Jimmy, the protagonist, is a curious and caring young man. He wants to learn tomKBkxo_FTgIEsB8QgElLlgA speak with gorillas because he has befriended a gorilla in a local zoo. Sebastian, an ancient mountain gorilla in Nairobi’s Animal Orphanage, was relocated from Rwanda to Kenya after the genocide that killed many Tutsis and the majority of the mountain gorillas in the country. Jimmy fears that Sebastian will die before long because he is becoming lethargic in his cage and not eating regularly.

Desperate to communicate with Sebastian, Jimmy locates a “gorilla speaker,” Professor Charles Semambo in his town. The reader learns that Semambo arrived in Kenya from Rwanda after the genocide in an attempt to make a new life for himself. Semambo seems knowledgeable to Jimmy albeit a bit quirky. Yet, Jimmy looks beyond his initial peculiar impressions of Semambo and explains that he’s spent his entire childhood at the zoo sitting near Sebastian’s cage and feels connected to him. Jimmy is able to convince Semambo to join him on a visit to the zoo and the story takes an interesting and thought provoking turn.

kahoraThis story is well crafted, engaging and exciting. Kahora is able to weave in the sordid history of the Rwandan genocide and the struggle for democracy in Kenya in a captivating and sophisticated way. I would recommend this story to anyone interested in reading about the unspoken connection between human beings to one another, and other animals.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

Finding Scientific Proof of Heaven

Dr. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who, at age 54, mysteriously contracted a rare brain illness, e coli meningitis. While he was in a coma for seven days, part of his brain ceased to function—the part that manages thought and emotion. As soon as his doctors began to talk to his family about stopping treatment, Dr. Alexander’s eyes opened and his miraculous rehabilitation began. Unlike any other patient in history, he was back to his old self in less than a week.

300x300In Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, Dr. Alexander shares his personal testimony of his near-death experience (NDE). Prior to his NDE, Dr. Alexander didn’t believe that comatose patients could experience anything more than a dream—their mind, in an attempt to cope with a traumatic event would create “visions” ‘in which they flew or spoke with a dead relative. However, once Dr. Alexander began to write down his own NDE account, he realized that the experiences that he’d heard and read of other NDEs were similar to his own. In the book, Dr. Alexander shares his wordless “conversations” with angles and his rousing musical conversation with God. Dr. Alexander refers to God as Om. For Dr. Alexander, om is the sound that he heard when in the presence of God and the warmth that he felt surrounded by that omnipresent love and peace.

I was originally drawn to this book after watching Dr. Alexander’s conversation with Oprah Winfrey on her show, Super Soul Sunday.

An excerpt:

As a Christian, I grew up learning, believing and fully committing to the understanding that when my body dies my soul will live on. I know and believe that my soul will reconnect to my God and move on to a place with no space and time. I am not fearful of my body dying, I’m just nervous.

1349486664139.cachedFortunately, my dreams have been filled with the images that Dr. Alexander provides in this book—my soul has been calmed by them. I am still a bit nervous for my body to pass away but simply nervous in the way a person would be nervous about entering a new classroom in college, or nervous in the way a person would feel on their wedding day. My nervousness isn’t rooted in fear because I know the journeymy soul will takewill be beautiful and good for me. I am comforted by the images Dr. Alexander shares because as a human being they allow my simple mind to hold on to something familiar.

I would recommend this book to anyone open to thinking through a spiritual experience. I would also recommend this book to spiritual skeptics because Dr. Alexander attempts to scientifically rule out all possibilities of the mind fantasizing about God during an NDE. His story is truly compelling.

 

Things I Know For Sure: Growing Love

Here are my humble thoughts on growing a loving relationship. I know some of my notes may seem controversial but they are my truths. I believe relationships have to be nurtured. Each relationship is different and has to be handled differently. The thoughts, comments, and beliefs located within this post work beautifully for my relationship. I hope some of them are universal.

1: Distance is OK in a relationship

This was a hard one for me when my fiancé moved back from Great Britain after winning the Rhodes Scholarship and studying at Oxford and then working for Google. I wanted to be with him all the time. I never wanted him out of my sight. I missed him so much because of all the time he spent out of the country and away from me. When we moved to DC together, I still wanted to live under him. He was super kind and understanding of my needs/wants. As time went on, however, I realized that I was far too obsessed with him and not in a good way. I needed to learn to love him from the other side of the couch, and then from the kitchen, and then from the other side of the apartment… eventually I worked up to realizing that I could love him just the same whether he was in the house or not. At the time, I thought I needed to show him how much I loved him or maybe he would forget. I’ve learned since that a little distance makes the heart grow fonder. Now, I’m excited when he goes out and hangs with his friends, when he goes and spends hours in a museum, when he takes a walk around the neighborhood, and when he is absorbed in his computer on the couch. I understand now that our relationship is strong whether we are right next to each other or not. And really, when he has time to do his thing and I have time to do my thing we always come back with great stories for one another and we appreciate our time together even more.  

2: Put Downs are a No Go

There is no reason in the world for my fiancé and I to put each other down. He is my sun and I am his moon. No one in the world is going to love him or honor him the way I will and should as his partner, and vice versa. We both make sure that we work on respecting one another. At certain points in this relationship, we definitely unintentionally disrespect each other. This happens when we misinterpret each other’s actions or we handle a situation differently than the other person might. In these moments, it can be hard to see where we as individuals messed up because to us it may seem like a normal reaction. However, when the other person tells us that their feelings are hurt then pride goes out the window and we try to make it right. We are definitely better at this now than ever before.

3: Trust, Trust and Trust some more

Trust is earned and built. I trust him totally and I know he trusts me the same.  

4: Don’t take your partner for granted

At times, I feel my fiancé does too much! He bends over backwards for me all the time and I don’t always think I deserve that type of love or care. We share with each other what we appreciate about each other, every day. We don’t let a day pass by without saying, “thank you” for this or for that. We don’t even think about saying thank you any more it’s just a natural part of our relationship. We don’t take each other for granted.

5: There is no need to rush

10303774_10203776217827422_6806489555828888092_nI’m glad to say that I am learning not to rush the milestones. I must be on my fiancé’s schedule because he is the head of our household. I can make a request (and be very annoying about it) but the final decision is left to him. This was hard for me to learn because for some reason I was associating my pride with his decision making and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to tell me what to do or what not to do. This was wrong! I grew up. I realized that he picked me and I picked him and in that picking I made a choice to respect and honor him. My pride gets in the way at times, but I’m happy to say that my prideful moments don’t last long any more. Giving in to his choices doesn’t make me weak it actually makes me stronger! I am learning to submit, in the biblical sense, and I’m very happy about this.

6: Talk about EVERYTHING

My fiancé says that I treat him like my girlfriend sometimes… oops I really do. I tell him far too much about girl stuff but he’s my baby and that’s what I do. But really, we talk about everything no matter how difficult. That’s the only way we know how to be. We are crafting this relationship each day with trust and honesty.

7: Inspire each other

I absolutely wouldn’t be who I am without my fiancé. I would be a cool chick but I wouldn’t be this intelligent (he pushes me to think and debate), I wouldn’t be loving (he forces me to love even when I’m fearful), I wouldn’t be this honest with myself or others (he nudges me to trust myself and my strengths), I wouldn’t be this driven (he guides me toward the goals in my soul), I wouldn’t be this soulful (he teaches me to live in prayer), etc. I could go on and on but I’ll just say without my fiancé I simply wouldn’t be this kind of Stephanie.

8: Partners fight, that’s ok 

Yes we fight, but we don’t fight each other. We fight about ideas and opinions. We don’t attack character. I’m sure we will have disagreements forever, but the way we handle them says so much about where we are in our love, in our respect for our selves, in our respect for each other and in our respect for this relationship.

9: Pick battles but don’t start wars

YES, we both pick our battles, now. There is no reason to always fuss about the goings on of the day. There are things that irk me and there are things that irk him. Picking and choosing is a choice we make in this relationship. I think the real goal is making it so the other person doesn’t know they irked us. I want my fiancé to think he is always right. I want him to walk into our home feeling like this is his kingdom and he doesn’t have to fight anyone here because this is his sanctuary. I know that he wants me to feel safe, supported and taken care of in our home too… and I do. Picking battles doesn’t make you weak it makes you a loving partner.

10: Feel Better and Be Better Together

My fiancé and I have been together since we were 19 going on 20. I can’t imagine my life without him and I wouldn’t want to. My life is stupendously better with him in it.

11: Be comfortable in silence 

I actually enjoy just sitting in a room with my fiancé or walking up the street hand-in-hand. We don’t have to say a word and it is just as wonderful as having an all night discussion about a book, a play or some news article. With him every moment, in silence or in sound, is breathtakingly marvelous.

12: Flexibility

All the comments above prove our flexibility.