Body Talk.

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Body Policing]

“Are you growing your family?” his eyes glued to my stomach. His implication, sinking deep into my cellulite insecurity. It was like i was in eighth grade all over again, my so-called “friends” writing me emails with weight-loss tips as the reason no boy would date me.

“Your family? Are you growing it?” Jonathan looked baffled, not realizing what this man talking to us was implying. But i knew. I knew the moment he looked at my stomach. I mean, i knew i’d packed on extra with mom’s pound cake on Thanksgiving, but Jesus. Relatives and strangers have already started pressing on when we’ll have kids. Have asked me if i will drop out of school to get married sooner.

But this was a first: a man – anyone, really – asking if that extra wedge of fat pooching over my belt was a baby. He felt comfortable and entitled enough to ask us, relative strangers, if my very not-pregnant body was bulging under the weight of a new fetus.

It was not, however, the first time a cisgendered man felt entitled to my body.

He came up behind me, without a word announcing his presence. It wasn’t until his hands were down my skirt that i realized there was someone behind me at all.

He thought it was innocuous enough: my shirt tail had come untucked, and he had taken the liberty of adjusting my appearance.

Apparently, his hands on my underwear, securing the hem of my shirt in place, was perfectly appropriate behavior for an elderly man towards a young woman.

I whipped around, his hand still halfway down my skirt. I knew only that unknown hands were winding their way down my legs. All words glued themselves to my throat. I tensed to run, wishing i had my keys in my pocket. I’d always been afraid of this, remembering when i was eleven and my Godmother told me never to walk alone after dark without a key between my pointer and middle finger. We may have always believed in nonviolence, but as womyn we knew the threat. We knew what we faced.

There was nowhere for me to go. I was working, at the host stand, as i did for four years at the same restaurant. We were packed, on an hour long wait at least, a crush of grumpy and self-important businesspeople waving pagers in my face.

“There!” he smiled, wriggling his hand out. “You’re all fixed!”

I stared back, horrified and shamed into silence. He didn’t even blush, just walked away, his good deed of feeling up a minor done for the day.

I wasn’t even sixteen. It was a new skirt, too, one i’d bought for my first real job. Appropriate knee-length with a button-down that showed no cleavage. I’d checked all the boxes, hadn’t even been looking at him. As if such victim-blaming checkboxes would have protected me.

I could have been standing there naked, and that would not have excused his non-consenual, unwanted, and unwarranted handling of my body.

You can make your excuses: he’s old, he’s old-fashioned, he thought he was being helpful.

I reject all of them. He did not ask, or even bother to tell me what he was doing. Saying i’m being over-sensitive or over-reacting is to gaslight me. I don’t care that he was older, he was old enough to know you ask before touching someone. As Lara Blackwood Pickrel writes in her Talking Taboo essay: “Citing cultural and generational differences, the offender wipes her hands of the matter and assumes a posture of innocence.” (Talking Taboo, 46)*

No, i was not molested or raped or even attacked. But someone i did not know, or give consent to, felt entitled enough to my out-of-line body that they saw to “fix” it. Tucked me in, made me look “appropriate,” deemed their vision of what i should look like was more important than my own opinion.

And what is most angering, most saddening, most bra-burning-inducing of this incident?

This was not the only time it has happened to me.

Standing in the communion line at church this summer, a man i don’t really know behind me pulls at my dress. My bra was showing, he whispers. He had to ensure no one could see that strip of white polyester above my strapless dress.

Men, as i would walk them to their tables at the restaurant, sliding their hands on my waist and bending close to my ear. “Can’t you get us a better table, sweetheart?” they’d ask. A wink added, for good measure.

Out at an underage-friendly club, age fourteen: a man i don’t know comes up behind me, wraps his hands around my hips and pulls me into his groin. He’s pushing into me, trying to force me to grind when the words stop being glued in my throat. I untangle myself, i turn around, i say firmly: “I am a woman, not an object, and you cannot treat me this way.” His friends dog me the rest of the night, calling me a slut and asking why i won’t dance with their friend. Eventually, i feel chased out and leave and try not to cry the whole way home.

Over, and over, and over again. What is lacking in every story is my permission, my consent. Not once did these men ask if they could touch me, shove their genitals against me, think that their sexualization of my body might be damaging or hurtful or frightening. Sure, there were varying degrees of harassment, but the message remained constant: your feminine body is not your own.

And no, this man asking if Jonathan and i were expecting was not sexualizing or objectifying my body in the same way as these men who physically touched me. But the immeasurable discomfort i felt at his question, the shame i felt for my body, was very much the same. Except this time, instead of feeling like i had dressed too scantily (which actually is never an excuse for harrasment) i felt fat.

And i know – i know this is body-shaming and internalized misogynistic self-loathing and all that good stuff feminist literature has taught me. We’ve all got body fat, body fat is good. Being fat is not bad. It’s this socially engineered be-smaller-ladies shit.

J.K. Rowling says it perfectly: “Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.”

I have the proverbial fat shame problem. The hate-the-flab, love-to-eat, try-to-have-healthy-esteem balance that 99% of womyn my age try to strike. 

Trying to love ourselves, our curves and hair in demonized places and flabs of skin hanging over our jeans, all while the onslaught continues: you are not small enough, stop taking up too much room, your bodies are not your own. I’ve never had a friend who didn’t grapple with loving her body. It has not mattered her weight, build, race, height, BMI index, or gym membership; it is not a “womyn’s problem.” Men have eating disorders too, men are spoon-fed sexist body policing all the time.

But i, as a woman, have a body that seems to be subject to the male gaze no matter what i do. I’m tired of social standards deeming what is and is not “appropriate” for me.

I’m tired of the phantom permission that allows people to pry into my sex life or pry open my skirt without pausing to think that i may not want them there.

Buy my Book!

Want to talk more? Come to the Talking Taboo event on TUESDAY NIGHT at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 7 Woodbridge St, South Hadley MA. 6:30 PM.

Relevant Resources: National Sexual Assault Hotline & RAINN, Local Crisis Center Locator, Sarah Over the Moon blog (i recommend her “You are Not Your Own” series), and The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence by Monica Coleman.

*Who, by the way, has just written an amazing blog post i think a beautiful companion to this one: “What Not to Wear: Church Edition.

Whirlwind.

J left for the States early this morning. I’m on my second box of cookies and third cup of tea. Don’t even ask about the state of my hair, or the depletion of tissues in the box.

We had the most enchanting time together and, while i’ll spare you the Nicholas Sparks commentary, i just have to say how grateful i am he had the opportunity to visit. Not all couples have that chance. Long distance is for the birds. Or for the foolishly and deeply committed.

We certainly had a whirlwind of a visit; in the span of his twelve days here we touted about Edinburgh, Paris, London, and even (thanks to a disaster-turned-adventure) had a Scottish fry-up in Glasgow. RyainAir oh-so-kindly cancelled their only Wednesday flight to Paris less than twelve hours prior to its intended 7 am takeoff. Thanks to J’s genius, though, we re-routed with FlyBe through Glasgow – losing a day in Paris but gaining a gorgeous train ride through Scotland’s countryside.

The view of Arthur's Seat some twenty miles away from Edinburgh!

The view of Arthur’s Seat some twenty miles away from Edinburgh!

A true Scottish Loch (or, well, a petite one...)

A true Scottish Loch (or, well, a petite one…)

Our propeller plane from Glasgow to Paris!

Our propeller plane from Glasgow to Paris!

It’s in the midst of the crisis – when i’m trying not to cry over how my color-coded itinerary has been thrown out the window by the forces of Air Traffic Control (or whatever) – that my patient, flexible, and creative J reminds me of why we balance one another. Sure, we may both be Religion majors and equally geek out over cathedrals (we visited nine in total) but when it comes to personality types, my INFJ meets its opposite in his ENFP. He pulls me out of my cat-sulking shyness and teaches me why going with the flow can bring unprecedented adventure. Two people who were never meant to meet fell in love. Two hemispheres collided and my whole world has been reshaped. A day in Paris may have been lost, but a serendipitous adventure now stands in that day’s stead.

And for that, i am evermore grateful.

current jam: ‘skinny love’ birdy.

best thing: tagalongs from my father.

So, Paris.

Trying to write about the enamor i now feel for Paris is like trying to make Michelangelo’s Pièta out of play-doh. What does a writer say about the City of L’amour that has not yet been said?

Paris has lived in my mind for so long; the rewinds and re-watches of my favorite Disney, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, instilled a love of the grandiose cathedral from a wee age. In eighth grade i enrolled in my first French class with the intent of being able to speak the language in African countries once colonized by the French. I didn’t expect to also fall madly in love with the idea of Paris, but suddenly i had three Eiffel Tower keychains and a calendar of photographs along the Seine.

In my tummy-knotted waiting for J, i had hardly stopped to consider the impending realization of my eighth-grade dreams. The guidebooks were tabbed, playlists made, but the reality wasn’t there.

Until i caught my first glimpse of Montmartre’s winding alleyways. Then, i was there. I was Audrey Hepburn in white sunglasses, strolling along the Seine. I was every line from Moulin Rouge! singing from a red windmill. I was my mother in her movie-star black coat, i was thirteen and practicing: Bonjour, ça va? I was every writer who’d been intoxicated by the river, every dreamer who had wished under the Parisian sky. It met and exceeded my every expectation.

J called it my "Paris Face," taken at our first meal upon our (late evening) arrival!

J called it my “Paris Face,” taken at our first meal upon our (late evening) arrival!

J and i are back in Edinburgh now, with his return ticket to the states looming over our vin du Paris grins with an increasingly ominous tune. There will (wayyy) be more blogging on and photos of Paris (and London and Edinburgh!) soon, but for now i’m going to embrace un joie de vivre and be present in the non-blogging real world. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Day one: first photo on the Seine riverbank!

Day one: first photo on the Seine riverbank!

current jam: ‘bells of notre dame’ hunchback of notre dame soundtrack; no shame.

best thing: paris!

Répéter: Trois Jours.

I should be writing my paper on sexuality and nationalism.

I’ve spent my afternoon making spinach-and-artichoke dip for my mojito chicken nacho dinner tonight. (The whole cooking thing? Yeah, it’s taking off with frightening fast elevation.  I think i’ve watched three or four hours worth of Sorted videos in the last two days alone). Before that, there was a stroll around The Meadows and the library under the ruse of “returning my books.”

You get the idea.

My restlessness is not unfounded, if resiliently unproductive. In a mere three days (THREE DAYS) J will be here for his spring break. I can’t breathe, i can’t focus, and i certainly cannot think about anything else (much less worrying over the intersection of sexuality and nationalism in a 2500 word essay).

So here am i, procrastinating in my most favorite way. Writing to you. My current second-favorite means of not-doing-homework is reading up on restaurants in Paris and London, where we’ll visit in the twelve days J is here. (If you have suggestions, please do leave them in the comments!)

As if seeing him were not enough, i’m finally realizing my thirteen-year-old dream of scaling the Eiffel Tower and downing more wine and cheese than i can imagine. Maybe the wine part wasn’t so influential in my eighth-grade-doodles. Whatever. Je voudrais deux baguettess’il-vous-plaît, i practice. Mademoiselle Kelly would be proud. I’ve come two inches in my French grammar since my middle school days. But i can rock the all-black-clothing with pouty-red-lipstick look like Amélie personally loaned me her wardrobe. My sense of fashion has certainly progressed since then

I have a running playlist of the strangest juxtapositions: Zac Brown Band (for him), Edith Piaf (for Paris), and the Hunchback of Notre Dame (for the guise of focusing, the reality of pretending to be Esmeralda in the famous cathédrale). Rinse, remix, repeat.

Rinse, remix, repeat. Mojito chicken, library, repeat. Three days, three days, three days.

current jam: ‘la vie en rose’ édith piaf.

best thing: affordable airlines.

For My Mother:

[Groupon UK is running a contest wherein entrants write a blog post about their perfect gift idea – either for themselves, or someone else - this Valentine's Day. This is my entry!]

I was in the fourth grade when she first left the country. I remember the gifts she brought back – small, plastic figurines of princesses with swords at their hips and knights mounted on horses. It was the peak of my fantastical stories age when i spent hours crafting intricate narratives against the backdrop of my waterfall Playmobile set. Her gifts were the perfect addition to my cast of characters: feisty female leads with dashing love interests played by an assortment of stuffed animals.

My mother has always ensured i live a charmed life. She left the country for the first time in her thirties. I was fourteen when we boarded the plane for Uganda.

Her friend’s book club had booked a trip to Paris and an extra spot was vacant. My mother purchased this exquisite, calf-length black coat for the occasion. The collar was faux fur, and i thought she looked like a movie star from the 1930s. Paris is cold in February, she told me then.

Edinburgh is too.

At the age of twenty, i’ve been given the best gifts i could ever ask for. Love in my life, warms homes, stamped passport, recipes for fried chicken. There’s not much more i could ask for than that. My mother was my gateway into the world, and she has opened innumerable doors since i came through.

When we’d opened our action figures, she told me how the street she’d found them on was like Diagon Alley. Like magic made it appear, cobblestone-covered and impossible to find again. She talked and talked, how the windows in Notre Dame dimmed in the rain but dazzled in the sun. Chirping her Bonjour’s and reminiscing the wine, i drank in her memories like the stories she’d given me bound in books.

It was her first and only time to Paris. We’ve traveled together across East and West Africa, hearts full with adventure and simplicity and constancy. But it’s been some time since my mother has traveled abroad. I can hear little aches in her voice when i tell her how spellbound i am with the red letter-boxes on the streets.

There are many things i wish i could give my mother in return for what she has given me. But a parent’s love is a kind of gift that i, even in my neurotic-must-repay mindset, can never hope to give back in equal measure.

If i could, on Valentine’s Day i would give her is a chance to fall in love with Europe all over again. To visit me, in Edinburgh, and to see why it is that Scotland possess its own kind of magic. I would take her to St. Margaret’s chapel in the Edinburgh castle, because i know she’d like that the oldest building in Edinburgh was built to honor a holy woman. We would eat mussels along the coast and drink in salt air with our wine. She’d tell me about her father and his shrimp boat, and about growing up along an oceanside river. I’d tuck my chin into my folded-up knees and soak in her stories, feeling and looking no different than from when i was ten and she first told me about Paris.

I would show her Edinburgh’s own kind of Diagon Alleys and histories of princesses with swords at the hip. I’d show her to see how her piles of storybooks and memories of Paris have woven in my imagination seeds for endless possibilities, endless adventures.

It’s a gift i wish, so much, that i could give. But in the stead of taking her to the foot of Arthur’s Seat i send pictures. There are long talks on Skype. Some days, when i miss her warmth and her storytelling most acutely, i remember her movie-star black coat and the stories she told, giving a prayer of thanks for the gift of a mother i have been given.

loveforshopping_de

current jam: ‘oh my sweet carolina (live)’ zac brown band.

best thing: moms.

Ambivalent Valentine.

I am acutely aware that tomorrow is assuredly going to be a day littered with candy hearts and flowers and sickeningly sweet love songs (emphasis on “I Will Always Love You” (which i will, Whitney. I will.)). Undoubtedly there will be a mix of blissful, hand-holding couples swooning over each other, mixed with sullen singles pretending to hate the commercialization of Valentine’s Day when really it’s the internalized notion that romantic relationships are the sum of our existences that make us sad. And there will be everything in between; modest couples, friends making cards for one another, singles celebrating their liberation. Etc. Etc.

And i, my friends, fall somewhere in the midst of all of the hullabaloo surrounding the BIG RED HEART DAY. Valentine’s Day, as i mentioned in my last post, has really become about the Vagina Monologues and V-Day for me in the past two years. In this vein, it is a time to celebrate womanhood, to take a stance against violence towards women everywhere, and to embrace the complexity that is a changing world order. More concretely, it means a fresh line of acne from my still-rubbing-off stage makeup, new friends made in dressing rooms over hushed card games, and reeling from the exhaustion an exhilaration that is production week. I relish such times, even if means i look something like a haggard 90s grunge artist in the days that follow (i like to call this the “theatre hangover” look: baggy sweat shirt, unwashed two-days-worn jeans, and my hair uncombed and unkempt).

But that’s only been the last two years. As it turns out, my second radio show of the semester falls tomorrow – which presents a unique opportunity for me to “take a stance” on the Valentine’s Day conundrum.

I toyed with the idea of doing an “Anti-Valeninte’s Day” show (in the spirit of my Alternative Christmas Music Special) and spinning tunes only relevant to being single or breaking up. Yet, to be totally honest, i’m not that much of a party pooper. Yeah, of course Valentine’s Day is undeniably heteronormative and kind of misogynistic and reeks of Hallmark Millionaires maniacally laughing over their fortunes made from singing greeting cards. But i also think any excuse to say that you love someone should be capitalized upon. This doesn’t mean that an excuse is always warranted to express your love, but i’m not going to seethe in the bitterness of a chip on my shoulder at the expense of some truly happy people around me.

And, let’s be real: if you wanna send my an enormous box of chocolate truffles i will personally take you out to a romantic candlelit dinner. Or have a night in watching a Doctor Who marathon. Whatever gets me the truffles.

To this end, tomorrow i am pleased to announce (though perhaps a bit late): Juxtaposition’s First Annual Ambivalent Valentine’s Day Special from 4 – 6 PM EST TOMORROW!

If you have a funny or sad or sweet love story to share (the worst date ever, the most romantic kiss you ever had, that sort of thing) please leave it in the comments or call it in! I’d love to put you on air or have a chat about romance in honor of the (albeit silly) day.

current jam: “the end” the lower 48.

best thing in my life right now: cast parties.

p.s. my collab channel, allmadeofawesome, is a year old today!

The Abominable Rick Perry and his Campaign for Hatred.

I know i’m not the first to say it, but:

WHO THE HELL DOES RICK PERRY THINK HE IS?

Seriously; the new add, “Strong” is more than the usual spew of slanderous, disgusting bigotry rooted in some kind of money-lust. It is downright hatred, presented to you under the guise of someone fighting to “restore the roots of faith” (or whatever) in the United States. Rick Perry is excusing his fear, bitterness, and animosity towards millions of people by claiming it as a quest to “restore rights” to children “unable” to speak about Christmas in schools. He is doing what, to me, is the ultimate betrayal: he is utilizing a faith tradition rooted in Love for All Peoples to mask a vile agenda of utter and undeniable hatred.

I’m done trying to be moderate, trying to say that I think every voice is one meant to be heard in a democratic system. If you want to think someone is an abominations because they’re queer by choice or biology, fine. That’s your political right, and i don’t contest your right to say it. Really. Keep on spewing, that’s what democracy means. You’re just wrong.  I’m tired of tiptoeing around this: all people are, according to the real Christianity (not the one preached by idiots like Perry) are made in God’s image.

I don’t claim to be an expert on any religion (though it is, admittedly, one of my majors) nor do i claim to be able to speak for all people in the Christian faith. I generally try to stay away from professing what i believe on the internet (meaning: i’m not saying i am or am not a Christian (but i will say that i have profound respect for the Body and for the Bible)) mostly because i think religious discourse online tends to be, well, abysmal.

But this is just too far for me. Rick Perry not only is saying that people who identify on the spectrum of sexuality should not even be considered human beings (which is EXACTLY what some white men and women used to say, oh, fifty years ago about people of color (and some still today, unfortunately)), he is completely disregarding the pluralism that exists within the Christian tradition.

I know hundreds of people personally who follow the faith of Jesus Christ who are gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, pansexual, and allies. And those are just the people i have met and encountered on a one-to-one level. In fact, i would be so bold as to say MOST Christians in the USA today are at least passively allies. It’s a minority of extremists like Perry who not only paint a bad portrait for such engaged people of faith, but also are the biggest threat to the tradition he claims to be so damn important. To say that he is both a Christian and profoundly homophobic in a manner that suggests he speaks for all people in the Christian tradition is like saying Muslim terrorists speak for the millions of peaceful practitioners of Islam. It’s just a fallacy.

This is ridiculous. No, rephrase: it is more than ridiculous. It is hurtful, painful, and so WRONG that Perry can say such wretched things about People with as much humanity as he and be a legitimate candidate for the US Presidency. He is even so bold to say that People – meaning openly gay members of the US Military – who are laying down their lives for this country do not have the right to (a) be who they authentically are with their comrades, (b) are wrong for being who they are, and (c) are the single greatest problem in a nation with an ever-rising poverty line next to institutionalized racism and sexism.

And it’s not just Perry – he is merely a figurehead for a movement grounded, ultimately, in fear of the unknown and the un-understanding. He is not alone in professing this cruel belief. What gives? Why have we, as a generation and as a nation, learned NOTHING from our history of violence and prejudice towards people different from a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant streamline assimilation theory?

for my thoughts on gay rights, click here for a video.

for a brilliant response to the rick perry shitwad, click here to see stephen colbert’s response (it’s literally genius)

a confession.

So I know that Irene is about to rip all hell loose along the Eastern Coast of the USA, where most of my friends abide, my beloved university rests, and where I currently call home.

Yes, I am terribly concerned and worried (most especially for my friends in New York) and yes, I’ve had the news on in the background all day.

But I feel as though our newsfeeds, twitter homepages, headlines, and otherwise plugged-in-media selves have been polluted enough with worry over the hurricane. So, in an attempt to be lighthearted and fun (and because I have not really posted a blog in two weeks) I am going to divulge a not-very-well-kept secret to you all.

Are you leaning in, dear reader? Your hooked nose touching the screen with gossip-like anticipation? (Or am I fantasizing about Severus Snape being alive and well again…?)

Once before I put out a secret, a confession, near and dear to my heart on the interweb: a longing, a passionate love affair running some five years now with the beautiful and dashing and doesn’t-know-i-exist Alan Rickman. If you’re confused, this video blog shall explain.

And yet again, I find myself falling head over heels for someone- well, two people- and I simply can no longer maintain my strict rules about what I do and do not post on the internet. Though I swore never to put it online, here it is: I’m in a relationship.

…with my cats.

Premature, I know, as I’m not yet collecting social security checks nor smell of figs (hopefully). But it’s true, and at last I am liberating myself by posting to an audience that has no face, ye gads!

But, actually. My kittens. They’re four months old, precious, perfect in every way, and I might be considering making wallet-sized photos to keep with me everywhere I go. I woo them with yarn, I sneak them cat treats, I sing them songs like they are my newborn babies and I a mother who need not change their diapers (yes!). Stella (the scrawny little girl) and Picasso (the fat boy) were adopted by our family a week before I left for Africa when they were a measly six weeks old. It was love at first sight, and my unyielding devotion has yet to stop persisting.

And while I don’t see any problem in the fact that I literally spend hours of my day cuddling with them, laughing at their funny faces and obsession with my shoe strings, and otherwise ignoring my phone and email and not bothering to evensomuchascheckthemailbecauseimightmissanadorablemoment, I think I’m losing my grip.

Even this blog, it’s gone to the dogs cats. A few posts ago, I was spewing profundity in the depth of names and how potent it was I was given a name meant for the season of weeding.  And yet now, here I sit in the squalor of squeaky toys and cat nip and covered in more half-moon-shaped scratches from their i-love-you-but-you-have-not-given-me-a-pee-break-in-eight-hours-leaps-to-freedom that I care to admit, writing about kitties when the war in Libya appears to be at a gruesome end. Mooning over mammals when there are such political battles to be watching on TV like the debacle of Michelle Bachmann. And all I can do is oggle the kitties as they nip at each other’s ears.

In social conversation (on those rare occasions that I leave the cat-house) I find myself telling people that I’ve spent my precious two weeks home with the cats. Giving excruciatingly detailed accounts of their wrinkly little noses, how they mewed so pitifully when they came home from the vet, how much I love it when they bound in at six in the morning to wake me up- because who cares if it’s too early to be awake?! THE KITTIES HAVE BESTOWED ME WITH THEIR PURRRFECT AFFECTION.

When I return to beloved Mount Holyoke in a week’s time, I can only hope I will still have retained enough human behavior to not mew at every person I meet. Purring may not be acceptable in the dining halls- though I think I could get away with hissing in the hallways. Some women do wear capes to class, after all.

sleeping on my bed, because they deserve it more than me, the human pet.

try to tell me this is not the most adorable thing ever. just try. there, you failed. all hail the kitties.

current jam: ‘lover’s eyes’ mumford & sons NEW LIVE SONG FROM BONNAROO AAAAHHH (no, i have not regressed to listening to that wretched musical named for my divine lords)

thoughts in my head: collective concern

Reflections on my First In-Practicum Nonviolence Meeting

 Since arriving in Uganda I have been spending my days around the city of Kampala as you, dear reader, have come to learn. I’ve had a swell time trying Turkish cuisine (something I confess to not having anticipated doing while in Africa), seeing the new Pirates movie at the Garden City movie theatre, purchasing paintings and vintage dresses from thrift stores and craft markets, and generally being an adventuresome teenager with my newfound and oldfound friends. This kind of vacation mentality has really eased me into being in Uganda and given me necessary space to adjust, be a little homesick, and mostly to marvel at a true East African city.

But I did not travel halfway around the world for a big whopping vacation. And, believe me, I’ve enjoyed myself, but the time is approaching when the real work begins…and I cannot wait!

Today I had my first taste of MCC, what they stand for, whom they work with, what I’ll be doing in Kotido, and perhaps most especially, I attended my first real nonviolent planning meeting. It was the Annual General Meeting (AGM) for MCC and their partners, meaning that there were logistics covered (spending reports, clarifying transitions in staff, etc) but more importantly, there was an open discussion between the partners, office staff, Service Workers, Country Representatives (bosses of MCC Uganda, essentially), and all those affiliated with MCC Uganda around the central theme of nonviolence vs. violence.

As you might imagine, I was in a state of note-writing frenzy and intellectual bliss as these wonderful people shared their wisdom and insights. But this was so much more than my class last semester- for as profound as said academic venture was in exposing me to the writings of Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Cleaver, and others, our discussions were always in the abstract. Sure, historical examples and scenarios were mentally played out, but at the end of the hour and fifteen minutes we each went on with our Mount Holyoke lives. And there is no badness in this; I am truly home in my snug Ivory Tower of MoHome.

But today- today was tangible. Real. Partners from various organizations that MCC endorses, funds, and supports were providing real-life examples of when nonviolence needed to be implemented. Real strategies and demands and questions were posed with the intent of truly implementing them. It was a sliver of what I imagine it must have been like to be a part of the American Apartheid struggle- a small sliver, but one nonetheless.

With the spike in fuel and food prices in Uganda as of late, there were a series of “demonstrations” in Kampala a few weeks ago. In part prompted, no doubt, by the Tunisian and Egyptian (etc) revolutions, Ugandans began walking to work to protest the high petrol prices. This idea, rooted in the same mentality with which blacks and allies applied in Montgomery during the Bus Boycott of the 1960s, had the workings of being a truly successful and effective nonviolent protest. But, as no group seems to have truly stepped up to the plate to teach and organize nonviolent methods of protests, these demonstrations turned into riots. This specifically was addressed, as well as problems within school beatings, domestic violence, and political corruption.

These are monstrously huge problems. But, as one partner said, Uganda is more than its political parties, more than its tribes, and most of all, more than its problems. And change begins with an internal decision- the act of choosing Love. Once this choice is made, we as a people (a universal people, folks, because this is absolutely applicable to American or Canadian or Indonesian or Whateverian culture too) must recognize some crucial aspects to the act of the choice.

For, in the choosing of Love there is an integral realization and acknowledgment of universal human rights. But, as another partner addressed, with our Rights come some major Responsibilities. Chief among these is discipline; the discipline to endure methods of violence, discipline to realize each human being is of worth and to therefore treat everyone as such, the discipline to realize that choosing Love is an every moment act.

Forgive the preach-y tone, but in this idea of the Constant Choice I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Merton from his (phenomenal!) essay Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant: “…love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but by resisting and overcoming it anew every day.” Choosing nonviolence takes a helluva lot of work. My mother is fond of quoting John Wesley, the (unintentional) founder of the Methodist church, and his belief that human beings are “morally depraved.”

In this vein the act of violence is therefore something gutteral, something insitinctive on an animalistic level. To me, violence is rooted in Hate, which itself is rooted in fear. This idea was thrown around a great deal today as well; children act out in school or domestic violence occurs because of instability, insecurity, distrust- the unknown and subsequent unnerved attitude making a deadly toxin of fear. When we are afraid, we are incapacitated. We are confined to only that which is tangible, and when what is tangible is pain and loss and volatility, we desperately try to escape, to acquire enough power to get the hell out of wherever we are. In this desperation we choose violence; out of fear of returning and desire to remain where we are we fight like hell to keep what ephemeral power we have acquired.

And so the vicious cycle rotates on.

But with the Choice comes the power to exit. Enter the concrete discussion today from people who support MCC, an organization that explicitly is dedicated to Peace and moral ends by moral means. Right in my little MCC brochure was written their Truth that acts of violence disregard the sanctity of human life and “is destructive and costly, and robs the poor of needed resources.”

Therefore, in order to build capacity (my new favorite phrase) one must create a space for nonviolent education among all people, but most especially the youth. If We from a young age can understand dually we have Rights and therefore Responsibilities, what is not possible?

With all of these concepts in a flurry around the discussion and, admittedly, in my splotchy-from-the-furious-writing-pace notes, I was not only in total brain-euphoria but refueled for the coming weeks. Because this is not an easy path, whether I agree with Wesleyan thought or not (I confess, I’m still working my way through that one). From this interfaith dialogue (did I mention the number of religions and denominations within Christianity that were represented peacefully? And that a Muslim man had an enriching and profound demand for nonviolent action and Love in the family and within marriage? Eat it, Islamaphobia!) I gleaned so many plans of action and the vocabulary to share with you, dearest reader.

In brief, the All-Inclusive We need:

1. Collective concern; the recognition and action upon the belief that every single human being, regardless of their Kinsey scale identity, race, religion, class, nationality, gender, age, or background are people of worth and therefore deserve more than sympathy. We deserve action, support, and Community.

2.  A space for nonviolent education.

3. To acknowledge that having Rights demands Responsibilities (thanks, Peter Parker!).

4. To admit that Fear is the ultimate root of violence; we fear what we do not understand, and out of instinct to glean power and disassociate we come to hate what we do not know. From this misunderstanding comes forth violence, which degrades and disempowers the perpurtrators as much as the victims.

5. Violence, when it occurs, must be identified explicitly as such.

6. To Choose and to Change begins with the individual.

So therein lies my summer manifesto; Laws to live by, rules to obey, and a space for me to disagree and agree and explore and wonder and question. I have so much to learn to do and to be disenchanted by and to find the marvelous of the Universe within.

And good grief, I am in for one uprooting and smashing and affirming and hard summer.

current jam: “hair” lady gaga

best thing in my life right now: the discovery of mars bars!

pages read in war & peace: okay, okay, none. but i am nearly done with me talk pretty one day by david sedaris and i started the pirate’s daughter by a wellesly prof. so, there.

marriage proposals: kind of one? he was yelling out the cab window blowing kisses, but i missed the actual word choice. so we’ll say none still…?

fantas consumed: 3