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In a World Without Strangers

writing by rebecca elizabeth yeong ae corey

Scout Grows Up… It’s Time I Do, Too

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_Watchman

Yes, it’s painful and sad to read the first chapter of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (Oh, Jem) — even worse to read this NYTimes review that reveals “Atticus Finch is a racist”, plain and simple.

Just as grown-up Scout/Jean-Louise has to face that the idealized childhood vision of her father isn’t real (or is at the very least too uncomplicated), I sense America beginning the same awakening in relation to ourselves and our past. To Kill a Mockingbird gives us the sense that righteousness can prevail, if not in the courts, then in our hearts. And that it matters.Continue Reading →

Who We Are

What happened in Charleston is the convergence of two of the most grotesque and horrific things about America — gun violence and racial hatred. Neither one is inevitable, but every time it happens there is “shock”, denial, and willful avoidance of what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.Continue Reading →

Whose Lives Matter

mike brown trayvon martin24 November 2014 – A grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri has decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson, the white policeman who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen

Around the country cities roil, surging with an ache and a cry, descendants of chains, of hopes, of hangings, of sit-ins, sons and daughters of daily prayers, arms raised to receive an inheritance of tears, black and white and Brown.Continue Reading →

ArtWatch Africa – Cultural Rights are Human Rights

Stone Town, Zanzibar

I. Seeking out the spirit of human rights

Three weeks ago I spent seven days with artists, cultural activists, and human rights advocates from sixteen African countries in a workshop on human rights as a part of the ArtWatch Africa project. It has taken time for me to process the experience. The collective intellect, energy, and emotion present each day in our small conference room was remarkable. The Arterial Network team had done a great job at bringing together a diverse group of individuals from festivals, arts centers, think tanks, human rights organizations, and government institutions, all eager to learn more about using a human rights-based approach to protecting artistic freedom of expression and promoting cultural rights.

Habib Koite from Mali performing at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, which took place the same week as the ArtWatch workshop.
Habib Koite from Mali performing at the Zanzibar International Film Festival, which took place the same week as the ArtWatch workshop.

Continue Reading →

Instagram*, Hidden Costs, and the Price of Doing What’s Right

A recent photo I took using Instagram that may now be sold by the company.

It’s been a hard week to be living in a foreign country without the support of family and close friends. Not someone who is easily shaken up, I was a bit surprised at how much I’ve wept since the shootings last Friday in Connecticut. When I’m on the phone with people from home I’m okay, but in those moments of aloneness and silence it’s hard to keep it together, even in the office. What I posted on my Facebook was about all I could muster on the topic publicly:

No, no, no. Tears are not enough, but they come. Words are not enough, but let’s speak them anyway. Prayers in the language of any religion or from none can never hurt, let’s lift them. Holding on tight to each other, let’s try it. Demanding laws, debating cause, all of it, anger and grief and love and compassion, feel it, remember, go forward and make it better.Continue Reading →

A Number of Disturbing Events

a poem comprised of quotes from the third and final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

what are our priorities?
various forms of chaos

isn’t there a risk?
the answer is yes

they have to understand
this can’t go on,
that’s why we’re going to keep on pressing

attacking me is not an agenda

I like American cars
that’s not what you said
that’s the height of silliness

research is great
it hasn’t worked
I’ve made a different bet

you keep on trying to airbrush history here

go back
we can’t go back

I’ve met some of these people
I met a young woman
someone was just weeping

I’m still speaking

the same rules
year in and year out
wrong and reckless
digging our way out
back to our shores

here
keeping faith
would do us harm

I will fight for your families

because of our character
we have come to the end
I’m optimistic about the future
on the other side

this nation is the hope of the earth
it’s a silent one, and they’re winning

horses and bayonets,
the hope of the earth

goodnight

Live from Occupy Wall Street – May Day 2012

I have always enjoyed the fact that my birthday falls on May Day. In my younger years, I felt that it carried both reason and resonance, setting the tone for a life I hoped would be marked by the hippie spirit of the pagan flower and fertility rituals that inspired the holiday. That is, I believed that being born on May Day meant I had some affinity–perhaps hidden but running deep– with nature, peace, and music. My reasons for all of this were vague, symbolic, and somewhat sentimental. Accompanying these beliefs were hazy daydreams of walking barefoot through tall, fragrant grass, being able to approach and befriend wild deer and foxes, and circle-dances with blossom-laden maidens. I also harbored the secret pride of having a birthday on a special day, one marked on calendars and remarked upon by friends, but not big enough to usurp the attention from myself, a fate for those poor fools born on Christmas, Thanksgiving, or another major holiday.

Once I hit college and began to understand history as more than the excuse for commemorative holidays, and collective action as more than the wave at a football game, I found another reason to celebrate my birthday as auspicious and meaningful: International Workers’ Day. Originally memorializing the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where police violently dispersed a public assembly during a general strike, the holiday has become a worldwide event for the working class to voice their frustrations, hopes, and demands. Demonstrations and strikes on International Workers’ Day are usually hosted by labor, socialist, communist, and anarchist groups. More recently, immigrant groups in the U.S. have rallied around May Day to call for immigrant rights, workers rights, and amnesty for undocumented workers, protesting Arizona’s anti-immigration bill and other draconian immigration reform legislation. So I added justice, resistance to oppression, and social equality to the list of principles enshrined in my birthday, and by proxy, I hoped, in myself.Continue Reading →

These Days

That will be $207, the woman at the counter says, and what a discount. Divorces use to run a lot higher, but with the economy what it is these days (and love what it isn’t) the rates sure have gone down, plummeted really. Why, I paid $650 when I divorced Tom, and that was contested (not by us, by the children, and their lawyer was a real piece of work, charged them $300 an hour and that was with the “children under the age of 12” discount), she tells me, and I got the house and the dog and even one half of the hot tub, that being one of the marital assets we purchased together with our shared bank account.

I recommend buying a hot tub, really I do, because you would not believe how it helped me unwind as I was going through those ugly divorce years, even though it was a little hard to keep the water in, it being only half the tub. We do have hot tubs on aisle 19, if you’re interested, and I promise it will be a purchase you would not regret. Tom always said that a hot tub is a good investment, because they tend to appreciate in value since they are always cleaning themselves, the water swishing and sloshing around as it does. I adored that about Tom, how he thought things through quite seriously, made such rational decisions that took account of both the present and the future. But I guess that’s just how men are, evolved to think like that– it’s evolutionary psychology, really. Have you heard about evolutionary psychology? It’s highly scientific and explains just about every disappointing fact about human nature: why homicide exists, why some people have attached ear lobes, why some people are cowards, why men cheat…

Honey, that’s another thing I got from the divorce: advice. There’s a booming advice market, these days, and aisles 86-95 are devoted to self-help, specifically. I found out that Tom couldn’t really help having the affair with Celia (she was our cat groomer, did the cat’s claws in all different colors), because it was just hard-wired in his biology, a remnant of the caveman days. Well, I figure if it’s backed by science, there’s just not much I could have done, though Tom did hint that if I had just watched what I ate a little more (our diet pills are on aisle 270), invested in some of those new skirts with the see-through backs (aisle 532), and kept the leaves out of the hot tub (nets on aisle 900 but chain saws for the trees solves the problem permanently, and those are on aisle 1002), then maybe we would have had a shot, and Celia wouldn’t have seemed so attractive.

Bless her heart, she can’t help the fact that her bust-to-waist-to-brain ratio is so ideal, I know that now, but at the time it did seem unjust and I was tempted to take it out on her in an extra-legal fashion, but I just came here instead and went straight to aisle 2474, for a limited-time-only, therapeutic murder simulation with our state-of-the-art holographic technology, and you’re in luck because that offer is still available. I can give you a discount of 20% if you pay now, the first of 12 easy installments of $29.99 (sales tax included). These days, you can never underestimate the power of a virtual homicidal experience to prevent a real-life catastrophe.

It was just lovely chatting with you today, and I hope you enjoy your purchase. No returns on divorces, of course. Here, don’t forget your receipt. You can write some of this off (taxes, dear, always pay your taxes).

Pick a Side: Kony 2012 and the problem of “Good” vs. “Evil”

We all know who Joseph Kony is now. Does it matter how and why? And what does it say about us that it took Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video to get us here? 

Social media and identity

A few days ago I watched Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video and felt a strong reaction swell within me– partially cerebral, partially emotional, complicated, complex, and even contradictory. I wondered how I’d fit this reaction on my Facebook and Twitter. I’d have just a sentence or 140 characters in which to express myself. I’d place a hashtag to send the small fish of my thought into a teeming ocean of ideas, most likely to be lost and ignored. And that’s the problem: Kony 2012 makes us believe that activism is just a click away. Nothing more is required of us than to be “aware,” to accept the message without question, and to pass it along without truly engaging with the ideas presented.Continue Reading →

Show Me Where It Hurts

The foundation of a house in the Lower 9th Ward left as monument and testament to the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three weeks in a row, after we
have made the obligatory trips
to Café du Monde and the French Quarter,
I drive visitors to the Lower Ninth Ward
to see the empty lots and abandoned homes.Continue Reading →

For Salma

The hardest part about traveling is surely the friends you leave behind. Today I learned from my dear friend Brian that Salma, our neighbor anfriend in Bagamoyo, Tanzania in 2007, died sometime in the past two years due to complications during a botched surgery. Salma was one of the two “house girls” that lived with the Dihenga family next door to the Kunjombe’s house where I stayed. Her wild laugh, exuberance, and absolute kindness are still vivid in my memory. The day I left Bagamoyo to return to the United States, Salma paid a man with a film camera to come take photos of us. When I returned to Bagamoyo in the fall of 2009, Salma had the photos from that day in an album next to her bed. She also had a baby who was only a few months old. Brian was not able to find out what happened to the child after Salma’s death. The sadness I feel about Salma’s death bears with it a certain shame that I could not be with her and that it took me so long to find out about her passing. I’m also reminded that the injuries I sustained in Tanzania would certainly have been fatal if not for my relative wealth. I am sick with anger at the injustice that I should survive when she did not because of this fact.Continue Reading →

New Orleans: A Developing Country in America?

“This isn’t America. New Orleans is like a developing country.”

In the four weeks I’ve lived in New Orleans, I’ve heard this statement from nearly ten different people. Glancing around at the Wal-Marts, the boutique frozen yogurt shops, the SUVs, and the stately houses on St. Charles Ave., it’s been hard for me believe the comparison. But the complaints about the city do parallel those I heard about and witnessed in Tanzania: there is rampant corruption. Nothing works the way it should. Everything happens slowly. The labrynthine bureaucracy slows progress. Change is slow to occur, or absent altogether. People are satisfied with the status quo. Poverty is persistent and pervasive. It’s not safe. The roads are awful and people are bad drivers. And I mean, really bad drivers.Continue Reading →

A New Look at Need: Microfinance from Tanzania to New Orleans

This post first appeared on the Kiva Fellows Blog at fellowsblog.kiva.org on Oct. 1, 2011.

In 2009 when I told friends and family I was moving to Tanzania to study international development and to work for Kiva in the field of microfinance, or the furnishing of small loans to the working poor, we all had certain pre-formed ideas about how impactful and necessary my work was sure to be. We understood that in terms of GDP, literacy, infant mortality, and other common measures, Tanzania is a “developing” country, Third World, periphery. In another word: poor. As a recent college graduate, I had established ideas about poverty. It is there as opposed to here, it happens to the Other or them, not to me or mine, and so on. Therefore, a $200 loan for the purchase of a few goats to a thin, ebony-skinned woman with a brightly patterned cloth turbaned around her head made sense; it fit into my worldview, my idea of the face of poverty. The same held true for the fishmongers, the roadside bicycle repair men, and the juice vendors whose loans I helped process and post to the Kiva website. Oh yes, I knew there was poverty in the United States, but a part of me believed that for Americans, it was different. Better. Safer. More comfortable. And who in the U.S. didn’t have access to credit? I was sure that an entrepreneur with a solid business plan would find it relatively easy to acquire working capital.

Continue Reading →

Do Not Be Daunted

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

-Talmud

A Photo Essay of New Orleans

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‘Malaika’ guitar chords, lyrics, and translation

‘Malaika’ is one of the most famous Swahili love songs, often attributed to the Kenyan musician Fadhili William. He first recorded the song with his band the Jambo Boys in 1960. I heard this song for the first time in 2007 while living with the Kunjombe family in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. My host mother, Mariam, sang this song often. Later, I found this beautiful version performed by Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba.

As I’ve done with the other songs, I will provide the original lyrics in Kiswahili, the chords (as best I can), and the English translation. Enjoy!Continue Reading →

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