Diversion

Looking for some diversion, watch these two videos.

The first video is a “First Kiss” project where an amateur filmmaker, Tatia Pilieva, asks twenty strangers to kiss each other for the first time…in front of cameras! Strangers kissing is old hat–when someone has liquid courage things can and do happen. For this video, however, I think the askward moment comes because they’re asked to do it specifically for the camera. I have a feeling, though, that more than one pairing went off, grabbed a drink, and got to know each other better.

 

The next video is by Funny or Die. President Obama sits for a sketch interview with Zach Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns.” The president gets in some zingers as well as some information about the ACA. Two for one!: Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: President Barack Obama

 

The Sick Day that Turned into Netflix Viewing

It is rare that I feel under the weather, not since I started eating a bit better than I did two years ago. So imagine my surprise and annoyance when on Wednesday morning I awoke with a bit of a stuffy nose. I went to work anyway because I didn’t feel so bad (unless you count the ways in which I kicked myself for not having properly kept covered Tuesday night after my trip to the gym. Feeling so much warmth after an hour and a half or working out, I didn’t bother to button up my wool coat or wrap my scarf around my neck. My neck is quite sensitive to cold air so I should have known. Sure enough Wednesday greeted me with a nice I told you so in the form of mild congestion.).

Wednesday night was filled with tossing and turning and frequent trips to the bathroom since I worked hard to keep hydrated. I went to work for half the day Thursday, came home, and made some spicy chicken soup, drank tea, and downed water. spicy chicken soup
In the middle of all this, I had tissues by my side to combat the stuffed right nostril followed by a blocked left nostril hours later. I napped (or, I should say “napped” because I never fully surrendered to sleep) then started re-watching episodes of The Americans (I’m readying myself for season two, which starts next month).

I also discovered that a documentary released on Netflix was nominated for an Oscar, a first for Netflix. Because it was set for a Friday premiere, I watched the trailer then added it to my list, eager to watch the next day. As I was home from work today, still congested and sneezing and coughing and sniffling, I snuggled up and fired up Netflix.

The Square–that’s the title of the documentary. It begins with what would later come to be known as The Arab Spring that happened in Egypt (and later across countries in North Africa) and its aftermath all the way until last summer when Mohamed Morsi was removed from power. My goodness. I’ve only had a couple hours to digest what I witnessed, but this documentary is powerful.

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It’s told entirely from the point of view of Egyptians, which I feel gives it much more weight than if it were told by outsiders. Five people who became friends during the protests in Tahrir Square have access to cameras so we see all from their points of views: Khalid Abdalla, the actor who starred in The Kite Runner; Magdy Ashour, a member of The Muslim Brotherhood; Aida El Kashef, a female activist and journalist; Ramy Essam, a singer and activist; and Ahmed Hassan, an activist. It is this last person who I found myself drawn to. His anger and passion are palpable. His ability to engage in debate jaw-dropping.

To be sure, the other crew in the documentary are no less passionate. There are scenes of Khalid speaking with Anderson Cooper about the stakes in these protests as well as talking with his (Khalid’s) father about the need to agitate. Magdy is torn between his friendships with the activist he met in Tahrir when the country was calling for Mubarak to step down and being a member of The Brotherhood, a group who many in the documentary accuse of hijacking the protests in Tahrir Square for their own political benefit.

The Square is finely shot and doesn’t skimp on the urgency and immediacy of what many Egyptians felt during these many protests. So many moments were purely stunning. I was unprepared for the brutality (protesters being run down by tanks; Ramy with marks across his back displaying the beatings and electrocutions he endured) as well as my reaction to the elation as when it was announced that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down. I teared up seeing Egyptians in Tahrir Square weeping and shouting “Oh my God” that 30 years of rule had finally come to an end.

Though I am still processing the documentary and have many questions–like, how there’s not much talk, if any, that Morsi was removed a year after being democratically elected; or how women played a role and fared during these protests (i.e., sexual harassment). (There are brief moments with Aida, a journalist, but they are not about her as a woman nor are there thoughts about the iconic scene of a woman in a bra being dragged by police officers.)–I plan to watch it again. There’s so much to consider, and though I haven’t seen the other nominated documentaries (Dirty Wars is up next), I so hope that The Square walks away with the golden statue.

Discoveries

Last Saturday was a day for new adventure. Ever since I moved into the city, I’ve made it my mission to try things outside (or slightly outside) of my usual happenings. Over the years, I’ve stuck to one type of entertainment in the DMV area and that is salsa dancing, itself a new discovery for me 10 years ago.

I spent perhaps two hours Saturday afternoon getting lost in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, a piece of land I didn’t know existed beforehand. I had only to put the word “parks” in my phone’s GPS and a host of red icons appeared on screen.

It was a crisp though overcast fall afternoon. I traipsed along paths upon paths encountering water fountains and moss-covered stones and foliage having already transitioned from summer luster to autumn browns. At one point there was a couple in the distance who looked to be getting their engagement photos taken. They posed in coordinated outfits along a low stone wall with Rock Creek Park as their backdrop. It was perfect.

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[All photos in this set belong to me.]

Later that evening, I discovered a world previously unknown to me–skateboarding in Cuba. A friend invited me to a fundraiser held by an organization named Cuba Skate. Skateboarding as a hobby and as a sport is on the rise in the Caribbean’s largest island, and the event’s purpose was to raise money for skateboards and gear that is to be sent to Cuba. In the warehouse where the event took place, painted skateboards lived on the walls. They–the boards–were up for auction, the proceeds going toward the Cuba Skate cause.


Documentary clip, which played in a smaller room at the fundraiser

The crowd was a different sort, but they brought with them a new energy. It could have been the booze or the lighting or the evening’s purpose or the music the deejay played that infused the environment with cheer and good times. Toward the end of the night, he began playing a lot of ’90s hip hop hits, which had the crowd–white, black, Latino, Asian, younger Millenials and older Millenials alike–singing (and screaming) the lyrics as though the songs had just been released the week before. I count myself among the ones jamming to “Hypnotize” and “Jump Around” and “I Wanna Sex You Up.” By that time much of the wall space was bare. Those who won their bids had long since collected their skateboards and gone on their merry ways.

[I do not reserve the rights of the following series of painted skateboards. The artists who painted the skateboards reserve all rights.]
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I didn’t tumble into bed until two-thirty in the morning.

The Risks of Immigrating

My parents immigrated to the U.S. at different points in the 1970s. They were born and raised in West Africa, and their parents–my mother’s father and my father’s mother–sent them to this country to further their educations. They didn’t meet here, my parents; they had already begun dating in their late teens in their capital city. After they crossed the Atlantic, they picked up where they left off. The pairing resumed in Los Angeles and traveled across the country to Providence, where I was born. Their immigration was not unlike a lot of Africans–parents sending their children to the United States or England for university.

There are, of course, plenty of Africans (and Eastern Europeans and South Asians and East Asians) who make the flight in search of better after surviving war and devastation in their homelands. Looking for better economic stability leads them to part with family and embark on foreign travel to a land with different norms.

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[Photo credit: José Hernández-Claire]

The exhibition I visited at the Embassy of France tells of immigration that is unlike those of my parents. Photographs in black and white taken by José Hernández-Claire were on display recounting the tales of attempted, surreptitious crossings over the border from Mexico into the U.S. Pictures of border patrol agents searching found immigrants, small groups of workers waiting beneath trees for coyotes (men who are paid to smuggle the migrants into the country), migrants asleep on jagged rocks near a train track are but a few visual representations of the perilous attempts to enter the country. Recurring thoughts I had while taking in the images were: Did these people know what awaited them? and What happened once they were sent back to Mexico? Did they try again?

There was one photo that I kept coming back to–a forgotten Polaroid of a man and woman, obviously boyfriend and girlfriend by the way they sat close. The picture was in the dirt, and I wondered which half of the pair had lost the memento meant to be a comforting presence during the crossing. I also pondered the circumstances that would propel someone to pay a smuggler simply to get them to the so-called promised land. How very different this was from my parents’ and aunts’ and uncles’ own migration here. The similarity, though, after the circumstances and risks have been stripped away, is that search for better. That’s what Hernández-Claire’s photographs represent.

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[Photo credit: José Hernández-Claire]

Whether there are objections (who am I kidding? There are objections) to the manner in which migrants from Mexico (or Guatemala or Honduras or…) enter the U.S., one must remember that a mere hundred years ago there were other migrants embarking on a dangerous path to prosperity that Italy or Ireland or Poland or… didn’t afford them.