‘I am a refugee’

Far too many Americans have forgotten what it means to seek refuge in a land far from home, with nothing but hope and whatever they were fortunate enough to travel with and carry. Far too many have demonised those who simply want a better life for themselves and their children.

Why?

Whilst thankfully I’ve not (yet) had to flee violence nor war nor a government persecuting me or my people, as a migrant I did find myself in the position of needing refuge in a land not my own. And, for nearly a year, my husband and I were what you could consider undocumented — we were neither illegally staying in Finland nor did we hold valid residents permits or travel documents. We could neither travel, nor really feel as if we were safe from deportation. It was the most unsettling and precarious time of my life. And, one I’d not wish on anyone.

After much paperwork, worry and many meetings, things eventually worked out fine for us — and we’ve been granted permanent residence and a place to call home in Finland. At one point during that year, we were asked and offered the possibility of seeking asylum given the circumstances of our specific case. Neither one of us considered ourselves refugees or asylum seekers. Our life was relatively stable and we understood our position of privilege compared to the millions of refugees seeking shelter across the globe.

As an American from the land of plenty, that moment and possibility was a very odd and surreal moment and a rather gut-wrenching realisation for me. It also allowed me to understand that a refugee can be literally anyone and they can be anywhere — there is no one type of individual who seeks refuge. Lives can and do change in the oddest and most tragic of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Refugees embark on journeys that are heartbreaking and unique, varied and often dangerous; and their entry into any country is not without a mountain of paperwork and enduring patience. They need not be demonised nor feared; they should be welcomed and heard and seen.

In the land of plenty, there is room for those who are tired, poor and yearning to breathe free. Most of us who were fortunate enough to born there more than likely have refugees of one sort or another amongst our ancestors.

At the very least, we can extend a hand of friendship and offer kindness. We can offer a seat at our table, the chance to break bread and share a plate with others less fortunate than us, and a warm blanket and safe haven from which to escape the horrors other have faced on their journeys to safety.

When we faced our own immigration woes, the kindness of friends and strangers alike helped us as we navigated incredibly uncertain waters. On some days, those kindnesses were the only things which made us feel human and worthy.

Protest Postcard #11 of 50

In this house…

I’m a bit behind — work and rest both kept me from posting a daily protest postcard here. [In my defence, I’ve done so elsewhere!]

In our house, we live by each of these phrases, particularly the phrase in the middle.

We are not threatened by equality; we embrace and work towards it. And, those individuals who strive towards equality are truly quality folks we’d like in our circle.

We seek to ensure that all human rights are honoured, particularly amongst and for women and girls.

Black lives matter. Full fucking stop.

Love is love, and it is a thing to behold and celebrate. The day marriage equality became a reality for all in the US was an incredibly happy day for us.

And humans can never be illegal. Their reasons for being undocumented are varied and complex, and largely depend on bureaucracies just as difficult to navigate as their journeys and attempts to escape unnamed or unknown horrors.

Standing up for any one of these principles doesn’t negate us or any of our own struggles nor does it diminish our own worth. In fact, standing up for the rights of others strengthens rights for all and helps to enshrine these principles into our society and community. And, that renders each of us more valuable and our communities more just and inclusive.

Protest Postcard #8 of 50

It’s up to us now

I was already struggling with election anxiety and news cycles of unending madness and chaos.

From the upheaval at USPS at at time when mail-in voting is potentially life-preserving, to AG Barr’s desire to charge protesters and dissenters with sedition, to forced sterilisation of immigrant women in detention centres, to the non-stop lies and fabrications, to raging fires in both North America and Brazil, on top of a global pandemic as we head into winter, it’s too much, y’all. It’s simply too much.

And, then, Saturday dawns and the news of RBG‘s death greeted me as I scrolled through Twitter (fuck you, Mitch McConnell) whilst waiting for my coffee to brew.

This morning feels incredibly dangerous, not just for women’s rights and reproductive freedom, but for democracy in general. The fragility of the rule of law, immigrant rights, voting rights, environmental and labour justice and the simple idea that laws should not hinge upon the mad ramblings of an individual who would like to be king and a party that allows him to do so all feel just that much closer to disintegration. And the nightmare that is 2020 continues.

Yet, this isn’t some distant land; it’s happening in the United States. It’s just unreal and yet far, far too real.

At some point over the past year or so, I received a packet of 50 protest postcards to benefit the ACLU in a book hookup subscription from Strand Bookstore in NYC. Since my copy of Notorious RBG is currently with a friend, I flipped through those protest postcards looking for hope I suppose or something to give me solace as the tears flowed. I kept returning to this image:

For the next 50 days, I’ll be posting one of these images, primarily to remind myself what I’m fighting for. But, also, to remind us all that we must continue to fight for as long as we can, in whatever way we can and for as long as it takes to create a more perfect union for us all.

RBG provided us with a to-do list. That list is rather simple:

– Work for what you believe in
– But pick your battles
– Don’t burn your bridges
– Don’t be afraid to take charge
– Think about what you want, then do the work
– But, then, enjoy what makes you happy
– Bring along your crew
– Have a sense of humour

from Notorious RBG

So, today, I’ll honour the gigantically iconic yet tiny in stature, courageous righteous, brilliant woman who dedicated her life to making ours better. Then, tomorrow, I’ll dry my eyes, suit up and fight like I’ve never fought before, for myself and everyone else who suffers injustice in whatever form it takes. And, for the country that I love even in these incredibly dark times.

I’m doing this for RBG. She fought for all of us her entire life. Now, it’s up to us to fight for the legacy she forged for us and our children.

Teaching in the time of Corona

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, largely because it has so very little meaning these days. It passes, certainly. But, how we classify it seems all confused and out of sorts. For instance, I’m not sure if today marks the beginning of the last course to close out my fifth academic year (2019-2020) or the official beginning of my sixth academic year (2020-2021) teaching at the University of Helsinki. Why this confusion? Well the course that began today was originally planned for last spring, but was rescheduled due to Covid-19. Thus, we met for the first time today. Ambiguous time, right?

Thus, I’m straddling a weird place. Rather apropos for 2020, I suppose.

Regardless, as the time for that first ‘meeting’ of this specific course neared, I realised two things:

  1. I’ll never not be a bundle of nerves on the first day of the academic year or just prior to meeting a new group of students for the first time. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve taught the material or how comfortable I feel with it, I’m a nervous Nellie on the first day and through the first few moments of a class. Perhaps given that this was my first real-time Zoom class, I was even more nervous.
  2. This year more than most I am feeling so much solidarity with and love for every single teacher / instructor / professor I know at the moment. Whether their academic year features in-person, online or some hybrid format given Covid-19, and whether they teach the tiniest people or more seasoned and budding young scholars, educators everywhere deserve so much recognition and kudos as a special cadre of underappreciated superheroes in these times. I don’t know a single educator friend who is not a badass with the compassion of the Buddha to back up their mad skills. And, I know a fair many who are terrified for their students and themselves, which breaks my heart.

Today’s class went well enough all things considered. All of us are attempting to be a bit more forgiving and more patient with ourselves as well as with one another than perhaps we would be normally (speaking for myself here). We — students and educators alike — are all navigating strange times, and simply must deal with things as best we can and as they present themselves to us.

Hopefully, we all emerge from this surreal experience and academic year a little wiser and having met our individual and collective objectives as educators. And hopefully our students learn what we intended or planned for them and feel fortified and fulfilled, and ready to embark on whatever future awaits them.

I’m fortunate: my courses at least for the autumn term are entirely online. I would naturally prefer to meet my students in person. But, I’d much rather they and I remain healthy in these times. I genuinely hurt for those educators and students forced to enter situations in which daily they wonder if they are risking their own or their family’s health and well-being. No one should be forced into such a situation.

So, as Finnish school children and teachers across the country return, here’s to all of the educators entering the 2020-2021 academic year. In Finland, the United States and everywhere.

Be safe, y’all. And, I hope you feel supported and loved and recognised for your heroism and extraordinary efforts in continuing to inform, enlighten and educate your students. You’re value and worth are immeasurable and I for one and for what it’s worth salute you.

Google Doodle for 13 August 2020

A welcome visit

Like everyone else in the world, Covid-19 has altered our world. We have socially isolated ourselves since 13 March, which seems like a lifetime ago. A friend who lives in our neighbourhood has stopped by a few times briefly for visits reminiscent of Romeo & Juliette’s balcony scene without the drama. But, aside from those chats, we have interacted with no one other humans beyond the supermarket staff and each other, our darling kitten and nature for the last 8 weeks or so. The uncertainty and weight of these times, along with various reactions to it are, overwhelming at times.

Yesterday, this guy visited one of the feeders we hang from our second-floor flat’s balcony. Our views largely consist of other buildings. But, we are close enough to woodlands that many birds visit our balcony daily. This gorgeous creature is a more recent and our most precious guests.

A family of woodpeckers visited our former flat daily throughout the spring and summer months. Since moving about 1.5 years ago, our only real regret was not seeing or hearing those woodpeckers outside our balcony, despite moving less than ~1 km from our former flat. We’ve missed that family, and their lovely little chirps as they fed on the treats we left for them. The appearance of this guy last week made my heart sing. And, was so utterly random. At one point as I watched the tits and finches feed whilst sipping coffee, he just appeared. Time stopped. And, the weight of the world lifted. For whatever reason, hope was restored. At a time when I needed a reminder of the good in this world, I was reminded that the tiniest of joy can and often do appear when you least expect them.

Yesterday, Woody — because all woodpeckers are ‘Woody’ to us — showed up to delight The Cuban, who quietly gasped, quickly ran to grab our fancy-ass camera and then crept as close as he could to snap this and many more pics. The look of pure delight on his face nearly made me cry.

Moments like these are so, so precious. And, we are beyond grateful for them. I’ll be taking a few moments each day now to simply sit at our table stare out the window and watch the birdies. No wonder Pollito Pito Frito Fu does this daily.

Covid-19 has not impacted us directly. The curve here in Helsinki and Finland remains relatively flat. But, since most of our families and friends are scattered across this world and far from us, we feel that distance more acutely these days. As accustomed to this as we are, the knowledge that we can do absolutely nothing to help those we love or be there for them is crushing. At least we have the technology now to stay in touch with everyone. And, to share our concern, unease and uncertainty as well as our hope with all those we hold near and dear as well as all of you.

Solidarity, y’all. Be safe and be well. And, thank you for sharing your views from across this gorgeous world. We are all in this together

On ‘No Friend But the Mountains’ by Behrouz Boochani

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus PrisonNo Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t really sure what I thought about this book until I finished it. This book was certainly not an easy read; but, it is a necessary read.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurd originally from Iran, has been detained on Manus Island off the coast of Australia since 2013. Six years, without any indication of when he may be freed.

He is neither a refugee nor a migrant. He is neither here nor there, but trapped in legal limbo, imprisoned without a charge or end date in sight. His only crime was seeking refuge from a life largely untenable in his homeland. No trial, no hearing, no consideration preceded his detention.

He is sadly not alone.

This book does not provide a justification for why he left Iran, risking his life along the route and now ‘living’ in conditions we can only imagine because of his writing. He dwells not on why he left Iran, but on the ‘life’ he and those like him now live day in and day out on Manus. His reasons for seeking refuge are not the issue; the conditions under which he and others like him must exist are.

What makes this work even more impressive is that he wrote it entirely on a mobile phone from Manus Island.

As we in the West demonise those who seek refuge, we justify the conditions under which we detain them when the flee unimaginable suffering and conditions of systemic violence. We do not consider how bad it must be if individuals will leave their homes with only what they wear or what they can carry in order to seek something better. Nor do we consider the toil of confinement or the inhumanity of how we discuss and treat those individuals seeking refuge when they exist in limbo. As discussions about the detention of children reach a fevered pitch in the US, Boochani’s work provides not just the meaning of indefinite detention on the psyche of an adult man, but a critical examination of it from inside. And, it leaves me shuddering. Imagine, then, what such confinement and conditions mean to a child, separated from their parents and left to fend for themselves or rely on other children for their care.

This work is important. And, we should all be shamed by it so long as we allow such practices to continue, regardless of country of origin or country of destination or country of detention.

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On ‘A Perilous Path’

A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the LawA Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law by Sherrilyn Ifill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d love to have these same individuals revisit each of their discussion points as we approach the midterms and nearly two years into the Trump administration’s reign.

What a brilliant dialogue, and a necessary one. Despite the despair and frustration and outrage many of us feel daily, it’s important to hold on to hope. And, that is the message that rings through in the final pages of this short, but eloquent read.

‘Never again.’

Perhaps these words need to become slogans in today’s America. One of the most profound realities expressed here ever-so-poignantly and clearly is that we will never begin to move beyond our history of repression until we fully accept, acknowledge and understand it’s consequences. Perhaps more so, we must open our eyes to the full-scale of those atrocities.

From the decimation of indigenous populations and usurping their existence and power to the long history of slavery and the aftermath in Jim Crow and segregation both real and imagined. History has consequences, and sweeping those horrors under giant carpets won’t suffice in moving beyond and tackling the various issues which continue to persist.

If we want a country guided and fueled by hope, acceptance, justice and equality if not equity, we also must work within our communities to create those realities. Yes, the national conversation is important. But, change is change, no matter how large or small, and most of live lives within small communities, both real and virtual. Stand up (or sit down), speak truth to stupid and power, and find ways to create communities which reflect those ideals of just, hopeful, righteous and kind. Those ripples we create may travel far, and that is the only thing which will change the national fabric in any long-term and lasting way.

‘Never again’, indeed.

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On ‘Embracing the Infidel’

Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey WestEmbracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West by Behzad Yaghmaian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s rather fitting that I finished this book on 20 June 2018, World Refugee Day. And, it’s rather fitting that I read this book, now as the furor over migrants to my own country reaches a fever pitch.

In Embracing the Infidel, Behzad Yaghmaian allows us to walk in the shoes of those very much unlike ourselves. At least very much unlike myself. I do not have to be an asylum seeker or refugee to understand the desperation involved in fleeing one’s home, legally or clandestinely.

But, this rather heartbreaking book allows us to understand not just the reasons individuals risk their lives and their children’s to cross imaginary lines. It allows us to understand just how difficult it is to do so legally and safely, if not altogether impossible those conditions for migrating are for some.

Most of the individual life histories presented here focus on those fleeing various forms of violence—both mental and physical, state-sponsored and familial in origin. And, even when they attempt to follow laws, both local and international, the migrants described herein face additional forms of abuse and violence in the countries to which they seek peace and freedom.

Himself an immigrant, Yaghmaian compassionately and intimately allows each of those he meets on his two-year journey across Europe to shape their own narratives. From their reasons for leaving their homes to their progress (or inability to progress) across various lines drawn on maps by powerful men to the few who have reached ‘the West and what once promised a quiet life in peace, each of these individuals’ stories are important. They are crucial to understanding the migrant ‘crisis’ that dominates headlines and political discussions. They offer a narrative missed by those declaring their support or outrage at various policies.

Despite being published more than ten years ago, we’re still plagued by many of the same issues and the same inertia when it comes to finding solutions to conflicts or granting legal status to those in seemingly hopeless situations. No answers are provided here; but, that’s not the purpose of this book. If anything, this book provides a lesson in empathy, one we could all use a bit more of to my mind.

It’s worthwhile to understand that so many around the globe are currently living as refugees. 68 500 000 million of them in fact. Each of them deserves a chance to be heard. Each of them is important.

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Take a stand

There was a time, what seems like long ago, when political party affiliation wasn’t quite so starkly divisive. When an individual aligning as a democrat spoke respectfully to an individual aligned as a republican. When discussions of policy could take place and consensus could be reached. When cooperation was rewarded and legislation truly was bipartisan or nonpartisan.

When any interaction did not descend quickly into a mud-slinging insult-trading tirade, ending with both individuals storming off like petulant children who didn’t get their favourite ice cream cone because they behaved badly.

Those were good times.

I’m no longer surprised by any policy decisions from this administration. Angry and sad, yes. Outraged most of the time, yes. Incredulous, yes. But, not surprised.

What keeps me awake at night and leaves me utterly gut-wrenched is the knowledge that people I know support seemingly inhumane measures. More so, these individuals I respect mightily continue to twist themselves in knots to support actions which go against everything they previously believed in to justify this administration’s actions. And, the knowledge that there are far too many others just like them.

It’s left me oh so weary.

This latest battle, separating children from their parents at the border, … I don’t have the words. I cannot understand how anyone can justify this. And, yet, they do.

A quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr has been on repeat in my head for what seems like days. ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.’ Attempting to find the context and its origin, I discovered that it isn’t actually a direct quote, but a paraphrase. The original text stems from a sermon King gave in Selma following Bloody Sunday, another dark day in our history:

Deep down in our non-violent creed is the conviction there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for. And if a man happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the door of his life — some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right. A man might be afraid his home will get bombed, or he’s afraid that he will lose his job, or he’s afraid that he will get shot, or beat down by state troopers, and he may go on and live until he’s 80. He’s just as dead at 36 as he would be at 80. The cessation of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died…

A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.

— Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon in Selma, 8 March 1965
Regardless of party leaning or affiliation, regardless of creed, regardless of degrees of separation from your own ancestral immigration to the US, can we not set aside those differences and agree that this, children, are worth taking a stand for?

GettyImages-973077510-980x550

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

#TBT thankfulness

Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, has always been my favourite holiday. I love the gluttony of eating heaps of food which never really feature on menus at other times of year (cranberry sauce, anyone), which inevitably lead to the most interesting leftovers (turkey, mashed potato and cranberry sauce sandwiches on homemade rolls FTW).

But, more than anything, I love the opportunity to spend a day eating, drinking (whether alcoholic or not), being merry and giving thanks to whatever we have for which we are truly grateful.

There’s something simplistically magical about a day devoted to just simply enjoying and reflecting upon the many riches we all possess but typically disregard as unimportant the other 364 days of the year. Annually, the day leaves me more than full regardless of how much I actually eat.

This  year, once again, it’s just a typical cold and grey Thursday in November, as I spend yet another expat’s Thanksgiving far from my home in the United States. This year is just another working day for me, with no real plans to eat turkey or any of the other Thanksgiving-like trimmings. Yet, I’m perhaps more grateful than ever and dare I say rather more emotional this year compared to others. This week and month have provided ample and stark reminders of just how different our fortunes are from a mere five years ago.

In short, despite the absence of a feast, my cup and plate runneth over.

Earlier this month, we had to reapply for permanent residence in Finland. Within two weeks, both of us had our reissued cards, valid for another five years. And, both of us  breathed incredibly loud sighs of relief.

In the moments between receiving our new cards and sending off the old, we both were amazed at how far we’ve come from that hellish time not that long ago. Looking at the photos which identify us as the owners of those cards, our journeys show. We can see how much happier we are. We can see how much less stressed and fearful we both are. We can see how much healthier we both are.

The journey has been hard. It has been heartbreaking and spirit destroying at various moments, and it has challenged us and our resolve at times.

But, we’re here, and we’re both grateful. Enormously, tremendously and inexpressibly grateful.

So, as many friends I miss desperately and family I love dearly sit down with others to eat, drink and be merry, here’s my #ThrowBackThursday of thankfulness. It seems only fitting to share it all with all of you since you’ve helped make it a reality. May I never forget the journey itself or how far I’ve come. May I continue to enjoy this journey through life for years to come, even in the face of obstacles and detours along the way. And, may I continue to be surrounded by insanely supportive folk who help me get from there to here regardless of the starting position or finish line.

Always grateful…

 

TBT