We go into rural communities, and all we do — like has been done in this room [at TED] — is create the space. When these girls sit … you unlock great leaders.
Leymah Gbowee (1 February 1972)
A blast from the past.
Have you heard the terms “Quantified Self” or “Self-tracking” before? I have to admit that I have heard them for the first time last week. A radio talk show host was kind of against the idea of self-tracking. She saw this leading to others knowing about her personal data like when and how often she has gone to the toilet that day and what she ate for breakfast, etc. I find her stance on this topic absurd. After all self-tracking does not necessarily mean, you have to publish your personal data to the world but you can if you want to. It is like just because there is the functionality to upload photographs on Facebook you do not have to upload photos of you dancing on a table with a bottle of vodka in your hand but you can if you want to. I guess it depends on how extroverted…
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And is not peace, in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights—the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation—the right to breathe air as nature provided it—the right of future generations to a healthy existence?
John F. Kennedy – American University speech (1963)
This started out as a flash fiction for the Flash Fiction Faction prompt by Quil Shiv. But it ended up being longer than anticipated. I present to you, a love short story instead. As usual I welcome all feedback to help me improve my writing.
Alan stroked the silky strand of hair; bundled together in a pink ribbon. It was a beautiful black, as dark as a cloudy and [added after edit] starless night in the outback. As he looked out of the aeroplane he imagined running his fingers through masses of soft, black tresses. Only this time they were still attached to their owner – Inthira. From the photographs she had sent him and their countless video chats via Skype, he knew that she had long straight hair. A quick glance at his watch told him that he would be seeing his love for the first time in less than an hour. After months of communicating over the internet, he was impatient to hold her in his arms; to touch her, to smell her, to taste her. If it had been up to him, he would have visited her earlier. However his only financial resource was his pay, plus tips, as a waiter at The Steakhouse. Nowadays, people were extremely stingy with their tips, which is why it has taken him months to save money for this trip.
Eyes scanning the crowd gathered in the waiting area after he cleared immigration, Alan felt a lump forming in his stomach. What if she did not come? What if it was all a lie? Before he could think another destructive thought, he caught sight of her waving enthusiastically at him. He was overjoyed to see her. She looked the same as she did in the photographs. There was no mistaking it. He walked over to her. Standing in front of her, he was unsure what to do next. He knew he was in a conservative country but a handshake felt inadequate to express his joy and love. Inthira smiled at him and stood on her toes to give him a big hug. It felt good. He would have loved to kiss her but a hug was definitely better than a handshake.
“Is that backpack all the luggage you have?”
“Then follow me. I will drive you to the hostel.”
The ride to the hostel was pleasant. They talked about her plans to show him her country. They spoke about the weather, about the food in Thailand. She smiled at him a lot but he couldn’t help feeling disappointed. He had felt closer to her in their hour-long phone calls compared to the present; within the confines of a car, where a slight stretch of his arm could result in physical contact. He wondered if his expectations for the first meeting had been too high. Remarks made by his friends echoed in his mind.
You are practically strangers!
She only wants you for your money. To them all white people are rich.
You’ll see that long distance relationships cannot succeed.
It is not a relationship, as long as you don’t do what normal couples do.
“We’re there! This is your home for the next 2 weeks. Are you tired? If yes, we can call it a night and I’ll meet you for breakfast tomorrow.”
Alan snapped out of his brooding.
“I’m not tired.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
Alan checked into a single bedroom with shared bathroom. He couldn’t afford anything better but he hadn’t wanted to stay in a dorm either; not when he was there to visit his girlfriend. Maybe it had been a bad idea to come here. Maybe his friends were right. So stupid of him to be such a hopeless romantic.
Inthira walked him to his room, entered it after him and closed the door behind her. She let out an audible sigh, which caused him to turn to her.
“Finally! No more prying eyes. Now for a proper ‘Hello’.”
With that she embraced him in a hug and planted her inviting lips on his. Alan required no further encouragement to return the greeting in kind.
The following days passed by in a blur, as if he was caught in a sensory whirlwind. One moment he was in a temple, where hundreds of tiny golden bells hung from every accessible corner. Even in his dreams he could hear their chiming sounds as they swung in the wind. The sound was comparable to the clinking of champagne glasses; the sound set to repeat mode as long as there was enough wind to provide the necessary push.
The next moment he was walking through a market selling multi-coloured produce. The mere thought of the salty, sour taste of a preserve caused the saliva to collect in his mouth and cringe his eyes. He did not believe Inthira that a plum could taste like that and it was one experience he was sure never to repeat.
Today they were watching the farmers harvest the rice fields. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the wonderful earthy smell of freshly cut grass. Inthira was standing next to him, holding his hand. He realised all of these experiences did not cause his senses to short circuit. But Inthira did. Being with Inthira in reality was better than in his dreams. He loved watching her mimic while she talked; the soft tones caressing him softly. He loved the jasmine smell of her hair and the way it slipped through his fingers. He loved the strawberry taste of her lips; enticing him to bite them. He loved her mind as much as he did her body. Inthira was clever, witty and humourous. She was kind and cared for others; especially those less fortunate. She had gotten under his skin and he wanted her to stay there. They needed to find a way to overcome the physical distance separating them and they needed to do it soon. He could not imagine a life deprived of these senses.
Alan felt Inthira stiffen slightly before withdrawing her hand from his. He opened his eyes and saw the worried look on her face. He turned around to identify the cause for her sudden change of behaviour. A man was approaching them with angry strides.
“So this is where your lecture is? I don’t believe you had the nerve to lie to me and meet him after I told you not to!” He looked at Alan wagging a finger at him.
“Stay away from my daughter. She is not a whore for you to play around with. If you see her again, I’d…”
Unfortunately Alan was not one for keeping a cool head.
“Did you just threaten me?”
“Yes, what are you going to do? Beat me up? You have a great taste in men, Inthira. I knew he was not good for you.”
Alan did not like where this conversation was heading. He looked at Inthira’s teary face and realised this was not the time for pride.
“I am sorry sir. I didn’t mean to be rude. I love your daughter a lot and I would never do anything to hurt her. My intentions are honest, I promise.”
“Inthira, you drive back home now.”
“But Pa, I love him!
By then a crowd of farmers had formed around them, curious to find out what was going on. Inthira’s dad cleared his throat.
“This is not the place to talk about family matters. Everyone is watching. Take him to our place. We will talk there. If you both are serious, then it is time he is introduced to the family.”
Alan swallowed in relieve. He would move mountains, just to be with Inthira. Meeting the family should be a much easier endeavour.
At several points in my life, I have been confronted with racism. These occurrences were not life threatening but they were hurtful nonetheless. When I started going out with Mr.M, I often heard that he was only with me to have fun on his holiday. You know white guy goes on holiday to South East Asia. He promises the innocent Asian girl that he loves her. But we all know what he is after, right? Wrong! I am glad that I trusted my instincts in this case because Mr. M turned out to be my soul-mate. But he had a hard time convincing others of his honest intentions. Once we were walking down a street and a man passing by on a scooter, shouted profanities at us. Since we were the only ones walking on the path, we assumed he was offended by the fact that we were a mixed couple. We could see his face; he was one from my race.
I live in Germany for more than eleven years now. I am often asked, if I have faced racism during that time. I can only say that wherever I have been, I have been welcomed in a friendly and accepting manner. In fact my physical difference seems to add a certain level of exoticness to my being. People often want to know where I come from and what it is like there. The Germans I have met so far are extremely open to other cultures and love travelling, which I think helps to expand one’s mental horizon. They love foreign cuisine too; evident in the number of döner, pizzeria, Chinese or Thai restaurants in most towns.
Having said that, after we moved to the village we are living in now, I heard from several sources that the area we moved to was a stronghold for neo-nazis. The first time I went to the post office, which is actually integrated into a small store run by an old lady, I was hurt by the abrupt way she treated me. She was grouchy and unfriendly. I assumed that the rumours were true and was in tears when I related my experience to Mr.M. I dreaded going there again but I had to post Christmas cards. This time she was extremely friendly to me and chatted with me for a long time. The next day when I came back to post the second batch of cards, she even told me that she had pasted Christmassy stickers on the cards. She was probably having a bad day when I first met her. However the “news” I had heard caused me to interpret her actions wrongly. Imagine how it would have been, if I had only gone there once? I would have unknowingly and falsely confirmed the racism claims.
However recently I had an upsetting conversation with a German teenager. The teenager was never interested in excelling academically. He has the minimum school education. He was complaining about the fact that he had difficulties finding an apprenticeship. He has been rejected with the explanation that he was not qualified for the position he applied for. I thought he was going to admit that it was a mistake that he did not take school seriously. Instead he said in an angry tone, “Instead of training me, a local citizen, they rather employ skilled workers from overseas. They support foreigners, who only come here for the money.” If you asked him, he would not say that his remark was racist. In fact he feels as if he is being discriminated against. Is this the beginnings of racism? How to make it clear to such people in similar situations that their anger is misdirected?
I watched a documentary on the Ku Klux Klan aka the Knights Party yesterday. The reporter followed members of this group for a certain period of time. One of the men interviewed admitted to being a Neo-Nazi as well. He said that his parents did not share his sentiments. However he has felt the hatred against Jews since he was a child. He hated Jews for being Jewish, not because he was taught at home to hate them or because he was hurt by them.
Where does racism start? Does racism sprout off stereotypes? Do clichés fertilise racist ideas? Like we all have the propensity to do evil; do we all have a racist part in us? Does ignorance and hatred cause this side of us to surface and take over our minds and guide our actions?
It cannot be said often enough, be our differences are only skin deep. Inside we are all the same. We have the same anatomy. The colour of our blood is the same. If you need a blood transfusion to save your life, only the blood type and not the race of the donor matters. The same things can hurt us physically. We go through the same cycle of birth, life and death. Ultimately we all want to live a happy life. Living itself is complicated and it is unnecessary to further complicate it with racism.
“Racism continues to cause suffering for millions of people around the world…. I look to all people to join the United Nations in our drive to eliminate racism. We must, individually and collectively, stamp out racism, stigma and prejudice.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for the International Day for the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2012
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Tolerance and acceptance of diversity starts with ourselves.
Amanda closed the cubicle door. She lowered the lid and sat down. Her pulse should have been racing, given but she felt extremely calm. She took a box of Panadol out of her school rucksack. She had bought one at the pharmacy last week to add to the package she had found at home. She popped one pill out of the blister package. Her fingertip traced the groove in the middle of the pill. Would breaking them in the middle quicken the effect? She held each end between a thumb and index finger and pressed. It was harder to split the pill in the middle than she had expected. She decided to leave the remaining pills whole. She couldn’t risk dropping any of the pills; she needed every single one.
Her heart skipped a beat at the shrill ring of the school bell. She prayed that no one would enter the toilet. She had chosen the one on the third floor because most of the rooms were only used for Extra-Curricular Activities. She had one more free period before her next lesson started. How fitting that it would a Math class; since she hated it and hopefully wouldn’t have to live through it. It would have been nice, if it were music instead because singing made her happy. Amanda wiped the tears on her right sleeve.
There was no other way out.
She needed to put an end to the pain. She threw the ham and cheese sandwich, her mom had made for her lunch, in the bin in the cubicle; the lunch menu has changed. She removed the remaining pills from the blister packages and put them in her lunch box. She concentrated on the monotonous action and managed not to think about the chain of events that had brought her there. She had 47 pills in all. She hoped it was enough for her plan to be successful. She stuffed the empty packages in her rucksack. She stood up, righted her uniform, swung her rucksack over her right shoulder and left the cubicle.
Amanda knew the perfect spot, where she could consume her special lunch in peace. There was a bench next to the canteen, overlooking the school garden. There was a rose bush right next to the bench. She loved sitting there because the roses smelled lovely. When she closed her eyes, she imagined being in a candy shop, surrounded by the sticky sweet smell of roses. She bought a can of Coke from the vending machine. She had read on the internet that carbonated drinks increased the effect of paracetemol. Even if it did not, it was much tastier than plain water.
She placed the first pill onto her tongue. She took a sip from her can and swallowed the mixture. The next 5 followed swiftly in the same manner. However she couldn’t hold back the tears for long. She wiped her tears with a tissue paper, folded it and blew her nose. She hoped no one noticed her crying, especially not a teacher. She was doing the right thing. She couldn’t live another day reading the lies her classmates spread about her on Facebook. The names they had for her went through her mind, virtually burning, hitting, spitting on and shaming her before hundreds of spectators. Some were strangers but most she knew personally. They encouraged her demons with their applauding and cheering! Why her? Some of her tormentors used to be her friends. She has looked for a reason many times before as to why they had turned on her. But she always came up blank. There was no sense to the madness that had overcome them.
Amanda had difficulties swallowing the remaining pills. Her throat felt constricted and she was sure that the slightest pressure could result in her puking into the rose bush. But she would see this through. She wanted her death to haunt her tormentors with guilt for the rest of their lives. She practically shoved the remaining pills one by one down her throat and washed each down with Coke.
The bell rang again. Amanda stuck the empty lunchbox in her rucksack and threw away the can. She was starting to feel ill, comparable to the time she had the flu. Her stomach was cramping as she slowly made her way to class.
“Amanda, you’re late!”
“Sorry! I don’t feel well.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do look pretty pale. Cynthia, please escort Amanda to the sick bay.”
“Not Cynthia. I can go myself.”
“You look as if you would faint any moment. Now get to the sickbay quickly.”
Amanda and Cynthia walked to the sickbay in silence. Amanda wanted to tell her a lot of hurtful things but she couldn’t get a single one out. Instead as they stood in front of the sickbay she said, “Hope my death makes you feel happy.” The shock in Cynthia’s eyes was enough to make Amanda feel temporarily happy. At least Cynthia will suffer after her death.
“Here’s a pail my dear, in case you need to be sick again. Your mom is on her way here. She will bring you to the doctor. You have a slight fever. It is probably only a stomach-flu. Have had a couple of kids come down with it last week. You will be fine in a few days time.”
“Amanda! You have visitors.”
“Mom! Who?… Oh! What do you all want here?”
Cynthia and five other classmates entered her bedroom. Cynthia held a bouquet of roses up and spoke.
“We want to apologise for being mean to you. We did not seriously mean the things we said. It was only fun. We have deleted all the posts about you. We hope you can forgive us.”