In my one but last post I mentioned Zargana. He has now been handed an additional fourteen-year prison term on 27 November 2008, added to the 45 year sentence served against him a week earlier as part of a major judicial crackdown on dissent. This brings his total sentence to fifty-nine years. He is among a number of leading dissidents to have been convicted in recent days in special courts held inside Insein prison for their peaceful opposition activities, many to staggeringly harsh sentences similar to those against Zargana. International PEN condemns these sentences, and demands the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protecting the right to freedom of expression. His oppositions consisted of making people laugh by uncanny imitations of the generals of Myanmar. What he shouldn't have done at all was helping the people with his own private money, selling his cellphone to feed people, to bring the water. That he a private citizen did what the government wasn't doing was the real cause for this unjust treatment that he now receives. He has to be freed and go on writing and making people happy. Of course dictatorships abhor happiness.
Dr Scarpone send me following very inspiring Thanksgiving thought: I came to a realization this morning that I though I'd share with you...and I sincerely hope the same is true for you. I spent the past hour wandering around in a light rain, appreciating the view and my humble home, and when I came back in I noticed my lottery ticket hanging on the shelf. And I laughed. Because there's nothing I need that I don't have. There's not even anything I want that I can't get, or can't do. I'd really be hard pressed to figure out what to do with a hundred million dollars, or even a million dollars. It would, in a way, become a burden, to think of something useful to do with it. It would distract from what I'm doing, which is enjoying thinking, and learning. The conclusion I've come to is that I'm content, but interested. I'm satisfied, but curious as to what comes next, and welcoming it without even knowing what it may be. I think that's a pleasant way to start a Thanksgiving morning. And just like Christmas, every day should be Thanksgiving. I am still learning...
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. -John Stuart Mill, philosopher and economist (1806-1873) Anna Achmatova was born in 1889 in Bolsjoj Fontan near Odessa. She died in 1966 in Domodedovo near Moscow. Under Stalin she couldn’t publish during 18 years. She lost the people around her and died in solitude. The Chinese Zheng Yichun, born in 1959, was convicted to seven years for undermining the state authority. Primo Levi witnessed the hell of Auschwitz and always wrote about ‘evil’ in its many forms. Maung Thura, aka Zargana from Myanmar is a comic who makes his people laugh. Strong in political satire he was recently punished for helping out with his personal money the people hit by the flood. Reason to round him and others up and put them in jail. Rodolfo Walsh (1927-1977) was an Argentinian writer. In 1957 he became famous with 'Operacion Masacre', faction avant la lettre, felt to undermine the state.. Faray Bayrakdar Syrian born in 1951, spent almost 15 years in different jails in his country because he wrote for more democracy in his country. Painter poet Breyten Breytenbach was born in 1939 in the Cape Province. He became an ardent opponent of Apartheid. He married his Vietnamese wife although it was forbidden and when he returned to South Africa he was betrayed and ended up in prison for seven and a half years.
In my daughters words after the facts: I came home on an overfull train and saw a small seat behind the buggy of a Jewish family with four kids. The lady made some formula for the tiny baby and I messed with my papers. Upon arrival at my stop we all got out of train. Two young guys followed us and shouted: 'Judenhunde'! I was shaken and had a surge of adrenaline. I turned around barely a few centimeter from them and said: what did you say, now you have to deal with this blonde. Look in my beautiful blue eyes. Nobody intervened, nobody said anything although there were a lot of people and all had heard it. Then the train was leaving and the guys (one sporting a Were Di badge) went back on the train. The family walked slow with the kids in tow and so I met up with them. The Lady said 'thank you' and I apologized for the unconscionable attitude of these guys. That poor family. It was the first time I heard a thing like that, but i wonder how often had they to hear things like that. I didn't know that was still possible...
I am proud of my daughter's reaction and wonder about the risks of fearlessness. She did the right thing!
Our Writers in Prison Committee of the local Pen-center did well. 12 writers choose 12 different authors and read some of their writings. The totally was moving and strong. The poetry read was thoughtful and stirring. Putting writers in prison or exiling them or killing them is an age old way of dealing with disturbing thoughts or feelings. We read poets from Myanmar, Nigeria, Tibet, Malawi, the USA, South-Africa, China, Argentina, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey... here you see the MC of the evening, three writers waiting their turn on the podium and the front row with the defiant dozen readers who try to remind all of us that writers still are punished for their disconcerting thoughts. By the way we had a fine crowd listening.
As a present to myself, and in order to minimize my ecological footprint, I got a lightweight Brompton. It looks cool is sturdy and weighs about 20 pounds, just under 10 kilo. The practice run, after years of walking and driving, was fun. A heavy duty convinced cyclist in front and my daughter seemingly protecting her toddler from the dangerous traffic. I was astonished that after just a few minutes I felt at ease again on cycle and had good fun, wearing myself out. Then I cycled with Spookie who made me aware of the pitfall and then I started to do short runs on my own, braving the city traffic. And yes I got saddle sore and still need a bit more practice in the folding. No it is not me you see...
My laptop was out for a few days. I had a lot to write about but it won't happen now. I just want to write about November 10 when two people whose work was with me during the course of my life passed away: Miriam Makeba and Wannes Van de Velde. Wannes was a singer songwriter, painter, writer, flamenco player, a good person, a thinker, a joyful man who loved the city where I live. He also carried anger for what the authorities did to our city. Her personified the spirit of rebelliousness in a kind way to me. Miriam Makeba was the icon of the anti-apartheid struggle. Ages ago, in order that my daughter's father wouldn't have to do his military service, we wanted to emigrate to South Africa, since we knew some people working with the ANC. We dutifully filled out all papers and got as a reply: No thank you, you are not welcome since we don't think you could adapt to the system in place. Actually I should have kept that letter because that was a badge of honor. Miriam Makeba showed the way of non-violent resistance to a hateful regime. Both brought thoughtfulness, joy, resolve and beauty to my life.
A friend whose husband is severely handicapped - he cannot stand since he has no force in his hips or lower limbs - was nearing exhaustion. She mused: What is the alternative, conversation is still as good as ever and we still sleep together in the same bed. Knowing what it means to be alone, untouched, I could see what she meant. She continued: It is harder now and takes some preparation to make love. And I have to do all the work. I am getting older too and the strain on legs and knees is getting worse. Yes, you have to be inventive to make it work and you also have to be really in the mood. So sometimes it is just the good old hand job for both of us... But then sleeping next to him, feeling the warmth of his body and knowing tomorrow will be another interesting day, I wouldn't want to miss it all. Now this friend is an excellent planner, has all the modern lifting equipment, special wheelchairs, can afford to pay a person when she leaves the house for a couple of hours and their love is based on intellectual curiosity and 'chaleur animale', the need for proximity. So she makes it work. Yes, she is strong and tired and describing the positions and proplems each of them poses, we had a good laugh and could deal with our different lives again.
I am still dazed, not daring to believe. I am relieved, the world sighed as if a load was taken of its shoulders. Yet that load is now on this young man's shoulders and on ours. We need to go on defending our values, try to bring good to world. We have to go on working for human rights, wildlife, climate, against poverty, for peace, for healthcare and for choice so that we and all other humans can live a full life. I am dazed, how must the President elect feel?
Today the judicial research police asked Bee and myself to look at pictures that fitted our description. I looked at the faces of these kids in their different attitudes. They looked into the camera challenging, sad, like a bully, indifferent. Their hairdos were elaborate, like for going out to a party, lots of wax and special waves, lots of piercings too... The longer I looked, the sadder I became. I asked the young officer how many kids would turn out to be alright. 'Many have enough after the first warning, but many return and show up time and time again', he replied. I said some have such winning smiles. So he showed me the picture again and it turns out he steals, does breaking and entry with violence and more. Some looked as if not knowing what was happening to them, others looking pleadingly.We were lucky we met with two non-violent thugs. I saw arrogant vulnerability in these mugshots and felt no anger but compassion. Arrogant vulnerability? Yes, Bee saw it too.