My maternal grandmother had 5 children. Then came 12 grandchildren. Now there are 9 great-grandchildren. With the exception of my grandmother, who lived a long and healthy life into her nineties, everyone is alive and well.
On the steps of the Human Rights Monument this Friday night in Ottawa, a Palestinian matriarch, with a cane in one hand and a flag in the other, slowly walked up to position herself in front of the faces of the children that have died in the recent attacks on Gaza. She smiled at the living children who ran up and down the steps around her in preparation for the ceremony. These children – in running shoes, cute sandals, sporty sunglasses and “The Amazing SpiderMan” shorts – are safe and sound in Canada.
This woman is probably in her seventies meaning she was born at a time when Israel had already begun its war on Palestine. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have only known the story of war and never the story of peace.
I think again of my grandmother. She never had to witness the death of one of her children or grandchildren.
One child walked to the microphone. Stumbling on his words with the cracking voice of an adolescent boy transitioning into a young adult, he shared with the crowd that this week 9 of his extended family were killed in Gaza.
9 members wiped out. I struggle as to how to act in this moment. He can’t be more than 13. He has probably known more deaths in his family then years of his life.
I want children to be able to be just children with grandmothers who watch over them with laughter without wondering if today will be the last time they see their little ones play.
On my way to an Asinabka event on Saturday I saw the woman in this picture. Since I write a lot on the effects of colonization, past and present, I asked if I could take her photograph for an article I will be writing on Palestine. She was on her way to an event in solidarity with Palestinians on Parliament Hill. She felt it was important to show support. She agreed to let me take her picture but asked that she not be identified by name. So I will call her خديجة Khadija, the name of the wife of The Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be Upon Him).
Many people don’t realize the powerful story of how Islam began. The prophet was married to a successful business woman in Mecca. It is said that Khadija was 20 years his senior. When her young husband began to have visions that he didn’t understand and that were unsettling to him she told him to talk to the Jewish and Christian spiritual leaders she knew in order to find answers and solace.
Through the support of a strong female and the spiritual counsel of people who came from different faiths another religion was born.
The woman I met on Sunday shared with me as much as she could of her story before our buses arrived. Her ethnicity is different from the country she was born in because her family left due to a civil war. She has now left that country because of civil unrest there and has applied for refugee status in Canada. This is why she didn’t want to be identified.
She said that when she decided to wear the hijab it stopped short her career back home as a teacher. Although not living in France she was teaching at a French school. They would no longer let her teach if she was going to cover her head. The day she put her daughter into school in Canada she arrived to find the teacher was wearing the hijab. “This is when I knew this country was my country.” And then she broke down.
There were no words she could say at that moment to express the power of what she was feeling. The feeling of elation that comes with knowing you are safe but also knowing you have left a country and others behind, but a country that wasn’t your family’s motherland and your parents, siblings and friends are forever scattered. There is deep sadness that comes with this kind of dislocation and it can run through the generations. She was also anxious because her hearing for her refugee status was coming up.
As she lost her words and the tears started falling down her face I grabbed her and hugged her hard. Two women, don’t know each other from Adam. We stood there hugging on the crazy busy bus platform of Mackenzie King Bridge. We didn’t talk. We stayed silent and then as I got on the bus I hugged her tight one more time and said I would think of her on the first day of Eid, the day of her hearing.
That is how we build peace.
She could have been Jewish or Atheist. She was a professional but she could have been a prostitute. It wouldn’t have mattered. For me she was another woman who is being strong despite also being afraid and she was in need of some Sister Support!
Hugging is how we stay human.
Being present to hear a stranger’s story is how we begin to shift the energy of oppression.
Multiculturalism – one side of many multiple stories.
In a single day, as I cover events, I may spend time in one space that is about design thinking then another that is about curation. I may go from an event on government policy to one on social innovation. Sometimes these spaces may be more straight than queer or more queer than straight. They are religious, agnostic, humanist, and sometimes self-helpish.
They might be Arab or Anishinaabeg spaces and the rituals, protocols and ceremonies change.
It’s a rich way to exist. It’s also complicated.
Because no matter if it is about profession, spirituality or cultural / sexual identity wherever I go everyone is trying to figure out who the hell they are and what the heck does it all mean when you put it into the context of communities that mingle and merge but often overlook the deeper complexities of diversity – most importantly the distinction between Immigrant and Indigenous narratives in Canada.
The narrative of ‘Multiculturalism’ makes invisible the story of the First Peoples. I would argue that was part of the plan. By placing ‘Canada the Good’ on the marquee with a storyline ‘Celebration of a Cultural Mosaic’ the light required to illuminate the systematic oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada instead casts a long shadow.
Initiatives like The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have now turned the spotlight onto that darkness but as the hearings come to a close, with so much being said, how do we move forward and ensure all the voices speaking are getting heard?
We listen – actively, deeply and with a commitment to sit with the uncomfortableness that comes when you bear witness to someone else’s pain.
The legacy of colonization is a culture built on the instability of over-consumption and hyper-consumerism that thrives on distraction. If that isn’t addressed, living in a world with a multiplicity of voices is going to be problematic because the process of engaged listening is at odds with a society that functions by keeping people in a detached state of insecurity and need.
The government may change but most likely it won’t. In the meantime we can recognize that people aren’t pie charts. We can colour code demographics and cover souls with blanket statements but then we will lose the emotional prosperity that comes when human beings learn how sit and be still with each other despite the surrounding noise.
The images in this post are from this past weekend’s events in Ottawa – The Book Launch of Min Fami at Octopus Books and Niigaan in Conversation at Carleton University. The quotes on the images of each woman demonstrate how many thoughtful people I encounter on any given day. It’s what makes me believe that a new space can be created regardless of systems in place that often seem beyond our control. To all the women I had the opportunity to listen to this weekend – Chi Miigwetch / شكرا.
MIN FAMI: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space and Resistance
“Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance is an anthology that cradles the thoughts of Arab feminists, articulated through personal critical narratives, academic essays, poetry, short stories, and visual art. It is a meeting space where discussions on home(land), exile, feminism, borders, gender and sexual identity, solidarity, language, creative resistance, and (de)colonization are shared, confronted, and subverted. In a world that has increasingly found monolithic and one-dimensional ways of representing Arab womyn, this anthology comes as an alternate space in which we connect on the basis of our shared identities, despite physical, theoretical, and metaphorical distances, to celebrate our multiple voices, honour our ancestry, and build community on our own terms, and in our own voices.”
IIGAAN’s Oshkadis Chineekaneech: The Youth Will Lead
Niigaan is an Anishinaabemowin word for leading into the future. Oshkadis Chineekaneech Is the Anishinaabemowin phrase that translates The Youth Will Lead.
“Niigaan: In conversation is an opportunity for settler Canadians to hear and respond to what Indigenous Peoples have been saying: Canada has not committed itself to addressing the colonial relationship it still has with indigenous peoples. Canada is in denial about that relationship. It is fair to say that most Canadians believe that kind of relationship no longer exists. We are trying to tell you that that is wrong.
The results of our work will be another step towards the continual positive development of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and non-native Canadians. The main end result will be to provide an engaging and focused space to encourage discussion, learn our collective history and to move forward to the future.”
The Square is now playing at the Bytowne Cinema in Ottawa.
“We’re not looking for a leader…we’re looking for a conscience” says Ahmed Hassan, one of the revolutionaries featured in documentary on the events circling in and around Tahrir Square leading up to the removal of Mubarak and the implementation of Morsi.
Director Jehane Noujaim leads us through the emotionally exhaustive journey that Egyptians have endured for the last two years. You are left with no answers just one large question that scratches at the mind – how does humankind not learn? Like a broken record revolution seems to be a track that keeps skipping back to repeat past prejudices and the same social injustices.
“The problem as revolutionaries, most of the time, we only object and say ‘no,’ and we never suggest alternatives.”
This is not a feel good film rather a reminder that we still have so much to learn.
The first fair in the Middle East that focuses on furniture design and design objects Design Days Dubai aims “to strengthen greater appreciation and understanding for design as a form of applied arts.”
What I love is that the aesthetic collected is BOLD! The work you see at Design Days Dubai shows no fear when it comes to exploring form and materials. But somehow it still manages to be accessible maybe because it is so over-the-top fantastical that it is the recognizable stuff of our dreams – playful, imaginative, and in many cases, like nothing we have ever seen before in the flesh within our reach.
The Proust Geometrica Chair on display the PF Emirates Interiors. Image from Design Days Dubai.
Visitors at Design Days Dubai. Photo by Siddharth Siva. Image from Design Days Dubai.
The Sharjah Biennial – art work that pushes the envelope with some serious play and dark humour.
And in another desert location down the road, the Sharjah Biennial gathers together incredible established and emerging artists who produce projects that skip over, around and through the artistic expressions of new media, street art and installation like kids at a game of hopscotch. Case in point – this stunning-crazy-brilliant piece by French-Tunisian “calligraffiti” artist El Seed.
For obvious reasons, the work that pools around this intimate Biennial is often about analysis of the politics of body, space, and nation but because the execution is so beautifully rendered the intense work powerfully draws you in through your eyes to open your heart and mind to important issues.
Like Toronto, Dubai is rapidly expanding while exploring what this means for this city that has become an international destination and like Toronto it will be exciting to watch how Dubai grows as a destination for design.