Swastikas and Flowers

Scars can illicit a number of emotions in people.  Sometimes they are worn with pride or admired, other times they can serve as a warning, and still other times they can scare or even disgust people.  Regardless, scars are a universal indication of trauma.

Places, like people, experience trauma.  Also like people, places can have scars.  Some of these scars are particularly evident in Europe; many have been dealt with through moving monuments.  The scars I’m addressing now, however, are of a more social nature.

I noticed on my way to work some white graffiti on the side of a building that read, “Anti-fascist.”  What awesome graffiti!  In black letters over it, however, read, “Fascist.”  I’m happy to report that the white graffiti was still much easier to read than its darker counterpart.

What I really wanted to share, however, were the swastikas in my apartment building’s elevators.  They’ve been turned into flowers.

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You may disagree as to whether that’s actually a flower, or even that it was ever a swastika.  But there are still-intact swastikas in the elevator and I chose to believe that this is someone’s attempt at improving things.

With a couple strokes of their keys, someone took an internationally recognized symbol of hate and atrocity and turned it into an internationally recognized symbol of beauty.

So I encourage you all to engage in a little graffiti of your own this weekend: it can be smiling at someone who looks like they’re having a bad day, turning a swastika into a flower, or simply doing something kind without expecting anything in return.    Make your mark somewhere, and make it worthwhile.

What I’m listening to:  “Beautiful” by Eminem.  It’s about Detroit, so it seems to fit pretty well with the scar theme. 

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Growing Pains

To my fabulous family and Quick-lock (she knows who she is), who are always there for me no matter where I wander off to.

To start: for pity’s sake, don’t take this personally—anybody!!  I have moved at least seven times, spent time in more countries and states than I care to count at the moment.  This means I’ve met a lot of people, and cultivated a lot of relationships that I’ve had to leave behind.  This is simply a pontification based on my experience and nothing else (geez—don’t disclaimers stink?).

This about sums it up….

The playground was an awesome place, especially in kindergarten.  It was small, exclusive, and unchanging.  You knew what to expect, and the status-quo was rarely disturbed.  Like any child, however, we all wanted to go to the big kid playground.  After that, we wanted off-campus lunches.  And after that, to go somewhere new for college or work.  While each new privilege was thrilling, they all came with some small sacrifice, most often leaving something or someone behind.  While I maintain this is a small price to pay for adventure (in most cases, maybe someday there will be someone/something that keeps me rooted somewhere, but for the moment I like the gypsy lifestyle), it sucks.  Being a grown-up and having priorities sucks-sucks-sucks-sucks.  Don’t misunderstand me: I know what I want, and there are very few things I’ll let get in my way.  But I would really like my cake and I’d enjoy eating it, too!

I love how accessible the world has been to me, I love all the places I’ve been, people I’ve met, and stupid decisions I’ve lived through (I’m not that grown up, I plan on making more yet-to-be-determined dumb decisions).  The gypsy life is the one for me!  But no matter how long or short my stay in a particular place, I always hate saying goodbye.  In fact, I’ve been known to flee in order to avoid goodbyes (er… sorry).  For as many times as I’ve moved, you’d think I’d be better at this.  But I’m not.

Going different places entails different things for some relationships.  Some fizzle out (these are the most predictable, but always the most disappointing).  You make empty promises to stay in touch, but life and laziness intervenes and eventually there’s radio silence.  Maybe someday in the future there’s some hollow “Hey-how-are-you?” via Facebook or email, but it never really extends beyond that.  The friendship fizzles out.  Poof.  All that’s left behind is something akin to the cheap smoke magicians use to disguise their poor attempt at vanishing.

Then there are the relationships that are put on pause (these might be my favorite).  Maybe you don’t do such a good job keeping in touch, but eventually you reunite and it’s awesome.  It’s like you didn’t spend any time apart: you’re able to pick right back up where you left off, enjoy each other, and, eventually, part ways until another indeterminate date in the future.

The best, and most valuable relationships, are those where distance just doesn’t matter (family is probably the best example of this).  We all have one or two friends, plus our family, that keep up with us and take an interest in our lives no matter what.  So when you have a bad day, you send out an S.O.S. and these people come to the rescue.  They’re the kind you get the really good souvenirs for.

I would have liked to spend some time with my little sister this summer, or maybe harass a couple of friends in the Bay area.  I would like to nurture friendships that never got a chance because I’m in Slovakia, or those that won’t really get a chance because, whether I like it or not, I have to leave Slovakia.  But my choices mean these things got the ax.  I wouldn’t change a thing, I even think having it all would be awfully boring (there would be nothing to work for!).  Regardless, if I could, I would put every single one of you in my pocket (free of lint balls, of course, as they would surely be the size of that giant boulder in the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark to you in your pocket-sized form) and take you with me on all my adventures.  In some small way, I know I do.  Nevertheless, I’m strongly holding on to that girlish fantasy where everyone I care about fits in my pocket (other childish fantasies I refuse to shed include a desire to swim in pool full of jello and the stubborn belief that everyone is inherently good).

Until they invent the shrink-ray or I grow up, however, a part of me will always regret leaving (whether it’s the U.S., Slovakia, or probably even moving apartments in the same city).

What I’m listening to: “Never Forget You” by the Noisettes.  This song reflects the general tone/feelings behind this post perfectly.

What an underrated group (did I mention I love the lead singer’s hair??)!

A Few of My Favorite Things

A few things before we start:

1) I am shamelessly avoiding editing a project.  It’s very hard to do UGA-related work while in Europe.

2) I promise there will be a post about work soon.  I want to give to do justice to the Human Rights League (where I’m interning), and, more importantly, I really want to do justice to some of the issues they face in their work.  Because this (probably) entails some heavy-handed criticism, I want to be delicate.  As delicacy is not my strong suit, I ask that you be patient while I marinate. 

3) A work-related shout-out: a big, big, big thank you to academics everywhere, especially those who have been gracious enough to help me with my research in the past week.  Refugee law isn’t always straight forward, and I am truly grateful for the help of some academics (from Harvard and  Queen Mary’s School of Law at the University of Law, to name a few).  Saying thank you simply isn’t enough– I have reached out to these people as a complete stranger asking for their input on some complicated issues. They are sympathetic with our clients and do their best to provide informed answers, and my very short experience in this field has already taught me that if it weren’t for the involvement and charity of these people, refugee law would be in a (more?) dismal state.  So go hug a prof.  Seriously.

 

Aaaaand to life we go!  My fabulous roommate and I headed over to the Castle today (seriously, they just call it the Castle, although I’m sure it has a much more official title) for– get this– a food festival .  My two favorite things!!  I rue my otherwise healthy eating habits, because it really limited my ability to consume all the food I wanted (my roommate can commensurate).  Don’t let that fool you, I ate a lot.  Fish with spinach dumplings, some Hungarian food, and some great desserts, among other things. 

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While everything was great, I’ll share a quick don’t-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover/just-cause-a-chocolate’s-pretty-doesn’t-mean-it’s-tasty anecdote.  To start, remember there is a bit of a language barrier here.  It doesn’t limit me from doing anything, except perhaps going into detailed conversations with merchants, especially chocolate merchants.  Because there was a line behind me, I just pointed to a unique looking chocolate, which turned out to be eggnog.  Holy crap.  I think I’ve had vodka with less kick. 

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All-in-all, an amazing day in an amazing city (Bratislava isn’t perfect, but it may be the closest I’ve encountered so far).  Tomorrow: an early morning run so I don’t feel quite so bad about my eating habits this weekend.  Don’t pity me too much, watching the sun rise on the Danube river isn’t so bad. 

 

Castway

He does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because he is a refugee.

-UNHCR, Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status

I’ve still got my training wheels on at work, but I thought I’d take a moment and share a little about the office.  I’m lucky enough to be spending the bulk of the summer interning at Human Rights League, an office comprised of a wonderful group of multi-talented women.  They deal a good bit with migration and refugee law, something I’m not that familiar with.  The majority my public service experience has been with children, or research of case law from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  Because so much of my undergraduate focus was on Russia, this means I read a lot of cases involving deprivation of life and/or property.  I was familiar with the UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency) as well as the 1951 Convention and later 1967 protocol on refugees, but if truth be told, I hadn’t given it much more thought than that.  Like most public service agencies, the UNHCR seemed to be taxed, but the documents that grant the agency its power struck me as effective.  Wrong.

The Convention is a broad document that, on first read, alligns itself with the refugee.  When in doubt, side with the refugee.  The broad nature of the Convention led me to believe that it was interpretted as such.  Let this be the first of many illustrations of my profound naivety.  There are a number of almost insurmountable hurdles, especially for human trafficking victims.  I will elaborate more on this in a later post, when I can more eloquently explain the situation.

The point is this: it could be easy to grant worthy candidates asylum under the Convention.  However, interpretation and application of the Convention makes it an especially difficult process.  So much depends on the attorneys and researchers to produce compelling Country of Origin reports (reports detailing the situation in the country of origin and explaining why it might or might not be safe for a person to return there).  Even more depends on the refugee, they may have a compelling case for asylum, but if they fail to come across as sympathetic, a state agency can, and sometimes does, refuse to grant asylum.  The majority of refugees are women, but often-times their plight is ignored simply because it is the norm in the country of origin, or the government has hollow laws in place to protect women, many of which are never enforced.

I guess my point is this: count your blessings, and, when you can, take time to pass them on to those in need.  That can mean anything from volunteering at a VA hospital, with children, sponsoring a refugee, volunteering to teach English (language is a powerful tool), or even just donating a little money to a service agency you find worthy.  I will not presume to tell anyone what to do or believe in, but we all have a lot to be grateful for, and, when we are able, it would be good to share it with others.

 

Till next time!

 

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

-Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 

Night at the Museum

Once a year, most European cities host a “Night at the Museum,” where the museums stay open late, you buy a ticket, and get admission to every museum in the city until midnight or later.  Many of the museums have special exhibits or tours, and some even have music and beer. 

Ever eager to adjust to the time difference, I let a colleague talk me into attending Bratislava’s Museum Night, and stayed out until 2 am exploring the city and its museums.  We went to Bratislava’s water cleaning plant (a heavily guarded island normally closed to the public), which was built in the late nineteenth century, and is nothing short of an impressive example of both engineering and manpower.  We hit a number of other museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum, among others. 

Along the way Katka (my colleague) and I met a number of her other friends, including Jason (from Costa Rica) and Kristof (from France).  We made for a very international group (and the uniting language was, naturally, English). 

My favorite exhibit was one called “Delete,” which was comprised of art created under the Soviet regime.  Various artists had taken everyday objects, from obituaries to photographs, and deleted important parts (such as faces, or most of the obit).  This was meant to be a reflection on the Soviet way of life, the extremity of censorship.  It was a haunting and very well-done exhibit. 

I ended up biking home with a friend at 2 am in the morning.  Bratislava is very bike friendly, and it’s almost easier to bike than do anything else.  What struck me most, however, was how safe I felt.  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m still very aware that I’m in a foreign country and I don’t speak the language.  However, the only place I’ve ever felt so safe at night is Davis, CA.  It’s nice to be in a place where I don’t feel the need to be paranoid all the time (Russia was a great example of this).  I don’t know if this is unique to Bratislava, or perhaps I’m forming an opinion too early– we’ll see!

In other news, I have mastered the bus system and gone grocery shopping by myself, two things I consider signs of early acclimation.  Off to watch Slovakia (hopefully) trounce Russia in the hockey world championships, with work starting in the morning (the office is smack in the city centre, a perfect location). 

 

Until later…. Sic’ ’em, Slovaks!