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Welcome to Words without Border’s tenth annual Queer issue.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Afghanistan, Women and the Problem of Self-Immolation

My dad often said, if you want to know about a people, read their poets. This month, Words without Borders introduces its readers to some phenomenal writers from Afghanistan. These writers provide for us an intimate look inside a country most of us know only from news sound bites, war correspondents and politicians with agendas. This special issue offers us an opportunity to see Afghanistan as a society that this complex, nuanced and worthy of being understood on its own terms.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to reach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with children.” Last year, the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, organized an exceptional and unparalleled project. Working with a select set of high school students from a local school in Philadelphia and a set of students from a school in Kubal, Afghanistan, the center prepared students to document, using a camera, their everyday lives. Both groups came together in Philadelphia to meet each other and to select the photographs that would comprise the exhibition “We the People; Afghanistan, America and the Minority Imprint.”
For more about this project and to see some of the photographs, click the following link to Sojo’s Trumpet.

Audre Lorde said, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.”

My the poem, An Engagement for Burning, which originally appeared in Damazine; A Journal of the Muslim World, and which will be included in my forthcoming collection, Where My Birthmark Dances, is my small attempt to shed light on the growing problem of Afghani women, particularly in the province of Heart, burning themselves- self-immolation.

Here’s a link to a series of news article about this problem.

An Engagement for Burning

By Octavia McBride-Ahebee

I took her
within the boundaries of my burka
buried beneath the world
I took Billie* with me
a haggard chorus of one
a voice tied to silk and twisted hemp
that cut my ears with a melodic charm
her stretched out words
the ones that never stood to be sounded
were an incantation
pouring my despair across a crop
drugged and lying in wait for me
she squeezed herself through an iPod
a euphonious amulet
energized by currents of expectations
a gift given by a visiting girl from the West of Philly
to encourage my heart
a girl who came to Herat
with beaded hair
braided in the shape of a halo
carrying the world in a Wal-Mart duffel bag

we are both Khadeeja
the supposed complement of someone else
she taught her sisters an ambitious grammar
tied to a human history
told through Holiday’s songs
amid the redolence of the musk-scented roses and orange blossoms
in the hall of fields flushed with swaying poppies
poppies naked in their fearless redness
red like the hardened candy apples I lick through my cloth cage
a cage with no delicious opening
for my tongue to peek out
and taste the world.

I will burn myself today
when the sun is its most vain
amid the opulence of candy-colored poppies
between the embrace of voluptuous pining trees
with Billie plugged in my ears.
I will pour from a returnable Coca-Cola bottle
dinner’s petrol
over my whole existence
and wish
that someone
with hands that are enlightened
will rub the sweetness of honey into my wounds.

*Billie Holiday, American jazz singer

Let’s raise up our voices.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ken Robinson- Why Creativity Matters

Albert Einstein-Violinist

In addition to courses like Statistics, Economics 101 and Biology, my college freshman roster consisted of courses like The Arts of India, China and the Impact of the Cultural Revolution, a survey course of American Literature,  African Dance and a creative writing class. I also continued with my violin instruction.  My presence on this elite New England campus was due in large part not only to the college’s financial aid, but also because of the financial contributions of my extended family.  Back in those dinosaur years, a student’s selected courses as well as grades were sent directly to parents.  When my mother shared my collegiate itinerary with my familial financial investors, many perceived my time spent in any artistic endeavor as an indulgence and a flagrant waste of their financial investment in me.   The Arts did not matter.

But my mother, who had taken all of her children to countless music lessons, art classes, dance workshops, and poetry recitals, valued the Arts as a means for instilling strict discipline and for allowing a practitioner to venture on the road of self-discovery.  The combination of these two qualities, she often said, equipped one to take on the world.  She encouraged me to use the Arts as means of figuring out the world.

As I write this post on this Mother’s Day, my 15 year-old daughter- a musician, writer, dancer, painter-is channeling all of her artistic discipline to create an DNA model for a science class.  It is the Arts that will aid all of us in moving our world forward.  Albert Einstein, a trained violinist, said it best.  “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”

Thanks, Mom!

You have to listen to Ken Robinson, an advisor on arts education, and his enchanting and humorous argument on why The Arts and creativity matter.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Let's Take a Happy Break with Siji From Nigeria

I love the look and feel of this video.  Have fun with Nigerian artist Siji. This song is entitled Ijo.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Geronimo's Code

Chief Geronimo by Edward R. Curtis
 Even my 15-year-old daughter has enough of a sense of history and of herself to know that the U.S. military’s use of the name Geronimo as a code reference for the Osama bin Laden’s execution was offensive and in keeping with the misrepresentation of Native American people. My daughter was curious if the military considered using the name of her namesake-Sojourner Truth. After all, she resisted injustice in the same bold vein as Geronimo.
Geronimo’s birth name was Goyathlay . He lived in what is now New Mexico, but during his time was part of Mexico. It was his fierce response to the attacks perpetrated by Mexican soldiers that earned him the name St. Jerome (Geronimo in Spanish). These soldiers invoked the name of this Roman Catholic saint to protect them against prowess of Goyathlay’s resistance. He would later defend himself and his people from U.S. aggression, though evetually he would be captured and live his life as a prisoner of war until his death in 1909.

( *As an aside, look into the rumor, that has yet to be laid to rest, that Prescott Bush, George W.’s grandfather, stole Geronimo’s skull. …American history? )

Here’s a poem by Renny Golden that I recently discovered.

By Renny Golden

Words, you Whites, want words.

Nothing, I give you nothing.

Here, stones, the Sierra Madres has

something you can’t use:

the witness of rocks who speak

the language of mountains. We are

this land, stones inside the rain, inside

the mountain which keeps the graves.

Here, Grey Wolf, is another lie, hard

as granite, I give it to you, call it sustenance.

Eat---Why do I give you promise after promise,

rock instead of bread? I want to break your

trust the way Mexicans broke my wife, my mother,

my three babies, their scalps in blood rivers. What

fear can you offer to a dead man? After that

I did not pray…I had no purpose left. I could not

call back my loved ones. I could not bring back

dead Apaches but I could rejoice in …revenge.

So no, I’m not trustworthy. I am wily,

a coyote slipping into shadow. Is it

honor to promise open land and pen us

at San Carlos, that stink hole? See our

lonely ponies, our mountains pouring.

What did you expect…truth? Whose?

Every vow a snakebite; every safe place

a trap. Treachery? Oh, I am a holy trickster,

son of White Painted Woman. I love mescal

which is all I have left of escape, a poison as greedy

as the givers. Mescal… there is something of use.

We are not.

Nawal el Saadawi; Still On Fire

Nawal el Saadawi
Nawal el Saadawi, Egypt’s feminist firebird, appeared at the Brecht Forum in New York, in March. I so enjoyed listening to her describe not only the recent events in Egypt, but the joy and inspiration she receives from young people. It is this youthful energy and insistence that keeps this octogenarian spirited and focused.

It is imperative that we, on this side of the world, begin to listen directly from other voices that comprise our world. We need no intermediaries, just an open heart and a welcoming mind. Enjoy Nawal.

Here is a link to learn more about Nawal and her literary activism. She appeared at the Brecht Forum as part of a program entitled Revolutionary Women; Dissident Voices from Egypt and Pakistan.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Important Links for Where My Birthmark Dances Slideshow

1. Finishing Line Press- Scroll down author's list which is in alphabetical order and find McBride-Ahebee/ Where My Birthmark Dances  and preorder this book .

2.  Music-Rokia Traore-

3. Ilustrator Robert "Tres" Trujillo-

4. Photographer Ed Kashi-

Where My Birthmark Dances/ A Slideshow