Friday, December 22, 2006

This I Believe - Mystery and Paradox

From the NPR series titled "This I Believe"

"Religious belief has made me comfortable with ambiguity. "Hints and guesses," as T.S. Eliot would say. I often spend the season of Lent in a hermitage, where I live alone for the whole 40 days. The more I am alone with the Alone, the more I surrender to ambivalence, to happy contradictions and seeming inconsistencies in myself and almost everything else, including God. Paradoxes don't scare me anymore. ...

Whenever I think there's a perfect pattern, further reading and study reveal an exception. Whenever I want to say "only" or "always," someone or something proves me wrong. My scientist friends have come up with things like "principles of uncertainty" and dark holes. They're willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of "faith"! How strange that the very word "faith" has come to mean its exact opposite.

People who have really met the Holy are always humble. It's the people who don't know who usually pretend that they do. People who've had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don't know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind. It is a litmus test for authentic God experience, and is -- quite sadly -- absent from much of our religious conversation today. My belief and comfort is in the depths of Mystery, which should be the very task of religion."

-- Richard Rohr is founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. He took his Franciscan vows in 1961, and was ordained as a priest in 1970. Rohr is a frequent speaker and writer on issues of community building, peace and justice. Center for Action and Contemplation

Thursday, December 07, 2006

That's no coconut

The pilot light on my heater is out, and my room, though bright with the beautiful winter sunlight of Los Angeles, keeps the cold from the night. A weak explanation as to why I'm sitting with furry boots on and a space heater aimed at my feet in sunny So Cal. Mostly, I cannot stand to be cold, and even 64 degrees feels bone-chilling.

Which is why I am consistently shocked when I look back over the pictures of where I was at this time last year. Here are pictures of the first snowfall in Mitrovica -- when I joined the kids in a snowball fight. They quickly realized they had a helpless adult with no aim, and ganged up on me, eventually chasing me into the nearest cafe.

If you watched the last episode of "Studio 60," you'll remember they used coconut shavings to make fake snow. Beautiful, but from where I stood taking these shots, there were no coconuts to be seen.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

School Day 24: Mitrovica, Kosovo

School Day 24, taking place on 6 December, is all about linking schools across conflicts, tensions and divides.

Building bridges

Everywhere children who have inherited mistrust, dogma and even hatred from the older generation will have the chance to talk openly with children from "the other side".

Children from Moscow and Chechnya will have the chance to discuss their different attitudes to the conflict. There are also link-ups between Israelis and Palestinians; Indians and Pakistanis; Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo; Iranians and Americans; Sinhalese and Tamils. -- By Jasper Bouverie
Co-ordinator, School Day 24

Mitrovica -- the city where I lived in Kosovo was chosen. Students from both sides of the river found they have a lot more in common that they have been taught.

Question from Serbian Ivana at Kosovska Mitrovica Gimnazija to Albanian student, Fjolla

What are the most popular books and the greatest music hits?

Fjolla : The music that is listened to by the youth in south Mitrovica is rock music, rap music, all kinds of music. But the most popular for now is rock music. I read love stories and science fiction. My favourite book is Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

Question from Albanian Albana at Frang Bardhi High School to Serbian student, Maja

Would you be able to invite us to talk with you?

Maja : Yes, of course, if we had an opportunity to meet up with you here or in your area, we would do it. And we would be glad to see you and to work with you together in a group. And that's all.

Question from Albanian Fjolla at Frang Bardhi High School to Serbian student, Ivana

What do you think would have been different if we were together in the same place today?

Ivana : Talking is different when you are talking to someone like I am trying to do now. But we do not have another solution, so... so... we are talking like this. Talking is easier of course when you're able to look at someone.

But any solution is good when you have no choice.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tao of Ted

If you know me well, you may well know my love for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In one episode, Ted Baxter delivers a pearl of wisdom -- most likely one he is not aware of how wise it is.

Mary complains of boredom with her life, and Ted sums up her problem as attitude.

Ted tells Mary in a ho-hum voice, "You can wake up, eat, go to work, say hello to your friends, work, eat lunch, work, go home, eat dinner, watch TV, read a magazine, go to sleep, repeat.


It's all about perspective.
Thanks Ted Baxter.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dr. Strangelove

When I am able to put aside the overwhelming fears I have about insane leaders building nuclear stockpiles, I wonder about our own leadership and our weapons programs. Jim Wallis states succinctly the "nuclear hypocrisy" of our current actions here:

"Also in the news this morning is an announcement by the U.S. government that it is initiating a “Complex 2030” program to develop and deploy 2,200 new nuclear weapons. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability calls it “a bizarrely inappropriate Dr. Strangelove-esque plan to revitalize the United States’ nuclear weapons production capability in order to manufacture the new Reliable Replacement Warhead, which will potentially drive a new nuclear weapons arms race.” The plan includes repairing and replacing production facilities in several states. ...

"Hypocrisy doesn’t make good foreign policy." - Jim Wallis

Monday, September 25, 2006

Litter Will Be Provided

I can't believe it -- I missed the Santa Monica Cat Show. Again.

I recently moved back to L.A., which is my best excuse as to why I have not posted anything for weeks. But I moved too late - the cat show was in late August. What other show can advertise using: "All entries must be free of fungus and parasites," "Litter will be provided," and my personal favorite: "There will be a special rosette awarded for the best decorated cage in the show theme of: TIKI TIME!"

I must have pictures of that cage.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Best friend bragging rights

In my best shout-it-from-the-rooftops voice - here is an article from Variety and Hollywood Reporter about my hysterically funny witty friend Caroline Williams.

ABC rings school bell
Kutcher learns his Alphabet via laffer


ABC has greenlit single-camera half-hour laffer "Miss/Guided" from "The Office" scribe Caroline Williams and Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst shingle.

Project reps the first scripted pilot to come out of Katalyst, which is set up at 20th Century Fox TV. Alphabet web scored the series after a bidding war with NBC.

Casting has already begun on "Miss/Guided," which revolves around a woman who returns to her high school, where she lands a guidance counselor gig. Show will be shot in a mockumentary style, similar to "The Office."

"It's loosely based on myself, because I had a difficult time in school," Williams said. The lead character "comes back to her alma mater to prove how far she's come, but she learns from her students as much as she teaches them."

According to Williams, the protag (who's in her late 20s or early 30s) doesn't realize how out of touch she is with the high school students. She also butts heads with another faculty member while competing for the attention of a male teacher.

Pilot is expected to shoot sometime next month. Also aboard: Emmy-winning helmer Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle"), who will direct, and "Scrubs" alum Gabrielle Allan, who will be showrunner.

Allan and
Holland also will exec produce, along with Kutcher and his Katalyst partners, Jason Goldberg and Karey Burke. Williams is co-exec producer.

The half-hour, which was written on spec, was the first TV script Williams ever wrote -- and it now reps her first pilot order. Scribe, who graduated from UCLA in 2004, began her career as an assistant at Red Hour, Ben Stiller's production company. She's been with "The Office" since May.

As for Allan, the writer was behind last year's CBS comedy pilot "Welcome to the Jungle Gym," which she created and exec produced for Warner Bros. TV.

Meanwhile, "Miss/Guided" reps part of a busy development slate for Katalyst, which has the alternative pilot "Parenteen" in the works at Fox, as well as a reincarnation-themed comedy at NBC that's now being reworked by "That '70s Show" scribe Mark Hudis. Katalyst is also behind the new seasons of the CW's "Beauty and the Geek" and MTV's "Punk'd."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Kosovo Update

Reading the attached BBC News article about the future and issue of independence for Kosovo, I am struck with wonder that only a few months ago, I was living in the divided city of Mitrovica, a place they describe as filled with tension (Serb/Northern side) and hope (Albanian/Southern side). That I sipped lattes at Ex, shopped for fruit and vegetables, and passed the troops as I crossed over the bridge many times. That, during our trip in 2003, our team interviewed Oliver Ivanovic, the Serbian politician whom the writer describes as a "moderate," and whom we found engaging and well-spoken, later to find out that we had upset our Albanian hosts and friends, who knew him as an accused war criminal.

I knew tension was high with talks of independence, but reading the article, I am reminded again of what is at stake. A sense of hope. The safety of many friends, Albanian and Serb, who warmly invited me into their homes, their lives and their stories. I am caught between gut-wrenching fear and the realization that daily life continues - fires are built to cook flia, nescafe and caj (tea) are ever-flowing, and people want what we all want - a better and safer future.

Independence drive
By Nick Hawton

Pass the French troops stationed on the bridge over the River Ibar, that separates the Serb north from the Albanian south, and you enter a different world.

The place is humming: crowded, colourful, energetic. There is a sense of expectation.

Edmond Jolla, 32, is Albanian and the owner of the upmarket restaurant Ex.

"Everyone is expecting independence. In terms of my business, independence would enable me to invest for the future. Everyone will live better. I have two flats in north Mitrovica and when we get independence I hope to get them back. The war is finished," he tells me.

Drive 45 minutes south and you arrive at the air-conditioned, spankingly clean New Government Buildings in the capital, Pristina.

The former Albanian guerrilla leader-turned-prime minister, Agim Ceku, is sharp-suited and smiling when I arrive.

He tells me the government will accept nothing less than independence - and partition is out of the question.

"We are expecting full independence. We are sure it will be for the benefit of the region and for local Serbs. We are making a lot of commitments to them. They will benefit from positive discrimination. And Serbia will be free. They will have no enemies around, they will have no need to pay a lot of money to fund power structures and no reason to have large security forces."

Back in Mitrovica, it is no secret that both communities are well-armed and ready for a worst-case scenario.

"I will do whatever is in my capacity, physically and intellectually, to defend our right to live in peace and dignity and to live freely in our state. I, like most Serbs, will not accept being moved from one state to another," says Milan Ivanovic, one of north Mitrovica's most popular politicians.

Extra police

K-For recently reopened its base north of Mitrovica and close to the border with Serbia proper. Extra UN police have been deployed in the region. All in case it all goes wrong.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Girl Power - A Different Definition in Kosova

“…after Pascal had learned I was not, actually, a boy, but something previously unheard of: a girl in pants. The news surprised him greatly, and I don’t like to dwell on how it came about. It had to do with peeing in the bushes. But Pascal quickly forgave me, and it’s a good thing, since friends of my own age and gender were not available, the girls of Kilanga all being too busy hauling around firewood, water, or babies. It did cross my mind to wonder why Pascal had a freedom to play and roam that his sisters didn’t. While the little boys ran around pretending to shoot each other and fall dead in the road, it appeared that the little girls were running the country.”

~ from The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

How well I understand the wonder at a culture as I witnessed in Kosova, where the girls seem to do all the physical labor, and the men are seen sipping tea at a café.

Though Kosovar culture is in transition, influenced by their desire for entry into the European Union and Eminem lyrics, the role of men and women is still defined in traditional terms. Even those women who work outside the home must maintain the traditions of an Albanian housewife. These traditions, viewed by a westernized woman, look like backbreaking, wrinkle-making work. Not only is there the effort of housekeeping with intermittent electricity and water, but caring for children who finish school by eleven a.m., and many times for aging parents who live in the same home. If there is any group of women in the world more deserving of a day at the spa, it is Albanian wives.

My view is obviously skewed by my culture, where I expect a man to do his share of the housework, especially if both are working outside the home. In Mitrovica, with the unemployment rate hovering at 70%, most men are out of work, and spend their days looking for odd jobs on the street.

At my weekly meeting with Lumja and Safet, both 17 years old and juniors in high school, I asked about homework. We have to write papers, do math work at home, Lumja said in her usual energetic manner, scanning the air around her for the perfect word in English, her busy hands illustrating her points. But we go to bed early, since there is no power.
The family eats breakfast and lunch, but no dinner. Lumja and Safet return to their home villages around
6pm, when it has been dark for an hour or so in the winter. They go to bed early, but Lumja wakes up in the middle of the night, when the power comes on at 1am, to study for a few hours with light.
In the morning, she does not have time to study, since she wakes at 4 or
5 a.m. to help her mother with breakfast and housework. One morning her father asked Lumja, “Why does your face look like that?” “This is the only face I have!” she teased. He pressed further, why are your eyes red and tired? She had to admit to stealing power hours in the middle of the night for studying.

If she tries to study at school, in the break they have that is similar to our “study hall,” she is teased by her friends who won’t let her concentrate. Her sister, who is woken every night she leaves the room, calls her crazy.

Safet says he studies at night with a candle, or in the morning, since he does not have as much work to do as girls do. Since he opened that door, I stuck my western-thinking head through it. I explained that I know it is traditional for the women to do the housework, but do men do equal work, chopping wood and such? Lumja chimed in here – her brother mostly sits around watching television or playing video games. Safet admitted that girls have more to do here. Prefacing my comment to be as culturally sensitive as I could, I said, “I know I’m American, so my thinking is different, but – that’s just WRONG!”

Lumja said even though she’s a girl, both her parents want her to go to University. It’s just a matter of money. Just. Her father works to support his seven children, all but the youngest in school, and earns only 150 Euros a month as a guard at the Trepca mine.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Orlando Bans Feeding Homeless on City Property

I have no words, or perhaps too many. Here are a few highlights from the news article and a link to read it:

ORLANDO, Fla. -- City officials have banned charitable groups from feeding homeless people in parks downtown, arguing that transients who gather for weekly meals create safety and sanitary problems for businesses.

The measure, approved Monday, prevents serving large groups in parks and other public property within two miles of City Hall without a permit. The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to sue, saying it's a superficial fix that ignores the city's homeless problem. ...

City commissioner Patty Sheehan pushed for the ordinance after complaints from business owners and residents that homeless people were causing problems at a downtown park popular with joggers and dog walkers.

A group called Food Not Bombs, which has served weekly vegetarian meals to homeless people for more than a year there, said it would continue illegally.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"The Girl in the Cafe"

I just watched the film The Girl in the Café and am overwhelmed by emotion.

To introduce the audience to the inner workings of the 2005 G8 summit, we follow the oftentimes awkward romance of Gina and Lawrence. After just a few dates, Lawrence, a minister of finance in the British government, invites Gina to accompany him to the G8 conference in Iceland. There, while they learn new things about each other and their relationship, Gina also discovers the Millennium goals, and hears the statistic that 30,000 children die each day from extreme poverty and preventable diseases. The story introduces us to another woman, wife and mother, whose child recently died, and reminds us of the pain and suffering of losing a child.

Labeled a trouble maker for asking too many questions, Gina's one-woman protest comes to a head as she confronts the Prime Minister with an emotional plea to be a leader who cares and can do something about world poverty. In her cry for help, she reminds the power players of the world that every parent must feel for their child what we all feel for our children. That though we do not know these people personally, we all understand the pain and suffering that comes from the inability to stop the disease that takes your child’s life. She snaps her fingers – every three seconds a child dies.

As the credits roll, the music fades and only the sound of a snap, every three seconds.

I feel sick to my stomach, anger, unable to sit still, unable to watch passively any longer. The overwhelming number of 30,000 children dying every day is easier to disregard than the snap of a finger every few seconds. The snap of a finger, a gesture of ease and disregard.

I know this feeling and passion will fade, but I must make permanent changes in my own daily life to help. What can I do?

"Recognize that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision. …Sometime it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom." – Nelson Mandela

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ubuntu and Blood Feud - Collective Responsibility

I am fascinated with the concept of “ubuntu.” I discovered the term in “No Future Without Forgiveness,” Desmond Tutu’s book about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, and have found that it permeates much of my thinking. Especially after taking my individualistic self to live in a collective culture in Kosova.

Here is Tutu’s definition:

“(Ubuntu) speaks of the very essence of being human. … (When you possess ubuntu) you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. … It is to say, ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life. It is not, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong.’ A person with ubuntu … does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they are less than who they are.” (p. 31, Tutu.)

This last week I have thought of ubuntu in terms of collective responsibility for each other’s actions. The tradition of blood fued requires the family of a victim to take revenge on the perpetrator's family. At times, however, it extends beyond family to friends. Many times in the U.S., parents are held responsible for their child’s criminal actions. But how does that translate beyond family to friends? How can you possibly hold a friend accountable to the point that you are willing to take responsibility for their actions? Or is that my individualistic cultural upbringing – should we not be responsible for every person’s actions? Is this what ubuntu is about, encompassing both the positive and negative?

Within this terrible tradition of the blood feud, you can see the opposite, the ubuntu that is necessary for peace. And in ubuntu, forgiveness – where we realize that it is best not only for the immediate parties involved, but for everyone, friends, village, state, world. Forgiveness is a radical and revolutionary action. And it is not passive – its concentric rings of affect will be felt worldwide.

Azar Nafisi writes about her experience of being ‘inextricably linked’:

“I saw on television the battered and bruised face of the former head of the dreaded Ministry of National Security and Information, a general known for his cruelty. He had been one of the officials involved in framing and imprisoning my father. It must have been a rerun of his confession scene, for he had been killed a few months before. I can still remember, when my father was in jail, the number of times my mother would curse this general and his fellow conspirators. And now here he was, in civilian clothes, pleading for forgiveness from judges whose stern brutality even he could not fathom. There was not a shred of humanity in his expression. It was as if he had been forced to negate his former self and in the process he had abdicated his place alongside other men. I felt strangely connected to him, as if they complete surrender of his dignity had also diminished me. How many times had I dreamt of revenge on this particular man? Was this how one’s dreams were to be fulfilled?” (­from Reading Lolita in Tehran)

Friday, May 12, 2006


When I was in Kosova in 2003, all I could feel was sympathy and empathy, for both sides, all the victims of a corrupt situation. Every one we met seemed to be a beautiful soul who had suffered but was trying to put together the pieces, and living as best they could.

This time, a longer stay, I saw glimpses of illogical and irrational people – even those who would speak of reconciliation in one sentence, and the next denigrate “those people” and talk about how they have seen “what they’re capable of.” What had changed in two years? The people, or my understanding of the situation?

Part of me wanted to give up. But a bigger part of me thinks about the little girls skipping down the street, holding hands and whispering and giggling. Or the day I saw Agron’s little girl Denisa outside the house with her brothers. Denisa, petite for her 6 years, has bright brown eyes that take up most of her face. They lit up when she recognized me. Just like the grown ups, she gripped my hand tightly, pulled me down to her height and overwhelmed me with energetic kisses on both cheeks.

The night Denisa received her Christmas box from Samaritans Purse, she wisely chose the biggest package, and shrieked in excitement as she pulled out each toy from the box. Denisa didn’t make a move that night without lugging the box along, almost half her size. Her father told us later that she slept with box cuddled under her arm like a teddy bear.

There is hope - in Denisa and kids all around Kosova. Whether for peace and reconciliation or rampant consumerism, I'm not sure. But I'm counting on the former.


Friday, May 05, 2006

In the Details

"Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. ... Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. ...

Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life. ... Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are. ... We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing. -- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Increasingly and Inordinately Feel

Choosing to live in Kosovo during the short cold days and long dark nights of winter, many feared that I would slip into a depression, a recurring battle in my life. And while I saw many issues arise unexpectedly, such as anger and feeling out of control, I never stepped over the precipice of depression.

For those who have never suffered a depression, it is not defined by feeling badly, but rather by a total lack of feeling whatsoever. Feeling no desire is what terrifies me about those times of my life. No desire to write, to read, to engage in life. No compassion, no excitement.

In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s account of her life during the war and oppressive regime in Iran, I found this reference about the necessity of feeling by writer Henry James, his response to the atrocities of World War One.

“James emphasized in his many letters one important resource to counter the senselessness of the war (WWI). He was aware, as many were not, of the toll such cruelty takes on emotions and of the resistance to compassion that such events engender. In fact, this insensitivity becomes a way of survival. As in his novels, he insisted on the most important of all human attributes – feeling – and railed against ‘the paralysis of my own powers to do anything but increasingly and inordinately feel.’

From a letter (James) wrote to Clare Sheridan, a friend whose husband – they were newly married – had gone to war and been killed. ‘I am incapable of telling you not to repine and rebel,’ he wrote, ‘because I have so, to my cost, the imagination of all things, and because I am incapable of telling you not to feel. Feel, feel, I say – feel for all you’re worth, and even if it half kills you, for that is the only way to live, especially to live at this terrible pressure, and the only way to honour and celebrate these admirable beings who are our pride and our inspiration.’ In letters to friends, again and again he urges them to feel. Feeling would stir up empathy and would remind them that life was worth living.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Leading by Example

During my time in Kosova, two very different leaders died very different deaths. Ibrahim Rugova, the peaceful president who led Kosovar Albanians in their quest for independence, died only months before the status of Kosovo was due to be decided. I witnessed great crowds of people gathering to mourn his death and celebrate his life. Shortly after I returned to the U.S., Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president who orchestrated the wars that defined a decade of suffering in the Balkans, died in his cell at The Hague, having been indicted for crimes against humanity. The media offered pictures and testimonies that ranged from relief and celebration, frustration that justice was not served in the form of a verdict and sentence, to his supporters defending his life and actions.

What is leadership? On my flight from Kosovo to Budapest, I sat next to a political consultant who worked with the top leaders in conflict areas, from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq. As we discussed our different experiences in Kosovo, we agreed that leaders cannot afford to allow grief and anger to set their course of action. He stated that it is the leaders who must set the example for reconciliation despite their own feelings – that is their responsibility for the future of Kosovo. It can be seen in other violent situations, from Northern Ireland to South Africa. A British soldier himself, my seat-mate referenced the fighting in Northern Ireland, where cold-blooded terrorists who had bombed buildings and killed women and children were released from prison, while convicted killers who killed in a passionate rage outside the frame of war, would remain to serve a life sentence. While no one liked freeing those who bombed buildings, it was the lesser of two evils, and had to be done to move forward towards peace.

When I mentioned friends who had lived through personal horror, terror and evil during the war in Kosovo, he acknowledged that these people should not be expected to easily forgive and live in harmony with those neighbors who had committed war crimes. But he expects the leaders to take the necessary steps to end the division and conflict. This reflects on our understanding of leaders as “public servants,” putting aside their personal feelings, vendettas, or even views of justice for the greater good. I referenced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa – that while many could not understand granting amnesty to those who were willing to confess (and met the TRC requirements that their actions had been state-motivated), it was a difficult decision from the leaders, based on wisdom that sacrifices must be made, to lay down the right to revenge and immediate justice in order to move forward in peace.

I have no answers or solutions for a future of peace and reconciliation in Kosova other than what Desmond Tutu prayed on the first session of victim testimony of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and I pray this prayer especially for the leaders, both political and spiritual in Kosova.

“O God of justice, mercy and peace. We long to put behind us all the pain and division of apartheid together with all the violence which ravaged our communities in its name. And so we ask You to bless this Truth and Reconciliation Commission with Your wisdom and guidance as it commences its important work of redressing the many wrongs done both here and throughout our land.
We pray that all those people who have been injured in either body or spirit may receive healing through the work of this commission and that it may be seen to be a body which seeks to redress the wounds inflicted in so harsh a manner on so many of our people, particularly here in the Eastern Cape. We pray, too, for those who may be found to have committed these crimes against their fellow human beings, that they may come to repentance and confess their guilt to almighty God and that they too might become the recipients of Your divine mercy and forgiveness. We ask that the Holy Spirit may pour out its gifts of justice, mercy, and compassion upon the commissioners and their colleagues in every sphere, that the truth may be recognized and brought to light during the hearings, and that the end may bring about that reconciliation and love for our neighbor which our Lord himself commanded. We ask this in the holy name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.”

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Reactions to Milosevic's death - Subjective Truth?

I have yet to hear from my friends in Kosova about the response and reactions to Milosevic's death - but I've compiled a few of the reactions and articles from the international news sources. Reading the various reactions, I continue to think about 'subjective' vs. 'objective' truth.

“I thought I'd feel relief or closure. Instead, I feel mixture of sadness and immense anger. This one has got away.

Although he spent the last years of his life imprisoned, justice has not been served. History can't be reversed, shattered lives can't be repaired, the dead can't be brought back.

I have been participating in protests since 1991. Fifteen years ago the protests against Milosevic began and, even though I was pregnant, I was on the streets.

He put our country back 30 years and left it there. Most of my friends and family are no longer in Serbia as a result of Milosevic. Until 1989, when Milosevic started up with his nationalism, I was not aware of borders within Yugoslavia.

I was really shocked by the sudden explosion of violence. I still do not consider people from Croatia and Slovenia foreign citizens.

He left us a legacy of division and it haunts us all, like Hitler's death camps or the killing fields of Cambodia.

This is a sad time for Serbia. Many were not happy about what he did during his rule. But he defended the right of Serbia to express itself in the world.

We were denied many rights during the 1990s. We couldn't travel anywhere without a visa, sanctions left Serbia in poverty.

The death of Milosevic is the result of the arrogant criminal policy of the US and Nato.
I admired Milosevic for what he did in the late 1980s and in the beginning of the 1990s. But in 1993 he made a mistake by not democratising.

There are many misconceptions and media lies which create a negative vision of Serbia and the Serbs. Milosevic manipulated the media when he was in power. The rest of the world manipulates too.

And the crime has not ended yet. Kosovo is about to be stolen from the Serbs in favour of a national minority of non-European characteristics.

I fear that Serbia, the most tolerant and open-minded ex-Yugoslav nation in the 21st Century, will face economic and demographic catastrophe.

This is yet another Balkan issue that has ended in stalemate. He has escaped the guilty verdict.
I would be a happy man if he was pronounced guilty and died in the next second.

But by dying like this, he will become part of the Serb mythology, which already has martyrs from World War II and from the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans.

He will be just another one seen to be executed by Western governments.

I always considered myself a Yugoslav. I wasn't aware that I was a Bosnian and a Muslim until I had to flee my home town, Brcko, in north-east Bosnia. They set up a concentration camp there.
I had 60 members of a happy family before the war. Now only 12 are alive. Some were killed, including two in that concentration camp. Many died from stress.

I'm not a purist, a nationalist. In our family we have Serbs, Croats and Muslims. I like that unity.

I would prefer it if we were still part of Tito's Yugoslavia. We had a much better life then.

Story from BBC NEWS:


"I met Slobodan Milosevic in 1992, before the Bosnian war broke out. We were a small group of journalists, at a meeting of the nascent European union in the Dutch city of Maastrict. The Serbian president was there, posturing before the cameras of Belgrade TV and spewing the nationalist rhetoric that would soon shed blood across the Balkans. Another correspondent turned to me and said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I replied: “You mean, kill him now, before he gets started?” He nodded. Earlier, in Zagreb, I had met Croatian president Stipe Mesic. Wake up, wake up, you Americans and Europeans, he almost shouted at me. “A new Hitler is rising. His name is Milosevic!” Even the CIA, in early 1990, pointed the finger at Milosevic and predicted war. Yet few listened, and so it was.

Hitler. Stalin. Milosevic. He counts among the Big Three, the great criminals of Europe’s horrendous 20th century. “Never again,” the western world promised—yet stood by. In 1992, as Milosevic gathered power, Europe was busy building the new single market of the European Union. America was distracted by Iraq and the first Gulf War. The Soviet Union was disintegrating. No one paid attention to the inferno that was about to engulf southern Europe. And when they finally did, it was too late.

… That may be true. But make no mistake: Milosevic’s passing should occasion no obituaries. There are no kind words, in memoriam, to spare for this man. Consider the toll: 250,000 dead in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. A million homeless and displaced, many to this day. A nation destroyed—a beautiful Western nation that had every right to expect a bright future with the end of communism, far brighter than the nations of Eastern Europe. And then Kosovo, a genocide in the making but for NATO’s intercession. …

Belgrade’s small and beleaguered cadre of westernized liberals, who see Milosevic for what he was, call it the "Serbia mind-f***, collective psychosis of guilt buried far beneath aggressive denial. This, too, is Slobodan’s Milosevic’s terrible, dark legacy. He will haunt us for decades to come."
--from “A Dark Legacy” by Michael Meyer Newsweek

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bookish folk

I’ve been in Portland – well, West Linn, for a couple of weeks now. The grey skies and rain are conducive to my need to catch up on sleep. As I try to overcome my perfectionist bent and just WRITE, I’ve been looking for inspiration for writing – and have found the following from the books I’m reading:

“Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies. In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance.” – Azar Nafisi
Reading Lolita in Tehran

“Mathematics contrasted strongly with the ambiguities and contradictions in people. The world of people had no certainty or logic. … After I became a novelist, I realized that the ambiguities and complexities of the human mind are what give fiction and perhaps all art its power. A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us and haunts us long after the first reading, because we never fully understand the characters. … Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author. I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty. Both are necessary for the world. Both are part of being human. – Alan Lightman
A Sense of the Mysterious

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Power! Power! Wonder Working Power!

I began day 13 of absolutely, positively no power in the house by going to the gym to work out, then showering at a friend's house. Today at 3:14pm, I flipped the house switch from generator to regular power, an action that has become a cynical joke in the last two weeks, and lo and behold! I turned on the hair dryer, started a much needed load of laundry, and flipped on a few lights before the earth-day fairy whispered threats in my ear.

But there is power! (For at least an hour at a time - likely we're on a 2 hours on, 4 hours off grid. Right now, that sounds heavenly.)

I'm heading out of here on Monday, so I'm packing in as many visits and meetings as I can. I fly to Dublin, Ireland, then on to Belfast area, where Si Johnston is putting his gift of hospitality to the test and letting me unwind there. I also get to attend the conference he is hosting, the Celtic Soliton sessions. If anyone has any recommendations of "must see" places in Dublin or Belfast area - please let me know!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bono and Bush

Charity v. Justice - Bono in D.C. at National Prayer Breakfast

"Beatitudes for a globalised world. "

Check out Bono's remarks to the national prayer breakfast in D.C.

Safet and Luma

Safet, Luma and me. Luma just put on the tie as they were heading off to school; she hates wearing her uniform. I think it's cool (never had to wear a uniform) and am thinking of buying a tie myself. It looks so studious.

Adolescent Angst

I meet every Friday morning with two high-school students, Luma and Safet. We drink coffee together and practice their English while I learn a few phrases in Albanian and what Kosovar teens are thinking about. Every week I give them a writing assignment – purportedly to help them practice their English, but really I want material for my book.

They both write for a monthly magazine called “Youth Voice,” which is coordinated by my friend Luli, and is a Mercy Corps project. It is written for teens, by teens from rural villages. I asked them to translate one of their articles into English, and Safet chose one entitled “Teenage – Critical Life Stage.” He told me at our first meeting that his favorite writer is Sigmund Freud, and he wants to study psychology at the University if he can find the money to go. Which explains much of the jargon in the article; I had no idea what he meant when he wrote “the affective equilibrium achieved...” and had to assume that he wrote it correctly in English.
I am by NO means making fun of his translation; I can only imagine what my syntax and inferences would be if I tried to translate into another language. But I thought his points illustrated how teens are the same, whether in America or war-torn Kosova. I LOVE the last line, and fear it at the same time. Hits a little close to home.
Here’s an excerpt:

“At this point of time not that one undergoes only physical changes but a lot of other changes occur as well. This life stage seems to create a distance between the youngsters and their parents as well as an approach with other people. Teenagers like acting according to their free will. … By the fast growth of the body parts, depression and tiredness occur. Teenagers experience loneliness and annoyment. … They are unhappy, stressed out, feeling unsafe, and opposing others. Teenagers don’t like working. From a hard-working person they turn into a lazy, sad and apathic character. They work as little as they can. As a consequence of their parents and school pressure, aggression and hatred towards parents and the elderly occur. A teenager would have arguments with his brothers and sisters. He would also express his unhappiness with others.

All these features are usual for a teenager. If they occur in later stages of life they could cause mental illness.”

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who's Got the Power? (Literally. If anyone knows...I need some electricity.)

A friend asked me what I do every day. Some days I ask myself the same question – the relativity of time has taken on a whole new meaning here. It is easy to lose hours in the daily tasks of living. Here are some of the ways I while away the days:

Skippy the dog wakes me at 5 am to go outside. I break more Albanian rules than I can count by letting her sleep inside, but if I can’t treat her to a doggy day spa, the least I can do is bring her in out of the cold for the night. Though since we’ve been without power most of the day and night, the part of the house in which she sleeps is only slightly warmer than the below-zero temperatures outside. I grab my phone which has a handy flashlight built in, drag myself out from under the down quilt that keeps everything but my nose and forehead quite toasty throughout the night, and brace myself as I open the door to let her out.

By 5am, the fire in the wood stove has long since died, so I bring in some wood and shine my flashlight at the stove, building a small teepee inside and burning my hand in a brand new place as I light it. Something is wrong with the stove, and though I’ve asked three different people to fix the problem, it continues to belch toxic smoke into the room whenever I start the fire. Thus, I must open the window to the street outside, letting in a fierce breeze.

I huddle under my blankets until about 7, when the fire threatens to die again if I don’t tend it. Skippy and I eat the same breakfast – eggs, veggies and chicken. I make some instant Nescafe coffee, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, and start my day of caffeine injections.
I wait for the power to come on. The last few days it has not, so I have to wait for water to heat on the stove to wash some dishes. The “Laura Ingalls” romanticism I felt when I first arrived has long since lost its appeal.

Depending on the day, I will either stay home and read one of my thick books about the Balkans, drain my computer battery by writing, or walk downtown to meet someone for coffee or tea and conversation. I have a regular meeting with two high-school kids, Luma and Safet, whom I tutor in English, as well as learn some Albanian words from them. My Finnish friend who works on the North side with the Serbian population invites me over, and so I cross the bridge to meet Serbians and hear both sides of the story (stories). (More on that later – I’m working on a section about “subjective” truth.)

By 5pm it is dark, and due to the cold and safety issues I’d rather be at home. Occasionally I will have friends over for dinner, but lately the entire neighborhood has been dark, so I close myself into my house, listening to the rattle and hum of generators powering a few homes. I read by candlelight for a couple of hours, feed myself and Skippy, then fall asleep, sometimes by 7 or 8 o’clock. I leave the light switch on, so that when the power does come on, the light will wake me up to do a few things that require electricity or heat. I quickly wash my hair and dry it, and vacuum if I have the time. (Albanians have a tradition that you should not step on a bread crumb, I think it is sacred somehow. I’ll have to ask about that.)

The electricity is obviously a major issue here. Six years after the war, people are still able to joke about how they get to be excited a few times a day when the power comes on. It does engender a sense of appreciation for the things I take for granted at home, but I’d still like the opportunity to plan my day, rather than having it controlled by the utility company. I picture the local version of Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” standing before a large switch at the electric company, rubbing his hands and laughing maniacally before he throws the switch to “off.”

Some days I am gone for the whole day on a visit to another town. I am trying to see more of the country, as Mitrovica is well-known to be the most difficult and most divided city. It is emotionally and physically draining to be here – I long for the 16 hour days on production, which now seem like a piece of cake. Ummm. Cake. I think it’s time for dinner.

Mr. Burns Evil Electricity Twin

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

As I took this picture, the neighbors watched, muttering something about Californians. This is the tap outside before it fully froze. I have no idea what will happen when it, and I, begin to thaw. We might both burst.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Living in the Present

Saturday morning I walked to the cultural center to meet Luli and Besim for a seminar with youth regarding advocacy, and how to solve Mitrovica's myriad of problems. As I tend to dwell (obsess) on the past, or focus on plans for my amazing future, I fear I never live fully in the present. I was just resolving to appreciate the present moment, noting how cold my hands were inside my gloves, when I saw a man bending over a figure prostrate on the ground. I picked up my pace to help, and saw he was trying to lift an elderly woman to her feet. She had slipped on the ice and fallen face first into a puddle of icy water.

Another young man ran to help and took her arm from me. A few other men gathered, one was apparently trying to call the police to find help for the woman. She was moaning and crying. I held a tissue to her nose to stop the blood that covered most of her face. She held my hand and blew her nose, a mixture of mucus and blood. In between her crying she repeated “Falemenderit,” (thank you).

We were outside a small market, and lowered the woman down to sit on an overturned plastic box. I held her hand and continued to hold tissue to her nose. Her eyes above her bloodied nose were full of fear. I felt so helpless, not being able to reassure her in her own language. In a few minutes a car arrived and two of the men formed a human chair and picked her up. I watched as they squeezed her into the back seat. The driver looked at me and asked “Mater?” I shook my head and said “Jo.”

Unsure if I should ride with her, unable to communicate or ask any questions, I shut the door, leaving her with a handful of bloody tissues, her blood on my hands.

As I walked away, I realized how I was completely in the present moment the entire time I was with that woman. The immediacy of a crisis is not how I had planned to appreciate the present moment, but it worked. I feel for the poor woman who the universe used to offer me the gift of the present.

As I debate whether to cut my time from 5 months to 3, based on putting pressure on myself to interview and write more, as well as the lack of funds to stay the extra two months, I feel frustration, and fear depression and perfectionism will overwhelm me again. Looking through my pictures of my time here, I know when I get back to the States I will miss this place and the people, and forget all the hard times.
Again! Living in the past and the future. What is the gift of the present today? I met more Serbs on the north side and had interesting conversations, ate the best burger in the world back on the south side. The owner of the café remembered me as the girl who wants the burger “pa buk” (without bread). While I waited, I sat with a macchiato (on the house), by myself in a café writing in my journal. While this is a common if not daily event for me in the States, I stand out in a culture where the café is the main stage for socialization. After I walked home, my “to-go” burger warming my hands, I played with Skippy in the yard. Energized from play, I broke the ice off of the outdoor faucet. Coming inside, I cleaned up for my host Maria’s homecoming from a month in the states and prepared her room so she can fall into bed. It was – IS a good day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Take This City

The other day I crossed the bridge and went for a walk through North Mitrovica, the Serbian side of the city. I talked to another international who lives there about the burned homes – the homes occupied by Serbs here, the homes occupied by Albanians throughout the rest of Kosova. My friend, who lives and works on the Serbian side with many Serbian refugees from the riots in March of 2004, worked with Albanians for two years in Peja, and is by no means biased toward one people group. We talked about finding the truth in variations of stories we hear. She stated the most complex thought simply – the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The middle, in this city, is identified by a bridge. A bridge I cross so easily, while friends on both sides are unable to cross, out of fear for their safety. At times it seems so easy to me, just one foot in front of the other. Would anyone really attack you in a café? But my usual gift of empathy is stunted here; I can’t comprehend the mentality, based on years of oppression, distrust and war.

Forgiveness is a word bantered about so easily, but is such a complex issue here, and confused with forgetting. How does one forgive years of oppression, being told that you are not worthy of education? Years of state-enforced unemployment and poverty? Watching your father humiliated? Watching your family chased from their homes, watching your home burned? Watching your family killed?

And then, after the war, Serbs name the same list of atrocities. Perhaps on a smaller scale, but the feelings of hostility and distrust run deep in recent history, without delving into the last one thousand years.

Truth. It is subjective here, and I get many different answers to the same question, dependent upon the person asked. I am frequently frustrated when I ask about a devastated home on either side, whether it was done during the war or after? Was it a Serb, Albanian, or Roma Gypsy home? I’ve yet to receive a clear answer, and many times there is debate about whether one side destroyed something of their own in order to blame the other.
How do you find the truth in the midst, in the middle?

Take this city,
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city,
If it be your will

For no man can own,
No man can take,
Take this heart,
Take this heart,
Take this heart and make it break.

“Yahweh” – U2

Remains of a home in North Mitrovica

A Serbian tradition - ribbons on a North Mitrovica home announce a wedding.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Nigella Lawson look out! Another proud, Laura Ingalls moment - I made popcorn - ON the stovetop. (Of course, I'll forever want to brush that piece of hair out of my eye... we can't be domestic goddesses all at once.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Rebecca's Merry Meltdown - Fixed by a bit of Christmas Cheer

All last week I felt a meltdown brewing. The introvert inside is tired of waking up and having to be "ready" in case someone drops by - I clean before the cleaning lady comes, though she does a far better job. With Christmas and New Year's celebrations, kids throw fireworks at each other and passing pedestrians that sound like bombs exploding. I have finally stopped jumping and screaming, but I feel like Ouiser’s dog in Steel Magnolias. I'm losing my hair and my sanity.

I declare Friday a writing day, and determine not to leave the comfort of home. As I’m finding my rhythm around 10:30 I hear a knock on the door. If you can’t see them, they can’t see you, right? I ignore the knocking, but it grows louder with each thumping. Agron, who takes care of the house, stands at the door with my happy runaway Skippy. Agron asks if the gate was open this morning. No, I say, I lock it as always to avoid unexpected guests. (My friends know how to get in with a key or jumping the gate.) Thankfully Agron’s English isn’t great, and he continues his story that he had been down at the market, looked down and saw Skippy, doing a little shopping. Skippy's collar was mysteriously gone, so he used his belt and brought him home.

So now I have to worry about dog-collar thieves as well? The self-induced cloud above my head grows darker. I call to ask Luli where I could buy a dog collar. There is no easy answer, no Petco to run to. We agree I should meet him at his office. I walk in, rosy-cheeked from the walk that didn’t manage to shake my mood off. Elza, Luli’s boss welcomes me with a big smile, I’m just in time for coffee. I take off my layers and gloves and make myself at home, perching on the electric heater. Though I want to say "no, I just want to buy a freakin' dog collar and go back to my cave," I make more pleasant conversation, listen to them speak in Albanian with my practiced look of confusion blended with an occasional knowing smile, and finish my sweet coffee.

Luli and I wind our way through crowds of youth who still stare at me, partly the norm and partly because I am especially tall here. After a brief visit in a shop that sold only gun paraphernalia and made me extremely uncomfortable and a little sweaty, we finally found a hardware shop that had a string of dog collars for sale. I breath easier once I;n home; I find I am easily over-stimulated by the briefest visits to the crowded downtown area.

Luli had been telling me about a visit he had planned to the mining town of Trepca. He has a special place in his heart for the kids and families living in the refugee apartments there, and delivers Christmas bags from his NGO, full of candies and cookies. At 4:30 he texted: we’re going at 5. At 4:31 I felt like crying, feeling out of control of my day, my emotions. I remembered, finally, to breathe deeply and pray for a smidge of sanity and rest.

I find myself more American, more time-oriented than I ever seem to be when I’m in America. My tendency to stay on task and on time is out in full force here, since it isn’t a high priority in the surrounding culture. I arrive back at the office at 5. We find a bag of Christmas decorations and began decking the halls with garland and tinsel. Luli runs to the store to find a bag for his cousin Besim to carry as Santa Claus. I’m looking at the clock and fighting back the urge to strangle everyone with the string of twinkly lights when something in me snaps, in a good way. It’s time to give up my need for timeliness, and relax. Not surprisingly, staying in the present moment makes everything better.

Elza, Luli’s boss, arrives with her daughters, who are nine and eleven. The girls help Besim with his beard and belly, and decide he should wear spectacles like Father Christmas. After a quick search of the office, they find a pair of sunglasses, and ceremoniously place them on Besim’s face, making him a cross between Surfer Santa and The Terminator.

We pile in Luli’s small car: Elza, her girls and me in the backseat, Luli driving Santa in the front. As we drive out of the city, winding our way uphill, we sing "Jingle Bells." My friends only know the first two lines in English and ask me to teach them the rest. What the hell, I’m in for a whole stocking full of fun now. "Dashing through the snow," I sing, slightly off-key. They cringe and reassure me they know the words in Albanian. And with that, we’re off, squished into the car, jingling all the way. The little girls carry the tune in soft soprano, just what I need to find some joy in my dark little heart.

The refugee apartments are cold, dark and dank. The hallways are concrete floors, and swampy with stale puddles of muddy water. We knock on the door and the entire family crowds to see Santa, many times a couple with three or four kids, plus a grandma or grandpa. I can only assume the apartments are two or three small rooms.

A group of kids lead us through the buildings. One boy has a small blue flashlight that gives off an eerie glow in the dark stairwells. The kids ask Besim/Santa why he only sings the words jingle bells and not the rest of the song. Besim only speaks a bit of English, and happily ignores the kids, singing the first two words, over and over.

Our gift-giving done, we pile back into Santa’s sleigh with its rear-wheel drive and a CD player, with which we all sing along to Ben Harper’s “There Will Be A Light.” We have gifts left over, and as we drive back down the hill to town, Luli pulls over whenever he sees kids walking along the dark road. Most give chase, terrified as Besim jumps out of the car in a beard, sunglasses, and an ill-fitting red suit and runs after them with a black plastic trash bag.

It’s hard to process the juxtaposition of the disrepair and depression of the refugee apartments with the smiles of kids and the fun we had. But somewhere in the midst of all of it, without warning, I’m back in the giving spirit. We go to dinner at a restaurant called "No Name," and the girls, confident and funny, practice their English with me. On the way home, we dance in the back seat as we stalk people on the streets, Besim a little less scary now without his beard and sunglasses, tossing out Christmas cheer to all who stand still long enough to receive it.


Santa in his sleigh

Santa hits the streets of Mitrovica