The Good Stuff 5

It’s been a while. I had a busy couple of weeks with my parents visiting, job interviews, big email backlogs (that are still not gone…) and a very hectic and exciting week for Vardan, that ended in a big anticlimax for him. Finally I have some time to sit down and compile this post of new and not-so-new-but-still-interesting links.

The first couple of links are not that recent anymore. At the time, I downloaded the posts, but then I didn’t get around to reading them. I recently dug them out and found them interesting enough. It started out with a short post on Pro Blogger, called Generating Ideas for your Blog. The post linked to two other posts, one at the same site with 20+ tips to get inspiration and to get past a “bloggers blog” and the other at Successful Blog about finding new ideas for your blog posts. Interesting reading to turn to in times of need.

Also, not entirely recent anymore are the elections in Belarus and Ukraine and their aftermath. Some very good coverage can be found on Neeka’s Backlog, Sean’s Russia Blog, Indolent Youth and Vilhelm Konnander’s weblog. Though there are countless others sites to turn to as well, the ones I mentioned here have some good posts, both reporting on events and results and analytical posts. Worth noting here as well is Life Around Me. Zarchka posted on her experiences as a monitor of the Ukrainian elections. Her post can be found here.

On to several loose articles on different topics I came across. Transitions Online published an article about the diminishing attention for women’s rights in the countries of the former Soviet Union. I just checked and the article unfortunately seems to be no longer available for free. For a while now I have the draft (or part of the draft…) ready of a post on women in Armenia. I haven’t got around to finishing it and with the presentation this week of a report on the status of women and men in Armenia, finishing the post might be postponend again for a bit. Why does a day only have 24 hours?

On his blog, Vilhelm Konnander reviews one of the most interesting books I have read in the past year: “Putin’s Russia” by Anna Politkovskaya.

Politkovskaya is an icon in the international media coverage of Russia. It is hard not to join the ranks of those paying homage to her. In Putin’s Russia the standard of quality has also risen in comparison to her two previous books on the Chechen conflict. The book is fascinating and seducing reading about the cancer that, according to Politkovskaya, is growing in the corpus of Russian society. Thus, she develops the theme from previous works, though on a wider scale.

How does she describe Putin’s Russia? The author, at an early stage, underlines that “This book is not an analysis of Putin’s politics.” Instead, focus is put on individual fates and processes, claiming to be representative of the state of the nation.

I find Politkovskaya indeed at her best when she writes about individual cases, such as the stories of ordinary people in Russia that are spread throughout the book, the chapter about the war in Chechnya and its consequences for ordinary Russians, the guys serving in the army, their mothers, and the chapter about the hostage taking in the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002 that ended so tragically. The weakest part of the book in my opinion was the chapter about how mafia, the authorities, the justice system, and corruption in Yekaterinburg all come together. But all in all, well worth a read.

Open Democracy hosts an excerpt from a book by photographer Wendy Ewald, called “American Alphabets”. In it the author describes her project:

Like most everyone I know, I first encountered written language in children’s alphabet primers. Looking back, I now see that the words and visual examples used to represent letters reinforced the world view of the middle-class white girl I happened to be. A picture of a shiny new car illustrated the letter C. My father ran a Chevrolet dealership in Detroit, so I thought this example had been dreamed up with me in mind. I assumed that the congruence between written expression and one’s own experience of the world held true for all children.
In modern times, language is supposed to de democratic, available for all to use; and writing is one of its most important uses. But while the US has become increasingly diverse, the culture of our schools has remained much the same as in my childhood: white middle-class. And the language sanctioned in the classroom is, as it was in the 1950s, an extension of a white middle-class ideal. The words taught in school constitute our society’s official language, and unless we master the intricacies of it, our chances of making more than a marginal living are alarmingly small. Too many children, including those who speak English as a second language,are excluded from or condescended to by the current system.

A few years ago, for instance, after my husband and I adopted a baby boy in Colombia, I began to hear disturbing stories from English-as-a-Second-Language teachers in North Carolina, where I do a lot of work. They talked about the bad treatment their students sometimes received from other teachers, who assumed that because the children didn’t speak English well, they were stupid. Those stories prompted me to think about using photographs to teach language. With the students’ help, I would make pictures to illustrate the alphabet so children could influence the images and meaning of a primer – in effect, make it their own. I wanted not just to mend an educational system, but to see our language(s) and out children as they actually are in the world, without the haze of conventional rhetoric.

Ewald goes on to write how she made alphabets with groups of Spanish speaking youth.

I created an alphabet with the Spanish-speaking children of these immigrants. We began by discussing how language itself migrates (Spanish from Spain to the Americas, for example), and where in the world different languages are spoken. I asked them to think of a word in their own language for each letter of the alphabet, and to assign these words visual signs specific to their culture. I photographed the signs, objects or scenes they selected. When the negatives were developed, the children altered them with Magic Markers, adding the letter and word they were illustrating.

The Latino children said their English-speaking peers were mistrustful when the Latinos spoke Spanish. They were happy to work on a project in their own language that they could share with their schoolmates without fear of hostility. The words they used – like nervioso or impostor – were symptomatic of their uprooted way of life. Taken as a whole, their list of words amounted to a kind of cultural self-portrait.

Ewald did the same project with Arab speaking youth, African-American youth and a group of young women. About the last project she writes:

The girls got together to choose words they thought best represented them as individuals and a group. Among these were “tearful,” “sentimental,” and “orgasmic.” The girls were surprised at how sad a portrait of themselves they had painted, and how preoccupied they were with sexuality. Their words reminded them that they felt dominated by their male counterparts at Philips, too easily withdrew from competition with boys. Their language, then, signalled their social status.

I don’t think she did this project with Armenian-American youth and the Armenian alphabet. Would be interesting to see what they would come up with.

On a lighter note, over at his Kaukasus-blog, Hans has been trying to create some catchy slogans to promote tourism to the Caucasus. How about: “Life Should Taste As Good As Caucasus”. Or: “If you make it in Tbilisi, you can make it everywhere”.

Finally, the last category of links, the newly found blogs. Onnik pointed me to Dribble, the blog of an Armenian-Australian woman wo has some things to say about being a woman in the 21st century.

The adoption of the alternative title Ms was intended to announce “my marital status is of no interest or importance to anyone save myself”. The fact that there is a hint of “and don’t mess with me, buster,” adds a fillip of pleasure for women confident enough to use it.

I recently got married and have chosen to keep my name. I love and respect my husband very much but I don’t see the point in adopting another person’s name and making it my own. I was born this person and I will die this person – with the same name. I like my name. I like who I am. Does this mark me out as a feminist? Perhaps it does, but I have no problem being identified with the longest and most successful continuing revolution in history. Do I need to announce to the world that I have a man by my side? Does society ask men if they have a woman by their side?

Why does the inequality of pigeon-holing a woman by her marital status no longer rouse women to ire?

From another post:

Why is sex or sexual self-esteem so important for the generation of women aged late teens to early thirties rather than issues of economic and social equality? Why has so-called lipstick or girlie feminism emerged?

Perhaps it’s because discussing sex was shut off to feminists for so long and for a long time words that were used against women like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ were controlled by men. So now we have all these young women claiming these words – “Yes, I am difficult. I am a bitch. Call me a bitch. I’m going to reclaim bitch and make it my own word, because the word has more hostility when it’s being used against me than when it’s being used by me.” I guess, young women’s primary expression these days is a joy and ownership of sexuality and that’s a form of power, a type of energy. Slut too. Slut is just a girl with a libido, whereas a boy with a libido is just a boy.

However, it disturbs me that young women have got it all wrong! When I hear that girls as young as 14 are charging $20 for a blow job in the school toilets, I’m gobsmacked. Why? Well, it’s considered ‘cool’. They’ve got it all wrong. This isn’t empowerment, this isn’t embracing and owning sexuality, they’re undoing all the hardwork women over the years have fought so hard against.

To another blog where women play an important part, though for entirely different reasons. Armenia 1927 ~ Rwanda 2006 is a blog by Father Vazken, an Armenian priest from the US who is on a trip to Rwanda to follow traces of the Rwandan Genocide that took place in 1994. I couldn’t stop reading his posts. They are moving, well-written, and will definitely leave you thinking. After finishing reading the blog, I couldn’t get it out of my head and I kept going back to reread parts. I wanted to put up an excerpt from one of the posts, but I couldn’t really choose one over any others. Go over and read the blog for yourself. I promise you it is well worth your time.
Hat tip to Artyom and to Onnik (again).

Finally, another Aussie blog that I came across through BlogHer, “Lost in Sasazuka – Elective Adventures”. It is written by an Australian medical student who does an internship at a bush clinic somewhere in the semi-tropical outbush of “crocodile country, deepest darkest northern territory, Australia”:

the population is currently around 4500 non-indigenous and 8000 indigenous, including the surrounding homelands. there is one road into nhulunbuy, consisting of 700 km of unsealed red dirt from here to katherine, impassable during the wet (dec – may) and rough as guts during the dry. this means that everything is either shipped in by weekly barge or flown in by daily plane from darwin. which in turn means that everything is quite expensive, and fresh or perishable goods usually arrive either not so fresh or half perished. the first time i went to the supermarket i spent ages looking for the bread. i finally found it, sitting in the freezer section, with a ‘baked on’ date of december 13 2005 – not so fresh, but definitely not perished!

From another post:

My first official day at Ngalkanbuy Health Centre. The morning started at 8:30am with a staff meeting. I was introduced to the health workers and 2 nurses. A third nurse had been up all night with 3 separate patients requiring evacuation, and as such was having Wednesday off. The fourth nurse (and midwife) had left the island for a week. Around 4pm the previous Friday afternoon, she had been assaulted at knifepoint in her own home, by a 13 year old boy who was high on something. So this was some of the ‘bad stuff’ i had been warned about.

Though Kim doesn’t post very frequently, her posts are well worth waiting for.
This is it for today. I’ll be back in a while with more interesting and noteworthy stuff from the WWW.

[edited to delete dead links]

2 thoughts on “The Good Stuff 5

  1. Nice to hear that you read my Politkovskaya review. Yes, the chapter on Yekaterinburg was kind of messy, wasn’t it?

  2. I read the book almost like a detective novel – Most parts are real “pageturners”. But that chapter took me ages to finish and I kept losing track of who is who.

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