Joining the “Globals” and the “Locals” to Build a World Fit for Purpose

Project Neighbours

In England, I used to work in an office with thirty members of staff. Every day, we’d arrive at roughly the same time, and for about twenty minutes, we’d stand in the kitchen chatting about holiday plans and last night’s TV before migrating to our respective desks.

Throughout the day in an open-plan office, we progressed projects chatting about each other’s pets and occasionally revealing a neighbor’s deathbed confession. At eleven and three o’clock, someone made tea for everybody on the floor. By five in the afternoon, with many tasks ticked off, we said goodnight and turned off the lights.

Around ten o’clock on Fridays, I would go into the meeting room and wait for the green light on the phone to flash at the full hour. I’d pick up and say my name before the person on the other end said, hi, great to hear from you.

For the next sixty minutes, my line manager and I discussed the previous week. We butted heads. At the HQ, decisions had been made, and things moved along, but she hadn’t been involved, so it didn’t count. We must consult her before going ahead.

Once the hour was up, I put down the receiver and walked back to my desk just in time for a tea run and a discussion about changing suppliers.

“Ask my line manager,” I said.

“She’s not here,” a colleague said.

“Call her.”

“I have no time to explain,” the colleague said, rolled his eyes, returned to his desk, and the situation stayed unresolved for months.

I was frustrated with not understanding why my line manager didn’t see the urgency we saw. Whenever I explained what we were dealing with at the HQ, she wouldn’t understand. Her solutions, though well-intentioned, were so far off the mark, I had to smile and look the other way.

I blamed her. Living between countries and seeing myself as the kind of person who inhabits different realities at the same time, I couldn’t imagine what kind of gene she was missing that prevented her from hearing what I was telling her.

This summer I finally left that job to spend some time in Holland, Poland, and France. As I passed the yellow ticket gates of Amsterdam Centraal, England became a mirage, and I could no longer imagine a world where staircases were wide enough, so furniture didn’t need to be brought in through a window.

Driving across the Oder on the way to Poland a few days later, the only world that existed was the one with pine and birch forests growing next to a yellow rape field with a circling stork. Eating pretzels in France, I questioned the legitimacy of anyone speaking English; I wanted to flick the American foreheads and say, parlez français!

I was wide-eyed reading the local papers discovering that we’re all concerned about what’s directly in front of us: our air, our food, our streets, our art, our myths. But I got a spring in my step when I discovered the real thing we all have in common: a deep disdain for anyone from outside telling us how to live.

I thought back to my manager. She was an inspiring woman that I looked up to, but though I wanted a mentor, she couldn’t guide me; she wasn’t where I was. Moreover, she rarely faced consequences of her decisions. Never at the office, she wasn’t present to deal with repercussions.

Reading all these newspapers got me thinking. In our global world, it seems that people who decide are “somewhere there” while people who live are “right here.”

These people who decide often live itinerant lifestyles between airports and golden cages that protect them from the broader context of their host country and the real-life effects of their own judgment. Within short periods, they move from one golden cage to another rarely staying anywhere long enough to see the impact of their actions on the environments that until recently were their own.

When someone from Brussels tells someone in southern Italy to welcome refugees, it is noble for the decision-maker to be outraged at the resistance of the local people.

“How dare you,” some of the remote managers say, “these are people, you have to help them!”

We have to help them.

The problem is, just as my manager was often clueless about the practicalities of the office, very few of the elites understand the practicalities of welcoming refugees. Very few, if any, of the nobly outraged, will be waking up to the daily pain of the people forced out of their home and brought to a place where all they can do is wait.

Fewer still will wake up daily to their own pain at the devastation that a crisis can bring to a region; a region that’s already been neglected by global elites and that’s been damaged by mass emigration of people who lack a future in their hometown.

As a result, “globals” are angry that no one cares about their carefully crafted ideas that took years of education and percolation to develop. The “locals” are angry because their concerns are called “unworldly,” “narrow-minded” or “-phobic.” We all yell, and we retreat to our own. Nothing gets resolved.

The refugee crisis is just one example of the many problems we’re facing. Inequality, fake news, climate change (to name three) are issues that need global action. How can there be global action if the “globals” don’t live a “local” reality? How can there be change if the “locals” aren’t shown a broader perspective in a language they can relate to?

We started Project Neighbours to bridge the gap between the “globals” and the “locals.” In this web-based series of interviews, we talk about what’s important. We hope to bring our realities closer to each other so we can build a world fit for purpose. You can read the stories on our website where you can also find out how to get involved. Keep in touch on Twitter @zuzannafiminska or email us at projectneighbours[at]gmail.com.

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Zuzanna Fimińska is the community organizer behind Project Neighbours and a writer aiming to fill the world with great conversations and many points of view.  Her work has been published Mslexia, eyeforpharma, Time Out Amsterdam, Polish Express, TRANSITION, Cadaverine, Hospital Drive, Prick of the Spindle, Examined Life and others.  She occasionally performs and a podcast featuring her short story is forthcoming with The Other Stories.

 

 

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Playwright of Refugee Life – George Tabori

 

Today or tomorrow, I shall be taken to the camp.

May God help me to overcome this too.

—Regina Kandt, Last Letters from the Holocaust: 1941

Courtesy of Getty Images

The theatre’s nature is one of bringing people together, which makes it an apt medium to fuel collective memories. The type of theatre that best depicts the Holocaust is one that can provoke mourning for the victims and, at the same time, force the spectator to look within himself and ask himself if there is in him something of an executioner or of his accomplice. This is what George Tabori beautifully accomplishes in his plays The Cannibals, Mein Kampf and My Mother’s Courage.

 

Hungarian by birth, a writer in English, and a director (with occasional spouts of acting in German), Tabori combined his experience of British and American life with the cultural traditions of central Europe. What makes him so exceptional is not his widely known work as a translator and adapter of Bertolt Brecht, nor is it his screenplays of several Hollywood films, including the ones directed by Alfred Hitchcock—it is his experience. Would-be writers are often advised to rely on their own experiences when looking for a fresh subject matter. But there are a few writers that have as much rich material to draw on as George Tabori. His father was a prominent journalist who was arrested by the Nazis and was later killed in Auschwitz. His mother, however, managed to talk her way out of deportation to Auschwitz. Her story is told in Tabori’s play My Mother’s Courage and in the fiction film with the same name, directed by Michael Verhoeven (in which Tabori appears on screen through much of the film).

 

My Mother’s Courage was the first of a series of plays that employed wit and paradox in order to bypass the taboo surrounding the Holocaust. The play dramatized an incident in 1944 when Tabori’s mother, Elsa, persuaded an SS guard to let her off the Auschwitz train, claiming that she’d left her Red Cross pass at home. Her escape was possible, thanks to coincidence, courage and some help from where you’d least expect it. As a reader, I saw Elsa suddenly being plucked from her everyday life and thrown into the surreal nightmare of mass deportation. It’s an extraordinary account of one individual’s escape from death as opposed to that of the millions who didn’t survive. My Mother’s Courage remains a satirical, dark tale about fate and human cruelty. It left me with the feeling that no one can save you.

 

Erica Magugliani

As a writer, playwright and military reporter, Georg Tabori writes about the horrors of war, each one of his lines being full of irony and dark humor, through which he examines the moral aspects, the refraction of the soul, the personality, the disintegration of the human in man caused by the war. That is what I saw in the play Cannibals—a dark story about a group of concentration campers in Auschwitz, who are in a dilemma whether to eat the dead body of their cellmate to save their own lives. Is it a crime and would they remain humans after eating a man? Tabori is talented at conveying the humanity in even seemingly inhumane actions such as cannibalism. I felt repulsed at myself while reading about those inmates, preparing to eat their fellow. “I would do it, too,” I thought to myself. This play to me was a spectacle of remembrance, confronting me with Hitler’s victims in an imaginary contemporary situation.

 

His style reminded me of that of Charles Bukowski for his uncompromising language and for his love of the public lowlands. Hence, the play that impressed me the most was Mein Kampf—an anti-Hitler farce with crude characterization and ridiculous situations. It can quickly make audiences laugh at the monsters of the Nazi era so as to belittle them. This message was a powerful one, coming from a Jewish man who had lost almost all his family members in Auschwitz. The Holocaust is definitely not facetious, but this play showed me that there is never anything that we can’t laugh about. Mein Kampf is a wild, dark farce filled with strange and incongruous elements. Set in a Vienna flophouse, it centers on a young Adolf Hitler, who is preparing for an interview at the Academy of Art. One of his housemates and a friend, the Jewish Bible vendor, Shlomo Herzl, tries to talk Hitler into giving up painting and going into politics. The rest of the play is solemn, yet, an utterly hilarious farce. His avant-garde work confronts anti-Semitism. He uses sharp wit and humor to examine the relationship between Germany and the Jews, as well as to attack anti-Semitism. Whimsy in his mode, he switches from bathos to profundity in the twinkling of an eye.

 

Tabori’s plays can be described as emotional but not sentimental, poetic but not aesthetic, landmarks of Holocaust theatre. I admit, his plays are not for everyone. As someone who has a love-hate relationship with writers such as Bukowski, D. H. Lawrence, and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, I found certain similarities with Tabori when it comes to the use of language. I have been extensively spoiled with descriptive writing that is lyrical. As someone who isn’t used to the occasional foul language and vulgar image, reading some of Tabori’s plays is a bit difficult at times. However, once I laid aside all former prejudices, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d recommend his plays to those who aren’t afraid to get in the dirty confessions of the world’s most impious war.

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Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

 

Review: The Clandestine Poems by Roque Dalton

It is the 10th of May 1975, in San Salvador. The People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) executes Vilma Flores, Timothy Lúe, Jorge Cruz, Juan Zapata, and Luís Luna. Five deaths, but only one body. These five young people were, in reality, the five identities of Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton; they were the protagonists of his last and most memorable collection, Clandestine Poems.

The collection consists of five chapters, each containing the poems of one of his identities. Dalton conjures these personalities from the distilled ethos of ideal Marxist soldiers in the war against “oppressive capitalism.” The roots of this history run deep in each of his personas. Take, for instance, Flores—the law student turned textile worker turned freedom fighter. Channeling Dalton’s own experience as a Law student in Chile, Flores epitomizes Dalton’s struggle to relate the revolutionary movement to women (who were the least educated at the time). Hence, the poems of Flores are the most humanistic and least intellectual, with examples like, “The woman’s domestic functions/ create time for the man/ for socially necessary work,” and “no one disputes/ that sex is a domestic condition/ …where the hassles begin/ is when a woman says/ sex is a political condition.” Read More

17th Edition Cecile’s Writers Magazine: Lost Identities

Many characters in this edition struggle with their identities or with finding their way. Who am I? Where do I belong? What is my place in society?

Some can’t face the reality they live in. Others don’t understand what’s happening around them. We see the situation objectively, like the flaws in their train of thoughts that sometimes lead to disastrous consequences.

Happy reading!

Cecile, Samir, Sofia & Vanessa

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Writing in the Digital Age

Sometimes I come across words and I think: did I miss something? Usually this has to do with digital advances. The new word I discovered recently existed well before the Internet, but I don’t think it was named until blogs began and the genre took real flight: the listicle. For those like me who have never heard of it before, it’s a mix of list and article and simply refers to a published article written in the form of a list.

It got me googling. What other new genres are out there that I’ve never heard of before. And in that spirit, I’ve written a listicle pointing out three other genres that grabbed my attention.

  1. Photo essays / Horizontal stories

I believe these are the same, although I’ve seen both names used. It’s a collection of photos on the same subject, each photo has a caption and they are presented in a specific order. The horizontal refers to swiping through the photos.

  1. Twitter Fiction

I’m not a twitter fan, so I completely missed this genre and I do realize that I’m extremely late. It’s a genre tried out by a lot of current writers like David Mitchell, Margret Attwood and Philip Pullman.

Read more on: The Rise of Twitter Fiction.

  1. iStory

An iStory is shorter than flash fiction, at a maximum of 150 words, but more than twitter fiction and the more widely known six-sentence story. Originally created for an iPod, Narrative Magazine still publishes iStory submissions.

 

Vanessa

Political Poetry?

Courtesy of Valentin Salja

The term ‘political poetry’ brings to mind impassioned verse denouncing dictatorships, demanding social change, or describing the struggle of oppressed groups. But this is only the surface of political poetry. Scratch a little deeper and you find that nearly all poetry is political when we take the broader view that politics is the struggle of taking groups of humans and attempting to make them co-exist with each other, with the environment, or with any other situation. A poem about flowers becomes an environmental love song. A love poem becomes more than just the human value of affection. The fact that poetry has allowed generations to wrap the voice of the oppressed in a non-political guise has led it to be one of the most political art forms in human history. These “quieter” poems, where the political message lies below the surface affect me most. My favorite poet, Chimako Tada, whose poetry—both subtle and introspective—demonstrates how a restrained voice can amplify the power of its hidden meanings, illustrates this.

Born in 1930 in the Fukuoka region of Japan, Tada’s adolescence was spent in the shadow of war. She went to college to study French literature, where she became a regular in the poetic and intellectual circles of the time, including the Japanese avant-garde movement. Her first collection—Hanabi—appeared in 1956. She continued to publish works and teach poetry for the rest of her life, though she almost always wrote in isolation. The recipient of numerous awards including the Modern Poetry Women’s Prize (for her book Hasu Kuibito), Tada has come to be acknowledged as one of the most important and powerful female poetic voices of the last century. Read More

Psychological Benefits of Creative Writing

Much of the research I am going to discuss is on writing and happiness. It deals with the therapeutic value of writing and its relation to improved well-being and reduced stress levels for those who do it regularly.

Research by Laura King, for instance, shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can make people happier and healthier. Another study by Adam Grant supports this claim. He found that when people did stressful fundraising jobs, and they kept a journal about how their work made a difference for a few days, their hourly effort had increased by 29% over the next two weeks.

This indicates that writing is not exclusively only for professional writers. In both emotional intelligence and hard sciences like mathematics, writing has been shown to help people communicate highly complex ideas more effectively. The reason is that writing helps eliminate the “it sounded well in my head” line of thinking by forcing your hand to put it out on a blank sheet and to give the thought a tangible form. Brains might forgive whimsical abstractions, but prose does not. Read More