Another Future for Puerto Rico (A Book Review for “The Battle for Paradise”)

Book Reviews, Call to Action

Tú sabes, another future is possible.

I finished reading Naomi Klein’s book The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists (Shop your local indie store) in a day, a slim volume of just 96 pages brimming with hope and resilience.

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The book and the Puerto Rican flag

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria ravaged the island killing many, wrecking homes and property, leaving thousands in the dark for weeks. The official death toll is at 64, although a Harvard University study estimates that about 4,645 died.

Amidst the destruction, Klein finds pockets of hope throughout the many communities she visited in January 2018. After being invited by a PARes–a group of university professors defending public education–to talk about her work on disaster capitalism, she writes about the ways Puerto Ricans have self-organized to help each other out after Maria.

In the small mountain city of Adjuntas lies Casa Pueblo, the community and ecology center that shone a light in the city for days. Literally and metaphorically. It became the community’s only source of power, its solar panels in tact after the storm. Its community-managed plantation also survived, and it was able to sustain its radio station which became the only source of information down power lines and knocked out cell towers.

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A photo from San Francisco’s Parada 22

Klein writes that her visiting Casa Pueblo was like “stepping through a portal into another world, a parallel Puerto Rico where everything worked and the mood brimmed with optimism.” The founder, Alexis Massol-González and his son, Arturo Massol-Deyá, president of Casa Pueblo’s board of directors think of Maria as a teacher.

Massol-González shares his son’s belief that Maria has opened up a window of possibility, one that could yield a fundamental shift to a healthier and more democratic economy–not just for electricity, but also for food, water and other necessities of life.

“We are looking to transform the energy system. Our goal is to adopt a solar energy system and leave behind oil, natural gas, and carbon which are highly polluting.”

The Plant Messiah at the Conservatory of Flowers

A Return to the Natural World, with Carlos Magdalena (A Book Review of “The Plant Messiah”)

Book Reviews, Call to Action

You see, plants are our greatest yet most humble servants; they care for us every day, in every way. Without them we would not survive. It is as simple as that.

In return for their generosity, we treat them appallingly.

I’m probably the last person to talk about plants or nature in my circle but in the past couple of years, I’ve been slowly seeking the natural world, listening to an intimate pull towards it.

When I finally read The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species (Shop your local indie bookstore) by Carlos Magdalena, it felt like a culmination of sorts because I’ve been thinking so much about my own relationship to flora and fauna, to a world beyond what human beings have created for ourselves. It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with so much news about catastrophe and destruction and violence (usually man-made) that a return to the natural world feels inevitable, incredibly urgent.

In some ways, reading Magdalena’s account is a lot like reading about my own childhood. Although he was born and raised in Spain, and I, in the country Spain colonized for over three hundred years (the Philippines), there were many moments of nostalgia. While he was growing up in Asturias tending to plants, trees and animals that his whole family nurtured, I spent many afternoons in Apalit helping my grandfather tend to his ducks and chickens, waiting patiently for tomatoes to ripen.

While I’m thousands of miles away from my hometown, I went to the closest place I can go to that reflected a growing intimacy with the natural world, aided by The Plant Messiah: San Francisco’s own Conservatory of Flowers.

The Plant Messiah at the Conservatory of Flowers

Traveling with Che Guevara

Book Reviews, Call to Action

I hopped on a Philippine Airlines flight last May with only one book in my carry on: Ernesto Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey (Shop your local indie bookstore)Fourteen hours later, I was in Manila with my parents and at 6am, we sped past the early risers of the city. We went straight to my hometown in Pampanga. A couple of hours later, I was headed back again to Manila to fly to Bali with my bestie. On my bag — still Che.

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Che and Alberto (source)

I wanted to bring Che with me as I moved from one part of the world to another, mimicking the way 23-year old Che traveled all over Latin America with his friend, the 29-year old biochemist Alberto Granado, on a break before the last semester of medical school. While our itineraries, intentions and experiences were drastically different, I wanted to capture my own movement with his.

While I was waiting in airports, ready to be drifted from one continent to another on jet planes, Che and his friend relied on a motorcycle they called “La Ponderosa” (or “The Mighty One” which seemed to break down a lot throughout their journey).

The first commandment for every good explorer is that an expedition has two points: the point of departure and the point of arrival. If your attention is to make the second theoretical point coincide with the actual point of arrival, don’t think about the means — because the journey is a virtual space that finishes when it finishes, and there are as many means as there are different ways of “finishing.” That is to say, the means are endless.

Carrying nothing but the clothes on their back and a few essentials, the duo departed from Buenos Aires ready to see their side of the world.

One of my favorite moments is when they came upon the sea, the South Atlantic ocean bordering their home country. Calling it as his confidant, as his friend, Che reveled in the body of water in the same way that I have sentimentalized living by coastal California, passing by the Pacific Ocean on my way to work everyday.

They met many along the way, kind strangers who open up their homes, barns or any dwelling that they can set their sleepy heads on for a few nights. Most offer them food and other necessities, and point them to places where they can get the motorcycle repaired. At other times, they worked odd jobs in return for food and shelter . They also used what they knew as students in the medical field to bring respite to impoverished communities needing medical care.

On their four-month journey, there were many nights spent sleeping under the stars. La Ponderosa would break down in the middle of nowhere and after being exhausted by their feet, they would sleep and settle on the side of roads. They were usually hungry, running out of money. But time and time again, strangers came to their rescue. Most of the people they encountered were peasants who lived humbly. In other places, town officials fawned over their foreignness and offered them all the comforts they needed.

Reading Che’s travel diaries while he and Granado drifted from one town to another was inspiring, diligent repositories of memory. After crossing the border from Argentina to Chile, the duo came upon the town of Chuquicamata. Che’s recollection of what transpired here along with the people he met is probably the most memorable part of the book for me. Turns out, Chuquicamata is not just any town — it’s a copper mine.

There we made friends with a married couple, Chilean workers who were communists. By the light of the single candle illuminating us, drinking mate and eating a piece of bread and cheese, the man’s shrunken figure carried a mysterious, tragic air.

The couple, numb with cold, huddling against each other in the desert night, were a living representation of the proletariat in any part of the world. They had not one single miserable blanket to cover themselves with, so we gave them one of ours and Alberto and I wrapped the other around us as best as we could. It was one of the coldest times in my life, but also one which made me feel a little more brotherly toward this strange, for me at least, human species.

Imprinted in his memory and slowly marking his consciousness, his diaries reveal a profound understanding of capitalism, of exploitation. He wrote that the country had a capacity for sustaining itself but because of greed and the need for profit, foreign private companies–specifically from the U.S.–has created and enabled the kind of suffering Chilean workers go through daily.

It is in this same vein that Che writes about Peru, as he ascended Macchu Pichu. His sentiment of anti-colonialism becomes stronger, as he sees the destruction of indigenous communities. First ravaged by the Spaniards and their relentless conquest of land, resources and people, he recounts how indigenous communities rose up to defend and protect themselves and their land.

He also gave us the key to the strange ritual observed by our traveling companions earlier in the day. Arriving at the highest point of the mountain the Indian gifts all of his sadness to Pachamama, Mother Earth, in the symbolic form of a stone. These gradually amass to shape the pyramids we had seen. When the Spaniards arrived to conquer the region they immediately tried to destroy such beliefs and abolish such rituals, but without success. So the Spanish monks decided to accept the inevitable, placing a single cross atop each pile of stones. All this took place four centuries ago (as told by Garcilaso de la Vega) and judging by the number of Indians who made the sign of the cross, the religious didn’t make a lot of progress.

I flew back to the Philippines after a few days in Bali, right in the thick of Holy Week. It took us four hours to get to my hometown from Manila, a trip that would’ve usually taken an hour during that time. My friend and I miscalculated the schedule of city-dwellers anticipating a long weekend back at their provinces, as we all sat in the freeway-turned-massive-parking-lot.

My home country was also conquered by Spain and four centuries later, churches and crosses and rosaries became synonymous with being Filipino. After just having spent some time with the Hindus in Ubud, wrapped up in their gentleness and tenderness, I wasn’t prepared for the rituals and traditions observed by my fellow countrymen at that time.

Bali made me wonder what could’ve happened to the Philippines if we weren’t conquered by the Spanish, ravaged by the Japanese and colonized by the Americans (to this day). How Catholicism is at the cornerstone of each institution, the Church heading every aspect of activity. We even had a priest as a governor in my province at one time!

Towards the end of his travels, it became clear that Che’s simultaneously toughened and softened by everything he witnessed. His resolute to free himself and his Latin American kinfolk was evident, as he centered his life’s work borne out of empathy for the struggle and suffering of the many he encountered.

At a celebration in Peru, he made a declaration that he stood by up until his last breath:

I would also like to say something else, unrelated to the theme of this toast. Although our significance means we can’t be spokespeople for such a noble cause, we believe, and after this journey more firmly than ever, that the division of Latin American into unstable and illusory nations is completely fictional. We constitute a single mestizo race, which from Mexico to the Magellan Straits bears notable ethnographical similarities. And so, in an attempt to rid myself of the weight of small-minded provincialism, I propose a toast to Peru and a united Latin America.

* * *

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The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey (Shop your local indie bookstore) by Erneste Che Guevara
Ocean Press (218 pages)
August 1, 2003 (first published October 1, 1992)
My rating: ★★★★
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

What Terrorism Is & Isn’t, with Patrisse Cullors

Book Reviews, Call to Action, Soul + Spirit

“Terrorist” first rang in my ears upon being politicized at 18, a young immigrant from the Philippines trying to make sense of the U.S.

I didn’t know much about geopolitics but this I knew: I was vehemently anti-war and after 9/11, the scale of militarization and violence brought on by the U.S. in the Middle East unsettled me. Suddenly, “terrorist” became synonymous with Muslim.

Power was a concept that always intrigued me and in my mind, it was a huge indicator of who/what gets to label another person, country or entity as the enemy.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve committed countless acts of terror, explicitly or insidiously, towards other countries, or that you’ve orchestrated regime change in your favor across the globe — at the end of the day, whatever your posturing in the geopolitical sphere is, you have the final say.

Last week, a 25 year-old Moro (Muslim) human rights activist from the Philippines was detained and tortured at San Francisco International Airport. Jerome Succor Aba was invited by church and human rights groups in the U.S. to speak, until Customs and Border Protection agents stepped in and robbed him of his rights and humanity.

 

CBP agents accused Aba of being a terrorist, a communist. Twenty-two hours later, after being detained, tortured, held incommunicado and denied access to a lawyer, he was sent back to the Philippines.

I think about all of these things after finishing Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele’s book When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir (Shop your local indie bookstore). I think about how the word “terrorist” has been historically used to label people whose actions challenge the status quo. How the term strips the accused of their own struggles for justice, how it erases the context of their suffering in the first place.

In the book, Cullors recounts being called a terrorist in 2016:

There was a petition that was drafted and circulated all the way to the White House. It said we were terrorists. We, who in response to the killing of that child [Trayvon Martin], said Black Lives Matter.

[…]

The members of our movement are called terrorists.
We — me, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi — the three women who founded Black Lives Matter, are called terrorists.
We, the people.
We are not terrorists.
I am not a terrorist.
I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac.
I am a survivor.
I am stardust.

A Year of Reckoning: Lessons of 2017

Call to Action, Sunday Spotlight

Aaaaand we’re back!

Happy New Year dear friends, readers and fellow literary lovers, from my bookish heart to yours. I know this post is long overdue but the holiday season, along with other end-of-the year matters got the best of me and I haven’t been able to update the blog (and you all!) with what’s been cookin’ and brewin’ at Libromance.

Before diving into a fresh pile of books this new year, I wanted to share a few highlights from the past year. 2017 was my second year of running the blog, and I’ve been able to accomplish so many things — some planned, some unexpected — in a myriad of surprising ways.

In the past year, I was able to publish 44 book reviews which is less than what I initially intended. I had a few consistent streaks, where I was constantly pumping out post after post, keeping with my weekly and monthly editorial. And there were also days when life in the real world got the best of me, that I wasn’t able to sit down and write as much as I wanted to. Earlier last year, I published a list of things I wanted to accomplish called 2017 #ReadingResolutions. I had lofty goals, of which I was only able to accomplish half. In spite of “falling behind,” I was amazed to be given opportunities to publish my book reviews Libromance-style in different places, ones in which I’ve been really lucky to be a part of (Hella Pinay and New Life Quarterly).

With each book review, with each feature, with each reading that leaves my eyes moist with tears come a lot of lessons. These lessons penetrated my own consciousness, and I am grateful for all of these books coupled by experiences to impart the kind of wisdom I need. Here are five things I learned in 2017:

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The past year was a year of reckoning of all sorts for me—as a book blogger, as an activist, as someone trying to make their way in the world, as a student of life. In addition to blogging and pursuing other literary pursuits, I have a 9-5 job that pays the bills, I’m active in the local Filipino community, along with endlessly trying to take care of myself and those I love. With deadlines and commitments always ’round the corner, I’m always on the go go go mode, never stopping for a moment. To catch my breath, to savor what’s in front of me. And when things don’t go as planned, I’m usually the hardest on myself. This year has taught me to be gentle with myself in different ways, specially during stressful moments and in times of crisis. What I’ve discovered is that this gentleness, this kindness in the midst of the worst situations is one of the things I need to help me get back up. It works wonders. Read: the Libromance reviews of The Revolution Starts at HomeOscar López Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance 

Notes on Tyranny, from Timothy D. Snyder

Book Reviews, Call to Action

History can familiarize, and it can warn.

I was making my way through the fog this morning, both literally (hello, Karl the Fog) and mentally when suddenly, I got updates that martial law was declared in the entire island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

My first thoughts were: how could that be when Pres. Duterte was in Russia and what on earth compelled him to declare martial law?

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As news are still developing in my homeland, my mind turned to Timothy D. Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Amazon | Indiebound) which I finished last week. It’s a slim book, so handy that you can fit it in your pocket, on resisting tyranny specially in the age of Donald Trump (also a response to the wave of populist movements around the world?).

In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny. They had in mind the usurpation of power by a single individual or group, or the circumvention of law by rulers for their own benefit.

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Snyder is a historian well-versed in Eastern Europe history, and the book is abundant with references to Nazi Germany as well as other communist states. Broken down in 20 chapters which can also be read as a manifesto, Snyder uses history and provides practical tips on resisting tyranny with each point:

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
  5. Remember professional ethics.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  8. Stand out.
  9. Be kind to our language.
  10. Believe in truth.
  11. Investigate.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk.
  13. Practice corporeal politics.
  14. Establish a private life.
  15. Contribute to good causes.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries.
  17. Listen for dangerous words.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  19. Be a patriot.
  20. Be as courageous as you can.

May’s Reading List

Call to Action, Fiction, Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

The month of May is a lot of things: May Day or International Workers’ Day (May 1), Mental Health Awareness Month, Memorial Day in the U.S., Mother’s Day (May 14), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Malcolm X Day (May 19) among a slew of other celebrations and observances.

I’m still reading Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World (Amazon | Indiebound) and it’s been an eye-opening experience as I read about Humboldt’s passionate pursuits. His curiosity and drive is infectious, coupled by Wulf’s engaging writing. I find myself looking at plants and trees a little more closely these days, to see with Humboldt’s eyes and find the connection in everything. File this under Japan’s Greenery Day celebrated on May 4th (which is also Star Wars Day).

After being immersed in Humboldt’s world, this month’s reading list is shaping up to be an exciting one! I finally get to some titles I’ve had for a while but haven’t found the time to delve in. Knowing myself, it’s easy to get swayed into reading a book not on my monthly list once it has arrested my attention and my imagination. Sometimes it’s worth it though — see Wulf’s title above.

Keeping up with my year-long commitment of reading a Filipino book author a month and participating in the #DiverseBookBloggers projects, here are this month’s goodies:

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I’ll be reading Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: img_5724Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Amazon | Indiebound) up next, after coming across a Lithub piece on the historian’s take on Russia, Trump and Terrorism. I’m always curious about what historians think of current political contexts and with tyranny on the rise, it would be a good read to see how it dissects democracy as well as people’s movements. The book is a short read, with only 128 pages. I thought of this book for this month right after reading Claudia Salazar Jimenez’s Blood of the Dawn, which I reviewed just last week about the Peruvian’s communist group The Shining Path.

img_5723Right after is Ambeth R. Ocampo’s Bones of Contention which I picked up in Manila when I was in the Philippines a month ago. When I was at Arkipelago Books a few weeks ago, I had the chance to chop it up with the new owner and I asked about the popularity of Jose Rizal books versus Andres Bonifacio’s. These two Filipino men are heroes in the country, although the former is more prominent. As expected, Rizal’s books are being sought more as opposed to Bonifacio’s. I can go on a different tangent here about the legacy of these two men but I think I’d save that for another post. Watch out for my book review of Ocampo’s book — I’m just as excited to read about Bonifacio as I’m part of a movement he started. I also just looked it up on Amazon recently and whoaaa — it is selling for $651.02! Hit up Arkipelago Books in San Francisco if you want a copy, they may have it or help get it for you.

Another one that I’m already giddy about thinkingimg_5721 of reading is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World: Stories (Amazon | Indiebound) because the title alone gives me all the feels. I’m a little bummed that I missed her reading in San Francisco at Green Apple Books in February but I’m all eyes. I’ve recently enjoyed reading short stories and this one is a must, having coveted several literary awards. Keeping up with the #DiverseBookBloggers project, I’m so eager to dive right into the work of a Persian novelist hailed as “our generation’s Flannery O’Connor.”

img_5722And last but definitely not the least, I’m diving back into one of my favorite marketing guru, philosopher, author, blogger, overall life coach’s book The Dip (Amazon | Indiebound). From the day I started reading his work, I’ve been a fan. The conceptualization of this blog came out of reading his daily emails, inspired by the wisdom he imparts. To be clear, he’s a marketing guru professionally. To me though, he is what I would call a modern-day philosopher. Subscribe to his blog if you want to know what I mean. There should really be a national holiday for Seth’s book because it was released about ten years ago this month. It’s only fitting that I end this month on that wonderful note.

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Have you read any of these books? Tell me what you’re reading this month!

#SavetheNEA: A Campaign to Save the Arts

Art + Creativity, Call to Action, Sunday Spotlight

As the plane touched down in SFO from Manila on the eve of March 16th, not only did I step out of the plane with a heavy heart, I was also dumbfounded with recent news. Being away from the States gave me the false idea that for a second, I can get away from Trump. But there I was, waiting in line at the immigration kiosk, reading about the orange bloviator’s latest move: eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other agencies.

I was jetlagged, already homesick but most of all, I was angry.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what all of this means. As Trump moves to present his federal budget, he has chosen to eliminate what constitutes 0.002% of the $1.1 trillion budget. While it may seem inconsequential, losing $300 million is a huge blow to folks, programs and projects which have been traditionally underfunded: artists, writers, magazines, libraries, local television stations, radio programs and other projects.

According to the American for the Arts Action Fund:

1) The NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in America. NEA grants help leverage more than a 9 to 1 match in private charitable gifts and other state and local public funding.

2) The NEA also has an exemplary partnership with the states, with 40 percent of program funds distributed through state arts agencies.

3) With only a $148 million annual budget, the NEA investments in the arts helps contribute to a $730 billion economic arts and culture economic industry, including 4.2 percent of the annual GDP and supporting 4.8 million jobs that yields a $26 billion trade surplus for the country.

4) For more than 50 years, the NEA has expanded access to the arts for all Americans, awarding grants in your congressional district and throughout all 50 states and U.S. Territories.

5) NEA funding reaches small, rural towns through its “Our Town” grants and specifically helps our wounded soldiers and veterans with effective arts therapy.

And it’s not only the arts that’s losing funding but also a milieu of other agencies as he, unsurprisingly, increases the budget for defense. John Oliver takes a jab:

As a queer Filipino immigrant writer in the Bay Area, this hits close to home. Not only will opportunities be taken away at expanding the arts and uplifting the voices of marginalized communities, it also has far-reaching consequences across the globe. Case in point: my homeland, the Philippines.

Trump’s proposed increase in military spending comes at the heels of a recent allegation concerning US naval officers in the country:

On March 15, 2017, Admiral Loveless, four retired Navy captains and a retired Marine colonel were charged with corruption and other offenses [in the Philippines]. Among the charges includes accounts of “raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes” and accepting bribes from Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis in the form of gifts, luxury hotel stays and prostitutes. “Fat Leonard” is a Singapore-based defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of tens of millions of dollars.

GABRIELA USA

So what can we do at this point? The most important thing is to 1) reach out to your local representatives, express your outrage/concern and urge them to fight against Trump’s budget and 2) spread the word by telling your friends/family/neighbor/crush/ex-lovers/others and blast it on your all your social media profiles.

After all, John Keating/Robert Williams (RIP) said it best:

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Read more:

14 Authors on the Life-Changing Impact of the NEA (Electric Literature)
Laura Callanan on Inequality and Art
Fighting to Give Everyone Access to Arts and Culture (KQED)
Mike Huckabee: A conservative plea for the National Endowment for the Arts (The Washington Post)

Finding Refuge

Call to Action, Sunday Spotlight

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

– HomeWarsan Shire

This poem by Somali poet Warsan Shire was what immediately came to mind when I first started hearing about the refugee crisis in Syria. I think I’ve come to associate anything that requires a deeper sense of vulnerability with her work, from For Women Who Are Difficult to Love to Grandfather’s Hands from her poetry collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

I’ve always turned to poetry and literature to make sense of what happens around me, finding solace in words more than the images I see on television. And while it can be about format of delivery, it is the way that poetry and literature can reach a level of shared humanity with its reader more than any other medium can.

Some books on the stories and experiences of refugees that I’ve read in the past are those Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Dreams of a Boy Soldier, Dave Egger’s What is the What (an account of Valentino Achak Deng’s life, of whom I was fortunate enough to meet) and more recently, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (read my review of the book here). These books talked about the lives of African and Vietnamese refugees, the plight of fleeing for safety and survival that so many Syrians are currently attempting.

Syriza.

There are currently 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees as of March 2016, after the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011. About 6.6 million have been displaced, and most refugees have been seeking refuge in Turkey, Lebanon and in other European nations. They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, children fleeing the country they call home to save their lives, after the authoritarian government of Assad was toppled.

In 2015, countless headlines of boats capsizing and dead bodies of children floating ashore dominated the news. In an article from The New Yorker magazine, I read about how Ghaith, a 22-year old law student crossed ten borders — leaving behind his mother and wife — so he can start anew in Sweden and hopefully bring the rest of his family with him.

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His journey to Sweden was marred with harrowing exchanges with smugglers, counterfeiters, border officials and other smugglers.

You reach a point when you become numb, I was standing there naked. I felt like I was not a human anymore.

Ghaith, after being harassed, slapped and strip-searched
by an Italian security official

Countless others like Muhammad, a school principal in Syria had to flee with his wife and six children hoping for reprieve from the bombs and missiles that rained on his village. After arriving at the Idomeni camp in Greece, Muhammad is still hoping for a brighter future along with other refugees.

muhammad

Muhammad: “We escaped injustice and oppression and ended up in suffering and hardship.”

I think about women and children throughout all of this, knowing that they are the most vulnerable in these situations. I came across a piece from Refinery29 called Behind The Deadlines: Daughters of Paradise which featured the lives of several Syrian women refugees. Women and children are at the risk of exploitation and sexual harassment, prey to human trafficking.

While absorbing populations of Syrian refugees is being debated around the world, it is worth noting that the war was even more aggravated as countries like the U.S. and Russia joined the military fray.

At one time, the plight of Syrians for democracy inspired the whole world and put the Arab Spring in action. But at what cost? Whose lives are being sacrificed, whose lives are being ignored? And who is benefitting the most? The greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation has revealed that at our core, we are still a species driven by fear (see: Brexit) reliant on military aggression for solution.

Once again, I turn to Warsan.

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.