Monday, November 21, 2011

Cover Those Breasts, It's Minnesota!

I had a friend that used to say to me, "You find the strangest people".  I think that is why I photograph so many things, because the stories I tell, are the ordinary happenings in my life.  Ordinary to most, extraordinary to me, because I notice the story.  Now, you might be wondering why I would post this picture of a white man, with a yellow sign that reads, "cover your breasts".  You have to consider what state I am in, Minnesota, during a time of year that is kind of brisk.  As a matter of fact, we just had our first dusting of snow.

And during these conditions a white man, during the chill of autumn felt the stirring need to protest the sight of breasts, not just one, all of them.  To be fair, I would have stood with him, if he were to ask men, to cover their man-boobs, but he spoke.  It's November, and in America many do things to raise awareness for breast cancer, or is that in October?  It's one of the ...ber months, but no, Bible quotes were flowing and I was wondering how this was making anyone feel good?

And in that moment I started to laugh at what was unfolding in front of me.  A white man, telling a large buxom black woman to cover her breasts in the chill of autumn.  And the preaching marathon began and the fingers points, necks wagging and hips shaking like a rack of lamb got loose.  In other words, complete agitation of this woman who set to unleash holy hell upon a white man, wearing the yellow day-glo sign that became a bulls-eye for my camera.

How often do we go around telling everyone how the world should be, in accordance with our myopic view?  What we do to each other in the name of thinking we are right is quite possibly more offensive than silence.  We strip away our freedom to simply be.  If we are offended, then we might want to ask ourselves a bigger question, why is our skin so thin that the mere appearance of another bothers us so much?  Even if it is nearly winter, yes, dear sir, there will be breasts under those coats and a penis in your pants.

Aren't we all are naked under our clothes?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Real it happens

As I began this day, I had thought of my mother, who 10 years ago this month told me she was dying.  I didn't believe her.  More accurately, I had refused to believe that her body was capable of dying.  As I sat outside,
I reflected on how well people know pain and how very few of us know real happiness.  It's as if we are afraid to give ourselves permission to do so.  It's unknown and foreign to us and often, when we do have happiness come, we test it or destroy it because it is unfamiliar.  It's pain that people identify themselves with.  It's human suffering that the world knows.  It's peace we seem to run away from.

As I boarded the bus to see the remaining shows of the Arab Film Festival I have been attending this weekend, I thought of all of the stories I was to see.  A little further down the route, a young man boarded and stood at the front of the bus.  He was trying to talk to the bus driver and I couldn't help but overhear him, "I love my mother.  Man, you don't get it, I love my mother and I wish she was still here."  He opened a plastic bag and pulled out a gift.  A large black box with a big red bow.  "I bought this for her.  I will never forget her." He raised his voice for the whole bus to hear.  I watched the nervous look of the passengers and the bus driver seemed to fail to acknowledge this young man.  "I love my mother. I love my mother. She died three years ago today.  I will never forget."  He shoved the gift back into the plastic bag and exited the bus.  The silence and uncomfortable exchanges were made as people shifted in their seats.  I sat and stared.  I heard his pain.  His physical gift was how he showed love and he felt the need to declare it in front of the immovable strangers.  I heard his pain as an echo of all of the pain we go through in life.  The varying levels of suffering we have been accustomed to.  The eventual loss of those who come into our lives.  In the movie, "If Fog Had Roots", which is a film that I viewed as emotion without a story, there was a very memorable line about death.  "Death only happens to those who are left behind." 

I decided to write a poem today.  It took all of 5 minutes.

Don't Let Me

Don't let me think for you
even though I share my thoughts
Don't let me feel for you
even though I share my feelings
Don't let me act for you
though I illustrate my life through my actions
Don't let me live for you
I have to live my own life

My life is my own
My loves are my own
My feelings are my own

I had my own stories to write
You have your own

Even though there will be a day that comes when my life 
will leave you with the sting of my death
Don't let me keep you from living yours
Don't feel that when I am gone
That you cannot go on
Don't say that I can't
Instead, say you will
because I did and many others have too

Let me help you

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finding Gaza in Minneapolis

Gaza Shield

 Do you ever just find things, people and events?  I found an event sponsored by the only Arab American Arts organization in the United States by chance.  I hadn't seen one flyer, ad or commercial.   The information came to me in the guise of my bodily hunger when I stopped at a place called Yafa, noted for their slogan, "Best Gyro in Town".  The owner personally tended to my request, and asked if I had just come from the Heights Theater.  He seemed so disappointed at my negative response and handed me a brochure.  "You really should go, it's only a few blocks down."
A small restored theater that I had noticed during my daily commute, that seemed to show a string of message movies that would catch my eye.  Today it had my undivided attention, as it will this weekend.  I looked at the red theater, recalling that in the past it showed dollar movies when I was a kid.  Seeing it restored to its past glory caught my attention, because I had never seen it look so beautiful.  The theater is the place of stories.  This story of Gaza, is one that is told to Americans in parcels of programming when you listen to our media, politicians and churches.  It is seldom told through those who are experiencing the real conditions that the people are enduring in only 350 square kilometers.  People who have only wished to have their homes, families and lands restored.

Though I saw Gaza-Strophe Palestine and Hawi, both highly recommended and rarely viewed in this nation, only seen through events, such as this; I wanted to address the importance of this small 18 minute film called Gaza Shield and what it represents.  The power to do something positive with limited resources.  Three friends with a small gaming company put aside all of their income generating projects to create a game with an objective to save Palestinian children from being bombed.  A tool, as the creators envisioned, to give a voice to the powerless to be able to do something.  While you might not see how this might not be so important, this was actually a response to a game that actually encouraged the killing and virtual funding of war efforts called Raid Gaza.  The objective is simply to destroy the resources and people of the Gaza strip.  It's the conditioning of 'it's just a game' used for violent means for military members to be desensitized to the horrors of war.  The term war, I would use loosely, since there is no resistance force that is unified enough to stand against Israel and the massive funding they receive from her strongest ally, America.

I spoke with Tania Khalaf, the filmmaker and David Lee Hamilton, the editor after the viewing because I wanted to thank them for showing one simple thing, it had not mattered what tools they had, but they had the willingness to use what they had to respond.  To tell the story, to not be silent, but from right where they were at, they were able to do something more powerful than to fire a single weapon.  They told us in order so that all of us can make a difference, a ripple in someone's life.  To pass on the knowledge that yes, there are good people that exist and have opened their own eyes to see what really matters in this world.

I also saw this small film as a mandate to not ignore the pain and suffering of others.  This is our generation's holocaust.  It is also our opportunity for one of two paths.  An opportunity towards global peace by realizing the complete insanity of war or it will be a path of total global destruction because we can't cure ourselves of a hatred that never ceases.  The art of agreement comes when we realize that we have the capacity to be the person we have desired to be our entire lives, but felt incapable of being.  Only you can continue to accept the way things are.  You don't need violence to make a change or to send a message.

There were many moments of complete silence I observed tonight, throughout the showings.  It was the complete silence of the shared moment as people heard and witnessed the suffering of others.  As we view many of the protests around the world over money and austerity measures, the people of Palestine are hoping not to have their homes bombed, hoping not to be run over by tanks and hoping that there are still good people in the world.  Let us honor their hope.  Let us demand that murder ceases being done in our name.
Tania Khalaf (center) and David Lee Hamilton
Now that we know, we are no longer innocent parties.  We know.  Now that we know, we  must be the change that we desire to see in the world.  "Addicted to holding my tears when grieving the most.", was a line that struck me from the movie, Hawi.  That seems to apply right at this moment.  I continue to be too horrified to cry because I want my eyes to see as clearly as they can without input from a church doctrine, a political party or any other entity of systematic control.

What can we all be inspired to do with the tools we do have?