Anne de Graaf's blog: International-Intrigue-Injustice

22 September 2013

Change of direction

_69699014_arrows_thinkstockSo is this up, or have I turned left? More than a year since my last post. Why is that? Look at the title of that entry, take away the first, second and fourth words, and you’ll have your answer.

And now…now I have a new job at the Free University and University of Amsterdam’s honours college: Amsterdam University College (AUC). Am in joy working with new colleagues from all over the world, and teaching my new students: so smart and engaged and multilingual and caring. They come from South America, all over Europe, Vietnam, and Pakistan.

We’re slogging our way through the theory now, but soon, soon they’ll be flying–choosing their own directions as we learn together how to better understand the world around us. Such a privilege to be part of that process. I threaten them with midnight phone calls, when I’ll ask them random questions about International Relations (IR):

  • 1648? (Westphalian Treaty)
  • The one sure rule in IR? (Don’t invade Russia in the winter.)
  • What is IR about? (Perspectives).

I’m a fulltime Lecturer at AUC–all IR classes, from the current IR Theory and Practice to next semester’s Human Rights and Human Security to Violence and Conflict, as well as Global Identity. Dream classes all–and with only 25 students per class. Started 1 August and feel very at home. So that’s good.

Soon I’ll finish my PhD–am at the final editing stage, end in sight, supervisor pleased. Feel like the little train climbing the hill, yes I can, yes I can, chug, chug, one more page, one more chapter. Soon, soon. Soon.

Direction is relative, right? One person’s up is another’s down. And left in the mirror looks like right. Yet, while all the gurus tell us change is good, it remains hugely threatening. BECAUSE WE’RE NOT IN CONTROL.

So my advice: Let go to lay hold.

And don’t look back.

2 August 2012

Peace and conflict studies

Filed under: Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 2:09 pm

Have been writing a slew of recommendation letters this week for students looking for jobs and internships, as well as ones moving on to graduate school. Thought to myself, does this deserve a blog entry? I’m always wanting to write about my students because they’re so extraordinary, but privacy issues keep me from saying too much. Still, I think I might manage to give you a few glimpses without giving too much away.

Two–count them–two former students have been accepted by the London School of Economics to do their graduate work. Another one is going to the University of Leiden to study Clinical Psychology. She may be followed by a second former student who comes from a country that everyone is afraid of these days. Both these women have degrees in psychology, yet they took my Human Rights classes last year because they wanted to understand. I’ve got one student who’s hoping to get into Stanford, and another who might land an internship at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia.

The absolute best part of teaching is watching young people find their way in this world. It’s such a minefield sometimes, that when one of them makes it to the next step, and if I can help in any way by putting words together so others see them as I do, then . . . well, it doesn’t get much better than that. I listen to young people and can create a space for them to realize the next step in fulfilling all they are meant to become, to really see themselves. And when they do, we’re all doing the happy dance!

Just a few weeks ago I sat in the pub with a group of friends, when one of the LSE-destined students (who hadn’t yet heard he was accepted) mumbled about how he couldn’t find a job, doors closing all around him. Now, he’s writing me of the magnificent opportunity awaiting him in London.

Peace and conflict studies is sort-of my thing these days. I write about it, research, and teach it. We read a lot about peace and conflict among nations, and among communities, but I see it in these young people’s very lives. The minefields they dance through often involve hardships: divorced parents, financial troubles, medication, disability. A few have confessed they went through rehab and now are picking up the pieces of their lives. Their stories resonate as I watch them engage and grow and redefine themselves in terms of their heart’s desires, rather than their parents’ or culture’s idea of what they should become. They find peace on the path, as conflict rages on behind them.

So what do I write in these magic letters that help them find favor? About their honesty, integrity, and courage. About their ability to use theory and analyze. About their hearts. How hardworking they are. And smart.

And then yesterday, I wrote a letter for a former student who probably has scored a job at Victoria Secrets. I just had too much fun avoiding every shape of double meaning. Of course, I mean shade. See, that’s what I mean! Peace and conflict studies can sometimes mean something very surprising.

29 January 2012

Hemayel Martina–In heaven for a year

Filed under: The Children's Voices,Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others,Write on — annedegraaf @ 11:32 am

It was a year ago.

Hemayel’s Words

If I go to Finder and type in hemayel a screen full of entries appears:

  • This photo
  • Various essays from his composition class with me
  • The different versions of his poetry book as we worked on the English translations of his poems
  • A Rwanda research proposal that looked more like PhD material than undergraduate work
  • Outlines of papers he was working on for other classes that I helped him with in the Writing Center.

Here is an excerpt from one of those papers, dated 17 September 2009:

Introduction: In post-armed conflict countries the active involvement of the youth in peace building from the ground up is a primary means of guaranteeing peace. This is based on the assumptions that: humans are creatures able to choose; disagreement is inevitable but resolvable through non-violent means; and that the youth have the potential to ensure transformation in the realm of resolving conflict. In this paper, the peace building process in Sierra Leone after the civil war will be used as an example, in addition to examples taken from conflicts in other geographical areas. The programs by and for the youth in Sierra Leone after the decades-long civil war, illustrate that the youth cannot only be used to perpetuate conflict, but to build peace as well. In partnership with the international community, (I)NGOs and UN, as facilitators. Besides that, the student uprising in Serbia shows that a non-violent approach to conflict is possible and that the young community does have a voice.

Conclusion: The youth should not only be seen as the victims or perpetuators of armed conflicts, rather, as one of the main means to ensure the absence of war. The challenge of the leaders today is to secure the absence of war, but the leaders of tomorrow face a greater challenge. The achievement of positive peace, where structural violence will be obliterated. Nevertheless, for that to happen tomorrow the seeds have to be planted today, if we do not want history to repeat itself.

So, as I read this in South Africa, where I’m conducting my own research for a PhD on the role of young people’s narratives in conflict and peacebuilding within a deeply divided society, goosebumps now cover my arms, despite the 34-degree heat. Hemayel’s words seem prophetic for my own research. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and his words act as a lodestar, pointing me toward the true North of understanding. And yet, this is true of all my students; the more I listen, the more I learn.

During this past Fall semester, students wandered into WRiSC (the writing center) and talked about Hemayel with me. “I dreamed about him.” “I heard his laughter.” “I’m writing a paper about a conversation I had with Hemayel—about how we cannot write about poverty until we’ve experienced it.” Some days he seemed more present than others. A few times the first-year students overheard these conversations. “Who is Hemayel?” they asked. It was a hard question to answer.

In the year since his death many have made him into whatever they needed him to be: prophet, saint, martyr, mentor, angel, idol, friend. I wonder what he would have said about all the fuss. To be honest, I see Hemayel as a reminder. I stand by what I said at his memorial: he was special, but so is each and every young person, searing with white-hot potential. For Hemayel then, if not for ourselves, learn all you can, reach deep and develop your potential to its fullest, face the fear and do it—whatever it is—going back to school, getting that degree, becoming a politician who is not corrupt, make your dream come true. Create a space for listening, to others, to young people, but most of all, listen to your own heart. He lives on in our hearts—if we listen there . . . we hear him still. Maybe everyone is a Hemayel, in his words.

19 June 2011

Zen and the art of golf: An inquiry into trust

There’s already someone who has invented zen golf, but what my title here refers to is the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM), which is a 1974 philosophical novel, by Robert M. Pirsig. This book had a profound effect on me as a teenager. Since studying for a PhD has drop-kicked me into getting in touch with my inner geek, and reminded me of what it’s like to be a student again, the title of this post seemed appropriate.

I am back home. Scotland and the moist, northern light and ever-present sea and St Andrews and my wise, dear friends are there, and I am here, in klein kikkerland, or little frog country, as the Dutch call Holland. I stuffed my books into my car, drove four hours south through amazing beauty and the Scottish Borders–cattle on a thousand hills–sailed across the North Sea in a ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden, and was home. That’s me the day, they would have said in St Monans.

I fear my books have multiplied like rabbits in dark corners. As my car disgorged them, they quietly filled corners on all three floors of our house. They are there still, sagging in the plastic bags I had to pack them into when the cardboard boxes would not fit into my car. They have titles with words like peace and conflict and path.

The two weeks before I left were filled with playing golf. I played ten rounds of 18 holes in 14 days. And I got my handicap! But in the meantime, I memorized the wind and rain slapping my cheek and tearing my hair out of my visor. I recited the number of shots like a meditation as I watched the sun come and go, the sea turn from blue to gray, the gorse shine gold, and the far hills rise and fall.

And that’s where I got the idea of the zen of golf. I have learned many things during this year of being set apart for creativity and research. I have learned that one must let go to lay hold. That when we are afraid because we cannot control our world, then this fear is a friend because it signals the time to trust. I used to call them the foreign tribes of fear and think they had to be slain and banished from the land. Then I discovered fear as a friend, a warning system, a means of communication for my subconscious. How to befriend the foreign tribes? Sounds hauntingly close to International Relations. Listening, respect, trading stories, admiring each other’s children . . .

Some of you will know the motto of this season for me has been unexpected gifts at unexpected times. But to receive the gifts we must see them, anticipate them, trust in them. “I trust” are words like “I hope,” stabs in the dark that may just tear through the tapestry of terror to let the light in. I’m thinking Plato’s Cave here, which is another blog post all together.

What about the golf, you ask? Well just before I started playing my manic 180 holes in 14 days, I received my MA in International Relations. Somehow I managed to write a master’s thesis (they call it a dissertation in Scotland), and put together a research proposal for my PhD dissertation (they call it a thesis in Scotland). I don’t know how I did all that work. Dreading it in January, I remember calling my daughter and freaking. Now, looking back, all I can remember is sitting at my wee desk in my wee house in the wee fishing village of St Monans and watching the tide come in and go out as hours ticked by and pages were typed and books perused. Day after day after day. Until it was done. I woke every morning and thought, I trust. My friend and mentor here says this is a great gift. I agree.

In golf, there comes a moment during the swing when one must stop trying to control it, trust the muscle memory and surrender to the power as the head of the club smashes against the ball and sends it flying. The grip is important. My handicap-4 son tells me I need to keep my eye on the ball more.

In golf there are giant bunkers that swallow your ball. But you get down into the bunker, dig your feet into the sand, aim for an inch from the ball to dig it out, swing as fast and hard as you can and follow through, then do it over and over and over until the rescue is complete.

On golf courses there and here, I count up and down, walk up and down, swing up and down. It reminds me of the rhythm of the sea out my window in St Monans.

In golf a handicap is a good thing.

Now that I’m home, when I walk in my woods, I remember myself pre-Scotland, and see the memory of me in flat, sepia tones. But here I am in living color! The pending workload of continued research and reading and fieldwork, coupled with teaching would have terrified the old two-dimensional me. New me smiles softly and beckons.

“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”–Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

18 March 2011

Light years

Filed under: PhD: Scotland!,Write on — annedegraaf @ 7:09 pm

This is me. I picked up these cards this morning and said to the lady at the print shop: “I’m official.” And because all good things work together, today was the first day I didn’t think as I woke up: “What will I do next on my research proposal?” Why? Because I turned in my research proposal last night. Oh yeah! (Picture me doing the happy dance–It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!)

What’s a research proposal? Ten thousand words mapping out the next 2+ years of reading, writing, interviewing, analyzing, reading and writing 80,000 words (not including the bibliography, but including footnotes, but at this stage-hey! Who’s counting?) for my PhD thesis (UK)/dissertation (N. America).

Way back in October I wrote a blog entry hoping and trusting in a shaky way that this day would come. Now I have a roadmap. So if I deviate, at least I’ll know where I’ve deviated from. The general direction has become a bit more focussed: To go where no man has gone before, to explore new worlds. . . . Sorry, got carried away there.

My research will explore the place of voice–specifically young people’s–and its role in conflict and peacebuilding. And my case study is South Africa, where I’ll be visiting for two months in 2012. But I’ve also been interviewing NGOs and individuals involved in youth policy here in Scotland. Which brings me to my business cards. Monday there’s a conference here at St Andrews put together by my wise supervisor, on violence and circulation of children. And Wednesday I’m going to Edinburgh for an “event” about Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has become EU law. Article 12 is about the voices of children, and requires that children be consulted on decisions that affect their lives. So since I’m looking into how youth narratives can be used as tools for policy assessment and policy design, this is my kind of event. I hope to meet Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, who has called for widespread interviews among young people before determining future Scottish policy. The last time young people in Scotland were asked what was most important to them, was by the NGO Children 1st. The overwhelming response–surprising to the adults who run this world–asked for one thing. What was young people’s number-one priority? To spend more time with their parents. Hmm. Anyway, for these two events next week I needed business cards. As I told my husband, next week I’ll have to be smart and pretty. He told me I should go to bed early.

I think I’ve been spending too much time around my PhD colleagues. The other day I ran into one and immediately we started discussing the socio-economic ramifications of a social-constructivist epistemology. What were the ontological implications? Was this rooted in Aristotle or Plato? Hegel maybe, pre-Marxist, that is. And was it too early to go to the pub? Well, those of you who know and love me have probably realized I’ve always been a closet geek. What’s worse, I may now have become a recovering academic.

Ok, enough. Onto Life in Scotland news: I love living in a small fishing village. I’ve introduced you to Bob the postman, but have I told you about Peter? He works at the post office, and whereas I stand in line for whole half hours at the post office in St Andrews, when I go to the one in St Monans, Peter is often sitting with his feet up on the desk, waiting for the next customer. He works with the door open so he can look outside, across the harbor at the wide expanse of water to the other side of the firth. Every time he sees me, he says, “Hello, young lady.” Speaking as someone who’s turned 35 17 times, this is music to my ears. I eavesdropped once when another woman entered the post office to see if he says this to all the girls, but he didn’t. So I’m convinced he’s sincere. The other evening I was out for my daily walk along the harbor, when I found Peter sitting outside. “Look at that light,” he said. “Aye,” I nodded in my best imitation Scottish way.

And this brings me back to a previous Scotland theme: the light. These photos are of my favorite walk. It starts the moment I leave my little house. I close the door behind me and look up, and this is what I see.

I walk along the harbor and say, “Hiya,” to everyone. Did I mention that we don’t lock our doors in St Monans? Took some getting used to, until I had to go twice to the package center in the next town over after I missed shipments from my drug dealer (amazon.co.uk–free shipping in the UK!). I noticed that on sunny days some people simply left their front doors wide open. So I stopped locking mine and voila! I come home from a hard day listening to seminars and reading in the library to neat stacks of packages and boxes on my living room floor. Bob cometh, he leaveth and he goeth.

My walk winds up, past coves, and toward the Newark castle ruins, the origins of which date back to the mid 1200s.

Look at this stonework:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading back, this is the view:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The St Monans church, which was built in the 1300s, is still standing. In all the UK, this is the church located closest to the sea.

And when I come home, before opening my unlocked door, I turn once more, because the light, which is so unique here, I’m told, because of the angle of the sun when you’re this far north, often has one more surprise for me.

I watch the water and the sky here all the time. Can you see in this photo the snow-covered hills across the firth? That’s North Berwick on the other side. As I write this, its lights twinkle across the water in sunset like fairy promises.

In the mornings as I drive to school, the snow on the distant hills sketch an anti-shadow against the treeline. Mist rises and falls. I watch for birds of prey, my sea eagle Norbett, buzzards, which are like hawks, and wonder why I haven’t seen the first lambs of the season yet. In Holland they’d be bouncing straight-legged beside their mothers by now. But maybe it is because of the eagles, maybe the farmers here keep them indoors. Or maybe it’s because it still drops below freezing at night. On these drives I count the hillsides with centuries-old cascades of daffodils, and listen for brooks thick with the spring run-off, until the spires of St Andrews rise to meet me.

This place tells me, time comes and goes, like the sea, an ebb and flow of ideas not set in stone. What is 600 years?

5 February 2011

Hemayel Martina–12 October 1990-29 January 2011

Filed under: Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others,Write on — annedegraaf @ 8:53 pm

Seven days ago my daughter called me with the news that messages of R.I.P. were appearing on Hemayel’s Facebook page. “No way,” I said. “He’s in Curacao. Or he’s flying back to South Africa. ‘R.I.P.,’ what do you mean?” I couldn’t fathom it, couldn’t understand. But it was true. He had died in a car accident in Curacao, back on his island for his uncle’s funeral and his mother’s birthday, due to return to South Africa where he had begun a six-month internship, supposed to fly back that same evening. And now gone.

Gone.

I cut short a holiday in the sun and flew home to The Netherlands Tuesday to attend a memorial service at Webster on Wednesday. The Minister Plenipotentiary of Curacao, Sheldry Osepa, attended and spoke of Hemayel’s book, Ansestro Preokupá (Worried Ancestors), how Hemayel had now become one of the ancestors inspiring us and he quoted Hemayel’s poem that tells the ancestor not to worry, we will now carry on his work. (This same poem appears at the end of the video below.)

It was a privilege to speak at this event. Below is the text of my talk. Friends and colleagues filled the room, as well as family members due to go to his funeral in Willemstad.

Today he is buried there.

I find I can’t sleep at night. The memorial service helped–to be with others who mourn, others who knew him–we drank whiskey and toasted him and told stories, and the next morning I thought, It’s over. But how could I think such a thing when I know full well that grief sneaks up on me, sideswipes me from dark corners, knocks me over and I am left gasping.

Now I am back in Scotland. Listening to the waves. My heart is so sore.

Hemayel Memorial talk at Webster University, Leiden, 2 February 2011

Bon dia. Hello in Hemayel’s Papiamento. This year I have been on study leave in Scotland and I never dreamed I would come back and see all of you again—for this reason.

The questions . . . I’m not even going there. Too much pain. Instead I want to thank all of you for all you have done to honor Hemayel, creating this great tribute to him, and coming here today.

I had the honor of teaching the writing class Hemayel was in for one entire year. Terms at Webster last 8 weeks, so this was unusual. For one year I learned from an exceptional class: Cesia, Rasheed, Jose Antonio, Catrina, Alex, and Hemayel. In January Anik, Eric and Taban joined us. They wrote essays about everything under the sun: past fears and future hopes. And in this way then, through his writing, I first came to know Hemayel.

Last February he asked  me if I would go to Curacao in October for the launch of his poetry book. I said, uh, ok, and then used up all my husband’s airmiles. By October I was already studying in Scotland, so I left from there and flew to Curacao. It was an amazing trip. I met his family and friends. A talented musician, Levi Silvanie had hooked up with Hemayel and together they were singing his poetry in clubs. Curacao had just become a new nation and I listened as these two men sang their country into being. These clubs—look at me, I’m the wrong color and the wrong age—but I went clubbing at night and became a sort-of Hemayel groupie. We visited groups of children where he and Levi listened and pulled creativity out of them. We visited a music group where Hemayel used to play the tjembe, and he spoke to the kids there, many of whom were being kept off the streets because of their involvement in music. I went with Hemayel and Levi to television and radio interviews. Throughout it all, Hemayel remained humble and a little overwhelmed. The launch of his book was a big event, with many of the founding families of Curacao, about whom Hemayel had written, present that evening. The children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who began slave rebellions and people who had put Papiamento on the map as a language all attended. Rosabelle came from Webster and recited poetry. Somehow I became the keynote speaker.

In my talk there I spoke about the importance of creating a space for listening to our young people, how Levi and Hemayel were singing this new country into being, and how Curacao may come from corazón, which means heart—and how Hemayel’s poetry was about listening to the heartbeat of this new country. I also expressed gratitude to everyone there for raising Hemayel into the kind, respectful, loving and intelligent man he had become. Today I express that same gratitude to you, here at Webster, for shaping him with your laughter and love and learning.

So last year he asked me to help him edit the English version of his poetry book. We met in the Paagman bookstore in The Hague several times. He wrote everything in Papiamento first, then translated it into English. Then we edited the English. By the end of the process he was writing in English.

I last met with Hemayel December 22, three days before he left for South Africa. It was one of those days when nothing was working in Holland because of the snow—few trains were running and the roads were a mess. Somehow he caught a train from Leiden to The Hague and I managed to drive in from Hoek van Holland and we met at Hollands Spoor. We had lunch at the Donor and talked for two hours about so much. About yoga and meditation and prayer. About my own experiences in Kwa-Zulu Natal, how important it is to touch and hold people with Aids because often they are outcast. We talked about his and my passion for all things having to do with young people in International Relations. We talked about Sierra Leone and Rwanda and Scotland. He told me of his hopes to get a masters in International Relations. He asked about all the members of my family. I told him I knew South Africa would resonate deep in his heart . . . I gave him four more notebooks so he’d have a place to put his emotions.

There are a few things I want to offer you today as means of comfort:

–Write out your grief. Those of us acquainted with grief know it hits like a knot of emotion. Anger and denial all tied up tight. A Zen master said that one death feels like 10,000. Give it a place and write it out, this way the emotions unravel and we may heal.

–And this: today we have heard how special Hemayel was, but you, each and every one, we are special for the knowing of him. In honor of his life, live your lives to the fullest, do all he hoped for: grab education and squeeze as much learning out of it as you can, resolve to end corruption, become politicians and advisers and teachers and poets, live and love and laugh and learn—for Hemayel. And know this, each one of you has as much potential and passion and promise as Hemayel. Reach deep, as he did, and become all you are meant to. Yes, he was exceptional, but so are each and every one of you. Honor his memory by facing your own fears, and do it—whatever it is—anyway. That we would do all to the best of our ability, that we would go for it and realize our full potential, that is how we honor Hemayel.

–Another thing: tell Hemayel stories. My favorite is during one of the crazy student barbecues at my house. It was 2 a.m. and they were jamming in my home. It was a typical Webster moment with a Pole, a Canadian, an Iranian and Hemayel, as he turned my coffee table into a tjembe and they composed a song in . . . wait for it . . . Farsi.

–Choose the one thing you loved most about him, and determine to keep that alive. Maybe it was playing pool badly, maybe it was his way of calling people up to stay in contact, maybe it was his urge to write out his heart. Maybe it was his smile.

–Lastly, create a space for listening, to others, to our young people, but most of all, listen to your own heart. He lives on in our hearts—if we listen there . . . we hear him still.

You can click on hemayelmartina.com to learn more about this extraordinary young man and leave a message of sympathy.

12 January 2011

Furth the firth

After having written in my previous post that I didn’t know the answer to one of life’s great questions, namely, “What does the Scottish word furth mean?” I can now shed some light on what must be a question right up there with “How did the Big Bang go off?”

It seems furth can mean several things: non-Scottish, beyond The Border, away from, out, outside of, to the outside. For example, when something is furth of Scotland, it is outside of Scotland.

But I’m also thinking about the words further and furthest which often get mixed up with their cousins farther and farthest. The difference, of course, being that further means to a greater degree, and farther refers to length or distance.

But it seems that furth can also mean out of doors, in a state of deviation from, and honestly, as in without concealment of the truth. To be furth-bering is to support. and furthfilling is fulfilling. To furth-run is to expire. Furthy not only means frank, but also affable, and furthiness is an “excess of frankness, approaching to giddiness in the female character.” Hmm. But the absolute best word based on furth is furthsett which means conveying the idea of splendour.

This means that a furthsetter (which can mean publisher or author) is someone who conveys the idea of splendour. Which brings me to the photos for this post. They are new infrared images of the Andromeda Galaxy. To read the BBC story about the telescopes ran by the European Space Agency, click here. And that’s my furthsett contribution to your day.

So if one of the many meanings of furth is beyond, and firth means sheltered place or arm of the sea, what does the title of this post mean?

Where are we now?

Lastly, here is my favorite scene by a different kind of firth, yet another illustration of how words and languages exchange splendour across a universe, this one called the human heart.

10 January 2011

Muckle furth and gloming

Filed under: PhD: Scotland!,Thin and Thick Places,Words by Others,Write on — annedegraaf @ 8:23 pm

After three weeks in snowy Holland I returned to Scotland to find . . . more snow. And so the snow story continues. Pictured here is the famous Old Course at St Andrews. During my last golf lesson before the holidays, we used yellow balls so we could see them in the snow. I have learned that the Scots never, ever complain about the weather. I might have made some comment to our Scottish instructor about how the M8 highway connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh was closed, and both airports in those cities were closed–all due to the snow–but that at St Andrews the golf lessons must go on. He looked at me rather oddly, while my fellow students from China, Germany, and Canada nodded and smiled at me.

You can learn a lot about about what is important to a culture from its language. In Dutch, for example, there are many different words for canal. And for ice. And for the moods of the sea. There is an urban legend that the Inuit have many terms for snow. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve been boning up on my Scottish, and it seems like the Scots have an inordinately large number of words for describing the outdoors. For example, the word frog means to snow or sleet at intervals. They have a word for this. What does this say about Scottish culture? That the outdoors plays an important part in Scottish life? This, and the freezing temperatures that no one complains about might explain the origins of whiskey. But that’s another post all together. On to our language lesson.

As we learned in a previous post, neuk means hook. If you want to know what it means in Dutch, then watch the Robin Williams video at the end of that post. It could also be that this is an important word in the Dutch vocabulary, as well.

In any case, today I’d like to look at another Scottish f-word: furth. The muckle furth means the open air. And muckle means great. To furtheyet means to pour out. Furthy means forward, frank, and unabashed. The Dutch might be described as furthy. To furthschaw is to manifest. And a furth setter is an author.

How cool is that? I’m a furth setter living on the Firth of Forth (and firth means sheltered place but also estuary), furtheyeting and furthschawing furthy words after I go for walks in the muckle furth. But I wonder, what does furth itself mean? As with all great questions, I haven’t found the answer yet.

Oh, but there’s an even better word: Gloming. Say it out loud, it rhymes with roaming. It’s what we grammar geeks call an onomatopoeia, or a type of word that sounds like the thing it is describing. Gloming means twilight. The gloamin-star is the evening star. The Scottish language seems to have several onomatopoeia: glock which means to gulp; gloff which is a sudden fright and glog which means slow. Glog also means a soft lump. Oh wait! And did you know what a gloy is? Not a glow-in-the-dark toy, but the withered blades stripped off from straw. How lovely is it that there is a word for such a thing?

One last definition . . . for the word golf: “A game in Scotland, in which hooked clubs are used for striking balls, stuffed very hard with feathers, from one hole to another.” So that’s what’s missing from my game, the feathers.

Now I’ll leave you with the gloming over St Andrews, and a sample of the Scottish language. See if you can recognize the text, and for those of you who know Dutch, note the many words the two languages have in common. That’s because of the fishing and the North Sea that both cultures share, a historical bridge between my two homes.

(Thanks to Tim who first introduced me to the mf-word as well as defining the f(o)urth dimension as time and the fifth as one of love, and to Ian who emailed me the words below.)

Wha is my Shepherd, weel I ken,
the Lord himsel’ is he;
He leads me whaur the girse is green,
an burnies quate that be.

Aft times I fain astray wad gang,
an wanner far awa;
He fins me oot, He pits me richt,
and brings me hame an a’.

Tho I pass through the gru’some cleugh,
fine weel I ken He is near,
His muckle crook will me defend,
sae I had nocht tae fear.

A’ comforts whilk a sheep could need,
his thoctfu’ care provides;
Tho wolves an dogs may prowl aboot,
in safety me He hides.

His guidness an his mercy baith,
nae doot will bide wi’ me;
While faulded on the fields o’ time
or a’ eternity.

10 October 2010

Hidden dips and blind summits

Filed under: PhD: Scotland!,Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 1:31 pm

A lot has happened this summer: an amazing trip to South Africa during the World Cup (see previous post); THE BEST WEDDING EVER of our daughter and her smart and handsome husband (read great contentment and joy and a party with a rating of Internationally Legendary); I cleaned my writing room and study (if you had seen the stacks of papers and books multiplying like rabbits in dark corners you’d know why this warrants mention); several brilliant barbecues with students, friends, and family; and oh yeah–I moved to Scotland.

The University of St Andrews has taken me on as a PhD candidate. Well, during this first year of three I’m just a General Research student. By the end of this year I will have a formal research proposal (she said optimistically) and then I get to call myself a PhD student. In any case, this first nine months I do on site; after that I can do my research from home and commute back and forth to Scotland. The four months preceding graduation in June 2013 I’ll be back here fulltime again. For now, though, I commute back home every 2-3 weeks for a weekend, and in between, I get to be a student!

Yes, my shameful secret is that I am enjoying the whole books and articles and being swamped with readings and seminars and discussions and debates and going to the pub to discuss Kant and Rousseau and ontology (the study of being) and epistemology (the study of knowledge) and positivism vs. postpositivism and rationalism vs. reflectivism–IMMENSELY. My research has something to do with the role of youth in International Relations (IR). But this first year is all about immersing myself in the material–I don’t know what I don’t know–and finding a gap in the knowledge so I might attempt to fill the gap through creating new knowledge.

My fellow PhD students in the IR department come from all over the world–and this is what I loved about Webster, too–hearing the different world views and becoming friends with Muslims, Hindus, men and women from all over the world who are as concerned as I am about learning why.

The beauty of St Andrews is they welcome people who don’t fit into a box. In fact this is probably part of why they have become the #1 university in Scotland and #3 in the UK, behind Oxford and Cambridge. They embrace those of us who can’t be constrained to any one category, who sort-of flow over borders. We are affiliated with study groups within the IR dept. with names like the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, or the Institute for Middle East, Central Asia and Caucasus Studies, and the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. The latter is sort-of my corner. But because I am interested in the choices of young people for or against violence, I also get to hang out with the Jack Bauer wannabes at the Terrorism Centre. Actually, we’re all in one big mix of a class right now, learning together about how to start climbing the Mt. Everest of a path that is a PhD.

Ok, enough boring stuff. I live in a small fishing village 20 minutes from St Andrews. It’s called St Monans. (The Scots like their saints.) My wee house looks out on a tiny harbor and the North Sea. Well, actually the part of the North Sea called the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh’s over there somewhere. I spent my first weekend there, visiting friends of a friend and fell in love with the city. It’s a cross between St Petersburg and Dublin. I live in the county of Fife. And the region is called . . . get this . . . East Neuk. For those of you who speak Dutch, you’ll know why I break into a huge grin every time I drive by the sign. What’s an East Neuk? I’d like to know.

The other morning I watched as my neighbor hosed down the wellies of her fisherman husband, put them back into the boot, wiped down his car, and put his boxed lunch on the passenger seat (yes, sometimes I’m immensely bored). And I thought, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

My little house has a living room with a kitchen stuck on one wall, and upstairs is my bedroom, from which I can hear the surf at night, and a small study where I watch the waves and the tide ebb and flow as I wade through my own ocean of books and articles needing to be read.

The Fife Coastal Path runs below my study window, so I hear hikers from all over the UK pant past, laughing and talking. The Scots are really into walking, which I think is cool. My first weeks here I did part of this Path and it took me up and down hills (who needs cardio?), over cattle fences, past hidden coves and along perilous cliffs. Unbelievably gorgeous country. Where I live is the sort of place people come to for a weekend and say, “Honey, why can’t we buy a holiday home here?”

Oh and the light. There’s a light in Scotland like none I’ve seen anywhere else. The Hague School of artists like Mesdag got close to it with their portraits of life in Scheveningen, but here, the light filters through mist and seems to lift a fourth dimension into all I see.

The title of this entry refers to traffic signs I pass every day. What do a “hidden dip” and “blind summit” have in common? The not seeing. And that is where I’ve found myself, in a land where I do not really see what is ahead of me. Perhaps it’s just as well. But all this not knowing has set me free to be curious and laugh and love and listen and learn. It is an odd time, but also a strangely delightful time. I am deeply grateful to my family for supporting and encouraging me along this path.

And oh yeah, of course! I’m learning how to play golf. My instructor is Irish and he keeps telling me, if I get the grip right, the swing will follow. Hmm, another metaphor for life?

Lastly, just to make sure no far-right, conservative publisher ever wants to publish my books again, I’ve included the following video. Thanks to fellow student Simon from South Africa for the link. And Daniel, this one’s for you.

29 June 2010

What I wanted to tell you is,

Filed under: Aids survival,The Children's Voices,Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 5:33 pm

This is me in my happy place–on the Cape Town beach in South Africa. That’s Table Mountain in the background. I’m here with seven students from Webster University Leiden, and two other instructors. We’re actually getting credit for going to the World Cup! Our class is called “Sports, Politics and Reconciliation.” To read more about this great group and all our doings, go to the Webster Leiden online publication The CANAL.

What I didn’t write in The CANAL article, but wanted to put “out there” is what it feels like to be back here after three-and-a-half years–back in South Africa, that is, since the last time I was in Cape Town was 14 years ago. Sure didn’t see any of the mixed couples, black, colored and women cops, or golden babies from mixed parents back then. Now they’re everywhere.

Three-and-a-half years ago I was in Kwa-Zulu Natal, far from cosmopolitan Cape Town, interviewing Aids orphans for a Dutch publisher who sent me here to write a book. The result was my teen novel Dance upon the Sea, which has since won a prize.

For those of you who have followed this blog and read the entries under the category to the right “Aids survival,” you will know that I came home from that trip in not-too-good shape. My interviews with aids orphans here in South Africa and Zimbabwe revealed appalling hopelessness: children struggling to care  for their younger brothers and sisters, and often suffering from sexual abuse as the most vulnerable segment of this fractured population. I cried a lot when I came home, and could not write about it, until I received help from a woman who advised me to write the truth. “The world needs to hear that these children have no hope.” Writing this blog broke the block and enabled me to finish that book and move into this new season of writing, studying and teaching.

A close friend asked me last week how I felt about returning to South Africa. It was the first time I had thought about the contrast of then and now. Then I travelled on my own. Now I am with students and colleagues whom I trust and respect. Then I crisscrossed some of the most impoverished parts of the country, where an estimated 60% of the population is HIV-infected. One induna, or Zulu chief, told me then that he spends all day Saturdays going to funerals. “Eighty percent of my people are dying.” Indeed, my generation has faded away. You just don’t see that many people in their forties and fifties. Instead, their orphans raise each other, or rely on grandparents or friends. Now I’m staying in a guesthouse called Cape Oasis, which pretty much says it all. There’s a shopping mall bigger than anything I’ve ever seen in The Netherlands just down the road.

My wise daughter says it’s a good thing to replace our bad memories with good ones. And whereas that trip was about sickness, this one is about health. This is what I wrote in my journal (and the first seven words are something I suggested the students use in a writing exercise as they struggled to articulate their own conflicting emotions):

What I wanted to tell you is, Today we went to a township, on a township tour, actually. If there is such a thing. Have the same bottomless-pit feeling in my gut. Memories of my Aids babies came flooding back. Their tight muscles in the back, soft hair. My own feelings of abandonment and vulnerability a reflection of what I heard and saw and understood from each day’s interviews. Today a smell of wood smoke mixed with sweet sweat and sewage ushered us along the tight quarters. This time, though, a well child chose me. Three years old, the niece of the driver Pele. Wide eyes, no smile, hand linked in mine. She fell asleep on my lap, heavy and slack. I wondered if this healthy child was given to me to ease the pain of my memories of unhealthy ones.

What I wanted to tell you is, I was back in that place again and holding a well child on my lap this time, and still I felt numb, numb and hollow. “You’ll have a hard time letting her go,” Tom said to me in the van. “No, it’ll be all right,” I said. What I thought was, “It’s the dying children I have a hard time letting go of.” My two-year-old Aids babies, their tight muscles from the steroids, sweaty hair from the infection for which there are no drugs at this young age. Born to dying-from-Aids parents, they are doomed to die before they turn five. They are dead now.

What I wanted to tell you is, I am healed. The poverty did not shock, the smells did not repulse. I walked through and breathed through my nose this time, yet still could open my heart wide to their pain and misery, joy and hope.

What I wanted to tell you is, I am not alone. These men, my friends from Nigeria, India, Holland, America, and South Africa, surround me with a wagon train of wonder, encircling me in laughter.

What I wanted to tell you is, I am safe.

Flying down the length of Africa
Africa like my body
The length and breadth of her
Tall and graceful.
I am cut with desert
Wilderness stretches my horizon
Rift Valley shadows
Cast a cut scar
Across my countenance.
Africa, my Africa
My heart beats to
The rhythm of wildebeest
Crossing the Serengeti.
My eyes see into cheetah’s speed.
I smell your grass,
Fly above the acacias,
Taste dust on my dry lips
And laugh in love.
(Written 24 June on the Amsterdam-Cape Town KLM flight)
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