Posts Tagged 'violence'

Sunday Morning in Harrisburg

This morning I walked the 0.9 miles from my apartment to Harrisburg’s Unitarian Universalist church on Market Street. I wove my path around discarded mattresses and couches on the sidewalks, observing sunken rooftops and wondering if the broken and boarded windows outnumbered in-tact ones. I mentally drafted my next Friday 5 post on similarities between my neighborhood in Harrisburg and the “Third World” countries I’ve lived in.

I arrived at the church and was welcomed by the pastor, who once irritated me with a trite sermon about this being a middle-class congregation. I don’t attend regularly, but from what I’ve seen most of the members are middle-aged or older and probably don’t come near Market Street for any reason other than church.

Twenty minutes into the morning service, the pastor—who had been sitting in the pews with a woman whispering in his ear—rose and told us that a shooting had just taken place on the street in front of the church. (I hadn’t heard a gunshot or sirens.) The police had advised that we continue the service.

When the “music for the soul”-themed service ended, we were told to exit through the back kitchen door so we wouldn’t flood the crime scene. “That’s something you should never hear at church,” a woman behind me said.

To me, that comment showed a limited vision of the significance of the shooting that had just happened. What we had just heard about was something you shouldn’t hear about not just in church, but anywhere–because it shouldn’t happen.

Since the time the announcement was made, I’d been thinking about which way to walk home, the possibility that people involved could be related to my Head Start students, and the fact that besides getting to and from church, hundreds of people live and work in this neighborhood every day.

That means every day watching over your shoulder. Every day wondering who might get shot next. It means that every day, for we who cannot insulate ourselves in SUV’s and gated communities, violence and insecurity are not abnormal blips on the radar, but lived experiences carried deep within our skin and bones.

October BAND Discussion: Nonfiction Anthologies

Ash of the English Major’s Junk Food blog is hosting this month’s BAND (Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees) discussion. She asks, What are your favorite nonfiction anthologies?

Like Ash, I appreciate anthologies because they allow the reader to be enticed by a short nonfiction piece without committing to an entire tome. That’s valuable for people intimidated by nonfiction but I also enjoy it as a way to learn a bit about unfamiliar places or phenomena.

I don’t usually like the “Best American Essays”-type collections,  because I prefer anthologies focused on a theme. I’m not sure I’ve read enough anthologies to pinpoint my absolute favorite, so I’m going to write about the one that made me realize how great anthologies are, as well as a few I’m reading right now.

  1. Violence in Times of War and Peace, edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Phillippe Bourgois. Though there are a few fictional pieces, the majority of essays in this book are nonfiction excerpts or articles covering a global range and grouped into sections such as Communal Violence, Violence and Political Resistance, Everyday Violence, and Torture. The anthology served as the primary text for the anthropology of violence course I took while studying abroad. I remember reading ahead for the class, while my roommates watched bootleg DVDs. Though the subject matter is often stomach-turning, the theoretical frameworks offered by the authors and implied in the organization of the collection took me beyond a a simple condemnation of violence to a critical understanding of how it is produced and reproduced in society at different places and times.
  2. Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy. This anthology gathers articles from Rethinking Schools magazine analyzing popular culture and media’s effects on students and schools. What I love about this book so far is that many of the authors are teachers and thus they offer examples of active ways they’ve responded to the changing relationships of media and corporations to youth—in their own uses of technology and in encouraging critical media literacy among students. My main complaint is that most of the articles don’t have notation on when they were originally published.
  3. Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. This guide for narrative nonfiction writing currently resides on my kitchen table, since I’ve been reading its short essays with breakfast for the last few days. It’s delightful to find a book full of suggestions from other people who get as much fulfillment from discovering and sharing human stories as I do.
  4. Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America, edited by Elizabeth Reis. When a feminist archaeologist professor of mine retired she told me to select a book from her shelf so she wouldn’t have to take them all home. I chose this one, and it’s sat on my own bookshelf ever since. I read the introduction last week as I worked on my Witchy Women post for Canonball. Writing that post made me realize how vast the topic of witches and culture is and reading Spellbound reminded me the importance of contextualizing subjects in time and space when writing nonfiction. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the articles in that anthology for the depth and specificity of their analyses.

Teenage Tour Guides

I enjoy visiting historical sites, including Civil War battlefields in the States. Yesterday I ventured to an East Jerusalem neighborhood where a Palestinian man had been shot dead by Israeli police in the afternoon to find out what had happened. I didn’t go to be voyeuristic, but as a journalist the line often feels uncomfortably close. Some 14-year-old boys who witnessed the shooting showed me and another journalist friend the remaining blood spots, bullet holes, and shattered glass on the street. A man asked us if we were tourists. I replied in shock, “I don’t look at this stuff for fun!” since the teenagers had already shown us cell phone photos of the victim. The boys’ eagerness to be our guides indicated the normalization of violence in their lives. The same normalization of the values of war takes place at Gettysburg and Antietam, yet the neutralizing mask of history makes it less startling.


The Palestine I See

My friend Noha once told me that I choose sad places to live. It’s true that political and economic violence are more widely acknowledged in Palestine, Egypt, Guatemala, and Honduras than in the U.S.—which is nevertheless full of discrimination, poverty, criminalization of youth, etc.

Maybe I choose “sad” places because I was misled about my own country for so long, and see that so many people there are still living in a State of denial/misrecognition. Perhaps I find it easier to talk about injustice in places where fewer people are able to pretend it doesn’t exist.

And because the places I live are well known for their poverty and violence, I spend a lot of time qualifying my perspectives to people at home. My critical consciousness makes me hesitate to state unequivocal thoughts and opinions. For instance, when any of my politically-minded friends asks me, “how’s Nablus?” I struggle to answer. Frankly, I think Nablus is beautiful, but my critical mind tells me that I cannot state this opinion without also sharing that my view comes from a position of privilege/distance from the everyday troubles of life in a conflict zone—because of where I live (the building of a U.S. NGO) and with whom I live (other internationals).

Of course stories other than the ones we share always exist, but constantly acknowledging that fact can create a crippling degree of self-doubt. I think this is a downside to the anthropology I studied.

After all, if we don’t see the beauty in the world, is there any reason to fight oppression and exploitation? Motivation to fight for a better world cannot just come from the guilt that is produced by the stories of the “downtrodden” in which anthropologists and development workers deal.

Indeed, many sad and angering stories emanate from the country and city where I live. No doubt I will share them with you eventually, but today I’m going to tell you about the beauty I see in Palestine. Then you can imagine even how much more stunning this place—and the world—can be without occupation and apartheid.

First there is the land. (Tuesday was land day, by the way). The region around Nablus is full of rolling green hills with craggy gray rock breaking out from the grass. A few weekends ago, the TYO staff went on a ramble (“hike” by Nabulsi standards, “long walk” by mine) through the countryside, where my spirit soaked in the sun and pastoral scenery of goats and sheep among the olive groves. Even on the city streets I pass lemon trees, orange trees and many flowers in bloom. My friend Mary constantly asks if I smell jasmine, although we haven’t actually seen the plants.

Continue reading ‘The Palestine I See’


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