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Sainte Sebastienne,” 1992. (Credit: Louise Bourgeois)

I came to Berlin as a person with a complicated love relationship with cities. New York City often grips my heart so close it hurts. The relationship between the city and the survivor of sexual violence–or the survivor of any kind of violence or trauma–is a very particular one. Many stories and cultural narratives refer to the trope of “female intuition,” proposing that women have advanced capabilities to perceive underlying dynamics, know when and how to give love and care, and can even predict the future. Though I do believe that we occupy spiritually evolved forms, I don’t think this “higher plane” is biological. The ability to pick up on and mentally calibrate the unspoken truths that shape our lives lies in our conditioning and lived experiences with terror, with betrayal, with being hurt and punished and subdued. We are required to be alert and sensitive to our environments because we know that our physical and spiritual agency is at stake–our identities, our bodies. This is second and firsthand–learning from the experiences of other women; learning from living, through scar and callous. On the most basic level, hearing our parents tell us to be careful of strangers when we are young and traveling alone on the subway or tram for the first time. Seeing the violence done to our forms dragged as entertainment or exposé across pages of books and television screens. There is nothing natural or innate about it. Feeling the eyes the voices the eyes. The acquisition of psychic capabilities is a laborious process that involves more weight than is typically attached to “exceptional” qualities. It is a thorny gift: one that reminds me both of my own resilience and my experience of trauma.

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A mural painted by the artist eL Seed in a part of Cairo inhabited by garbage collectors (Manshiyat Naser) quotes a third-century Coptic bishop: “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.” (Credit: David Degner for The New York Times)

You read the words of Mahmoud Darwish,

his nostalgia, revolution and melancholia swirl the desert dust over times and places

to reach your eye.

Yes, I swear. This is how the tear settled on my dry cheek.

And Nizar Qabbani whose eroticism, love and poetic (but also political) fight for social justice make you tingle and long for something.

You don’t know what it is you seek or long for

something that the poem will never make tangible.

You let the words and language sink in

You notice how smoothly your eyes glide across the Arabic calligraphy on the yellowed pages

How much easier internalizing their words and worlds is getting

You sense the physical and metaphysical barriers dissolving

Barriers of your many selves.

The displaced and the disowned,

or like Edward Said, those “out of place.”

The one that claims she’s home,

but will always have a soft spot for a man who speaks in her tongue.

Tongues intertwine as the barrier gradually shifts

What put it there? How and when did it come into being? Who let it? Who is to blame?

The blame game makes it easier.

You think, dream, make love and write in another’s tongue

Some would say a colonizer’s tongue.

Yours is shackled by a barbed wire,

the same one endlessly running through Palestine, Syria and Iraq.

Is it a barbed wire, or streaks of crimson blood interlaced with dirt left behind from the last missile?

Or perhaps it’s the red wine you spilt trying to reach for the glass

after a touching poem, or a great orgasm.

But you let it.

You were happy about it at some point of time. To be fluent in many other languages

as yours rots and decays like the slums and streets of Cairo.

Cairo.

A permanent layer of dust, grey ashen dust, seems to have settled on everything

from decayed buildings to jagged streets,

to a man’s once white galabeya,

and most probably to the Coptic woman’s black attire.

You just can’t see it, because black hides it all. Even her son’s blood.

You observe as your chauffeur drives you in the air-conditioned car.

You’re disgusted.

You’re disgusted not at the sudden hyper-awareness of your privilege, but at your privilege itself.

Your privilege and pacifism.

You go back to your book.

You’ll write about this, you think.

You should do something

…one day.

But will you?

You arrive at the pub downtown.

Your friends already ordered the red wine.

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The participants of the 2nd LESC in Freiburg, (Credits: Lucca Jaeckel)

Hello all you BCBers,

In case someone has been wondering about my absence from BCB in the past semester, let me reassure you of my return in Fall 2017: I am currently not in Berlin but studying abroad at AUC in Amsterdam. The first question one might ask is probably: Why would I study abroad in Amsterdam? Isn’t it just like Berlin, only smaller and with canals and actual bike lanes? I asked myself the same things. But if that’s all you know about Amsterdam, you should just come here and fall in love with this beautiful city yourself. Very few people are able to escape its magic spell.

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(Credit: Anna Zakelj)

Before the storm of tests and papers that is finals week at BCB, in the lull of spring break, a friend and I made our way to Prague. The trip was an adventure. We didn’t plan much, didn’t have much money to spend, and I forgot my passport at home, adding an air of excitement to the journey that was accentuated by my whiteness and US citizenship. The trip was filled with encounters with odd and wonderful people. In transit, in a subway station in Prague, loaded down with backpacks and sleeping bags, we were approached by an old man. He exited the train going the other direction and walked up to where we stood waiting for ours to come. “You traveling?” He asked in a loud, goofy voice. “Where are you from?”

“Slovakia and the US,” we responded respectively.“The US! We’re neighbors. I’m Canadian. I’ve been living here a long time, though. I came over when I was young, just a little older than you two. I used to travel a lot. One summer some friends and I took a long bike trip through a few different countries and one guy died.” My friend Veronika and I looked at each other, confused. Was this the punchline to some strange joke? Should we be laughing? “We drank beers for lunch before cycling,” he continues. “We weren’t thinking about the consequences, forgot about the alcohol. He swerved and got hit by a car. He was young. 30 something. But that’s another story. What’s past is past.” Before we could really respond, our train came and he left, flashing a peace sign with a toothy smile and an emphatic “Bring back the hippies!” The whole interaction lasted less than five minutes. Let’s use this as a learning experience. As we part ways and go adventuring during the summerbreak, let us always bring our passports, be willing to talk to interesting strangers, and remember to never drink and cycle!

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► Monday: Between Spaces – Art, Urbanism & Public Space

Space only ever exists with a context, charged with socio-political and socio-economic interests, shaped by power structures and defined by boundaries. The 15 artists featured in this exhibition explore issues in urban life from 1970s New York to 1980s East Berlin through the mediums of photography, sculpture, drawing and painting.

  • When: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Where: ZKR – Alt-Biesdorf 55, 12683
  • Admission: 5,50€
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► Monday: MyFest 2017

Join Berliners as they honour worker’s day by joining the Street festival and 1st of May parades. This year’s MyFest is against violence. It challenges previous violent clashes between the police and demonstrators by reclaiming the spaces around the Kiez in Kreuzberg and celebrates with peaceful festivity, culinary delights, performances, and live concerts.

  • When: 11:30
  • Where: Mariannenplatz, 10997 Kreuzberg
  • Admission: free
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Baynetna (Credit: Eva Johnaon)

When I was asked to write a piece on Baynetna, the only existing Arabic library in Berlin, I was immediately interested. I have always found deep reserves of empathy and solace within the texts of others. I believe literature is one of the most radical mediums of communication that humans possess, as it allows conditions of existence to be relayed viscerally through language, therefore facilitating greater understanding of experiences that lay beyond the individual. All literature is, in this sense, an act of translation. Often, when I read a work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, it is hard to pinpoint the specific site that triggers my fascination. It is as if the non-normative use of language transforms everyday reaction to stimuli into something more spiritual, emotional, and accessible. As a child, my favorite books were stories of adventure and survival. These narratives often occurred in contexts spatially and temporally disparate from my own, and yet somehow managed to be relevant to my own experience. From this vantage point — but, as an American, knowing relatively little about Berlin and its sociopolitical structure — I spoke with Muhanad Qaiconie, the founder of Baynetna, about his ongoing project.

Muhanad explained that Baynetna is, above all, a place for exchange — of languages, culture, ideas, resources, and support. The idea for the library came to him when he was in a camp in a village outside of Munich, waiting for his residency papers, with nothing to do but scroll through Facebook and wait. He found an article by a German journalist that translated to Arabic. Having enjoyed the article, he friended the journalist on Facebook, and they started to talk.

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The Wheel (Credit: Anna Zakelj)

When I was little, I didn’t like biking. I had a long string of second hand bikes, none of which ever seemed to work quite right — a complaint that had some merit but also one I used as an excuse to explain my otherwise irrational dislike of the activity. When I left home for boarding school at age 13, I took my bike with me and rode it exactly once a year. I soon stopped owning bikes and didn’t ride one for four or five years. After highschool, I took a gap year living and working in the outskirts of Portland, OR, where the buses run only twice an hour but the city’s  cycling culture persists. It took my 9am job, the infrequent public transportation, and an old man named Lou to get me on a bike again.  Lou gave me his old bike, helped me replace the numerous punctured tires, and switched out the yarn-secured milk crate on the back with real saddle baskets. I soon began biking almost everywhere I went. The change came from the necessity of getting to work on time, but biking quickly became integral to my happiness as well, allowing me to both mentally and physically distance myself from the stress of work. The movement had become a stabilizing habit, and, despite the physical exertion involved, it was easier, somehow, than sitting on a bus.

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