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From the road, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Credit: Claire August)

In the center of town, a group of men played oversized chess.

H. told me how, after the war [*1], many countries donated trams to Sarajevo, and this is why the trams came up and down the narrow street in various shapes and colors: they were from Germany, Japan, and Switzerland, to name a few.

From the road at sunset, we look into apartments with rooms so obscure their thick color reminded me of dark red bedsheets. Between the roads, emptied out valleys. It’s possible to forget how flat Berlin is and to forget what hills are like. Hills remind you of the size of a place. Berlin feels like neighborhoods put together like puzzle pieces, while Sarajevo raises its city-edges towards you. It was winter in Sarajevo but it was no longer winter when we got closer to the border with Croatia, where it blushed with warmth and we pulled off the road to eat oysters. They were ice cold. The waiter pointed and said, they come from the water right over there.

(Recorded as H. and I walked through the center of Sarajevo.)

In H.’s house there were 12 jars of honey. We counted.

Trinken wir lieber ein Glas zuviel. I am listening to this song [*2] as we drive, and it reminds me of what it is like to travel. I’ve heard people say that they travel but that they are certainly not tourists. I don’t think this is possible. All recreational travel is plainly indulgent; to avoid the word ‘tourist’ (thereby avoiding all of the word’s negative connotations) is to also avoid this truth of indulgence. Travel like this is to drink a glass from a country that is not ‘yours,’ and to sometimes drink one glass too many. Is all travel a form of excess? I’d like to think not, at least not in every case. Travel can, of course, be an educational experience.

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The rainbow flag is raised during the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Cairo on September 22nd 2017 (Credit: Egyptian Streets)

A brief glimpse on the etymology of the word homosexual in the Arabic language is reflective not only of the widely held belief and internalized homophobia in contemporary Egypt, but also of the nature of the laws persecuting queer bodies and viewing them as a threat to Egyptian society’s morality[1]. Multiple variations exist: Luti is derived from Quranic verses, referring to the practices of male sodomy the people of Lot engaged in that resulted in their destruction in the sinful city of Sodom; the more derogatory Shaz or ilq literally translates to deviant, pervert,  or faggot — mind you, it’s still the most common linguistic utterance used in the Egyptian dialect; the recently coined Mithli, meaning same, is the closest to the English word homosexual or same-sex lover.

Much like feminism — only recently acknowledged in the Arabic language as nasaweya — homosexuality is seen as un-African/Arab or Egyptian. It’s vilified as an imported Western product that tries to taint the Islamic Arab cultural values and lure its youth into debauchery and immorality to further destabilize the region. Homosexuality is also condemned as a pathology that needs psycho-medical treatment or as a major sin. Its sinful nature is interpreted in Quranic verses and Hadiths of the prophet that state how homosexual acts invoke God’s curse on earth and in the afterlife [2]. Alternative interpretations of Queer Muslims reconciling both their religious beliefs and sexual orientations have been made, but they are not recognized as valid by religious institutions or predominantly conservative societies in the East. While there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality, there are plenty of laws that were purportedly put in place to combat prostitution but which actually persecute LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. The charges issued under these laws vary from inciting debauchery to engaging in immoral acts, to inducing sexual deviance[3]; the sentences fall between 1 and 12 years of imprisonment.

Homophobia and violence directed against bodies that dare challenge the heteronormative patriarchal norm are nothing new. So why write about this now? In recent days a wave of allied support and LGBTQ+ pride as well as a counter-hate sentiment in Cairo have taken social media by storm. The events unfolded as follows: the biggest Mashrou’ Leila concert that took place in Cairo this past September saw a bittersweet display of the pride flag. The raising of the flag was met with surprising acceptance and even support by concert-goers and social media posts. Ultimately, however, the government and Egyptian society’s hate, animated by a fear for love and freedom, calls for the punishment of LGBTQ+ bodies and their allies.

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Gotta get your partyin’ in somehow (Credit: Sabrina Slipchenko, BVG)

“Life’s not all about dancing, kid” I say with a pointed finger. I’m in the mirror giving myself a pep talk. There are readings to do, papers to write, yadda yadda- but I just wanna boogie. And why not, anyway? I didn’t come to Berlin to spend my Saturday nights in bed with Christian Joppke’s treatise on liberal democracy. The angels of my better nature are all a buncha nerds.

But there’s something exhausting underneath this necessity. There’s a scale underneath, weighing “cool” experiences against “not cool” experiences. If I don’t balance book learning with wildness, somehow I feel like a failure. Maybe I don’t have to take the night out, just because it exists. Maybe I don’t have to feel like life is moving too fast, without me. Maybe well-being means something other than staying up ‘till 2 am breaking a sweat. I just don’t want to be 80 years old, on my rocking chair, thinking of all the readings I’ve done. Or maybe it’ll be less lonely that way, later.

Modified Pride graphic. (Credit: trinityeverett.org)

“I used to beat on queers.” My dad’s words were pulled from his throat like a prime bass on a fishing line. We watched it, muted, as it fought for air at our feet.

My girlfriend’s hands were clammy with nervousness and July. My family’s hands were blissfully unaware, a few yards away, dancing breezily on the patio, lazily choking the heads of beer bottles, drunk with barbeque. My dad’s hands were across from us, folded calmly, faintly rainbow with past blood.

He taught me how to tie my shoes, how to attach “ma’am: and “sir” to the ends of my sentences. Before I grew front teeth, he taught me not to stick my hands on the stove. I did anyway, I got burned, I should have listened, he “told me so.” I developed a subtle but unwavering faith in him; after all, he had lived forever.

Somewhere, in the pits of my eager subconscious, this faith grew muscles. I learned to trust authority figures like I learned to trust my dad. They told me so, and so I listened, and so I avoided being burned. Teachers, government officials, policy makers, and religious leaders were to be trusted. It was for my own good. I only notice this faith now that it is gone.

I am sure I owe it to that Fourth of July. I was ten years old, stumbling out of the closet with no moral compass of my own. When I approached the light my eyes were dazzled; blinded by a naive heart, I paraded Justine around to my family like the first light bulb. Eureka!

They all thought we would be better off as friends. In a time warp, before my dad grew teeth, he might have assumed that we would be better off as stains on his knuckles. With barbecue sauce still on our shirts, he sat us down and confessed how disgustingly unnatural we were. It was for my own good.

He still bought me a birthday present that year. The “I love you’s” still flowed, unchanged. However, the waters flowed on too, and I have not stepped in the same river since. On that day, a dangerously rebellious question began to sprout on my psyche: “but…why?” Why was person-plus-person love so offensive? Why was everyone offended but me? Who was wrong? Nothing felt wrong. Nothing felt wrong, except him feeling like we were wrong. What else was he wrong about? His opinions on same-gender relationships clashed violently with mine; my sudden doubts about his morality knocked me out cold. The newfound skepticism tasted like fresh blood.

If I continued to let my dad’s lessons mold me, unfiltered by own reasoning, I would be left with an inherited and impersonal rulebook for living. The conflict on Independence Day became a catalyst for my own independence, an acquaintance with truth. I was to counteract, to question, all that I accepted blindly from authority figures. It was for my own good.

 

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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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Gala für Alle Promotional Graphic. (Credit: The Coalition Berlin)

“I would start by saying that the protest was twofold. Firstly, we protested Ivanka Trump visiting Berlin as an official representative of the United States: Her presence represents perfectly the hypocrisy and nepotism of the Trump administration. Secondly, we were protesting the event that was the context for her visit: the Women 20 Summit.” Julia Damphouse (HAST, BA2), one of the organizers of the Gala für Alle — a protest I was also a part of — explains about a month after the event. Organized by The Coalition Berlin — a broad-based group of (left-wing) organizations and individuals from Berlin whose goal is to fight the recent rise of right-wing extremism — the Gala für Alle took place near Branderburger Tor on the 25th of April in front of the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, which hosted the W20 summit. This event wasn’t simply a protest in the classical sense, but  it included music to which people could dance and live performances. In addition to the festive aspect, this street party was certainly able to also make its demands heard through signs, chants and speeches. This article will be a late reflection on the Gala, whose relevance persists, and will think about how we might approach events such as these in the future as neither Ivanka nor the G20 are going anywhere any time soon.

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The participants of the 2nd LESC in Freiburg (Credits: Alexandra Sachariew, University College Freiburg)

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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