Saturday, November 22, 2008

From Tanzania...To Brooklyn (BUY TIX HERE)


Ticket Prices

In 1969, founder of the Black Panther Party in Kansas City, Pete O'Neal, was facing imprisonment on trumped up charges from the FBI.

Over 40 years in exile later, his wife and fellow former member of the Black Panthers, Charlotte "Mama C" O'Neal touches down in Brooklyn for a night of poetry and music with poets and filmmakers from Lisa Russell's upcoming documentary film, MYTH OF THE MOTHERLAND. Film clips from our visit to the O'Neals community center this past summer will also be shown.

Hosted by Carlos Andrés Gómez and beats by DJ Stone, this night will feature some of the best spoken word poetry from Tanzania to Brooklyn!

Tickets: $20 Regular/$100 VIP (includes dinner with Mama C) Profits benefit the O'Neal's UAACC Community Center and production costs for MYTH OF THE MOTHERLAND.


There is limited space. Tickets are first come, first served. There will be no ticket sales at the door.


For more information, email Lisa Russell at
For information about UAACC, visit
For more information about MYTH OF THE MOTHERLAND, visit

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Poem 1 (By Tahani)

Like a piano lesson
Patience Passion and Poise
There is a woman’s in the distance
with words written down her face
that I can barley see them
I can close my eyes and see a reel of life’s dedication play for me
I know one day I will have to thank her
for teaching me to listen to the stories of my heart beats
I am grateful for blinking eyes and gods kiss of faith
I know I will be the one standing
When it happens
when chaos enters the room
I will be the one to protect her me you and us
Wind will force pockets of wisdom to live lifetimes in my blood stream
I am not vain
God complex
I am pen, paper and hope
I am no Barack Obama
Obama is no Barack Obama
To be honest
I cry when I think why really write
There is a chair that sits facing a wall in a corner
where no one looks
Like a neglected child
We scream words
That takes shape
Into bullets piercing the chest of the un-kissed by god
I am the sun rising
For those mother whose sons will never rise
This is an anthem
Of sunsets in thunder quacks
Of heart beats of a people
I write poems
I write to keep from going insane
I write poems so people know that I am sane
I write to keep my tears from falling
I write to keep your tears from existing

Tahani In South Africa

As many of you know this is the first time I have left the states EVER!!!!. I cried because I thought that I would fall in love with the world out side of America … and ohhh boy was I right. I was taken back by so many things. The people, culture and religion of South Africa.. The first two days I tried to soak in everything and I swear by the third day I felt like I had been there my entire life. 28 hours on a plane was well worth it… but not worth coming

This trip has opened my eyes to the way we communicate with each other. There are many hardships going on in the world around us and some of us take it upon ourselves to learn about these things. The issue of the South Africa apartheid is apparent but not spoken about in everyday conversation. Many of the South Africa people choose not to speak about it often.

I found myself related to the situation because of the issues in Palestine where my family is from. When asked to talk about the division on land destruction of certain peoples cultures, histories. It is hard to rehash things when half the world thinks it's over and half haven’t even seen the beginning of what’s going on.

I tried to learn most from the stories of the elders and educators we came across. I met so many wonderful people I can't explain how wonderful the people were. It was amazing how they address stereotypes.. It was almost fun for them to correct me in certain things. One of the most beautiful conversations I had was about how the people there get anger. How there’s lots of discussion and story telling as conflict resolution. Durban was very interesting and diverse. The Indian culture is one of the most surprising to me. I knew that there was population but not as apparent as it is. It is very beautiful yet challenging to understand, break down races and religion in South Africa. More race then religion obviously because of colonization…

Well the people helped me better understand what America really looks like from an outside perspective. I’ve learned to appreciate every experience I have whether in America or not.. We are not the richest country… We lack so much in so many ways here in the states… that all these other countries are so rich and thriving in so many other ways…One thing that strikes me was that people were saying how we should be proud to be Americans. Because we were the ones that could actually change what people think about the different countries of Africa. It is our job, because we care, not because any other reason. As humans we should know of each other as ways to coexist.

I spent the Muslim holiday Eid out there. It was one of the most interesting experiences ever. The way the city turns out for each other was fascinating. Even the non Muslim people were observant of the day. For example not in closing their shops but in being very welcoming and helpful in celebrating the day.

Ok so while I was out there meeting the people of South Africa.. We were part of a mind blowing amazing festival POETRY AFRICA… We met so many remarkable poets from all over the continent. We seen what their place is society and how their work really benefits their people. It was so cool because being an artist is commended out there..

My first poem was written after visiting a school in Durban and I was asked why I write?

Friday, October 10, 2008

This was after hearing a poem about heritage (By Tahani)

Take shape!
We have watched the leaves of our lives taken shape
Lined with the journeys of our lineage
We are green
Mustered our way to brown
Life lines of wisdom have been spread across my face
By the whisper winds of grandmother stories
We are left wounded in the mist of life lessons we are lifted away by winds kiss
We have fallen from the finger tips of grandfather trees
Falling in to the abyss of life’s twists and turns
Drips of rain washing life’s grim and grime
Life as a leaf
Falling back into the hands of mother
Her earthier hands grip me solid liquid and ready
I am ready
To live.

Roxy from Egypt

So i know this post is long overdue seeing as how I have been studying abroad in Egypt for a little over a month now. I have just been trying to soak in all of the information. And to be honest, I think the beauty of this country intimidated me from writing. I mean I definitely wrote but I think I was just scared to share my experiences publicly because it all just seems too precious to describe into words. This week however, it dawned on me that all the indescribable beauties that I used to admire have become just another aspect of my day and that I have become immune, or I guess naturalized to my environment.

I have only just come to terms with this immunity as I flip through the pages of my journal and read all of my entries from my first weeks here. When I first got here I took note of every single detail describing the houses and the faces of everyone I was encountering. My eyes were constantly observing everything and anything in front of me. I wrote a great deal about noticing the vast disparity between the rich and the poor- it is so weird to me to now become immune to the differences and just think of it as Egypt. I learned in my ancient Egypt class that the ancient Egyptians believed that you did not have to be born in Egypt to be considered Egyptian. All you had to do was live there and live like the Egyptians to be considered Egyptian. Is it weird that I almost feel Egyptian? I have gotten into the swing of things, and already have my routines and it scares me. I was going through old journal entries reading about all the little children that would come up to me at the beginning and ask for baksheesh (money). I wrote about all the conflicting emotions that where going through my heart. Whether it was wrong or right to give them money what was fifty cents to me? But was I only feeding into a horrible cycle? I would compare these little children to me as a child, and when I was six years old my biggest concern was what the colors blue and yellow made. I had no concept of money. Then I go to the university here and I see rich Egyptians wearing Gucci and Prada, and I was so flabbergasted at the vast difference between the two classes. Reading all my old thoughts saddened me because I no longer have this eagerness to observe burning within me. I think I have become so overwhelmed with my classes, friends, and exploring that I have forgotten to savor the precious moments that are building my experience here. I have let the normality of everyday life here consume me and have temporarily put out the fire within me that used to burn with questions. Now that I have become aware of it. I am going to pay close attention to the beauty of this gorgeous country and its people and start again from scratch, and in poet terms that would be a pen and notebook.

I think I will leave this post with something I wrote in my journal on on September 4th, 2008, not for those reading- but more to remind myself of the me that came to cairo and the me that has so much more to learn.

I am trying so hard to savor these moments
in a jar to place
within my heart
holding on with a tight grip
afraid to let these moments leave me
before I appreciate them
I don’t want this experience to become just another journal entry I refer to
when I’m nostalgic
So I watch the people pass
Every smile, every car, every cat-call,
And try and recall every detail
I don’t want this time to become a memory that seems so distant
I question if I’ve lived it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Murambi Genocide Memorial & Nyamata Church (Gikongoro & Nyamata, Rwanda)

Papi & Sarita - you were right. I was wrong on that one.

And I've grown enough since this summer to realize that.

What I'm referencing is an intense and heated debate I had with my father and older sister while in Slovakia in July - what started the whole thing?
I said I thought Austria has a rude culture and they disagreed. They didn't disagree that Austrians might be aloof or standofish, but as my father pointed out "most people aren't sure what to do in social situations more than they have a problem with you."

And he's right. I honestly believed what I was saying then but I don't anymore - building off of what my wise father and sister were trying to have me realize is the following:

human beings are much more characterized by their need to fit in with their peers and the insecurities that might come along with that than any inherent ill will towards others or malice that may lie in their bones.

It probably seems like an absurdly counter-intuitive conclusion to reach after one of the most inexplicable days of my life today as I visited the two most haunting places I've ever seen.

But that's where I am right now in my head and heart.

On the ride first to Gikongoro, we passed scores of "genocidaires," which are people who were convicted of helping to carry out the genocide in 1994. How do I know they were "genocidaires"?
Part of their sentence is that they must be outfitted entirely in bright pink so that everyone around them will know that they took part in the massacre.

As the vehicle slowly weaved through a crowd of these identified "genocidaires" I was struck by two things:
1. how young they were - all seemingly in their late 20s or early 30s at most - which would mean that they were in their early to mid-teens when they joined the interahamwe and participated in the Genocide in 1994
2. how normal they looked - I searched their eyes for the answers to the impossible questions that inevitably arise in this country, but I found nothing - no hate, no evil, no anger - none of the easy ways out that might have settled some of what's in my gut at this moment.

Most of the guys just looked very focused on their tasks - carrying bricks or cutting grass, helping to load a truck. Or, as I saw with a group of five, they just looked like a bunch of guys trying to fit in with the guys - could have been my crew in high school. And a lot of them just looked bored or lost in thought - sort of like everyone in the court room at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that I spoke about when I was in Arusha.

What I struggle with is what that left me with:
the need to fit.
Which is not an adquate explanation, by any means, for the massacre of one million people, including babies and mothers, in just over 3 months.

Everything that has been coarsing through me since I've been here has only gotten more jumbled and complicated and unclear as I've gone along. A few things I'm sure of:

1. I don't believe that I'm above what took place here - either killer, victim, bystander - I know what I'd like to do if I had been there but I have never stared into the face of 1994's shadow, outside of these memorials. And a lot of people who stood by and watched genocides take place were the same people who said "Never Again." There is a danger in assuming you are above things other human beings do. And there is an even bigger danger in assuming that you are not complicit in faraway world events that you "had nothing to do with."

2. The Germans initially, but more so the Belgians, and most of all, the French enabled, assisted, facilitated, and allowed the worst atrocities this world may have ever seen to occur - with the bloody glove of Colonialism blazing a trail forward.

Beyond those two things, I don't have much else.

A lot of today I thought about the interview I saw of this journalist with Jeffrey Dahmer - a serial killer from Wisconsin who killed and then cannabilized his victims - and how the whole time watching the show I thought, "He seems like just a shy, sensitive, kind of awkward dude...I'd probably be friends with that guy in school."

Of course, Dahmer was clinically insane but I remember feeling perplexed that, outside of him talking about the murders he committed, I couldn't see the monster in there. Seeing the "genocidaires" today was a similar experience - they reminded me of guys I knew. They reminded me of guys I love and care about. They reminded me of fathers of friends and coaches I've had and older brothers I've hung out with.


Once again, both of the places I visited today were too much to try to capture in some sort of coherent and well-organized text - so I'm going to just give some impressions and thoughts on each...



After about a 3 hour drive from Kigali we arrived at the Murambi Genocide Memorial in Ginkogoro (which has been renamed since the Genocide like most places in the country).
Murambi was a technical college still in construction in April of 1994. As the Genocide commenced, local politicians urged everyone in surrounding areas to take refuge in its buildings for protection. However, their actual intent was the exact opposite - as the director of the memorial explained to me, "They said it would be for protection but really is to kill them easy," as he let out a painful, ironic chuckle.

The college is on this stunning hill surrounded by the most beautiful scenery you've ever seen. It looks straight out of "The Sound of Music," the same sprawling nature views you might see in Austria or Switzerland. The whole time I thought:
this road to hell is beautiful.

As the dirctor showed me to the buildings he began opening doors one-by-one. Onto the 3rd or 4th door before I had even looked into the first. What I found was inexplicable -- rooms full of bodies preserved with lime -

families sprawled out on tables with clothing still on them

hair still visible on a woman's head, her blouse splattered red with her arms petrified over her face

a baby in a soccer shirt with his thumb at his mouth, his skull shattered open, raw

siblings embracing each other

The director opened about 11 doors and then walked away and handed the keys off to his assistant who kept opening more doors. I told her it was enough. It felt like they opened 100 doors. I could smell the death in each room, feeling it creep into my mouth and burn my taste buds, as the creaking doors seemed to endlessly open and shut.

I was the only person at the entire memorial. Not one person came the entire time. The director hitched a ride with us as we left and they closed the front doors.

The only people there were the three of us and about 7 people with machetes
between the buildings - trimming the grass.

The director walked me out to the mass grave where most of the 50,000 people who were killed at Murambi are buried. A sign pointed out where French "peace keepers" with Operation Turquiose planted the French flag after they discovered the massacred hill full of bodies.

All I heard was the wind and a woman singing, the words echoing out of one of the buildings, as she cleaned the floor of a bathroom - my eyes seeing red as she pushed the soapy water with her mop.

Just in front of three signs that all identified the mass grave we were standing on top of was a final sign that read:
"Here is where French soldiers played volley" (after discovering the freshly dug, partially covered mass graves of 50,000 Rwandans who huddled together, waiting to be saved)



A stone's throw from where 2,000 people were hacked to death with machetes as they prayed to God and sought refuge in Nyamata church is a massive elementary school.

I can't explain how haunting it is to hear kids laughing and squeeling in the background as you stand in a church with the clothes of 2,000 people who were massacred stacked onto the pews. There are still blood stains on the walls. Behind in the church is a mass grave with steps leading down into it, with skulls and bones piled floor to ceiling. The tomb is so packed I couldn't turn around without my shoulders clipping the shelves.

As I walked out of the site, I heard thunder in the distance, one loud crash, and then a light rain that fell literally until the moment we crossed out of Nyamata's town limits.

The enduring image I will never shake is the following, as I took one last glance before walking out of the church and all the pieces slid together in my mind:

On top of the alter -

overlooking the towering piles of stacked clothes of 2,000 people who sought refuge in what they thought was a place of God and were hacked to death, just above a basement filled with hip bones and red-tinted skulls and just beneath a baby-blue trim Virgin Mary statue frozen in silent prayer -

a blunted machete and a blood-stained Identity Card lying side-by-side.