Summer of blurs

This short piece was written for the Ampersand Journal (McGill University) Summer Issue 2011.

It was a summer of blurs. Six cities, five addresses, four countries, three jobs, two suitcases, one girl. A student summer – when it’s not spent wasting away in front of the TV in that new-found post-finals freedom – generally consists of one or more of the following: job, internship, travel. This summer, my last in Europe before coming to Montreal as an exchange student, I decided to try my hand at all three.

First on my list was Edinburgh. I’ve lived there for two years, and yet in my post-exams freedom, it struck me anew just how beautiful a city it is – domes and steeples, bathed in light, tripping over history in the streets.  A short flight later and it’s on to Oslo, in all its artistic grunge and glory, set against the clear and pristine glass surface of the fjords. When we heard about the shootings there two months later, the memory became inexplicably more sombre – the peacefulness we remembered was so distant, as if underwater.

By that point, I was back in England, having braved the five hour drive from Edinburgh to Birmingham. By British standards, that’s something of a long journey. A few weeks later, I had spent a few days in Nottingham and was living in London, reminded daily to mind the gap as I left the tube. The London life was everything I could have imagined – a magazine internship, dinner on the South Bank of the Thames, underground cocktails – and the photocopying, book-logging and coffee-runs at the office. I remember struggling down the street with six cups of coffee in hand (I say in hand – I mean cradled precariously in my ungainly arms) prompting a passer-by to yell “Intern?” with a look of simultaneous amusement and pity.

Regardless, interning in London was more glamorous than the jobs which followed it in my attempts to save for the year ahead of me. Having received job rejections almost everywhere from Selfridges to Starbucks (and Starbucks in Selfridges, come to think of it), I found work as a cleaner for a little old woman in Staffordshire who took rather too keen an interest in my love life. Many, many hours of vacuuming and many cups of coffee later, I left to work in Edinburgh for the Festival. The atmosphere was astonishing. Each day, when I left my job as a kindergarten worker, let my hair down and changed out of my uniform, I was struck anew at the vibrancy and life of the city around me. People swarmed in masses of colour as singers, dancers and mimes performed in the streets, offices, pubs, parks, and alleyways.

And all too soon, it was the last week of August. Several trains, two flights and a few minor immigration issues later, my two suitcases and I find ourselves in Montreal for my exchange year. And so begins another blurry adventure.

Inspirational: Chouchou Namegabe

This article was written for a special double-page feature for International Women’s Day, which discussed inspirational women in the world today.

Chouchou Namegabe

You don’t need me to tell you that there are hundreds of inspirational women out there. We females make up one half of the world’s population, so there’s plenty of choice. So when I sat down to think about who I would choose to write this article on, naturally there was an array of choice. Audrey Hepburn came to mind, with her immortal style and humanitarian work. Mother Theresa seemed another obvious choice, with her selfless love of Calcutta’s poor. I thought of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in all those years of house arrest in Burma. More and more names darted into my head: Marie Curie, Emeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, JK Rowling, and – dare I say it – Margaret Thatcher. Each of these exceptionally well-known women achieved something remarkable, something truly inspirational, but there is another woman, a little less famous, whom I believe to be truly inspiring.

Chouchou Namegabe is a self-taught radio journalist from the South Kivu Province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this area, she has emerged as a passionate voice for her people, speaking out for the countless women victimised by sexual violence in the civil wars that have ravaged the country, bringing this brutalisation to global attention. Having started her career as a presenter at local radio station Radio Maendeleo in 1997, Namegabe turned her microphone into a weapon for activism in the late 1990s as Eastern Congo was overcome by violence. “Why do they fight a war on women’s bodies?” she asks.

Her coverage of the intense suffering of women and girls subjected to rape and torture during the twelve-year conflict has come at a great personal risk, as she travelled great distances to give a voice to the women traumatised by their ordeals. She had the courage to publicly denounce the corruption and mismanagement of ruling authorities, and still continues to face severe threats, especially after her powerful testimony to the International Court of Justice in 2007, which urged The Hague to classify rape as a political weapon in the Congo.

Moreover, in 2003, Namegabe founded the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists (AFEM) to further her activism, train female journalists and equip more women with microphones.  Together with AFEM, she continues to cover more stories, on topics from women’s health and human rights – which are considered to be her areas of expertise – as well as government mismanagement and corruption.

Namagabe’s fearless work continues to act as an inspiration as she brings brutalisation to global attention. In addition to giving a voice to the otherwise voiceless victims of unthinkable atrocities, and demanding the global attention these issues deserve, she is actively equipping others to do likewise. Her efforts and selfless determination to find justice for the Congolese people are nothing short of heroic, and should be an inspiration to us all.