Last night the 2012 Northern Freedom benefit concert was held at Simplon in Groningen, which I got to cover for Amnesty. Somewhat coincidentally, my good friends in Stranger Things Have Happened were on the program for the night, so it was a fun confluence of things that matter to me. The main event of the evening was to award the Glass Candle to a young person in the northern provinces of the Netherlands who has done remarkable work for the support and furtherance of human rights. This year the winners were representatives of a group called Saidia Student Foundation, which has helped to raise the funds to bring students from Africa to the Netherlands for a semester abroad. Hopefully the recognition from this award from Amnesty will help to raise awareness of the group's work and enable them to help more students in the future. Of course, I had the camera by my side, so here are some of my favorite photos from the event.
Now is the time of year for surprisingly nice weather, wearing orange in very strange shapes and combinations, and goofy horns honking from all directions. I felt as Dutch as ever yesterday as I got to help at a stand for Stichting Didi, a non-profit organization that I have been working with for the past year, selling hand-made crafts by Nepalese women who have been given the opportunity to learn new skills after escaping from sexual trafficking and marginalization. So being a participant in the Dutch tradition of sitting on the sidewalk trying to catch the attention of hundreds of Dutch people wearing hilarious outfits felt to me like I may as well be exempt from any immigration requirements - it doesn't get any Dutcher than this, I think.
Oh, wow. Bruges is one the prettiest places I've ever seen. Our friends Sabrina and Simo are lucky enough to live practically in the very center of this living fairytale of a town, and along with our friend Sabine, Elger and I took a quick road trip through intermittent downpours and seeing downpours in the distance to Belgium to wander these streets with hundreds of tourists and drink powerful delicious beers. Brugges has been a tourist destination since the late 1800s and the horse-drawn carriages on the cobblestones do a good job of convincing visitors of having time traveled. Along with this status comes gross postcards and tourist traps, but it's so beautiful that you can't help but just marvel.
While I haven't been living here in Groningen for a full year just yet - but getting breath-takingly close - I have been here now long enough to see the full seasonal range from the little porch we have, with its view of the Oude Winschoterdiep canal and two towering apartment buildings. It's almost impossible to resist using them in any photos I take of the volatile weather (but usually a little cold and a little rainy). I've said it to anyone who will listen over the past year, that when the light here is bad, it's bad - almost a total absence of light - but when it's good, it's transcendental and Rembrandt-esque.
The city squares today are filled with flowers, and many German people buying them. So I took some photos, naturally.
Groningen, the not-too-big, not-too-small, Dutch city where I live has, even by Dutch standards, a LOT of bicycles. During the weekend, the bike parking garage (really) at the train station is usually full to capacity: 10,000. There are more bikes than people in the city. This is due in large part to it being a student city for hundreds of years, and bikes being the ideal mode of transportation after spending the wee hours in the bars. I love it. As an American kid, biking meant spring air and overalls and neighbor's yards, and getting to do it every day here just makes my heart light. Not to mention, as a photographer, it's perfect for having to stop suddenly to capture street moments.
On Wednesday evening, still feeling a little jet lagged, I covered another assignment for Amnesty International's regional office - a conversation with Nahed Selim, an Egyptian writer who has been living in the Netherlands for more than 30 years and is considered part of the third wave of feminists. She spoke very candidly and considerately about the impact of the Arab Spring, and her predictions for the future of the region, especially within Egypt. Below are some photos that I took, as well as an English translation of my article, the Dutch version of which can be found here: www.amnesty.nl
In the lead up to International Women's Day 2012, Nahed Selim, an Egyptian writer who has lived in the Netherlands since 1979, participated in a conversation at De Harmonie in Leeuwarden about her experiences as a woman in Egypt and her instincts about the outcome and the future of the Arab Spring
There were around 50 people present, a mix of men and women, native Dutch people and people with international backgrounds: blondes and hijabs sitting beside one another. Selim said she is simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic about the future for all Egyptians. "I personally am convinced that men and women should have the same rights, and in society they must also have the same opportunities," said Selim, however uncertain if this will occur in Egypt.
After the revolution, according to Selim, people were "too optimistic about their chances to be a part of the new power." She said that women played a large role during the revolution, especially through social media. In reality, the history of revolutions in Middle Eastern countries during the 20th century demonstrates that without a true change to the government, not just who leads it, women's rights have not been permanently changed.
A clear example from the aftermath of the Arab Spring is that there are now eight women in the Egyptian parliament - eight in a group of 500 members, less than two percent (in spite of a new law that requires at least 64 women to be members of parliament). A sad insight into the tenuous position of women after the revolution is the proposal by one of the Islamic parties to reduce joblessness: "They have said that a solution should consist of women working less outside the home, so that there will be more room for men to work."
"I think it is terrible, when a woman has completed her degree as an engineer... but people quickly say to her, 'No ma'am, go home, because we want to keep this position open for a male engineer.'"
Through this conversation, and because it is named International Women's Day, it is completely clear that this day of awareness is unfortunately not irrelevant for many women in the world (in contrast with the trendy opinion this week to question whether International Women's day is still needed or relevant within the Netherlands). Women's Day is still crucial for women in countries where their rights could still be taken away, and as long as there is injustice against women anywhere in the world, it means that injustice against women is possible everywhere.
Just got back from a too short but very full week visiting my crazy chaotic hilarious wonderful family. So I took some pictures!
The sun was setting on our flight from Detroit to Charlotte - in fact, it appeared to rise in the west as we ascended into the clouds, which felt like time travel.
My niece, who is walking and talking and thoughtful and very very sweet.
She has a puppy named Bailey. Yes, Kayley and Bailey. I'll try to write a children's book about them soon.
My brother Jacob sees the world as his personal parcour course.
The mall is a fine place for a staring contest.
Back at the airport, almost before we felt we had left at all.
This is not nearly as sexy (nor soapy) as that title would suggest, unless you consider f/1.8 water droplets of sweet, sweet colors sexy. Which, I'll confess, I absolutely do.
The shower that we have at our apartment is like something that should be on a spaceship. It is called Duscholux. I will never feel comfortable using the Dutch word for showering, which is "douchen," but that hopefully explains the model name of the shower. Yes, this shower has a name. It has two main jets of water, PLUS a built-in seat with little massaging jets, AND four other jets on the side JUST BECAUSE. To be honest, I only ever use the normal shower head, because the others seem totally indulgent and ridiculous. The shower, like our whole almost too cool apartment, is uber modern and makes its inhabitants feel slightly guilty for occupying them. BUT. The coolest feature of the shower, which I have only ever used to show off to friends (not while showering), is that it has LIGHTS. THAT CHANGE COLORS. They filter through the whole rainbow over about 30 minutes, so since it is terribly gray and depressing outside today, I got my color fix today by turning on the lights and just periodically turning on the water once the colors changed.
In October I started working as a volunteer reporter and photographer for Amnesty International. The organization, whose goal is to support and enable human rights across the world, has one of its largest offices here in the Netherlands, and each province has their own local offices. I have enjoyed getting to cover local fundraising events for the organization in Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen this winter, the most recent being a Goededoelenmarkt (Good Goal Market, literally, but more accurately a Good Cause Marketplace) at Friesland College in Heerenveen. The Dutch version, which I also wrote (I have to admit, I am quite proud of that!), is on the site (www.amnesty.nl), but I wanted to post an English version here, along with some additional photos from the day.
All shades of yellow at the Amnesty International booth caught the eye during the Good Cause Marketplace at the Friesland College in Heerenveen. Six students studying to become social workers were representing the organization alongside other NGOs, including Doctors without Borders and KindWeesKind.
Eventually these students will work with the handicapped and others, young and old, who need assistance and help, so supporting Amnesty was a good fit. The Good Intentions Marketplace began as an assignment for the students, but for these young women it was a chance to learn more about the work that Amnesty does and to share information with visitors to the event. Many Amnesty items were for sale for fundraising, but there was also plenty of free information available for people who wanted to learn more about Amnesty's campaigns.
"I think it is important that everyone has the same rights," said Donna Aguel, one of the Amnesty stand volunteers. This belief was made clear in a debate which Aguel led about different subjects within the theme of human rights. There were 30 people participating, and they were asked to take a position of "agree" or "disagree," and then to stand on either side of the room with others who also held their opinion. Through questions, such as, "Should everyone be required to donate money so that children can attend school and receive care?" and, "Is the burka ban good or bad?", the participants were tasked with explaining why they were for or against these social questions.
The question about the burka ban was the most divisive. There were approximately the same number of people on either side of the issue, but a couple stood in the middle because they found it too difficult to decide. The final question regarded gay rights and whether or not homosexuality is a sickness. The entire group disagreed that it was a sickness, but two participants pretended to agree for the sake of the debate. These two questions in particular cover the borders between freedom and human rights, just as in the reality of the work that Amnesty does in many countries.
However, there is indeed hope for the future: in response to the question, "Are women less good at certain things, such as physically challenging work, than men?", one of the young men said, "In the future, men will also be able to give birth," and thereby everyone can share the same chances and responsibilities.