Monday, July 01, 2013

From Our Own Correspondent

I don’t cry often at all, maybe once a year? I am getting better at crying, but it still isn’t something that I do much unless I am arguing with my mother. The surest way to make me cry used to be to let me read Bridge to Terabithia; I read it each year in school simply to have my yearly cry.

There is one time I remember crying and not even realising it; I was cleaning my bathroom and listening to From Our Own Correspondent from the BBC. The story covered UN Peacekeepers in Africa and it was utterly heart wrenching listening. At one point the reporter’s voice broke with emotion and I found myself having to mop up my own tears from the tiles, tears that fell without me feeling them at all through my sympathy and sadness. I can still feel how cold those tiles were under my knees as I really let myself feel the personal impact of knowing of the great suffering in the world.

That was the year that I listened to the BBC World Service in the morning as I had breakfast and, as it was midnight at Greenwich Mean Time, I was usually listening to a world news magazine programme. One morning I caught a very unusual moment of live radio because prominent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a vocal detractor of Putin, had been gunned down in her hallway.

One of her fellow journalists talked to the BBC briefly to comment on government involvement. She boldly accused Putin of killing her friend, and spoke quickly but disturbingly about journalists and their families diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and sent to camps in Siberia. The BBC presenter asked her if she could say more or speak again to journalists outside Russia. She said she would not, that this would be her only statement, because it would not be her gunned down in retaliation, but her family sent to camps for no reason.

I remember standing in my kitchen, every hair on my body standing up in horror at the unsentimental communication of the nature of the regime in Russia at the time. It gave me an out of body experience as I fully understood that I lived in almost unbearable political safety compared to the entirely shocking conditions evident elsewhere in the world. It was a painful moment, but one that I had to go through to develop a wider perspective in life.

There is an almost overwhelming record of personal experiences of oppression and discrimination in the world, a record that once encountered, cannot be denied by any human possessing the smallest quota of empathy. I personally used to treat the War on Women as a distant warzone because it was not happening to me, until a perfect storm of generational misogyny and a surprisingly feminist experience opened my eyes. And when I opened my eyes I found myself in the middle of a gendercidal war, intent on turning all the people closest to me into sleepwalking soldiers.

And I have to say, I am writing this after having gone into my room on a warm and sunny day and crying with shock and surprise, something completely unusual for me to experience. The completely spontaneous crying is certainly a surpise, but it was the thought that prompted the crying that was the biggest surprise. You see, I was trying to think of a proper image to describe the transition from blissful ignorance of the War on Women to the terrifying reality as communicated by the correspondents around the world reporting on the women tortured and dying because of their gender. And what sprung to mind was my favourite piece of writing, written over four years of writer's block and crafted from countless difficult emails to friends trying to explain the screaming inside my head. What sprung to mind was an essay on feminism written passionately but never published.

I cried because for some reason, I have known all along that I am not actually skipping along in a meadow of flowers in a utopia of safety and freedom. I was taught that image, I was given that image, I was encouraged to buy into that image. And for a very long time my writing, flowing out of my brain and through my fingers into the pen and onto the keyboard somehow bypassed that conditioning and found the truth, the unpalateable, the destructive truth. And the reason I cry easier now is because I ignored the foreign correspondent and investigative journalist inside me for a very long time, and that is a sad thing to have to admit.

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