Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tibet after the Olympics - "We're still going to fight"

Keeping the pressure on China on the last days of the Olympic games, a throng of demonstrators converged on Times Square today to raise awareness about China's occupation of Tibet.

The event, organized by five community and advocacy groups, began at the Chinese consulate on 12th Avenue by the Hudson River. The protesters then marched to Times Square and formed a human chain that started at the corner of Broadway and 42nd St.

"We just wanted to send a message out to the world that, although the Olympics may be ending this week, the Tibetan struggle is not ending," said Tengin Carlo, 28, a member of the Tibetan Women's Association, a local community group that helped organize the march. "We're still going to fight for the people of Tibet."

Sean Su, one of the day's speakers, a Taiwanese member of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, estimated that over 3,000 people turned out for the day's events. Police officers in Times Square declined to offer an estimate. The number of protesters at the bustling street corner, who sat inside a rectangular metal barricade that stretched for two blocks, appeared to be in the hundreds.

Most of the demonstrators wore black t-shirts that read, "CHINA STOP THE TIBET GENOCIDE." Demonstrators said that China has been committing "cultural genocide," dominating the land of Tibet, brutalizing its people, and destroying its culture and traditions.

Lobsang Chundoy, 53, a Tibetan chemist who lives in Seattle, Washington, said that his home country has felt alien during visits over the past two decades.

"It's like being in someone else's country," he said. "If you go anywhere, you see Chinese."

For her part, Carlo, the member of the Tibetan Women's Association, who was born in Nepal, has never visited her parents' home country. She said that many people of Tibetan descent and of her age were born elsewhere, because their parents had escaped after the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1951.

Carlo said that obtaining a visa to Tibet is difficult, especially since the Chinese government will regularly "check on" members of Tibetan organizations outside China.

Tibet has experienced an intense crackdown during the Olympics, organizers said, estimating that over 140 Tibetans have been killed, and 500 injured, since the beginning of the games.

The Chinese government has also detained meddling visitors from abroad. Last Tuesday, five American members of Students for a Free Tibet, an international advocacy group that helped organize today's human chain, were arrested in Beijing for displaying a banner next to the Beijing National Stadium that read "free Tibet." That same day, Beijing police arrested James Powderly, a New York City-based graffiti artist, for projecting the message "Free Tibet" on buildings using a specially-designed green laser.

In Times Square, the only disruption or counter-demonstration was a burly, blustering Caucasian man carrying a stack of China Daily newspapers, who intermittently showed up to bark at the crowd, accusing "Taiwan" of being a "tool of the CIA."

At one point, he yelled, "CIA tools! CIA tools, that's all you are!"

When the speeches came to an end, the activists sang the Tibetan national anthem for seven dramatic minutes. All the while, kitty-corner to them, the latest Olympic scores flashed across the Dow Jones ticker.

Once the Olympics come to an end, according to Nick Dulotta, 20, a member of Students for a Free Tibet, community and advocacy groups in New York plan to escalate pro-Tibet activities. He added that the most important day will be March 10, 2009, the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, when a mass anti-occupation revolt spread across the region.

"I think that we'll see even more dedication, more increased action, more support from around the world," he said. "Now is the time."

Photography by Ryan Hale

At long last...

...our Veep-hopeful is revealed! Senator Joe Biden. Right now I'm watching Barack Obama and Biden's heartful speeches in Springfield, Illinois, on Al Jazeera online TV. The two of them are bro-ing down, big time. And there's been at least one vague reference to Langston Hughes. The crowd roars!

What I don't like about Joe Biden is his "soft-partition" idea for Iraq. Helene Cooper of the New York Times describes it as such: "There would be a loose Kurdistan, a loose Shiastan and a loose Sunnistan, all under a big, if weak, Iraq umbrella."

Ergo, it's a fool's plan.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Smell

At the edge of the Rift Valley in Nairobi, Kenya, little Wendy
strikes a pose. Photo by Hannah Rappleye.

Nairobi, 6/8/08, the dry season:

I am sitting on a well-kept couch and eating fried green beans and oily beef, picking it up with chunks of chapati, and feeling a little sick. Hannah and I are in the living room of the family of our friend Mike Tiampati, Program Manager of the Mainyoito Pastoralist Integrated Development Organization. His two adorable daughters are going crazy on orange Fanta, and we're watching "Project Fame," a low-budget East African imitation of "American Idol" sponsored by Kenya's famous Tusker beer. First up is a cover of "Billie Jean." Later, a fellow in a tilted stetson hat sings Usher. They're all amateurs, but they're strivers. Before we discover who is dumped and who is saved, I look Hannah in the eyes and suggest that it's time to go.

It's dark as we walk through a sort of grimy alleyway towards the guest house. Mike, 35, tall and burly, a bold man with a genial manner, totes his defensive weapon - a long club with a knob at the end. A drunk man stumbles by. Any moment, I tell myself. It's just about to happen; and then it does. I double over and eject all the contents of my stomach onto the ground. My eyes water and snot bursts out of my nose. I can taste bile and Fanta . I amble a few steps and vomit some more.

"The Maasai say it's the best medicine," Mike says, chuckling.

There is something peculiar about our guest house. As we cross a muddy field in our approach, I notice a young man and woman standing together awkwardly move away from each other, and proceed to stroll towards the front gate separately. Once Hannah and I enter the dimly-lit barroom, buzzing with activity - couples sit at a few couches, smoking cigarettes and chatting, in groove with the music - I go in search of a bathroom. The place hosts many rooms, but only singles and double-sized beds. The bar sells water, cigarettes and bottles of Vat 69, Bond 7, Waragi, and other hard liquors. In this crammed, convivial atmosphere, I find the bathroom along the hallway. Mike's only gone here a couple times for drinks; he describes it as a "rendezvous" site. Mike would never stay here, because he is a married man.

The next morning is overcast. Hannah and I are sitting in patio chairs by the front door, waiting for Mike to bring us to Narok, where we will meet Maasai tribesmen and women. We're feeling slightly annoyed - inside, as the ladies clean the bar, a Christian radio program called "Women of Faith" blares over the speakers. Stentorian voices spread subliminal messages in a fog of pious feedback. "The Father goes so far beyond what a wayward child deserves," an intense voice says over the radio. "The Father runs and throws His arms around you."

The show ends and on comes a loop of power-ballads that praise Jesus Christ, in all his glory. I imagine that the point of all this is to rock the sin out of the entire guest house, using blessed noise.

"This music makes me want to drink whiskey and have sex," Hannah says.

A few minutes pass, and she recognizes one tune and sings along:

"Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from Heaven above
With wisdom, power and love
Our God is an awesome God!"

Then, suddenly, something familiar emerges from the daily morning bustle. It's the smell again.

The smell is pungent, wet, but neither sweet nor bitter. It is not distasteful, but it's not pleasant. It may be the ruddy mud fermenting in the heat - but the smell shows up where there is no mud. All of a sudden, anywhere, it is there. I might be walking around one of Kampala's suburbs, or cramming my legs into the seat of a rumbling coach bus and resting my head against a window that doesn't open, or sitting calmly on the back of a sputtering bodaboda while swerving through a busy street: the smell is there. A couple days back, I passed an invisible wall when I entered a grass lawn at a hostel in Jinja, and there was the smell. Its formula activated and prodded the swirling in my intestines, and I threw up. I've never asked any locals, ex pats or visitors about the smell; it remains a mystery.

Now, in the parking lot before me, I smell the smell.

I feel truly mystified, haunted, dare I say harassed! I sniff and shake my head, turn to Hannah and rattle on about the smell, the smell again. It's everywhere! I write into my notebook every instance I can remember of encountering the smell. I want to know, What is the smell?!

Yet we're waiting so long that eventually we get up to go walk down the main street, and we buy bicuits and a toothbrush. By the time we're back at the patio chairs drinking Krest with Mike telling us about Maasai tradition, the smell has disappeared and I've forgotten for a time that there ever was a smell. When I go up to northern Uganda, to Gulu, the smell is not there.

The smell is omnipresent, here or not here. It could be a sign.

Do you know what the smell is?

The Best Business Names in America

Since the beginning of 2008, as an employee for GMP, I've made exactly 2,583 phone calls to toy stores, gift shops, bookstores, gourmet stores, pharmacies, and countless miscellaneous businesses from across America. As you can imagine, I've encountered a lot of good store names. (Check out my older list.) Today, I present to you the best of the best:

Dog Ate My Homework
Brass Banana
Village Wizard
Trees of Mystery
Cool Baby
Nonchalant Mom
Up With Learning
Go Fly A Kite
Destination Paper (voicemail: “Your road to a custom message starts here.”)
Learn On Your Own
Assembly Line Toys
World’s Best Toys
Pocket Full of Therapy
Latte Tots
Murray’s Toggery Shop
The Toggery
Try & Buy
Tra La La
Fun Kuts
TransLoad America
Babyland (shops of this name exist in CA, FL, IL, LA, MS, NJ, NY, PA and VT)