Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sudanese youth arm themselves with art to bring change

Published @

Sudan Eyez: Fight the Cause , a mix-tape that includes 14 tracks by different Sudanese musicians and poets couldn't have been produced at a more perfect time. While fight the cause was being widely circulated on Facebook and downloaded for free, a wave of political awareness was spreading amongst Sudanese youth.

Young men and women were putting Safia Ishaq, an activist who was gang-rapped by Sudanese security forces as their display picture and many were joining groups calling for changes a la Tunisia and Egypt. In its introduction, the mix-tape emphasizes that the battle for the Sudanese cause has been ongoing for 21 years and the movement towards change started on January the 30th 2011 was "inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian youth."

By asking the listeners to make this CD the soundtrack of the 2011 Sudanese revolution, the artists are actively trying to mobilize their listeners to become active and involved in the movement. The mix tape begins with a 1958 recording broadcasted from Omdurman Radio which was called "This is Omdurman" at the time.

The recording was two years after Sudan's independence from Great Britain and the year of its first military coup. Music from old Sudanese songs is sampled and integrated into a number of tracks. It covers different genres from hip-hop by US-based Sudanese rapper and poet, Selma-I and Khartoum-based rappers, ReZOULution to Reggae beats by Mao and R n B by Dubai-based Sudanese artist, Mo'awia known as Nile. Featured artists easily alternate between English and Arabic and insert cultural references such as referring to the government as Kozes, a cup made of metal used for drinking water in Sudan.
The artists began working on the CD after the January 30 protests and the whole idea was instigated by the arrest of rapper, blogger, activist and poet Ahmad Mahmoud also known as DZA the Dissenter. 70 protesters were arrested on the 30th of January protest. Two days later, Mahmoud was arrested as he took part in a peaceful protest in Khartoum North.

Hashim , the brain behind the idea said that the aim was to produce a mixtape “ that is going to inspire the Sudanese youth so they can’t let us down when it’s the right time to make some changes,”

Picking the contributors wasn’t a challenge for Hashim, he already had a few musicians in mind. He made sure to pick the tracks that match the concept of the album. He told me in an interview over Facebook that he knew that the musicians wouldn’t mind joining such an album even if it is going to bring them problems.

The tracks were already recorded, Hisham just had to pick the most suitable ones. He started working on the mixtape and was planning to dedicate it to Ahmad Mahmoud, his fellow musician and good friend. Fortunately, he was released twelve long days later.
In the meantime, the youth movements in Sudan decided that 21st of March was a day of mass protests. The mixtape had to be finished and distributed beforehand.

“I really wanted that album to spread awareness so I had to publish it unfinished, after all, it took me about one month to collect the pieces,” he stated.

The mixtape was distributed online. Many put a link to it on their Facebook page. I personally stumbled upon the mixtape after a friend of mine posted a link to it on Facebook. When I asked Hashim if they used the internet only for distributing the mixtape, he quoted the poet and musician, Gil Scott-Heron and told me that “the revolution will not be televised,”
Reminiscent of the role of Facebook and twitter in Tunisia and Egypt, he added that the revolution is not televised, but it is internized,”

G. AbuNafeesa, a medical doctor found herself part of the artistic movement calling for change when she read about what happened to Safia Ishaq, a 25 year old artist affiliated with Girfna, a two-year old youth movement calling for change. Ishaq was arrested on 13 February 2011 by the police for her involvement in the January 30 movement. Not long after she was released, she spoke out about her arrest , beating and subsequent gang-rape by three members of Sudan’s security service in a video testimony broadcasted on youtube.
AbuNafeesa was heartbroken and angry by the oppression of women in Sudan and the ongoing violence against civilians and decided to use her pen to write the story of the Sudanese struggle.
In her piece, the quality of equality, performed at the Women’s Week at Ahfad University for Women in Sudan, she spoke of Ishaq when she said
“You asked for the quality of your equality, And gained nothing but cold depravity…of ones who crowned your head with fear
when they unwrapped your hijab, and bound your hands -
because you chose to make a stand!”

AbuNafeesa has used Ishaq’s picture as her facebook display picture for nearly 2 months now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

BlogHer 2011

It was really difficult to make the decision to go to Blogher. I was scared of going to a faraway place on my own. I have traveled alone before but to neighboring countries and even when I studied abroad in California , I was with 5 other girls from college so I rarely had to be alone.

Then of course, I felt unqualified to be there. The panel I was speaking at was called "International Activist Blogger Scholarship". It was an award that I was nominated for an won:)

I was always an activist. Ever since I was a child, I understood the existence of injustice. I asked questions: why are we fighting a war with the south? why are certain tribes seen as better than other tribes? I just couldn't word it in my head, I couldn't call myself an activist until I was almost failing a class in college.

I was really concerned about my GPA so I went to speak to one of my professors. He basically told me that this course is not for me because I'm an activist and you can't bring activism to the classroom at all times.

I found myself develop into an even stronger activist when I moved to Sudan. I also struggled to keep my blog going with the 2 or 3 jobs I was doing at once. Then I was awarded the Blogher activist scholarship. It was announced on May and since then, I have been so motivated and more confident about my writing. Blogher is the best opportunity I was given since college to really realize my potential and think about all the issues that are close to my heart.

Day 0

My plane was at 8 a.m. I was all over the place. Packing, organizing, printing maps and itineraries. I went to sleep at 4 and woke up at 5:00. I live 10 minutes away from the airport so getting there was no hassle.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I ran into a girl from college. She was a friend of a friend and I remember her for her big smile and pointy shoes. We also met another girl from college and the three of us chit-chated until we boarded the plane.

A little over 4 hours later, we reached London. After over 30 minutes at the security check, we headed to the duty free, bought stuff, tasted a lot of amazing free chocolate and went our separate ways. R was going to Montreal. M was going to Washington and I was going to San Diego.

I'm familiar with "random check" at European and American airports , but I was surprised to see that I was the only one "randomly" checked while boarding the plane to San Diego. This is when you know that having a Sudanese passport labels you a lot of things. So after 10 minutes of really annoying "open your legs" "raise your arms" take off this and that and that, I was a free woman.

Day -1

This day was called pathfinder day. I headed to the convention center which was literally two steps way from my hotel. It was amazing! I attended a session in which Gina M. from Blogging While Brown was speaking. I came across her blog a few times. There was also a health blogger, Katherine from postpartumprogress and another blogger/online media expert.I have to admit, I left the session so keen on using her blog to spread awareness about PPP. I wonder how Sudanese women would react to hearing about PPP.
The session was really lively, I met a lot of great women (journalists/ researchers and women in academia).

Day 1

I was awake at 5 a.m. I turned on my laptop and skyped with friends until breakfast. I replied to tweets (I'm a beginner twitter user, or are we called tweeps?) so it took me a while to send "direct messages" , follow people and figure out how to improve my use of twitter since it is the hot thing right now. I remembered that I have to join Google Plus now because I keep getting invites and I need to be tech-savvy or whatever.

I looked at the conference guide and decided to go to the "Essential Writing and Editing Skills" session. I was torn between wellness for bloggers, cyberbullying and this session, but because I have to admit, I'm desperate to improve my writing skills and editing skills (since I usually have to edit my own work if I'm writing for Sudanese newspapers or writing blog posts). The session was moderated by Polly Pagenhart who works for Blogher and the panelists were Jane Goodwin and K.T. Bradford. Naturally, we discussed the use of slang and correct grammar. Even though Jane Goodwin teaches writing, she was really funny and grammar seemed fun ..for once.

I left the session more concerned about my blog posts, are they really grammatically incorrect and do they have spelling errors? I know I'm not a perfect writer, I still have a lot to learn especially that I'm not writing in my native language, however, well-edited and well-written posts make a huge difference. When you notice a spelling mistake, it stays with you and most of us judge writers for that. I'm not panicking about this post, but I admit that there are a lot of online resources out there for me to improve my writing and eventually, expand my target audience (how will I attract professional writers and scholars interested in Sudanese issues if my writing is not up to standards)

The second session I ended up going to is "Success On Our Own Terms". The room was packed, fresh graduates and older women were there to listen to Lori Leibovish and Christina Norman of the Huffington Post, Janice Min of the Hollywood Reporter , Susan Stiffelman- a well known author and Jane Buckingham, an author and blogger on Generation X and Y.

We were all there to listen to them because they are successful women and for me, as a young woman entering a competitive and sexist workforce, I always ask myself so many questions such as how do you balance having a family and a career? is there a balance in the first place? do you have to show "masculine" characteristics to be successful, i.e. successful women are often thought to be tougher than other females.

I don't even know if they are only portrayed as tough and often "cold" in the media because they have to act in a certain way or because working in top positions in all fields makes you this way. I was hoping to get some answers there or even advice on how to "make it" and stay sane.

The session was really alive, they had such powerful words to say on the work-life balance dilemma , but the best part was the Q and A. By the end of the session, it was clear to us that balancing your life and your work is so difficult, maybe we just need to focus on helping women stop feeling so guilty about not being everywhere and doing everything at the household.

The definition of success is rapidly changing in my opinion. You don't have to go to the office 5 times a week and work long hours to be successful, the Internet has given many men and women the opportunity to work flexible hours or even to work from home and be successful in their "own terms". This makes me optimistic that women in my generation will not face the same pressures faced by the past generations. We can make a choice, to work or not to work. You don't have to be a career woman to be "successful", you also have the choice to be a housewife. Equally important, you don't have to spend 80 hours at the office to climb the professional ladder.

After the session ended, I continued the amazing discussion with Tricia of She is a sweet, open-minded and passionate blogger focusing on beauty, fashion and life. I came across her blog a while ago and I was impressed by her witty posts and good photography. We spent an amazing time together visiting the EXPO. I ended up leaving with 3 gift bags full of useful stuff. I loved the Greek yogurt and the skinny cow ice cream. I also enjoyed the free sample beauty products from Philosophy, smoothies, greeting cards and travel pillow.
We also ended up going to the Voices of the year community keynote which was marked by inspiring speeches by passionate women. I laughed so hard and almost cried at some of the speeches. A mother losing a child, a woman whose friend lost a husband...

Women all over the world share the same aspirations and struggles , this was made clear during the voices of the year session. I wrote down their names and took notes during their talks, I want to continue reading their work and I aspire to become like them.

At the Blogher Party, I met Ann, an inspiring blogger who showed us a video she made during the keynote session. We had a thoughtful discussion about the video. I applauded her effort to start a new debate through her video on the idea of oppression. We talked about our narrow-minded interpretation of freedom and I was glad to know that a woman in a country so different than my own shares my views.
I also meet the sweet Lilian Chang who blogs @ Chinese Grandma. I looked at her blog and I love her insights on family life and her recipes.
I enjoyed the amazing snacks at the Blogher Party. Why do I not feel guilty when I eat so much finger food? Is it because of its small size. Small food doesn't have calories, right?

I couldn't go to the other parties. I was so exhausted from waking up so early so I retreated to my room.

Day 2:

When I was in college, I used to act in an annual play .That day, I woke up with the same feeling I had on the nights of performance. I had cramps and I felt dizzy. I struggled to put on my toub (the traditional Sudanese dress) and I fixed my hair to look classy and headed to the convention center.
Our session was the first session that day. It was scheduled on the same time as other sessions so the attendance was dispersed. Lilian Chang who I met on the first day of the conference was there so I had a familiar face to focus on every time I felt stressed. Rachel Levental , an acquaintance from Day 0 was also there and a couple of bloggers I met on Path-Finder day.
I think our session went pretty well. It was me and Simona Leid , a blogger from Trindaid and Tobago. The other two scholarship winners, Fungari from Zimbabwe and Yoani Sanchez from Cuba couldn't make it. Fungari had a death in the family and emailed us beforehand and Yoani couldn't leave Cuba because the government made it really difficult for her to get a visa to America. They even confiscated her documents a while ago. A representative from Latinos in Social Media, Elianne Ramos, was there to represent Yoani. Our moderator was Cheryl Contee, a blogger and partner at Fission Strategy. They were inspiring women and I felt so grateful to be there. The session went by really fast! We talked for a bit about our blogs and activism. To be honest, I have felt distanced from my blog in recent times, but I started blogging more actively last year. Over the years, my blog has helped me grow. I think my life would have been different if I had chosen not to start a blog. I would have led a more sheltered life and I wouldn't have made great contacts in the blogosphere and online.

Yes, I admit, blogging did change my life.

I made great contacts after the session. I was approached by many amazing women and I made sure to email each and every one of them after the conference!

We headed to an interview after our session and then I went to the Expo with Simona. We hung out there for a while and talked to other bloggers. I forgot that the immigration session was at 3 p.m. so I totally missed it!

Simona and I decided to explore San Diego. She was leaving the next day at 7 a.m. so we went to the mall and walked around the city. I took her to Heavenly Cupcakes, I had the most delicious Red Velvet Cupcake from there on my first day in the city. We went to the mall and spent most of our time at Bath and Body Works. Why do I always end up there? I was saddened to see that Borders had to close down. I felt that San Diego really lacked book stores!

We went back at 5 to attend the Women in the Media session. It was INCREDIBLE! They were all amazing women and you just couldn't put them in one room without having an explosion. Fatehman Fakharie from Muslimah Media Watch totally rocked the session. I have been following MMW for a few years and I couldn't wait to see her. I tweeted her before I arrived in San Diego and we met the day before.
Ricki Lake of the Ricki Lake show and Carol Jenkins from the Women's Media Center were also very articulate in their hopes to change the lives of women.

I spent the rest of the night partying so the post ends here. Blogher throws amazing parties!