Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Catch 22

I've just learnt the the oldest sister, Katy, would like to go to university here in Canada, but of course as recent migrants with a father not working, the family can't afford it. As she says "Everything here is money, money, money. Not like Iraq".

University in Iraq is free, but she couldn't go because the south of the Kurdistan border all the Arabic speaking universities are now in dangerous areas. In Kurdistan all universities are safe but teach in Kurdish which is a language she doesn't know, like most Assyrians.

Catch 22. It makes me sad. I love learning and understand how good it can make you feel. I might be crap at everything else - jobs, relationships, money, but learning has always saved me.

And she's not the kind of girl to suit working in some physically draining dead end MacJob; she floats around like a ghost here.

Withdrawal symptoms

Had a bit too much caffeine (which I love) last couple of days, I think it's making me tired.

(Apparently I have a caffeine sensitivity which means not that I bounce off the walls but it keeps me up late and never relaxed enough to get good sleep. Flow on effect is grumpy and tired).

It's made me want a bit of time out from the family which they don't understand and .. Oh well. Also I have to prepare for an interview tomorrow, and they don't understand that either. Where the cultural differences hit the fan.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Little Women

Bit of a difficult day here a few days ago. I think the pressures of living here have their say, there's been 4 or 5 lots of tears since I arrived. But they seem to bounce back.

The household laptop which is the main entertainment/lifeline for the girls got broken when it was grabbed out of the hands of one who was accused of having it too long.

My iPad does double time now.

The photo below is of Katy who was ostracized for a day for the offence. She slept a lot and tried to keep out of everyone's way.

The sisters are all such individuals, it reminds me of the girls in Little Women, they seem kind of romantic. Katy is the languid, melancholy one with pale skin, prone to depressions. I love taking photos of her because the way she sits or looks (or sleeps as below) is always artistically beautiful.

Yesterday I was taken as alibi for a secret rendezvous with the boyfriend of Sara. We went to see Batman and honestly I don't know how Sara got to retell the story of the film to her family when we got back. The back row was fully utilized, albeit in a fairly innocent fashion. She is nineteen but boyfriends are kept under wraps until engagement is definitely on the cards.

I don't think she had been to a cinema theatre before as initially was not keen to go but after arriving and discovering the advantages, she was pretty happy. She wants me to stay longer for a birthday party of her boyfriend on 17th of August (yes I will be the alibi I guess). I love staying with the family so I will ask if it's ok.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

YWAM Cambridge memory lane

Yesterday I was picked up by an old friend found on Facebook from my year and a half in Canada 24 yrs ago.

He took me to the christian Youth With A Mission (YWAM) base in Cambridge, an hour out of Toronto that we used to live at. It was a performing arts campus and I had gone there to learn dance and drama. Nothing there of a reminder - originally a military training camp, with severe brick buildings and an asphalt parade ground. Now a mini subdivision of retirement homes (see photo).

He took me to where we used to get ice cream (Baskin Robbins) and coffee (Tim Horton's) and to the mall which was our main source of entertainment. The mall is now huge and glamourous, and Baskin Robbins has moved.

It was fantastic to relive some memories. I had such fun with Rudie - he would take me to the movies and even roller skating. Late night coffee and pie when I needed to get away from the base, defying curfew.

Often I've thought "going back" is a bad idea, but in this case it wasn't. Thanks Rudie.

Picnic version 2.0

The picnic went way better, I was taking some photos and they seemed to like that and it broke the ice. No footage (no Zowa'a), like a lot of things with the Assyrians, itinerary changes in a moment and I don't usually get told :)

The men get the nice chairs, eat first, make all the decisions, sit around smoking shisha and drinking beer while the women get the hard benches and are allowed to just chat and the girls take hundreds of photos of each other. Funny that they take all that stuff for granted, and same with me and mine.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ana ibayin Suraye nashkina nani

I love kisses from Assyrian grandmothers, they are my favourite thing. They reach up (because they are short) and grab you round the neck with both arms, pull you close give you a big soft noisy kiss on both cheeks. If you're lucky they give you three - left, right, left - or even four, depending on how much they like you.

They are the currency of Assyrian grandmothers and they make me feel truly loved.

Went to a picnic yesterday at a park in Toronto - huge park, Assyrians everywhere. But the things that don't mix with me are here in abundance - lots of people and lots of noise and me just supposed to hang around and enjoy (I don't). Wish I could just hang with the girls and leave it at that.

Today going to another picnic, but this one is fundraising for Zowa'a the political party which is in the doco so I will take some footage, give me something to do. Could have yesterday but the effect of being around people and noise is me feeling completely drained so I didn't. (Sneakily took my Kindle instead. But unfortunately this had the effect of being periodically asked if I was ok. How do I explain - I am just really introverted!)

Called another activist/lobbyist today, Michael Youash. Really glad about this because I think he will be key to to film, a number of people in the US recommended him. I think he has been away and I was worried I would miss him.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Niagara Falls via bus

Assyrians in Canada ex Syria

Arrived in Toronto yesterday, to stay with a family I met in Syria last year when they were waiting for UNHCR to transfer them here. The mother said she cried when they arrived. It's not the Western paradise they were hoping for. They live in a suburb full of tall apartments saturated with migrants, next to a main road. It's dull and slightly depressing.

I feel sad but ... it's why I don't want Assyrians to leave Iraq.

Having fun with the family, I sleep in the same room as their three daughters. They have two bedrooms for 7 people, typical Iraqi-style. But I get tired easily, my introversion making itself felt! Today we are waiting for the mother's sister to arrive from Chicago who she hasn't seen for 13 years. Typical of Assyrians spread throughout the world.

(Sara and Joseph below)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Bye to Boston

Had the interview yesterday, it was not absolutely simple, despite Sargon's easygoing nature - I think because of the subject matter (and a lift next to the interview room sounding like a toilet flushing). Sargon and his wife were so cool, we went out for dinner twice and I met his parents and cats.

The hostel was closer to a designer hotel than a hostel, the girls in my room were nice, everyone around came from interesting places.

One afternoon my roommate (from China) went for a heritage trail walk and we found this cool old synagogue that had been partially restored to reveal different murals of different eras of the building. Kind of like a story of that particular Jewish community.

I would recommend coming to Boston. Maybe it's something to do with its British heritage, it's kind of elegant but yet relaxed. I wish I had some photos on my iPad of it to post. It's been a great mind refreshing place.

At the airport now, the nicest experience in the whole of the US so far.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Boston Public Library et al

Few hours scouring Boston Public Library (below) for a spot to film Sargon's interview; no luck. Amazingly impressive spaces but all public and walled/floored in marble so everything echoed. Either that or some fusty old books in a corner.

A teeny bit anxious.

Spent a couple more hours on the internet trying to find a museum or university or even hotel that I might be able to use. Lateral thinking, a green screen? I really want to do a good job of this and not throw it away.

My roommate suggested the library here at the hostel, a room with a great restored brick wall and some good looking furniture. Think it will suit both Sargon and the topic. It's so easy to get bogged down in Assyrian tragedy, mired in it even, it can get soooo boring. I just don't want to do that.

Though I can't sequester the room; it's a public space, but hopefully something can be worked out (ie. either they leave or don't mind making a single sound. Either is fine with me..)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Interview with Professor Donabed

Professor Sargon Donabed who I am interviewing here in Boston on Monday about Assyrian history in the last 100 years is totally cool and groovy and will make it really easy.

The hostel is also totally cool though it's easy to feel a little alone, but I have my thing to do so I just need to focus on that. It's a big change after being surrounded by some of the problems of humanity to the land of the young and slightly privileged. It makes me feel more positive, especially about making the film. I wake up thinking about it but the fear of failing doesn't seem so great. Not that I am sure I won't fail but that at least I will have learnt things, and I think to me learning is really important.

Walking up to Boston Public Library today to see if we can use it as a venue for the interview. Though I have a few interviews with books as a background so not completely happy with it but can't come up with something else at such quick notice.

Then I'll come back to work on the questions and slant of the interview.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Hosteling International Boston

Like an effin palace compared to the Y. So relaxing......

Mr. Newmans and his walk shorts

Went to catch a Greyhound bus yesterday from New York to Boston for my next interview, in an attempt to save money.

Couldn't print out my ticket online so took the reference no. (as suggested). I arrive at the bus station, my bags carefully weighed and packed (weight, size, and piece restriction - not going to get caught again!) but still heavy and I have to haul them up steps to get inside. Ask where Greyhound buses are; told to go down one floor. Go down one floor to be told to wait at the gate. Where are the gates? - one floor down. Go down one more floor and wait in a line at the designated gate (like a sheep) for about half an hour. Lady calls out seat numbers to board. I say I don't have a ticket with a seat number, so she says go to the information desk to see if they can print one out, At the information desk I am told I have to go up one floor to the ticketing desk. I say it's 10 minutes till the bus leaves; will I have time? Without looking at me, she says grumpily, "you can if you go print it out". (this happens a lot in NY - grumpy and no eye contact. Then if you question them, they just repeat themselves, as many times as you want, or however long you keep standing there).

I go back up one floor to the ticketing desk and wait in line to print out my ticket at a kiosk. Person in front is having trouble. I try and same thing; twice for good measure. I wait in line for another kiosk and this time it works. Go upstairs and ask a lady if my bus has gone. She says yes, but maybe I can go on standby for the next one (an hour later). I go to the gate and tell another lady I have missed the bus, can I get on the next one? She says I can get on the original one, its ok, it was late anyway. Somebody throws my bags on without weighing and checking and I take the one remaining seat.

Once on, I start to remember: when I was younger and I used to catch the Newmans bus in Takapau or Waipukurau in the country somewhere. I'd wait by the side of the road with one of my aunties, and they would give me a big kiss and the bus driver would jump down in his walk shorts and a tie and tick off my name written on a list in pencil, attached to a clipboard. I would get on.

It was all just a bit simpler, back there, and then.

Monday, 9 July 2012


Day before yesterday I spent most of the day with Professor Tim Brookes, interviewing him in the car on the way to a talk he was giving about his Endangered Alphabets project. Then a fascinating and inspiring conversation on the way back to Burlington.

Tim has done a lot of things, writing books, articles for mags including National Geographic. Sets your mind open to possibilities.

Oddly enough I also had an equally inspiring, but also heartening conversation with a woman in New York who is also making a doco about Assyrians. She is way ahead and above me, but it was so good to talk to her, especially about the engendered struggles doing this. She was a professional photographer before doing this, photographing celebrities, even for Rolling Stone, f**in ay! Hopefully am meeting up with her in person before she flies off to shoot a doco in Finland on Thurs.

On the way back from Burlington I went to this awesome museum, much like a little village, there's a blacksmiths and a general store. But they had these fantastic collections of slightly eccentric things - hatboxes, carousel horses, figureheads from ships. I loved it. The woman who donated it was a rich heiress who was a collector. Now that's something good to do with money! (Apart from feeding the poor of course).

But back to me, my travel card got declined at the petrol station, I have chewed through my finances at a great rate, feeling panicky. If I carry on the way I am going it will mean I only stay in Iraq for real short time. There's been so many delays, people being away, and expenses not considered or things just took longer. And me not really caring, and spending as I want. It's part of an ethos I've had for a while, not caring about anything, so unable to spend carefully. Can I care enough about this to make it work? Not sure what to do. Every option I think about trying to make the rest of the trip economical doesn't quite work. Have do much I want to do here...

Friday, 6 July 2012

Burlington, Vermont

Nice place, lots of trees, place is famous for its maple syrup. Armed forces veterans get parking spaces at the supermarket. The motel I am staying at appears a little patriotic. Colour is so persuasive. Can't argue with red, white and blue.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Surfing de waves in Brookalyn, yeh mun

Things got turned around, thankfully, I started going for walks around the park in the morning, and wearing earplugs in my room. A guy there, short stocky Puerto Rican (looks European) took me under his wing and gave me the low down on the place, telling me which subway trains to catch (what is uptown, what is downtown) and to not take it personally. Seems like it is a bit of a New York thing, especially in the poorer burbs, you don't trust everybody.

Had my interview with the professor of Middle Eastern endangered languages. Bit torturous cos I had a new monitor that didn't let me know when the tape ran out, so ended up having to redo some of it. Very embarrassing. I keep wondering if we missed a question, but haven't had the courage to go over it.

When it gets hot somehow some of the fire hydrants start spouting water and the kids play in it. There's bright spots in this. The first time I went on the subway, three young black guys jumped on our carriage and started breakdancing. And some of the graffiti around (only some though) has been quite beautiful. I get it now, making something beautiful out of the crap.

Not casting aspersions on NZ taggers (but I am) but they don't have massive depressed neighborhoods like in NY. I guess that's why it started here and it's copied everywhere else.