Monthly Archives

June 2016

The Sunday Letter

The Sunday Letter | 2016.06.19

I arrived back in Nova Scotia exactly two weeks ago. Hopped off the plane and quickly acquired a Tim Horton’s everything bagel toasted with herb and garlic cream cheese. My token offering to the gods of Canadian travellers.

Life

There were exactly two days where I didn’t have to do much before jumping back in to classes with my Masters at King’s. Strep throat then proceeded to chase me and I’ve been recovering from that for the last five days. I didn’t get sick once in Bosnia and I think my immune system was just done with me.

Travel decompression is a weird thing. Everyone deals with the transition differently. From being on the road to living out of your home base again. Or from living abroad and returning home and having that weird reverse-culture Shock feeling, where suddenly the rituals of home seem more foreign than the ‘foreign’ place you’ve been.

I like to think I’ve gotten better at coming home. It’s hard when you love being on the road. In Jr. High I went every summer to overnight camps (or ‘sleepaway’ camps, as they say in the USA) where I’d be away from home for a week or two. I would have so much fun at these camps, where I had friends, a great routine, freedom to read in my spare time and lots of adventures and exploring.

Coming home I always cried in the car. Then for the next few days I would be irritable, grumpy, and generally annoying to my parents. I like to think I’ve gotten better, despite the added difficulty of jetlag.

Now when I come home there’s usually a day or two of ‘oh how nice, the shower always works! All my stuff is here! So convenient!’ Followed by a day or so of ‘Hm, what’s my next adventure now?’ And then eventually figuring out and committing to my new ritual of being ‘at home’.

This time I was away ten weeks, and coming home I was grumpy (just ask Rob). I was like, “Classrooms? No! I don’t want to go back to class. I’ve been IN THE WORLD. I must go back!” To which Rob calmly reminded me, “Hey, remember how you really want that Masters. Like, it’s an important thing you committed to it, and it’s something you really want to do?” Me: “Oh, yes. Right. Okay. Focus.”

How to love Nova Scotia after being away

The first thing I do is eat ALL MY FAVOURITE FOOD. Like, I hit up Wasabi House twice in the first week I was here. Also, if you go to Wasabi House, my favourite thing there is the torched salmon belly. TRY IT. It’s amazing.

Other places I raided multiple times included: The Canteen and Two if By Sea, Good Robot brewing on Robie Street.

The thing I haven’t eaten yet that I am most looking forward to eating Is the K-dog from the Food Wolf and Tokyo Fries from Stillwell (I hear their new beer garden is pretty swell). Also, I haven’t been to the Timber Lounge HFX. That opened last month and looks awesome. You throw axes and drink beers. Bam. Fulfilling Buffy the Vampire Slayer childhood fantasies with buddies. Sounds like a great time.

Duncan’s Cove

Other than stuffing my face, another way to fall back in love with home is going to the ocean. This may be a Scotian thing. We’re tend to be happier in the presence of water. We took the van and our friend Ben and walked the Duncan’s Cove Coastal Trail, about a 20-minute drive outside Halifax.

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The area has a lot of abandoned WWII bunkers and a lot of great surprises, like a huge echoey cave that waves crash into, and unexpected detours around coves.

Also, this ultra-modern house that makes you feel like you’re in a dystopian novel.

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Also, this ultra-modern house that makes you feel like you’re in a dystopian novel.

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So yeah, welcome home, me!

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Book of the Week

I used to do these separately, but seeing as I’m trying to read one book per week to keep up with finishing my goal of 52 books this year, it seemed natural to include it in here.

“We Stand on Guard for Thee,” by Brian K. Vaughn and

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Brian K. Vaughan is the writer for Saga, an epic graphic novel series that I’ve been reading, so when I saw his name on the cover and the big bad American bot stomping out Canada, I figured I had to pick it up. The artist he’s teamed up with for this piece is Steve Skroce, known for his story board art for the Matrix. I wanted a quick and easy read and this seemed to fit the bill.

Quick was the right word. I’m not sure it even took me an hour to finish this, I zipped right through. It’s a fun read, although if you’re looking for something deep or fulfilling in terms of storyline, avert thine eyes. It almost reads like a pilot for a series. All these characters and context are introduced, but there are so few panels that by the end you’re left feeling, ‘But what happened in between?’.

There is some good humour, like a first-generation-Canadian woman of Syrian parents arguing with a Cree man as to which one of them has more of a historical right to pilot a giant robot to destroy the invading Americans. (The woman ends up stealing it, but she apologizes, like a good Canadian).

U.S. vs. Canada dystopian novels are always fun. Mostly because the idea of it happening has always seemed so crazy and improbable to me. Well, maybe not with this election cycle, but it definitely seemed improbable in the past.

Here’s some other fiction about the U.S. And Canada going to war. This list is a few years old. Do you know any others?

Cool things on the Internet

This guy always lets his mom know he’s okay. An epic doc shot entirely on iPhone about the first Bangladeshi to scale the seven peaks. A photo essay through a Bosnian Eco zone. Princeless is ruling feminist comics. This writer infiltrates and tweets a Trump rally. Setting out on a life of travel in your thirties. How photography can create mindfulness and meaning in your life. I really want to try a Teforia.

That’s it from me! It’s nice to be back.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Marching in Sarajevo’s First Unofficial Pride Parade

Originally published on Photographers Without Borders

 

Sarajevo is a city unlike my own. The language is Bosnian. Islam is the majority religion. The coolest place to hang out is an old Ottoman market. There’s a thick nostalgia for communism. The youth unemployment rate is 60%. Downtown buildings are riddled with bullet holes. There are scars in the sidewalk painted red where people were killed by mortar shells during the 1992–1995 siege.

Despite these differences, I never felt uncomfortable here until I saw a man spitting and swearing without restraint at people in a LGBTQI advocacy march. That’s when I started to realize the scope of the homophobia in Bosnia.

IDAHOT Silent Protest

On the morning of May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (“IDAHOT”), I and some Project 1948 colleagues walked to the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s a modern building near the city centre along the banks of the Miljacka river.

A teenage participant in Project 1948’s photo-voice project told us the about the silent protest taking place, organized by the Sarajevo Open Centre (“SOC”), an advocacy group in the city that gives a voice to LGBTI and women’s rights issues.

When we arrived, we met volunteers outside, handing out copies of the SOC’s annual ‘Pink Report on the State of Human Rights of LGBTI People in Bosnia and Herzegovina.’

Delila Hasanbegović is volunteer with the Sarajevo Open Centre. She gave me a copy of the Pink Report, published in English and Bosnian. (Mel Hattie)

Delila Hasanbegović is volunteer with the Sarajevo Open Centre. She gave me a copy of the Pink Report, published in English and Bosnian. (Mel Hattie)

The Pink Report calls for the legal recognition of same-sex couples as well as protection against discrimination based on your sexual orientation or gender presentation.

Volunteers spent an hour handing out copies of the SOC’s Pink Report as people entered the parliament building. (Mel Hattie)

Volunteers spent an hour handing out copies of the SOC’s Pink Report as people entered the parliament building. (Mel Hattie)

Naida Kučukalić is a program coordinator with the SOC. She says the silent protest is about reminding their allies inside as well as the rest of the parliament that, “we are here.”

Naida Kučukalić has been with the SOC as a program coordinator for almost two years. She says getting Bosnians to understand LGBTQI rights as an intersectional issue would increase the social pressure for policy change. (Mel Hattie)

Naida Kučukalić has been with the SOC as a program coordinator for almost two years. She says getting Bosnians to understand LGBTQI rights as an intersectional issue would increase the social pressure for policy change. (Mel Hattie)

Reading The Pink Report will give you a more comprehensive overview of the situation in Bosnia, where homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1996, but in a nutshell:

Where their human rights stand

Same-sex partnerships are not legally recognized, homophobia is common, as are attacks and harassment of LGBTQI people. Hate speech based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not illegal.

Attackers often face no repercussions, like the March attacks at the Art Kriterion Cinema, one of the few LGBTQI-friendly bars in Sarajevo. Earlier in the year, Kriterion hosted the Merlinka Festival, one of the country’s few regular LGBTQI events. Those who can often travel to neighbouring Serbia or Croatia, where the LGBTQI situation is not great, but many find better than Bosnia.

Two activists embrace in front of parliament. Sarajevo is a small city, about 500,000 people live there. Many of the people who came out to protest knew each other. (Mel Hattie)

Two activists embrace in front of parliament. Sarajevo is a small city, about 500,000 people live there. Many of the people who came out to protest knew each other. (Mel Hattie)

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It’s not safe to be gay in Bosnia

One young woman I met through Project 1948 told me she stopped being active in the LGBTQI community because she was worried about losing her job. Another teenage boy told me if he held hands with another boy in public, he would expect to be beaten.

With Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it has once again become painfully and tragically obvious that hatred is putting LGBTQI youth at risk globally.

At the end of their designated one-hour protest, the group gathers for a photo op. Their sign, “RAVNOPRAVNOST SADA!” is Bosnian for, “EQUALITY NOW!” (Mel Hattie)

At the end of their designated one-hour protest, the group gathers for a photo op. Their sign, “RAVNOPRAVNOST SADA!” is Bosnian for, “EQUALITY NOW!” (Mel Hattie)

In Bosnia, being any kind of minority can cause you trouble. The Bosnian constitution segregates its citizens by ethnicities. Officially, you can be bosniak, serb, croat or “other”.

The country has three presidents: one bosniak, one serb, one croat. People in the “other” category are unrepresented in the government. They include roma, jews, Montenegrins, Albanians and anyone else who doesn’t fall into one of the three main ethnic groups.

Minorities won’t stand together

Kučukalić says that while there are people in the city who are willing to come out and stand up for equal rights for the “others,” they’re much less willing to come out and defend LGBTQI rights.

“It’s frustrating,” she says, “It’s all intersectional. You have gay Roma.”

Their first ‘unofficial’ gay pride parade

After their hour is over, the group decides to walk with their rainbow flags a few blocks along the river towards one of the few queer-friendly cafes in the city, Kino Meeting Point.

“It’s like our first gay pride parade,” says one girl.

People on the streets stopped and stared.

The parade wasn’t planned ahead of time. It just sort of happened naturally as everyone left the parliament building together. (Mel Hattie)

The parade wasn’t planned ahead of time. It just sort of happened naturally as everyone left the parliament building together. (Mel Hattie)

A woman stops to watch the parade. Sarajevo has never had an official gay pride parade. (Mel Hattie)

A woman stops to watch the parade. Sarajevo has never had an official gay pride parade. (Mel Hattie)

I ran ahead to take photos, and as I’m waiting for the crowd to come towards me, a man steps out of a cafe. He points to the group marching with flags and asks me what is going on.

“Gay pride parade,” I say.

His response is immediate and vehement. “Gays? Fuck gays.”

He starts spitting at the people in the parade as they pass by. For the most part they just ignore him.

This person was shouting obscenities at the parade and spitting at them. (Mel Hattie)

This person was shouting obscenities at the parade and spitting at them. (Mel Hattie)

After I take his photo, he turns to me, “What the fuck are you doing?” He starts yelling, “Fuck you. Fuck you,” then takes a step forward, puts both hands on my shoulders and shoves me hard enough that I take a few steps back. I left him and joined the parade.

No one was hurt, but I was frustrated by the interaction and haunted by the image of a young boy who was peering around the man’s leg as he shoved and spat at strangers in the street.

What bothered me most afterward was how normal this person was, and how no one person on the busy street intervened. Meeting him under different circumstances, he might have even invited me for a Bosnian coffee.

For a couple days afterward I would look at people on the street and wonder, “are you secretly filled with hate?”

Making friends at Kino Meeting Point (Mel Hattie)

Making friends at Kino Meeting Point (Mel Hattie)

Luckily, through Project 948 I met and interviewed so many amazing Bosnians fighting for better human rights in their country that those feelings quickly dispersed. Nonetheless, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone. Imagine if that spitting man was the only person I met in Bosnia.

After the march, we sit down with the activists at Kino Meeting Point to have a coffee and cigarettes, a Bosnian ritual. If you come to Bosnia, expect to drink a lot of coffee.

Relaxing after the protest at Kino Meeting Point, one of the few gay-friendly cafes in Bosnia. (Mel Hattie)

Relaxing after the protest at Kino Meeting Point, one of the few gay-friendly cafes in Bosnia. (Mel Hattie)

The atmosphere amongst the activists in the cafe is one of jubilation. Kučukalić is smiling but pragmatic, “wait until we see what happens on social media.”

One young woman, Nera Civonisem, was also protesting. She’s wearing a huge grin over the rim of her coffee cup, “Come on, man. Today we marched with flags.”

Elsewhere in Sarajevo, intersections were covered with rainbows, and there’s a cautious, hopeful feeling that change could be on the horizon.

A crosswalk in downtown Sarajevo, painted with rainbows for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2016. (Mel Hattie)

A crosswalk in downtown Sarajevo, painted with rainbows for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2016. (Mel Hattie)


I was on assignment in Bosnia for Project 1948, an NGO that encourages Bosnian youth to pursue policy change and tackle problems in their society through inter-ethnic photo-voice projects, interviews and community building activities.