DAY 235: Happy?

December 24th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink



I suppose very year everywhere in the past, there have been people who resented the enforced happiness of Christmas – when they had no reason to be happy. Whether because they were lonely or impoverished; or had lost someone they loved, or they were in hospital or a war zone.. the list is unending. In 1972, Nixon ordered the notorious ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam:

In just one night, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed around Kham Thien, a busy shopping street in Hanoi. About 280 people were killed and at least as many again injured. Ha Mi  who was 10 years old at the time and remembers sheltering under the stairs of her family home with her sister, listening to the bombers overhead). had a friend, whose house was hit.

bombing

“There were a few houses still standing, but most of it was just rubble, flattened on the ground – or even just a big hole. Houses were just gone, it was horrible. I remember seeing people just standing there looking at it – but there was nothing there. Everything was just gone.”

This year, I’d like you to turn your thoughts, however briefly, to the Tamimi family, many of whom will be in jail:

[From Al Jazeera] Bethlehem, occupied West Bank - Ahed Tamimi,

 tamimi

a prominent 16-year-old Palestinian activist, has been detained during a pre-dawn raid on her home by the Israeli army and border police in the occupied West Bank. Ahed’s mother, Nariman, was also arrested on Tuesday afternoon during a visit to Ahed at an Israeli police station.

What other examples could I come up with? The misery goes on from year to year – and it’s so various. How do we have the nerve to speak of good cheer, and listen – not by choice of course –  to Bing Crosby and Bono as we fight our way through Tesco’s searching for Christmas wrapping paper and (for God’s sake) Christmas sellotape. How many this Christmas will be homeless or in danger of losing their homes? (One in 25 people in the London Borough of Newham is homeless – the highest in Britain  That’s 13,607 people. And, as you might expect, you don’t count as homeless just by not having a home, you have to fill in forms at the town hall. And they’ll check on your immigration status. The best thing you can hope for is company in your misery. No, we have to accept a glaring disconnect between a number of things:

1) the birth of a child in an impoverished one-parent family (sort of) in occupied Palestine 2000 years ago

2) a church and (by association) state holiday which is therefore naturally

3) an excuse for a great deal of eating and drinking together with

4) an ideology which identifies all this with peace and goodwill

5) stockings

6) presents

It’s all a bit much to take on board.

nativity

The word humbug is hovering on the edge of my keyboard.

I hope you have a great time.

 

 

 

DAY 234: Anniversaries

December 21st, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

What an amazing end to the year! Although it’s inevitably steeped in gloom and desperation for those of you who don’t inhabit the small bubble where I live but are forced to pass their time in, say, Bethlehem (seasonal) or Myanmar or, as I said recently, Eritrea, or Texas – although all that, here because of my slightly manic accumulation of voluntary ‘work’, I’ve been out to no less than four parties in rapid succession, all I suppose celebrating the birthday of Jesus rrrrEthiopian_nativity_fabric_previewwhich happens to fall close to my own. All are grateful for the pitifully small amount of work I put in, and celebrate my success in managing to live so long without getting some terminal disease or becoming a rabid Islamophobe or frankly losing interest in the whole

circus

human circus. ‘Phone credit for Refugees’, easily the most excitable of my occupations, (whose members I’d never met irl, but who communicate online 24/7 in arcane references, pseudonyms, technical jargon, and a mixture of languages) followed their tradition of getting up a collection for my birthday – for them, not for me, of course; which led to delightful wishes (to me) from at least sixty people who I’d never met as they donated their tenner (to the cause). And threw a party – for Jesus, I suppose rather than me – in a posh place in WC2 and poured me into a taxi at the end. Haringey Migrants’ Support Centre, to whom I owe much more than I could possibly repay since they offer me a share of a room and company and are prepared to pretend that I’m some kind of low-grade lawyer, are throwing a drinks party. I feel amazingly lucky to be at the centre of all this

dolce

La dolce vita

activity when as we  know in the streets of Tottenham, never mind Beirut or Asmara or Brussels huge numbers are suffering, even freezing to death as a direct result of the actions of governments – any governments, the whole wretched lot of them – run by the rich at the expense of the poor.

But you must be used to hearing these rants, and not only from me. Let’s join in hoping (as we always misguidedly do) that the future will be no worse than the past… What are the angels up to? My mother was a particular aficionada of the carol ‘It Came upon the Midnight Clear’, written says Wikipedia by a Methodist pastor ‘at a time of revolution in Europe’ and looking forward clearly to the triumphant arrival of the angels to overthrow the bosses. It didn’t happen then and it’s even less looking like happening now. What blind faith, what foolish optimism keeps us trying to resist, keeping our eyes fixed, not on the angels but on the cold and misery all around us in the hopes that by raising money,making phone calls, selling t-shirts or tote bags, we can make any difference? Have we not just about run out of rhetorical questions? I rest my case, and wish you all as much rest as you can squeeze out of the season. Don’t give up, brothers and sisters, you are not alone – we are many, they are few! Why doesn’t it feel like that?

1. It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

2. Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

3. And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

4. For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.

ugh rest

DAY 233: ርሑስ በዓል ልደትን ሓድሽ ዓመትን።

December 11th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

[PS I can't make Tigrinya characters come out on my phone except as question marks. I imagine people whose language actually is Tigrinya must have a workaround, and I wonder if they could share it.]

Hoping as I always do to expand our horizons beyond the narrow confines 0f Western Europe, I’m posting an early Christmas greeting in Tigrinya which I expect you know is one of the two main languages in Eritrea, as well as being spoken by quite a few people in Ethiopia, particularly Eritrean refugees. I know, and some pedant is sure to tell me, that in both the Orthodox and Ge’ez calendars Christmas is some way away, but you might as well start practising your greetings, particularly if you’ve been invited to any

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Eritrean Christmas parties. (Even worse if your Eritrean friends are Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witnesses and so should be persecuted, and have a right to asylum which you can bet they won’t get.) Reader, I feel, as so often, appallingly ignorant. I thought the ‘refugee crisis’ was limited to the one at my back door, where 1.3 million refugees (roughly) – Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others arrived in Europe in 2015 and made us feel generous and warm or besieged and hostile depending on our attitude to the Other. What I didn’t know was that a comparable number of Eritreans had already been making their way, via UNHCR’s  camps in Ethiopia, to Europe two years or more before.

Their situation – already in 2013 – was described in a UNHCR report as follows: ‘Eritrean refugees cross into Ethiopia through 16 entry points from which they are collected and brought to a reception station for screening and registration. Before departure from the reception centre, the refugees are issued with basic assistance items, including sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, water buckets, soap and mosquito nets. They are also provided with tents and food rations once they get to the new camp.

As of the end of May, Ethiopia is hosting 71,833 Eritrean refugees in four camps in Tigray region and two others in the Afar region in north-eastern Ethiopia. Transfers to the new camp are taking place every second day.’ All these thousands, four camps (now five)  of whom I knew nothing; the refugees had to arrive on our doorstep to become a ‘problem’ which I had to worry about.

The huge number of Eritreans were driven not by war but by an

Mai-Aini-119_W

authoritarian regime and particularly the forced conscription described in the Amnesty report ‘Just Deserters‘ and elsewhere. They have often survived – as you might expect – appalling dangers in Sudan, Libya and Egypt; they have sometimes arrived ironically in the ‘safety’ of Tel Aviv to be treated, naturally, as  dangerous black strangers.  They, like all other refugees, want in the long term to go home; looking out at the sleet driving past the window I felt sure that for an Eritrean something warmer would be preferable.

Their popular poet Keesom Haile, writing in Tigrinya, has been thinking – as I hope we all do. And why not start with Marx and Lenin?

Learning from History

We learned from Marx and Lenin:
To be equal trim your feet
For one-size-fits-all shoes.
We made their mistakes, too.

Equally, we all make mistakes.
The evil is in not being corrected
Aren’t we known
By what we do, undo and do again?

 

DAY 232: Incredible

December 7th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Ages ago, I started getting fascinated by the law, reading textbooks on tort and cases and so on; and (I was helping a friend with exams) studying old exam papers; in which things happened like:

‘On 31 December 2014, Jez was delivering some boxes of dental equipment to various addresses in Midshire. He was accompanied by his 18-year-old nephew, Lionel, who sometimes used to join Jez on his days off from college to keep him company. It was getting late in the afternoon, and Jez still had two deliveries to make. Lionel was keen to get home in order to go out that evening to a party. He, therefore, suggested to Jez that he use a short-cut, which involved driving down a short length of road restricted to use by buses and taxis only. Jez at first hesitated but, encouraged by Lionel, Jez agreed to do so. Halfway along the road Jez, who was driving too fast, lost control

van

of the van and collided with a bus coming the opposite way. Lionel, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown forward into the windscreen, which shattered. He suffered serious cuts to his face and now wishes to bring an action to recover damages for his injuries.’

What fun! Which cases did you have to remember were involved so as to decide whether Jez and Lionel could somehow escape the consequences of their folly and negligence, and carry on delivering dental equipment in Midshire without being banned as they deserved? I loved studying it; and I loved it even more ten years later when, getting serious, I took a course in Refugee Law, watching the Home Secretary getting clobbered for her failure to observe the Refugee Convention as it applied to A.H. or M.M. and trying to see how it might apply to P.Q. Needless to say, readers, I passed with flying colours (you can read some of my works from the period in the margin if you can be bothered).

Did I get a job as a refugee lawyer as a result? Get real, readers. In the first place, I was seventy, and who’d take me on for training? In the second place, there are no jobs anyway, in law as anywhere else. I have to tell you that, after a year’s hard graft and many disappointments, I’ve finally got a place working as a humble volunteer with some really fun lawyers, and I’ve made a couple of discoveries which I can share with you. (More to come, no doubt.) I’d welcome your views.

Law is not about cases. It’s about stationery. You have to deal with an unmanageable pile of papers going back maybe ten years. Most of what’s been said, according to the judges, who should know, is in those papers, and it’s incredible (hence the title of this post in case you were wondering), and you’re supposed to make it sound credible. You have to organise the papers in plastic folders, held by paper clips, oh how can you keep them separate? Get some more folders. Is the photocopier working? Get some coffee and don’t spill it. Why is that document dated 2009, it should be 2012? Why are those tenancy papers in among the leave to remain ones? Get a grip.

There are mysterious people called ‘clients’. By a convenient fiction, they”re supposed to be what it’s all really about (you’re trying to do something for them, to fight their corner); but they don’t turn up for appointments, having no credit on their phone, living in Ealing, having got the flu, not having got your message anyway. The moments of contact between lawyer and client are indeed the ideal which we strive for; but the contact is mostly via the photocopier and the voicemail.

I sort of feel it was different in the days of Atticus Finch.

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Anyway, having just, for the first time, met a ‘client’ (I’m professionally bound not to tell you what happened, but it didn’t involve sex or alcohol), I have more of an idea if what ‘it”s about. I expect next time will be different. As Auden pointed out, law isn’t what you expect.

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.