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Green and Blue Bandanas

A group of young activists wearing green bandanas blocks an intersection in MDP.

By Francesca Nardi

I am writing this as my summer in Argentina starts to come to a close. This week is significant not only for me as my internship ends, but also for Argentina and many of those I have met throughout my time here.

From the moment I arrived and started walking around the city, blue and green banners and bandanas caught my eye. At first, I had no idea what they were for, thinking that maybe they were related to the World Cup.

I could not have been more wrong.

Throughout my time here, a national bill that would legalize abortion has been debated and voted on by the lower house of Congress. It passed through Congress in June, and tomorrow it faces a final challenge in the Senate. The debate surrounding this bill has been a feature of my summer in Argentina, and I feel lucky to have been here during such a fascinating time legally and politically.

It would be a massive understatement to say that this bill has been polarizing. Abortion in any context is incendiary, especially in a very religious country that is the birthplace of the Pope, in a very religious and conservative region of the world. There have been widespread protests since I arrived, as well as massive rallies organized by both sides. Men and women wear coloured bandanas, (green signifying support for legalized abortion, and blue signalling opposition) to work, school, and around the city during the day. The graffiti on the walls around the city contains political messages about this issue. Every party on Friday and Saturday nights descends into heated dinner conversation about the future of this bill and what it will mean for Argentina. For some, it represents Argentina moving into the future and joining the rest of the developed world in allowing women to make essential choices about their own bodies. For others, it represents an unacceptable departure from religious and moral values. For some, it simply means recognizing the reality that hundreds of women are dying in Argentina from dangerous underground procedures.

Being here during this time has turned every assumption I had about the abortion debate in Latin America completely on its head. Reading about the debate in Latin America, I always assumed that the opposition to abortion was fueled predominantly by men and by the Machismo culture that is so pervasive. I have been startled to realize that there are lots of women, including lots of young women who oppose legalizing abortion. Among my female friends, almost all of whom are lawyers or in their final year of law school, approximately half oppose legalizing abortion in Argentina. This realization has prompted some of the most interesting and challenging dinner conversations I have ever had with young women and friends my own age, and has served as such an important reminder that I am here to learn and to listen, not to impose my views or perspectives on the people I meet here.

It has been inspiring to see so many young people mobilizing to make their voices heard, on both sides of the debate. Argentina has a long history of a highly engaged political culture and consciousness and I feel lucky to have been here to see that in action. Regardless of what happens during the vote tomorrow, being here during such a time of dialogue and mobilization for change has been eye-opening both within my work and outside of it. I will be watching this debate closely, even once I am back home.

It is crazy that I leave in two days. Somehow this summer has been simultaneously nothing like what I expected, and exactly what I needed at the same time. I absolutely fell in love with Mar del Plata, and will be so sad to say goodbye to this beautiful city I have called home for the past three months. This opportunity has been so beautiful, and I will carry the lessons and the friends from my summer in Mar del Plata with me back to Canada with me.

 

For anyone curious about this debate: https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/americas/100000006031377/argentina-a-nation-divided-on-abortion.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=sectionfront

 

There’s Always A First Time

By Rachelle Rose

May 25th had suddenly arrived. I woke up that morning and looked to the right side of my room to see two large suitcases packed. Yet, it didn’t seem real to me that in less than six hours I would be leaving to work and live in Whitehorse for three months.

Three of my closest friends came over to say their goodbyes, but yet it still seemed as though I’d be scheduling to meet with them again later in the week. An hour or so later, my parents and I were packing up my mom’s vehicle with my suitcases. We drove down the street, turned right and were on our way to the airport. We picked up my grandmother, who lives nearby. Still it hadn’t clicked to me that we would all be separated for what feels like more than three months.

We arrived at Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, I began the check-in process but of course, my bags were too heavy. Again, as I tried to determine what could stay behind, I weirdly was not able to grasp that I would be leaving my family behind. Finally, my bags were accepted, still a bit overweight, but let’s keep that a secret.

I walked towards security and all of a sudden, a wave of emotion hit me. It was now real. I had come to terms with the fact that I’d be living in another city, very far away from my family and friends, my room, and all the other comforts of home. I hugged my parents and my grandmother. I think I may have hugged my grandmother twice, but I am certain that I hugged my mother twice. During that second hug is when the tears really started to fall. Between you and I, I may have ruined her shirt with my tears. After a long moment, the hug ended, they all looked at me with sadness and pride as they watched me go through security. I tried not to look back, it was the only way I could keep it together. Suddenly, I was all alone seated outside my boarding gate patiently waiting to begin the adventure of a lifetime.

Living in Whitehorse, Yukon, was my first time being away from everyone I loved and everything I knew. There’s something very familiar and safe about living in the same city for your entire life. Of course, I had travelled but this time, I’d be away from home for three months all by myself. Just me!

I had previously heard a lot about the North. When I arrived in Whitehorse at 11:47 pm, the sun was still out and I was quickly captivated by the beauty of the mountains and lush greenery. The next day, my roommate drove me into town to pick up some groceries. I was surprised by all of the big-name stores, Sports Exports, Shoppers, Loblaws, Starbucks, Canadian Tire and Walmart. I’ll let you in on a secret, I definitely spent way too much time in Walmart.

It wasn’t just the affordable prices that made my trips so frequent, but the familiarity of the store. I don’t often shop at Walmart in Montreal but it was the store I was most familiar with. I would walk up and down the aisles and somehow it felt like I had a piece of home with me.

As previously mentioned, I had been warned about food security and cold temperatures, I quickly noticed that I had been prepared for a singular narrative of the North. I was fortunate that in my experiences, I had access to nutritious and somewhat affordable foods. As for the weather, it varied. The weather was not as hot as any Montreal summer but there were a few weeks during which the sun pleasantly danced on my face.

Living away from home for the first time was a big adjustment for me. There were times of great pride when I did something that I normally wouldn’t in Montreal, such as canoeing down Miles Canyon or having the privilege of participating in a Sacred Fire ceremony led by a well-recognized ceremonial leader in the territory.

My trip was also accompanied by moments of extreme loneliness. Three months is a long time to be away from your loved ones. Still, I met a lot of very interesting people in Whitehorse, many of whom acted as a social support for me during my time here. Someone was always offering to drive me to the grocery store or have me join them for an activity. Having a small community in Whitehorse helped reduce the feelings of loneliness.

I did a lot of growing in Whitehorse and engaged in a lot of self-reflection. I’ve learned so much from all that I’ve experienced here, both professionally and personally. I am now certain that I do not want to live far away from my loved ones for extended periods of time. But I now have the confidence that I can make big life changes and see them through (if only for a little while) successfully.

Final Days, Final Thoughts

By Caroline Schurman Grenier

As my internship comes to an end, I have so much to say yet I am struggling to put my thoughts into coherent sentences to produce a decent blog post. A form of writer’s block if you will which just makes my challenge sound so much more glamorous, don’t you think?

Despite my constant wondering if I would make it to the end, I did it. I have completed my internship at the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa in Banjul. What have I learned over the summer? More than I could have imagined.

I learned that transitional justice is much easier to write about in academic journals than to implement in real life.

I learned that it’s so very frustrating to have ideas and goals for a project when there is not enough money to put those same ideas and goals into tangible change.

I learned that it’s ok to change your mind, which to me is one of the most important realization I have come to over the course of my internship.

I took a class on restorative justice during the last year of my undergraduate degree and found it fascinating. It was my favorite class, the readings were incredible, and the discussions awoke in me a vehement desire to learn more. I aced the final and I thought to myself: “If I get into law school, this is what I want to focus on”.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Isn’t it wonderful to be 22 and to be convinced you have found your calling in life? Well, time goes on, and you turn 23 (a small time frame but after all we change more between 18 and 25 than at any other time in our lives, frontal lobe and all) and you realize maybe it’s not for you.

I started to work at IHRDA just months after the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission Act was passed. I don’t believe in flukes so it was meant to be for me to be here at this time. Former president Jammeh was urged out of office in December 2016 following a vicious 22 year dictatorship and the population wants to be heard and wants financial reparations for their sufferings. It means that The Gambia is still at the brainstorming stage, gathering ideas on how to implement the commission and to apply for funding. It’s the drawing board stage where you try and downplay the chaos of beginnings. They’re doing great at that. Newspaper articles are written on the matter, there are many roundtable discussions where the guests range from ministers to EU delegates to civil society members. But it’s always easier to gather men in suits in boardrooms and draft reports than to go on the streets or in the villages and ask citizens, “and what would you like in this process? What are you looking for?” I did not follow Gambian news as closely as locals but from what I gathered, there is lots and lots of talk but so very little real action on the grounds.

I’m forever grateful to have gone behind the scenes of the academic papers, to understand that the needs of the people are rarely met, that there is hope, but unfortunately hope does not pay for the societal changed needed. The TRRC could still very well take place and could be successful but it will need to learn from the mistakes of other West African states who have undergone a similar process. Gambians pride themselves on their uniqueness and on the uniqueness of their situation, but even unique people must learn from those they deem to be not so unique.

I did not only learn about transitional justice. I learned about the African human rights system in depth. There is so much that has been done but there is so much left to do. There are very little enforcement mechanisms in African courts when decisions are rendered. The African Court, the court with the highest enforcement mechanism, has been ratified by only a handful of African countries. The mountain to climb seems insurmountable to me, but I have been lucky enough to be in a work environment where my colleagues don’t feel the same way. They trust they are doing their part, they want to fight the beast of injustice and although they may not live to see substantive change in African human rights law, they will pave the way which will hopefully allow the next generation to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They love their work and even if they know it is not producing the change they would like to see, they will keep fighting for what’s right.

It’s been an honor to witness such passion and perseverance in my workplace.

Do I not care about human rights law merely because I don’t want practice it? Please do not be so naïve.

I do care deeply about human rights and transitional justice and I greatly admire the men and women who dedicate their lives to such a noble career. There is a spark in their eyes when they engage in ardent discussions on the topic and that spark will stay with them throughout their career. It’s not the same as the interest of a young student reading about something she finds “super interesting”. This is their life, this is their passion.

Living in The Gambia is in itself a tremendous learning experience. I recommend to anyone who feels lost and confused to let yourself feel even more lost and confused and to strip yourself of your sources of comfort, allow yourself to reflect and watch the reflection change your life.

Will I be the next Amal Clooney? Doubtful.

Does that make my experience less pertinent? Does it make my internship useless? Of course not.

Thank you to IHRDA for the work experience and to the Smiling Coast of Africa for the life experience.

Human rights law may not be for me. So what is for me?

Time will tell.

Caroline

For the moment this is the only picture that accepts to upload on my blog post. It’s pretty random, am aware.

Abortion Laws and Blue Tape

By Catherine Labasi-Sammartino


During my last month interning at the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development (CEHURD), I focused on access to safe abortions in Uganda. I am grateful for having been given opportunities to explore this topic in depth, as it was my biggest interest at the beginning of my internship. I engaged with Ugandan abortion laws in my work, including legal research, a community visit to the district of Mukono, and a staff presentation on the Harm Reduction Model as a legal defence for health care providers. Through these experiences I acquired an understanding of the current constitutional and legislative provisions framing access to safe abortions in Uganda as well as the associated social and cultural barriers.

Uganda addresses the issue of abortion under Article 22 of the Uganda Constitution 1995, which protects the right to life of all individuals. Article 22(2) provides that no person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorized by law passed by Parliament. However, the duty to legislate and legitimize abortion under justifiable circumstances has yet to be fulfilled. Access to abortion is currently dictated by the Penal Code Act under Sections 141, 142, 143 and 212, which criminalizes abortion and penalizes any person, including mothers and health workers, who enables the termination of a pregnancy. Consequently, women risk undertaking clandestine and unsafe abortions without any professional health care out of fear of being prosecuted for murder.

On the other hand, the Uganda National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights 2012 recognizes justifiable circumstances for the completion of safe abortions. It states that when a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life and requires the use of a safe abortion, it is admissible. Since the Penal Code Act has yet to be amended to decriminalize justified abortions, it remains inconsistent with the new policy and the intention set in the Constitution. This uncertainty in the law makes it so that women continue to die while conducting clandestine and unsafe abortions and that health workers risk being prosecuted when providing care. Hence, CEHURD advocates for Parliament to amend the Penal Code in order to align it with the Constitution by clearly stating the conditions under which women can legally obtain safe abortions services and under which health professionals can treat them without risking prosecution or stigmatization.

One of the most interesting discussions I participated in regarding access to safe abortions in Uganda was in the context of a Value Clarification and Attitude Transformation exercise (VCAT) led by CEHURD staff as part of a one day sensitization conference with police officers. The exercise was simple and yet effectively created a safe environment for each participant to discuss their perspectives on a variety of questions touching on abortion. Blue tape was placed on the floor to divide the conference room in two equal parts. As the participants all stood on one side of the room, CEHURD staff members explained that they would read a statement out loud and that each individual should move towards the blue line proportionally to their agreement with the statement. Those that fully identified themselves with the given statement were to cross the blue line. Statements included “I have kept someone’s abortion a secret” and “I believe that all women should have access to safe abortions.”

After everyone positioned themselves according to their feelings towards each statement, CEHURD staff gave an opportunity to individuals on both sides of the line to explain their position. Personal stories, political ideas, and religious references were shared and no judgmental or aggressive responses followed. It was a simple mediated conversation that left me surprisingly content and seemingly hopeful. This does not imply that all interventions were ones I agreed with. On the contrary, ideas I consider as distressing, such as that giving all women access to safe abortions would be dangerous because women would surely use this new right to threaten men, were many. I was satisfied by the exercise because of its effectiveness in creating a dialogue where I felt that both sides were actually listening to each other in a way that I had not witnessed in several years. Overall, Uganda’s alarming maternal mortality rate and CEHURD’s incoming cases on women maltreatment have left me impatient to see change in Uganda’s health and legal system. However, I have learned that processes that bring immediate and tangible change in both these systems are practically obsolete. Small and effective exercises that require only an open mind and blue tape, such as the VCATs organized by CEHURD, ought not to be overlooked in the process of changing social mindsets and reducing the maternal mortality rate in Uganda.

Namibian Law: in Progress and in Flux

By: Eleanor Dennis

Living in a country whose independence dates to the decade you were born in can be a reminder of both how quickly development can happen and how long institutionalized ways of thinking can take to change. Namibia’s democracy is still relatively young, having passed through several distinct stages of English, German and South African rule before becoming the Republic of Namibia in 1990. Now an independent republic, Namibia is in the process of reforming many of their laws enacted during apartheid and determining exactly what Namibian constitutionalism will look like well into the twenty-first century.

Day to day life in Windhoek is fast-paced, cosmopolitan and hectic. The downtown core is often jam-packed with taxis and private vehicles moving people to and from work inside the city centre and to some of the towns outside. There are huge avenues with six car laneways and street names like Independence Avenue and Sam Nujoma Drive which serve as almost frequent reminders of the hard-fought liberation struggle that is never far from people’s minds.

Work at the LRDC

Members of the Hoachannas Traditional Leadership with representatives from the Ministry of Justice

My work at the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) is another reminder of how young Namibia’s constitutionalism really is. The Commission came into operation in 1992 and its core mandate is to examine all branches of Namibia’s laws and make recommendations for their review, reform and development. A typical work day involves the review of bills that are making their way through the Commission before being discussed at the Cabinet Committee on Legislation (CCL) and being passed on to the Attorney General, the National Assembly and eventually the National Council.

As an intern, I also work side by side with the Chairperson of the LRDC Ms. Yvonne Dausab and often accompany her to community meetings, town halls and workshops. What this meant for me was diving head-first into Namibia’s constitutionalism and getting a rare opportunity to see a law come to life almost from start to finish. What I’ve begun to develop in my six weeks in Namibia is a bigger picture of how a country’s laws shape both its present and its future—and some of the barriers that legislation can encounter in effectuating real change on the ground.

Town hall meeting in Hoachannas with the Minister of Justice

Racial Hate Speech in Namibia

Namibian society has come a long way from its racially-charged past. Every Namibian now enjoys the equal protection of his or her constitutional rights regardless of age, sex, colour, race, tribe, disability or any other of the enumerated grounds for discrimination under Article 10 of the Constitution. On the other hand, Namibia is at a crossroads with regards to one of its fundamental post-independence values—protection against racist hate speech.

Many violations of human dignity during apartheid in Namibia have been removed through legislation and policy, however there has still not been a total break with the racialized social order. This is evidenced by the inconsistent distribution of land and resources in Namibia and also in the social sphere where racial and tribal tensions continue to result in unequal treatment of individuals.

Racialized structures and racial language have survived apartheid in spite of a modern, liberal Constitution and a profound will to break with the past. Use of words making racial distinctions between people are still strongly embedded within people’s minds and discrimination continues to occur across both racial and tribal lines. Stereotypes based on tribe are particularly harmful, and continue to impact on an individual’s access to employment, land, shelter and equal treatment.

Freedom of Expression and Anti-Hate Speech Legislation

Other countries which have similar racial histories have enacted very strict legislation to protect individuals from racial hate speech in order to address past injustices and initiate a strong break from the past. These protections must be balanced with an individual’s right to express themselves, and countries like South Africa have restricted this balance to make the perpetuation of hate speech a serious crime where prosecutions have led to jail time. [1]

Namibia has followed suit and in 1991 enacted the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act [2] to protect the gains of the long struggle against colonization, racism, apartheid and the right to non-discrimination. Few cases have been brought before the High Court, however, and as of 2018 there have been no successful prosecutions made under this Act.

One of the landmark cases that led to a 1998 amendment of the Act is the 1996 Smith v State and Others case [3] where an advertisement in a Windhoek newspaper congratulating a famous Nazi on his birthday was challenged under Section 11 prohibiting racist speech. The constitutionality of Section 11 was challenged for derogating from the protection of freedom of expression set out in Art. 21(1) and (2) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of Namibia used the Oakes test and while the advertisement failed on every requirement, the Court deemed that the infringement did not justify restrictions on freedom of speech under the Act because the groups of persons concerned (Jewish people) had “never featured or suffered in the pre-independence era in Namibia”. The Act’s objective was deemed to be the prevention of apartheid-type racism and while the advertisement was harmful to Jewish people, it did not espouse apartheid values and therefore the Act could not justify infringing upon the advertiser’s freedom of speech in that situation.

Former Dean of the University of Namibia Faculty of Law Nico Horn criticizes the Smith case precedent, [4]  arguing that the Act should not only offer protection to previously disadvantaged groups in a country where racism has many forms and minority groups continue to face discrimination today. Horn argues that a broad interpretation of the term “racial” group in the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act is needed to cross the bridge from a racist to a non-racist society and the Smith case failed to further this. Alternatively, the former Ombudsman Clement Daniels argued [5] that laws that prohibit racism are not enough to curtail racist expression. Laws that promote national unity and anti-racism promotion campaigns are equally needed in order to change one of the roots of the problem—people’s mindsets.

Moving Forward with the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act

The fact that only few cases have ever come to Court under the Act has led many to question its effectiveness. There are a myriad of reasons for this, ranging from victims having inadequate information concerning their legal rights, lacking the resources to enter into the complex judicial process, and fearing social censure if they come forward.

An article that Ms Dausab and I published in The Namibian on hate speech legislation

This puts Namibia in a particularly important position when it comes to determine which direction the country will take on freedom of expression and what hate speech regulation will look like. Legislation exists protecting individuals from discrimination and racist hate speech, however as long as the Act remains unarticulated by the Courts confusion will remain in terms of what legal protections exist to combat racism in a judicial context in an independent Namibia.

Moving Forward at the LRDC

Like Namibia’s constitutional law maturing case by case and bill by bill, I’m learning to take my experience here at the LRDC step by step. Namibia’s past and present is more complex and nuanced than I can manage and at times I fear I am only scratching the surface of the real-life issues a country must grapple with in the first decades after its independence. Like Namibia, I too am developing an understanding that takes two steps forward before falling one giant step back when faced with issues like racism that legislation has not be effective at combatting.

The perspective the LRDC is restricted to is a legal one, but that perspective need not be the only one. Namibian law is a work in progress and so is building a constitutional democracy. That much, at least, I understand. 😉

 

[1]   https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43567468

[2]  http://www.lac.org.na/laws/annoSTAT/Racial%20Discrimination%20Prohibition%20Act%2026%20of%201991.pdf

[3] https://namiblii.org/na/judgment/high-court/96/16

[4] http://www.kas.de/upload/auslandshomepages/namibia/Namibia_Law_Journal/09-1/horn1.pdf

[5] https://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?page=archive-read&id=147374

 

 

 

 

 

Settling in on the Smiling Coast of Africa

No matter how you many countries you visit or live in, moving to The Gambia is a whole different experience. Nothing quite prepares you for the change, the weather, the people, the men, the poverty and the adjustments you have to make. The friendliness on the “Smiling Coast of Africa” definitely helped but I still found it difficult to adjust in my first few weeks.

Things don’t work when you want them to, the power goes off when you really don’t want it to, goats scream in the middle of the night and it’s terrifying, sidewalks are a luxury, it takes 4 hours to get something done when all you need is 30 minutes, you sweat in places you didn’t know existed, seeing cows walking by your side as you try to tan on the beach is normal, you fear the bathroom, you accept you will never be as well dressed as West African women, you’re convinced the mosquito in your bedroom is going to give you malaria, you feel a special bond with your electric fan at work, you try to learn to appreciate instant coffee (I haven’t), and you actually begin to answer when people call you toubab on the street (the Wolof word for white).

If you do not learn to be flexible and to take things with a grain of salt, you won’t like it at all.

Some of the more frustrating aspects of day to day life grow on you with time. I came to enjoy the freezing cold wakeup call of my morning bucket shower making it oh so clear that it was time for work.  I found my evening feet rinse quite therapeutic even if it was because the lack of sidewalks and the abundance of dirt roads make your feet turn a whole new colour. Sometimes the fridge would stop working, meaning it was a reason to go out and eat Gambian cuisine, which is actually fantastic, unless you’re allergic to peanuts, in which case you’d die just by stepping out of the airport of the country where peanuts are the ONLY export.

One ritual I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy is to walk down to the local market after work to pick up my vegetables and mangoes (a food group in itself in The Gambia when they’re in season). There, I get to chat with Ara, a lovely Gambian woman, always beautifully dressed (I could stare at these outfits forever) who runs the fruit and vegetable stand with her brother. I was drawn to her stand on my first day after work and have been going since. A few days in, she asked if I liked parsley and gave me some for free. I was so touched by her gesture; that’s what Gambians are like. They’re happy, they’re generous yet they have so little. It’s incredibly humbling and we can all learn from their wonderful nature.

Some of it doesn’t grow on you and makes you so frustrated you could just scream into a pillow for hours on end. I’m a very independent person, I do things on my own and I’m used to going where I want to solo. As a white woman, even though the country is very safe, I can’t do whatever I want without being disturbed. Going to the gym or for a run? Men will try to run next to you. Go for a leisurely stroll? Have lunch in a restaurant? Go to the beach? Get a taxi? Walk around local markets? Someone is going to introduce themselves to you and propose to you. If you find a Black man to join you, you’re fine. But that still means I have to spend time with someone if I want to venture out anywhere. We all have days where we don’t want to interact with humanity, where we just want to be lost in our thoughts, read, write, drink coffee, listen to music and just be on our own. When I feel that way, I find myself forced to stay home because there is literally no way I can find that peace if I leave my compound.

Some of it doesn’t grow on you but you learn to tolerate it. Cat calling isn’t fun, but some men are more imaginative than others at complementing women. One said I was as pretty as A flower in A garden (no one told him beauty lies in precision), a nice change from the whistles or the ones screaming from the other side of the street, BOSS LADY HI YOU LOOKING GOOD TODAY, I was offered romantic rides on donkey carriages, was proposed to by taxi drivers and was expected to give out my phone number in the same way you throw fish to a hungry crocodile; freely and with no restraint. Many men confessed their love to me, a nice ego boost from my love life back in Montreal. Of course I rarely answered but often took mental notes of what was being said and write it down for entertainment. If you can’t laugh about it, you’ll cry of frustration because it happens so often. Every man wants to shake your hand. WHAT IS WITH THAT? I don’t know you and quite frankly have no desire to know you, so please, save the hand shaking and just wave hello.

It’s not always fun and I often times find myself thinking “I’m The Gambia, what the actual fudge” (censored for academic integrity) and then I remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime experience, that most people never leave their comfort zone and that I am growing so much from my time in The Gambia.

That being said, I’m only human so if I’m having a rough day, that’s ok too. It’ll pass.

 

There is no schedule

By Francesca Nardi

“Horario no hay”.

“There is no schedule”.

This was one of the first phrases that I heard on my first day at my new job in Argentina and asked what time I should be expecting to arrive and leave the office every day.

After finishing 1L exams, and leaving 12 hours later for a grueling 36 hour journey to Mar del Plata, Argentina, this was the last sentence I ever expected to hear. Like many law students, our lives are governed by strict class and study schedules, with many of us often having to schedule in time to do basic things like eating and sleeping. This was my first introduction to a completely different sense of time that would shape much of my Argentine experience.

I had never realized the extent to which schedules shape cultures until I arrived in Argentina and was forced to reflect on the way I think about time. In Canada, and especially in the legal profession, time is money. In my experience in Argentina, things move much more slowly, people arrive late to almost everything, and deadlines are merely a suggestion. At first, I took this as a frustrating indication that my time wasn’t valued. How was it that things could seem to move so much more slowly here?

The last six weeks have taught me that the laissez-faire approach to time and schedules in Argentina is not a sign of disrespect for other people’s time, but precisely the opposite. The laid back approach to scheduling here comes from a recognition of how valuable time is, and the importance of making space in life for the things that are important. In Mar del Plata, people are extremely physically active, spending time outside walking and running on the beach, dancing, or working out in a gym. This is seen as an indispensable and important part of life. Argentinians are also incredibly social and family oriented, always setting aside time to get together with friends and family for an asado on the weekends, or to go and enjoy a coffee and conversation somewhere together. The relatively relaxed approach to time in my workplace reflects a recognition that while work is important, there are so many other things in life that warrant time and energy. A flexible schedule expresses this, and acts as a reminder that it is up to all of us to prioritize the things in our lives that truly matter, while still getting things done in the workplace.

Since arriving in Argentina, I have been able to explore a variety of areas of the law, including disability and fertility law, while also collaborating with the legal clinic on issues of disability rights in the context of public transport. Mar del Plata has a long way to go to making the city accessible for people with disabilities, the elderly, and parents with young children. Working on this project has allowed me to look more critically at the structures of the cities I have lived in, and become more aware of the architectural and attitudinal barriers that prevent everyone from enjoying the city and accessing essential services.

I have also been working on a project exploring the implications of prenatal and preimplantation genetic testing on the disability community. This project has forced me to think more deeply about the complex reality of technological development, and the challenges presented by technologies that may seem benign and even positive. Finally, I collaborated with a group of students at the faculty on an international research paper examining the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities throughout other UN committees and oversight bodies.

In my spare time, I have been taking advantage of the truly spectacular beaches in Mar del Plata to spend time outside, learning to dance tango, and making friends at the local gym. On the weekends, I have been travelling and getting to see some of the incredible corners of this beautiful country! Like any new experience far from home, there have been challenges, but the Marplatense community have embraced me with open arms, and have already made this summer an unforgettable part of my law school experience!

La patience est un art et une vertu.

Tunis en fleur.

Alix Genier

Il y a quelque chose d’étrangement rassurant de savoir que l’on s’attable avec presque l’entièreté d’un pays. Il est 19h14 et c’est mon premier souper seule depuis que je suis arrivée en Tunisie il y a maintenant deux semaines. Mon repas est prêt : une salade simple sans trop d’épices, un petit goût de la maison. Mais pourtant je m’abstiendrai de l’entamer avant le coucher du soleil. J’aurai le signal de départ lorsque la petite rue de mon appartement deviendra silencieuse : les enfants qui y jouent de tôt le matin à tard le soir seront rentrés avec leur famille, le son de la prière annonçant la rupture du jeûne aura retenti dans tout le quartier et j’entendrai les ustensiles des maisons voisines tintés. Le silence de la rupture du jeûne. Même si ce Dieu n’est pas le miens, il est celui de mes amis et de ceux qui seront ma famille pour les trois prochains mois.

Le Ramadan est une période de découverte pour moi : découverte d’un pays aux gens généreux et accueillants, découverte de paysages grandioses, découverte d’un soleil chaud qui nous pousse à la sieste d’après-midi, découverte des soirées vivantes. À cause du repos forcé sur la vie des gens, j’ai exploré mon quartier, ma ville et j’ai visité la campagne tunisienne. Par un besoin d’occuper mon corps et mon esprit trop habitués au rythme de vie nord-américain, je me suis retrouvée sur une ferme où j’y ai fait la rencontre d’une famille extraordinaire. Lentement, c’est un mode de vie que je découvre.

Au courant d’une balade nocturne avec ma colocataire tunisienne, elle m’a demandé ce qu’il y avait de différent ici. J’ai répondu le papier de toilette de couleur, la hauteur de marche qui est inégale, le flexible (il me fera plaisir de détailler l’utilisation du flexible dans une conversation personnelle), les coqs qui chantent à toute heure du jour et de la nuit, la beauté des bougainvilliers et la chaleur des gens. Si on ne m’a pas souhaité la bienvenue 150 fois depuis mon arrivée, c’est qu’on ne me l’a pas souhaitée une seule fois. Des gens accueillants qui possèdent une force intérieure, une combativité et un espoir profond que demain sera meilleur. La plupart des gens avec qui j’ai discuté sont déçus de la tournure des choses depuis la Révolution de Jasmin de 2011 : le taux de chômage demeure toujours élevé (12,4% chez les hommes et 22,7% chez les femmes en 2018), le coût de la vie est encore trop haut pour le salaire moyen et la nouvelle classe politique reste au service de l’élite qui s’est mise en place suite à la Révolution. Bref, c’est « bonnet blanc, blanc bonnet » comme dirait ma grand-mère. Malgré tout, les gens ont espoir que les choses changeront, que la Tunisie peut retourner à ces heures de gloire, qu’elle a toujours ce potentiel énorme. Beaucoup de gens m’ont confié avoir pensé à émigrer au Canada, mais leur patriotisme, leurs racines profondément ancrées et la vie douce et chaude de la Tunisie les a gardés ici. J’admire beaucoup cette flamme qui brulent au creux de l’âme des Tunisiens et des Tunisiennes, cette flamme que nous avons perdue par chez nous. Désillusionnés et abattus, nous sommes amers. Une autre différence entre ici et le Canada est la patience : les gens ici ont compris que cette belle Tunisie est le résultat de plusieurs ères, de plusieurs peuples et de plusieurs projets. La Tunisie n’est pas pressée, elle a tout son temps. À l’image des gens qui l’habitent.

Le Ramadan est pour les Tunisiens et Tunisiennes un exercice de patience, de foi, d’humilité et de confiance. C’est un mode de vie. Même si tous et toutes ne sont pas croyants ou pratiquants, ces valeurs sont, de mon œil d’observatrice encore lointain, le reflet de la philosophie d’un grand peuple.

Les conversations font de nouveau écho dans la rue. Les gens ont terminé de manger chorba(soupe aux tomates et à l’orge), salade méchouia(salade de piments et de tomates grillés et écrasés), briks(pâte phyllo frite farcie d’œuf, de fromage, de persil, de thon ou de viande) et tajines (ressemblant plus à une omelette espagnole qu’à son pendant marocain). Certaines familles auront peut-être sorti quelques petits gâteaux, avant-goût de l’Aïd qui aura lieu dans quelques jours. Quant à moi, mon souper terminé, j’irai rejoindre des amis à la Médina (incroyablement animée en soirée durant ce mois de Ramadan) pour siroter un fameux kahwa arbi, si délicieux et si imprononçable!

Coucher de soleil sur la plage de El Haouaria.

My stay in Dakar

2017-Boily Audrey By Audrey Boily

Many things could be said about my brief stay in Dakar this summer. I could elaborate on the sound of the ocean or the beauty of the nearby beach, I could mention the suffocating heat and the need to sleep under a mosquito net with no fan, or I could simply describe the differing living conditions and scenery from the ones I’ve grown accustomed to in my hometown of Montreal. Truth being said, this is not what I will remember from my internship in Senegal and it is not what I would like people to focus on when describing my trip. I would rather want people to remember things hardest to verbalize; the new emotions that I learned to deal with and situations of which the beauty and power is lost when put into words.

One thing that really stood out from my experience was the loss of bearings I experienced upon arrival and during the entire length of my trip. For example, it took me two weeks to be able to identify what stop I had to get off the bus to get to work (something I do quite easily at home). At first, every building looked the same; it seemed impossible to establish clear landmarks.

It also took me time to understand where my place was within my organization, my host family and with my Senegalese friends. Means that I normally use to avoid or deal with conflicts seemed obsolete. I still had a voice and a desire to express my ideas, but didn’t always know how to do so in a constructive and respectful way. Once I understood the reasoning behind certain Senegalese habits, it became easier for me to accept them and move forward.

Another amazing part of my trip was the many different types of relationships I built with the people I met. A true sense of community existed in my neighborhood. Each family knew the others and every parent looked after the others’ children. When preparing a meal, it was always difficult to assess the quantity to prepare as in the event unexpected guests arrived around meal time, they would invariably be invited to stay and eat. With these relationships came very diverse and interesting conversations about life, religion, family, friendship and culture. The hardest part was nothing experienced during my stay, but having to leave and say goodbye to the many people that made my experience meaningful and memorable.

Learning to Sing: A Look Back on my Summer in Peru

Melisa DemirBy Melisa Demir

There are a number of ways that I could describe my fifteen-week journey to Peru –  an amazing adventure which often times all seems like a blur to me now.

“How was your trip?” is the most common question I’ve been faced with since my return – one that I expected, and yet still have trouble answering. “There’s not enough time in the world to tell you all about it,” I say.  Sometimes, I confess that it all went by so quickly – that it feels like I never even left.

Still, I find myself saying that my trip was busy, as I spent most of my days working hard to meet deadlines, or travelling back and forth from airports or bus stations early in the morning to get back to work on time after weekend getaways. When including it on my CV, I will probably write about how this was the summer in which I developed my research skills, perfected my Spanish, and learned about national and international human rights protection through my contributions to reports, events and other projects with the IDEHPUCP. My friends know it as the unforgettable trip where I managed to live by myself in a foreign country, made friends from all over the world, and climbed a countless amount of mountains – both physical and figurative.  

To me, this was the summer where I learned how to sing.

**

In Lima, life is always bustling – cars and busses honk through stop signs instead of actually stopping, bus drivers scream the route out of the window instead of having a formal system like we have here in Montreal, and nearly everyone listening to music fearlessly belts their hearts out as they sing along, no matter where they are.

I was shocked the first time I heard my colleague – who later became one of my best friends – singing her favourite reggaeton music in the middle of the office on my first day. I rolled my eyes and chuckled as the person behind me during the walk to the grocery store sometime early on in my trip sang and danced to his music. In Montreal, this would be seen as obnoxious and disruptive – but in Lima, it was a form of expression that had not yet become taboo or subjected to the social expectation that, in public or at work, one must be discrete. Where I was used to being expected to fit into a set of social standards, to mold into the rest of society and stay in the shadows, they would charge forward in individuality and expression, full of life and heart-warming spirit.

Walking through the streets of Magdalena del Mar on Peruvian independence day

It wasn’t long before I stopped jumping in surprise when someone in the Institute’s academica department broke the concentrated silence of the area with a few words of one of the summer’s top hits, and instead, started smiling and dancing along to their melody. Their voices and music ended up being the soundtrack to my summer, characterizing my walks home, my evening dinners with my Peruvian family as they sang “El gato nero” to their one-year-old son, and, of course, my time at work. As this aspect of Peruvian culture lost its foreignness, my initial role as the young, shy Canadian intern terrified of speaking Spanish at the risk of sounding stupid slowly morphed into one of sociability and confidence. The country that once seemed so distant from everything I knew began to transform into a home – or as my colleagues and I liked to call it, mi patria. On Peru’s independence day, I attempted to belt out their national anthem. I joined in many birthday celebrations at the office in which the entire Institute gathered around to sing “Happy Birthday” in choir around a large strawberry shortcake from the bakery down the street. Eventually, I even found myself humming along to my music as I typed.

What at first glance appeared to be an example of the care-free stereotype we often associate to Latin American culture eventually revealed itself to be a beautiful expression of happiness, confidence, and hope. A life in human rights research, I quickly realized, can be a daunting one. The nine-to-five work days, which often dragged out to nine-to-eight days during busy periods, are a constant realization of the terrible things that occur around the world, sometimes as close as within the city you work or live in. Every hour is filled with reminders that the world can be a terrible place for some, and that having the opportunity to advocate against human rights violations is a product of your privilege to not be on the other side of them. When one project ends, it’s on to the next one, dealing with similar hard realities, only with regards to a different violated right, and rarely with any assurance that the work you submitted will ever make it into the hands of a policy-maker, or even make a dent in the international hardships you are trying to alleviate. Most of the time, all you can do is hope that what you invested your heart and soul into makes a difference, even if by just raising awareness about the issues around you, and keeping pushing forward until the change you work for finally comes. And so, they sing.

**

I had never worked in human rights before my experience in Peru. I now have the utmost admiration for those who do – who dedicate their lives to making the world we live in a better place, if only for some.

On my last day of work, I submitted my final project, took pictures with my friends in the department – who I would see later for a final goodbye party – and emotionally emptied my desk. As I left, I closed the mahogany doors of the Institute behind me for the last time. I hugged Señor Ochoa, the security guard that greeted me every morning, goodbye.

During the walk home, I sang along to Ed Sheeran’s Perfect.

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