War in Ukraine

I’m sure by now, you all know what is going on with Putin declaring war on Ukraine. I felt it was time to share some things I have learned about Russia and Ukraine from being in Russian ballet and being part of the Russian community in London.

About Russia:

Yes, I speak Russian. Yes, I love their ballet and theatre. No, I do not agree with what Putin is doing now. I was doing Russian ballet in the 2000s and became part of the Russian community. There were no oligarchs in that community. They were normal, everyday people like you or me. Among the Russian community were people from former Soviet countries who grew up in the Soviet era. Even though there were some awful things about that time in history, ballet flourished. People from former Soviet states wanted to appreciate Russian culture through ballet. Russians living abroad still have great pride in their ballet, and for good reason.

Russia has a 300-year ballet history and developed ballet technique and artistry that is only matched by France. Russian ballet gives me hope because it survived the Russian Revolution, the Soviet era and it WILL survive Putin! If you ever go to Russia or have an opportunity to see the Mariinsky, the Bolshoi or the Eifman ballet companies when they are on tour GO FOR IT! I promise you that you will not regret it! I am proud to have been part of something so beautiful for a significant part of my life.

As time went on, I noticed a lot of people had left Russia or former Soviet states because of the rise of Putin. They knew 10-20 years ago what people are realizing now about Russia, but they weren’t being taken seriously. If you say Putin’s name around a Russian, look at their face. You can’t ignore the fear you see in their eyes, even if they don’t say explicitly what’s going on. They might not say what is going on for fear of retribution, but IYKYK.

I learned about Ukraine from my Russian Teacher:

When I was learning Russian, my Russian teacher was great at informing us about Ukraine and other former Soviet states and their relations with Russia. One of her parents was Ukrainian as well. She said that if you travel to Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine is more accepting of people speaking Russian, and there are a lot of Russians who live there. If you go to Western Ukraine and speak Russian, they will treat you like a terrorist. Can you blame them? I don’t. In general, my Russian teacher encouraged us not to speak Russian if we ever travelled to a former Soviet country, unless we are certain that it’s still an acceptable alternative to Russian. That’s a fair thing to say.

Additionally, she said that it is common for kids who move to Russia from former Soviet countries to be bullied because they are from those countries. Ukrainian kids seem to have a particularly hard time. She isn’t the only person that I have heard that from. It seems like Russian kids pick up on this narrative that they are superior compared to people from former Soviet countries. I can’t help thinking that this kind of bullying has led to what is happening now. My self-defence teacher said, “Wars can be traced back to someone being rude to the waitress.”

As Time Went On:

David Cameron became Prime Minister of the UK in 2010. One of his stupidest moves was to allow Russian oligarchs to buy prime property in London, and their kids got automatic admission to top private schools. There was a fear in the Russian community because they knew these oligarchs were capable of real damage. I felt sorry for them and frustrated that no one believed them when they shared what was happening. Over time, the oligarchs started buying prime property in other countries as well, but London was the most obvious choice. I am completely unsurprised that war in Ukraine is happening because of what I have seen.

If you want to know more about Russian financial systems and human rights abuses, I recommend reading Red Notice by Bill Browder. I am following what he has to say about the war in Ukraine as well. I feel he’s the best person to inform others of what is happening.

It became clearer to me that I couldn’t live my dream of dancing in Russia one day, and politics was one of those reasons. There was no denying that Putin had a pathological need to go back to the old days using brute force. A word of caution, it’s important not to underestimate Putin. He’s a master tactician. It’s like what Yoda says, “Do not underestimate the power of the emperor or suffer your father’s fate, you will.” I believe that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is the best person to lead Ukraine to fight against Russia. He’s Jewish and he had relatives who died in the Holocaust. Plus, his father fought against the Nazis. Zelensky is also a standup comedian, which pisses Putin off. That’s a great quality to have and I wish him well!

My Future Suggestions and Final Thoughts:

It’s time countries start rethinking their citizenship by investment laws because billionaires are running roughshod over major cities. Those laws were created to appeal to foreign billionaires and not to encourage everyday immigrants to buy property.

I’m going to say this again. Read Red Notice by Bill Browder. He’s a capitalist turned human rights activist who has been trying for years to make Western politicians aware of Russian financial corruption and human rights abuses committed by Russia. Putin gave Bill Browder the Red Notice because of what he’s doing. CW: His friend and fellow advocate is murdered by the Gulag.

Get to know Russians, Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans and hear their stories. If they trust you enough, they will share their experiences with you. Don’t listen to news that says that Russians are responsible for this. No, it’s PUTIN doing this on his own! Be aware though that Russia has an abysmal civil rights record and people may not want to talk about it for fear of retribution. I’ll give you an example. It’s common knowledge that in the West, half the men in ballet are gay. That’s not true in Russia. They are either in the closet or they move away. Additionally, I have heard a lot about racial and ethnic discrimination within Russia. When one groups’ rights are threatened it has a snowball effect, so it’s hardly surprising.

I’m glad that finally, the West is catching onto Russian financial corruption. However, if other countries are going to cut Russia from SWIFT, they must exercise caution and careful planning. The economic sanctions imposed before have really not done anything about the oligarchs, and we need some solution that will hold them accountable.

Anyway, that’s my experience. What do you think?

Third Culture Christmas

Third Culture Christmas is a guest post I sent to Tall Blonde Tales for Blogmas! Here it is in all its glory!

I am a Third Culture Kid, which means that before I was 18, I lived in countries other than one of my parents’ nationalities. I have lived in France, Switzerland, the UK, the USA, and now I’m currently in Canada. People ask me what Christmas traditions have I picked up from my life of diverse cultural exposure? Read on to find out!

French Traditions:

I was too young to remember living in France, but my parents still taught me French culture after we moved to the USA. One of my early memories was being confused about how Santa arrived with presents. In France, when Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve, he arrives on a donkey, not a sleigh. As I got older, there are three French foods that we have had at Christmas, depending on availability and quality expected. 

Bûche de Noël or Yule log, is one of our favourites! France is one of those cultures that observes the Feast of the Kings on Twelfth Night. A common dessert is the Galette de Rois. There is no proper English translation for the galette, but you can look it up here: Galette des Rois: A Sweet French Tradition – FAYLI

I sometimes have the galette for my birthday cake because my birthday falls within the twelve days of Christmas! When I moved to Canada, I was ecstatic to find authentic Bûche de Noël and Galette de Rois at a French patisserie! Another food that my family enjoys is foie gras, but availability depends on where you live. The last time I had foie gras at Christmas was when I lived in England! 

English Traditions:

On that note, I have had some memorable food while living in London, England! My family attempted a Christmas pudding a few times. I loved lighting it and watching the alcohol burn off! I found it hard to eat though since it’s soaked in so much booze. One year, my family had a goose for Christmas. It was incredible! Goose fat adds a certain special flavour to food, and it reminded me of French food. I haven’t had a goose since leaving England, but I will never forget how incredible it is!

One story that is always told in England around Christmas is the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. When World War I started in 1914, the soldiers were all told they would be home by Christmas. When that didn’t happen, British, French and German soldiers laid down their weapons and had fun together. This happened all along the Western Front. The saddest part was all the men who engaged in the truce were censured severely and the generals tried to cover it up. I personally think it was a beautiful act of fraternity, peace, love and cultural sensitivity.

I have seen cartoons, advertisements and other things that commemorate the Christmas Truce. One of the movies I see during the Christmas season is Joyeux Noël, which is the story of the Christmas Truce. You can read more about the movie here: Joyeux Noel (2005) – Plot Summary. Even though I don’t live in England anymore, I still have a little remembrance of the Christmas Truce.

The Christmas Pantomime:

I wanted to give an extra special shoutout to an English Christmas tradition: The Christmas Pantomime. If you are ever in the UK in December or January, see if you can go to a Christmas panto! I personally recommend the ones at the small theatres rather than the large ones. The small theatres feel more personal and there is a lot of audience participation in the Christmas panto. I was part of a community theatre and I did two Christmas pantos. I played Dick Whittington’s cat when I was 12, which was the best role I ever had! Makes me feel like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet! 

A bit of history. The panto originated out of the Commedia dell’Arte, which was a popular theatre tradition in Europe for 200 years. It really is worth learning about, and pantos have classic scenes that are right out of the Commedia dell’Arte. For instance, there is the cooking scene and the school scene. Also, the principal boy is played by a woman and the dame is played by a man. 

One thing that my parents and I realized is that colonization of the Americas was happening at the same time as the Commedia dell’Arte. The Puritans, who were against the arts for religious reasons, were among the first settlers in what is now the USA. So, the panto tradition never crossed the Atlantic. My parents and I have had discussions about whether the panto can become an accepted theatre tradition in the USA. We have certainly found distinct cultural differences between American and English humour. I could write an entire post about the panto tradition and this particular historical significance, but I will stop right here.

American Traditions:

I moved to the USA when I was two years old. At the time, my parents didn’t know if we would ever live in another country again. But what my Mum did was collect Christmas stories from wherever we travelled and lived and put them in a binder that we would read every Christmas. We continue to read those stories, even though we have now lived in five countries. The stories include classics like The Gift of the Magi, to more current stories.

A few years after we repatriated to the USA after living in London, we decided to go to Yosemite National Park for Christmas. We arrived there at the Winter Solstice, and there happened to be a full moon then! That doesn’t happen often. Ansel Adams photographed a full moon at Yosemite at the Winter Solstice, right when it was over Half Dome (which is an iconic feature of Yosemite). We had to stay pretty late to see the full moon over Half Dome. I tried to take a photo, but I didn’t do it justice. The park was abuzz with people trying to see what Ansel Adams saw when he took his iconic photos.

photo of snow capped mountain under blue night sky

Photo by Ian Beckley on Pexels.com

Canadian Traditions:

I was in for a couple of Christmas surprises when I moved to Canada. I became a huge fan of Canadian comedy, and their holiday comedy is cathartic when dealing with holiday stress. Our political and new satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes has some incredible holiday sketches on YouTube. Since Canada has long winters, we have to have something to keep us entertained. Canadian Christmas comedy is a great way to decompress. Here’s one of my favourite videos to laugh at Christmas stress:

Christmas Light displays are hugely popular in Canada as well. I am already getting notifications about light displays at the zoo, and malls! My city has a river walk that you can do to see all these light displays. Additionally, they have a site where they list houses that have light displays that you can walk or drive by to see. Even if it’s not Christmas, I have noticed there is a real love of light, especially in the winter.

person walks outdoor during night

Photo by David Guerrero on Pexels.com

Other Traditions:

I got to know a lot of Russians while I was living in London. I learned that Russian Christmas is generally celebrated on January 6th or 7th, depending on the Orthodox calendar. New Year is more popular in Russia than Christmas though. It used to be on a different date from January 1st, but then it changed to meet more Western standards. So, I have heard things about Old New Year, versus New New Year. Additionally, one Russian saying is that you will spend the New Year the way you meet it (Как Новый год встретишь, так его и проведешь). Yes, I speak Russian, but that’s not the point. Because of that saying, Russians have some cultural practices to help them meet the New Year ready for a fresh start. 

You can find this movie called The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! on YouTube. It’s a Russian New Year comedy made in 1975, and it showcases traditions for Russian New Year. It has English subtitles, so don’t worry about not understanding it. Although to be fair, I started watching it when I was first learning Russian, and I was still able to pick up the story by watching what the actors were doing. Whenever I remember watching the comedy for New Year, I do so. Plus, I still believe that you do spend the New Year the way you meet it, although some things you have to take with a grain of salt.

No matter where I am in the world, nothing makes me happier than a white Christmas! I have always loved snow as a kid and that has never gone away! That’s a Christmas tradition that is universal for me!

Merry Christmas/Joyeux Noël/с Рождеством! Happy New Year/Bonne Année/с Новым Годом!

Marda Loop Justice Film Festival

In mid-November, I got a library card at the Calgary Public Library! One way I feel like I’m really settling in somewhere is when I’m at the point I can get a library card! Because of COVID, I can’t go to any in-person events they have, or volunteer. However, they do have some online events I can participate in. The first event I participated in was the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival. They showed a movie every day, and at the end of the movie, they interviewed one of the people behind the creation of the movie. Here are the movies they showed for the week, as well as my personal commentary on it.

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Content Warning: War, enslavement, animal harm, rape, displaced people, AIDS.

Safe Haven:

This movie struck a lot of personal chords with me, especially because I’m new to Canada. They interviewed Vietnam and Iraq War veterans who sought refugee status in Canada to escape the draft (for Vietnam) or resist the horrors of war. The Vietnam War veterans had better luck with their refugee status than the Iraq War veterans.

During the Harper Administration, some Iraq War veterans were deported and had to spend months in prison under inhumane conditions. The movie talks honestly about the struggles Iraq War veterans faced with their immigration and the ensuing social activism to protect them. There are some things that I don’t feel I am in a position to comment on at this time.

I want to give a shout-out to the fact that social activists mentioned a lot of these veterans are LGBTQIA+. Additionally, the movie showed what the Vietnam veterans have been doing to contribute to Canadian society. A majority of them ran for office, and one of them is a judge who advocates for Indigenous communities. Of course, one of the veterans couldn’t be interviewed because he had severe PTSD, but you felt sympathetic about it.

The movie ended by saying that tens of thousands of US citizens moved to Canada in 2017 after Trump got elected. I know I moved later, but it still hit me hard that so many US citizens feel the same way I do. I think this movie is honest in talking about the past. Plus, it makes you think about what Canada can do to help US citizens who have recently emigrated and don’t feel they can repatriate.

I think the parts that resonated with me the most were how the veterans talked about adjusting to life in Canada. My own adjustment period has been up and down emotionally, particularly because I’m detoxing from a toxic country. Like those vets, I feel less American as time goes on. It gave me hope though that I will adjust. I’m determined to have a life like those Vietnam vets! I will become a productive citizen and give back to a country that I love that welcomed me when I needed it!

Servitude:

Servitude, or Servidão, is about human trafficking in Brazil. It was a thoughtful and thorough examination of Brazil’s history. Apparently, it was legal to keep those of African descent enslaved in Brazil decades after other countries had made it illegal. After enslaving people became illegal, corporations in Brazil found a way to keep millions of citizens working below poverty wages. Not only does this keep people in poverty, but those people are under orders to do tasks that destroy the rainforest, which creates its own social issues. Human trafficking clearly needs to be part of the discussions on how to stop deforesting the Amazonian rainforest. Now, I realize that stopping deforestation is much easier said than done.

Fortunately, there were organizations that resisted human trafficking and got millions of people out of enslaved labour. Unfortunately, when the far-right government was elected a few years ago, people were being trafficked again.

There was an interview with the director, and they asked him what he thought of the history of enslaved people in the USA compared to Brazil. I think he answered it as best he could, but he definitely got a couple of facts wrong. I also think it was an unfair question because I could tell from his answer that Brazilians know just as much about the US as Americans do about Brazil. I think more than anything, this movie showed the importance of understanding a country’s history before judging them for issues like destroying the rainforest. After all, several wise people have said those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Sockeye Salmon, Red Fish:

This movie showed sockeye salmon are being overfished and illegally poached. It explained how large corporations that fish the salmon and poachers affect the ecosystem of the Kamchatka peninsula and the livelihoods of local fishermen. The group that filmed the movie do a lot of education and outreach to the citizens of the Kamchatka peninsula, particularly the children. I wasn’t too familiar with the issue of disrupting salmon migrations and how it affects local ecosystems. The person they interviewed at the end was a biologist in British Columbia who studies the effects of disrupting salmon migrations and climate change. She was brutally honest about the fact that farmed fish is not a good solution to the problem of overfishing and declining salmon populations.

From Durban to Tomorrow:

The International AIDS Conference started in Durban, South Africa in 2000. Mass advocacy for universal access to AIDS treatment started then and continues to this day. The movie interviewed five people who are on the front line of advocating for universal access to healthcare in South Africa, Guinea, Spain, India and Hungary. The activists spoke honestly of the social stigma of AIDS and what social structures are affecting access to healthcare. I felt the saddest thing was in South Africa, women are highly likely to become infected with HIV by the time they are 16 because they are more likely to be raped by that age.

Additionally, US drug companies are withholding their newest treatments and finding ways to defund healthcare systems in other countries. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely surprised by that because I know what is happening with England’s healthcare system. The movie basically sent the message that citizens need to start advocating to keep their country’s healthcare systems providing equal access to quality healthcare.

Alice Street:

This movie was another one that I got a lot of feels about because my university was in Oakland. The movie talks about how the racial and ethnic diversity in Oakland has given the city its unique identity. The community worked with artists who wished to celebrate that identity on a massive mural. After the mural was painted, some Karen decided to protest it by having a temper tantrum at city officials and media. Additionally, gentrification started happening because of tech workers moving into Oakland. The mural was one of the driving forces behind the movement against gentrification.

When I was at university, the activism against gentrification was in full swing. I have seen the mural with my own eyes, and it’s one of those things that I like to stop and admire and consider the messages behind it. I had to leave my campus quite suddenly because my classes went online last March thanks to the pandemic. I do miss Oakland, and I am keeping up to date on what’s going on there with the anti-gentrification movement.

Never Going Back:

Never Going Back or Para No Volver is about this Honduran family with two girls who seek asylum in Mexico. It was an honest portrayal of culture shock and missing your home. I admit though, I had to stop watching it at one point. The family tries to enter the USA and they know they risk being separated. Anyone who has read my past posts knows how I feel about those deplorable Trump Administration policies that separate families, so I won’t repeat it.

Indebted to All Women:

Indebted to All Women or En Deuda con Todas is about the social effects of El Salvador’s laws restricting access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Many women are interviewed in this movie who have done time for having babies who were stillborn. They were prosecuted for killing their babies when in reality, their bodies were just doing their job. These women almost died themselves giving birth but the law completely ignored that. Additionally, the lack of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare has disproportionately affected low-income girls and women. More girls get pregnant because they were raped and the rate at which they are raped is disgustingly high! This movie is another example of expanding equal access to women’s reproductive healthcare that must include ending rape culture and toxic masculinity. From Durban to Tomorrow had the same theme.

Overall, I think the festival did an excellent job of showing documentaries that covered a range of social issues. These movies made you think about how they were relevant to other countries, not just the ones portrayed. Since these documentaries are portraying stories of human suffering, I think they were tactful and respectful in their interviews, visuals and information. I have seen documentaries and TV shows that weren’t so respectful and I don’t think that’s an effective way to help your audience learn. Disturbing things can turn your audience off and documentaries can walk a fine line with portraying their subjects. I find documentaries that decide what are the points of the movie, portray their points clearly, succinctly and respectfully, and then move onto the next point are more effective in helping me learn about what’s going on. I have seen gory and disrespectful portrayals in documentaries and shows that just keep making the same point over and over. That makes me think, “Was that necessary?” Ultimately, I would find another way to learn about the subject.

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised that the film festival had a clip of Land Acknowledgment before every movie. I have noticed Land Acknowledgment is more of a thing here in Canada. I didn’t even know what Land Acknowledgment was until 2018 when I transferred to university. My university did Land Acknowledgment during their ceremonies. Apart from that, I never noticed it at all during my time in California. I think the prevalence of Land Acknowledgement in an area or region is a sign of the prominence of social activism. I’m not saying things are perfect, but I am saying there is more of a respect for social activism when you see little things, such as practices like Land Acknowledgment.

Overall, I think the festival had a great selection of movies that covered a wide range of issues. I also noticed this festival is only a few years old. I found movies they have shown in previous years. If I can’t find them online, I will make a point of watching them once I can watch DVDs again.

If you are interested in seeing what movies were shown in the previous years, please click the following links:

MLJFF 2019

MLJFF 2018

MLJFF 2017