Sunday, October 13, 2013

Helmuth Niederle speaks out on the Malala publication Time to say: No! Amazing stories of victorious women

Philo Ikonya and Inger Haug front
Women walk to the unveiling of the statue of Katti Møller in
Hamar as part of Norway's centenary on universal suffrage 2013.
There is no doubt that people get moved when they see someone struggle to make it despite great opposition. We like to see winners. One cannot win without opposition. Not even in a football match.  That is a great thing. It gives meaning to victory. 

  Frida Kahlo ( Mexican, 1907- 1954)
Frida Kahlo

              Mexian Frida transformed a debilitating accident
              that left her with chronic pain into an opportunity.
              She painted. She was expressed herself powerfully
              and got international acclaim. She was only 15. Her
              plans to become a doctor were shattered. She painted
              to excellence and married Diego Riviera and moved to 
              top artistic company. Her works depict the struggles of
              women and their power.            

 Stories of girls such as Helen Keller and Ann Frank. The latter has moved the world for years. Her writing touched our hearts as young people. 

Hellen Keller
I can almost 'smell' the feeling of my spirit being raised from somewhere in me reading her with sorrow and joy. And then it would rise and spread all through my chest and I would rise up like mist, gently but full of life. Have you ever imagined smoking the best of air? Well you do not need to smoke it. Just inhale it and there is life. I think I could feel my soul breathing and growing to the point of explosion of joy and power. 

And like Helen Keller so many others. I know I felt writing, not just read it when I met the Bronte sisters. The works of Jane Austen. These women 'said' something to me just for being women. There was an air of ... of creation and power in power. Just beautiful.
19th C poets and novelist. The Bronte Sisters. Like George Eliot they had
to use male pseudonyms
to be read
But in opposition the opposite occurs too. Some people aim to choke one up. What can you say of a French minister or Member of Parliament who shows off today because he is macho? It happened last week in 2013. How? He was cheering another one who in Parliament clucked like a chicken when a woman member was contributing. Clucked like a chicken? Yes. And yes they laughed at another one who came to work in a dress. Today in France despite all that history of feminism that you know and of course just common sense and good manners. 

What then do you say about a Kenyan elected Governor of Nairobi and a Senator slapping the elected Nairobi Woman Representative? It is in such pathetic taste. People called for his resignation and others were torn in different ways. Why fight for her they asked when so many women are being beaten at home and no one is lifting a finger? This logic is sick especially when it comes from some writers. Does it make any pain better not to relieve any other pain? Is elected representative not you who is represented? All of them in thousands of comments blamed the woman. Blamed for from going to bed to every other thing they could find. Like they had never heard of Eve and Adam.

I found this interview with Dr. Helmuth Niederle who sometimes contributes to The Sisters of Clotel. President of Austrian PEN he invented a projected online and in actual book on Malala Yousafzai. 

Now you might assume that this is so normal because Malala was shot by Taliban? No. It is not. Many were asking what for? But many others responded with many poems that made a thick book. Poems from people young and old from all over the world. The following interview was done by Anna Lorca.

Helmuth Niederle Austrian poet and novelist/Translator 
Anna Lorca (AL)

Good evening Dr. Helmuth Niederle, thank you for accepting this invitation for my new magazine.

Helmuth Niederle (HN)

Welcome. Please do not use my title. You can just call me Helmuth Niederle but spell it correctly. It is often misspelt.

My name too is often written without the r and you know that means mad in Spanish! I understand. 
I know. People and names. But we come from different backgrounds and some names are hard to spell. 
I begin. Helmuth, what did you study?
According  to Wikipedia you have written and/or edited over 30 titles. What or who inspires you?

I studied non-European, European cultural anthropology, art history and sociology and finished with a PhD. It may sound a bit simple, but life inspires me. It is not all based on study. As a young child I created my own books and hang them in a line in my room. This is probably because I am curious and want to know everything. And when I brought something to experience, I discover that there is much more that lies behind it. This incites my curiosity again. This is am endless but fascinating circle.

I am inspired to write by different things. The occasion for a story or a poem may appear very simple: The smile that spreads across the face of a child can develop into a story, the beam in the eye of the beloved woman may be reflected in a poem: joy about the beauty of the moment or anxiety due to an impending loss. And between these two poles on a spectrum spanning thousands of possibilities.

How did you come up with the project Time to Say: No!

When I was a few years ago in a camp in Sierra Leone women saw who had been abused as sex slaves by the rebels, and the hopelessness felt was inherent to the situation, I knew that I would – when getting the opportunity – I would have to raise my voice. The impression of this unholy alliance between male dominance and embossed corrupt politics never left me. I can not forget how on the streets of Manila women and children gathered the cigarette butts with their hands. Even the sound of the blows on the bare skin of women in India I will never forget. With all that in mind I heard of Malala Yousafzai. She wanted nothing more than just go to school to learn. She did not argue because of boyfriend or because of another clothes. She wanted to learn the art of reading and writing, to be able later to decide for herself. The attempted assassination of her gave me the idea: Time to Say: NO! We have to learn something from history. One big lesson is that we have to speak out for one another. Ann Frank is one of the most referred to victim of the Shoah. This was against humanity. Unspeakable evil. Millions of Jewish people were killed. One human matters too. MalalaThis girl's life was almost gone...But this evil was thwarted for some reason.
I always had the opinion that there exist ideas that arrive directly from some humans. It is as if something has to happen sometimes for some of these ideas to be released to heal the world. 

Earlier you and I talked about Helen Keller and Frida Kahlo. 

Were those accidents in their lives? Blindness and a tragic accident? Or were they moments that open invisible doors among humans? A flock of ideas? These are ideas with wings that land right in the heart and brain. So I compare them to a flock of birds. When I heard about Malala's shooting, I felt it was a moment of impending loss and that we had to gain something from it. She was recovering gradually and I thought about her. I had conversations about her life with Philo Ikonya. She embraced the idea that we could try to solicit poems from the whole world. It became a PEN Austria and PEN Kenya project edited by the two of us. It was good to share the work with someone who is driven by commitment to working for human rights. I translated all the poems into German. 
 Were you surprised at how the world will respond to a good idea? It was an acclaimed success with children and adults contributing. How did you achieve that?

That authors would write, I had no doubt. But that there were so many, that surprised me! The eagerness with which they sought to get involved was a gush of global energy. From people of over 70 years to teenagers. Also that voices would rise from other continents, was surprising. The project worked because people agree to openness. Suddenly the boundaries were repealed: It was not a project of the North to the South, not one that would teach the men or the women. There was no conflict between black and white (the color templates to mention). Time to Say: NO! was the call for respect for human dignity. And it was open to all languages. There was also no hegemony of languages! Only one piece was given destination: violence against women is unacceptable. Basta. There is nothing to discuss.

But the world is complex and ... we find violence returns

This is one reason for all the work, but there are besides of the many minor and major reasons still a significant one: When one sees the world, you would like to contribute to the completion of this world. Even if those options that are available are very small ones, one would not stand aside! Take for an instance the expulsion of man from Paradise seriously and you have to recognize that we are all displaced from our homeland. And if that is so, why do we make each other's lives so difficult? No one is completely at home here on earth.  But I'm sure many before me have worked on the humanization of the world and after me many are working on it. As such, I find myself in good company. It makes sense to work best with the tools that they know how to handle and that is in my case, language in all its facets. I Translate books from English to German.

What was your experience in co-editing the big volume?

I can only say that the project is not completed. Often we will find the moment in which: Time to Say: NO! fits extremely well. We must only never forget, if we want to speak to the world, then we need to find the words that the world can understand. Poets are good at that. We published some young ones that had not written before. I think of a young boy from Oslo who signed his poem as Leo. He wrote: 

The teacher told me to say yes, 
so here I go: 
It is Time to say: No!  

Where there is freedom we can differ without fear. Where there is a need we must respond. It is human nature. That is, we need to make books that strike a very different tone than it is usual. Urgency. No condescension, but a plea for humanity. Without you, Philo Ikonya's contribution, that would not have been possible. Therefore the final word is 'thanks to all those who contributed. I heard Malala in an interview thanking all those who write about her and who listen and I knew we are there, gray and dark haired with Malala. A big THANK YOU to Philo for her commitment too. 
But are there not things to say NO to in Europe? Are we guilty of always seeing the mess far from us?

There is a high wall set against women and not just a glass ceiling. Abusing women is common even in high places like Parliaments. It is despicable. Who are these men? Did they not crawl out of the womb of a woman (a quotation of the classical playwright Friedrich Schiller)? Maybe they climbed down from the moon.

One in France cheered for macho men and said they will always be. Europe pauses as clean and saintly?

Maybe there is an iron law: In every society there is a residual set of mentality that one cannot fix in some people.