Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Extract From an Autobiography: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Our latest English assignment was to take an extract from an autobiography. I picked the new autobiography by South African comedian Trevor Noah, who is the host of The Daily Show, a satirical news and late-night show. This autobiography includes Noah's usual wit and satire, with which we have all been entertained by in his shows. However, it is also a very honest, thought-provoking, remarkable account of being born and growing up in apartheid South Africa. His book is a testament of the strength of his mother, and a testament of his love for her. I've included some reviews after the extract.

I would just like to reiterate that this extract is taken from Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah, and none of the work below belongs to me, or is mine. 

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As much as I loved church, the idea of a nine-hour slog, from mixed church to white church to black church then doubling back to white church again, was just to much to contemplate. It was bad enough in a car, but taking public transport would be twice as long and twice as hard. When the Beetle refused to start, in my head I was praying, Please say we’ll just stay home. Please we’ll just stay home. Then I glanced over to see the determined look on my mother’s face, her jaw set, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.
‘Come,’ she said, ‘we’re going to catch taxis.’

My mother’s as stubborn as she is religious. Once her mind is made up, that’s it. Indeed, obstacles that would normally lead a person to change their plan, like a car breaking down, only made her more determined to forge ahead. 
‘It’s the Devil,’ she said about the stalled car. ‘The Devil doesn’t want us to go to church. That’s why we’ve got to catch taxis.’
Whenever I found myself up against my mother’s faith-based obstinacy, I would try, as respectfully as possible, to counter with an opposing point of view.
‘Or,’ I said, ‘the Lord knows that today we shouldn’t go to church, which is why He made sure the car wouldn’t start, so that we stay at home as a family and take a day of rest, because even the Lord rested.’
‘Ah, that’s the Devil talking, Trevor.’
‘No, because Jesus is in control, and if Jesus is in control and we pray to Jesus, He would let the car start, but He hasn’t, therefore—’
‘No, Trevor! Sometimes Jesus puts obstacles in your way to see if you overcome them. Like Job. This could be a test.’
‘Ah! Yes, Mom. But the test could be to see if we’re willing to accept what has happened and stay at home and praise Jesus for His wisdom.’
‘No. That’s the Devil talking. Now go change your clothes.’
‘But, Mom!’
‘Trevor! Sun’qhela!’
Sun’qhela is a phrase with many shades of meaning. It says ‘don’t undermine me’, ‘don’t 
underestimate me’, and ‘just try me’. It’s a command and a threat, all at once. It’s a common thing for Xhosa parents to say to their kinds. Any tie I heard it I knew it meant the conversation was over, and if I uttered another word I was in for a hiding.
At the time I attended a private Catholic school called Maryvale College. I was the 
champion of the Maryvale sports day every single year, and mu mother won the moms’ trophy every single year. Why? Because she was always chasing me to kick my ass, and I was always running so as not to get my ass kicked. Nobody ran like me and my mom. She wasn’t one of those ‘Come over here and get your hiding’ type moms. She’d deliver it to you free of charge. She was a thrower, too. Whatever was next to her was coming at you. If it was something breakable, I’d have to catch it, put it down, and then run. In a split second, I’d have to think, Is it valuable? Yes. Is it breakable? Yes. Catch it, put it down, now run.
We had a very Tom-and-Jerry relationship, me and my mom. She was the strict 
disciplinarian; I was naughty as shit. She would send me out to buy groceries, and I wouldn't come right home because I’d be using the change from the milk and bread to play arcade games at the supermarket. I loved videogames. I was a master at Street Fighter. I could go forever on a single play. I’d drop a coin in, time would fly, and the next thing I know there’d be a woman behind me with a belt. It was a rave. I’d take off out the door and through the dusty streets of Eden Park, clambering over walls, ducking through backyards. It was a normal thing our neighbourhood. Everybody knew that Trevor child would come through like a bat out of hell, and his mom would be right there behind him. She could do at a full sprint in high heels, but if she really wanted to come after me she had this thing where she’d kick her shoes off while still going at top speed. She’d do this weird move with her ankles and the heels would go flying and she wouldn’t even miss a step. That’s when I knew, Okay, she’s in turbo mode now.
When I was little she always caught me, but as I got older I got faster, and when speed 
failed her she’d use her wits. If I was about to get away she’d yell, ‘Stop! Thief!’ She’d do this to her own child. In South Africa, nobody gets involved in other people’s business — unless it’s mob justice, and then everybody wants in. So she’d yell, ‘Thief!’ knowing it would bring the whole neighbourhood out against me, and then I’d have strangers trying to grab me and tackle me, and I’d have to duck and dive and dodge them as well, all the while screaming, ‘I’m not a thief! I’m her son!’
The last thing I wanted to do that Sunday morning was climb into some crowded minibus 

taxi, but the second I heard my mom say sun’qhela I knew my fate was sealed. She gathered up Andrew and we climbed out of the Beetle and went out to try and catch a ride.

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 “[A] compelling new memoir . . . By turns alarming, sad and funny, [Trevor Noah’s] book provides a harrowing look, through the prism of Mr. Noah’s family, at life in South Africa under apartheid. . . . Born a Crime is not just an unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, but a love letter to the author’s remarkable mother.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[An] unforgettable memoir.”Parade
 “What makes Born a Crime such a soul-nourishing pleasure, even with all its darker edges and perilous turns, is reading Noah recount in brisk, warmly conversational prose how he learned to negotiate his way through the bullying and ostracism. . . . What also helped was having a mother like Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. . . . Consider Born a Crime another such gift to her—and an enormous gift to the rest of us.”—USA Today

“[Noah] thrives with the help of his astonishingly fearless mother. . . . Their fierce bond makes this story soar.”—People
“[Noah’s] electrifying memoir sparkles with funny stories . . . and his candid and compassionate essays deepen our perception of the complexities of race, gender, and class.”Booklist (starred review)


“A gritty memoir . . . studded with insight and provocative social criticism . . . with flashes of brilliant storytelling and acute observations.”Kirkus Reviews

Thursday, 16 March 2017

International Women's Day: An Article

Our assignment in English class was to find an article we liked, and to post it on our blogs. Since this was around the time of International Women's Day (8 March), I drew some inspiration from a iflscience.com video I had seen; the video highlighted some incredible women in science, and how the only woman we know in science is probably Marie Curie, but there are many others. So I searched for articles about women in science, and there were so many interesting reads, all highlighting the same things, and all good pieces. I've included one article here, and the link to a few more if you're interested in this topic. This information is astounding.

This article is by Cornelia Dean, published in The New York Times on 1 February 2005.


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A few years ago, I told Donald Kennedy, editor of the journal Science, that I wanted to write an essay for his publication. It would say, "Anyone who thinks that sexism is no longer a problem in science has never been the first woman science editor of The New York Times."

I never wrote the essay. But the continuing furor over Dr. Lawrence H. Summers's remarks on women and science reminds me why I thought of it.

For those who missed it, Dr. Summers, the president of Harvard, told a conference last month on women and science that people worried about the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science should consider the possibility that women simply cannot hack it, that their genes or the wiring of their brains somehow leave them less fit than men for math, and therefore for science.

Dr. Summers has since said clearly that he does not believe that girls are intellectually less able than boys. But maybe his original suggestion was right. If we ever figure out exactly what goes on inside the brain, or how our genes shape our abilities, we may find out that men and women do indeed differ in fundamental ways.

But there are other possibilities we should consider first. One of them is the damage done by the idea that there is something wrong about a girl or woman who is really good at math.

I first encountered this thinking as a seventh grader who was scarred for life when my class in an experimental state school for brainiacs was given a mathematics aptitude test. The results were posted and everyone found out I had scored several years ahead of the next brightest kid. A girl really good in math! What a freak! I resolved then and there on a career in journalism.

I encountered the attitude again shortly after I became science editor, taking up a position I was to hold from 1997 to 2003. I went to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a convention that attracts thousands of researchers and teachers. My name tag listed my new position, and the scientists at the meeting all seemed to have the same reaction when they read it: "You're the new science editor of The New York Times!?"

At first I was deluded enough to think they meant I was much too delightful a person for such a heavy-duty job. In fact, they were shocked it had been given to a woman.

This point was driven home a few weeks later when, at a dinner for scientific eminences, a colleague introduced me to one of the nation's leading neuroscientists. "Oh yes," the scientist murmured, as he scanned the room clearly ignoring me. "Who is the new science editor of The New York Times, that twerpy little girl in short skirts?"

Dumbfounded, I replied, "That would be me."

A few weeks after that I was in another group of scientific eminences, this one at a luncheon at the Waldorf. The spokeswoman for the group that organized the event introduced me to one of the group's most eminent guests, a leading figure in American science policy.

"Oh," he said kindly but abstractedly, "you work for The New York Times. How nice." The spokeswoman explained, again, that I was the newspaper's science editor. "An editor," he said. "How nice." The woman explained again, but again he could not take it in. "Oh, science," he said, "How nice." At this point the spokeswoman lost patience. She grabbed the honored guest by both shoulders, put her face a few inches away from his and shouted at him - "She's it!"

Not long after, I answered the office telephone, and the caller, a (male) scientist, asked to speak to several of my colleagues, all male and all out. "May I help you?" I inquired. "No, no, no," he replied. "I don't want to talk to you, I want to talk to someone important!"

Even at the time, I could laugh at these experiences. After all, I was a grown-up person who could take care of herself. (I informed the caller that all the men he wanted to talk to worked for me, and then I hung up. As for Dr. Twerpy, he should know that he was not the first man to refer to me professionally as "that little girl." I reported on the doings of the other one until he was indicted.)

But the memories of the seventh grader are still not funny. Neither is it amusing to reflect on what happened to a college friend who was the only student in her section to pass linear algebra, the course the math department typically used to separate the sheep from the mathematical goats. Talk about stigma! She changed her major to American civilization.

Another friend, graduating as a math major, was advised not to bother applying for a graduate research assistantship because they were not given to women. She eventually earned a doctorate in math, but one of her early forays into the job market ended abruptly when she was told she should stay home with her husband rather than seek employment out of town.

Experiences like hers - the outright, out-loud dashing of a promising mathematician's hopes simply because of her sex - are no longer the norm. At least I hope not. But they are enough, by themselves, to tell us why there are relatively few women in the upper ranks of science and mathematics today.

Meanwhile, as researchers have abundantly documented, women continue to suffer little slights and little disadvantages, everything from ridicule in high school to problems with child care, to a much greater degree than their male cohorts. After 10 or 15 years, these little things can add up to real roadblocks.

So if I wanted to address the relative lack of women in the upper reaches of science, here is where I would start. By the time these problems are eliminated, maybe we'll know what really goes on inside the brain and inside the chromosomes. Then it will be time to wonder if women are inherently less fit for math and science.

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Other articles:

Thank you,

Jamie



Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Observing Touch

I was at a party a few weeks ago at a friend's house, sitting and talking to one of my best friends. A few people would approach us every so often to say hello, usually with a hug. When guys came up to us, she would hold her arms open for them to hug her, and I would just sit, smiling hello, and hugging them if they came towards me for a hug. After a few people had come and gone, she seemed to notice that I was only hugging some and not others.

"What's up with you? Is there a problem with some of the guys?" She asked.

This is where I had to come clean.

I explained to her that I was not initiating hugs, I would only accept them. Otherwise I would just greet people with a smile and wave. And of course, she asked why. 
"It's a Jewish thing"
"But you've never done this before"
"I'll explain later”.

Later that night I sat down with her, explaining this new thing in my life, and how it all started on the Jewish Summer camp I had gone to weeks earlier.

There is a concept in Jewish law, or Halacha, called Shomer Negiah, literally meaning observant of touch. Basically, it forbids contact with the opposite sex, except for immediate family members. This probably seems completely crazy for anyone who is not familiar with it. Even I used to think it was insane, although I respected people who followed this, people like my older brother. I knew I would never be capable of being able to be Shomer Negiah. 

When I went to my first ever summer camp in 2015, I became more familiar with Shomer Negiah, meeting many new people who were bli (another way of saying someone is Shomer Negiah). I didn't really learn much more about it though, because I wasn't so interested in the idea behind it as I still thought it could never apply to me, and I didn't realise how much there was to it. All I knew about it was that if you were bli, in theory you wouldn't touch the opposite sex till the day you were married. 

Things started to change a little when I was visiting my friends in South Africa, and I had made plans to go to a pizza night with my guy friends. Before I arrived at the designated house, one of the guys messaged me and told me that, by the way, one of the guys is now bli. I was fairly surprised by this, particularly because this friend of mine loved hugging and hi-fiving everyone. I was told that if I wanted to ask him more about it, he was very open to discussing and answering any questions. 

When I saw him, he hadn't known that I'd known about him being bli, so when he was met with my questions about the journey to his decision, and his influences and ideas, he was delighted. Our chat gave me insight, and I now understood the concept a little better, and I thought it very admirable, but I still wasn't on the path to becoming bli.

When I went on summer camp this last year, in 2016, I learnt that in 2015 only half the people who normally come had actually gone. So that time round, I got to meet many more people, and all of these people were from the same religious upbringing, families, and school. Most of them were bli. I had the opportunity to have lengthy conversations, discussions, and debates with them on the topic of Shomer Negiah. It just so happened that during our three week camp, there was a talk scheduled on Shomer Negiah by a Rabbi. Naturally, all of the bli kids went, but some of us more secular kids also went, probably in an attempt to broaden our horizons and see if this Rabbi could change our minds.

The ideas behind Shomer Negiah which I have learnt from my friends, camp councillors, and the Rabbi have all been food for thought for me. Touch is so desensitised in this world. If I were introduced to a guy right now in my hometown in Zimbabwe, it is just an accepted norm that I should hug him in a form of greeting him. When you really think about it, why is this unnecessary, irrelevant touching of this perfect stranger normal, and in some ways, required?

One of the Rabbi’s most memorable points was this:
In the room next door, right now, sits your future spouse — I have brought them here for you. I’ll let you go in there and meet them, and you can chat to them for about two minutes. But after that, you won’t see them again, until you are truly meant to meet them. 

We looked at the Rabbi incredulously — what was he talking about? 

“Well, obviously I don’t have such powers, but if I did, and you met the person you are going to marry, would you still kiss that guy you have been eyeing out in the tent next door later tonight? Would you still hug that girl, maybe even hold her hand? Would you do all of these things with knowledge that the person you are going to be marrying is here right now?”

The idea is this: don’t think of it any differently — that person may not be here now but they are alive, somewhere in this world right now. As we speak, they could be napping, eating a sandwich, or thinking about making a commitment to you. Being bli allows you to make a commitment to your spouse, without even knowing who they are. You are cultivating respect for them. And isn’t it incredible to think that your spouse could be honouring you in the same way? Even if you don't practice Shomer Negiah until you are 25, the thought behind it is incredible.

I’ve heard a couple speaking about being bli their whole lives — about how the first time they truly touched was at their wedding when the groom slipped the ring onto the bride’s finger, and inevitably, their fingers touched, and the true meaning and significance of touch and how incredibly special and unique it is became apparent to them. Being bli your entire life is not an easy feat. But still, there are many ways to go about being bli. 

I decided to start practicing Shomer Negiah some time after the Rabbi’s talk and after more discussions with friends who inspired me. The way in which I’ve decided to practice Shomer Negiah is to base my relationships purely on everything except physicality, and then once I’ve built a relationship I’m happy with I would gradually relax my practice of Shomer Negiah. This is common, and people sometimes call it ‘shomer until relationship’, or ‘SUR’. It has been difficult as people don’t know about this whole concept, and it is hard to reject people’s handshakes, hi-fives, and the like, but I’ve become acutely aware of touch, thus accomplishing one of my goals. It’s all a process, one that I’ve had to ensure I’m easing into. People will find out about this as my confidence grows in practicing it. The fear of telling too many people and not being able to keep this up is constant, but I’ve been told that it is easy to fall off the horse, the most important thing is to get right back up. 

Of course people won’t always understand Shomer Negiah, and there will always be skeptics, but learning so much about it, and gaining an appreciation for something we always take for granted has been inspiring. It has fuelled my passion for Judaism and its many facets, which in turn, has changed my day to day life, and this is something for which I am consciously grateful.

xx 

Jamie

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Imagine Summer 2.0

I started this blog about 2 years ago, fully intending to commit to it and update it all the time. That plan soon disintegrated due to focusing on school and ballet, writing my IGCSEs, etc. Admittedly it was a slight disappointment that I gave up so quickly. So, when my AS Level English teacher told us on the first day of class that our assignment was to start up a blog, you could imagine my excitement. I could blog again without having to feel guilty about juggling unnecessary commitments in my life, as this would be an important English assignment that I would have to maintain for the rest of my AS/A Level course.

The blog has gone/is going under a little bit of a redesign in terms of look and content, but I am still going to keep my first two posts on here as they were something of a benchmark for me. As for my name, it is actually Jamie Sommer. If you followed or read my blog in the beginning, you would know that I used the nom de plume Hannah Summer. It just sounded better than Jamie Sommer, and it was easy to come up with as my middle name is Hannah and Sommer is German for summer. Now, I will be using my real name, because I no longer have aspirations of becoming the next 'Zoella' therefore I no longer need a cooler sounding name that is kind of my name but not really my name.

Well then, all that's left to say is 'more to follow'. 

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I am looking forward to it.

xx

Jamie