Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Australia”

Emma McCune

Last week, I posted about Emmanuel Jal, who was forced to become a child soldier in South Sudan and has gone on to become a famous hip-hop singer and tireless social activist.

Jal was rescued by Emma McCune, who I discovered was a remarkable woman. Emma was born in India in 1964, but brought up in the UK where she graduated from the University of London. In 1985, at the age of 21, Emma flew to Australia and back in a single-engine, light aircraft with a friend.


Two years later, she went to Sudan, then in a civil war to volunteer for the British organization Volunteer Services Overseas. She was forced to return to England the following year but by 1989 she managed to return, this time working for Street Kids International, which founded or re-opened more than 100 village schools in South Sudan.

She met and married Riek Machar, one of two leading South Sudan guerrilla commanders, and worked to promote his organization after Street Kids International fired her. She died in a car crash, pregnant, in 1992. Emma’s mother, Maggie C, published her story in Till the Sun Grows Cold, and journalist Deborah Scroggins wrote an unauthorized biography of her called Emma’s War.


Emma is seen as a controversial figure because of her marriage, but she unequivocably worked to save more than 150 war children in Sudan including hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal. At the APF conference that I attended, he performed his tribute to an incredibly brave woman: “Emma McCune” was recorded for his 2008 album Warchild.


Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Yosemite Campground Hijinx

This past weekend, I once again had the privilege of staying for a few nights in Yosemite National Park, this time returning to Tuolumne Meadows after about a 20-year absence.

The weather didn’t cooperate as well as it could have, but the trip was still really great and well worth the drive. As is typical of the Sierra Nevada in summer, a pattern of afternoon clouds, showers, and sometimes thunderstorms repeated each day, almost like clockwork. If you’re headed that way, go prepared with extra tarps and rope or some other way of constructing a little shelter at your campsite.

The beauty of Tuolumne Meadows is distinct from that found in Yosemite Valley. The valley is more visually striking, spectacular, in fact. Tuolumne Meadows is a little more gentle in its forms, even with its huge, looming rock domes scattered across its forests and meadows. It’s almost as much of a rock-climber’s paradise as is the valley, but it offers much more than the valley for the (maybe casual) hiker that wants to avoid huge gains in elevation.

What I want to write about here, though, are the people.

The people you encounter in national parks are a selective sub-breed – for the most part. They’re friendly, honest, trusting, open, and often educated and intelligent. However, not all of them are always thoughtful or considerate of others.

Campgrounds in national parks and other places are starting to resemble the infield at a NASCAR race just a little bit. Everyone comes for the beauty and atmosphere of the park, but some also come to party. In addition, some people just don’t really think about how loud their voices are or how well they carry in the morning air.

As an example, we were caught between two neighboring campsites, one with nighttime partiers and the other with a group resembling early-morning roosters. As a result, we didn’t get much sleep.

Neither of these groups was made up of “bad” people. I talked to one of the partiers at length. He and most of his group were in their early twenties and visiting from Australia. He was a really nice guy and we had a great chat. My wife pulled me away and I forgot to work into the conversation that “quiet hours” started at 10 p.m.

I didn’t talk to the morning group, but they seemed like really nice people who may have been visiting from somewhere in Latin America (they all spoke Spanish the whole time) and they were incredibly enthusiastic about getting all that they could out of there visit to the park. They ranged in age from something like 5 to 50 and they left their campsite by 7 a.m. each day and returned late at night. They also appeared to be amazingly well organized, but at 6 a.m. they were shouting and laughing loudly and didn’t seem to notice the motionless campsites nearby.

These groups had one thing in common: a lack of consideration for the other campers near them. Is this getting more common, or do I just notice it more? I got more and more annoyed as I wondered if these people ever thought of anyone but themselves.

As I resentfully pulled my pillow over my head, a memory hit me. It was in this very campground, over 20 years ago, that the inconsiderate jerks… were me and my friends. We had arrived late at the camp, started a campfire and were talking and laughing very loudly, well into the night. A nearby camper came over and, somewhat angrily, asked us to pipe down. Of course, we responded to his anger defensively at first, but we knew he was right. We quieted down after having waited 10 minutes so as not to be directly following our “orders,” and we went to sleep.

In the back of my mind, as it is almost every time I criticize anyone, is the thought that I have done the same thing, committed the same offense, been just as inconsiderate, and made a total ass of myself… and maybe even worse than those currently annoying me.

I guess this is part of getting older. I want sleep more than I want to party. I love a good beer or three, but I want to drink them calmly and then I want to stay in bed past 7:30 a.m. if at all possible.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


From Stabbing to Soccer

Tomorrow is September 20th, a day billed with controversy as the Palestinians seek a statehood via the United Nations. Those in favor recognize that the Palestinians need a state of their own and are frustrated by the lack of negotiations with Israel. Those against say that a sustainable solution has to come from negotiations between the two sides.

It all looks very depressing as both sides dig in and intransigence seems the order of the day. Perhaps it is best to focus on those organizations that are trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialog and the creation of relationships. I have already written about One Voice, still one of the most outstanding examples in my opinion.

So it was encouraging to see this article by Dan Goldberg about co-founder and director of the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue, Sulaiman Khatib who went to Australia with Tami Hay, director of the Sport Department of Israel’s Peres Center for Peace. They  led a team of 24 Israelis and Palestinians in a unique bridge-building exercise: to compete in an international competition of Australian-rules football. We shall leave  the intricacies of the game, a mix of soccer, rugby, with Gaelic roots, for another time.

Twenty-four Israelis and Palestinians came together as a "Peace Team" to play Australian-rules football. (Jonathan Davis)

Khatib has an amazing personal story. He was born in the West Bank near Jerusalem, and grew up “throwing stones and preparing Molotov cocktails” at the Israeli army.

In 1986, at the age of just 14, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier. While in prison, Khatib was exposed to the writings of the Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. He learned both Hebrew and English and studied history, in particular other conflicts around the world. This provided Khatib with the basis for what became his philosophy.

“I believe there is no military solution to the conflict,” Khatib, 39, said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with JTA while still in Melbourne. “I believe nonviolence is the best way for our struggle, for our freedom and for peace on both sides.”

For the story of how the team came together and became a cooperative group, I would suggest reading the article. The Palestinians who participated were admonished and even threatened, with many seeing them as collaborators. The bravery of these people should be applauded.

One Palestinian participant said: “Many people I know are opposed to my participation in activities with the Israeli side. They do not believe that it can improve the situation or lead to peace. I try to portray the positive things as much as possible.”

Nimrod Vromen, an Israeli player, told one media agency: “For me it’s easy. For the Palestinians, they actually have their lives threatened playing in this team.”

Tanya Oziel, Executive Director of the Australian branch of the Peres Center for Peace, knew there would be massive hurdles when she conceived of the idea of a joint team in 2007. A Sephardic Jew with Iraqi origins, Oziel knew that the Peres Center already had an Israeli-Palestinian soccer team, so she adapted the idea for Australian football and first brought a joint team to Australia in 2008.

“I think because of the power of the story and the impossibility of the story it actually gave me more motivation to make it happen,” Oziel said.

Some of the Palestinian team members are still worried about a backlash once they return home, but Sulaiman Khatib hopes his life experience will help his friends and himself weather such opposition.

“I’ve been in an Israeli jail for 10 years. I do things I believe in and I’m ready to risk my life,” he said. “So I’m not really worried about me.”

During a week when all eyes are on the United Nations, it helps to know that seeds of real peace are still being sown in the Middle East and the real heroes don’t make meaningless speeches but follow a dream. Sulaiman Khatib and his team are heroes.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

My Heart is an Open Book

Staying with the romantic theme for another day, searching on-line for one’s partner is on my mind. No, no, Mrs. Blog knows I am writing this.

I remember the first time I heard from friends who were open about using on-line dating services. Until this point I had  a very negative, stereotypical profile of such people. Watching these two young, successful and charismatic people at their wedding, proudly encourage anyone who was single and seeking a partner to take the path that brought them together.

Now, five years later, as I pack up my papers at the end of a business meeting, three young men share their experiences using different websites. It is a serious conversation and I eavesdrop on them as they talk. All three are socially competent, communicative, nice young men.  All three have the financial means to cruise the bars and clubs, and would probably enjoy themselves whether they met future spouses or not.

They do not see on-line dating as a last resort. On the contrary, they allocate their time and resources in this respect, as they do in the rest of their lives, with efficient and effective strategy. It makes total sense to them, products of the technological age that they are, and they harbor no doubts that they will achieve their goals.

How does one choose which site to use? Well, I know of on-line dating sites that use religious, geographical, sexual preference and other parameters, but I was surprised to discover that you might want to consider a potential partner by the books they read. As an author, this perked my interest.

Alikewise is “a dating site that allows you to find people based on their book tastes.” We often ask a potential partner what books they read, essentially perceiving this as a way of further understanding them. So why not save time and have this discussion on-line? In fact, why not use it as criteria? Alikewise is already spreading its wings to the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, and Israel.

So next time you sidle up to someone in a bar/party/club and need to yell into their ear: “so watcha reading?” and then strain to hear his/her answer, maybe consider Alikewise instead.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

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