I’ve moved. Again.

Not to be outdone by my physical relocation back to Charm City, I am virtually relocating back to my old blog: apocalypticwhimsy.wordpress.com. Catch you there?

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Fall 2014 Reading List

porchSince my morning commute (and, let’s face it, shower time most days) has been replaced by Reading on the Porch Time, I can post my fall reading list without the guilt of knowing I won’t get around to reading 1/2 of them. I am devouring ALL THE BOOKS!! Some new releases, some haven’t-gotten-around-to-them yet…

Fall Reading List

Doll Palace, Sara Lippmann
The Emerald Light in the Air, Donald Antrim
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob
The Snow Queen, Michael Cunningham
Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride
Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi
Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay
Walking With the Comrades, Arundhati Roy
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Worst Person Ever, Douglas Coupland
This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz
The rest of Mo Hayder‘s books because I am addicted to this crime writing Brit, especially the books which feature Flea Marley (always a sucker for a strong female lead)

And in the recently finished, highly recommended category:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami (less mystical sheep and disappearing cats, more interpersonal relationships and dealing with unexplained past events; just don’t expect an ending that is actually an ending)
The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri (in my opinion, slow start, but well worth continuing; I admire her for being able to carry stories through multiple decades/generations)
The Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward (just wow. especially relevant in light of ferguson, and, well, everything.)

Advance Directly to Radiation Therapy (do not collect $200)

Cancer is getting a big punch in the face by my friend Angie, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

keeping aBreast

Walking into my medical oncologist’s office was like walking into a comfortable, warm hotel lobby.

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After registration, my mom and I sat in the quiet waiting area, drinking coffee and filling out paperwork, looking out of the frosted glass enclosure into the elevator bank of the Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion.

When the Medical Assistant called us back, the path we walked curved through a second waiting room. It was just as quiet and softly lit as the one we just left but it was absolutely full of cancer patients awaiting treatment. Many women were wearing scarves or hats to cover their hairless heads while other women sat there exposed and beautifully bald. I didn’t notice what the men looked like, they didn’t catch my eye at all. There was a small pharmacy next to this waiting area; the hallway that jutted behind this area led to what looked like a gigantic…

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Full Circle

I am writing this from my childhood home, the home where I was literally born (home birth, it was the seventies), both regressing into my younger self—as one does—and in many ways more adult than ever.

Four months ago, I made a major decision. I ended a three year romantic relationship. And then, spurred by yet another rent increase, I ended an even longer, more complicated relationship—my fourteen year love affair with New York City. I hopped on a Bolt Bus and went house shopping in Baltimore. I admitted to myself that I was no longer on good terms with the city to which I moved (from Baltimore) to be a writer. It had given me so much—dear friends, writing community, exciting job opportunities—but it had taken something, too: my ability to be self-sufficient. Since I had moved to the city, I kissed these things goodbye: a savings account, lack of credit card debt, spending less than 50% of my take-home pay on housing. Just getting by was all-consuming, leaving no time or inspiration for what I had come there to do: write. I was exhausted. I was tired of being priced out of apartments I couldn’t really afford in the first place, every other year. I was tired of packing up and moving, and moving, and moving—further into Brooklyn each time. I wanted different things now. I wanted a room of my own. I wanted property. I wanted a home that I could grow old and wrinkly in. I wanted a yard for my anti-social dog (a rescue with fear aggression issues) to run around in and rooms for my cat to wander and stretch and purr while still keeping her distance from her nemesis, the aforementioned dog. I wanted life to be less of a daily struggle and more of a calm space of centeredness.

It’s funny how, once we make one major decision, others follow unbidden. On that Bolt Bus to Baltimore, while idling near Penn Station, thinking how clever I was, I logged in to Tinder, set the search radius to 1 mile, and attempted to ascertain if any of the men on my bus—specifically my attractive seat mate—were also on Tinder. Wouldn’t that be a funny story?

Funny story: I didn’t find any Tindermen on my Bolt Bus. But I did find the man who would become my future husband, a man who proposed to me one week after we met (or, more accurately, tindered). I almost didn’t click on his profile because he looked different in every picture (attractive in some, questionable in others); he almost didn’t click on mine because I had mentioned that I was from Cleveland (as was his most recent ex). But he had one picture which met my strict filters: he was holding up a fish, and seemed to be wearing a chef’s jacket. There were only 2 criteria that would garner a “yes” from me: men with cute dogs, and chefs. I was on a roll here, and in hyper-decisive mode. Rules were good. Narrowed focus was good. Later I asked him why he had clicked on my profile: “You looked happy. I thought I might like to be with someone that happy.”

So here I am, full circle: a new home owner, recently engaged, and newly motivated to delve back into the writing life (inspired by some serious online ladypower). Maybe the moral of my story is: do not be afraid to make bold decisions. Maybe there is no moral. The point is, I’m here. And here is a good place to be.

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“A Diatribe Not Worth Reading”: How Women are Silenced Every Day (By Seemingly Well-intentioned Men)

So this fun little exchange cluttered up my inbox for a while the other day…I am leaving out names, because, what’s the point, my corresponder clearly is not open to dialogue…

EMAIL #1

Subject:Watch a highly skilled woman answer questions about networking [PROMISING, NO?]

Hey, Caroline

A bunch of you have been wanting to know which books I read and who I talk to, so I recently did a Q&A with Amanda Steinberg from DailyWorth. People loved it, so I wanted to give you a “softer” side of money and career material.

Today’s topic: Networking. Amanda is a master networker, plus she has an interesting perspective as a woman.

Honestly, if I were a woman for a day, beyond the seriously sordid things I would do, I would want to go into a business meeting, make a really good point, and see how people treated me. Would it be different because I was a woman? How would people react?

I point this out because some of you may have seen my recent tweet about how in early testing, 100% of my female Dream Job students who went out for networking “coffee meetings” got hit on. Clearly, there is a lot going on when it comes to gender + careers.

I found this hilarious, then sad. So today, I asked Amanda to share her stories about networking.

ATTENTION: THERE IS SOME TOUGH LOVE IN THIS INTERVIEW. If that bothers you, please go away.

Check it out (below).

R: You’re a great networker. One of the challenges many of my female Dream Job students have faced is that they get hit on when they’re networking with men. Have you noticed this in your networking?

A: Yes, it’s been a constant my entire career. And, it most likely won’t ever go away. So, women who want to be powerful executives can’t be surprised or even offended by guys who hit on us. It’s a fact of work–we have to learn how to navigate it with class, confidence and maturity. [OK, THIS IS WHERE I STOPPED READING AND STARTED GLOWERING AT MY COMPUTER SCREEN. BUT FEEL FREE TO KEEP READING, OR SKIP AHEAD TO MY RESPONSE BELOW…]

Yet, easier said than done. At a recent business dinner, a very powerful exec tried to pressure me into doing tequila shots. My first “no” was brushed off with a laugh. At dinner! It was intimidating. But I managed to hold it together and end the dinner professionally.

If it’s coming from a direct boss or someone who can fire you, that’s another story — THAT’S an abuse of power. I’ve mostly been my own boss so the hitting on usually happens inside business networks I belong to or with potential customers.

R: How do you deal with this when you’re networking?

A: Most of the dudes who hit on me aren’t clueless and sleazy — they’re top executives. It’s not just with networking — it happens with all types of deals and business relationships. I always keep the end goal in mind: long term, professional relationships. Since you love scripts — I’ll share with you the script I generally use:
“I’m so flattered that you feel that way — thank you (sincerely)……. but our business relationship is really important to me. I’m concerned that if anything happened, things would eventually get really weird between us, so I have to say no. I hope you understand.”

And they do. I like to believe that because I state it with confidence, but also warmth, I don’t lose the relationship. So far, it’s working.

R: When you were first starting out, how did you approach people? Many people don’t think they have anything to offer, so they just keep to themselves. They’ll say, “I don’t have anything to offer that guy! Why would he meet with me?”

A: OK, I’m going to sound like a big nerd here, but it’s true: I love people. Drop me into a room with 1,000 people I don’t know anytime. I go to events to meet other people and learn about them. I’m seriously just wildly interested in people’s dreams, new projects, business concepts or career aspirations. So I make friends. And then we facebook or linkedin eachother. And then, when I have a need, suddenly I have thousands of people I can email to ask. I don’t show up at events looking for anything (except back when I was raising capital — I was asking everyone for money — probably even you, Ramit) — I just go to have FUN. Conferences are so fun. And then you make friends, which very easily become business relationships when there’s a need.

R: Do you have any go-to networking scripts that consistently open doors for you?

A: Easy: “What brings you here?” Boom. Done. It takes on a life of it’s own. Recently I’ve started playing with “energy” — I look for the person in the room who emits the happiest vibe and I go directly for them. It’s a game to play — keeps me amused. I also always try to meet the organizers and thank them for putting the event together. Events are a pain to run. I’m excited to speak in two weeks at the Money2020 conference in Vegas. Not sure I should ever attend a “business event” in Vegas, but I’m committed.

R: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made while networking? What did you learn from it?

A: Oversharing. People don’t need to know every detail of my life. And yet, too often I think they do. Discretion has merit. I’m still learning about that.

R: If you had to rebuild your network from scratch, would you approach your networking any differently?

A: Never. It’s not linear. It’s totally random, chaotic and energizing. My friends are my colleagues are my friends are my investors are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Business rules when you have a huge posse of loosely associated people rooting for you. And you do the same for them.

We all have gifts — everyone. If you don’t see your gifts — take a self-help course and learn how to quiet your harsh super ego. Self deprecation isn’t real — it’s a learned pattern. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

_________________

EMAIL #2 – MY RESPONSE

Re: “I found this hilarious.”

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not hilarious. Sexual harassment anywhere is not hilarious. Being flip about it is not hilarious. Addressing it as a serious issue of gender inequality, one not to be “put up with” but one to have open dialogue about so that both genders come to a better understanding of it and its implications, and maybe work past the point where any person of any gender thinks it is okay to hit on someone they are interviewing, networking with, talking to, etc–that would go a long way in making it easier for women to get ahead in business.

Create a work climate, a culture, a society, a global economy, where women are, by default, given the same respect, attention and consideration as men enjoy (by current default), and we will make great strides.

Create a society where women are NOT treated–by current default–as a joke, an object for lewd fantasies, a marginalized segment of the workforce to be hit on instead of to be taken seriously.

Who starts these dialogues? People with influence. People like you.

Chose to ignore it, or joke about it, and you lose my respect, and the respect of a lot of women, because you have just dismissed a major issue which effects over 50% of the population every day.

As a woman who works in the field of gender equality on an international level, for a well-respected organization which has been fighting gender equality in all its forms for the past twenty years (and even so, our Global Director still must deal with getting hit on whenever she networks with high-level men), I ask you to listen to *my* expertise and experience, and listen carefully, when I tell you–it matters. It cannot be ignored. It cannot be marginalized, dismissed as “women’s issues.” I have seen the extremes to which gender discrimination, woman hating, can go. It starts with a lack of respect, with not taking us seriously.And I have worked mentoring young high school girls who, in order to succeed in life to their fullest potential, need all this societal brainwashing leeched out of their hearts and minds. It matters to them. It makes a difference. In the program I mentored for, with many of our young ladies coming from at-risk situations, many of them also first generation Americans, many of them first in their families to complete high school–we have a 100% college acceptance rate. (And in 2009, we were recognized by Michele Obama with a Coming Up Taller Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, distinguishing us as one of the top 15 after-school programs in the country.) It matters.

Let me say it again–it matters.

We owe it to the next generation–not just young women but young men–to be better at talking about gender issues in the workplace and in the world in general. Everyone benefits from having these conversations about outdated, misogynistic gender roles and stereotypes.

Men should not be made to feel like they need to always dominate the conversation, and that they cannot show emotion.

Women should not be made to feel they need to “act like a man” to get ahead, and ignore sexual harassment because “it’s a fact of work.” Amanda’s comment that “we have to learn to navigate it” is the wrong approach, and no solution. It puts the burden on the victim rather than addressing the actual problem, which is that it is 100% not okay for a man to hit on or otherwise harass a woman. Ever. When you advise a victim to change his or her behavior, instead of asking the perpetrator to change his/hers, that is dangerous territory. That is victim blaming. That is, quite frankly and pardon my language, f*ed up.

If you were a woman for a day, would people treat you differently? Can you have any doubt about that? If you do, I assure you that you would be horrified at how you would be treated differently as a woman.

Change starts small. As with anything. And, as with anything (again, society’s default), conversations about these things are not taken seriously by other men (and honestly, a lot of women) until they are started publicly by a man with power & following & influence. I don’t like that that’s the way the world is, but that’s the way the world is (for now).

You know how you can help people on your mailing list lead more successful, financially sound lives? Start that conversation. Or at least don’t ignore it, and don’t be flip & dismissive about it. You do a disservice to your audience by doing so. This is not something to be treated lightly. And by adding your own attempt at lewd humor (“If I were a woman for a day, beyond the seriously sordid things I would do…”) in even introducing the topic, you unfortunately negated any positive influence you had the admirable opportunity to present your readers with in that moment. Shame on you. You have a lot of interesting things to say, and I have enjoyed being on your mailing list. This, I cannot abide by, however, and I shall be unsubscribing, as you clearly have no concept of how to treat women with respect in this format.

_________________

EMAIL #3 – HIS RESPONSE – [HERE’S WHERE IT GETS FUN]

Hi Caroline,

Thanks for your note.

I’m a little surprised, since I’m pretty sure I don’t dismiss this issue considering I’ve written dozens of posts about gender, careers, and money. [WAVES FEMINIST FLAG]

If one line in one email offends you, [OH NO, IT WAS THE WHOLE THING, NOT JUST ONE LINE] that’s up to you. However, writing posts with long diatribes about gender and how things “should” be would result in exactly 0 people reading it. [SO NOT TRUE. MY FRIEND MICHELE READS *ALL* OF MY RANTS. BECAUSE SHE’S NICE & SHE LIKES ME & SH*T LIKE THIS PISSES HER OFF, TOO. SO THAT’S ONE, AT LEAST.] Sorry to see you go but I agree we’re probably not right for each other.

_________________

EMAIL #4 – MY RESPONSE TO HIS RESPONSE

Ahh, the male “expert” dismisses the female’s thoughtful response [HAD HE ACTUALLY READ MY EMAIL, HE MAY HAVE BOTHERED TO REALIZE THAT I AM AN *ACTUAL* EXPERT ON THIS TOPIC] as a “diatribe” not worth reading. Thanks for confirming my decision to leave your mailing list. Clearly the advising only goes one way. Simply writing an occasional post about gender doesn’t make you open-minded, much less any sort of feminist. If you are not willing to take into account *how* you are writing these posts, or how your (female) readers are responding to them, you are part of the problem, not the solution.

_________________

And so it goes…if this fella really wants to know what it is like to be a woman in a man’s world, as he claims he is curious about, he should put himself in my shoes in that email exchange, and that would be a start.

Every day, my expert opinions are dismissed as “feminist diatribes.” Every day, men look at me as an object to be leered at and cat called, and I just want to scream in their face, what gives you the right? Leave me the f* alone! Every day, my voice is silenced by the blathering men around me. Every day, legislators are trying to get all up in my vajayjay and tell me what I can and cannot do with it. And my opinion is written off, ignored, made to seem unimportant. Every. Day. A girl gets a little frustrated with that, you know.

Sadly, my nameless corresponder is yet another pontificating man of privilege who just wants to engage in self-congratulatory blather couched in the form of an advice column to a captive audience which he would rather didn’t talk back (or at least the ladies with their silly diatribes, responding to A POST SPECIFICALLY ABOUT LADIES).

I blocked his email. End of conversation (for him, but maybe not for some more enlightened folks currently reading this diatribe not worth reading…)

Shout out to my Summer Blues

Ahhh, the long-awaited approach of summer. Road trips with the windows rolled down, tequila on the beach, sand in between your toes…for most, summer is a time of fun and frolic.

And then…there’s the rest of us…

For some folk–like me–summer comes with a side of dread. You’ve probably all heard of seasonal affective disorder (the appropriately acronymed S.A.D.), and you probably mostly associate it with the dreary days of winter when we lose all of our beloved vitamin D, and occasionally the will to live, or at least to un-burrow ourselves from underneath our comforters until the snow stops and the sun comes out. But, for some of us, for me, for some close friends of mine, summer is the season that does us in.

When I first lost my shit in a major way requiring professional help, I had no idea that one could be S.A.D. in the summer. Why? The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, vacations are being planned. What’s not to like?

Well, for some people it’s just a matter of brain chemical cocktails that get stirred up, perhaps by the extra vitamin D, perhaps by body rhythms, who knows. Luckily, there are pills for that. But there are also a few other, external/internal things happening in the summer that affect some of us more than others. Let’s explore the big, fat summertime falacy, shall we?

“Summer is superfunfantastic!!!”

Um. Not necessarily. There is a lot of pressure to have fun in the summer, to do fun things, plan fun vacations, get around to doing all of those things you are too busy to do in the other busier seasons: finish writing that novel, clean out the garage and convert it into an art studio, finally have time to become a super famous rock star…. Everyone around you seems to be having a superfunfantastic!!! time…which…if you, personally, happen to not be having, has the potential to tip your brain chemical scales toward depression.

We generally judge other people to be happier than ourselves, and people lounging on the beach or frolicking in the park with puppy dogs tend to look pretty friggin happy. Add to that the pressure we put on ourselves to accomplish these ambitions to-do lists, and we’ve just served ourself up a nice little depression cocktail, with a twist of guilt (because it’s summer, and you should be happy, so if you’re not, you suck & there is something horridly wrong with you).

Of course, 100 degree sweltering heat & the stinkiness that brings to a crammed, dirty city does not help.

And, oh, body image issues? That svelte goddess bearing her perfectly bronzed, acne-free skin by wearing nothing but a leaving-zilch-to-the-imagination sundress, sumptuous non-oily/frizzy/dry locks of hair fanning out behind her, like in those Garnier commercials? She’s not helping.

So, this year, I’ve decided to give my summer blues a shout out. To acknowledge them, because I know they are coming and I’m going to have to deal with them anyway, so I might as well be prepared. So, notes to self to re-read when my summer blues come a’knockin:

1. You are not a weirdo for feeling sad in the summer. Other people do, too, for perfectly logical reasons. Some of them are your friends. Some of them live within walking distance and are willing to sit with you on a park bench & commiserate.

2. You are, generally, a content person. You have had superfunfantastic!!! times before, and you will again. You=mountain. Depressed thoughts, fear, anger, self doubt, guilt=passing clouds. Sure, sometimes the clouds are going to let down a crapstorm on your head, but you know for a provable, validated fact that the sun always comes out eventually. Besides, friends/family/support network=umbrella, and not that crappy, breaks apart in the mildest of breezes kind.

3. It is okay, and actually healthy, to feel sad/fearful/angry/self-doubting. What is unhealthy is trying not to feel these things. Allow yourself to sit with your feelings and just be in their company, acknowledging them and giving them the space they need to do their thing, so you can get on with your life.

4. Take care of your inner 2 year old. We all have a lot of childhood associations with summer, some positive, some negative, some devastating and debilitating. Pain and hurt you feel as an adult may actually be pain and hurt you have felt as a child/continue to feel intensely as an adult when emotions or events tap into that dark, deep well of painful scars and memories. Somewhere inside you this child will always exist, but co-existing with it is your nurturing self, who knows how to take care of this wounded child. Go buy her a present. She probably wants some ice cream.

So, summer blues, come if you must, but just know that I have prepared a place for you, and that your stay is not unlimited. I welcome you, for you probably have things to teach me. I am not controlled by you, for I know pretty soon I will be kicking you out the door.

Your bestie,

me

17 Years Later: Thoughts on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide

Rwanda is a stunningly beautiful country. They call it the “Land of a Thousand Hills” and this is no exaggeration. Unlike much of Africa, there are no flat plains, no wide open spaces. Farmers work plots of land that seem near vertical, and the acoustics of the landscape are such that you can clearly hear the call-and-response songs of the fisherman far out on Lake Kivu, or the lone radio miles away broadcasting the World Cup (when I was there in 2006, people, everywhere, from the relatively urban capital of Kigali to the most remote village, were gathered around any radio or television set to be found). Unfortunately, what Rwanda is most known for is the genocide of 1994, so that it seems to exist on two levels at once. One admires the calm beauty of Lake Kivu, then recalls the many mutilated corpses of Tutsis and Hutus that have been dumped into its waters. One smiles and waves to the children who run out to see the wazungu (white people) passing through, but can’t help but wonder what will become of this new generation. Everything, everywhere, is tainted by Rwanda’s past.

Just as stunning as the beauty of Rwanda was the tenacity, poise and elegance of a women I met during my brief two and a half weeks there. Rosamond Halsey Carr was an American woman who had come to Africa in 1949 as a young newlywed, and at age 94 still made Rwanda her home. I had the honor of meeting her at her home near Imbabazi, the orphanage she opened in 1994. Of her decision to return to Rwanda after the genocide, she writes, in her autobiography Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life In Rwanda:

“It was suggested to me in none to delicate a fashion that I was a bit old to be attempting such a perilous journey with such an uncertain outcome. I was at that time just a few weeks shy of my eighty-second birthday. Without putting too fine a point on it, the consensus was that I had lost my mind entirely.”

She returned to find her home in utter ruin, everything either taken or destroyed. She recalls:

“I looked around at what used to be my lovely home and wept with hopelessness and despair. I wept with shame for the people who had done this, and I wept with anger at the utter violation of my life and the senseless destruction of the country I loved. It was the greatest heartbreak I have ever known.”

Roz Carr passed away just a few months after our visit. I felt like the luckiest person in the world to have met her, and her story is an inspiration to me beyond words. (When my companion passed on a compliment about her autobiography from a friend of his back home who had found it wildly inspirational, she airily waived a hand and said, ‘Oh, that silly thing…’) I can wish for nothing more than to someday grow up to be like her, having lived a life of passion, courage, humility, and dignity.

I think of her, and I think of my visit to this country, today on the seventeenth anniversary of the genocide. And I think of the turmoil in the world today, and all of the lessons we have and have not learned as people living together on one planet. I think of the Rwandans I met–always a warm smile, a coy dodge of direct questions…so much pain still in their hearts that they cannot speak of, if one is to get through the day…. I think of the people of Lybia, Egypt, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Japan–and so many more–who are faced with their greatest struggles, will continue to struggle at their own seventeenth anniversaries of said events.

I think of Iman Al-Obeidi, raped by troops loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi, who fought her way into a room of journalists to tell her story to the world, even though she was forcibly taken away, kept hostage, called a prostitute, sued by her attackers for libel. I think of girls in Africa who flee from forced genital mutilation and arranged child marriages, like Waris Dirie, like the girls in the documentary film “Africa Rising” produced by Equality Now, where I currently have the honor of working with colleagues dedicated to ending violence and discrimination against women and girls across the world.

I think of Ashley Judd, whose book party for her newly released memoir All That Is Bitter and Sweet I just attended last night (“It’s so not about me,” she said. “It’s about this rape surviver I met in the Congo who literally dragged herself to the hospital after her brother had been stabbed to death by soldiers for refusing to rape his sister. This is her story. I am her voice.”) and of course I think of Gloria Steinem, who introduced her and who is a beloved member of our board of directors.

I think of these, my role models. And I get back to work…for there is much to be done if we, as humanity, wish to prevent the marking of similar anniversaries as that which we mark today in Rwandan history.