On a typically gray afternoon, the sky “perpetually spitting” upon our heads, we rolled our bags from the Queen’s Road aboveground along the bumpy and narrow streets of Peckham Rye to our daughter’s flat. We had completed the initial leg of our journey. After a proper power nap and delighting in a favorite game of “What’s for dinner?” we were off again. Tara Plath M.A. guided the three of us onto the number 136 double-decker bus to the Camberwell district’s Zeret Kitchen — a clandestine Ethiopian restaurant, and a first for me. Carol, her Spanish friend of the past year, joined us before we all reveled in the homemade injera flatbread and the dipping, blending, folding and otherwise scooping up of the exotic flavors on the beautifully displayed platter — the evening a metaphor for our days ahead, internationally-diverse London as backdrop.
The inspiration for our trip was Tara’s dissertation — and those of her co-researcher classmates from Turkey, Italy, Lebanon, Portugal, Canada, Greece, Russia, England and beyond — this past year of globally-inspired projects culminating in a three-day themed: “Lines of Inquiry.” Tara presented “Smoke/Signals,” a workshop of “open source investigation practices” in order to document “conditions of border violence” and “the construction of (il)legality in undocumented migration” along the Mexico-Arizona border. Her thesis investigated the true intent of the 56 or so light beacons placed throughout Arizona’s desert. What are the results? What is legal vs. not in terms of humanitarian efforts to spare the lives of those who have been (mis)directed into the harshest of conditions? Conditions she witnessed in actual boots-on-the-ground exploration. She spent days accompanying humanitarian groups known as the Armadillos and No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes, clothed head to toe in protection from triple-digit heat and the cactus-laden terrain, seeking human remains in one small area of over 20,000 square miles of desert — wanting to bring closure to families missing loved ones.
Yeah, “it’s a lot” — one phrase of many that I have gleaned from her over the years. Her Greek workshop partner, Dimitra Andritsou, performed a similar investigation in the Mediterranean, studying the anti-immigration political narrative relative to fires in Lesvos, Greece, where thousands of asylum seekers live in overcrowded, highly flammable tents with hopes of one day being granted the freedom to leave the containment of the detention camps.
This one-of-a-kind international research program leaves me hopeful that our world might one day become better united in valuing people’s health and freedom ahead of profits and power.
To say these three days were awe-inspiring would be an understatement, if that’s possible. The genesis and genius, the ethics — all so deep, so intense. The complexity was dizzying. They researched atrocities in the form of state-sponsored violence, dispossession in the quest for corporate profits in both the Amazon and Louisiana, traumas caused in a war-torn city’s reconstruction … a seemingly endless list of worldwide distress. The intensity rose to the level that one woman reported upon Russian colonialism while using an alias and wearing a mask in fear of government retribution.
Three days later, filled with pride and new perspectives on old global politics, we are back at Gatwick Airport, destination next: Portugal.
With seat belt clasped, I continue this column from row 14 on a delayed British Airways 747, typing short-armed as we wait for a fog to lift over Porto’s airport. I can’t help but wonder if the weather relates to the Category 5 hurricane forming in the “easternmost location of the Atlantic on record,” which leads me further to ponder any possible connection to the overall deforestation and “land violence” that threatens indigenous populations in South America — recently learned realities now haunting my brain! We have just come from lunch at Persepolis — aka “Snackistan” — a tiny Persian vegetarian restaurant and Tara’s favorite during her master’s work in forensic architecture at Goldsmiths University. This one-of-a-kind international research program leaves me hopeful that our world might one day become better united in valuing people’s health and freedom ahead of profits and power. Our daughter? She’s less optimistic, but committed nonetheless — her circle of contemporaries shining beacons of hope.
We are thrilled that she is joining us for this final leg of travel with a lighter research agenda planned. Port wine and Portuguese preparations of coastal seafood topping the list.* “Tray tables up,” I close my eyes near giddy with happy thoughts as we transition to sunnier days ahead. For a few days, at least.
*Should you be interested in reading about that perspective, please visit splath.com.