The genocide that is still happening

April 13, 2010

in Darfur has been the focus of my semester. It makes sense that when it came to projecting ideas for a potential video story, mine were centered on efforts in Miami trying almost in vain to bring attention to it. No one wrote about any of these people.

Having formulated the ideas and set up the interviews, I learned a lot on the way. When Devin and I sat down to comb over interview questions we tried to make them so they evoked as much information and passion from the filmmaker as possible. With our technical video expert Megan, we went to the Design District loaded with cameras and notebooks, curious to see if there was a story in all this. A filmmaker had done a movie about Darfur and was showing parts of it in an art exhibit.

Learning about how to conduct video interviews was extremely interesting. Although lighting and sound didn’t always come off without a hitch, Megan worked some magic and make it happen.

After Devin and I went through the interviews and decided which soundbytes would tell the story best (and in what order), Megan went to work editing the piece together. In the flurry of coming finals, we finished with a complete video.


By Devin Dunevant, Robert Nevel, and Megan Wright


I quit smoking cigarettes years ago,

March 15, 2010

and although I’ll still have one on occasion (usually when plastered), I never smoke on campus. Nevertheless, I think FIU is spineless and ignorant in its ‘tobacco ban’ that will ban the use of tobacco products even in the cars of students. Subjecting the public to it’s own morals is a despicable thing for this institution of EDUCATION to do.

Smoking a cigarette is something everyone should have a right to do. By banning all tobacco use at school, the institution is making it impossible to enjoy a smoke break, period. I understand that walking through outdoor corridors filled with smoke is an inconvenience for some, but they could designate convenient smoking sections for those who indulge. First they stopped selling beer at the grill, and now this?

We’re not in high school anymore, FIU policymakers.

Jeez, all this administrative condescension really makes me crave a few beers and a Marlboro special blend 27. Those are really good cigarettes.

Yesterday we played music in a bomb shelter.

March 9, 2010

It was precisely what I needed. We’ve been hanging out down there since middle school, and lately none of us have had the time to meet up. Last night, though, was a return to glory.

I needed it because lately school has taken over my life. This pesky class on genocides and my political violence course have me bent over a table. Letting off the steam felt good, using very very loud amplifiers. Our old friend Phil was there. Since we last saw him, he’s traveled from Miami to Hawaii to Santa Barbara to Burning Man festival to Israel to Costa Rica and back to Miami – forgive me if the chronology is fucked up. His new hobby, since he began his travels, has been to collect quirky little regional instruments. We had a lot of fun with those.

Waking up bleary eyed with a bruised brain usually means last night was good, and I’ve never been happier to stay up past my bedtime. I slept through my first class and missed a pop quiz but I don’t even care. Sometimes I wish the music industry weren’t so infuriating…

Recycling Gurus

February 19, 2010

Robert Nevel

Miami, Fla. – Recycling is a common practice in many households, but a stroll through downtown Miami is a kaleidoscope of food wrappers, beer bottles, and random pieces of paper. Diani Safdeye, a 25 – year – old artist, does not see trash on the streets. She sees the potential for art. Her friend Marc Furmanski, 26, not only sees the potential for doing good. He actually works for a company called Ecoist. The company takes discarded materials from places such as factories and turns them into fashion accessories.

Thus, the two earn a living off of curbside litter and defective or surplus factory waste.

Safdeye teaches art to young children at a small school in Hollywood that offers extra-curricular programs, “Muzart Kidz Connection.”

With budget concerns on the rise during the economic downturn, art supplies seem more expensive than ever. Even at niche schools like “Muzart,” programs have taken big hits. For Safdeye, these developments allow her to creatively apply her passion for re-use.

“I tell my students they don’t have to go to an art store to find stuff to make art,” said Safdeye.

“Muzart” provides educational enrichment programs to a spectrum of age groups. The class sizes are small, ranging from 4 to ten children. She manages to incorporate her zeal for recycling into her classes.

“Every class I have, the first project is called ‘found art,’” explained Safdeye, “I tell them to pick up old stuff around the house you think couldn’t be art. For example a spoon their mom was going to throw away.”

Using those materials, the students learn techniques to put them together and turn them into art.

Marc Furmanski, while he recycles at home regularly, explained that anytime he sees trash on the floor he would at least pick it up and throw it away. Unless of course, it is recyclable.

“For us, it is a way of life,” said Furmanski, “it is really hard work, but you know that you’re actually accomplishing something no matter how small.”

“We’re both recycling gurus,” added Safdeye.

Furmanski and Safdeye not only recycle, but their drive to do right in the world affects everything they do. They are presidents of the local humanitarian aid group “Miami Help Darfur Now,” which sets up booths at events such as Miami Going Green and the annual Bob Marley Movement Carribbean Festival in Bayfront Park.

At the booths they sell souvenirs and collect donations for small organizations giving aid to the terrorized Darfur region of Sudan. There, genocide has recently taken place and many scholars, such as FIU’s Political Science Chair, Professor Richard Olson, argue it is still underway.

In addition, Furmanski participates in “Hands On Miami” which hosts volunteer community service activities, and Safdeye works in an organization that brings food and friendly company to Miami’s less fortunate Jewish elderly.

“Our whole lives are revolving around a better world,” said Furmanski.

Furmanski and Safdeye’s efforts to recycle are not excluded from these other pursuits.

“When we’re leaving a festival we’ll see so much stuff that people – obviously – just drop on the floor,” said Furmanski.

They help the cleanup staff in an eco-friendly way.

“When we leave festivals, we always have a recycling bin with us,” said Safdeye.

Miami Darfur Group Struggles to Gain Awareness

February 8, 2010

by Robert Nevel

MIAMI, Fla. – The faces stayed with Marc Furmanski long after he saw the movie. It was a documentary about human rights atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan, an African country in which he had lived from ages 5 to 7 while his father worked for Lufthansa Airlines.

Although he lived in the capital Khartoum outside of Darfur, he was shocked to learn that genocide was taking place there by government backed Arab militias against the black tribal population.

Having always had a drive to help the less fortunate, Furmanski, 26, approached friend, artist, and fellow philanthropist  Diani Safdeye, 25, to start work on a project that expressed those sorrowful faces from the film. This small art project developed into an independent Miami-based organization to raise funds and send aid to Darfur.

“We started very small with a lot of big dreams,” said Safdeye this past Saturday.

“At the beginning we researched a lot to partner up with other groups,” added Furmanski.

That is initially what they did. Beginning as a chapter of the New Jersey based “Help Darfur Now” in January last year, they were the only independent chapter not affiliated with any schools. Eventually they established the organization as its own entity, but retained part of the name, calling their new group “Miami Help Darfur Now.”

A small collective, Miami Help Darfur Now is run by presidents Furmanski and Safdeye. Their meager homegrown efforts managed to raise an estimated $4,000 from setting up booths at local music festivals and other events as well as hosting barbecues and free activities like yoga sessions. However money is not their only goal.

“We’re also just spreading the word,” explained Furmanski, “It’s all about education. The sad truth is they don’t teach about it in school. When we first started this, everyone was like ‘help who?'”

According to a BBC news article last year, the UN claimed at least 300,000 tribal Africans are dead from the violence and according to the New York Times, almost 3 million are still in refugee camps all over the region and in neighboring countries, most notably Chad. As early as July 2004 the United States Congress declared the violence genocide. In September of 2004, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that the violence in Darfur was indeed genocide.

Not only has Miami Help Darfur Now seen a general lack of knowledge about the issue, they have also been the targets of criticism from some who approach them.

“Some of the criticism we get,” said Furmanski, “are people saying, ‘people can’t eat here,‘ but the worst, when we have a petition, ‘what is signing that going to change?’ Sometimes we can get through to people and some people leave satisfied, others leave with ignorance like ‘huh, idiots.'”

They set up their booth at events like Board Up Miami (a water sports event), North Miami Beach Community Festival, and the annual Bob Marley Movement Carribbean Festival in Bayfront Park.

Florida International University student Matt Ashley, 24, said, “They need to go to places where people will be more willing to actually help. Churches for example.”

But Furmanski and Safdeye are outwardly positive people and they find a bright side in the criticism.

“The ‘no’s’ make the ‘yes’s’ that much more valuable,” explained Furmanski, referring to the example of a petition.

Choosing a positive approach instead of hanging pictures of dead bodies and political violence, Safdeye uses her artistic ability to make booths at events colorful and vibrant. She sometimes does face painting and takes the opportunity to educate people about the cause. A banner hangs in each booth that explains what is going on in Darfur. Subtlety has been their method of dissemination.

“At some of our independent events, like our barbecues, we’ll have a keg, and on each cup for example it will say a different fact, for example ‘over 300,000 reported dead in Darfur,'” said Furmanski.

“People sometimes challenge us, like, ‘how are you going to help?'” said Diani.

With corruption of humanitarian efforts being brought to light recently as a result of media coverage in the wake of Haiti’s disaster, skepticism about such organizations is to be expected. As to where their money goes Safdeye assured, “We do our research.”

“We are very anal about our money,” added Furmanski, “We speak to the heads of small aid organizations. If the person we’re speaking to hasn’t even been to Darfur, we don’t deal with them nearly as easily.”

After the International Criminal Court charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with crimes against humanity, 10 large humanitarian organizations were expelled from the country. Small aid groups and development programs are the only means Furmanski and Safdeye see to be able to help.

One of the programs they support is the donation of materials and instruction for the building of solar cookers to refugee camps.

“It’s aluminum foil-like, and it helps them cook without needing fuel for energy,” said Safdeye.

When the women go into the woods to collect firewood they get raped and killed, explained Safdeye.

“It’s a more direct link,” said Safdeye of donations to smaller, hands-on groups.

I do like beer.

February 2, 2010

Sorry. I would drink it all day if my health and my sanity could take it, but alas. I’m only human.

Some people don’t like beer or folks who love drinking it. I ‘incriminated myself’ through my blog apparently by talking about a recent pickup in my drinking habits. The problem is that the police can’t pick me up for getting drunk (in private), nor do most journalists care. That, and no one can tell if I’m lying or not. 

I was merely told that I had incriminated myself. Perhaps it was a possible mention of heinous chemicals, but this is neither a newspaper or a legitimate organization so they could all be lies and I could be a sober-minded subversive son-of-a-bitch intent on entertaining throngs with tales of my constant inebriation. 

For fun, I’m not ever going to tell whether I’m lying or not, in something that isn’t expressly labelled a news article. For example this playground of words! I love writing non-fiction. I also love writing fiction.

In a blog, fiction and non-fiction can be co-mingled. A blog is not a newsfeed. It can be, but it is not by definition. A blog is just an online blank slate. You can disseminate propaganda or investigate real corporate greed. In either case, if there is an audience they will read it. If there is not an audience they won’t read it but not every blogger cares. A blogger may understand that his admission of getting drunk on a more regular basis lately can be perceived as a doubtful attention grab or a “binge” including drunken stumbling, late night rambling, and dead hookers. Hahahaha oh wait, I don’t kill hookers! But remember; I’ll never tell the reader if I’m lying! Maybe I just want my audience to gasp and get a little “shaken up.”

Another blogger may only post online as an act of self-satisfaction. Just like a crazy guy with a loudspeaker may scream on a street corner and shrug off indifference. 

That is all that blogs are. A blank slate. An empty street corner. A plate with no food on it. Not every kitchen prepares meals for more people than the cook. Art is not always created for the purposes of communication. But even then, art is only one of the many things that can go into a blog. Thus starts a cyclical discussion that brings everything to a common end. Blogs are nothing but what the authors want them to be. Maybe taking the audience out of the picture is a way of engaging an audience? It was always interesting to me what people said when they didn’t know I was an audience. I don’t like people to put a show on for me. The best artists and public speakers – in my eyes, at least – all create with both eyes on their own mission. Whether this mission involves other people or not is not even always clear after the art is made. 

Journalism, to me, can not be art because it is a tool. At the cost of poetic license, journalists get their job done first and foremost. This may have not been the case twenty years ago but it sure as hell is now. If Tom Wolfe interviewed with major newspapers at the ripe bold age of twenty, he would be laughed at. He may have started with straight journalism in real life, but if he hated doing that and wanted to work on the Right Stuff immediately, no one would hire the poor dude. 

He’d be posting his work on a site just like this, hoping that maybe a peer or two might leave a comment. My problem is not that I don’t like reporting, or that I don’t see a future in journalism. I just made a choice that as long as I need to support myself, I will not do so at the expense of passion. I can write articles. I am okay thinking that I’ll never get paid for them. An editor who ignites passion is one thing, but to think that I’ll starve for five years while covering car accidents and old-people proms is highly unrealistic.

Sometimes when you feel like there’s nothing

January 29, 2010

to say, that’s when you feel like saying something. This blog is apparently useless now, as our professor has declared them no longer applicable to class. I’m here for no reason other than beer and idleness.

For personal reasons this shit-show will remain up and running for a while. Learning about Darfur is now its prime objective. Learning about genocides – and soon Darfur in particular – will be my prime objective.  This is for a rigorous course called “Comparative Genocides.” Something about the material and the professor have captivated me and gotten me involved. Never before have I been in a class that made so much sense to me. It makes sense to learn about why genocide happens. The class has, in a way, saved me.

Throughout the past year and a half my ambitions have pretty much taken a nosedive in the face of realism. I recognize that my passion for journalism has extinguished itself. There’s no money in the field, and I value free time far too much to make sense of killing myself…for an editor who’s desperate to save their job. I’m scared for my future, clinging desperately to my art as a means of self-amusement and sanity, as well as slipping back into a nasty alcohol habit. Everyday almost for the past month.

This class gives me a mission and something to prove to myself. It is one class but the workload is more intense than any I’ve encountered. I spend an hour and a half each day at least with my nose in a genocide book. And I am still 100 pages behind.

This will be remedied over the weekend as I turn into a hermit. Even my obsessive compulsive disorder and my depression, which have been acting frighteningly manic lately, have been cast aside by the drive to immerse myself in this class.

I don’t feel so bad that maybe this semester, journalism won’t be my main focus. A career may not be my main focus. Thoroughly understanding and rigorously making good with a substantial experience is my goal.

So now, I have to make time to indulge in my dirty little chemical habits. I’m drunk now, but only after spending an hour and a half immersed in a tome of atrocity. Before I was in my other political science class, political violence and revolution. As much drinking as I’ve been doing lately…well shit. At least I feel it’s earned.

NOW that this blog is no longer for class, I’ll include more frivolous pictures. Here’s one of me in the hospital back in 2006. I had tonsillitis so bad that even breathing had become a nightmare. With the use of intravenous steroids, the good doctor had me feelin’ fine in just 2 hours! Three cheers for modern medicine: