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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ruined by Lynn Nottage Comes to Philadelphia

A Review by Sojourner Ahebee

Last Thursday, I attended the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of the Pulitzer-Prized-winning play Ruined.   Written by Lynn Nottage, this play takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during its civil and regional wars, which continue. The DRC holds 80 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a type of ore that can store electrical charges. You can find it in your cell phones, computers, cameras and other electronics, which is why it is so valuable. The DRC's bordering neighbors like Rwanda, for example, have made close to 250 million dollars from selling this coltan that was smuggled out of the DRC. It is because of resources like coltan, that has caused the endless and bloody fighting in the DRC; resources that the United States and Europe are heavily dependent upon.

Not only does this play capture the horrors of war, but it shows the sexual violence that is perpetrated against women as a result of these civil, economic and political conflicts.  During this vicious period, soldiers raping women has become a norm. It is said in the DRC that nearly 90 percent of the women in many villages have been raped. Their ages can range from as young as three to as old as seventy-five. Rape, in essence, has become a weapon of war for soldiers.

Now that you have some background, let me explain the premise of the play. The play takes place in  Mama Nadi’s bar. It is a sort of brothel where the clientele consists of soldiers and miners. This is a place, as Mama Nadi (Heather Simms) puts it, “where people come to forget”. Sophie (Keona Welch), a very bright student, comes to work for Mama Nadi. She was raped and mutilated by a group of soldiers with a bayonet. She now must wear the identity of being ruined; her private area, her vagina, has been so badly damaged and mutilated.   To be ruined in this society is seen as unlucky, unsanitary, and dishonorable. No one is supposed to want anything to do with a ruined woman. Sophie cannot commit any sexual acts because of her past, so Mama Nadi lets her sing in the bar instead. It is horrific how women must resort to these types of situations. It is almost as if their society makes the woman the culprit, even though she was the one who was raped. The rapists are never perceived as vicious perpetrators.
Another important character in the play is Salima (Erika Rose). Her village was attacked by rebel soldiers and she was taken into the bush by them to be their concubine. When she escapes, she returns to her village and finds her husband, but her community chases her away because she had been with too many men. They are ashamed of her. She, too, finds work and shelter with Mama Nadi. When she is explaining her story, she states “I walked into my family compound expecting wide arms. An embrace. Five months suffering…And my family gave me the back of their heads”. Later her husband, Fortune (James Ijames) comes looking for her. He hears she is at Mama Nadi’s but Salima does not want to see him. During this part of the play I did not initially understand why she would not want to see her husband. I thought this was a way out for her and I wondered why she was not happy he had found her. But later, I saw her strife more clearly. Firstly, she is partly ashamed to see her husband because she is working in a brothel. Secondly, you later find out she is pregnant by a stranger she doesn’t even know. Thirdly, why would she talk to a man who did not embrace her after everything she had been through? I do not think I would have come out to talk to Fortune either.

The central character in the play was Mama Nadi herself. Mama Nadi is a strong and no-nonsense woman. She runs the bar and cares for her girls. She is quite a tough character, but you can tell that she is guarded because something has happened to her in the past.  Mama Nadi seems a bit harsh and insensitive at the beginning of the play, but throughout the play you see the acts of generosity and kindness she gives to the woman who live with her. You later find out why she wears a shield of callousness, but I will let you figure that out when you see this play. This play is pure genius! You see all aspects of a war environment and the great writing makes you feel as though you have been placed right there in the middle of it  all. There is no moment in the play when you feel bored. It is a story fueled with non-stop action and brilliance! I urge my readers to see this play and witness the stories of these brave women. What you read in the papers about the sexual violence perpetrated against woman in the DRC, never aptly captures what is really going on in that country. This play does!

Ruined will run at The Suzanne Roberts Theatre through June 12, 2011! Please come out and support The Philadelphia Theatre Company’s effort to bring quality theatre to Philadelphia. You will not be disappointed. Hit the link below to check the theatre’s dates and times for the performances!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Danza Contemporanea De Cuba Comes to Philly

A Review by Sojourner Ahebee
Countries, like people, form precise impressions in our minds.  Cuba is an impression still forming in mine.

In 1981, my mother went to China as part of a college winter study project and the following winter she took a course on the cultural and political history of Cuba.  Her, then,  19 year-old boyfriend warned her that he was planning a political career and he couldn’t afford to be associated with people who have a documented habit of expressing interest in Communist countries.  This story was my first introduction to Cuba and I wondered what kind of place could interfere with young love.

A few years ago, I attended a photography exhibition at the International House, here in Philadelphia.  It consisted of photographs taken by Cuban-Americans of their family members in Cuba.  At that time, because of our government’s policy, Cuban-Americans could only visit their families in Cuba once every three years.  This exhibition was a protest against this policy as well as the U.S. government’s 50-year –old trade embargo against Cuba.  This was introduction number 2.

My mother makes my brother and I read newspapers and not online.  We clip articles that interest us and do our own follow-up.  I have a clipping of an article about a woman from West Philly, from my neighborhood, who wanted to be a doctor and went to Cuba, right out of high school, and became one.  The Cuban government has a special program where African-Americans can study medicine in Cuba. Learning about this program was introduction number 3.

Last night I had a physically bold introduction to Cuba in the form of Danza Contemporanea  de Cuba, a  modern dance troupe direct from Cuba.  In fact, last night’s performance was the troupe’s first visit to the United States.  I really felt like I was a part of something monumental.  President Obama has lifted some of the travel restrictions imposed on Cubans and Americans and now there are all of these great cultural exchanges happening.  

Co-presented by the Dance Affiliates and the Kimmel Center, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba gave me so much insight into Cuba as well as delivered an astounding dance performance.  Before, I could never really get a precise mental vision of who makes up Cuba, but last night I received a stunning visual display of the wide-range of ethnicities that comprise Cuba.  I am not a dance critic, but I have been to a lot of dance performances, and I was so happy-this is the word I want to use-to see how Danza Contemporanea de Cuba effortlessly presented same-sex couples dancing together and expressing all that love entails.  Its repertoire was physical, lyrical, magical and conveyed what is relevant and meaningful.

Come out tonight and witness this history-making event. Danza Contemporanea de Cuba is phenomenal. 

Here is a great link to learn more about Danza Contemporanea de Cuba.

Danza Contemporanea de Cuba
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
7:30 P.M.
Merriam Theater

250 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

The Kimmel Center Box Office is open daily from 10am - 6pm. The Call Center is open daily from 9am - 8pm. Call 215-893-1999 to purchase tickets by phone. Call 215-731-3333 for Broadway at the Academy tickets. TTY callers use 215-875-7633.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Malcolm !

Happy Birthday, Malcolm.  The following is a link to one of my favorite parts of Spike Lee's Malcolm X movie.   It's of Malcolm's Letter From Mecca.  Enjoy. Learn. Remember.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Philly's French Connection Continues- PA Ballet and Le Bec-Fin Present Evenings of French Elegance

Sorry for the long silence. I have been creating DNA models and writinng comparative essays on  Macbeth.

Our city just concluded its first Philadelphia International Arts Festival and many of its events were French-themed. Philadelphia and France have a long history and this relationship has only grown. Here are a few of my favorite places with a French Connection:

1. Avril 50 is a very quaint, very European shop where you can buy newspapers and magazines from around the world. I buy my French language magazines from here, particularly those with a focus on Africa.

3406 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

2. When I first returned to Philadelphia from Cote d’Ivoire, I took French classes at Alliance Francaise de Philadelphie to maintain my French. It was so much fun and my instructor was from Cameroon. She was vey familiar with where I had come from and she was so helpful with my transition to my new home. Alliance Francaise has maintained its presence in Philadelphia since 1903 and offers a wide range of courses from conversational classes to specialized French courses in literature and history to name a few. They also plan fun events for Bastille Day. And its cost is so affordable!

Alliance Francaise de Philadelphie
1420 Walnut Street #700
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 735-5283

3. Also, when I first relocated to Philadelphia, my mother tried to get me and my brother into the French International School of Philadelphia. She really wanted us to maintain our French, but our going there wasn’t in the cards. You know me by now,I am always partial to any place where languages flourish.

The French International School
150 North Highland Avenue
Lower Merion, PA 19066
(610) 667-1284

I am in a French kind of mood, too, because the Pennsylvania Ballet will present as its season finale La Fille Mal Gardée. Not only can you see a great ballet, but you can participate in a package deal where you begin the evening eating a four-course meal at the legendary French restaurant Le Bec-Fin. I have always wanted to eat there, but it was a bit too pricey for my family’s budget. Not now. This package deal is doable and a fun treat us girls, our moms and aunties. This artsy combo is only available for the June 2nd and June 10th performances. For more information about planning your evening of French fun call 215-587-6921 or email
Bon Appétit !

For more information about the Pennsylvania Ballet's production of La Fille Mal Gardée, visit