notre dam de la garde

Yesterday I walked to the top of a hill to see the Notre Dam de la Garde, and was sad that it was just as Catholic as any other cathedral, and even more filled with tourists. I had somehow hoped for a pile of tiny boat models, superstitiously left over decades in hopes of protection. As I couldn’t discover hidden pockets of trust and hope made manifest, my favorite part was sliding down the railings back down the hill.

The week has been dedicated to Global Voices Exchange, a project to create a digital advocacy campaign guide by and for women of the global south. 20 of us gathered to question, scaffold, and draft the guide. I was honored to facilitate in my role at Aspiration, and as a friend of the Global Voices community. It was amazing to remember that about 2 years ago, I had facilitated the GV strategy meeting, and it was the first intensive time collaborating as mentee to Aspiration. It was incredible to see the progression of my skills (still so far to go!), the continued trust put in me by GV, and also how significantly working with Aspiration has influenced me.

The Global Voices Exchange website is absolutely worth checking out. Specific content will go there, including the two radio spots I was on, as well as the (much better) content the participants have created. We talked about what it’s like to advocate for equality or voice or access under oppressive regimes with little to no resources. We traded stories from a plethora of countries, everyone eager to hear each other’s experiences, to offer support as we could, but always trusting others in their own backgrounds and efforts. For instance, Arzu is in self-imposed exile from Azerbaijan, Marianne lives in the appalling circumstance of Venezuela (they turn off the internet when voting is happening, don’t allow money into or out of the country, etc), and Natasha works with LGBTQ communities in Zimbabwe (terrifically targeted). Nearly everyone checked messages with bated breath during breaks to see what arrests or trials or announcements had come out while we all focused on each other. We also drew comics together, laughed over meals, and looked each other in the eye. I cried 3 times this week with this crew, each time in love and acceptance. To me, this event was a new moment of vulnerability possible because of trust.

Graffiti on Marseille, a selection.

A photo posted by Willow Brugh (@willowbl00) on

This is what Marseille has been to me. It has been graffiti’d back allies, and copious wine, and teary-eyed confessions of respect and acceptance. It has been a ferris wheel and sunsets over water and peering in the windows of something built when Napoleon was alive. It was talks about holding love open-handed. It was runs on hilly (and admittedly dog-shit-covered) sidewalks, course after course of butter-based foods. All of this was possible because of the woman who opened up her heart and her city so we could all be incredibly welcome – Abir. Thank you, love. Georgia was right on the radio — the Marseille I have grown to love this week is the Marseille you have showed us.