“Pearls around the Neck”  is an anthology comprising tales, poems, essays, interviews, and testimonials submitted by women from different races, languages, social background, education level, religion, and age. They contributed with their own words, and in turn these words “mirror in many delicate touches the various facets of the world of women”, as explains Catherine Beeckman, the e-book's curator.
An avid reader of Global Voices, Catherine says our work has inspired hers in many different ways. In the interview below, she explains how “our writings feed hers” and shares the background of Pearls around the Neck , inviting readers to discover the purpose of this anthology: “to create ecology of the heart and maintain the chain of connections between words and compassion”.
Global Voices (GV): Catherine, can you tell us a little bit about you?
Catherine Beeckman (CB): Born in Belgium and on the road at 24 months of age with my parents in Africa and South America, I finally graduated with a degree in Linguistics and Semiology at the University of Louvain in my home country.
I have five children. As a family, we maintained our globe-trotter life, moving to Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and the USA.
My interests have always been languages (philology), books (any type of literature, even Manga), travelling and people. My passion number one are my children: from 23 to five years old, I am constantly amazed by the three generations they embody. They update me daily in every area: music, media, films, vocabulary and new discoveries. The five live in distinct parts of the world and study different subjects. They are truly a source of knowledge. I respect the young generations and trust their approach towards the future.
My intention is to transmit what I have gathered on the paths I have walked and involve as many partners as possible: to give back is of paramount importance.
GV: You have lived in 17 different countries in 51 years – that's an average of one country for each three years of your life. How has this global, multicultural upbringing shaped who you are today, and ultimately, “Pearls around the Neck”?
CB: It is rather unusual, still many people are part of this “blueplanet-moving-diaspora”!
Sometimes, we only stayed four months in a country (Rwanda, Burundi); in some countries, we resided in a megalopolis (Tokyo) in others we lived in the jungle (Bendel State, Nigeria). We studied in different languages (Spanish in Chile and Argentina), we heard different prayers from the Muezzin call in Senegal to the Buddhist temples in Singapore; we acclimated to Rep of Central Africa, and revised our manners in Japan, conformed to the Swiss and reviewed it all in Southern USA! We live like “guests”.
That does not include all the countries we visited: Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Haiti, Belize…
It is impossible to remain indifferent: one is soaked, invested by the others, by their rhythm of life, their colors, their accents, their traditions, their conflicts and their history but most importantly, by their stories…their words.
My early childhood (two till 12 years old) in Africa had a profound impact on my perception of the “palabre”=” the word”. Stories have a more organic aspect in the African continent. And women are exceptional story tellers. They tell different stories; women are chroniclers from anecdotes often ignored or left in silence.
“Pearls around the Neck” regroups women’s testimonies from around the planet. This anthology is a true affirmation, an evidence of a global life.
GV: Can you tells us more about “Pearls around the Neck”? When did it all start and how was it put together?
CB: The project started early 2011. I read online: blogs, papers and news websites. Global Voices is one of my sources: a website that crosses frontiers and boundaries. I could not “copy-cat” what was already available and creating yet another blog did not seem appealing. There are many tools of expression today. I started gathering texts and stories. Social networking was the key: I literally reactivated my electronic address book and begged for more connections. The stories started pouring: some were interesting, compelling, provocative, others were dull. This is precisely how it started…I did not know what was in store for me!
GV: The book sounds like a truly collaborative effort. In terms of writers alone, there were 56 women from 29 countries, plus translators, photographers, and editors. Who are these co-creators, and how did they come together?
CB: Why don’t we let the reader discover the amplitude of “Pearls”? The real number of people engaged in this adventure is impressive yet we were never working together in the same room: the virtual world is powerful and can help us create any piece of anthology.
The main difficulty though: the translations. Some texts arrived to me in languages I do not speak; some were sent to me in poor English. It was critical to make the book accessible to a wide audience. I built up a team of translators and editors between Paris, Sevilla, New York and home. I had to remain faithful to the texts that were entrusted to me…
I also decided that every possible type of format should be represented: text messages, email, poetry, essay, interview, slam (my favorite!), traditional letter, journal entry…
The presentation of “Pearls around the Neck” was also decisive: I wanted an art piece. I had met Tim Gallo in Tokyo, we actually studied Japanese together! He is young, talented, audacious and authentic. Tim offered his pictures, adapting each photo to the words. Carrie Leigh Dickey had created a previous book of mine (a story book for children, also in three languages side-by-side): she offered to be responsible of the design.
Wake Forest University loved the project and published “Pearls” on their Digital Publishing web site. The true co-creators are: Brigitte de le Court, Carrie Leigh Dickey, Tim and I.
GV: Plus all people who inspired it! Could you please tell us how “Pearls around the Neck” was also inspired by Global Voices?
CB: Global Voices helped me to maintain a line, a choice in my subjects, to infuse me with a sense of urgency towards the themes I would chose to insert.
We pursue the same goal and I have been inspired by your articles and pieces. Reading Global Voices almost daily, it appeared to me that people I had met through the years and across the 17 countries I had resided in could help me write an anthology reporting their stories in different formats, in different languages (even Afrikaans or Wolof!).
Global Voices has inspired me in many different ways: the multi-linguistic availability of the readings and the multicultural background of the various writers; the broad amplitude of articles and the daring approach towards burning subjects with a marginal angle of view; the reality of the characters presented to the readers, people with stories, real women and men, not the front page magazine hero.
Precise stories reported by Global Voices inspired me and motivated me to seek writers around the world to be part of this anthology: Fallen Petal Roses  from Myanmar; I great you Maria full of Grace  from Congo, after the Global Voices reported on Doctor Denis Mukwege ; Dearest Amalia  was inspired by the GV article Mapa 76 ; Perspectives  – written by a 16 year old Indian girl – is her view about the power of mankind, feeding on the story of Pakistani teen activist Malala .
The pieces in the Pearl of Politics and the Pearl of Social Evolvement are very inspired the articles published by Global Voices. The Pearl of Social Engagement is totally linked to several posts. Let us consider us the entry about Japan on the 10 June 2013 … a resonance of what was written last year in Pearls… a true and sincere exchange of emails revealing important questions. Journalism is everywhere!
We swim in an ocean of news, we are sometimes aggressively visually overwhelmed by the quantity of informations that scroll on our computer screens: perishable crumbles of data to consume. Why not sharing the true simple facts, the stories that move us to the core?
GV: It is good to hear that this book is, by definition, “unfinished and open for other pearls to be threaded onto the necklace”. What are the future plans for the book? Can readers collaborate to this necklace?
CB: “Pearls around the Neck” is now being presented and divulged in different ways. The goal actually is to offer the Pearls as extensively as possible and to create global empathy: this anthology was written and composed with the intent to awaken a different type of compassion towards traditional “information”. Every subject can be linked to a cause: see chapter 15.
I wish that the readers of Global Voices could have access to another tool of expression, that they would be inspired by Pearls and extend their participation just as we did by being creative. The stories published by Global Voices call for more Pearls to be written…in this sensitive, personal and intimate way. The material diffused by GV suggested me to go a step further…I need more stories to dwell in, more Pearls to thread…
“Pearls around the Neck” is published by Books 2 Live 4 and is available for download free of charge in English , French , and Spanish . It is also possible to buy a Kindle version of the book on Amazon .
The anthology is illustrated with provocative photos by Tokyo based Russian film-maker and photographer Tim Gallo , whose work is “varying, sometimes disturbing, also cruel, intelligent, young and contemporary”.