Archive for the ‘Americans’ Category

So I’m signing up for some “content mills” or websites to connect content and copy writers with small contracts. They’re meat markets that established writers tend to shun, but I’m not very established yet so I say I am here for anyone’s use and abuse at this point. A few dollars help.

Anyway, to sign up for these sites you obviously need a writing sample. They say I retain the rights to the samples I submit so I’ve decided to post them up here too, just for shits and gigs. Let’s call it transparency. So here is the one I just submitted. 150 – 250 words on one of my favorite places. Enjoy.

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Wherever I move, or stay for very long at all frankly, there are a few things I take care of first and right away to get my footing. I always look for a few resources like the closest place to relax outside, the nearest nature trail, convenience store, gas station, liquor store – the basics.
But what is the most important of all?
Why, the most important resource in the animal kingdom is of course none other than the watering hole. In my case, it’s the 4 Corners Pub in the 4 Corners shopping center at the 4 Corners crossroads my and three other neighborhoods cling to for life.
The 4 Corners Pub is a small, American-style pub tucked in between a gas station mostly used by underage kids to buy cigarillos and a seriously underrated Peruvian chicken shop. It has creaky wooden floors, creaky wooden stools, and a creaky wooden bar that comes out into the middle of the room from the left just as you walk in the door. There are a few TVs in the corners playing various games and lotto draws all through the bar and the “family” dining room to the right. There it feels like a nice, simple diner, right out of some midnight crime drama.
The bar has a nice selection and the food isn’t bad, but what I love most about my watering hole is everything else anyway. Just outside DC, it’s simple, classic America meeting new Americans: the frontlines.
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Isn’t it weird to agree with something somebody you disagree with said?

I used to work with someone who basically sprinted to my shit list. That’s a story for another day, but in the mix of all the absolute magic that spewed from their face, they spit out one piece of wisdom I can’t actually help but agree with.

Get in where you fit in.

puzzleGet in where you fit in. This, in the context of training me to work with a new team. Yes, unfortunately this person was my superior for a while in a certain light, so I basically had to deal with them effectively and diplomatically a fair amount. I kept asking questions when the rush hit and that answer basically silenced them all. They say even the best map can’t take you over even an inch of land. At some point you’ve just got to take a step where you see one needs taken.

But thankfully, that’s just it. That’s all it takes: one step.

Yes, a broken watch is right twice a day, but a working watch does wonders.

I got another piece of advice I will always carry with me from my Uncle Eddy. He was actually my grandmother’s brother (I think) but really he was just a real cool dude. And a beast. Living in the Adirondack adirondacksmountains of upstate New York, he was a hunter by profession. Though he did keep a woodshed out in front of his tiny house on Big Tupper Lake that he also sold for that extra little trickle of cash we all need.

So one time I was actually graced with the chance to really hang with Uncle Eddy. My cousin and I got the opportunity to go fishing with him and one of his buddies one evening during a family reunion up there. So after the sun went down the four of us took his little fishing boat out on the lake. From there we puttered down this winding river that conveniently met the lake at the creepiest point on the far end of the tall grasses and mossy shorelines… on the other side of the bridge…

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Anyway, my cousin and I kept asking when we would get to drop our lines but he kept catfishrefusing our impatience. We were looking for catfish and he said he knew the perfect spot. It’s got to be a nice, deep, muddy mess underwater, but what does that look like above it? Apparently also the creepiest place ever. After forever he finally let us drop our lines and when he did, it didn’t take 30 seconds for all four of us to catch a catfish as big as my forearm. We filled up our bucket in no time and went back to cook the family dinner.

See, Eddy spent his whole life in those mountains. He built a beautiful hunting cabin on the far side of tsnowy wood.jpghe lake with his own hands. No driveway, just a dock. He once tracked a deer eight miles in heavy snow off of two drops of blood.

If you asked him how he knew where those catfish would be, or how he found that deer, he would say he could see it. To him, it was all about knowing where you were and what you were looking at. Only once you know what you’re actually looking at could you see what was out of place.

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He told me, “Go into the woods. Surround yourself by trees. Stand still and look around. Notice all the trees and the bushes and leaves on the ground and all their tiny differences. Some trees are skinny, some are fat, some have lots of knots, some have lots of branches. Notice all the grooves in the bark, and how the dead leaves on the ground lean against each other. Once you know what’s around you well enough to paint it, take one step. Just one single step. Everything changes. The trees, the leaves, the world is totally different. Once you move at all, you need to paint a completely new picture before you’re aware again of what you’re actually seeing.”

One step at a time.angela_esnouf-one_step_towards_peace

Whether your guy won or didn’t, everyone sees what’s happening in the US. There is some serious … dissatisfaction … being expressed right now, from trolls and unfriending to mass demonstrations and arrests.

So a lot of people out there are asking themselves what to do now. Meetings and town halls are being held and filled up by people seriously afraid and with questions for days. But like I said, the best map can’t take you over an inch of land.

Only you know what to do and where to go from where you stand. But first you need to know where you stand.

Make yourself aware of your own situation, what you’re looking at right now, and study it. Look closely at all the leaves at your own feet. Dive into your own history and the history of the people and the land around you. Where you know the most, you can consistently and effectively do the most. Only once you know what you’re actually seeing can you see where to step, and all that changes when you do. You see an inconsistency in an argument? Pick up that book. You see one way to be more self-sufficient? Watch that YouTube video. Look around and find the need in your own life and grill it. Whatever you uncover will make you more and give you the strength to take your first step.

Then notice how everything changes. You feel something. You meet people. Those you already knew start looking at you funny. You go home and start looking at that funny. So look at it funny. Explore how much has changed with just a single step. There is where youSWNS_ROBIN_HAIR_02 study next, where you watch your next Youtube video or Netflix documentary, where you listen to your next underground musician, where you read your next article or book. This is change, this is growth, and this is scary. But it’s okay. Little by little, step by step, the bird builds its nest.

We can’t do everything at once but that’s no reason not to do anything at all. Empower yourself. Become aware and get in where you fit in. Take a step where you see a step needs taken, no matter what anyone else sees. After all, they may be tracking a different deer.

That’s basically all I’ve got for now.

Onward and upward.

Z

 

P.s. So this guy was silent and didn’t use motorized vehicles for 17 years. And doing that taught him the environment starts with the people around you. His story is an amazing one.

So it’s a few days into the new regime and the weather has only gotten worse. Well, this morning the sun may have come out again, but why dwell on facts? Am I doing this right?

This was inauguration weekend, which is always loud but this year came with all the fervor of a good football game. Things almost got as bad as when college kids celebrate championships! Go Sports!

No but seriously. There was a lot of action this weekend. Upwards of 4 or 5 million people total on EVERY continent (including Antarctica!) marched and demonstrated for various reasons related to Trump’s campaign promises, cabinet picks, sexual preferences… the list really goes on and on here. Or as Aziz Ansari said, it’s only day 1 and Trump’s already got an entire gender demonstrating globally just how unsatisfied he’s left them. Ouchhh #sickburn. The Women’s march on Saturday was the single largest march EVER in American history. Wow. What’s the word I’m looking for? … Tremendous!

I live just outside DC so I went into the city when I could, but sadly I couldn’t spend much time down in the real thick of things. I only ended up downtown for a little over an hour Friday evening, but even that happened to put me at the exact moment and place where “the limo” was set on fire.

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Yup, that one.

Just a single block away was McPherson Square, where a huge family-friendly, non-violent, peaceful protest was taking place. Several groups like Black Lives Matter, anti-war groups, anti-Dakota Access Pipeline land and water protectors from Standing Rock, pro-choice/pro-ACA demonstrators, LGBTQ activists and others all had converged on McPherson Square for a beautiful moment of art, music, and dialogue spanning all their missions and where they all intersected.

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The “Deport Trump” community art wall set up by @dc2standingrock (instagram)

Literally one block down, however, was quite a different story. There, a ring of smoldering trash cans made for an art installation straight out of Silent Hill, while another flaming can lay few meters away going solo. All around it, people took selfies and artistic photos of the street art. Then somebody set a limo on fire. Apparently people were surprised by how easy it was by just mashing a window and throwing a flare in the cabin. At that point the white smoke from the dying trash can fires was devoured by the thick black smoke of the limo… art.

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Once the limo was… dare I say… lit, those selfie sticks went away and people started backing off the street and onto Franklin Square (one block down from McPherson). Well, a lot of people did. A lot got real close to the street again soon after. Trying to figure out how far back was far enough in case that limo exploded, I wondered then, why a crowd started to form again along the street. I could see a few professional-looking cameras scurrying along behind reporters with awkwardly large microphones, along with all the usual cell phones in the sky for a better angle all rushing the street again. I was confused until I heard the concussion grenades felt a bit of that pepper spray sting on my eyes.

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Ah, like Johnny Cash said, that old, familiar sting…

Turns out the “front line” of riot cops had pushed protesters back down the street, from further down the road toward McPherson and the peaceful demonstrations happening on the next block back. Out of nowhere it seemed that block had become the center of the ongoing clash between the riot police line and those refusing to leave the street. From a few yards off the street all you could see was a crowd of people backing up and moving in closer, like the tides, while above the crowd things were being thrown back and forth: concussion grenades, blocks of rock and concrete, sticks, the orange arch of pepper spray, echoing the new president’s majestically wispy hairline…

 

Now, I’m not one to take credit where it isn’t deserved, so at that point I decided to head out. ;D Heh. As I turned away and faced the rest of the crowd, not only did I see reporters (like even that one guy from France24!) but all types of onlookers, from scary-looking guys in black bandanas, to scared-looking families wearing matching red “Make America Great Again” hats, to native elders in full regalia. I even saw that guy with the boot on his head! Vermin Supreme, who has run for president every election for a while, had his boot on his head and a megaphone in his hand and he was repeating health advice, like how you might want to take out your contacts before getting pepper sprayed because that’s never any fun.

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The red hats are coming, the red hats are coming!

Still, the image that sticks with me the clearest is one of a big white man in a nice suit and long blue coat, pulling his small daughter by the hand. Both wearing matching red MAGA hats, they were both on the far end of McPherson, a good distance from the non-family-friendly action happening over by Franklin Square. They were moving with another crowd, the pro-Trump visitors and inauguration attendees who I assume wanted a glimpse of the peaceful community protest space on their way to the metro.

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But just looking at this crowd of singers and artists and demonstrators, this father had this look of such terror on his face, while his daughter was so intrigued by it all. Both red hats sat above jaws that had fallen to the floor. The terror in one’s eyes bouncing of the amazement in the other’s, this one father-daughter duo remains such a clear image in my head. I don’t think they even saw the riot police or the limo on fire. That was, after all, a couple blocks down.

No, I think they came for a day of family fun and got slapped with just a little bit of struggle and reality, terrifying the father and mesmerizing the daughter. Why do I get a feeling this is happening all over?

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The next night I helped support some of the people caught up in the pool of 200 the police arrested on Friday. People were corralled for being near the action, but of course those who actually did anything ghosted way before the cops actually got their shit together enough to respond. So unable to charge anyone with specific offenses, everyone was held overnight and released with some b.s. “disturbing the peace” charges and things like that. Quite a few were from out of town and didn’t really have any support networks out here so others helped give them food once they were released, rides from the station, and places to stay for the night. This was all especially helpful since some weren’t released until midnight Saturday. Though everyone’s phones were confiscated “as evidence” leading some people to get arrested by association just for going to pick others up from the police station. And clothes with large amounts of pepper spray on them weren’t given back either.

I dunno. Smelling kinda fishy these days… I sure do hope this weather clears up soon.

Onward and upward.

Z

P.s. The Trump portrait and the first limo pic are not mine. The rest are. Except the words, every one of which I learned from someone else.

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i know

Everything I do involves the transfer of ideas. I teach English, thankfully often to people who actually plan to use it in either the US or Europe (or England, which I guess doesn’t count anymore?). So I am constantly figuring out new better ways to understand ideas people are trying to communicate to me, and to effectively communicate my own ideas to others. But this isn’t just my job. It’s my whole life. And it’s not just a job for me. This one is for all of us.

I get home from work and the work continues, because as anyone who studies or works in language already knows, INeffective MIScommunication is pretty much where every shitstorm starts. Words just seem to have this nasty habit of changing, evolving, and flipping their meaning 9000 degrees along that treacherous journey from mouth to ear. There’s so much room out there for walls and booby-traps to stop ideas in their tracks, with results ranging everywhere from funny to fatal.

wall

Take the US for example (can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, amiright??). The past few weeks we’ve seen a tragic evolution in the country’s paralyzing addiction to violence and aggression.  After years of reports and videos of what many feel to be excessive police violence, the violence has turned its crooked smile back on the police themselves.

Two major national tragedies in two weeks – mass shootings of police officers, and both by US veterans – have thrust the US into a dark time. But it seems like every time we try and begin a productive conversation about even the general problem of violence in the US, the sad problem of miscommunication gets in the way once again.

Watching from the outside, it looks to me like the entire country is talking past each other, particularly when it comes to violence and the police. How is this possible? The simplest way I can rationalize it is a fundamental difference in abstraction. Abstraction is basically how you draw the line between one “thing” and another in your mind.

Where does one “thing” end and the next begin? As a new driver, the act of “starting the car” involves numerous small steps like adjusting your mirrors, buckling your seatbelt, turning the key, shifting into 1st (or Drive), etc. After 20 years behind the wheel, “starting the car” becomes one action that happens to include all these smaller steps we no longer think about. This is abstraction. To me and most others, a chair is a chair. It’s a thing I sit on. To a master carpenter however, a chair is a work of art, many little pieces that fit together perfectly in a particular, beautiful way in order to stand tall and elegantly support the weight of my lazy ass.

So there appears to be a fundamental problem with abstraction when we talk about “the police” in the United States. To some, “the police” refers to the system of police and policing, including rules, regulations, quotas, metrics, training, culture, job descriptions, transparency, etc. that we all pay for, yet clearly and definitely contains some serious problems.

To others, the “police” are simply those wearing the uniforms, those you can point out of a crowd. Police are the men and women who perform a necessary, difficult, and dangerous duty everyday. Failure to clarify whether you mean police-as-people or “the police” as a system or particular government program appears to end any productive conversation on this issue before it ever even begins.

The Black Lives Matter movement wants changes in the system of policing in the US. Meanwhile, opponents claim that individual police officers are often good people who deserve to be respected. What’s often missed is that both are true, and more importantly, both are possible! You can respect the courage of individuals while criticizing the broken systems they may represent on the clock.

In fact, if you truly want to honor individual police, you should want the system that employs them to be as fair and safe as possible for everyone involved. From the good, honorable men and women who don the badge and put their lives on the line everyday, to the citizens on the street whose taxes pay for this program of “protection” and “service,” everyone benefits from a better system of policing. Well, everyone except those who would plan to abuse it.

So in my opinion, as a professional communication enhancer and clarifier-of-ideas (look how good I am at the putting-together-of-the-words), it’s important to start taking the time to clarify the language we use when debating this volatile, yet essential issue. Unless we can agree on what “it” is that we’re actually even talking about, we’ll never make any progress and in our stagnation, lives will surely be lost.

Until we first agree on which bone is broken, we’ll never be able to make the right cast (or perform the right surgery). If you really care about the senseless loss of life on either side of this picket line, you’ve got to start caring about how effectively we are even communicating with each other in the first place. Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between “lightning” and “lightning bug.” Let’s make sure we’re all talking about lightning, or we’ll never make it out of this storm on the horizon alive.

lorax

Bonjour mes amis!

First I’ll apologize. It’s been a couple weeks since my last post. I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me. If not, reading this will be tough.

It’s December in Bamako so you know what that means. The pool… is a tad nippy… at night. People here have broken out their scarves, coats, and hats. Meanwhile I’m still in sleeveless T’s and shorts. As far as I’m concerned I’m sweating a little less, which is honestly a relief. Despite the lack of snow though I can still feel the tug of the holiday season. The Holidaze have us!

This will be my first Christmas in Bamako, my second in Africa that I actually remember. Besides the one or two I may have had in Conakry when I was still in diapers, my first Christmas in Africa was in the lovely Gorum Gorum, Burkina Faso when I was 12 if I remember correctly. My mother took my brother, my sister and me to Burkina for a few weeks, during which we took a trip out to Gorum Gorum, a small village on the edge of the Sahara. Christmas morning we woke up in Gorum Gorum and began our three – hour camel ride into the Sahara. I love camels, but after that I’m not sure I’ll ever ride one again if it’s not absolutely necessary. And i didn’t even have a guide stuck on the back of mine. I would say it was like fucking a two-by-four for three hours but that would be a lie. It wasn’t like fucking a two-by-four for three hours, it was fucking a two-by-four for three hours. You’re literally sitting on a wooden chair with a wooden board-for-a back and another board sticking up the same height in the front. And you can’t lean back. It was fun but I threw up immediately afterwards and am probably sterile. Though that may have been the orange soda i drank immediately after returning to the ground… Either way, thank God (ain’t nobody got time for none of that noise).

Last week I helped out at an annual community Christmas event at le Parc National (the national park). They call it “Santa.” It’s a Christmas market and showcase that blends the Christmas holiday with the traditional craftsmenship of Mali. It’s funny because most people don’t even know what “Santa” means; they just know it means Christmas. Some artisans showed off clothing, some metalwork, some homemade Christmas ornaments and some snakeskin belts and crocodile briefcases. It was definitely a sight to behold. Some German friends sell sausages and sourkraut (sp?) every year and asked if I could help out. I left the restaurant industry to come to Africa and teach and low and behold, I end up right back on the grill. Sure we can sub out the sausages for a kebab. No, we do not serve drinks. It was nice to help out in the community. Not only do I get to feel like I’m actually contributing to the welfare of the city but I get to practice my French! The shopping was awesome too, which is of course a plus. It’s interesting how many people and businesses here recognize or even know of Christmas. I get the sense that the relative percentage of people in the States who recognize or try to cater to followers of Islamic or Jewish holidays (for example) is a lot less. It’s just surprising how open people are to cultural practices that aren’t their own, if only to exploit for a buck. Many of those I grew up with could learn something.

Kari just flew in from London, so the next couple weeks should be full of good food and fun times around town. We went bowling at Byblos, one of the nightclubs on Bamako’s main strip. It’s a nightclub/restaurant/bowling alley that has quickly become one of my new favorite places. We’ve also been to Apellussa (sp?) The best Tex-Mex restaurant in town, which was pretty legit. The Canadian flag on the wall threw me off at first but I like it.

Anyway I hope everyone who celebrates has a great Christmas. For those who celebrate Chanukkah, I hope that was awesome too, along with all the other holidays that take place during this arbitrarily designated time of year.

However Happy New Year to all!!! We made it one more rotation around the Sun without being consumed by its lava tornados. I’d say that’s as good a reason as any to have an extra glass.

Cheers. May your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame.

Onward and upward,

-Z

Hello friends and family across the screens, I hope this post finds you well.

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as usual, the holidaze is in effect. This Thanksgiving, as with each, I am thankful for many things. This year I am in a new house, in a new country, speaking a new language, working in a new field I actually consider useful, and I can’t help but be thankful for it all. But on this, the American day of “thanks,” I think I might be most thankful to understand the true, actual history behind arguably the most quintessentially American celebration. After all, the history of Thanksgiving is quite literally the history of America’s beginnings, and thus America itself.

Thanks-giving feasts are and have been celebrated around the world throughout history. In the United States, the end-of-November “Thanksgiving Day” holiday was declared by President Abraham Lincoln to recognize and celebrate the founding colonists’ first year of survival in North America. Unfortunately however, this is not the whole story. Though taught as a wholesome celebration of the natural bounty that springs from the American way of life with the help of our friends, the generous Native people, the history of this day of thanks is actually a bit more complicated, and a bit more sinister.

There is some truth behind the Thanksgiving story we all know, going back to 1621, one year after midwinter of 1620 when the famous Mayflower first landed on the North American coast. The Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated in reference to the three-day feast Governor William Bradford declared to thank God for their survival. But what get’s lost in the traditional teachings of the holiday’s history is exactly what that survival entailed.

In 1620 the ship known as the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock with 102 British exiles, ready to start fresh with their newly founded, Puritan way of life. However as we know they were not the first Europeans to set foot on North American shores. Six years earlier, in 1614, a small expedition of Brits had scoped out the East coast on behalf of the British crown. They only stayed on land for a short time but when they left they brought 24 Natives back to England with them as slaves, and left Smallpox in their wake. In just a few years the smallpox they first introduced to the Natives had spread and decimated 90% of the 500+ nations.

Fast forward to 1620 and our beloved Mayflower landed on what looked more like Plymouth Tombstone than Plymouth Rock. Plymouth itself was erected just beside the ruins of an abandoned Native village that had been devastated by Smallpox. Now, it’s true that the English immigrants of 1620 probably would have died without Native help and generosity. But that help was only possible due to – and in fact came primarily from – the sole survivor of that ghost village by Plymouth, Squanto.

Squanto was a former slave of the English and Spanish, and had thus learned the respective languages of his European masters. For asylum he offered himself to the settlers who used his insights to grow corn for their people, and his translation skills to negotiate peace treaties with the surrounding tribes. So in 1621 after a year of plentiful corn crops and relative peace, the first, three-day, thanks-giving feast and celebration was declared. This was not the official holiday we all know of course, but it served as the benchmark for colonists living on the former land of exterminated Natives to declare thanks to their Christian God for allowing such “blessings.” In reality much of their survival was actually dependant on the former enslavement and subsequent cooperation of Squanto, and the biological devastation of the Smallpox their predecessors had unleashed upon North America.

Fast forward another 15 years. A decade of prosperity had attracted greater numbers of Europeans to North American shores, and with them had come their Puritan methods of trade dependent on the individual ownership of property. This was far different from and highly contradictory to the Native ideals of communal land ownership. In fact this was far different from what much of the world had seen at the time, and proved to be the critical vehicle for the establishment and expansion of capitalist economics. So with an increased population of settlers interested in trading private property, the question arose: who did the land legally belong to?

To propagate their economic way of life, the settlers agreed that public land belonged to the King (by way of his divine right), represented in the Americas by the Governor. The Puritans believed themselves to be God’s chosen people, and that the rest of the world was damned. As a result, their invasion and the fight for their prosperity was justified by the support of God, and the lives of those not aligned with their ideals were expendable. The rest of the world was doomed to damnation either way. Any within the colonies who opposed this idea and claimed the Natives as the rightful land owners were quickly excommunicated and literally thrown out into the woods to starve. The Puritans needed only to look to Psalms, chapter 2, verse 8 for their justification, in which the Bible writes, “Ask of me and I shall give thee the brethren for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” The whole of the earth was theirs for the taking.

This justification worked perfectly for the paralleled ideals of expansion that form the basis of capitalist economics. So much so that stockholders in an English trading company – who had been awarded by the King the right to govern their company’s own internal affairs – voted in 1629 to move the company and themselves to North America. These stockholders landed north of Plymouth, establishing Massachusetts as a self-governing company of stockholders. Once on North American soil, it did not take long for these money-driven stockholders to realize that their most profitable commodity was the slave trade. Labor, after all, essentially pays for itself.

The conquest and enslavement of Natives became so profitable that for decades it was the centerpiece of their new trade markets. In 1641, the Dutch Governor of Connecticut offered the first scalp (or “redskin”) bounty, drastically increasing the number of massacres against Native communities once again. Of course, because the mere eradication of threats was not nearly as profitable as enslavement, Native men were slaughtered while women and children were sold off into slavery. Several years later, various Manhattan churches decided to celebrate the prosperity that had come from this State-sanctioned genocide and mass-enslavement, and the first official “Thanksgiving Day” was declared.

Well into the 1670’s, Natives tried fighting back against the colonists with little success. But just to insure the continued success of the slave economy, a final call for massacre and enslavement was made. At the rate of 20 shillings per scalp and 40 per slave, the rest of the Native resistance was silenced. In 1676, Massachusetts declared “Thanksgiving,” to engrain within the State a public day of thanks to God, for once again eliminating all obstacles in their way. After that, the rest is history.

President Washington was the first to call for a national day of Thanksgiving, though as we know, it wasn’t until Lincoln that the national holiday of Thanksgiving was made an official, annual event. For Lincoln, the day served as a most useful tool. It was the perfect myth to aid in his efforts at solidifying and unifying the nation. Thanksgiving celebrated the prosperity and the bounty of the American way of life while not only ignoring, but masking and silencing the brutal nature behind the red, white, and blue curtain.

So where does that leave us today? Americans everywhere have heard the stories of Native genocide perpetrated by the European settlers of the colonies’ early days, yet most still celebrate the wholesome-looking holiday nonetheless. Some may not believe the holiday is directly related. Some may try to rationalize that the murder and enslavement that got us here isn’t what they and their families celebrate around the Thanksgiving table. Some may even write it all off as an unfortunate hiccup, or ignore our bloody past all together. But we can’t go on ignoring our past. The rest of the world knows how the United States forged its beginnings and see the hypocrisy in holidays like Thanksgiving clear as day. The fact of the matter is that to not only accept, but celebrate these atrocities as they were designed to be celebrated while perpetuating worldwide “humanitarian” campaigns for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “justice” is hypocrisy at its worst.

There is hope though. There are ways we can call attention to this hypocrisy and begin to overturn the oppressive power structures that carry through to today and spill out onto the streets of places like Ferguson, Syria, and Palestine: our homes. We can start by stopping. Stop honoring this day of genocide. We can gather with our families and give thanks to our Gods for all that we have been blessed with, but we hold no obligation to the “Thanksgiving” title. Instead we could celebrate Harvest Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Universities like Brown U. and Hampshire College have already brought petitions to their administrations demanding they change the name of the holiday to reflect and honor the countless native lives and land stolen by the early European settlers. We could all follow in their footsteps and change the name of the holiday to honor those who died so we could be here. It is possible to change things. Just this year Seattle became the first city to abolish their celebration of Christopher Columbus, arguably the father of modern slavery and genocide. The rest of the United States could take these steps and start moving ourselves in the right direction.

When Ghandi was asked what he though of Western civilization, he said he thought it sounded like a good idea. Plato said that the origins of a just society must come from equal access to a good education. Well, learning the true history behind our world and honoring those who actually deserve it is a damn good first step. Holidays are a fantastic way to teach our children about our ever-increasingly complicated world one piece at a time, so why not teach them to honor the people whose lives were stolen from them to build the world we see today. Let’s stop retelling the fantasies we’ve been taught to cover the truth, and start teaching the truth. Let’s abandon our old, false stories and embrace the real ones. Only then can we hope to start writing new futures. Who knows, maybe if our children learn to value the lives that have been decimated by history they’ll start to value their brothers’ and sisters’ lives as well.

Onward and upward.

Z

If you would like to look deeper into what I’ve written about here, check out “Native Blood,” an essay found at Kasamaproject.org

Or watch my good friend and mentor Solomon Comissiong from the University of Maryland discuss the topic further here. (YouTube)

Well hello again people and literate non-humans everywhere!

I’ve killed about 40 mosquitos tonight so I’m feeling quite productive. I hope all of your Novembers are going well. I hear it’s starting to get pretty chilly up north. (Welcome to Buffalo. Come for the wings, stay because you can’t find your car.) I hope everyone is buckling down appropriately. It’s cooling down a bit here in Bamako as well, but all that really means is that my clothes are not quite as drenched in sweat.

This week I had a lot of fun working with my students of various levels. Games and music are invaluable teaching tools! Who knew Somewhere Over The Rainbow and What A Wonderful World could turn into an hour long lesson. Work is fun and actually feels productive on a real level. It feels good. I went to a party this weekend and had dinner next to a former Olympian from Togo! That was a surprise. She was really cool. That wasn’t a surprise.

This weekend, for Thanksgiving, I’ll have the house to myself. Dad’s packing his longsleeves and gloves for Paris, but I’m just hanging in Bamako. This marks my first Thanksgiving without any sort of celebration but no worries, I’m actually kind of excited. It’s not my favorite holiday anyway. Just as a heads up: next week’s post will be all about why. The Holidaze are indeed in effect. Tra La La La La.

So as I write this I am watching news coverage of multiple protests across the United States in response to the Wilson/Brown non-indictment. There are a plethora of issues surrounding how this situation has been handled, partially by violent protestors, but more so by the agents of the justice system in my opinion. Whatever the final verdict might be or have been, there was definitely enough evidence here to constitute probable cause for a trial. (Grand juries only need to find probable cause, not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt) This is disconcerting. Now the evidence and witnesses need not appear in public trials. Instead, the entire process concerning the state killing of an unarmed man has occurred in secret, behind closed doors. Most paying attention are unfortunately not very surprised by the non-indictment, but it still hurts nonetheless. Tear gas, tanks, and riot shields now fill the streets of Ferguson, like they did in some of the police-induced riots I’ve witnessed with my own eyes at the University of Maryland and in the District of Columbia. The police system was built on the system of overseers in the days of slavery to protect plantation owners’ property, i.e. their slaves. So it’s no surprise that recent pro-Wilson rallies have been supported and organized by the KKK.

Prejudice plus power equals racism. The system is racist. Now it just gets leftover military-grade weaponry from our campaigns in the Middle East, to make it militant as well. And people wonder why every 28 hours a black man is shot dead by police in the U.S. The police system in the U.S. is rotten to its core. So much so that even good police get neutralized. Hell, I wanted to be a cop myself when I was younger until I learned how different things were than the public-servant/protect-and-serve idea I was taught in public school (no surprise there).

I fear for my fellow Americans. I fear for us all. Robert Kennedy once said, “and let them say of us as they said of Rome; they made a desert and called it ‘peace.'” Unfortunately that’s the direction we are, have been, and continue to head in today. As someone on Twitter just said as well, the problem with a non-indictment here is not more riots, but more Darren Wilsons. I don’t believe in praying, but tonight I just might.

Stay safe out there tonight. Tear gas and gunfire is in the air. Stay on your toes.

Onward and upward.
Z

Bon après midi gens du monde!  Good afternoon people of the world!

Well, here it is.  Tonight marks another sunset on one more beautiful week in Bamako.  This week ended up being pretty productive, so as it comes to an end I have to say it went to good use.

First off, my stepmother-dearest, Kari was here visiting this week.  We had a good time checking out a few restaurants around town.  A few Dad and I had been to, but many we hadn’t.  So When Kari got here we showed her the spots we found and liked so far, but we were soon out of new places to go.  We discovered a few spots that were honestly pretty impressive, like Savana, the big American/European spot complete with a thatched roof and zebra-skin chairs.  It was a warm restaurant that looked like it could easily get pretty hot if the band got going.  Apparently there is a Greek place out there somewhere with the highest reviews around.  Even though I could easily go never smelling Ouzo again, I do love me some feta.  I’ll let you know if it lives up to its name.

With Kari’s help we got a few trinkets for the house, like a new lamp for the den and some curtains.  We also unpacked our books onto the bookshelf and fixed two of the air conditioners.  Having all the books out, in the open, in one place makes it way easier to just read a little of each of the books I’m constantly reading, which is nice.  Maybe one day I’ll finish one.  No, just kidding.  I actually finished Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is great.  Though now I have a stronger distaste for Tom Sawyer and his unnecessary theatricality.  The car was brought into the shop to have its A/C fixed on Saturday.  The whole ordeal was originally expected to be a few hours, but it ended up taking seven or eight.  The best part is that now that we got it back, the A/C works a little worse in the front, won’t turn off or turn down in the back, and the “Check Engine” light is on. … Three steps forward and two steps back, as they say.  It’s a process.  The A/C repairman also made a visit this week to fix the unit in Dad’s room.  Once again it was my man in the bright blue suit, who determined the cause of the malfunction was simply that the unit had never been cleaned since he himself installed it almost five years ago.  So he did his usual cleaning of the filters and syphoning of the tubes WITH HIS MOUTH, and whatever dead salamanders were clogging up the thing were taken care of real fast.  If anyone deserves to be paid more, it’s that guy.  Little by little this place is starting not to look or feel quite like Alcatraz anymore.  It’s all very exciting.

This week I got some solid writing done.  I put some good hours in on a story I’m working on, and a book of poetry I have been comprising for about five years now.  Next week I think I’ll focus a little more on music and see if I can get some beats and tunes saved for later.  So many projects, so little time!  Who knows, maybe one day one of my many projects will be complete enough to show off.  I could tell you what they were about now, but… I’d have to kill you.  And I like y’all.

Oddly enough, I also happened to be a guest on a TV show this week!  Once a year AfriCable, an international African television station hosts a karaoke competition called King Karaoke.  They pick twenty contestants out of 150 or so original applicants to compete for and be crowned the karaoke king (or queen) of Africa!  A producer from the show hangs out at the same hotel Dad and I have been going to Thursday nights for karaoke, and wanted me on after she heard these glorious pipes.  What can I say.  Technically contestants need two songs to compete, one of which needs to be a traditional Bambara song.  Since I only just moved here and know neither French nor Bambara (yet), they asked if I would sing a song for their premier episode, which recorded on Thursday and aired on Sunday.  I was originally asked to sing No Woman, No Cry, but a group of contestants decided on that as one of theirs so instead I went with my backup, Come Together.  The best part of the whole experience came right after they called me on stage though.  As I was waiting for they system to reboot so my song could start playing, the host asked me to sing something a cappella to kill time.  I agreed and decided on a bit of Three Little Birds to stick with the original Bob Marley theme, which the crowd liked at least enough to join in and start clapping along.  They only televised a short clip from Come Together, but at least those at the recording got a more of a show.  That was a blast, haha.  If I can find a clip online I’ll post it here for you all to enjoy.

On a more serious and useful note, this week I also finalized plans with Dad to volunteer some time at his office teaching his staff English.  The next step is to meet with him and his assistant at the same time so they can begin making sure all the right channels are aware.  Ideally though, pretty soon I should start holding classes at noon on Tuesdays (for beginners) and Thursdays (for intermediate/advanced).  I’m very excited about the possibility.  Hopefully I can help the overall team improve its English, and build a network of references in the meantime.  Time will tell at this point.  Fingers crossed.

I suppose that’s all for now folks.  I’m off to go watch some AfriCable.  If I fall asleep with it on, it’s like learning French through osmosis, right?

Onward and upward,

-Z

Bonjour!

This has been a fun week in Bamako!  This weekend has been especially fun.  Hows about I tell you a little about it, eh?

I got the opportunity to check out a little of the city’s club scene this week, and to be honest I am impressed.  Friday night I got invited out by some new friends of mine from my French class, and I had a blast!  We started off at Le Terrasse for a couple hours, a popular rooftop bar and lounge.  This particular bar is on the top floor of a building, above a separate nightclub.  I had been there once before, but this time they surprised us with a live band!  They weren’t too bad either.  Pharrell and Bob Marley made for some great covers.  La Terrasse looks like it came straight out of the caravansary of the Silk Road.  The place is simple and elegant.  The bar area is underneath a metal roof but extends out onto a balcony overlooking the street.  There, the roof gives way to a tent-like arrangement held up by long wooden poles.  The actual terrace is littered with handmade wooden couches and chairs.  Their red cushions perfectly match the intricate, embroidered, red canvas hanging overhead.  I half-expected someone to come read me my fortune or sell me their precious jewels.  Instead I was surrounded by beautiful, smiling people all enjoying the precious freedom of the weekend.  One of the bartenders was even surprised with a cake for her birthday!  Luckily, since by this time we had moved from the couches on the terrace to the stools at the bar, I got to have a piece.  Sweet.  😉

After pounding back a few Flag beers with my new buddies, we made our way to Ibiza, one of Bamako’s most popular nightclubs.  Now these guys know what they’re doing.  This Lebanese-owned nightclub is everything a club should be.  It is dull and boring on the outside and a grand ol’ tropical paradise on the inside.  Well, not exactly a tropical paradise but there were definitely plenty of neon, blacklight-reactive, tropical murals painted straight onto the walls, not to mention easily the biggest disco ball I have ever seen.  The whole place was a lot bigger than I expected too.  We went past the dance floor and first bar, up and around the back section of private couches and tables, and back down to the other side of the dance floor and second bar.  Just being in the place made me feel fancier.  Of course, it’s not too difficult to feel underdressed wearing a Rob Zombie T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off.  Once I had gotten a good feel for how extensive the layout of the club actually was, I made my way onto the dance floor with the group and danced the night away.  It helped that the resident DJ was actually pretty impressive.  Contrary to popular belief, DJ’ing is not as simple as hooking up your playlist, turning up the bass, and cracking a beer.  A good DJ not only mixes old songs with new sounds to give them a fresh feel while preserving the classic vibes of the original, but s/he also knows how to string those songs together into one smooth, continual beat.  Classical composers used this technique, where though their pieces changed sounds completely from start to finish, the evolution of the changes were flawlessly woven together, creating one giant evolving piece as opposed to a bunch of separate songs.  Our DJ Friday night impressively mixed popular American and traditional African songs with that heavy bass I love, so I was pretty much in Heaven.  Luckily our group evened out to three guys and three ladies so we all had an easily accessible dance partner without having to sift through strangers.  Mine may not have spoken any English, but man could she dance!  If there’s one thing I learned studying English, it’s that words are only one type of language.  Dancing is a language all its own.  The best part about Ibiza: I didn’t spend a dime.  Not only was there no cover, which surprised me, but with the slight buzz I had worked up at Le Terrasse I skipped the bar entirely and spent all my time on the dance floor.  By 4am we were all ready to go so I stumbled my way into a taxi and hoped for the best.  “Derrier de la Citie Ministerial!  Por favor!  Shit, I mean, s’il vous plait!!”  All in all Friday night was a great time.  Those Europeans start things off late (we met up at 11:30pm!) but they sure know how to party.  Even after grandkids.

I went on a beautiful hike on Saturday beside the Presidential Palace.  It was on a mountainside, like most of the others.  This one overlooked a stadium and what looked like an Olympic-sized pool.  The sun was especially brutal as I climbed this particular rock, but I loved it.  There’s nothing like the feeling of a nice, solid sweat.  This time I met a great Bavarian gentleman whom I had a long conversation with about corruption and its various faces throughout various countries and regions of the world.  Up until this point I have had a blast hiking with this French group of Hash House Harriers.  These weekly hikes have done wonders for my constant mental entanglement, as hiking has always done for me.  However I hear there is another group of Hashers in Bamako, apparently organized by our friends the Brits!  I hear this group only organizes hikes on a monthly basis, but that’s probably for the best since two hikes every week might start to squeeze my schedule a bit.  Next week they are organizing their hike though, so I look forward to a hot, sweaty, dirty weekend climbing around on rocks and through tall grass.  I may even try to drag Dad and Kari (my stepmom, visiting for ten days) out to get them working their legs a little as well.  Misery loves company, after all.

This week my father, stepmother, and I were also invited by one of my father’s top colleagues in Mali for a home-cooked lunch at his beautiful home.  And boy do I mean beautiful.  Gorgeous, gold, paisley-esque, regal couches and traditional African art made for the perfect background to the wonderful household and family we had the pleasure to meet.  Aside from the wonderful culinary art coming from the mother of the house, my father’s colleague, the father, melted my heart just sitting there with his three beautiful, crazy little daughters as they ran around assaulting each other and climbing all over him.  It was both hilarious and adorable.  Seeing a man be a father is a special kind of beautiful.  Back to that cooking though… when I say they invited us over for a meal, I’m afraid I may have made a bit of an understatement.  This was no meal.  It was a royal feast of which we were not nearly worthy.  There was fresh salad, roasted chicken, crepes stuffed with ground beef and veggies, fried plantains, homemade french fries, and of course beef in peanut sauce over rice.  Chunks of seedless watermelon and a homemade Senegalese millet pudding followed for dessert.  To drink we had water and two traditional Malian juices, one made from ginger and one from what looks like a cousin of the hibiscus plant.  Combined these two juices are pretty much the bees knees.  The whole meal had me stuffed to the max, dreading my impending hike, which I was committed to attending directly afterward.  Most of the lunch was dominated by talk of Malaria and family planning in Mali.  After all, the whole organization my father has come to Mali to run is starting to understand just how valuable of a resource he is, having worked in international health and finance for the past thirty years.  Though of course, in his usual manner, once the food came out my father so eloquently and simply exclaimed, “oh yeah, really, I’m just here [in Mali] for the peanut sauce.”  It is great to see my dad happy with his work.  Even though every day brings him close to a violent rage, the work he’s doing now is meaningful and inspirational to everyone he works with, and his honest love for Africa is undeniable.  He is ecstatic to be here and I am honored to be along for the ride.  Who knows, maybe through all of this a simple English major from Maryland might end up an international finance guru.  (I believe the expression is, ‘LOL?’)  No, I doubt I will follow in my father’s footsteps down the finance route, but I can’t deny that even the talks we have already had on the intricacies of his world have taught me a great deal about practical international development, which I have always had a theoretical passion for.  It’s a big world out there and there is too much to possibly do alone.

We also got a new lamp, and noodles for the pool.  It’s on now.

Okay, that’s enough for the time being I suppose.  I hope you enjoyed my ramblings!  We’ll see what I get into this week.  As for you, may your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame!

Onward and upward,

– Z

P.s. Here’s a nasty remix of a classic Weezy song, because it’s awesome and I heard it again in the shower today.  Yee-haw!!

P

Why? (9/29/14)

Why do I keep coming back to this place?

Why do I keep coming back to this page?

Race after race I’m a waste, a disgrace to the taste of the name of the winningest face…

I make haste!  I try.

But why?  Why?

Why do I keep coming back to this place?

Why go up?  Or come down?  Hear the sounds?  Or escape?

Why the clown?  Why the grape?  Why the shiniest vape?

It’s a trape! – A trap.

This seatbelt don’t work in the back.

If the news doesn’t tell me the new news then how will I know when I’m being attacked??

Why is there always a crash?

Why is there always a catch?

Why do we frown, look around and abound for another to open the hatch?

This isn’t a fixed match!

Well it is.  But it isn’t.

But it ain’t what it is to him, his, and his business.

Or her and her children. Or me and my person –

– Ality! I’m trying to see!

I’m trying to find out why this has happened to me!

And us.

In our ruts, while we rust in the back of the bus, we stand at the cusp!

So why is there so much danger in trust?

Why do I feel like I must?

‘Cause I can?  ‘Cause I could?  ‘Cause a man with a plan would or should?

Why does it have to be good?

Why can’t I just wear my hood?

Why should I say in the day that I pray and point to the spot where I stood?

Why can’t I stop it?  Why can’t I drop it?

I guess I just already popped it.  Wrecked and rocked it.

Is this bubble still burst in my brain?

Are my blood vessels thirsty in vain?

Why in an hour can’t I help but scour the Earth for the worst of the pain?

Why do I stand in the street when it rains?

Why do I stare down the tracks of old trains?

Why do I drink?

Why can’t I think?

Why?

Because I’m so scared of the dark, I can’t even blink.