Archive for the ‘daily life’ Category

There’s an odd trend going around that, thinking about it now, may just be “the way it’s always been.” Nevertheless, I recently noticed something about all the articles I gulp down on my smartphone every morning. Basically everything I see written along the lines of, “how to deal with/live with/love someone who is X or has Y,” can apply to anyone relating to anybody if you zoom out just a little. And it’s sad, in my opinion, because of how much more naturally we open ourselves to new perspectives and knowledge when we can not only empathize, but sympathize, when we can identify personally with the subjects of our meditations.

There are so many diagnoses and analyses written to help people understand particular types of people, like girlfriends, boyfriends, or those with mood or behavioral disorders, yet few turn the microscope back on themselves and incorporate any useful reflection into their theories. Few acknowledge those same behaviors in themselves and unpack the layered complexity of how different people express lifetimes of knowledge and emotion everyday.

The most common of all these I’ve seen are the articles about learning to understand men or women. Apart from points related to learning real physical anatomy, like what a menstrual cycle entails or how to understand the black hole that opens up in your chest when you get kicked in the nuts, everything I’ve seen about men or women’s behavioral “issues” can apply to people of all types, in general. The difference comes with how we’ve been conditioned based on what basket we’ve been placed in our whole lives.

“Women are emotional.” People are emotional. Any advertiser will tell you we rarely act on logic and couldn’t tell you what our subconscious mind wants even if we really wanted to know ourselves. Men just hide it better because masculinity teaches us to. Better, that is, until it boils up as aggression and violence. We’ve separated ourselves so far from the role of nurturers that we’ve forgotten how to nurture ourselves.

“Men are pigs.” People are pigs. We’ve all hurt and been hurt. Now, that’s not to say most people have it out for you, but most are definitely out for themselves first. It’s only natural. In case of emergency: fasten your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. We’re all one chromosome away from shit-throwing monkeys and two away from the mushrooms in your salad anyway. When asked his thoughts on Western Civilization, Gandhi once said, “sounds like a good idea.” Funny. He also beat his wife at least once according to his autobiography. But there are plenty of dastardly dames out there as well. And whether their barbarism is physical or otherwise, it exists and they exist. So that’s where we’ve got to start.

We definitely need to understand the needs of groups of people unlike ourselves better in order to progress as a species. But even more so, in my opinion, we need to try and better understand our own needs better, and where they inevitably align with the rest of the world’s. After all, as far as the aliens flying over our beautiful planet see it, we’re all part of the same pile of mold.

It’s an old cliché that what you hate in the world is what you hate in yourself, but I see a lot of truth in that. What you focus on and see in the world out there is always tinted by your inner thoughts, so naturally, the irritations that stick out are the ones you were already thinking in terms of, and locked in on.

So understanding how to open your eyes to yourself in the world you see around you is key to learning how to deal, live with, or love anyone at all. Call it selfish to call for sympathy over empathy, but as an old favorite theater ad of mine once said, “even community service is the most selfish thing you can do. Who wouldn’t want to live in a better world?”

So that’s it, really. Next time you read an article on dealing with someone with this brain or that lifestyle, find yourself in each of those points. Look for yourself and have a little dance together. Then go find yourself somewhere out there in the world today. Where was it? Who was it? What did they do? Do that and you’re already making ripples of connection in the pool. You can’t stop from splashing, but you can choose how you hit the water.

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.

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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wall

Well, that’s it. I’m back in the blog game. What exactly that means, I’m not yet sure. I started this blog after I moved to Mali to teach. I kept it going for a while but it fizzled out once I became overwhelmed by imaginary deadlines and content anxieties. Now I’m back in the US and diving deeper into freelance writing and editing, so I’ve decided to bring blogging back into my tool chest.

So how do I do this? I guess I’ll just write. Rants, reviews, musings, poems and stories, at least when I’ve got something noteworthy to say. But how long? A paragraph or a page? A note or a novel? So many questions! It needs to be perfect, right?! Hemingway said writing is easy, that you just, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well… I suppose that’s as good a place as any to start.

I’ve resolved to make 2017 a creative year. I plan on writing as much as possible for actual employment. Plus, I will finally just self-publish my first collection of poetry, and dig way deeper into a novel I’ve been working on. I’ll probably put parts of all that up here. I’ve also got some creative exercises I’ll try out with you all, starting with one of my favorite books on fiction exercises, “3a.m. Epiphany.”

What else…

Maybe I should tell you about my day. I went to a Virtual Reality (VR) party at my buddy’s apartment today. He and some other friends are working on a VR cafe-type idea, and so are testing out the top-of-the-line Oculus and Vive systems they bought. I’m not really sure what to even write about VR at this point, but I will say that I won’t be surprised at all if all that technology runs everything else over in the next 5 years or so. It truly blew my mind. I really can’t wait to see where that goes.

Meanwhile, in reality, let’s see what’s still standing after the Inauguration on Friday.

So there’s my two cents for now. I’ll be back soon though. Til next time, folks.

Onward and upward.

Z

​Mali is in the midst of a social media blackout. In sending this out we’ll see how far that goes. 

Starting Wednesday night, the Malian government cut access within Mali to at least Facebook and Twitter after the arrest of a Malian radio show host sparked protests that turned violent. And access remains cut off today.

This radio host, who has been vocally critical of the current Malian government, used social media himself to rally his supporters against his arrest. As a result, Mali has cut off access to Facebook and Twitter at the very least. It’s not clear which, if other sites have been blocked at the moment. 

The two major internet providers in Mali, Orange and Malitel, have not made any announcements regarding the cut. This is not much of a surprise, however, as both companies have been prone to service problems and customer negligence for as long as they have been around. 
As social media blackouts have become commonplace in countries experiencing discord, it only highlights the importance of spreading information, and the internet as the ultimate tool for doing so. 

From African elections to the Arab Spring, governments are putting internet access higher and higher on the list of important resources to play with in order to manipulate the population. The same can even be seen in the American debate over “net neutrality.”

Thankfully at this point in the evolution of the internet, communication and information access have not yet been synchronized or streamlined enough to kill everything by switching off one app or website. Though it’s usually seen as a problem that we need several passwords to access our several online accounts, I for one am happy for the scattered nature of the internet. 

I fear the day all of our venues for information sharing come from the same website and everything can be controlled from one app. Everything is clearly moving in that direction, as internet streamlining is always in high demand. But until that day comes, I will enjoy this Wild Wild West-style internet because the truth still has a chance to slip through the cracks, for now.

So this is a test. This blog gets forwarded to a Twitter account and from there on to Facebook. Let’s see how far this gets. 
Onward and upward, people.

Z
Mali is the latest African country to impose a social media blackout

Bon soir internet!

So it’s been six (almost seven!) months since I packed up and moved across the world into the heart of darkness and so far it’s literally been sunny every day. During the rainy season it can be gray for a while and sometimes the dust paints everything beige but the sun always comes out eventually. Why do I feel like there’s a message in there somewhere?

Mali has been surreal. I still can’t believe I’m here, or that I’m starting to understand French, or that I’m finding my own work, or that my niece is a year! (WTF?!?!) The river of life really has some massive bends. Learning a new language is coming along great, or well enough at least for me to understand the basics of most of the everyday French conversations I find myself around. I’ve even started picking up some Bambara! Doni doni. All it takes is a little focus really. I used to be apprehensive about learning new languages but now I think it has finally turned from frightening to fun. It has definitely been challenging but I am doing my best to embrace the privilege of learning. Teaching is one Hell of a learning experience, go figure. English is in high demand in this francophone country, and a native speaker definitely helps meet that. In fact the demand is so high I’ve now had to turn down clients in order to have adequate time to prepare for the students I already have. And aside from working with government and non-governmental organizations galore, teaching preschoolers has been (and remains) especially humbling. Between teaching preschoolers, government employees, and locals to other teachers and their children, I am getting quite the crash course in teaching students of all ages, levels and backgrounds. It makes me wonder what else I can do that I may have never considered before.

Come to think of it, this whole adventure has been one Hell of a learning experience. Every day I drive down the road and wonder what else someone will somehow be carrying on a scooter, or “moto” as they’re called in Bamako. Goat, dresser, art, family, you name it. I’m surprised I haven’t seen someone carrying another moto on one of those things yet (although I have seen someone on the back of one dragging a bicycle behind them, and a moto on top of a car). Malians are impressive. They really work their asses off. Everyone I’ve met and seen seems to be doing everything they can to make as much money as possible. Considering how hot it gets here alone I’m inspired! Their efforts can be misguided sometimes, like the children selling water and really any portable thing you can think of on the street corners and roadsides from infancy instead of going to school. But the people here really look like they do their best to get ahead, even if it takes years of backbreaking work. Bamako is filled with strong people. I’m glad to be able to help in what few ways I can. Petit a petit I suppose. There are a tragic number of people simply begging as well, though those seem to mostly be men and boys. Malian women are especially impressive. I have yet to see a Malian woman just relaxing. Men on the other hand, like most men I know (myself included) seem to take every chance they get.

I’m learning a lot about Africa in general talking to all my local and professional students. African people and the African spirit amaze me more and more every day. Check out these few examples real fast and tell me you’re not impressed.

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Isn’t that all awesome? I’m learning so much from all the people here. Not to mention that I live with an investment banker with a bleeding heart. Six months with my father has been eye-opening to say the least. I’m extremely grateful to have been given the privilege of a lot of his insight on poverty, corruption, bureaucracies, development, organizational finance and management, etc. So much so that I’ve even considered taking a couple years in the future to go for an MBA. It doesn’t look as dry/confusing/useless as it has in the past. I might be able to see myself buckling down and learning the inner workings of the capitalist process, if only to learn exactly what we’re all up against. That is of course If I could somehow manage to get my hands on one of these mysterious “scholarships” everyone keeps talking about. From my experience though they seem only to exist in fairy tales…

Speaking of fairy tales – the war in the North has turned a corner now that suspected militants have attacked civilians in Bamako, the capital. Last week a popular bar was the stage for an attack of some sort using machine guns and grenades, which I believe marks the first attack of that kind within the Bamako city limits in years. Word on the street is they were looking for caucasians and though two were caught, the organization that claimed responsibility is currently still out there so Dad and I are… honestly not changing our behavior very much. We stay in a lot anyway but I guess now we will buy a few more munchies at the supermarket. Like pops said, he doesn’t get danger pay for nothing. The world is a real place and rocks hurt so you’ve got to be ready for it no matter where you live.

Six months in and I must say I am actually fairly impressed with myself. Every day I work on something personal besides my job, and after six months I’m starting to build up some nice new habits to be slave to. Though that’s not to say I’m not also impressed by my ability to make enough money to actually contribute to gas and groceries. No such thing as a free lunch. I’ve begun meditating and exercising semi-regularly and I can already feel the difference. Little by little much gets done. As much as I love to sit around and do nothing I’ve already made a bit of a name for myself in the city as a solid English teacher and tutor, even building up referrals from clients for more work. Plus I’ve learned a fair amount of one new language and have begun to understand the basics of another. I’ve learned and am learning firsthand about our global system of international development from someone who has basically the same thoughts I do on the matter, only way more developed. Not to mention I’ve reached a new level in my grasp of international politics and news, including keeping up with the political and legislative landscape within the States, which really makes me feel like a grown up haha.

It’s especially exciting to look back home and see the cascade of drug law reform legislation that I sacrificed many good grades in college trying to build a culture for starting to pick up speed. A tear comes to my eye just thinking that as I write this cannabis has been legalized in Washington D.C., the place where five or six years ago people were laughing at me for suggesting it could actually change within our lifetimes. “You’re wasting your time,” “get a real cause,” “worry about something you can change,” I heard (when it wasn’t just laughter) for four long years while peoples’ lives were thrown away into prisons and caskets for feeding an addiction or starting the wrong kind of entrepreneurial enterprise or just struggling to eat something after chemotherapy. It’s just so satisfying to hear silence where there once was doubt.

So much amazing work is being done all around the world that I am inspired to get to work on my own contributions as fast and as hard as possible. By my birthday I want to have all my poetry (which looks like about 60 pieces) in one place so I can finally arrange it all and maybe even have enough good ones for a collection. After that I’ll be able to get back to the novel I’m working on and a possible collection of short stories. One day my musical equipment will arrive and I will jump back into the music game. Until then I’m also teaching myself how to… well… teach!

Speaking of my birthday, it looks like my birthday this year is on Easter, which is cool I guess. More importantly it’s on a Sunday! That means no work on my birthday which is all I really want. I’ll still spend the day working, just not at my job. It will be into the hot season by April so I’m really just gonna try to survive. It won’t be the hottest yet but I imagine it’ll be like “the wall” at Philmont. The wall is a few miles of gnarly switchbacks up the side of a mountain. “How do we know when we’ve reached the wall?” “Once you feel like you can’t go any further, then you’ve reached the wall.” It’s okay though. I’ve forgotten the pain. The view at the top however, I’ll never forget.

Onward and upward,
Z

I ni sogoma,

As with most circumstances in life, I stumbled my way into a great trip this weekend to le Festival sur le Niger (the Festival on the Niger). And as with most circumstances in my life, this was of way higher quality than what I deserve. In case you aren’t familiar, the Niger river is the major river that flows through Mali, blessing the region with everything a massive river has to offer like hydroelectricity, a transportation highway, and all that delicious fish!

I got to tag along with my father up to Segou this weekend for the 11th annual Festival sur le Niger. The NGO he works with, Population Services International (PSI) is one of the sponsors for this festival so they had a whole team up there running a stand and offering services to festival-goers.

I’ve worked stands at festivals and events before and these guys step it up a notch. PSI is chiefly involved in malaria prevention in Mali, but they also do a great deal of work in reproductive health and maternal and infant mortality. At le Festival that means they’ve not only got the whole spread out on display with mosquito nets, Protector condoms, oral rehydration tablets, infant zinc regimens, and IUDs but they’ve also got teams throughout the festival grounds offering private consultations about any reproductive issue or product and even on-site HIV testing! Dad and I got ours done of course. Have you?

“Zach! Hurry up! You’re going to be late for your HIV test!” – Dad

A few other organizations do some of the same things like handing out condoms and performing skits about health issues. However I don’t think anyone else was offering on-site HIV-testing (with only a 15 minute wait for your results!) and IUD insertions. Boo-yah. To be fair Marie Stopes International (MSI) – another organization my father has spent some time with – did have a post-abortion care centre set up which is definitely solid. Unfortunately abortions are only legal in Mali if absolutely necessary to save the life of the mother (Oh, you mean it will just ruin your life, not end it? Yeah, no.) All the health information was really uplifting to see to be honest. I didn’t see any “safe partying” stands like the festivals I’ve worked and organized, but at least the community’s serious issues are being addressed. I wish more festivals in the United States were as open about promoting healthy lifestyles and options, especially those that don’t directly relate to partying. Burning Man is the only American festival I’ve experienced that even mentioned anything about safe sex and sexual rights, for example. Obviously Mali has a much more dire health situation overall than the United States but misinformation is still just as dangerous. And this illusion that the USA is immune from major epidemics and health issues is still a recent veil of luxury even though many take low disease rates within the States for granted. It’s important to remember that safety in general is an illusion; we’re all just one pandemic away from being thrown back into the dark ages.

Aside from the wealth of health information flying around in Segou, the air this weekend was filled with the best of sounds: music! Much like the others I’ve experienced, the music plays around the clock in Segou. Booming, dynamic drum beats from djembe circles to electronic programs move the crowds like the waves on the shoreline, boosted by vibrant, melodic French and Bambara vocals in the classic African style we all know and love (Lion King, anyone?) and . Bringing it all together, kora and guitar solos tear through the crowds and tie everyone’s ears in knots. All the music has a strong West African feel. This is 21st century African though. Mixed in are some solid electronic beats and keyboards, plus electric strings and amped-up drums. Though I think I heard a sax in there somewhere which is always appreciated. R&B, rap, Jazz and classic blues seem to be the styles of choice. As always, the later the night, the heavier the music. Hoo-rah. The highlight for me may have been when one band brought a whole crowd of rap artists up on stage who proceeded to bounce lines off of each other to the band’s various tunes. I’m quickly becoming a fan of Bambara rap. Bamba-Rap as I’m calling it.

Not to mention I know one of the evening’s two hosts! The same woman, Fifi, organized and hosted the karaoke competition I was featured on in the Fall. Small world haha.

The Festival sur le Niger is set up much like Baltimore’s Starscape festival which has now evolved into Moonrise (Starscape as it was just got too wild to handle I guess. Having been, I completely understand.). The stages are spread out across a beach-esque shoreline. Unlike Starscape that lasts just one night however, le Festival sur le Niger lasts about a week, ending on a Sunday. Perfect for a weekend trip. Plus in Segou the festival spills right onto the town streets outside the venue complete with more unofficial stages and vendor stands. That and the main stage here is actually on the water on a floating stage. The pit (the standing-room only area directly in front of the stage) actually leads right into the shallow banks of the grand Niger river, the cause for quite a refreshing front row experience. Note to first-timers: don’t bring your phone into the pit.

There is a noticeable security presence at the annual festival in Segou, moreso considering the escalation in northern violence since the new year, but it’s not too overwhelming. During the daylight hours the grounds are open to anyone interested in catching some tunes on a side stage or trying out some local cuisine (it’s all about the peanut sauce of course). It’s only in the evening that the exits become checkpoints.

The vendors/merchants are out in full force at the festival. Conflict in the north combined with a new government and now the ebola outbreak has put a dent in the number of European and otherwise international crowds. The same could be said with any Malian industry though. The war in the north alone has beaten down on Mali’s tourist industry pretty hard. So naturally, Europeans and obvious foreigners like myself are really hounded. You’d better put your bargaining face on or you’ll be broke by the time you walk through security. As a relatively young, caucasian, tattooed male I am quite the spectacle to the locals so of course a few people requested pictures with me and a few others professed their love. All in all just another day in the life. 😉 No, I’m definitely still not used to being the exotic one.

I’m glad I’ve been practicing my French (and Bambara!). I’m starting to be able to have basic (though admittedly rough) conversations with people on my own. Next year I’ll be more ready. The music at the Festival sur le Niger is a mix of French and Bambara with the occasional sprinkle of English. The most English I saw was on a “party tips” billboard aimed at international visitors. I appreciated that. It listed several important aspects and customs relating to Malian and Islamic culture. Apparently for example dresses traditionally mean you are married, greetings are quite important, and shorts are generally reserved for children… but no way was I wearing pants out there. Call me a child. Hey though, at least it’s the cold season.

All in all being with one of the sponsors got me the royal treatment this weekend in Segou. Seats in the good chairs and free entry are great, but we also got set up in one of the nicer hotels just a couple blocks from the venue. And not only is there electricity all night long if you want but wi-fi too! Africa is already so much different from when I first actually remember visiting in 2002, not to mention what my parents describe from the 80s! The whole set-up in Segou is quite impressive actually. Maybe next year I’ll see you there! The rooms are nice with working toilets and air conditioning and great local foods plentifully line the streets. Breakfast was even included with out hotel stay. Well, except for the omelet.

Onward and upward,
Z

Electronic pioneers of the information age, congratulations! If you’re reading this you’ve made it to 2015!!! Well, almost. Don’t go doing anything stupid between now and then. That would throw off my whole mojo.

It’s been two years since we thought the world was going to end/the day Gengham Style reached 1 BILLION hits on youtube (fulfilling Nostradamus’ prediction that Dec. 21st 2012 would be marked by the “dancing horse followed by nine zeros” (nine 0’s in a billion – wuuuttt)) So in the words of the great Stephen Colbert, whose own era has now passed, “Suck it, Mayans!”

Of course we know that the “end of the world” in Mayan terms in this case didn’t mean the destruction of the world per se, but the end of an age. This end of an age does happen to correspond with the Zodiac calendar’s end of the age of Pisces which most know as the age of Jesus (two fish and all), and the start of the age of Aquarius, the water-bearer. So in some more immortal words, this time of Nietzsche, “God is dead.” So let’s party!

2014 will go down as one of the most memorable years of my life by far at this point. Not only was it slam packed full of good times I’ll never remember with great people I’ll never forget, I made the biggest move of my life this year: to fucking AFRICA!!! One of my wildest dreams has come true! I left West Africa when I was two years old and now I’m back at 24. I’m writing this from my house in Bamako, Mali, right next door to Burkina Faso, where my parents were married. This move has been and will continue to be the most surreal experience. I made it back to the true Motherland this year, and they’ve got internet!! Who can imagine what 2015 will bring?!

This year I finally got a big jump start on working in directions I actually believe in, and on projects I chose for myself. I started learning a new language! I’m still just beginning but this time next year I’ll be speaking French like a true William Wallace. Look out ladies. 😉 I got myself certifed to teach English as a second language and now for the first time I wholeheartedly agree with where my own income is, well… coming in… from. I loved bartending for the occasional times I really got to help those who sat down at my bar at 9 o’clock on a Saturday, but selling wings by the ton for a corporate giant wasn’t exactly the best way to help people with their problems. Now I help people advance their communication skills in the international realm by teaching them one of the most valuable language systems on the planet, and have already seen great results. It turns out to actually help that I hated school when I was younger, because I am pretty sure my tolerance for classroom boredom might even be lower than that of my students (this of course means songs, poetry, and games often come up in my lessons). Plus, I have begun nerding out so hard on English quirks it’s ridiculous. It’s bad.

Like I said I’ve also put some miles in on my own personal projects, which I always recommend to everyone of course. I have finally begun deciding and organizing which of my pieces will go in a book of poetry I’ve been thinking about for the past five years or so. I’ve also begun putting some real hours in toward a novel I’ve had a vision of for a few years. I’ve finished a few books I began reading years ago and this year I will continue finishing more, since not finishing books is one of my worst habits. My music production skills have been a focus of improvement this year as well, though electronic music production still makes me feel like I’m staring at an ocean looking for an island past the horizon. But 2015 will definitely be more about developing that skill (it will help once my hardware finally arrives from the States). Even simply starting these adventures of self – and – worldly discovery has already opened my eyes and imagination to the limitless possibilities around us. We are all bubbling with ideas and passions that often get swept under the rug by the trials and tribulations of everyday life. But with those passions I say ‘Carpe Diem,’ but in the original sense, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed so put your time in now to get one step ahead, not just to do whatever you want. You can’t kill time without injuring eternity. So get started and get moving.

But this is what’s great about the new year! Whatever happened this year, good or bad, it’s over! It’s done, it’s gone, and its never coming back. Time to wind everything back up again and keep on swimming. Where will you go?

This year I’ve got a few “resolutions” circling in my head so I might as well put them down here. In 2015 I want to write something everyday. And read everyday too … So I suppose I’ll do that. Of course I want to exercise everyday (the usual) so daily push-ups and sit-ups are on the agenda. Baby steps. I also want to be more present (which doesn’t really go with reading… but whatever) so I am thinking of meditating weekly and staying further from the Internet as well. We’ll see how all this plays out, but whatever happens with my or your resolutions, remember it’s okay. New year’s resolutions are here to help us reflect on our lives, focus our minds, and motivate our actions, but that’s it. Treat them like sand, dont squeeze them too hard or more grains will fall out of your palm. Just be gentle with them. Some will still fall between your fingers but not everything. Forget all the people with their opinions about your goals. You’re not a bad person if you don’t fulfill your resolutions. To the contrary, you’re a great person for having any at all! Improvement and success aren’t about relating yourself to others, but relating yourself to yourself. Improving yourself to better help and work within the world is all anyone can ever really aspire to. The rest is circumstantial and irrelevant because however you compare yourself to others, you will only ever be comparing your behind – the – scenes to their highlight reel, and that doesn’t help anyone.

So here’s to you internet, the dreamers, the planners, the organizers, the workers – for yourselves, not for any others. 2014 was wild, but I bet 2015 will be insane. May your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame.

Onward and upward,
Z

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