Archive for the ‘DC’ 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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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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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.

http://www.myafricanow.com/a-house-made-of-plastic-bottles-nigeria/

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

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

Hey there!  Welcome all yee weary travellers to my blog!  Come!  Sit!  Enjoy a pint of me fine ale and let us shoot the shit for a while.  I’ll admit up front this is my first run at the world of blogging, but I suppose it’s all the rage these days so, you know, carpe diem and such.

So here’s my deal.  My name’s Zach.  In a nutshell, I am an absurd word nerd with a bachelors in English and obsessions with music and mayhem.  I grew up in Maryland (Murdaland), just outside of Washington DC.  I wasn’t born in Maryland, but I’ve spent the last two decades there and I am ready to leave.  Thankfully for my lucky ass though, I actually have a way out!  Although some might call me crazy…  See, come September 1st I will once again place my tray tables in an upright position behind the seat in front of me, and hop across the pond to Bamako, Mali where I have the pleasure of laying my head to rest for the foreseeable future.  West Africa.  With all its lions and ebola and wars, oh my!

Why Africa, you ask?  Well… why not?!  It is the true motherland after all.  Anyone who has grown up studying Euro-centric maps may not see the point in stepping even one foot into the “heart of darkness,” but in reality Africa is everyone’s first home.  Imagine raw natural beauty as far as the eye can see.  Imagine giants roaming, without any hint of a cage.  Africa is the Wild – with a capital ‘W.’  To most television enthusiasts it’s the dark spot on the map that reads, “here there be monsters.” But in reality its landscapes, it’s people, and it’s cultures are nothing less than unimaginably beautiful.  Raw beauty at its finest, Africa is Nature.

The African continent itself is way more expansive than any Euro-centric maps make it out to seem.  Most do not realize, but Russia, China, and the USA could all fit within Africa side – by – side.  Nor do most doctors realize that Hippocrates studied medicine and learned of disease while studying in Egypt, or Kemet, as it was called.  Greece begot modern medicine, but Africa begot Greek medicine.  You see, there are no such thing as “third-world” countries.  Contrary to popular belief, the African continent is not covered in barbarians and beasts.  The concept itself is laughable, to assume any one country, and its people exist in some other, inherently lesser world than we, the mighty industrialized few.  As if the ability to produce carbon monoxide and nuclear weapons at a revolutionary rate marks the pinnacle of civility.

No, there are no first-world or third-world countries.  Some draw the line at industrialized and unindustrialized countries, but I see it differently.  In today’s world of guns, germs, and steel, the answer is clear.  There are countries that are oppressed, and there are countries that oppress.  I truly urge anyone reading to honestly consider of which you are a part.

Of course those with imperialistic histories, who, fueled by the blood of the poor have colonized the world are sure to give “aid” to these “struggling” countries, but it’s actually more along the lines of a bully helping the small kid off the bus so he can take his lunch money later.  That’s not to say there are no good people working in the dark corners of the world, but the French, the Dutch, the Americans – we, the oppressors – are all deeply invested in these African countries because LOOK AT ALL THOSE DIAMONDS!!!!  No, seriously though; oil, diamonds, gold… major imperialstic nations have long colonized and utilized African land and resources to export back home, bleeding the richest continent on the planet dry.  These days, the coltan, or tantalite in our smartphones are the blood diamonds of the 21st century.  Rebels and coups are financed to ensure steady extraction to the western world.  So why go to Africa?  Because it is the world’s biggest playground; the real Wild West.  And it needs all the help it can get.

I fell in love with the dark continent through my parents.  My parents met, married, and lived in Africa for almost 20 years.  My father met my mother in the Peace Corps while my mother was visiting her sister doing the same.  Africa is my family.  My brother’s first language was French, though he remembers little now.  My sister was born in South Africa.  The motherland has left its undeniable and inescapable mark on my family.  Now, my father has once again descended back, this time to Bamako, Mali to help fight Malaria, and I’m just crazy enough to go with him.  Me, with my love of poetry, obscenety, and heavy metal.  As Kevin Hart says, I can’t tell you what’s about to happen.  All I can say is, it’s about – to go – down.

So that’s all for now folks.  See you on the front lines.

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Onward and upward.
– Z

 

P.s.  Here are some videos from one of my old bands, Be All My Sins Remembered (aka Failure in the Flesh).