Archive for the ‘health’ 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.

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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

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.

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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

Graceful

Posted: August 4, 2015 in health, OC, Poetry
Tags: ,

Graceful

By Z.B.

July 2015

 

Thither in the night

It withered in blight

‘Til the slithering morning light

Hither, graceful, returned its might.

Good morning internet,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been focusing on some other aspects of my life, which has been quite liberating. I have now finished my first edition of Wasted Land (my first collection of poetry) & my first semester teaching preschool! In addition, I just finished reading a fantastic book on addiction by Dr. Gabor Maté, M.D. This latest achievement is what brings me back to you wonderful people.

Dr. Maté is a well – respected physician who has authored numerous books regarding heath issues – mental health especially, such as ADD/ADHD, stress, & parent – child relationships. I recently finished his latest book (I believe), which focuses on addiction and I am impressed to say the least.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction is nothing less than a brilliant analysis of addiction and its roots in the brain. Not only is the book well – supported by credible sources and Dr. Maté’s own experience working closely with severe drug addicts at a Downtown Eastside Vancouver clinic, but it is quite accessible thanks to Maté’s skill as a writer. He clearly and poignantly paints a comprehensive picture of addiction in all its forms, diving into scientific research surrounding everything we know about mental health, and stories of everyone from homeless, heroin – addicted sex workers to workaholics to his own addiction to buying music.

Of course, the word nerd that I am, I fell in love with this book the moment I saw the imagery in the title (I’m really just a sucker for a good story). The “realm of hungry ghosts” to which Dr. Maté refers in the title is one of the six realms through which the Buddhist mandala, or wheel of life, revolves. Each realm represents a separate aspect of life through which every person must progress in their efforts to attain enlightenment. In this realm, people are described as wandering, ghoulish creatures with emaciated bellies, constantly searching for anything to fill their insatiable appetites. What better way to paint the picture of the addict?

At first it may seem a bit presumptuous to address all these different forms of attachment to particular activities as if they are equal, but his own accounts of events like forgetting his adolescent son at a store and keeping him waiting on a street corner for hours while the Dr. browsed through records at a nearby store for hundreds of dollars worth of music quicky makes the reader think twice about dismissing addictions outside of substance abuse.
Dr. Maté’s analysis addresses the chemical & neurological roots of addiction as well as its environmental influences, pinning down early childhood development at the center of it all. The analysis however doesn’t end there. He then goes on to provide a comprehensive critique of the current failed U.S. War on Drugs policy and suggestions on a new direction for the future. I am thoroughly impressed.

I spent all four years at the University of Maryland analyzing addiction, drugs, and the drug war, and I can confidently say that In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is by far the best, most comprehensive, and useful work I’ve ever seen on the matter. I can only hope he keeps giving us all insights into the complex and universal problem of addiction.

Kudos, Dr. Maté. Well done indeed.

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

The day the laughter cried

Posted: February 12, 2015 in health, OC, Poetry
Tags: , , ,

The day the laughter cried
12 Feb 2015

We all got up to dance and sing
The day the music died
But not a lone bone fun was found
The day the laughter cried.

We knew the laughter held back tears
A dam; impressive show
But when it stopped the dam walls dropped
And none could stop the flow.

Not one joke made even a poke
Nor riddles rolled off the tongue
For all the clowns turned smiles to frowns
And all the jesters’ heads were hung.

The day the laughter fin’lly cried
The whole world cried as well;
The guiding light that fought the night
So long, to darkness fin’lly fell.

But in the somber silence,
across the world an echo sings.
Laughs still ring on whimpering wind,
In the wake of robin’s wings.

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

Hello, hello, my internet fellows!

Apologies for the short delay. This has been an eventful week for me to say the least, which I will.

There are larger issues at play this week than my shenanigans. As most of you may already know, Mali had a big spot in the news this week. As of this week Mali is officially the newest country to have reported a case of Ebola. A two year old girl was diagnosed with the disease after entering the country through Guinea with some family who have since been quarantined. She has since passed. Unfortunately at least one of the girl’s parents had already died from the virus when she left Guinea, which shares it’s largest border with Mali. The girl was noted to have had a nosebleed for the duration of their bus ride, which stopped in multiple cities along its route. No other travelers have been found with symptoms so far, but the government is still trying to track down everyone who she may have come into contact with along her trip to be sure. The Guinean-Malian border is fairly open, which is a large concern for Malians, but thankfully Ebola isn’t the most contagious of diseases.

According to the World Health Organization Fact Sheet on Ebola, the Ebola Virus Disease is only contagious when people are showing symptoms of sickness. Symptoms begin 2 to 21 days after contracting the virus. Transmission happens through direct contact with the fluids of someone exhibiting symptoms. According to the WHO, “first symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools). Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.” In early stages transmission through fluids could mean the sweat of someone fevering, however generally it is not easily transmissible unless fluids come into contact with “broken skin or mucous membranes,” like armpits or tear ducts, though hang nails and small cuts on the hands are something to watch out for and maintain. So shaking an infected person’s sweaty hand does not automatically condemn you; it is still a good idea, and definitely worth it to wash your hands if you think you might have.

The major issue with how this outbreak has been handled is brought to light in Mali’s particular situation. Most people who have been paying attention to the outbreak know not to touch people who are showing severe symptoms like bleeding from the eyes or vomiting in the street, but one question of real importance seems to be consistently overlooked; what counts as the beginning? Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that even the first signs of sweat from someone feeling feverish, or the saliva from a cough could contain traces of Ebola. This is why the virus is confused with one that could be transmissible through the air. The Ebola virus cannot be transmitted through the air, but it can be transmitted through droplets of mucus or saliva traveling through the air, making a bus ride with an infected person potentially dangerous if they are coughing or sneezing into the open. This method of transmission has only been found between pigs and monkeys so far, and in experimental conditions however, so needless to say it is not the easiest route for the disease to take. So the verdict stands; carriers are infections from the moment they begin excreting fluids as a result of the virus. This issue poses an unfortunate and controversial problem for people when you throw another element into the mix: children.

We want to comfort and take care of our children when they are sick, but in cases where Ebola may be the reality of the situation, such care may have to be given from a distance. No one wants to think about, let alone discuss the possibility of separating oneself from their sick child. Most parents are commendably committed to staying as close as possible to make themselves available for whatever reason their child may need them, but with Ebola, children create a special highway on which to travel. This, the first and only reported case in Mali so far, as well as Patient Zero in Guinea were children. However in Senegal, one and only one case was reported because their Patient Zero was a 21 year old man whom did not spend his time in the constant care of others. Unfortunately this is such a barbaric virus that it turns our compassion into our fatal undoing.

Mali, as well as the rest of the world, might need to start clarifying a bit more about how Ebola can be transmitted outside of the health centers. Unfortunately Mali also has to deal with the issue of ensuring procedure is correctly followed within those centers, but thankfully Mali’s health services in major cities are generally pretty competent. Once confirming this case was in fact Ebola there was swift action taken to track down and disinfect the bus, as well as find any who may have made contact with the child. It is the culture of the populous that concerns me most at the moment. Health officials have suspected the virus existed in Mali for some time, but the overwhelming desire to hide infection and simply ride it out at home poses some of the greatest risks for transmission. Cases can’t be reported when people don’t come forward. That being said, Mali needs to get it’s story straight and try to send out a more consistent set of information to its citizens. They’ve been giving it a good effort; I’ve seen the PSA’s on TV. The dissemination of information here needs to be wider-reaching and more comprehensive though, especially if they really want to cut this virus off in its path and hope to contain it along the towns and villages bordering Guinea.

In addition, not much information has been circulating concerning post-recovery procedures for those who are lucky enough to survive infection. Once again, as the WHO has so eloquently put it, “People remain infectious as long as their blood and body fluids, including semen and breast milk, contain the virus. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.” Bummer, man.

At the end of the day, what can the average person do? The answer is obvious and not isolated to this Ebola outbreak. Wash your hands whenever you get a chance. Cover your mouth when you sneeze and don’t touch other peoples’ dirty clothes, especially if they’ve been BLEEDING FROM THEIR EYES. No, but seriously. If you do find yourself in a vulnerable position in relation to this outbreak, practicing basic, common-sense hygiene may be your best defence against contracting the virus. If not, wash your hands anyway. Remember, even soap is a privilege many do not enjoy.

I hope this clarified some things. Until next time, be safe people. 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