Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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.

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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

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

Can you imagine what the world would look like without war? We all say we want peace but none of us have ever really even experienced it; so how do we know what we’re talking about? There has never been a time in history of true peace, at least since humans showed up. In the animal kingdom there is death but only in circumstances where survival is at stake. It’s natural that at some point a “me or you” situation may arise, but only out of necessity like hunger or immediate bodily harm. The only instances even resembling temporary peace we people have ever experienced have been peace through superior firepower, which is no different than beating a child into submission and declaring them well-behaved. At some point it becomes necessary to take a leap of faith and just imagine it – or try at least.

John Lennon put his own version of peace into words and was killed for it, just like Martin Luther King Jr. Take a second and let that sink in. It’s common knowledge that advocators of real peace are often killed for doing so, but consider just how paradoxical that is, and just how powerful of an effect that knowledge has on our minds. Of course people think war is inevitable, we’ve been at war our whole lives. We don’t know anything else. But just because we’ve never seen another world, that doesn’t mean it can’t exist. And it’s important to understand that the first step toward addressing any issue is to become aware of the words that we use to do so. To say a world without war can’t exist admits defeat before the possibility of debate even starts. In sales school I became hyperaware of “self-talk.” “Self-talk” is what happens when you are alone with yourself. That voice in your head? It’s your mind expressing itself in symbols you can understand. But those symbols aren’t random, and nor are they originate externally. Except in cases of severe mental illness, you choose the words you speak to yourself. So in English, when it comes to speaking to yourself about ability, there are five levels: “I can’t,” “I can,” “I will,” “I am,” and “it is.” I can’t do it. I can do it. I will do it. I am doing it. It is happening. The same applies for every type of speech about any subject. Addressing issues is first and foremost dependent on the words we are using to do so. In the timeless words of Mark Twain, the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

War is orchestrated and executed. Pun intended. George Carlin, the late great comedian known for his vulgarity and ruthlessness had a dream too. His was simple but profound and like much of his material, focused on the words we use; he wanted to switch the acceptability levels of the words “fuck” and “kill.” One represents the most intimate and natural of acts but is widely shunned, while the other represents the essence of destruction and is plastered all over the evening news. Coincidence? I think not. As John Lennon believed, to strip away our socially constructed barriers and “stop inviting walls into wide open spaces” would finally bring the world together as one, but as it stands far too many have far too much invested in the opposite. From defence contractors to privatized prisons to newspapers that pay more for photos of war than of love, our world is made up of people and institutions that profit from establishing enemies and maintaining boundaries, not cooperating and dissolving them. But who knows, maybe one day we’ll stop cutting off each others’ heads over invisible friends, or dumping our trash into the oceans, or using power to make ourselves wealthy, or blowing up mountains instead of investing in renewable resources, or stepping over homeless people while foreclosed homes sit empty, or locking drug addicts up in cages, or shooting people for talking about fucking love.

Maybe the aliens will have to land for us to see each other as comrades, but maybe we can reach this conclusion on our own. I like to think there are enough candle-carriers out there to light up the darkness. And you may say I’m a dreamer, but hey, I’m not the only one.

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

So a couple weeks ago I wrote about awareness.  I focused primarily on situational, or external awareness, as it were.  This week I am going to continue a thought on awareness, however this time I am going to turn my focus inward, to internal or personal awareness.  As always I would love to hear your thoughts.  Let’s see where this takes us…

Who are you?  What do you want?  Where are you headed?  Where do you come from?  How about your friends, siblings, parents, or your parents’ parents?  The human mind attributes meaning to patterns.  Those patterns we recognize as significant color the lens each of us uses to see the world around us.  We categorize and label everything we see into one set or another in order to comprehend the innumerable amount of stimuli we come across, and of course as with everything, this begins with ourselves.

I am Zach.  At least, “Zach,” is the particular symbol I choose at the moment to represent the idea I have in my head of myself.  This means I have spent at least some dime differentiating what I perceive and interact with from whatever generates this voice that ponders these weird-ass questions and have reached the conclusion that there is, in fact, a difference.  Exactly where the line is drawn is up for debate, but I have decided that there is a me that is different from you or that and my name is Zach.  Welcome, by the way.

Once I created that folder, I immediately filled it with all sorts of wonderful people, stories, and places that resonated with my frequency in order to figure and formulate my perceptions.  My memories and my perceptions of course now bounce around together constantly, lubricating my imagination and birthing my dreams.

So that’s me on a skeletal level, and it is important to understand yourself in relation to yourself.  However, it is another task entirely to consider yourself in relation to those around you.  After all, it’s the meat that makes the real differences between us.  There are numerous factors we commonly use to categorize ourselves in relation to each other: gender, race, religion, nationality, spoken language, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status to name a few.  If we have any hope of working with each other then it is not only important for us to understand ourselves in our terms, but to do so in relation to the people with whom we interact.  This brings me to Bamako.

I am a Caucasion-American male living in a big, (appropriately) white, walled-in house in Bamako, a city where reproductive rights barely exist and no one picks the trash up off the streets.  I live with my father, who spends cocktail hour at the embassy with ambassadors, WHO executives and the like.  As for my position in relation to the people of this city, it is safe to say that I am quite privileged.  My father alone employs several local men for what seems like nothing to me but is actually closer to twice the average pay for such positions.  Not only do I have a woodgrain toilet seat, but I have a toilet.  Not only do I have a gate and a wall, but I have a house with air-conditioning and refrigerated food worth taking at all.  I can’t avoid how well-off I am, and denying it would offer no service to anyone, but I can use what I’ve got to ease the lives of those who don’t have as much.

There are many ways to use one’s resources for good, but the first step is to try and understand just how much you do have in comparison to just how little is available to others.  Every morning I get to wake up in a bed, inside, and take an anti-malarial pill that (hopefully) keeps each of these mosquito bites from becoming more than that.  Once I’ve taken my magic pill I get to eat a hot meal cooked with clean, bottled water.  In addition, if I were to walk down the street at night, I would be targeted by thieves due to my skin color, but left alone by sexual predators due to my gender.  Meanwhile, others all around the globe have so little that clean water is a myth and disease is a way of life.  No one person can totally solve any problem really worth solving, but if we can all get in where we fit in then together progress can be made.

As far as I am concerned this means it is up to me to pay attention to those less fortunate than myself and actually learn their stories.  All any of us can ever do is work from where we are, with what we’ve got, for what we want.  Not only am I a sucker for a good story, but I have always had an fairly good memory when it comes to the recitation of stories.  So what do I want?  Stories.  Everyone deserves to have their voice heard.

This is the reason I want to teach English to those who are interested.  This is also the reason that I plan to learn both French and Bambara, the local language.  Language defines our capacity to communicate, and communication is the key to teamwork.  I went to the market earlier in the week with Edmond, our chef, and Mahamadou, our driver so Edmond could pick up some food for the week.  It was an amazing experience and I plan to go with them again often when I can.  First we went to the supermarket so I could make a booze run and Edmond could pick up a few items there.  For the real food, however, like all our meats and fresh vegetables, Edmond needed to shop around some in the street marketplace.  The market we went to was a crowded intersection with small, one-room shops lining either side of each road.  Because this was my first time and I still did not know much French or any Bambara, I waited with Mahamadou at one of his friend’s paint shop on one of the corners.  With the SUV parked right there on the street in front of an ocean of mopeds we sat, relaxed, and people-watched with some friends of his for an hour or so.  The language barrier kept any conversation involving me fairly basic, but their fascination with my tattoos sparked a lesson on colors in Bambara.  Those guys were a warm, welcoming bunch with big smiles on their faces.  Even though I have access to many more resource than these guys,  they still offered me a seat with them and lit up my day with their smiling faces.  I hope to see them all again soon.  The unfortunate truth in most situations is that those in positions of privilege hardly mingle with those around them.  Instead, often times people use what money they have to do just the opposite and separate themselves from those with less.  Having worked in the service industry myself for some time I know what it is to be ignored by those who think themselves better than me, so as I learn more about the languages here I plan to learn as much as I can about everyone I meet here.  It’s sad how unusual this mindset may turn out to be.

Life is hard for everyone, but we can each do a little to ease the suffering of those around us by simply listening to what they have to say and caring about their well-being.  For now, for me, that means my job is to immerse myself with French lessons, French newspapers, French movies, and French-speakers until I can confidently begin to relay the endless stories I learn here back to you, the fine people of the internet.  Even before then, however, even a smile and a wave can completely change someone’s day.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  Time for me to get some sleep so I’m useful again.  Thanks for reading, and of course feel free to tell me your comments, questions and concerns.  If you’ve got a couple more minutes, attached is a fantastic poem about who we are.  I hope you enjoy.  Have a fantastic week everyone.  Au revoir!

Onward and upward,

-Z

Ahoy, internet!

I am quickly approaching a week in Bamako, Mali so I suppose I’ll give you a bit of a rundown of my experience here thus far.

I am really beginning to fall in love with this place.  I have now been out a few times, so I am starting to get a little bit of a feel for how this city operates.  There are two sides to the city, one on either bank of the Niger river, with bridges to connect the two at numerous points.  There is no real main downtown area, though there is a newly developing area where the old airport once was.  This is an oddly vibrant area because half the land is now big, new office buildings and half has yet to be developed.  The land has been taken over by locals for gardening, selling goods and, well, living.  Then of course, right there you meet the gorgeous (and gated) U.S. Embassy… but I digress.

The river does not seem to mark any economic or social border.  The city appears to simply scatter itself in all directions with no visible pattern.  I’m sure more patterns will make themselves clear in time.  My father wasn’t lying when he said they don’t pick up the trash in the streets.  Since the new President took office, I hear the police and government agencies have not done much to help in the daily lives of the citizens here.  Especially now with the war in the north and the whole Ebola scare, the government seems a bit preoccupied to say the least.  As a result, trash floats down every road and the traffic laws are essentially unenforceable suggestions.  People live in makeshift tents in undeveloped fields the same as new building development sites.  Knowing the rules is important, but following them may cost you your life, as they say.  And ain’t that the truth.

The people of this city have seen some horrible things.  They still remember ’91 when the people stormed the Presidential Palace and were met with military bullets.  Every day the northern states are under radical Islamic law.  Not to mention one woman dies every eight minutes attempting childbirth.  Life is fragile on this side of the world.  Life is fragile everywhere, but some places the soft spots are more visible than others.  But the people here inspire me to no end.  In the midst of innumerable hardships the clothes are vibrant, the food is still carefully crafted and delicious, and the weekends are reserved for dancing.  Watching the way everyone gathers and smiles and dances without critique or concern has been truly wonderful so far.  It just goes to show that unless we learn to dance when the music plays, we can never know how to dance when there is none.

As humans, we can appreciate like no other creature on the planet.  Our eyes let us see in color, our tastebuds let us recognize insane combinations of flavors, and our ears – our ears know music!  If there is anything that separates our lives from the beasts, I am convinced it is this: our capacity to appreciate.  In the midst of a brutal world, we create music.  So this week I’ve got a homework assignment for anyone who actually reads this.  Take a little bit of time to appreciate something you like, like a favorite song or movie.  Or go for a walk and sit at that one bench for a bit while you enjoy the view.  Let’s face it, we’ve all got the time.  The first, shorter link I’ve attached here is to a live rendition of the Godfather theme song, performed by Slash from Guns N’ Roses.  I include it because it is one of the most beautiful little covers of a classic I’ve ever seen, and every time I can’t help but feel something.  The second is a bit longer, but worth every minute.  This is a rendition of Walt Whitman’s famous 60-page poem, Song of Myself, arguably his greatest single work, read of course by Darth Vader himself, Mr. James Earl Jones.  I hope these might do for you what they have done for me, and if not, they’re entertaining at least.

Onward and outward,

-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).