Archive for the ‘One World’ 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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Isn’t it weird to agree with something somebody you disagree with said?

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

Get in where you fit in.

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

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

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

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

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

creepy-river

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

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

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

the-woods

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

One step at a time.angela_esnouf-one_step_towards_peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and upward.

Z

 

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

All Fire’s Eve

To Baltimore

30 April 2015

 

The woody hills are sleeping

The cold, stale sleep of death.

While weeping wind whispers past

Black trunks, exhausted, out of breath.

 

A deafening silence drowns the air

In nothing, not a flutter.

The sun beats down the charcoal ground

The final drops of strength are mustered.

 

Creeping limbs claw and stretch

And squinting, step into the sun.

Gray-black snowflakes powder the land

Celebrating unions, embers of fun.

 

A sneeze! A tuft of feathery leaves,

The breeze, soft and somber.

Tired eyes gaze amazed

At all that’s left of night’s bright wonder.

 

All night long a blaze went on

Until this stretch of earth turned cinder.

Entropy laughed and chaos danced

While beasts of wood screamed out in splendor.

 

First went wings, the birds of sky

Flew off in all directions.

Scarred and scalding, scared and hauling

All they left alone and destined.

 

Next the bugs and biting critters

Pittered, pattered, shuffled and scattered,

Hid under rocks where the ground was still cool,

Beaten, broken, busted and battered.

 

Then the paws who sniffed the air

With darting eyes, turned and ran

Sprinting through fields with standing hair

And howling cries of living damned.

 

For the flames were alive this yesterday’s night!

So bright they outshined the stars.

To the forest it felt like the whole world would melt

But it lit up the vastness of night from afar.

 

They jumped and they flew and fought through the blue

And their orange grins laughed from tinder to tinder.

They ripped out the trees they would need to keep prancing

But shrugged off the rain and burned off the splinters.

 

The forest was furious this All Fire’s Eve!

The mountains and oceans could tell.

But like the great oceans and mountains it knew

That you’ve got to keep going if you’re going through Hell.

 

So the sun has arisen and the fires have died.

Creatures come back to the light!

The forest you used has been leveled, abused,

Everyone’s always left home overnight.

 

Shaken, you step over kindling

Famished, you flip stones and ponder

Wandering orphans and neighbors cross paths

And glistening eyes in tender sonder.

‘What will we do?’ you ask.

‘What ever could possibly come next?’

Afraid, in despair, unaware, there unseen

The seed that from fur falls in your steps.

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

I ni sogoma,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and upward,
Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and upward,
Z

Bonjour mes amis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and upward,

-Z

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

Good day to you all, surfers of the electronic ocean!

It’s No-shave November again, and I’ve got to say I just can’t do it this year. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing but heat and dust in my future so I figure I could stick with tradition once again but it might be the last thing I do. My week has been relatively uneventful. I’m still in the process of learning French while getting my name out as an English teacher. Gotta make yourself useful somehow. On a global scale this has been a bit more of an interesting one however. That is, depending on what you consider to be interesting.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This of course was more than just a wall; it was a symbol of the oppression and isolation people felt living behind the “iron curtain” of communism. So as the Cold War ended, the Wall was torn down and with it the Soviet Union. Generally thought of as the moment the good guys won and the bad guys’ dreams were rightfully crushed forever, there’s no wonder why this is kind of a big deal. But as with most issues worth their weight, this whole process was and is actually more complicated than we were taught in History class.

The biases that came out of McCarthyism and the Red Scare veiled most of the important issues surrounding the entire ideological battle between capitalism and communism (which, ironically, aren’t even ideological systems; they’re economic). QUICK!! THEY’RE AFTER OUR FREEDOM!!! I can already hear the browser tabs closing so I won’t touch on most of my thoughts on the matter, but one issue in particular stands out to me. Since the fall of the Wall many have conceded that communism lost, it was the wrong economic system, and that it will never again be an issue. Following the same logic capitalism won, is the right economic system, and will never again be challenged. Unfortunately though, this is not the case. Neither side exemplified a pure, unadulterated state of either of these systems, so the debate over which “works” is still far from over. Yet one need only whisper the name Marx to be reminded that debate has nonetheless been stifled under the assumption that the jury is in and the verdict has been read. If democracy really is the right to argue, this poses an issue.

The Soviet Union, the actual regime that fell, claimed to operate on a communist system, “from each according to his ability and to each according to her need.” On what is commonly though of as the other end of the linear scale then, the U.S.A. and its Western allies claim to operate under a capitalist system of “free market trade.” However neither of these state institutions strictly followed or follows the doctrinal teachings of these systems. The U.S.S.R. redistributed most of their resources away from the laborers allowing some to receive much more than they needed for much less work than they could contribute and the U.S.A. happily enjoys it’s public roads and schools funded by and built for all.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S.S.R. with its iron curtain was simply considered more oppressive than the only alternative powerful enough to do anything about it once its inherent contradictions overpowered its productive capabilities. But the differences regarding philosophical economic structure and similarities regarding actual practices were mainly swept under the rug once the curtain fell (poverty despite resources, war despite “peace treaties,” most wealth in the hands of the top few, etc.). The debate turned into being “with” the winners or “with” the losers. Just because the capitalists had bigger weapons first however, that doesn’t mean their system didn’t have contradictions of its own.

At some point during the weekend someone pointed out that it has been 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell and what has really changed? Yes, there is more technology available on a global scale but access to that technology is still limited and there is just as much division as ever. The differences now are that a) the conflicts erupting across the world daily are nowhere near cold, and b) instead of one apparently clear division, we’ve got a muddy entanglement of smaller, less defined differences. The capitalist victory didn’t end poverty or slavery, just as technology is not doing away with the need to work. Quite to the contrary, income inequality and slave labor exist at the highest magnitude in history. The free market trade system prevails but capitalists are blind behind their own green curtain to the global problems they not only do not help to fix, but perpetuate. Its own internal contradictions are beginning to show their ugly faces.

During the 2008 financial crisis the Queen of England put together a task force of her best economists to tell her what they missed. She wanted to know how we all could have not seen the financial collapse coming. After deliberation and research the team wrote her a letter in which they said the one thing no one had accounted for was “systemic risk.” They found everything to have gone according to plan within the rules and goals of the capitalist idea, but no one considered the chance that the system itself doesn’t work as well as we say it does. How does a system reliant on ever-expanding growth deal with an actually limited amount of resources? They say the U.S. has 100 years worth of natural gases. What do we do in 1000?

My father says he began studying (capitalist) economics because he wanted to know why poverty exists. If it really is as simple as buying a chicken for $10 and selling it for $20, why was there so much poverty crushing the globe? To me, the issue of how we could best handle our money is a difficult but important one to criticize and analyze over and over, but the bigger issue is whether we can even talk about it. Even now I’m sure this post has the words “capitalism” and “communism” written enough to be bookmarked by the NSA (not to mention mentioning the NSA). Then again, I’ve probably been bookmarked ever since I started running UMD’s NORML chapter in college. Hey, at least someone’s listening. The point is, we can’t let ourselves be scared to even talk about the way things are and how they could be better, even (and I would even argue especially) if that might mean changing up the system as a whole.

Capitalism isn’t the answer and nor is communism. These are not the ends of the scale though. Somewhere between them is socialism, somewhere toward the back is feudalism, and somewhere else is the idea for a resource – based economy. The answer, like most others, will be an amalgamation of most of these ideas, hopefully stemming from the goal of helping people who can’t help themselves first. Who knows though.

It was once said that only when the power of love overcomes the love of power will we find peace. I wholeheartedly agree. The problem with both of these massive economic experiments many of us have been witness to is simply that they are two different masks for the same processes of corruption and manipulation of the poor for the betterment of the elites. Why else would it be a problem in the eyes of business to have to raise workers wages and provide health insurance? Because across the board it hasn’t ever been about the people at the bottom trying to survive, it’s always been about the ones at the top trying to hold onto whatever pennies they can.

Now in the United States we see the same Republicans who shut down the government in a temper tantrum (against universal health care, like wtf) controlling both houses of Congress. No doubt this means nothing if not backwards movement will occur in the next, final couple years of Obama’s term. All of us fighting to end the failed War on Drugs for example might as well go on vacation because most likely every progressive move will be halted until the next congressional election (please don’t actually do that; every little bit helps). But hey, two years of stagnation may be just what the country needs to get some of its shit together and actually start demanding some of the change it thought Obama would drop on its doorstep. After all, without order nothing can exist, but without chaos nothing can evolve.

So what can we do? The answer is simple. Open up the dialogue and begin the debate again. It’s not our fault that most of us didn’t even learn the word “capitalism” growing up. It’s no coincidence that even in post – apocalyptic movies like Mad Max, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Our education painted our world to make capitalism look like nature, like it was just “the way things are.” Even the separation of the subjects (into Math, Science, History, English, etc.) makes their interrelation not only impossibly difficult to grasp but effort to do so frowned upon as well. But we don’t need to live with those blinders anymore.

With the internet chugging away at full speed now more than ever it is essential for each of us to research the contradictions we see in the intersecting structures around us, at the very least just to know the relevant terms for this debate. Youtube alone has a lifetime of educational content if you only take the time to look past the laughing babies. The Red Scare is over. McCarthy is dead. So if we can’t even talk about the objective differences between the two sides and how we could actually bring an end to poverty and war, are there really even any? Speak up, speak out, and question everything. You’d be surprised at how many people would join you if they only knew the words.

To those of you who couldn’t stand to read all that, the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version is this:

Think outside the box.

Onward and upward,

Z

P.s. Here is an article from The Guardian on how closely the current global atmosphere resembles that of the Cold War. Additional reading I suppose. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/10/close-military-encounters-russia-west-cold-war?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

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