Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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

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

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

What else…

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

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

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

Onward and upward.

Z

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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. ūüėČ 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!

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. ¬†ūüėČ

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

I ni s√≤g√≤ma Internet, (that’s ‘Hello’ in Bambara)

Sadly, this week nine U.N. peacekeepers were killed in northeast Mali. ¬†To date this is the largest attack on peacekeepers by extremists since the invasion in the north began in 2011. ¬†For the sake of relevance, today’s post is a brief outline of the situation in Mali, one of Africa’s most vibrant nations.

It all started with Gaddafi. ¬†Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011, when he was forcibly removed. ¬†When his dynasty fell, Western powers were ecstatic. ¬†A brutal, socialist dictator had fallen. ¬†Not everyone was as relieved with his removal however. ¬†In Mali, then-president Amadou Toumani Tour√® was heavily invested in and closely tied to Gaddafi’s regime. ¬†If you look around Bamako, Mali’s capital city, you can still see numerous grand hotels, offices, and ministerial buildings littering the landscape, all financed by Gaddafi’s bloody empire. ¬†As a result, after Gaddafi’s fall in 2011 – while other countries scrambled to protect their borders from waves of armed Gaddafi supporters fleeing Libya – President Tour√® effectively turned his back to the issue. ¬†Unconcerned with the wandering rebels, Tour√® left Mali’s vast northern border, which digs deep into the massive Sahara desert, totally unguarded.

The second piece of this puzzle dates back way before Gaddafi or any of his opposing Western nations. ¬†I refer of course, to the Tuaregs. ¬†The rebels may have slipped into Mali in 2011, but the Tuaregs have been here since, like… 1011. ¬†The Tuareg people are the people of the Sahara. ¬†They are a nomadic tribe of herders who have traversed the dunes of the Sahara for centuries, some dating them back as early as the 4th or 5th. ¬†One of the main issues the Tuaregs have always faced is their lack of land. ¬†They travel through the various countries that stretch into their ancient Saharan grazing lands, surviving but longing for more stability. ¬†Fast forward to the past twenty years alone and their land has diminished tenfold. ¬†Africa’s population as a whole has just about doubled in the last twenty years. ¬†In the countries that border the Sahara, this means farmlands have expanded deeper into its dry landscape. ¬†Bigger cities and wider reaching farmlands have drastically cut traditional Tuareg grazing lands, causing many Tuaregs to take up initiatives to fight for permanent grazing lands of their own.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), as they call themselves, have been part of a series of campaigns for land stretching back to the early 1900’s. ¬†In 2011 the region’s armed Tuaregs teamed up with those insurgents fleeing the Libyan civil war, and under the banner of the MNLA, staged the first attack associated with this particular conflict on January 16th, 2012. ¬†However there were other forces tied to these Libyan insurgents. ¬†Little did the Tuaregs know, much of the MNLA was essentially financed by the Islamist group, Ansar Dine. ¬†Unfortunately, this meant that once the MLNA had pushed the Malian military out of what they call Azawad, the northern half of Mali, the Islamists cemented their presence and declared radical Sharia, or doctrinal Islamic law. ¬†Such law meant things like women’s rights vanished, non-religious texts and music were banned, and other non-Islamic institutions (like monuments, bars, and secular libraries) were destroyed. ¬†The significance of this is tragic if we consider the extensive wealth of worldly knowledge housed at one of the world’s oldest centers of trade; Timbuktu. ¬†Once the Tuareg fighters realized the Islamist agenda of their allies, they separated themselves from the extremists and even tried fighting them off themselves, but were no match. ¬†The foothold had been established; by July 2012 Islamists ran the north.

Azawad in context

Well, needless to say, the Malian people were not too happy to find out that their president had essentially laid out a red carpet for these heavily armed extremists in the north, so on March 22nd, 2012, Captain Amadou Sanogo led a military coup d’etat and ousted President Tour√®. ¬†Fun fact: the coup was staged in the ministerial compound right down the street from my house! ¬†It looks overgrown and planet-of-the-apes-esque now, but neighbors say just a couple years ago they remember hearing the sirens and gunshots clearly.

In January of 2013 the Malian military, who was running the country’s interim government, appealed to the international world for aid in defeating the northern extremists. ¬†Strategically, Mali poses a great threat to French stability, as the northern region is one of the closest French territories to France itself, just across the Mediterranean Sea. ¬†So the French military intervened and, with the help of the U.N., took back the northern territories and chased the guerrillas into the desert. ¬†Though the military had taken back control over the northern cities however, the war was far from finished.

In July of 2013, with help from the West, elections were “successfully” held in Bamako, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became the President we have today. ¬†Though President Keita is not affiliated with Gaddafi, he has not exactly been the country’s savior either. ¬†So far he has pretty much just gotten a few friends some pretty nice jobs, and bought himself a fresh new plane to travel in to Washington. ¬†Trash still overflows the gutters and streams, half-finished construction projects still litter the capital and its surrounding cities, and U.N., French, and Portuguese forces still provide the strongest barrier between the extremists and the country’s major population centers.

This brings us to today.  Earlier this week the largest single attack on U.N. peacekeepers was carried out in the northeastern Menaka-Asongo corridor.  Nine peacekeepers from Niger were killed when their convoy was attacked by assailants on motorbikes, raising the death-toll of UN peacekeepers alone to 26 since their intervention in Mali.  The U.N. currently has 9,000 soldiers stationed in Mali, in addition to French and Portuguese forces, and though elections have passed and the the northern territories have been officially reclaimed by the military, officials are adamant that they are here to stay until the situation is actually under control.

What does that mean? ¬†How long will that take? ¬†Well, now we touch on the issue of global extremism. ¬†It seems the fight against the Islamist state in the Middle East is rearing its ugly head in more and more regions, and the war in Mali marks a major security risk to international stability. ¬†Mali is a foothold for both sides of this fight, so neither plans to give up with ease. ¬†Unfortunately the heavy-handed tactics of the West give birth to more and more anti-Western sentiment as attacks against yet another mobile enemy decimate cities throughout the Middle East, which means people around the world are adopting more and more reasons to hate. ¬†We aren’t even fighting fire with fire, we’re fighting gunpowder with matches.

How do we stop all this, then? ¬†It’s unfortunate, but it seems the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council doesn’t even really want to. ¬†We know ISIS is funded primarily by Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi’s remain one of America’s strongest allies. ¬†Why? ¬†Well, as long as they promise to keep trading all that Saudi oil in dollars, they keep the dollar valuable, and the last thing the U.S. wants is to make room for a new Saudi regime that might decide to stray from that path, much like Saddam (and Gaddafi) planned to do. ¬†So until we decide to hit ISIS and other extremist groups where it hurts most, in their pockets like everyone else, Western-led assaults will most likely only stir up more hatred in these regions, and doom the world to endless escalating conflict.

I am 24. ¬†My country, the United States, has been at war since I was a child. ¬†I have known a life of privilege, but no-one my age has ever known a life of peace. ¬†I fear my children may share my fate. ¬†I don’t know how to fix this muddy, bloody mess, but I know one thing for sure; there are people out there with violence and hatred in their hearts, but that hatred is useless without the resources necessary to act it out. ¬†Can the whole world really be expected to work together to truly end all this unnecessary violence? ¬†Will anything short of the impending alien invasion bring us together in peace? ¬†I sure hope so. ¬†I may be cynical about the present, but I am optimistic about the future.

That’s it for my own take on the situation at hand, friends. ¬†Thanks for following along. ¬†Following are some things others have produced that I cannot help but think of at this time. ¬†I welcome your comments and concerns. ¬†This is a delicate and volatile issue that must be addressed in its entirety if we ever expect to rid ourselves of this barbarism.

 

Al Jazeera article on the latest Malian attack: http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201410425341768552

 

Argument on Bill Maher’s ‘Real Time’ over the inherent violence in Islamic doctrine. ¬†Disclaimer (and believe me, I know this gets touchy): I agree with Bill Maher, but don’t think he goes far enough. ¬†Religious followers are not necessarily bad people, nor are they necessarily good. ¬†The fact of the matter is that every religious doctrine promotes violence in some way or another. ¬†The only variation is how closely the violent words are followed within each faith. ¬†And that may not even be much of a difference at all. ¬†Nevertheless the issue is that these works promote violence in certain contexts and that simply ignoring the instances where this is true does nothing to prevent violent people from using “faith” and dedication to these doctrines to justify the violence in their own hearts. ¬†This video marks a classic and beautiful failure in communication. ¬†Entertaining at the very least. ¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IafWePD1DVw

 

And finally, I am reminded of Robert Kennedy, on the “mindless menace of violence” in the America he fought and died for. ¬†Oddly enough, my favorite speech of his, given 22 years before I was born, to the day. ¬†Heh.

Robert F. Kennedy
Cleveland City Club
April 5, 1968

“This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, ‚Äúthere can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some looks for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

 

I hope this all sparked something inside you.  Whether you agree or disagree with my own interpretations, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Until next time Internet, kambufo! (Bye!)

Onward and upward,

– Z

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

So here I am, once again sitting on a piece of flying metal 40,000 feet above the Atlantic.¬† This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in such a place, but this time there is a marked difference than every other.¬† This time, there is no return flight.¬† This much is still sinking in, and I’m sure will be for a while. I am excited beyond words for what lies ahead.¬† To get into how I feel would take way more effort and words than anybody has time for, so in a word I’ll say I am overwhelmed.¬† I’ve decided to focus on the present, and simply try to be aware of this moment as much and for as long as possible in order to keep my head on my shoulders at the moment.¬† The exception being this post of course. However, in order to appreciate the present we must first, of course, begin with the past.¬† Warning: this might be a long one.

When I was younger, I – like most – was a huge space cadet.¬† My head was constantly in the clouds. I would frolic and prance and play all day, often leaving every last gadget and toy just about anywhere but where I had gotten it.¬† My life would have been in a state of constant chaos had it not been for my saint of a mother who ran that house like it was her kingdom, which it was.¬† My father worked for an international non-profit so he jumped around the world as often as most go to the movies.¬† Even when he was working at his office in DC, he would get up before us kids most days and come home after dinner most nights anyway, which meant mom ran the house.¬† It’s a classic storyline but everyday dad went to his office to work and mom got to work right there at home, and let me tell you – she was relentless.¬† Picking up toys, picking up laundry, picking up sticks, weeding, cooking, sweeping, washing clothes, washing dishes, washing windows, I’m pretty sure I saw her sweep the driveway once.¬† Of course she couldn’t keep the place spotless all the time – though I know that’s what she was aiming for – but damn if she didn’t try.¬† Now that’s not to say that she was the only one maintaining the house, but even when all our chores were done she would still be there, running around like a track star.¬† Once I found myself living in a single dorm in college I started to see why she was so seemingly obsessed with a spotless home.¬† My method was insane, not hers.¬† Although I hate to admit it, as I ran around the house ripping siding off of appliances to turn into air guitars and throwing them behind the couch, I spent the rest of my time looking for whatever it was I wanted to use next.¬† Now that I’m older I still lose things constantly, but thankfully my mother’s words still ring in my head whenever I am at a loss (probably because she still says them).¬† For every time she found something I was missing she would look at me with that cocked eyebrow, hand my toy back slowly and say, “next time, why don’t you try looking with your eyes open.”¬† She may have been teasing me all those years, but her advice couldn’t be applicable to everyday life.

Have you ever ended up at work and forgot the ride there?¬† Most people, and I am just as guilty as any, spend their days in a daze (pun intended).¬† We drag our feet to work as we daydream of sleep, then push off sleep for fear of work-induced nightmares.¬† The moments around us slip between our fingers while we check Facebook for event invites.¬† This didn’t start with Facebook or the internet though. ¬†The danger only lies in how much easier it has become to lose touch with the only real thing we’ll ever know: the six inches in front of our face.

There are different levels of awareness.  Imagine driving a car.  Slowing down to a stoplight, you keep an eye out for anyone quickly switching lanes or stopping.  If you zone out and something catches you by surprise, it is easy to become a deer in the headlights.  However just by paying attention to your surroundings when everyone begins to slow down gives you that extra moment to hit the breaks or swerve to avoid an accident.  The same goes for walking on a dark road.  Simply being aware of any people around you could give you enough time to run or defend yourself instead of being caught in that surprised state.  Considering my current move to Mali where I will live in a big, wild, African city, this is what concerns me most.  I know I will have to keep my eyes and ears open to a degree I am unfamiliar with if I want to survive.  Threats are real.  Danger is out there.  There are still things that go bump in the night.  As a wise woman once told me, we all think things happen to somebody else but we are all somebody else to somebody else.

In the United States people are disillusioned by the distractions that come with living in a developed country. ¬†We’ve got smooth roads, clean water, and standardized vaccinations that allow us as citizens to forget that outside our fences and ports, the brutality of nature still exists. ¬†Death, disease, and destruction are all alive and well. ¬†We hear about human rights violations like they are fairy tales because no country in their right mind would attack the U.S. on its own soil. ¬†So when news reports surface about police brutality within our own borders, we blame the people, or claim the atrocities are isolated because no one wants to consider the ugly possibility that we might not always be the good guys. ¬†The term “news” in the States has become synonymous with entertainment. ¬†In fact, “news” stations hold not legal obligation to inform or educate their viewers at all. ¬†Their only responsibilities are to entertain and generate profits. ¬†To those for whom the life-threatening realities of everyday life have been taken care of, the true brutality of the world is nothing more than background noise at the dinner table. ¬†This has always been a problem with those living in the castle, so-to-speak. ¬†However it is one that is easily fixed by simply understanding your own place in the environment you find yourself. ¬†Even if things seem fine where you are, remember those walls around you do not separate you from the world. ¬†Only your mind can do that.

So take a second. ¬†Stop inviting walls into wide open spaces, as the poet Buddy Wakefield would say, and be aware. ¬†Be aware, not only of the world you live in, but the place you hold in that world. ¬†Really open your eyes. ¬†Where are you? ¬†Who is around you? ¬†Do they seem agitated? ¬†What does the air smell like? ¬†Where is the nearest toilet, or water source? ¬†Might be the same place! ¬†Come back to where you are. ¬†Be here, now. ¬†Be aware. ¬†Try looking with your eyes open. ¬†You never know what’s coming around the bend.

Until next time, onward and upward.
-Z

P.s. Food for thought:
http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/practical-guide-situational-awareness

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.

image

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).