Archive for the ‘war’ Category

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

I ni sògòma 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 Tourè 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 Tourè effectively turned his back to the issue.  Unconcerned with the wandering rebels, Tourè 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 Tourè.  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, “there 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

Why? (9/29/14)

Why do I keep coming back to this place?

Why do I keep coming back to this page?

Race after race I’m a waste, a disgrace to the taste of the name of the winningest face…

I make haste!  I try.

But why?  Why?

Why do I keep coming back to this place?

Why go up?  Or come down?  Hear the sounds?  Or escape?

Why the clown?  Why the grape?  Why the shiniest vape?

It’s a trape! – A trap.

This seatbelt don’t work in the back.

If the news doesn’t tell me the new news then how will I know when I’m being attacked??

Why is there always a crash?

Why is there always a catch?

Why do we frown, look around and abound for another to open the hatch?

This isn’t a fixed match!

Well it is.  But it isn’t.

But it ain’t what it is to him, his, and his business.

Or her and her children. Or me and my person –

– Ality! I’m trying to see!

I’m trying to find out why this has happened to me!

And us.

In our ruts, while we rust in the back of the bus, we stand at the cusp!

So why is there so much danger in trust?

Why do I feel like I must?

‘Cause I can?  ‘Cause I could?  ‘Cause a man with a plan would or should?

Why does it have to be good?

Why can’t I just wear my hood?

Why should I say in the day that I pray and point to the spot where I stood?

Why can’t I stop it?  Why can’t I drop it?

I guess I just already popped it.  Wrecked and rocked it.

Is this bubble still burst in my brain?

Are my blood vessels thirsty in vain?

Why in an hour can’t I help but scour the Earth for the worst of the pain?

Why do I stand in the street when it rains?

Why do I stare down the tracks of old trains?

Why do I drink?

Why can’t I think?

Why?

Because I’m so scared of the dark, I can’t even blink.

Ahoy, internet!

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and outward,

-Z