Posts Tagged ‘identity’

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

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