30 January, 2009

Hallelujah, Maira is Back

“The artist Maira Kalman begins a new series of columns about American democracy with an illustrated chronicle of her visit to Washington for President Obama's inauguration”

I’ve mentioned a few times the work of Maira Kalman. How her illustrations and stories, her reflections and musing, makes joyful sparks like micro-Chinese fireworks in my brain.

29 January, 2009

Women and Children First

What works as a strategy for abandoning a sinking ship, isn’t necessarily being practiced in these moments of economical disaster. After reading various articles about the 820 billion USD American stimulus plan that thankfully managed to hop over its first hurtle yesterday, I wondered why so little of the dialogue is about the welfare and education of women and children. Despite the childish posturing/pouting of many Republicans in Washington and foreign politicians in Davos (e.g. Putin) this week, I remain hopeful that Mr. Obama’s and Kofi Annan’s will continue to focus on these matters.

“For the roots of this crisis go beyond an abject failure of financial governance and neglect of warnings of the risks being run. Connections between economies have been revealed which were clearly not fully understood, let alone regulated. There may have been endless talk of globalization. But it is very clear there has been a lack of recognition of what this means for us all.

What is needed is a fundamental change of mindset. Solutions to the financial crisis must look beyond the impact on the market, financial institutions and developed countries. They must also focus on jobs, family incomes and the effect of the slowdown on the poorest countries. Market forces are the engine for economic growth. But they need to be well regulated to ensure fairness and equal opportunity for all.”

If we have learnt anything over the last six months, it is the urgent need for all of us (little folk) to immediately and earnestly invest more of our time, money, and energy in establishing and practicing our civic obligations. Over the last weeks, it has been interesting to read various articles, videos, and blog posts about the activation of a massive American grassroots pledge for better service. And like much of what happened over the last two years it took to bring Senator Obama through the convoluted US electoral system and, thankfully, into the presidential office, I’m not sure that Americans are aware of how much the rest of the world is looking upon them and waiting to see whether they do the right thing.

Mr. Obama speaks of becoming a leader in the world again. America doesn’t only have to become an exemplary political world leader; Americans have to become world social/civic leaders. But, to do this, they have to look beyond the water leaking in under their doors and think and act globally.

I have been following some of the pledges made on the various plattforms and I must say, I am disappointed. There seem to be three types of pledges being made: 1) pledges to help locally or regionally (e.g. health, animal and environmental, social service, education), 2) those who will continue being active in their community and think they already give enough, 3) those who want to give by being “a better person” (smile more at strangers, yell less at their children, don’t give the finger to idiot drivers). It is not a bad start, as far as starts go, but it just isn’t going to be enough to get us to the exit doors, let alone off this sinking ship. And aspiring to save this sinking ship… well, think again! We have to create a massive movement of millions of people contributing in minuscule ways. Even if we manage to do this, there is no guarantee.

Which leads me back to the women and children... Yesterday, I was watching this video about the Millennium Development Goals program. In the video, two British school children interview the leaders of the three political parties concerning the activities and progression of Britain’s and all the UN nations’ commitment to providing primary school education around the world for at least 90% of children by 2015. Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain says at one point, “We need to train teachers, build classrooms, supply educational materials, and make sure girls get a chance of receiving an education”. He wasn’t talking only about government and organizations assistance; he was talking about us individuals and he was referring to helping children in developing nations. Particularly in Africa.

I am working with a wonderful community of people in in Kimilili Kenya. We are presently trying to help build a school, create a nutrition and school garden project, find sponsorship for 250 OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children), assist in getting teaching manuals for 5 teachers, and find funding for school supplies and library books. If you think you can offer information, time, practical assistance, or funding, please let me know (cbsmkenya at gmail dot com). A whole community of women and children would be thankful.

Eat locally, work communally, but think and act globally.

25 January, 2009

Beg, Borrow, or Steal

When I was a young person, we all used a common expression to describe someone in dire straits, and that was to say they were ready to “beg, borrow, or steal”. Generally, we were talking about someone being desperate for money. So, the person was ready to beg, borrow, or steal money and they were very often wanting to beg, borrow, or steal money from a close family member or friend. There was no distinction made between these three activities. They were all an indication of equally humiliating and abysmal behavior.

You have to wonder how the act of asking someone for funds or borrowing money could be lumped into the same category as stealing money. In any case, I grew up believing it was wrong to ask for or borrow money from anyone.

Many years later, while travelling through some of the large cities of Europe, I was confronted for the first time with people begging in public. Such encounters tended to make me feel uncomfortable. A friend of mine at that time, used to be a busker. He supported himself through many (many) years of university by driving a taxi at night and busking on the weekends. I remember one afternoon, as we were walking through the streets of Munich, him telling me about his busking experiences.

He considered busking as an activity somewhere between a creative artful form of begging and a viable form of employment for someone with anarchistic leanings. We argued back-and-forth about the subject for a long time. He was in his eighth year at the university (you got to know the German university system to understand that this is a relatively common phenomena) and so this type of intellectual discussion was common, as well as long and complex. To be totally honest, these discussion were also a lot of bullshit. Yet, in amongst all of the intellectual garbage, this friend presented me with a jewel of an idea that I have held onto since.

He said, “When someone is begging, they are just expressing their need. They are asking us to help them. We can freely choose to give them help or not. The choice is ours to make.” It doesn’t matter what the person is asking for, it is up to us to reflect and respond according to our beliefs.

I happen to believe that no one lives their life fully without giving and taking in equal measure. So, when I give, I do it with a “yes, please” in my heart, and when I don’t give, I try to express a gentle “no, thank you” in my thoughts, if not express the words out loud. The choice is not always simple, but it is usually easy to make.

I happen to live in a relatively small city (population over 200,000) in northern Germany. It is large enough to have homeless people, buskers playing in our market place, and people begging on some of the busy street corners. The city is small enough for someone, like myself, who lives in the center of the city to recognize these people, not necessarily by name, but by face. On the other hand, the world is also small enough that I regularly recognize two of the troubled youths who hang around the market place begging for money and drinking beer, because one is my niece and the other the son of a good friend. What I have discovered over the last years, is that it doesn’t matter whether it is through family connection or sheer banal urban social interaction, on some level, I am aware of the needs of these persons. And, even if I cannot solve their problems or lighten their burdens, I can choose to help them.

Sometimes this happens by exchanging a greeting or making small talk. Sometimes it is in the form of goods for a food bank or charity drive or church bazaar. Often it is in the form of small change from my jacket pocket. Long ago, I began to put nearly all my coin change in my pocket instead of in my wallet. It is as easy as that. When there is change in my pocket, which is nearly always, and when I pass someone begging, I often give them some money.

I am not presenting these actions as a solution to these people's problems or a way to lighten their loads, I am just offering help to someone when there is a need. As written in the words of one my favourite poets, Tao Te Ching,

“Those who are good I treat as good. Those who are not good I also treat as good. In so doing I gain in goodness. Those who are of good faith I have faith in. Those who are lacking in good faith I also have faith in. In so doing I gain in good faith.”

Sadly, I am not able to always live these words, but I do aspire to them.

21 January, 2009

Just Right

Rick Mercer entertains by providing pithy rants (here and here) and funny interviews (here and here). I don’t know how popular he is back in Canada, since I stumbled upon him sometime back over those Inter Nets, yet I can’t help but think he is sort of the Canadian Jon Stewart. He gets to tone between irony and self-depreciation just right.

18 January, 2009

The Bush Verdict

I have been watching out for this type of assessment of the Bush years in office. The video is titled, "The Bush verdict, from 9/11 to the credit crunch, leading commentators give their assessments of George W Bush's presidency". The video is a precise, spartan, and yet, irrevocable statement of eight years poorly lived.

Actually, I expected this to come from an American news' source, and not the Guardian. Still, take a look of the video by Rebecca Lovell, a video producer and Hildegunn Soldal, an executive producer at the Guardian in Britain. I know many people wish to forget as quickly as possible the plunders and the fumblings, yet the question is why shouldn't people such as President Bush be held accountable?

Caught Up In A Wave Of Change

There has been much written and spoken about change in the last two years. Ardent fans and persistent sceptics of modern trends have tried hard to illuminate and obliterate the fact that Old School, Old Boys, and Old Century are all Old Hat. It doesn’t matter whether you are presently running ahead of the “wave of change” or digging in your heals against it, life as we’ve known it has already changed beyond what many of us hoped, and others have feared. Now, we have to learn to embrace this reality.

Much of social and political changes developed through the furtherment of Internet and mobile technology. Levi Felix wrote recently in the Huffington Post,

“Communication is proving that generation, race, demographic and style are merely smoke and mirrors when it comes to who can influence our future. With the ridiculously rapid development of online social networks, mobile applications, modern grassroots movements and the growing urgency of now, we are seduced by change; it's allure insurmountable and implications incredible.”

It seems as though I cannot open my emails or newsletters without being asked to “vote” for some idea, or pledge myself to some active service. Just in the last days there was change.org’s announcement about the winners of their change.org ideas contest, or Michelle Obama's appeal to American’s to become engaged in USAService.org. Or, the following speech Barack Obama gave,

Now, I am not an American citizen, though I did live there for a few years as a child and all my siblings were born there. Yet, in the next days, I would like to live under the illusion that as a global citizen I can rub elbows with all the Americans who are celebrating Mr. Obama’s inauguration and get caught up in the wave of enthusiasm for all of us to “do good” on the pledges we made.

Because, if I am not mistaken, we all, at one point in time in the last two years, made those mad deals, “Please let Mr. Obama be elected and I promise to…” Well, it is time we did good on those promises.

I have been remiss of late at updating this blog. Some of this has to do with health issues, but the major deflector has been my participation in other social platforms and doing online volunteer work. I have been trying to explore different forms of “ community service” that are both meaningful, as well as rewarding. In the next days, I would like to share with you my experiences with these activities. If nothing else, these last two years has convinced me that we all can individually and universally benefit by giving our time, money, creativity, and hard work.

15 January, 2009

Winter Hours

winter beads

Winter hours. Mother-of-pearl beads upon silky surfaces. Frost splinters my thoughts. Memories of old loves and fond adieus. And, still, the pine cone drops syrupy rancidness upon my knuckles. While numbed fingertips brush away cold metallic concerns.

11 January, 2009

Seaspray still churning

sea spray

Been one of those weeks, where I definitely do not know what is up and what is down. Quite a few crises with colleagues, friends, and family.

We have this wonderful bay just around from where my mother lives called, Spray Bay. The bay is such that the waves coming in from the open Atlantic Ocean bound in like wild horses and churn up this massive spray. That's where I'm sitting at the moment, folks, or at least figuratively. I wish it was really there and this was not just a metaphor. Will be back as soon as I can whip the sand and sea spray off my glasses.

08 January, 2009

Fever & Fusion

Been under the weather with fever and winter grippe. Spent the afternoon in bed Stumbling through the poetry and music channels. Wonderful way to lull the time away between naps.

This is one of my favourites of the afternoon. Can’t explain why, except that it sort of was like fever and fusion all at once.

Hip Hip Violin And DJ - video powered by Metacafe

I do hope you have as much fun with it as I did.

05 January, 2009

Ridiculous, but still...

Going through Huffington Post today and noticed a link to a slideshow of the Obamas' daughters attending their first day at school. I didn't click on the page. I thought, even though this might sound ridiculous, I am not going to be one of the millions and millions of people robbing these little girls of their right to a childhood far from the maddening crowd. What would happen if no one paid attention? What if no one looked at the photographs, or no one read the articles? Would the cameras disappear? Woudl the journalists turn to more pressing matters? It's just a thought.

04 January, 2009

New Website

One of the brilliant projects I am working on is the Village Phone Salon with some wonderful people in Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda, England, Canada, and the States. So, being a busy beaver, I set up a collaboration VPS website yesterday and today.

Accomplishment: working with good people to create new businesses and improved lifestyles for some women, well in need of assistance.

03 January, 2009

Do you do yoga?

Do you do yoga? Do you want to do yoga daily? WoYoPraMo is the place to go, if you are seeking like-minded, interesting, motivated people. For the month of January, all of us who are WoYoPracMo members are trying to help each other to keep to the straight path of daily yoga. It's fun. People of all ages, forms, expertise...

01 January, 2009


This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

Word of the Year 2009: Accomplishment

A friend and I went to the fitness studio yesterday afternoon. While we walked down the steps into an almost empty studio, she says, “Look and weep! As of tomorrow (Januray 1st), this studio is going to be completely full of people with their water bottles and New Year’s Resolutions. And, we are going to have to wait until February or March before they give up and we have the studio to ourselves again.”

I almost had a moment of smugness for not being one of those people with New Year’s Resolutions. Instead I have a word. This year, 2009, I’ve decided upon the word Accomplishment.

raining season

If you want to know about the whole Word of the Year deal, you’ll have to go to Christine Kane’s blog and read this article. Basically, Christine wrote,
“Several years ago, my friend Kathy and I decided that, instead of making resolutions, we would pick a word that would guide us throughout the year. It would be our touchstone. It would remind us of living our lives at the BE level.”
This past December many of her readers wrote about their words of 2008 and their motivations and experiences with the words. On December 12th, in Christine S. blog entry, she wrote,
“I am now treating “accomplishment” as a noun rather than a verb, having it serve as a reminder to stop and give myself a mental pat on the back and encouragement to keep up the good work.”
This post was published on a day that promised to be mad with activity at work; for we were holding a large public event. I knew the day would be crazy and I wasn’t sure about the outcome. Yet, one thing I was certain about was that no matter what happened during the event, the fact that it happened at all was an accomplishment. Not only that, but it was my accomplishment. Something I would not have realised if I hadn’t read Christine S. words that morning.

So, this year’s word is accomplishment:

  1. the reduction of inflation was a remarkable accomplishment
    achievement, act, deed, exploit, performance, attainment, effort, feat, move, coup.
  2. a poet of considerable accomplishment
    expertise, skill, skillfulness, talent, adeptness, adroitness, deftness, dexterity, ability, prowess, mastery, competence, capability, proficiency, aptitude, artistry, art; informal know-how
I must say I get dizzy reading some of those words. Uncomfortable even. Well, this promises to be a good ride.

What is your word for this year?

The collage above is dedicated to various people who have taught me much these last six months about how easy it is to accomplish good work and true purpose.


There are a lot of you, but I’d like to particularly mention Romina, Rev. Wasike, Rev. Teh, Birgit, and Julika for all their humble kindness and perseverance.