26 April, 2009

Putting On My Dancing Shoes

Last night, a late spring evening walk turned into an occasion for me to wander down memory lane. Back to a spring trip to Ulm (southern-ish Germany) to visit N. and her ballet company friends. Back to a time when we’d all go out dancing after they finished their nightly ballet performance.

We’d dance through the nights in a crowded, loud, smoky, sultry, sweaty disco. What was the name of the place? What was the name of the bartender we became friendly with? I don’t remember anything other than the vibrant, wild abandoned pleasure I experienced: music and movement to free my spirits and make my feet sore.


It was a time when copious amounts of drugs and alcohol were consumed, but I didn’t need either to lose myself in the music and dance. We’d literally walk into the disco and onto the dance floor and did not stop dancing until we decided to leave for home.


We’d wander through the streets on our way from the Stadttheater to the disco just as the last evening light was fading. Hours later, tired, but with a lightness of being, we’d make our way home from the disco just as the early morning light was appearing.


We’d pass the local bakery and smell the bread baking in the ovens behind closed window shutters. We were jubilant to be the only ones walking along the streets. Walking home barefoot, one hand holding our shoes, and the other some flowers we’d picked from the gardens of the homes we passed.

21 April, 2009

Need Your Opinion

Once again, I need your help. I made up this presentation today and I need your suggestions and opinions on it. A colleague and I are holding a workshop on Thursday for a group of teachers about Web 2.0 presentation tools. I happen to know that many of you are teachers, were teachers, or we involved in education... so, please give it a look.

We are going to keep the theoretical part down to a minimum (30 minutes) because we do not have much time (4 hours). Ideally, I'd like for the participants to work for 3 of the 4 hours, and for the instructors to present for 30 minutes, and leave 30 minutes for feedback.

19 April, 2009

Sunny Sunday


Decided to redo the angel collage without the candles. Just wanted to wish you all a sunny Sunday and a good start to your week tomorrow.

Nomad Son is due to return from his trip to Tobago. One of my favourite siter-in-laws (I have nine of them)is driving down with her family for a visit any time now.

17 April, 2009

Don’t quite know what to think

Recently, an ex German girl band pop star was charged with “attempted grievous bodily harm” for having unprotected sex with three men between 2004 and 2006 without mentioning to them that she was HIV positive.

I really didn’t know what to think about the whole situation. First, I didn’t realise you could be charged for doing so (sentence up to 10 years possible). Intellectually, it does seem like a viable conclusion for putting someone’s life at risk. But, the Big-Brother-is-watching-you side of me finds the whole situation disconcerting.

(Sorry, couldn't find this video in English. If any of you can help me here with the link, I'd be very appreciative.)

Then there is the part of me who finds the whole fact ludicrous that a woman should be accused of having unprotected sex with a man, as if it isn’t his job to see that he uses a condom.

What do you think? Read an article about it here.

16 April, 2009

Easter Midnight Concert


We enter the dark cathedral. A glow of subtle moonlight offers us a suggestion of light to guide us through the darkness to the slowly filling pews. Faint mummers catch the corners and wander fluidly along the floor. Hundreds of people sit quietly. In prayer. In expectation.

One candle lights the darkness accompanied by rarefied voices of Gregorian chant. Darkness. Twilight. Midnight. Dawn. Winter Deprivation. Hope. Heresy. Faith. Science. Senses. Sensations. All aspects of the momentous transformation from darkness to light studied though words, voice, song, sounds: and graciously carried by ten thousand glorious candles into the Easter morn.

10 April, 2009

People + Purpose + Technology = Community

At the risk of being accused of whipping a dead horse, I'm posting another post about the community work I'm involved in. If anyone sees any mistakes or wishes to suggest any improvements in the presentation, please feel free to comment. All improvements are welcome.

If anyone is looking for a story to smile over, please go to this blog entry and read about how Fadhili and the children of the Community Breakthrough Support Mission in Kimilili, Kenya reacted to receiving their first real football. I laughed until I cried reading Rev. Wasike's rendition.

The sun is shinning. We have a four-day weekend. What a blessed day this is to go out and enjoy the simple things in life.

07 April, 2009

Repossessing Virtue (5/5)

What sort of wisdom or leadership are you looking for at this time of your life?

I think that I am looking for wisdom and leadership in those around me, rather than those who hold important offices or have important jobs. Maybe this stems out of a certain cynicism or lack of trust, but maybe part of it comes from the fact that I know or have known many wise and kind and generous people.

And so, there are remembered conversations with my father who died years ago, but whose ideas and opinions on matters still influence how I look at current situations. Or, there are the day-to-day conversations with my husband, a few dear friends, my mother-in-law, Rev. Wasike in Kenya… they are my leaders. Not because they are rich or successful or could be considered perfect in any standard way. But, they are perfect to me for they teach me what I need to know.

For instance, there is the example of my mother-in-law who bore and raised nine children almost single-handedly while working on a production line job. She came from Italy to live in Germany as a Gastarbeiter in the early 60s. She retired officially nine years ago, at the age of 60, but she has not stopped working because she cannot live well on her pension.

I tried to convince her that she should allow each of her nine children to pay her a small sum of money every month and then she wouldn’t have to work any more. She didn’t want this. She prefers to live independently of their giving. After running up against this wall of her self-imposed independence, I finally asked her what she would accept. She answered that she would like us to help her find a smaller apartment near our place. Not only did she wish to reduce the amount of rent she paid, she was living in a high rise apartment in the suburbs, where she feared going out after dark because she didn’t know who she would meet in the parking lot. She wanted to move into town where she could move around freely.

Fortunately, the apartment across the hall from us became available, and so she moved into the studio apartment about a year and a half ago. Her life changed positively. The place is really small, 37 square meters or less than 400 square feet, but it is a stone’s throw away from the local bakery or doctor’s office. I swear she walks with a lighter gait, and is happier now than she was before.

She’s still working, but says she’ll stop this year. We’ll see.

06 April, 2009

Repossessing Virtue (4/5)

And what are you doing now that is different?

I’m choosing the people I seek information or advice from more carefully than I once did. I am learning as much as I can about why we are in the mess we are, but I don’t feel as if I know enough yet to make proper decisions about what to do or change.

Concretely, we choose carefully where to shop and who to give our business to. There is a long tradition, in most German towns, of small stores and businesses. You can go and buy nearly anything you need directly from the owners of the shops. I have the feeling that I am helping keeping their business open. I also try to be conscious of mentioning how wonderful it is that there are such shops or businesses to people I know. Some say that the most effective form of advertising is word-of-mouth.

It’s odd, but I used to find a lot of comfort and inspiration in reading contemplative or religious texts. And even though I still find comfort doing that, I’m now more interested in learning about people* who are doing great things using technology in smart ways. It is through them that I leaned about concepts such as social networking, creative commons licensing, crowdsourcing, extreme-scale collaboration, tribes, and massive cognitive surpluses, public distributed computing. The language they use might be different than that which we are accustomed to, but the intrinsic principles behind their ideas are very sound and based on the traditional values I was raised with.

So much of my own ideas and actions have changed by reading what they write and watching what they accomplish. For, instance, the creative commons movement slowly came into being about 10 years ago at a time when it was almost impossible for a normal person to obtain use of photo material online. Now there are over 100 million photos on Flickr alone that anyone can use for free, within certain restrictions. A hundred of my own collages are part of that 100 million. Equally, I made my first micro-financing loan to a shop owner in the Ukraine in 2006, and now I’m helping some women in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Cameroon set up their own businesses.

I’m involved in co-ordinating various projects in different countries, which I do on a volunteer basis. These projects concern the health, education and care of orphans and vulnerable children. We are building new schools, setting up women co-op businesses, organising new sources of clean water, and other things.

On the surface people think I am the one who’s leading the projects, but in reality, the people I am involved with in these projects are teaching me very important things about how to live well, or meaningfully. They often live very different lives to the one I am living, but still manage to kindly share their worries and joys with me. And in return, I share all of these lessons and stories with my husband and children. This gives us a lot to talk about over the dinner table.

* People like Lawerence Lessig, Seth Godin, Garr Renyolds, or Clay Shirky.

05 April, 2009

Repossessing Virtue (3/5)

What resources are you bringing into this situation?

I guess the only answer is just to say that I’m taking baby steps. Trying somehow to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps as well. She had a humble, but infallible commitment to live her life for the betterment of her family and community.

The difference between her family and mine is that her family was blood family, and my family is what I call chosen family. And her community was her church community, and mine is anyone from my elder neighbour living across the way, to my young neighbour living in an orphanage in Kimilili, Kenya.

I’ve been following the Repossessing Virtue series, and I noticed that many of the people on the show are speaking about community, interconnectedness, and our social responsibility. I share their concern that as individuals, we have to learn to behave differently and act more consciously when it comes to our dealings with other people, cultures and environments. I think we must all participate as best as possible. We should take all of our resources that we have and re-create and re-define what it is to live successfully in times like these.

I remember hearing a speech given by Kofi Anan just after he became secretary general of the United Nations in 1997. He spoke about how he thought that governmental decisions in the future would be determined by individuals, masses of individuals, and not by the politicians. He said times will change and governments will no longer tell us how to live rightly, instead we will demand that they do right. And, now, just a little over 10 years later, masses of individuals and not the powerful politicians, lobbyists, voted in your present president. It was a remarkable thing to witness.

Yet, I fear that many people think the job is done, rather then the work is just starting. I worry Americans will forget that all of the global attention given to them throughout the last election years was not only out of wonderment, but it was also a request from people living in other countries for Americans to do right. The decisions made by your government and the actions of the people living in your culture have very weighty consequences on everyone.

I don’t have to be an American to see my life savings disappear in the Wall Street crisis. My life savings were invested in what I was told “solid banking funds”. Well, their worth has depleted over 60% already and I don’t know if they are going to disappear completely. What I do know is that we are not sure whether we can afford to send out children to university. We will definitely not be able to retire before we’re 70, if at all. We could well be the first generation since the Great Depression that will not be able to retire. We are having to do with less and will continue to have to do with less, even though what we have at the moment is very modest.

So, getting back to the question about what resources I am bringing into the present situation… I’d have to say not much, expect perhaps a belief that I must be diligent in my life’s practices. So, I work a lot. Whether it is working at my paid job, or all the volunteer work I do in schools, or on projects with friends, or creative projects, or global projects… I just keep on working.

And by working, I hope that I pass on the meaningful lessons to my children about how to live their lives well. My father lived his life well and he retired at the age I am now, 51. His was a success story of his generation. I am trying to live my life well within the modest means we have, and I hope that in the future my children will look back and also think that my life was a success story of my generation. Though obviously, at least materially, it is not going to be a success story as we currently define success.

04 April, 2009

Repossessing Virtue (2/5)

In what way do you consider this a spiritual or moral crisis of your own or of our culture?

Well, the short answer to that question would be “in every way”. Anything that has to do with how we are living, or working, facing challenges, or admitting defeat, is both spiritual and moral. Though I have to admit that I have a hard time seeing our present situation as a crisis. We didn’t just become entangled in this situation recently; we’ve been creating it on material, spiritual and moral levels for many years now.

So, it seems false to say crisis, for that denotes on some level that it comes unannounced and its occurrence is out of our control, or we think that it is going to go away quickly, and that certainly isn’t the case.

Everything from expert advice to common-sense has warned us about the consequences of living imprudently. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about corporations, governments, or individuals, this holds true for us all. Therefore, the questions we should ask ourselves about our past behaviour are: who did we believe in the last years, whose advice did we seek out, what warning signs did we ignore, why were we blinded by greed, stupidity or fear?

I think the moral crisis we are facing, is nothing other than learning that we are accountable for our actions and responsible for our decisions. And, I mean in the most fundamental of ways. Starting with realising what the consequences are in believing what we believe and doing what we do by those beliefs.

In my personal situation, my moral dilemma has shown me that somewhere along the line, over the last decade, I lost my ability to trust certain people near-and-dear to me, and, more importantly, I lost trust in myself. Trust in my ability to overcome those existential challenges that came along. And so, about a year ago, I started a formal study on the meaning of trust.

I read all sorts of academic papers, popular literature, wise testaments about this topic, as well as had many discussions with friends. I also sat in silence and contemplated questions like; How do I decide, not only to what extent I can trust someone, but what this person can be entrusted with?

I learnt, not surprisingly, that trust has many facets. If I was to name the three most important ones, I’d say the first one is, we must find someone who is equally committed to the outcome of the situation we are entrusting them with, as we are. I trust my husband with my worries about my impending unemployment (my work contract is coming to an end in a few months’ time), not only because he loves me and cares about my concerns, but because our financial livelihood is dependent on my contribution.

Secondly, the person we trust has to have the required skill or ability to carry through the task we are entrusting them with. It is not prudent to trust someone with your life-savings, if they’re always living on the brink of financial disaster. Lastly, there is always an element of unpredictability, or risk, when we trust someone to do something. If there wasn’t any risk involved, then it wouldn’t be trust.

So when I reflected back on situations or persons who had failed to live up to my expectations, I asked myself why did they fail: lack of commitment or lack of skill? And, as it turns out, it is nearly always the lack of skill that was the central cause for the failure. Not only were their skills lacking, but I was also lacking in proper judgment. Why would I trust someone with something they have no ability to succeed in?

And now, it turns out that this question of trust is not only relevant concerning my personal relationships, it is also relevant concerning governmental or banking practices … for they all affect me directly and indirectly…the list keeps on growing every day.

03 April, 2009

Repossessing Virtue (1/5)

On Wednesday, I gave a telephone interview on one of my favourite podcasts, NPR: Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. It was the first time I have done a radio interview and it was a rather fun, if not bizarre experience. The interview is to be part of their Repossessing Virtue series and will be published later,

“Repossessing Virtue is part of our ongoing series exploring the moral, spiritual, and practical aspects of the economic downturn. We've been contacting familiar voices of wisdom and insight, and asking them a series of questions about the current economic climate.”

Originally, I wanted to do the interview in our living room. But, the noise of passing buses on the cobblestone road outside our building cancelled this possibility. The fact that my husband was lying in bed with a 40 degree C fever, cancelled my going into our bedroom (much more quiet). The fact that my children’s bedrooms were inexcusably messy and not indigenous of intelligent thought, cancelled those possibilities. So, I ended up sitting on the floor of our bathroom, trying to feel as if this was a good place to hold an interview.

I have no recall of what I said. Since I cannot guarantee that I spoke succinctly or even well during the interview, I thought I would publish the answers I prepared for the interview.

The producers of the series ask the same four questions to each person:

In what way do you consider this a spiritual or moral crisis of your own or of our culture?
What resources are you bringing into this situation?
And what are you doing now that is different?
What sort of wisdom or leadership are you looking for at this time of your life?

A lot of what I wrote I didn’t have the opportunity to say, for there just wasn’t enough time or I didn’t find the right entry to expand on a topic. Some of what I write is a variation on what I have written before (e.g. trust in question 1), but there are other new ideas as well. I would be very happy to hear from you about what your answers would be to these questions.

01 April, 2009

Learning to Change - Changing to Learn

I'm working on setting up a series of workshops for teachers and creating a teachers' network. While preparing a presentation for one of the first seminars, I came upon this video again in my bookmarker list.

I'm sure I published it here before, but for those of you who haven't watched it, please take a look. In the last ten years I've been involved professionally with various aspects of learning: e-learning, K-12 media literacy, developing software systems for classroom and out of classroom learning. So much of what these people say in the video resonants with me: professionally, as a parent, and personally.

Imagine having someone with these visions and convictions as a boss or colleague. Bliss.