Category Archives: Uncategorized

Appropriate titles don’t come to mind…

It has been a trying week.

I flew back from France to Istanbul on Monday. It was difficult to leave this time; I’ve not been back since January. Then I wasn’t quite sure how long it would be before I got back to visit, but I figured it would only be a couple of months. This time, for a number of reasons, I left quite sure I wouldn’t be back until December.

But as I got off the bus from the airport and started making my way back to my flat, the streets of Istanbul – of Kadiköy more specifically – infected me as they always do with a sense of welcome and calm…this very big city that feels like so many small towns squeezed – sometimes uncomfortably – tightly together. It was late and I was tired. A 15 minute walk is nothing too terrible, but I was weighed down with the fatigue of a 14 hour journey and 50lb (23kg) of luggage on my back.

Still, there was a gentle breeze at my back coming in off the sea, the seagulls were painting their lovely white streaks across the night sky, and the streets bustled with folks going and coming or sitting on the terrace drinking tea and smoking shisha, and within minutes I found the familiar spring to my step. In spite of the distance between C and I, in spite of the distance separating me from the plateaus and volcanoes of the Haute Loire that make my spirit sing: enough was right with the world. Things would be okay.

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On what seems most pressing right now.

As the weeks have passed since my last post, I’ve pondered what to write about on so many occasions. Discussing the political situation here is off limits – that’s part of working in humanitarian aid. While it goes without saying that everybody’s got opinions about the political context unfolding around them, we’re expected to keep those feelings to ourselves in the interests of addressing the beneficiaries we’re serving, directly or indirectly (in my case at this moment in time, it’s very much the latter). In any case, it’s not the best time in history for amateur pundits to philosophize publicly about the powers that be in just any country. Particularly this one.

I could certainly talk about my work, but the truth is that while it feels very important and exciting to me, it’s not very sexy and wouldn’t really thrill my gentle readers. More often than not, it’s a bit of a pickle even to get the people I work with excited about it.

This country and this city are extraordinary, but I still don’t feel any air of authority to opine about it, and the wonderful and terrible little quirks we saw every day in the Philippines aren’t here so much – except politically, and for that I refer you back to my first paragraph.

The distance between C and I is necessary, but it’s suffocating…I know it’s temporary, but keeping this struggle to myself has become one way of coping with it…life sometimes simply is what it is, and when a difficult thing is sure to pass, my survival instincts at present are telling me just to get on with it (though a few more months into this might bring a different perspective).

However, living alone leaves me time I never had before to explore how I use my time, and one of the things I’ve found myself doing quite a lot is suffering the shock of what feels like a world gone absolutely fucking insane.

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Je suis vous.

It has been a difficult two weeks on Earth.  There were, of course, the horrific Charlie Hebdo, police, and hostage murders that took place in Paris.  I recently read that Saudi Arabia has carried out its 10th execution – beheading, that is – of the year.  Which is to say, of the last two weeks.  Perhaps most horrific of all, the entire town of Baga in Nigeria was razed to the ground, with what Goodluck Jonathon and his mates would like us to believe left behind 150 dead bodies, whilst in Realityville is looking much more like 2000+.

It is not easy being human these days.

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59 children have been brutally murdered in one go…and this isn’t breaking news.

I am outraged.

I am sick to my stomach.

This morning, scrolling through the news on the Guardian, waaaaay down at the bottom, nestled between a story about an NHS scandal and an IRA bombing suspect, was the story of 59 adolescent Nigerian students who were shot and burned to death by members of the extremist group Boko Haram on Tuesday.

At first they thought there were only 29 dead.  Apparently many of them ran for their lives, only to die along the way from their gunshot wounds.

Some of them were “burned to ashes,” according to the police commissioner.

This is horrible…terrible…I am no journalist, so I have no shame in admitting that it leaves me absolutely speechless.

But it is news.  It is very, very important news.

Appalled by the very unimportant placement of the article on the Guardian’s front page, I began formulating a letter of complaint to the editor.  Out of curiosity, and perhaps for some moral amunition, I headed over to Al Jazeera, hoping to say, “Hey, Guardian!  Look how this newspaper valued the lives of these children enough to place it at the top of the page!”  Alas, there isn’t even a mention of the event on their home page.

New York Times:  Nothing on their home page.

Los Angeles Times:  Nothing on their home page.

The Washington Post:  Nothing on their home page.

Le Monde: One of 16 lead stories at the bottom of their homepage

The Telegraph:  Nothing on their home page.

I’m going to ask you to do something terrible.

I’m going to ask you to imagine your own child, 16 years old, having just seen his or her classmates shot and burned alive, running through the bush, bleeding from gunshot wounds, until he or she finally cannot go any further, and collapses, to bleed to death, alone.

I don’t think I have a single reader out there who would contest that Africa is where it all began.  Where humans took their first steps; where farmers planted their first seeds; where civilisations were first built.  More recently, so-called “developed” countries have spent the past several hundred years endeavouring by any means necessary to systematically under-develop this massive, culture-, history-, and (perhaps most importantly to those “developed” nations) resource-rich continent to what often feels like the point of no return.

Humanity’s treatment of Africa and Africans is a microcosm – albeit a very large one – of  humanity’s treatment to the Earth and nature itself:  as somehow seperate.  Not part of us.

Listen:  Africa is us.  Those are our children. 

Consider Columbine.  Sandy Hook.  The Norway Massacre.

Why do the deaths of these children headline for days – weeks, even?  Why are their lives worthy of breaking news reports that start at the moment they happen and don’t end until we almost can’t stand to hear about it any more?

Why are the children of Buni Yadi College in Yobe, Nigeria, not headlining the news?

Please:  remember Biafra.

I should have been writing to thank the editors of the GuardianAt least they covered the story.

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Step three: Don’t just forgive your shortcomings – plan on them.

One of the greatest thinkers I’ve come to know in this life is a writer for the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman.  He’s got a regular gig there:  “This column will change your life,” and in it he explores all sorts of wonderful thoughts and ideas that maybe didn’t occur to the reader in quite that way before, but after pondering the concept à la Burkeman, they come out the other end thinking, “Exactly,” and also, “I’ve always thought that,” even if it’s the first time that reader ever bothered considering said idea.  Incidentally, that reader is me…I have no idea how he affects others.

Another lovely mind out there is the creater of brain pickings, Maria Popova, who has three extraordinary talents:  archiving some of the most interesting and worth-reading information out there, ergo consuming – if I will allow her – copious amounts of my life with all her interestingness; taking the ideas of multiple very talented thinkers and synthesizing them so that they are no longer overwhelming and instead fall right into place, one alongside the next; making herself seem somehow like this background informant, rather than the brilliant light she really is to the world of thought and thinking…humble people intimidate me.  Anyway, I digress.  Ms. Popova recently covered Mr. Burkeman’s new book, which has something to do with why setting goals is counterproductive, and she goes into very interesting detail in her post, and I intend to buy and devour this book, and I can also confirm that having read it, I will undoubtedly be in agreement with ol’ Ollie, because that is how he rolls…right into my brain, convincing me not only of his points, but also that I always thought them anyway, so no harm done.

But before I reach that point, a word on setting goals.

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Step One: Creating Space.

I am aware that if I look back on the various posts I’ve written on this blog, I would find the personal pronouns referring to yours truly too numerous to bother counting.  I’ve ventured out of my box a little here, a tad bit there, but for the most part I’ve focused my opining and whining squarely on the space that surrounds me, the things that happen to me, because of me, and by my hand.  It’s a bit boring, isn’t it?  I’m very interested in finding a place in life in which what I’m thinking about — what concerns me — is more interesting than, well, me.

For the moment, however, I’m still figuring out which foot goes where in order to move forward.  One of the biggest obstacles to that in the last year or so has been a lack of space.

I don’t mean physical space.  I’ve got enough of that.  I don’t mean time.  Time has been there – in snippets, which is a big part of the problem.  Imagining life differently than it is takes an extraordinary amount of space. That space is emotional, mental, and creative, and if it is diminished by fatigue, it is destroyed by fear.  Of course fear – my fear, at any rate – comes from self-doubt.  I’m not sure what it is that I’m doubting, because I haven’t even figured out what it is that I’m asking myself.  But I do know that I haven’t had the space to even begin to formulate that question.  So the possibilities, rather than seeming endless as they might, seemed painfully finite.  Suffocating.  Doom and gloom.

And then that changed.

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