Monday, April 15, 2013
Thursday, March 28, 2013
As vast tracts of land are allocated for concessions, serious questions are being raised about this strategy towards development. What say do local communities have in the allocation of their customary land? How are benefits from these projects being distributed amongst affected communities? And, what will the long-term impacts be of increased competition for land between communities, companies, and government? The deeper you go in the forest, the more blurry the view becomes.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Monday, October 1, 2012
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The sun’s rays crackle through branches of green. In this soft, yellow light an unusual calm washes over the scene. The trees sway ever so gently. The leaves flutter. Through the crickets’ sirens, I try and listen to what the wind is saying.
There is no moment other than this (for every moment is one and the same – not separate – forever connected). I struggle to remain still, following my breath. Shedding all pretenses and self-consciousness, right now it all makes sense. And I want to burst.
In stillness there is the reminder that the wind is worship. Closing my eyes all I see is the brightest red. Like Krishna if only I could inhale the sun. But I’m not searching for an additional god complex. Instead there is consolation in the rise and fall of my chest.
The wind whispers there are many changes to come. And while peace reigns, the reality is that moments are fleeting with a muddled mind at work. I must improve my practice for there is a nervousness bubbling deep down in the dark of my being that will claim me in the days to come if I do not tend to it.
I have found that in a life of extremes finding balance is the continuous challenge. If only I could be as still as the trees – taming the riot raging within me, weathering the storms that will rock my heart. The fading light bears witness to the sensations of breathing, as each coming moment ensures the movement continues.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Sunday, March 25, 2012
“If you know your history, then you would know where you are coming from. Then you wouldn’t have to ask me who the heck I think I am.”
From the moment I stepped off the plane there was something familiar in the air. It was the smell in the streets; it was the smiles on people’s faces; it was the feeling inside my heart. I left Babylon lost and looking – for the clarity and strength necessary to navigate modern jungles. It would be Ethiopia that would remind me of the depth below the surface. But Africa has always been good to me.
The entire country is holding its breath for the rains. But each day brings the unrelenting gaze of the sun and more dryness, in this land of 13 months of sunshine. I walk around with a constant smile on my face. It’s the intangible that speaks to me; the understanding that cannot be gained from textbooks but must be breathed in. For some of us, the blood that flows in our veins carries culture that dates back to other times. For those of us whose affinities lie in songs, stories, and struggles, our journey inevitably leads us off the beaten path.
In nearly every bar, if you stick around long enough, you can hear a 2pac song. Along roadside stalls, in barber shops, and cinema halls, you may sneak a glance of a Shah Rukh Khan poster. I knew I couldn’t be too far from home – metaphysically speaking, that is. It doesn’t hurt that you can hear Ethiopians singing Hindi songs, loving the Bollywood jams, or breaking it down on the dance floor. It all feeds the flames of my enthusiasm.
As we crisscross Addis, interviewing youths, doctors, teachers, and NGO workers, the city comes to life. The dust becomes a part of your being. These days, Addis is the site of constant construction, with Chinese and Indian money paving the way. Here too, life is a hustle. In the markets and on the pavements, the smiles and greetings are infectious. Everyone has a story. The fresh juice is delicious; the bunna (coffee) – heavenly.
Leaving the city, the countryside opens up to the heart of this land, and with it, the plurality in perspectives that defies simplistic portrayals of giants like Ethiopia, Africa, and India. The mud huts, the mango trees, and the dry fields are reminders of the dangers of romanticizing lives that we claim to understand.
The friendliness and pride is more than apparent. In the only country in Africa that was never colonized (the Italians were defeated), the same colonial hangover that is present elsewhere in the world is oddly missing. There isn’t the obsessive desire to copy the West nor is there the backlash against what is foreign. There is a strange acceptance of, or indifference to, it all.
That’s not say to Ethiopia does not have its fair share of problems. Millions struggle to have their basic needs met. First-hand we began to understand the public health challenges – especially those related to reproductive health. The heavy hand of the government has been known to restrain civil society. No doubt, the pursuit of social justice remains in realizing the chaos of a vibrant, third world democracy.
But black and brown pride is always a reason to smile. While the world grapples with the potentially destructive practices of Western interventions, there are lessons to be learned – from the past, for the future – from people who live and struggle on ancient soil.
Mama Africa and Mother India have schooled me on the depth below the surface. She has taught me patience, showed me magic, and brought me love. It has been my experiences with habeshas and desis that have allowed me to disable fear and walk tall with an open heart. Since food is love, it has been Ethiopia and India that have nourished my vision, and guided me through what I cannot always see or understand. It’s been that injera and chapatti that has fed my soul, namsayin?
When that which exists in the air is older than the cities we visit, we must dig deep to get the full story. Such journeys require an intentionality and mindfulness – to wander the backstreets, where the signs are not the same and the neighborhoods change. It’s in the villages that don’t necessarily fall along the highways where the answers lie. It’s life lived daily beyond the palaces, churches, and mandirs of tourist fame. If you can tap into the currents that run below the surface you may realize how far back the story goes. You may begin to find that roots run deep.
Monday, February 20, 2012
I left the party fiending, unsatisfied, and alone. It was as if the entire evening I was searching for something that's time hadn't come. Quickly exhausting my options for a fix, I resigned myself to the fate of going home at 2 AM empty-handed.
Ahead was the public safety bus. At least I wouldn’t have to walk the short 12 blocks home. Accepting consolation in quick travel, I boarded the empty bus, greeted the driver, and took my seat.
Looking in her rear view mirror, she said, “Please flash your ID so I can see it.”
“Right on,” I said as I took out my ID from my wallet.
“Where are you going?”
After some moments passed, she looked up and asked, “Are people saying that again?”
“Is that something people are saying again? ‘Right on.’ Do a lot of people you know say it?”
“I mean, I say it all the time.”
“I know people from the ‘60s used to talk like that. I don’t hear people saying that anymore.”
I thought about what she said. I thought about what I had been shouting about all night –the need I felt to connect to the world around me. The fire I was trying to keep going in my own heart; the reminder that it was beating.
“Well you know, actually, I went to this event tonight,” I began. “I’ve been talking about it all night. You see, there’s a professor here and he just wrote this book. He was telling his story of how he joined the Panthers when he was 15 years old. After Dr. King was assassinated, sharing his grandmother’s tears. He spoke so beautifully about the struggle.”
She seemed to be listening. And I was just getting started. I continued on excitedly explaining the jewels of wisdom I had heard that evening. “There was an understanding of community and connection. It was about the breakfast programs and health clinics. In the face of infiltration and repression, the motivation was serving the needs of the people. It seemed so right –just before I graduate, to hear Jamal Joseph break it down tonight.”
She was silent. But by this point, I wasn’t expecting anything. After all, I had been telling the same story all night and except for a few friends, no one was really trying to hear me.
I stopped talking. She reached into her bag on the ground next to her and pulled out a book. There it was. The stories I heard and been trying to re-tell all evening. There in her hands I read the cover – Panther Baby.
“Were you there this evening?” I asked.
“No. I had to work,” she said.
As we sat there, parked in front of the gates of the University she asked, “How do you think you will translate what you heard tonight into your life?”
I talked about my student activist days and what the Ten Point Program meant to me when I was a teenager. How the journey that started somewhere with disrupting high school hallways took me to villages in India as a community organizer. I talked about how roots run deep.
And then, all of a sudden, I caught myself. All I had done the entire evening was rant and rave about human dignity and social justice and knowing history and where you are going. “What is your connection to all of this? Where does your interest lie?”
“The human condition,” she responded point-blankly as we drove down Amsterdam Avenue. “The way we choose to interact with each other.”
Throughout our lives we attract certain people. Sometimes in order to reach out across the abyss of our alienation, to share the stories that were shared with us, we need the frustration, the struggle, the persistence to find what we are looking for. And when we have nearly given up, in the places we least expect to find it, there is a reminder of what it’s all about.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
It's unseasonably warm for winter in the city. A breeze that would normally sway the icicles hanging from my ribcage, instead brushes against warmer bones. I round the corner of 116th and nod to Nabil, who is busy with a line of hungry customers congregated around his halal cart. I keep walking – past the masjid where evening prayers are ending. The street is crowded with smiles and I weave through the enthusiastic exchange of African and French greetings. Turning the next corner, I cross paths with the youngsters who make their cash on these sidewalks. An exchange of glances, an acknowledgement, and it's back home.
When I moved to New York I thought it important to be rooted in a community. To know my neighbors. To have a sense of reality. My neighborhood was the eclectic Uptown mix. From the Moroccans at the cart, to the Yemeni stores on each corner, to the Dominicans who insisted on calling me 'Primo', to the West Africans who had come from Senegal, Mali, Cote D'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau and elsewhere – it was nice to be surrounded by brown people.
Over the next year and a half, I would learn from all of them – looking, listening and absorbing life lived daily on the streets of the concrete jungle. This process would require figuring out the ins and outs of the neighborhood – reminiscent of discovering much of the same during those years spent in Himalayan villages and on continuous train journeys. Uptown, with its changing face, would become the setting of all my adventures and misadventures, and it would be Harlem that would become home.
Every day, I would attend one of the premier educational institutions of the country (with its self-proclaimed prestige, dynamic academics, and absurd tuition), but every night return to 115th. My time in Harlem has constituted an education in itself. My experiences added texture and a dose of reality, to what I would hear about human rights, development, and poverty in the classroom. My roommate, who had grown up in the neighborhood, would tell stories about how he saw it all change. How crack had decimated the community and how the effects of addiction became part of daily life. And there remain the on-going debates over gentrification and the continuing battles over land and property.
For me, the affluent and working class cultures of Harlem have been uplifting. The legacies of past residents: Hughes and Ellison, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, and Baldwin, Belafonte and Robeson remain powerful. And on top of all that, the crowds on 125th street, the bazaar-like atmosphere, and the street hawkers selling everything from scented oils to incense to bootleg DVDs would never fail to invoke memories of India. I often asked nearly everyone I met where they are from, trying to draw out their stories. However, it was those young men on the corner, who provided the sharpest and realest points of reference.
Education takes many forms, if we are open to learning from all that we see and do. On my block, there were also the addicts, the junkies, the sirens and arrests, and the not-so-nice landlady downstairs – who would blast her radio at 8 am sending shockwaves through my bedroom floor. Each has added layers to my own growth and understanding. As the pages turn to another chapter, the plan is for Harlem – the only home I have known in New York – to remain home for now. In all its ups and downs it has remained a place of learning, and in the end, what more could you ask for?