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No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.

Mundane Monday

As  the sun begins its ascent on a new week in central Mozambique, I am not without my questions about what it means to exist and do. I am sure we all ask ourselves if what we are doing means anything…especially if you are stuck in a corporate position. The Man clamps down and holds you in his grasp, unwilling to allow you a speck of happiness.

Forget being happy. What about greatness? I am far from the glittering world of commerce and the institutions of higher order in New York, London and the like but it doesn’t change my desire for more.  I came to Africa to really do but the existential unhappiness of the doing still invades the development work. Even my work in development is a drop in one of the biggest lakes of human rights abuses throughout the world. It is enough to keep crying. Tears aren’t going to change the world though.

It is more than that. Insanity and reaching for greatness does not a great mind make.

Maybe it is because pushing yourself to achieve is not enough in life, and it doesn’t mean you are more intelligent than the next person. Calvin and Hobbes are always reminding us about friendship and the fall of humanity, albeit in humorous form. Brilliant! Calvin knows the difference between a boring everyday slave-to-school Monday and the FREEDOM of running around without clothes on. Finally~ Life can begin!

You may beg to differ that inventing Naked Mondays is hardly what a great mind would think. But who is to say?

Aristotle said that a great mind must exist with at least a touch of the insane. So if we question what we are doing because our mind feels as if it is bordering on madness should we question our mind? When we are reaching for something extraordinary … what does that mean? Could it be closer to having a great mind but still unsatisfied?

Who is anyone kidding? Insanity and dissatisfaction does not a great mind make.

Certainly I do not live a charmed life. My idea of a good day is when I haven’t found solvent paint on my face at 5:00pm or swallowed a bad piece of chicken (happens more than you can imagine). Yes I have R&R. I can visit home. I see beautiful places other people don’t dare to see. But daily life – glamorous it is not. Satisfying? Lately not even that. Greatness isn’t often charming either.

My only consolation is that if I am Calvin I have my friend Hobbes. What if Hobbes wasn’t there? I guess Calvin would have to rethink Naked Mondays for a start. What fun is that without a friend to appreciate the true inventiveness of Naked Mondays?

Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.
Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.

Perhaps the question is not about questioning the familiar, the mundane, and the boring. It is about using the dissatisfaction as fuel to change the things you can control even if it makes you go crazy. If I was Calvin, I would say Hobbes is my secret ingredient – madness, a little bit of being clever and a friend to cheer you on or tell you when you should rethink things. Criticism comes not only from our enemies, but also from the ones we love the most.

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

If we don’t constantly wish to be more, to change what is stagnant, we may never have to worry about the thoughts of others. But what if we do? Then we fall prey to the many bystanders, pits of vipers and those waiting for us to fail. I’ve had my share of criticism and it isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m reminded that I am surrounded by friendship that never questions my character, my passion, and who I am. An ambitious mind is one that is vulnerable, especially if your passion is on the line. Vulnerable to criticism, envy, and FAILURE.

Admittedly this can be a hard place to be. My mind is not far from misery right now. But one cannot fear what is not known – greatness is not something often achieved alone. Lately I am not so sure about my own strength.  But I do know who my friends are. If I know I am crazy, they know I’m crazy, but I still know who my friends are. So life isn’t so bad.

Maybe I could push myself over the edge to something great after all. They say that a man is only as good as the woman standing behind him. Well I may not be a man but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Maybe being female means all the women behind me make me stronger. I don’t have one; I have many! If one is measured by all those behind her, then I may have some greatness in me after all. Thank God.

I wish it was only my mind that was on the chopping block but if one’s passion is part of the motivation I’m in trouble. It is also my heart on the line.

Sometimes that is harder than it seems. Cheers to you ladies!

Here’s a balloon from Moz. Or two or three. Who said African living isn’t weird and weirder and maybe some kind of wonderful?

Nacala Juventude Drive

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If you’re about to jump off that cliff, what happens when you look down?

What I write today is what what I’m not supposed to say.

A landmark Supreme court case recently ruled about one of the most controversial things in the developed world even today.  Next to Euthanasia, it is still potentially the most highly-charged subject (excluding gun control, of course).

Abortion.

It divides dinner parties, it separates women and highly-held opinions about mothering, child-bearing or the right to lack thereof and polarizes those with genderized images of femme fatales, love/marriage and having children.

Beatrix Kiddo goes on a "rampage of revenge" when her so-called friends are responsible for attempting to kill her and the child she carried.
Beatrix Kiddo goes on a “rampage of revenge” when her so-called friends are responsible for attempting to kill her and the child she carried.

In popular culture, certain 90s films dictated possible dealings with the choice of having a child as a teenager (i.e. Singles) but generally we tiptoe around the subject in Hollywood.  Other liberal countries like France don’t often give it a second thought, but conservative ones like Ireland advocate the right to life over right to women’s choice. Yes, even in 2014.  While it isn’t a subject two sides usually can persuade in a political forum (Ask any republican/democrat debate on the subject… ) what is often forgotten is that the individual choice is the one that matters.

Now while this decision did not change U.S. laws on the subject it did make a case that a Massachussetts law preventing anyone from standing within a 35-foot buffer zone of an abortion clinic was ruled unconstitutional.  The case decision recognizes people as agents of change.  Autonomy.  What does a woman feel before she makes that all-important choice?  No one pretends that it isn’t a bit like taking a dive into deep waters, but we try to ignore it if we can.

Autonomy in these kinds of decisions is remembered but not often discussed at least not in the circles I run.  The only honest discussion I ever had was with a roommate when we lived with another college acquaintance.  When the subject came up, we both still kept hushed voices even though it was 7:00 am and there was no one around.

“I know this is a sensitive topic but I don’t think it is easy for anyone to decide.  Well [Emily]…”

“Yes, what about her…?”

“Were you aware she had an abortion?”

“No, of course not. We aren’t very close.”

“Yes well right before Emily and [Trent] broke up they had to go through all of that.  She’s never been the same.”

“That must be rough.”

“Well she says now that it needed to be done at the time but she dreams about it almost every night and has for the last 2 years.  She talks about her nightmares and sometimes I can hear her sort of crying.”

Now I know that this isn’t what women’s rights activists want to hear.  They’ll say it was her right to choose what the best thing was for her body and she made the decision to protect her right to freedom.

What is forgotten in this conversation is that the choice itself is not just a difficult one at the time.  In fact, like many difficult decisions, they often come back to visit us years later. Whether Emily’s choice is ultimately one she will respect as her college self versus the adult self she is today, I will probably never know.  I don’t know where she is but I presume there are many ‘Emily’s out there.

Why do I think so?  Another conversation I had with a friend , [Jane] who confessed she’d been lost for almost 12 months because of the same decision she made.  Then she spontaneously burst into tears over a secret heartache no one knew about.  Only this woman was closer to 30.  It seems the choice doesn’t get easier no matter the age.

So when I read this article today about “The Last Person You See Before Getting an Abortion,” it allowed me to ponder the ramifications of such decisions.  The Supreme court (SC) ruled unanimously that there should not be a buffer zone around Planned Parenhood and other such clinics to detract those who seek to make a statement.

It was an unusual decision in a place like the U.S. which has never been conservative on this issue since Roe vs. Wade.  The SC ruling, however, was based on a protection of free speech. The clincher in this Atlantic article was not the dialogue around the first amendment, it was the conclusions about altercations which occurred (or didn’t) between women going into clinics and those standing outside.  An SC Justice, Roberts stated that Boston police were not able to show evidence for more than barely 5 arrests although they attempted to discuss police clashes:

Roberts wrote, it’s not clear that these kinds of clashes are actually happening…Indeed the facts of the case suggest that something more interesting than scream-filled protests was happening at these clinics:  People have been trying to persuade others to change their minds about having an abortion — Even though these direct, personal interactions may make some women uncomfortable, Scalia wrote, that’s what the First Amendment is all about: allowing people to speak their mind and try to persuade others to see things the same way.  This is especially true in politically charged public spaces like the streets outside abortion clinics…

So, Roberts and Scalia made the case that when people speak to others in a polite, non-threatening way, some people were actually persuaded not to have abortions.  That certainly is news.  The fact that the decision was ruled unanimously also tells us something about how convincing the argument was.

The reason this made me think of Emily, Jane, and countless other women who may have had to face this kind of decision is simple. It is that it underlines a fact we ignore.  That the choice is an emotionally-charged one and recognizing that may be something.

In a continent like Africa, where 6.4 million abortion occurred in 2008, only 3% were performed under safe conditions.  By unsafe, WHO defines this as performing a procedure by a person with the lack of mandated skills or qualifications or an environment where the minimum standards of hygiene and/or medical skills are kept.  Mozambique, as an example of one of 18 African countries where abortions are legal if the woman’s physical health is at stake.  Abortion is not permitted under any circumstance in 14 additional African countries.  As it stands, this isn’t stopping women from choosing to do so.  The average is 29 abortions per 1,000 women. As stated earlier, most of these are not remotely safe.  So living on a continent with limited access to such procedures and opportunities, I realized all over again what a gift it is for people to choose.

To choose to say yes.  To choose to say no.  To change one’s mind.  To listen.  To make a decision knowing she will stay healthy (and wake up) after going under the knife.  Or stay healthy whether she says yes. Or no.

The Bride makes her final stand against one-time close friend, O'ren Ishii in Wintery Japan.
The Bride makes her final stand against one-time close friend, O’ren Ishii in Wintery Japan.

Or to decide like The Bride that slicing and dicing your old bosom buddies and team players is necessary for anyone who tries to take that decision away from her.   Kiddo may have a point. Just saying.

 

References

Green, Emma. “The Last Person You See Before Getting An Abortion,” The Atlantic Monthly.  26/6/2014. Accessed 26, June 2014.  http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/the-last-person-you-see-before-getting-an-abortion/373526

“In Brief: Facts on Abortion in Africa,” Guttmacher Institute.  Accessed 27, June 2014.  http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/IB_AWW-Africa.pdf

 

Dreams of an Isle

The scent of coffee drifts across my nose from the remnants of the last 30-minute café siesta; it reminds me of how the morning sweeps across us so quickly.  What seem just a few minutes are actually three hours and two cups of coffee later.  Legs crossed in lotus position at my desk, I am the picture of anti-professionalism, but then again the door is closed.

Just over two years ago, I stepped onto the great continent that is Africa for the first time.  As I relish what it felt to step onto that soil and smell the dusty air, I am overcome with peace.  The fragrance of clean earth and salt in the wind prickled against your skin when you stepped into Madagascar.  What is fast everywhere else was slow and tranquil.  It was good.

Within the usual cogs of life’s blood and the ticking time bomb that is industry here.  Life here in Mozambique is dangerous and charming all at once – a manifestation of the typical stereotypes and surprises combined with foreign investment and strange expatriates.  Getting caught inside the insanity is part of the fun.  There is more to African states outside of what I see here.

That is what Madagascar was to me – it was just more.

My recent work with a local health and agriculture NGO is opening my eyes to the pitfalls of organizing African projects.  It is possible for things to go well – but often one must expect they will go wrong.  Yesterday’s meeting happened over an hour after it was planned and the main contact performed a no-show (there are still no messages on my cell phone from this person).  Frustrating yes, but I learn. May be motivated to do more in fact, from my experience.

My partner-in-crime, D, lived in Madagascar twice in his life, for approximately 3 years.  The way he tells it, it is the dream.  He isn’t far off.  You may have some of the usual irritations like the inconvenience of the power shutting down and lack of public transport, but this is tempered by the local restaurants which don’t serve food with European pricetags, the thriving expatriate community, and the wonders of the surf.

Tea Time in Fort Dauphin

Dusk along the veranda
Dusk along the veranda

The latter is one of the most important.  Mozambique shares some of this pride in its sand and sea, but there are few waves and seemingly fewer expatriates in this part of town.  On Sunday, a short church service was followed by work (it doesn’t stop even for holidays here sadly) but the office was left early to share a celebration in the middle of Nacala-a-Velha where we laughed about the days gone by while the rain drizzled off the rooftop of a Portuguese restaurant, chilled wine in hand.

It is easy to take much here for granted.  In fact, some aspects of this sub – Saharan region (if one considers Mozambique part of this cluster) is 100 percent convenience – laundry washed, full dinners cooked, and water bottles delivered to your door with a can of mosquito repellent.  Perhaps an ideal living standard doesn’t include that last one but it is fairly necessary if you want to enjoy the gorgeous twilight as the sun descends on the sleepy villages.

Hobbies here include scuba, snorkel and laughter by the ocean, of course.  One of the favourite spots in Nacala Porto is along the shore where I capture scenes of children playing next to groups of boys casting their fishing nets.  Events and people here are shaped by moments much simpler than mine and they are happy.

Running through the bright greens of the bush

 

Wild life in lovely Saint Luce, Madagascar
Wild life in lovely Saint Luce, Madagascar

In St. Luce, Madagascar the pictures were the same – humbled lives driving boats around corners, fishing along streams and carrying all their belongings across roads and through bushes.

Sunburnt and Surfin’ Africa

Using my first board on any continent anywhere.  Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Using my first board on any continent anywhere. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

So, as I reminisce about the Isle that is Madagascar from the wonderful day I was first brought to Africa, I cannot help but wonder:

How can my life ever be the same after this?  Some might say that life is difficult here but how else could I really appreciate when everything falls into place perfectly?   No – nothing goes to plan here but then, life goes.  Life adapts.  You adapt.  I do too.

Truly I am dealing with the harsh realities of racism, abject poverty, polychromatic visions of time (which means some don’t even really believe in time as much of anything except a number to point to) and a lack of understanding about littering and toilet usage but that’s not important, really!  It is a small price to pay when I can see so much more that is humble and beautiful.

Even then, when I do go home, when I speak to my family on the phone, when I eat brie, goat’s cheese and fresh fruit, well… it doesn’t get much better than that.  It is so rare these days.

What is rare is special.

As I said, how can I see what perfection is?  How can I appreciate it until I first go through the challenges of adjusting to an existence rife with challenges?  I think we were brought on this Earth to go through trials in order to see the good.    La vie belle would lack that je-ne-sais-quoi that is impossible to deny.

First in Fort Dauphin, I was introduced to a world so unlike my own and I fell in love with the people, the place and the mystery of Africa.  Now, Nacala.  It is not a coincidence that a certain fellow who first showed me the unusual complexity of Madagascar is the one who also gives me so much joy now.  I am so thankful for day number one with this guy and certainly for today.

Life is never boring and it never will be.