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"I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn't made that decision. I suppose I would have sunk. I suppose I would have found some kind of hole and tried to hide or pass. After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities. I would have hidden in my hole and been crippled by my sentimentality, doing what I was doing, and doing it well, but always looking for the wailing wall. And I would never have seen the world as the rich place that it is. You wouldn't have seen me here in Africa, doing what I do."

- V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River
Sep. 21st, 2008 @ 03:37 pm drawing connections
About this Entry

Multiple times a day I’ll start this blog entry in my head. It’s startling to think that I’ve been doing so for a month.

In Dubai I wanted to write about my transition from the Judy of the logic-devoid, sensory-assualting jungles of Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia to the Judy of sweltering sands and capitalist construction capital of the world. The transition into the uber-developed Emirate was easy; Sudan felt light years away. I wasn't at all astonished by the fluidity with which I transformed from bush-woman to high-heel wearing, 300$-a-night-hotel sleeping tourist. I forgot all of the mosquitoes, mudboots, and yellow-cabbage instantly. Seventy-two hours later, in Manhattan, with 72 hours before my flight home to Florida, I saw friends, took cabs, bought expensive toys. Only four days later, bathing in Siesta Key's sunshine, did I feel a bit stunned and moved by it all.

I suppose it's contrived to acknowledge that. White bloggers always seem to reflect and comment on their departures and the symbolism of picking up and peacing out: always able to do what the people around us can not. I've been processing that, but like most other bad-bloggers, have been of course too busy to make meaningful entries, overwhelmed by this pace and that offer and those assignments, to take time and concentrate on writing out all of these nonsensical blabberings.

But then, small things start happen.

A headline about Castro winning a humanitarian award was one thing. A 'dictator' we chastise consistently, won the Ubuntu award? Ubuntu - an ethos based on our interpersonal relations with other humans, generosity, community, and fairness - in the headlines transported me instantly back into Addis Ababa's Bole Airport, where chance circumstances exposed me to that spirit, the spirit held by "those people," those who can't get up and leave, and who by their categorical circumstance have every reason to want to do such things, but, who, by their inherent senses, take graceful stock of their situation and don't choose to flee the way I have. Without losing you too much, dear reader, I'll divulge this 'Ubuntu in the Airport' experience:

After all the hullabaloo with immigration and the ministry of the interior and the court house and lost paper work and my laptop being held up in immigration, I wasn’t expecting a smooth departure. When I arrived at Bole International Airport, with two hours before my flight to Dubai, and an immigration officer was unwilling to return my computer to me, we called Save to intervene. When Save gave the go-ahead to release to me, the officials couldn’t find the computer. One hour til take off and they found the computer in the dusty storage holding chamber and told me to pay up. I had been told a price, and naturally, it was wrong. And, naturally again, all the airport banks were all closed. There were no ATMs. My flight out was in 45 minutes and I had no way of paying off my fine. I began debating getting on the plane and leaving my laptop in Africa, in order to escape myself. I tried raising my "what am I supposed to do" voice in desperation just as a handful of immigration staff approached me with an offering.

Four Ethiopians came to rescue me - a woman who cleans, a man who runs the x-ray machine, a man who blew smoke at the tourists, and a woman with beautiful curly hair gave me the money I needed to pay off my computer fine. They pooled together and paid off the four dollar equivalent that was going to cost me either a laptop or a flight out of Africa. In the face of this humbling experience, I could only offer thanks and a conscious appreciation for this atypical salvation, as I ran with my reunited machine to the terminal.

This spirit of giving, and unified action, and doing good in the name of positive living and positive change in humanity, has been repeatedly evoked within the concrete jungle of Manhattan over the past few weeks. I've gone with friends to see the incredible off-broadway production Fela, and was moved both by the afrobeat rhythms of my favorite musician and by this showcasing of the power of concerted efforts to create change. If you know me, you know I am a believer and advocate of the arts for education, advocacy, demonstration, and for generally shaking-people-up to make things different and better for humanity. Seeing Fela's messages against corruption, military-might, human-rights abuses, and the collapse of Nigerian traditional norms, performed for hundreds of people in such a captivating format was overwhelmingly awesome. As was the month-long showing of children's art from around the world at the United Nations headquarters, of which my work in Uganda was a part.

Small signs on the internet have been abundant, but reading this beautiful op-ed piece, about a teacher at an international school in metro-Atlanta, Georgia - in the community of resettled refugees, within which I first began my work in the arts for social change and my work with Sudanese, and my work with refugees and community development - brought my experiences over this summer, in a way, full circle. The writer's look at lives transformed resonated with me so strongly; her "testimony of transformation" concerning both her life and that of her Sudanese student, echoed powerfully with my journey, and in calling attention to the undeniable truth that we are all interdependent for these highly sought after transcendent moments, within which we see our own power and that of those around us cultivated most beautifully.

Ultimately, be it through churches in Ethiopia, obnoxiously common capitalistic-cultural phenomenons (shopping in Dubai), to nature at its finest, to well-crafted music and the arts, this shared vein of give-and-take connectedness and utility can be felt. And it is this constant balance, that I hope to shed light upon through this writing, as well as learn to craft with more beauty through my thinking, that will take me both around the island of Manhattan and around the world, back to Africa, yet again.

Feeling spirited and spiritual in Ethiopia:
Trinity Cathedralat the gates
the big apple.

Indoor skiing, shopping, sunning, and stirring (at the airport)
Ski Dubai
Mall of the Emirates
room with a view
Dubai International Airport terminal
14 hours later

At home in Sarasota; simple, sunny.

And back to NYC; exhibitions and exaltations:
Sport and Peace
Sport and Peace
gosh, i love me some kids' art
i love fela