Monday, July 27, 2015

On Violence

“All violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem.”
-James Gilligan

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shabbat Morning

I went with my family to services this morning for my Grandfather Harry's yahrtzeit.  There were two prayers I found most moving:

For the expanding grandeur of Creation,
worlds known and unknown, galaxies beyond galaxies,
filling us with awe and challenging out imaginations,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

For this fragile planet earth, its times and tides,
its sunsets and seasons,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

For the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises,
its hopes and achievements,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

For human community, our common past and future hope,
our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work
for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

For high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism
for understanding our views are not shared,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world,
who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

For human liberties and sacred rites:
for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose,
We acknowledge You with thanks.

We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes,
not by our words but by our deeds.

Blessed are You, Adonai, Your Name is Goodness, and You are worthy of thanksgiving.

And the other I found at the front of the prayer book:

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with angels
who hint at it in black words printed on old paper gold-edged by time.
Tell them I wrestle the mirror every morning.
Tell them I sit here invisible in space;
nose running, coffee cold & bitter.
Tell them I tell them everything
& everything is never enough.

Tell them I'm davening & voices rise up from within to startle children.
Tell them I walk off into the woods to sing.
Tell them I sing loudest next to waterfalls.
Tell them the books get fewer, words go deeper
some take months to get thru.
Tell them there are moments when it's all perfect;
above & below it's perfect,
even in moments in between where sparks in space
(terrible, beautiful sparks in space)
are merely metaphors for the void between
one pore & another.

Monday, July 13, 2015


On a grey monday morning, I sat in the awning of the Frisco Inn.  The sign for Eggs Florentine had been tempting me for days.  The rains started to come down, and I inched closer under the covered awning.  A slow steady drip appeared down the corner of the overhang.

The Fiorentino were even better than anticipated.  Yellow creamy Hollandaise over cooked green spinach and a poached white egg.  The English muffin held just firm enough amid the yolk and Hollandaise drowning to pull through.

I sipped kaffie verkert under The Grasshopper's words Omnibus Idem

The same to all.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dear Life Traveler, 

Take a moment, 
And allow the sounds of Nature
To awaken your inner silence,
And take you into your subconsciousness, 
Where your deepest truths lie. 
Love your life and its gifts.

Via MK.  The words of the prophets are written on rocks.

Via PR.  Life loves those who love life.

A la gloria

When all the revelers and whores have gone to bed, an eerie, early calm embraces the city--that is when I love Amsterdam the most.

In the quiet still. as canals create infinite arches with the stone arched bridges, and the only sounds are the bells ringing; birds calling; the street sweepers gently dusting street sleepers.

Filed under: the little things: drinking tap water.  Or from the shower.  After long periods in Africa, where that is not remotely possible.  I love such luxuries.

Amsterdam is Disneyland for big kids.

You'll remember me
when the west wind moves
across the fields of barley.
Sting, "Fields of Gold"

A la gloria.

Rule your mind,
or your mind
will rule you.

I love getting to focus on the present.  And pay attention to the beautiful contours of a tram as it bends to take a curve.

I love focusing on now.

I had a wonderful moment of blueberry zen in the depths of Frankdaal Park, sitting on a park bench under a beautiful old tree.  Its gnarls showed its years.  I listed to God moving slowly over the face of the waters by Moby.

I love Amsterdam because I feel the most free here.  Holland has drawn a line in the sand of acceptable behavior, and I am on the ride side of that line.  It's comforting to know that I have to work hard to do wrong here.  If Holland says don't do it, who am I to disagree?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Religion in schools

I was thinking about it: I am not opposed to religion being taught in schools.  I just object it being one religion taught.

If schools wanted to teach about Buddha's path to enlightenment, and stories of Ganesh and the Ramyana,

I think it would be quite worthwhile for students to learn the 5 pillars of Islam, and a little bit from the Talmud.

Lessons on Zeus and Palas Athena.

A bit of Odin and Norse mythology.

Perhaps even a bit on the Old Gods as well as the the new (and of course the Drowned God and the Lord of Light--because the Night is dark and full of terrors).

It is only when teaching religion becomes about teaching one religion do I object.  Because it is silly to think there is only one path.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Royal Burger

A grilled burger with fried onion, fried egg and grilled jalepeno coming my way.  With a side of Dutch frittes and samurai sauce.  Washed down with a cold Amstel.  Life is good.

De Nachtwacht

Sitting out in a cafe sipping peppermint tea under the watchful gaze of Rembrandt's Nightwatch cast in bronze.

Picasso said, "Everything you can imagine is real."

I tend to agree.

Greek trees; Chinese forestfire

Here is something far scarier than a "Grexit": China's Shanghai Composite Index has lost 3 trillion dollars in recent months--more than 10 times that of Greece's debts.


"The great and glorious masterpiece of man is how to live with a purpose."

Out of Africa; into Amsterdam

Out of Africa and into Amsterdam.  Gone from the hills of Kigali.  Gone from the lava-covered roads of Goma.  Gone from the seas of bodas in Kampala.  Hi to the canals of Amsterdam.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Zaire Bound

Or as Joshua Giraffe said in the song by Raffi:

"Nothing can go wrong-o, I'm in the Congo. Nothing can go wrong-o, I'm in the Congo. Nothing can go wrong-o, I'm in the Congo."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

False Flag

I would be happy to see the Confederate flag come down-- I would be supremely pleased.

 But the real issue remains gun control in America, and that we are not remotely addressing.

Taking down the Confederate flag, while meaningful in its own right, doesn't get us one inch closer to meaningful gun control.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Father's Day cont

On Sunday, as the NL Kampala Academy went on, I spent the evening playing with the kids hanging at the Sharing Youth Centre.  It is a community point, so lots of the slum kids hang out there.

We joked around and I laughed as they crowded in for a #MzunguSelfie.

"We are hungry," they said as we sat on a stone wall after the play.

"Just wait," I replied.

And shortly thereafter, a large cheese pizza from Royal Pizza came driving up.

At the Sharing Youth Centre, everyone must share that last slice.

I don't have kids (at least not that I know of...), and I may never have kids; I don't think those kids that day will ever know how much that Father's Day pizza meant to me.

High above the Love River in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  Swimming in memories.  I am not even dust.


I have to protect my socks from thieving monkeys.

I swear I am not delusional.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


My friend Maddy Clifford, aka MADLines of the NL Team Uganda, works with children incarcerated in the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center--teaching them poetry, spoken word, MCing and writing. These are their voices; this is her work.

Father's Day

I was trying to think of what to get my father for Father's Day.  He is always hard to shop for.  He never needs anything or wants anything.  I had an idea of what to get him, but forgot what it was.

I was trying to think of something to get him, so I turned to what is on my mind most: the Charleston shootings.

Then a light bulb went on in my head: I would donate to the NAACP in his honor.

Because I learned my dreams of social justice from my Father.

Because I am so proud to have a Father who has gotten more liberal with age.  Who always has believed that one day things can be better.

Because I think he will appreciate this far more than any gift certificate or tie I could get him.

Because I also got from him some eyes that well-up way too easily, and after this week I needed a good cry to get some of the emotions sorted out.  Sometimes tears do the only justice for what we feel.

Happy Father's Day, Abba.


From the Next Level Uganda collaboration session at the Ndere Cultural Centre in Kampala, connecting hip hop and traditional Ugandan music.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Riding on the back of a motorcycle to get roasted goat at a car wash/club. That just about sums up the end of the night.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

What the World Costs-Europa (Milano, Italy; Zurich, Switzerland)

1 euro ($1.09): espresso; 30 minutes internet
1.20e ($1.31): cappuccino; brioche
1.50 euros ($1.64): metro ticket
2 euros ($2.18): cappuccino; scoop of gelato
3 euros ($3.28): pizza fritti at Milano Centrale
4 euros ($4.37): tiramisu at Restaurante Delicado; bottle of cabernet sauvignon at grocery store
4.40e ($4.81): roundtrip train to Milano Expo
6 euros ($6.55) doner kebap, fries and a drink
6.50 e ($7.10): spicy chicken wrap at Chicken Cottage
7 euros ($7.65): plate of Spaghetti al Pomodoro
12 euros ($13.11): fast train from airport to city center
23 euros ($25.13): computer charger
38.25euros ($41.80): 1 night stay at Hotel Del Sud, w/o breakfast
57 euros ($62.28) : 2-day pass to the Milano Expo

Free: 1.5 hour free walking tour; public transit (trams, buses and ferries) on May 31, 2015
60 centimes ($.63): banana at grocery store
85 centimes ($.90): economical Swiss chocolate bar with hazelenuts
1 CH Franc ($1.06): bottle of sparkling water at grocery store
1.80CHf ($1.80): 500ml beer at kiosk
2 CHf ($2.11): mars bar; knoblauch baguette at grocery store
2.25 CHF ($2.38): Frey Swiss dark chocolate bar
2.70 CHf ($2.85): coffee and croissant at McDonalds (don't judge, it was the cheapest coffee I could find AND it came with a croissant)
3 CHF ($3.18): cappuccino at grocery store
4.40 CHF ($4.65): small beer at Tidbits restaurant
4.50 CHF ($4.77): bottle of coke at store that I laughed when I saw
5 CH francs ($5.28): Tip for guide for free walking tour
5.5 CHf ($5.81) glass of house white wine
6.5 CHF ($6.90) cappuccino at Starbucks that I wouldn't dream of buying
6.60 CHF ($6.98): train from airport to city center
8.5 CHF ($8.98): Falafel; large 500ml beer at fondue restaurant
9.5 CHf ($10.04): best Lebanese shwarma ever
9.80 CHF ($10.36): chicken schnitzel in a baguette
12 CHF ($12.68): Kirsch (cherry brandy)
12.5 CHF ($13.26): hamburger at a outdoor cafe that was far too rich for me
15 CHF ($15.85): breakfast at the hotel [no thanks!]
17.5 CHF ($18.56): fajita wrap at cafe that I couldn't afford
18 CHF ($19.06): Swiss Army knife
23.10 CHF ($24.41): normal sized plate of veggie food at Tidbits restaurant
26.50 CHF ($28.01): Fondue at local restaurant

78 CHF ($82.44): room for 1 night at Hotel Krone, shared bathroom and no breakfast

On the Beach at Night Alone

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky 
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the
 clef of the universes, and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, 
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies, though they be ever so different, 
  or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, 
  the fishes, the brutes,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe,
  or any globe,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d, 
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and 
  enclose them.
-Walt Whitman, "On the Beach at Night Alone"

Monday, June 01, 2015

Fondue, Swiss and Balkan-style

For my last meal on my Zimbabwe-Zanzibar-Zurich adventure, I decided to go out for the Swiss specialty of fondue.  I had never tried the melting cheese pot before, and figured this was an opportune time.  Besides, there was a place close to my hotel that came recommended by the city walking tour guide as one of the best in Zurich.

I meandered my way over as the sun was beginning to fade on my last day in Switzerland.  As I left my hotel, a dark cloud began to pour over the otherwise sunlit city.  I threw over my hood and wandered up the cobble stones to the recommended restaurant.  There was a table just under the canopy that was waiting for me.

The dark skies passed, and the sun began to shine again on the yellow and blue pastel buildings behind us.  As I sipped a mug of light Swiss beer, in the distance a giant arc of a rainbow filled the darkened sky, and I smiled at this fortuitous sign: Aloha Switzerland.

I watched the showers pass the bubbling cauldron of four cheeses mixed with garlic and kirsch came my way.  With a long silver fork, I dipped little bread cubes in the bubbling cheese stew and washed it down with a Swiss white.

The skies darkened then lightened again into a vibrant arc of yellow rainbow across the sky.

I finished as much of the bubbling cheese stew as I could, and asked the waiter for a digestif.

Grappa, I requested.  But he recommended that I stick with kirsch since there was already cherry brandy in the fondue.

I asked him if he knew of rakija.  At first he didn't understand me, then he didn't understand why I knew of rakija.

Duka, was his name.  He was Yugoslav of Albanian origin, from Kosovo.  He had come to Switzerland after the war.

I mentioned my work in the Balkans, my love of what was Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav sticker on my laptop.

He gave me the same melancholy sigh I always get.

We had everything. We were rich, but we didn't work so hard.  We had the best, and we lost it.

We chatted of favorite rakijas.  Viljamovka--pear.  Dunja--quince.  Of his Serbian neighbor who would slip him slivovic when he was in trouble with his parents or out for a good night.

Giveli--cheers we wished each other in melancholy cheer.

When the bill came, he saw my last name and asked how it was pronounced.  Rockower, or rak-over--just passing through.  He laughed and replied toda rabah.  How he picked that one up, I'll never know but no more random than an American who knows his rakija.

He bade me goodbye and wished me well.  Inshallah, I said, we will meet again for rakija.  He laughed, and replied Inshallah.

"We are a mixed salad in the Balkans," he laughed as I left.  Yes, you were and perhaps still are.

You were once fondue, but that sadly didn't last.

PS: My final thoughts are on the irony that I can't get out of my head is that I write this from Switzerland: a country of three languages (maybe four) and strong, differing faiths (Catholic and Protestant cantons), and somehow they have kept it together against the odds in ways that Yugoslavia could not. Somehow the tragedy of Yugoslavia feels more profound from Switzerland, and so much more sadly avoidable. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Watching an orange Lamborghini pull up at the stop light behind a yellow Ferrari.

Oh this place is far too rich for my blood.  Just dropped $25 on a plate of veggie food at a restaurant.