Sunday, November 23, 2014

Matuto's Africa Suite release concert

Cultural diplomacy friends in NYC, check out Matuto's "Africa Suite" EP Release Event at Joe's Pub on November 24.

On their American Music Abroad tour, Matuto toured Mozambique, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Each member of the band was tasked with writing a song for each respective country.

This is the outcome of that cultural diplomacy project! Here is a vid from the Ivory Coast track:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The whirlwind

Once again, I am at a loss for words.  The incredible Next Level Bangladesh program has just concluded, with a thunderous performance at Shilpakala--the national auditorium of Bangladesh.  




The Next Level Bangladesh artists and NL Dhaka Academy gave a flawless performance that put Dhaka on the map as the hip hop capital of South Asia.  


The NL program gave legitimacy to a burgeoning hip hop community, and gave them a huge platform on which to showcase their immense talents.  They went from the backstreets to the biggest performance hall in Bangladesh.  Fully packed beyond the brim auditorium, with a mob outside trying to get into the show.  Hall filled with tv crews and print media. 

And they flawlessly rocked it. 
And the collaboration with legendary Bangladesh Baul singers was one of the finest cultural exchanges I have ever seen or heard.

This residency was a dream-come-true for the Dhaka hip hop community, and they rose to the challenge and seized the moment. The NL Bangladesh team was incredible, and truly got the most out of their students.  They legitimized hip hop in Dhaka. 

The team members Asheru and Jocelyn even met the Nobel Laureate Dr. Mohammud Yunis, who publicly welcomed them at an event.  He literally stopped the event to welcome the Next Level Hip Hop Artists to Bangladesh, and invited them to speak about their experiences in Dhaka.  

Our students had their parents coming to their first shows ever.  The NL Dhaka Academy was an opportunity like no other for the Dhaka hip hop community, and they made the absolute most of it.

Already some of our Dhaka artists are being invited to perform and discuss the NL Bangladesh program at the Hay Festival, Bangladesh's premier literary festival.
And the partners we had were peerless.  The indomitable Team Dhaka of the US Embassy to Bangladesh was the best team we have worked with yet.  The embassy went above and beyond.  From the ambassador on down, this post exceeded all expectation.

The program was a stirring reminder of the universal nature of hip hop, and its ability to connect communities like no other form of music that exists.  Hip hop diplomacy is what jazz diplomacy once was--and I am so proud to be a part of a program that is nothing short of the next generation of the famed Jazz Ambassadors program.

Following the conclusion of the program, we left Dhaka. Two member stayed on in Dubai for a few days, and the other two went home to America.  I had a 7 hour layover, so I left the airport and joined Amirah and Asheru for some humus, kebabs and hookah in Dubai.


I returned to the airport and caught an early morning flight to Athens via Istanbul, where i am presently lounging with my Greeek girlfriend Marianna at her lovely apartment.  I presented her with a lovely pearl necklace from Bangladesh's famed pearls.  I was met in return with homemade stuffed peppers filled with rice, raisins and pinenuts, and homemade spanakopita, and apple cake for dessert.  

I am taking a few days to relax after the whirlwind that was the NL Bangladesh program, with its unending traffic and overflow of emotion from the incredible program,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dear Leader would like to sing with you

Umm. Yeah, so I was just at Pyongyang--a North Korean Restaurant and Karoke bar in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Kimchi, bibimbap and endless visions of the workers' paradise.

Juche and gastrodiplomacy at its finest.

All the North Korean waitstaff also doubled as a karoke band, and put it down on the drums, bass, sax and synthesizer. I did a duet on the karoke, it was epic.

It was all fun and games, until a rowdy band of drunken Chinese fellas took over the karoke stage. But we made friends over soju, and they did a love song in honor of our group, so it was cool.

My head is bursting with surreality.

PS: Thankfully, Prof. Mark Katz was able to smuggle some photos out of Pyongyang. He really put his life at risk to get such evidence out of Pyongyang, and should be commended for it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rest Day

I spent the evening in a pearl market, watching the Chinese and the Bengalis duke it out over strands of pink and grey pearls. Two of the oldest, savviest bargainers going head-to-head. It was a mercantile meeting of the civilizations.
The night ended with me scarfing done a supernaga chili burger. At first the clerk didn't want to sell it to me.
"Too hot," he said.
I replied not to look at me like a gora, but rather as a light Desi.
The burger was H.O.T.
It was a fiery nirvana.

Dhaka streets

Riding through the naked, unclogged streets of Dhaka in a van full of a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim American breakdancer artist and three African-American hip hop artists.

Sounds like the beginning of a good joke.

The rarity was the empty streets.

The streets of Dhaka could swallow a car.  Swallow you up whole.  Potholes like endless valleys.

It is so packed it takes an hour and a half to go 10k, only 6 miles.  That isn't even rush hour, just a normal day.

The Honorable Asheru recommended a rickshaw lane.  I upped it to an elevated rickshaw lane.

Built by the Dutch for good public diplomacy.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Rabin, I remember you

This is slain PM Yitzhak Rabin lighting a cigarette with King Hussein after they signed a peace deal between Israel and Jordan.

And then I think about the chickenshit, chickenhawk leaders that Israel has today (Bibi, Yvette, Boogie), and I want to light up a cigarette myself :(

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Bangla

Nationwide blackout.  City-wide strikes.  The distinct possibility of armor-plated convoys.  And me, running a hip hop academy.  Looks like it is time for this public diplomacy knight-errant to ride again.  I live for this shit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Plato

TY to Marianna for this delight:

I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale of a hero, Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world. He said that when his soul left the body he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above. In the intermediate space there were judges seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs. He drew near, and they told him that he was to be the messenger who would carry the report of the other world to men, and they bade him hear and see all that was to be heard and seen in that place.

Then he beheld and saw on one side the souls departing at either opening of heaven and earth when sentence had been given on them; and at the two other openings other souls, some ascending out of the earth dusty and worn with travel, some descending out of heaven clean and bright. And arriving ever and anon they seemed to have come from a long journey, and they went forth with gladness into the meadow, where they encamped as at a festival; and those who knew one another embraced and conversed, the souls which came from earth curiously inquiring about the things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the things beneath. And they told one another of what had happened by the way, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey beneath the earth (now the journey lasted a thousand years), while those from above were describing heavenly delights and visions of inconceivable beauty.

The story, Glaucon, would take too long to tell; but the sum was this: He said that for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered tenfold; or once in a hundred years -- such being reckoned to be the length of man's life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behavior, for each and all of their offenses they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness were in the same proportion. . . .

Now when the spirits which were in the meadow had tarried seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to a place where they could see from above a line of light, straight as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through the earth, in color resembling the rainbow, only brighter and purer; another day's journey brought them to the place, and there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains of heaven let down from above: for this light is the belt of heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe. From these ends is extended the spindle of Necessity, on which all the revolutions turn. . . .

Now the whole spindle has the same motion; but, as the whole revolves in one direction, the seven inner circles move slowly in the other, . . . The spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper surface of each circle is a siren, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes and have chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, who accompany with their voices the harmony of the sirens -- Lachesis singing of the Past, Clotho of the Present, Atropos of the Future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the whorl or spindle, and Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis laying hold of either in turn, first with one hand and then with the other.

When Er and the spirits arrived, their duty was to go at once to Lachesis; but first of all there came a prophet who arranged them in order; then he took from the knees of Lachesis lots and samples of lives, and having mounted a high pulpit, spoke as follows:

"Hear the word of Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity. Mortal souls, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your genius will not be allotted to you, but you will choose your genius; and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free, and as a man honors or dishonors her he will have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser -- Theos is justified."
-Plato, The Republic

Saturday, October 25, 2014

By the rivers of Babylon...

I was chatting with my friend Omar.  Sarsamovich, if ever there was a good Jewish doctor.

Omar is an Iraqi Christian.  First, he was forced to flee Mosul.  Then he was forced to flee Iraq.

He is now safer in France, and I pray he stays there.

He once told me that after it was the Jews to flee Iraq, so next it will be the Christians. After Saturday, comes Sunday.

So true.

It is sad to think that he, and many more, had a better life under Saddam, but it is so.

There are deeper existential questions that plague Iraq.  First of which being: is it even a country.

Besides British deigns and designs, what does Mosul have in common with Basra beyond oil and the Tigris?

What did America know about invading Iraq?

By the rivers of Babylon, I wept for the mess we caused.


The Yugloslav Ambassador to Zimbabwe

As a taker of titles, real and imagined, I just added a new one: The Ambassador of Yugoslavia to Zimbabwe.

As I was passing through Harare, driving along signs for Embassies in the capital, I spied a sign for the Embassy of Yugoslavia.

Been a while since that Post was filled.

Hmm...given that I have been in Yugoslavia more recently than most Zimbabweans, I decided that perhaps I could take on the role of Ambassador.  At least I have the Yugoslav flag on my laptop, I figure that makes me a rarity in Harare.

So there it is.  Adding to my growing list of titles, I am taking on the Ambassadorship of Yugoslavia to Zimbabwe.  I figure it is probably a long vacant post.

I may have to kick some squatters out of the embassy residence, but it shouldn't be too hard.  No one is exactly expecting the Ambassador to return.

I would probably have to present my credentials to President Mugabe.  I think he might be a little puzzled by the exercise.  But a little rakija should smooth out the diplomatic formalities.

But I figure I have a better claim to most, given that I spent my summer in Yugoslavia, and I doubt many other in Zimbabwe could proffer the same.

I will add the title up there with Chief Rabbi of Lesotho and Tajikistan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Blaming the Boomers


Readers of this post have no doubt seen articles admonishing millennials for their perceived apocalyptic effect on the workforce, society, family and everywhere in between. The seemingly endless list of complaints about millennials begins with lazy and pampered, and ends with “selfies.” The accusations, guilt and fear-mongering are unfounded and – even worse – are mostly blame-shifting. Frankly, I am tired of it. What makes the millennial-bashing even more unbearable is the generation that is slinging the mud: the baby boomers.
Baby boomers came of age in an era of unprecedented prosperity. They were raised by parents who had survived poverty, war and the true sacrifice of a generation burdened with great moral struggles. As a whole, they experienced economic and physical security. Baby boomers received, by today’s standards, inexpensive and widely available education, preparing them for a thriving and open job market. Success at the beginning created a strong foundation for financial and personal success on a level the world had never known.
This led to America’s greatest asset: the middle class. So what did they do with all their good fortune? From the time the baby boomers took over, the United States has experienced an economic environment plagued with unfounded asset and real-estate bubbles and collapses. The bubbles were caused by blind greed on the part of investors, and a blind eye on the part of regulators. The baby boomers forced the financial and banking system out of relative security to high-risk systems.
The perfect example of this was the 2008 collapse of the toxic housing debt market. In government, baby boomers ballooned the defense budget beyond the point of reason. They then raided government programs to pay for their mistakes. Regarding the environment, baby boomers left the United States reliant on coal (cough, cough) while eroding the advanced nuclear energy infrastructure built by their parents. We can thank baby boomer leadership for a nation that has no sound policy on foreign affairs, the environment, energy, social welfare, human rights, terrorism, technology development, education, debt, etc. The point being, baby boomer leadership has provided America with a government that is the most partisan and self-serving the union has ever seen, and remains entirely reactive to the world around it.

The Gathering

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands...
-Revelation 7:9





Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Place

The Place by C.P. Cavafy
ευχαριστώ, Marianna

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

You said: “I will go hence to another land,
I will betake me to another sea.
A better place than this may well be found.
All my endeavours are foredoomed to fail,
and as though dead my heart is sepulchred.
How long shall this corrosion sap my brain?
On every side — whichever way I look —
dark ruins of my life confront me here
where I have spent and wrecked so many years.”

You shall not find new places; other seas
you shall not find. The place shall follow you.
And you shall walk the same familiar streets,
and you shall age in the same neighbourhood,
and whiten in these same houses. Ever this place
shall you arrive at. There is neither ship,
nor road, for you, to bring you otherwhere.
As here, in this small nook, you wrecked your life,
even so you spoilt it over all the earth.

Where the Midwest meets Southern Africa

The strangest thing is that Harare reminds me of an African Tulsa or African Phoenix.  Said probably no one else ever....





Share a coke with....


Cubola

Interestingly, Cuba is in the lead on the international front line on the fight against Ebola.  Not entirely a surprise, Cuba has been sending medical teams to Africa for years-- as well as military forces.  There was a time when Cuba had the most foreign fighters in Africa, serving as shock troops for the Soviets.  I have some of my own personal theories of how the Apartheid South African went after them in Angola but that is a different story.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Paris to Dakar to Harare

As is par for the course these days, I am at a loss for words and for time to encapsulate the worlds I am passing through....

I barely know where to begin these days.  First I was in Sarajevo, then I was in Suburbia, and immediately thereafter I was in Paris, joined by my girlfriend Marianna.  Yes, I have a girlfriend now.  A Greek one at that.

And she met me in Paris, and we did it up Parisian style over red wine and stinky cheese and steak tartare and Rodin and the Mona Lisa and La Tosca at the Bastille.  But that isn't what I am updating about.

And then I was in Dakar.  The former capital of French West Africa was a treat.  Hanging out under baobabs and banyans.  Wonderful people, and surprisingly great food.  I am now a huge fan of poulet yassa, a grilled leg and thigh of chicken covered in a rich sauce of grilled onions, olives and a lil peppery spice over rice.

Dakar reminded me of an African Morocco, and has an incredibly vibrant hip hop scene that I visited for the upcoming NL program in January.  The people were incredible, and so friendly and kind.  I truly loved it.  We found partners to work with, and a wonderful seaside paradise to stay in come January.  I even took the morning ferry to Goree Island, the infamous slave island but the pastel colonial island was not quite open yet in the morning hours. But that isn't what I am updating about.

What I am updating about is my return to Southern Africa, and the surprising wonderfulness of Harare.  For starters, the fact that I was coming from Senegal gave the Zimbabweans pause as they were convinced I had Ebola or was coming from an outbreak area.  It doesn't matter that Senegal has had exactly ONE case of Ebola, and they quarantined the shit out of that fellow--unlike the U.S. which sent their case home and told him to take two aspirin and come back in the morning.  But they did ultimately let me in.

Harare is surprisingly tranquil, with wide boulevards covered in purple jacaranda canopies.  I even spent a little time in a building designed as a termite mound.

I expected that gritty Jo-Burg feel, and actually was anticipating even more precariousness, but thankfully I was wrong.  Instead, I found a nostalgia for the 1990s, when Zim was booming and was a poster child of the "African Renaissance" before the economy went off the rails in the early 2k over the appropriation of land from the white Zim farmers.  Not a bad idea in theory, but for the "breadbasket of Southern Africa," such willful and capricious takeovers caused the farming industry to tank and FDI to shrivel.  And then the currency, which had been one-to-one with the dollar went turboed.  I had a Trillion Zim Dollar note in my wallet for years.

And of course, I should describe the food.  At a great grill, I had a wonderfully rich beef stew with corn meal and collards.  The Zims say their beef is better than South Africa, which I find hard to believe but I am will to test.

But the place still has a placid charm to it.  It feels like a suburban American city, like an African Tulsa or Phoenix without the mountains.  Salisbury.  And a surprisingly decent skyline that harks back to better booming days,

And it has an easy going spirit so long as you don't get into the politics.  I spent the night at a fun club called "Pariah State," which sums up the sardonic sense that the Zimbabweans have.  It was a posh lounge of which I was among the handful of whites, and made me hopeful for Zim's future--if only it can get through its present.

But Zim was always different than South Africa.  Even during the Rhodesia years, while the racial system was off, it was not as fragmented as apartheid South Africa.  It didn't have the same meanness that the Apartheid system possessed, albeit it was still not good.

I asked my Zim friends why Harare was not like Jo-Burg, and the basic answer I got was that the disparity in wealth is not as profound.  Many of my friends in Harare mentioned how precarious South Africa felt even to them because of the crime situation.

I had such misconceptions of Zim and Harare borne out of skewed imagery and media distortions. I am not saying this to downplay the problems it has, they are manifold.  But it is not remotely what I expected.

As usual, I wouldn't know if I didn't go.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Haute Street Couture

Oh Paris, even your homeless people dress better than moi

La Tosca a La Bastille

Marianna and I went to see "The Opera of Operas" at the Bastille!  It was epic.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Paris Returns

Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a first....freak-out that I don't have the visa I need as I am heading to the airport.

Just a minor scare, and it ended up being fine.

The flight to Paris was comfortable and uneventful.  Air France has all the comforts and charms that American carriers don't offer, and it made the long journey far more pleasant.  I sat next to a girl in high school on to Rabat to study Arabic for the year.  I pontificated to the budding public diplomat about the way the world goes round.  I think amidst all my yarn spinning, she was listening and taking note on how to get out in the world.

I returned in the darkness to Paris, and meandered my way through the airport and on the train to Gare du Nord.  In a light rain, I wandered to my hotel in Montmartre as the morning commuters set out.  Amazing that at nearly 8am, it was still so dark.  Not even the sun can be bothered to rise in Paris when it doesn't feel the urge.

I slept most of the morning, and ventured out in the grey to a bistro for some French Onion soup and a glass of bordeaux.  Such is my French breakfast.  I sat outside the little bistro, so pleased to be back in the city I love so.  Paris is in a different season than my summer sabbatical, and so am I.  I intently people-watched as the dapper French passed by in their scarves and jackets--a far cry from the summer frocks once adorned.  A metal;ic grey clung to the sky, and gave the manicured facades a stark appeal.

Paris, I missed you so.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

IOC

Vaccines

A lil polio. A lil typhoid. some meningitis. A spot of influenza. Some anti-Motaba vaccine. I think I can feel the polio in my left shoulder. Journey on 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sarajevo Still

A grey rainy day in Sarajevo. From the terrace, the pitterpatter of rain descends on the quiet day. The traffic passes beneath with sounds of a calm wave. The stillness of the afternoon punctuated by the muezzein's call to prayer. Indeed, God is great.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

All the little lights

We’re born with millions of little lights shining in the dark
And they show us the way
One lights up
Every time you feel love in your heart
One dies when it moves away

Longing

the warmth of your skin next to me; the weight of our bodies pressing against each other; the countertension of space filled.

the strength of my fingers on the nape of your neck; the back of our teeth clacking in deep kiss; nibbling at the soft flesh of your earlobe; the presence, once-longing now filled.
-Eric Hayes