Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A city returned.

New York, I've missed you, and your mad, manic, beautiful energy. Let's dance, shall we?

Friday, January 10, 2014

2010 - 2014

I started writing here in 2010. Before that I wrote somewhere else, on another blog, now private, years before. Before that I started in a little black-covered journal bought for me in Berkeley when I was 8. I remember writing about a trip to the beach with my mother and my brother. These collections seem to act as chapters in my life.

This chapter is over. And while I would have thought there'd be something akin to a nuanced exit, a proud bow, a poignant retrospective, there isn't, just like there wasn't before. I don't know what exactly awakens the knowledge that it's time to close doors and move on, but I'm there, and there's no poetry in it. I have no more words. I've written many. I'm ready to stop for a while and see where I find myself. This blog started in June 2010 in New York, days before I landed in Port-au-Prince. It carried through to London in late 2012 - an extension of Haiti not only for what it inspired in me, but also for something found there. And then it came to find me here - Los Angeles, late 2013. That was unexpected.

Shortly after the start of this year - 2014 - I sent my last Western Union wire to Haiti - payment for exams to get Jenny through her fourth year of high school, the final obligation to a promise made. Sending her the text with the confirmation number felt different than the times before. It was something like turning the final page. Haiti is in the past. London is in the past. I'm soon returning to New York - a city unlike any other in which I see possibilities not possible before. There's closure in the circuity.

To say I've been changed between the time I started this blog and this point at which I end it simplifies the truth of it. I am the same person, and I'm not at all. I stop writing now for a reason. It's time to take account. There's so much familiar in me, and so much foreign. I am more grounded in who I am, even as I test my footing.

Thanks to all of you I've come to know throughout the experience of this mad leap of faith. There are too many to name, but I count myself bettered for having had the chance to cross paths. I wanted to find something. You helped unearth much of it. Mesi anpil. I feel closer to who I want to be for all of what this has been.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas present to myself.

I went out and bought a journal a few days ago, not to keep my own thoughts in, but rather, to take note of the thoughts of others that speak to me. I like the idea of having something with me that, when those moments in life come a creepin' and the intellect or the soul are curious or seek nourishment, all I need do is open it, flip a few pages, and read.

But, as I well know after the experience of having so many countless things of mine misplaced, forgotten or stolen over the course of my bouncing around, anything physical can be lost. So I'm going to create a digital copy. Tumblr does the job well:

qz / selections

Here's to hoping I get a kick out of this when I look back years from now and see what still speaks to me, and what at one time did.

A year ago at this time I was reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. There were a few quotes from it that resonated, but two, now, remain. One for lessons already learned, one for lessons learning:

"I never told her that - what her affectionate and unconditional acceptance meant to me. So much, too much, of the good that I felt in those years of exile was locked in the prison cell of my heart: those tall walls of fear; that small, barred window of hope; that hard bed of shame. I do speak out now. I know now that when the loving, honest moment comes it should be seized, and spoken, because it may never come again. And unvoiced, unmoving, unlived in the things we declare from heart to heart, those true and real feelings wither and crumble in the remembering hand that tried too late to reach for them."

"What characterizes the human race more, Karla once asked me, cruelty, or the capacity to feel shame for it? I thought the question acutely clever then, when I first heard it, but I'm lonelier and wiser now, and I know it isn't cruelty or shame that characterizes the human race. It's forgiveness that makes us what we are. Without forgiveness, our species would've annihilated itself in endless retributions. Without forgiveness, there would be no history. Without that hope, there would be no art, for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness. Without that dream, there would be no love, for every act of love is in some way a promise to forgive. We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive."

Happy holidays to all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The life ideal.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” - Louise Erdrich

Beautiful quote, it resonates. There are moments in my life when I acknowledge that my idealism creates the foundation for suffering. In some respects, that idealism is both my greatest strength and greatest weakness. And yet even in those moments when the suffering surfaces I've always refused to forsake the idealism that is responsible for it, because I know what sits on the other side, and I trust that it is there that I find my happiness, my redemption, my truth, and myself.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Disaster response catastrophizing - a solid point made.

In respects to the panel / post yesterday, I found this recent Time article by John Crowley an interesting read:

Stop Catastrophizing Relief Efforts in the Philippines

He makes a good point in respects to security and the effect that media reports can have on the willingness of aid agencies to deploy their people into a potential dangerous or predatory environment. Traditional media outlets lean heavy toward fear and sensationalism and I support any efforts to paint a picture that reflects what is actually going on rather than highlighting certain choice bits aimed at maximizing consumer attention (Oh my god! That is horrible!).

Haiti, as he mentions, is a good example. I remember vivid media reports with (warning - graphic) photos of bloodstained bodies gunned down in the streets of Port-au-Prince (source: LA Times) and the general feeling that the country was an utter dystopia. That was not at all what I found when I went there. True, I arrived six months after the earthquake, once the initial panic had passed, but having spoken to foreigners who were there during the disaster and monitoring international media reports on it, they told me the violence and chaos being depicted were entirely overblown.

This is deplorable and should be called out. Balance in reporting is important, which is to say, if security is compromised and violence is happening, it is right to bring attention to it. But to focus on it in such a way as to make it seem more widespread than it is, or at the expense of highlighting the other side of what happens in any disaster - people coming together to help each other - does a disservice to all involved, and if it deters quick deployment of aid, can result in more lives lost.

That said, I still believe that it isn't wrong to call out aspects of response that seem to be repeating - delays, a lack of preparedness, etc. As I said during yesterday's BBC panel, there was time for both the Philippine government and international responders to better prepare for this storm. Unlike an earthquake, there is a lead-up. I read in news reports that gasoline shortages are widespread, power is out in critical locations (hospitals), and equipment to clear roads of debris are not available. These are logistical square ones, and while I am not on the ground and therefore cannot know exactly what the realities are, it seems to me that having ready-to-go gas reserves, generators, and equipment that reflect the potential scope of the disaster should be a given. I understand contextual sensitivity is key. Haiti pre-earthquake could never be expected to effectively handle the scope of its disaster, there simply weren't enough dumptrucks, excavators and bulldozers in the entire country to do the job that needed doing. But in the case of the Philippines, I don't know if the same holds true - it is a country intimately acquainted with all manners of natural disasters - but even if it does, the prep time allowed by a hurricane could have been used to rally international support and preparation so as to avoid or minimize very predictable post-disaster problems. Again, I'm hesitant to condemn outright a situation I am very far removed from so I am the first to admit I could be missing something important with this critique, but there is frustration over repeating lessons that do not seem to be learned, or, if they are, are being learned slowly, and incorporated in often sub-par ways.

The bit I of the article I found the most important, however, was the point made at the end:

"When journalists focus on looting and slow aid delivery, they miss the point. Information is aid. Their reports are part of weaving the fabric of a global Filipino community back together after a typhoon tore through their hometowns. By showing communities coming together, journalists can amplify the dynamics that save lives.

It is time to look at how effectively international organizations are supporting a normally well-oiled (but now struggling) domestic response capacity, not how international aid shipments are arriving late. It is time to ask why the cellular networks are not back and running, so that the diaspora can reunite with family and send money via mobile banking. It is time to make a request of financial institutions like Western Union to reduce their surcharges on sending money to the Philippines.

When the crisis abates, it will also be time to ask if this operation is a first peek at the future of disaster response: when international aid gets criticized not for being late, but for needing to do more to help capable local responders, companies and communities get stuff done."

Preach! Not only does this point clearly highlight the essential element of local people working to solve their own problems - a cause close to my heart - but it also shifts the focus. I've often felt that the spotlight in disasters - be they natural or man-made (war, terrorism) tends to paint local people as somewhat powerless - victims - and international aspiring do-gooders as their rescuers. This is built into the very lexicon of aid work - I've never cared for the term "beneficiary". To be fair, this isn't entirely false - international aid workers, search and rescue teams and their supporting donors do help people and save lives - but it creates a massive blindspot when it fails to accurately show how local people are not simply victims, but indeed their own rescuers, and they are that before the internationals arrive and will continue to be after the internationals leave. Supporting local actors and the systems and opportunities that allow them - the people that will remain - to do the best they can do for themselves, both via media reporting and international programming, should take front and center in any aid response. It is the local context and the people living in it that is ultimately the true determinant of whether lasting normalcy will return following any catastrophe. The international community certainly plays a valuable role, but to focus the spotlight primarily on its successes and failures - which subtly suggests that the end result ultimately rides on its shoulders - is misleading and does a great disservice to those both most affected by disaster, and most invested in recovering from it.

- - -

Update - read this:

Jonathan Katz - What We Shouldn't Be Doing in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda

Jonathan is a journalist who was on the ground when the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince and after having heard him give a talk in London this year, I agree with a lot of how he looks at things.