Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Way The Cookie Crumbles

I'm listening to Lilly Allen's "Everything's Just Wonderful" on repeat because I have an obsessive type of music-listening habit, and I can't help but link the song's preemptive message to my generation's struggle for...well, SOMETHING ELSE, here in the States. What are we grumbling about? Well, mainly wealth inequality, but really it's everything from national debt we had no say in, to student loans, ridiculous body image standards, to having our lives run by corporations and the media, to interest rates and legalizing marijuana. And until recently, we did nothing but think, "Well, everything is wonderful here in America."

Finally thanks to this bold and daring, completely unorganized yet still effective movement, OWS, we're getting somewhere and pointing out that, hey, everything is not fine and in fact it could be better. We realize that when it comes to problems, we're probably at the top of the food chain when you look at it internationally, but that's no reason to settle, and we'd rather be respected by the world rather than hated and spurned for being imperialistic corporate pigs. I'll write more about my more specific thoughts regarding OWS soon, but for now, here are some inspirational lyrics from 2007:

Do you think, everything, everyone, is going mental
It seems to me that it's spiraling outta control and it's inevitable
Now don't you think
This time is yours, this time is mine
It's temperamental
It seems to me, we're on all fours
Crawling on our knees, Someone help us please

Oh Jesus Christ almighty
Do I feel alright? No not slightly
I wanna get a flat I know I can afford it
It's just the bureaucrats who won't give me a mortgage
Well it's very funny 'cause I got your fucking money
And I'm never gonna get it just because of my bad credit
Oh well I guess I mustn't grumble
I suppose that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

[Chorus]Oh yes, I'm fine
Everything's just wonderful, I'm having the time of my life.
Don't you want something else, Something new, than what we've got here
And don't you feel it's all the same,Some sick game and it's not insincere
I wish I could change the ways of the world
Make it a nice place
Until that day, I guess we stay...
Doing what we do, screwing who we screw

Why can't I sleep at night
Don't say it's gonna be alright
I wanna be able to eat spaghetti bolognaise
and not feel bad about it for days and days and days.
In the magazines they talk about weight loss
If I buy those jeans I can look like Kate Moss
Oh no it's not the life I chose,
But I guess that's the way that things go

Oh Jesus Christ almighty,
Do I feel alright? No not slightly
I wanna get a flat I know I can afford it
It's just the bureaucrats who won't give me a mortgage
Well it's very funny 'cause I got your fucking money
And I'm never gonna get it just because of my bad credit
Oh well I guess I mustn't grumble
I suppose that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Change Is Gonna Come

Something about the tumultuous change of seasons makes me want to be wildly creative. I want to rid myself of ties to responsibility like studying for the spurned LSAT, or going to work, and spend all day making music or painting (or love), or trying to write some short stories. There's nothing like that creepy, ironic cold weather to light your soul on fire.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I just got back from a lovely rendezvous with Sam and Shari, two of my really good friends from the good ol' days of living at the Middle East Coexistence House at Rutgers. They're two of my favorite people to spend time with because they are both ever-curious and adventurous, always have exciting stories to share, and are usually (much like me) undergoing the exciting and terrifying crisis of what to do next in life.

For many of us early and mid-twenty-somethings here in New York, the options and opportunities are endless to the point of being overwhelming. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love--don't judge me) wasn't kidding when she said that if she had to choose one word to describe New York and New Yorkers it would be "ambition." We have a complete disdain for wasting time, are constantly surrounded by social, cultural, and educational stimuli, change our minds on an almost weekly basis about where we want to go with our careers, and yet feel pressured to make instant decisions. It's a frighteningly mind tingling combination, which leaves some of us up way past bed-time blogging about its causes, side effects, and consequences.

Liberal Arts Education. It teaches us critical thinking, how to read, how to write, and how to be interested in everything we learn. Then it sends us off (often without too many practical skills) into the world to look for jobs. For those of us who end up in New York, an absolute mecca for liberal arts graduates, we want to see everything, do everything, learn everything, and go everywhere. When we end up with a desk job straight out of college, we feel lost. Then the wanderlust kicks in, and whatever satisfaction we may have had with what we actually have in the here and now fades to the background as we dream of all the things we could be doing. And I think that this often breeds some kind of dissatisfaction as a result. I get the feeling that we're almost bred now to get bored easily, get excited quickly, and do a billion things at once, and, when we take a moment to rest--feel useless or wasteful. The phenomenon seems to leave many of us somewhat dysfunctional when it comes to relationships, always a little unavailable, and kind of like satellites to the suburbs or elsewhere in the country, where people our age may be settling down a bit more.

The strange thing is, that as much as it sounds like I'm criticizing this phenomenon I am also totally in love with it, and myself perpetually float in and out of it. That feeling of dissatisfaction itself feels so busy and so deep, like on its own it breeds ideas and opportunities for the future, that it ends up being motivational instead of disquieting. And so I don't dwell on it for long. Then again, I'm also lucky to have certain supportive, exciting, wonderful people in my life who keep me happy with what I have now while passionate and curious about the future. This balance keeps me from entering into a cycle of chasing one apparent dream to the next across the world until I find myself without a career at the age of 40, and STILL without any direction, although...come to think of it....that could be fun?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where does my passion ponder
Where does it plow?
Never too deeply in my bone
For it sticks sweetly to my skin
Flickering fondly and fervently forth

Into my hands as they harvest high heat
Emanating from my ebullient embankment of a brain
Onto the paper I write upon,
I pensively play precious pranks
On my own voracious vivid and vast heart

How hard do you beat, high heart?
Whom do you beckon to bereave you of breath?
Do they know whose precious passion they prey upon?
And how much are you worth
Without the willingness to work for the withheld
For the unfortunate, unable to unearth their freedom?

Come close, passionate piece, passionate peace.
Make yourself music. Make yourself mighty. Make mend.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Day in Paradise

I woke up on Wednesday morning in a light sweat, to new bird calls and to the sound of a buzzing fan. Breakfast is at 7:30 every morning in a beautiful hut by which gorgeous parrots like to laze and communicate. At breakfast I ate the freshest fruit I've ever had in my life: a really deep yellow, sweet and juicy pineapple and thick red watermelon. All bread was freshly baked, with home churned butter and home-made jam, all served with freshly squeezed passion fruit juice. After breakfast my trekking group, made up of six girls and the guide, went back to our cabins to get ready for the full day jungle hike. We wore tank tops, jeans tucked into long socks, sneakers, and caps.

Joanna and Joseph led us into the jungle once again. The Amazon Rainforest during the day looks very much like it does on the Discovery Channel, only being there feels like being in a completely different universe. It never occurred to me that the things I see on National Geographic and on the Discovery Channel, in all those beautiful photos, is truly real. There in the Amazon Rainforest, walking past medicinal and poisonous plants, careful not to step on armies of leaf-cutting ants, and trying to avoid snakes, I finally realized how incredible it feels to discover nature. I knew it was moving all around me; there were thousands of snakes I couldn't see and wildlife I would never discover, which could recognize my scent from afar.

We stopped many times along our trek so that our guides can explain the functions of various plants. We found trees which when cut a certain way, release about ten liters of fresh drinking water, and a tree whose bark is used in anti - malarial medicine. We also came across many unique flowers, one with long tubular yellow petals and another with blue buds that looked like blueberries. We even did a little bit of bush-whacking! At one point we ventured off the trail into an unexplored part of the jungle, where we spotted an anteater really high up in a tree. A while later, after having hiked for a while longer through the miraculous jungle, Natasha noticed a snake ready to strike right next to Yolanda’s ankle. She called out to the guides, and Joseph came over to get the snake out of the way; he picked it up and explained that this is one of the most poisonous snakes in the Amazon Rainforest. One bite from it can shut down a human’s nervous system. I have an overwhelming fear of snakes, but somehow looking at it coiling from Joseph’s hand I overcame my fear and took very close photos of it. I couldn’t believe how well camouflaged it was! Had Natasha not spotted it moving, it may have struck Yolanda’s ankle. Joanna told us later that our group is incredibly lucky for having seen the wildlife that we did; anteaters are particularly difficult to spot.

We hiked for three hours before coming to a cleared bit of land in the jungle where the eco-lodge built its “rest area”. Here we waited for the other trekking group to come and have lunch with us. We were so hot by this point that we got down to our underclothing and washed ourselves in the stream. The water in this stream is also safe for drinking. Joanna doesn’t even bring bottled water when she hikes, because she just drinks directly from the fresh water sources in the jungle. When the other group arrived, we relaxed and dined on barbequed meets and fresh fruit. Upon finishing lunch, our guides informed us that we had two options. We could either take the long and more arduous route back to our eco-lodge, or take a shorter, less intensive route back. I opted to take the longer route. This time we were led by Evo, a young Dutch reptilian expert.

After having only hiked a few meters back through the Rainforest, Evo spotted a bullet ant making its way up a tree. A bullet ant is large and extremely poisonous; one bite and the infected area will become paralyzed for twenty-four hours, and the pain will feel much like that caused by a bullet. Evo had just been bitten by one recently and described how he could not move his arm for an entire day. Amidst intense bush-whacking we began to hear thunder. My heart pounded in anticipation of rain. One of the experiences I had been looking forward to most is rain the Rainforest. The wind came first. Millions of leaves up ahead rustled, making a loud chattering noise. Then the rain came down. Hard. Suddenly the rain forest came even more alive with sound. We hiked through the applause of jungle rain for a half hour more before coming out near a lake. The lake glistened and sparkled with raindrops; wet, sweaty, and hot we said nothing before running towards the water. We stripped down to our bras, underwear, and boxers once again and ran into the lake. Swimming in the lake was like taking a warm bath, only we were surrounded by rainforest. We spent about forty five minutes in the water just relaxing and having races from one side of the lake to the other. The rain stopped and a light fog formed over the top of the lake. I felt like I was in a movie, and at that moment I really missed Nick. The scene was incredibly romantic, but it was missing the protagonist couple. Instead we frolicked in the lake and I had the time of my life in a paradise I don’t think I will ever be able to accurately describe.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle!

I wrote this entry on Wednesday, the day after I arrived in Manaus:

Yesterday I finally discovered Brasil. I was on Flight JJ304 from Salvador to Manaus, sitting next to a jovial middle-aged Brasilian man who has been living in New Hampshire for the past seventeen years. I was fortunate enough to have the window seat, and never did it matter more to me than it did on this particular flight. We took off from Salvador and for two hours, Cesar, the jovial Brasilian man, regaled me with tales of his travels and deeply personal experiences. He had come to Brasil for about a month to visit his children from his first marriage, and to research the potential for an import/export company that he was hoping to initiate for the exchange of novelty products between Brasil and the United States. He told me about why he immigrated to the United States (to escape political corruption and economic instability in Brasil), how he gained his citizenship (marrying an American woman whom he had fallen in love with), why he wouldn’t want to live in Brasil again (political corruption), and about his first and second marriages. I told him about the project I’d been working on in Salvador, and was refreshed to hear that he thought our project is a great one. I haven’t been feeling that great about it, so to hear such encouraging things from this random Brazilian man was quite heartening.

We didn’t even notice the time fly by as we spoke, and when the pilot told us to prepare for landing, we locked our eyes onto the world outside of my window. As the plane descended, I realized we were flying directly over the Black River, which mixed with the Amazon River at a very distinct point where you could even see the line where the brown river becomes blue. Even from thousands of feet high, I could see how the Amazon is the largest river in the world, and I took pictures of its grandeur. We descended further, and as we flew over land I could see the tops of trees belonging to the Amazon Rainforest. When the plane landed, I still felt like I was zooming deeper and deeper into the Amazon and its Rainforest. I still feel like I’m zooming in further and further, only the focus becomes clearer the deeper I go.

Upon arriving at the Manaus Airort, we quickly grabbed our luggage, and boarded the bus meant to transport us directly to our eco-lodge, located two hours away from the Airport. I sat next to Taylor at the very front of the bus, and we talked about our family histories for a while, before I got bored and decided to play the Cube Game on him. The Cube Game is an old Sufi psychological test and fortune telling game meant to reveal the testee’s attitude towards and ways of dealing with the world around him or her. A participant can only play once in a lifetime, because the participant cannot know anything about the contents of the game before playing. I did a really good job interpreting Taylor’s results, and he went to the back of the bus to tell other people about it. I watched the Rainforest fly by my window and listened to music. I even fell asleep, only to awake to find out that our bus has broken down. We stopped at a gas station, and sat outside in the scorching heat for about an hour and a half waiting for another bus. The hour and a half actually turned out to be very refreshing. For the first time, stranded in the middle of nowhere, with a gorgeous view of the rainforest in the distance, I felt like I was truly somewhere new. We walked to a hut across the street where a kind old woman sold beer, water, and trinkets and we bought beer to cool us down while we waited for the new bus to arrive. I didn’t get to relax for very long, though, because a few members from our group sought me out to Cube them. I was booked for a full hour Cubing one person after another. It was a really fun and almost surreal experience to be there in the middle of nowhere, telling fortunes ( and even more surreal to discover I’m good at it ;) )

The new bus was larger, and by the time and hour and a half was up we were ready to get going to our eco-lodge. Our Brazilian driver played an American 80’s music CD that he had made himself for the duration of our trip to the eco-lodge, as he sped wildly on the road. We blasted the music as we flew past the Amazon Rainforest, sunset, and many other cars. It felt like we had our own badass soundtrack, marking the introduction to a thrilling story about adventure, danger, and love.

We arrived at our eco-lodge at about seven p.m. It is called Amazonat, and is essentially an environmentally and ecologically friendly resort in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. The guides met us and took us to the dining area, a beautiful open hut with a great view of the surrounding forest. He told us we’d be having dinner, and that there is an optional spider trek that would be taking place directly after dinner. We ate an incredibly delicious and fresh meal there, and while most of the group defected and went to bed after dinner, a few girls and I decided we wanted to participate in the spider trek. We went to our cabins, settled in quickly, and then set out into the jungle with our guides. Armed with flashlights and wearing long pants tucked into our socks, we slowly entered the forest. At night the Amazon Rainforest is pitch black, and without flashlights we would not have been able to see anything at all. Yet in the moments I could spare to not be watching the ground for snakes or spiders, I looked up to watch the sky ablaze with the Milky Way and the brightest stars I’ve ever seen. The experience was breathtaking. I didn’t get a chance to see the Rainforest so close during the day, and now I was there for the first time at night, hearing creatures I could not see and imagining what my surroundings really look like. I felt a rush of adrenaline and excitement as we walked through the pitch black Rainforest under the canopy of the glistening sky.

We first came across a couple of capybaras drinking water from a small pond. I found this particularly amusing because Nick and company have been harassing me to try Capybara at restaurants in Bahia, but I could never find it anywhere. No, first I was going to see LIVE capybaras. And of course after seeing them live I don’t think I could ever eat them. They’re adorable! They are giant rodents with cute webbed feet and coarse hair; apparently they take to humans much like dogs. They are the only animals which the eco-lodge keeps as pets. After playing with the capybaras for a while, we went on into the jungle. The guide led us off the trial for about a mile and a half until we finally came across a hole in the ground where Evo, our guide, said the Goliath Bird-eating Spider would be. The Goliath Birdeating spider is the largest spider in the world. It is highly poisonous; when it feels threatened it shoots off hair from its hind, one of which could cause terminal blindness. If it lands anywhere else on your body, the itching and burning sensation is ten times worse than that of poison ivy. The spider itself is larger than my hand. Evo took a long stick and probed it into the hole, causing the Goliath to emerge from its lair. While it ran around its nest for a little while searching for pray, Evo informed us that this particular spider was a female. Female Goliaths are incredibly difficult to mate with. The male Goliath has to be extremely careful when courting the female, for if he does not do it to her liking, she will devour him. My kind of woman! We stood there in awe of her, all the while shuffling our feet so that ants do not swarm our feet.

There is a plethora of ant species in the jungle. The one we came across most frequently is the leaf cutter ant. These ants form trails along which they carry pieces of leaves to their nest. There are worker ants, which are smaller, that carry the leaves to the nest and there are soldier ants which are a bit bigger with larger heads that make sure the worker ants are properly carrying out their function. Neither the soldier ants, nor the worker ants, reproduce. The queen ant is the only ant that reproduces. We had to be very careful not to step on any of the many ant trails that we came across on our way back from the Goliath. As we shone our flashlights on the ground before us we noticed something moving very quickly near the ant trail. Our second guide, Joanna, excitedly informed us that this is a Brazilian Wandering Spider. This happens to be the most venomous spider in the world. Had we not been looking carefully at the ground we may have stepped on it! Joanna skillfully removed it from our path with a long stick and we got out of the jungle and to our cabins without any further life threatening obstructions.

Jen, Kristen, and I went to sleep shortly after getting back from our nighttime jungle excursion. I fell asleep to sounds of crickets, howler monkeys, and sounds I don’t think I could ever identify, with adrenaline still rushing through my veins.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Impending Press Conference and Work Summary

Tomorrow is our last day at UFBA, and the day of our Press Conference. We will be our presenting our projects to the press and to various NGO's in the hopes of gaining media attention and support. Funding will not be allocated to the best group because GPACT is a liar, but I have a feeling that by noon tomorrow my group and I will be feeling quite accomplished.

Below I've pasted the Project Description which we will be sending in a huge file along with the rest of our Global Pact Final Packet to the trainers tomorrow. It's a good summary of what we've been doing over the past three weeks and where our project is now in case you would like to read it.

I'll write more tomorrow about why I've been frustrated with a couple of our group members and a few of the complications our project may experience when we leave Brazil.

I am proud to say, however, that after three weeks of solid work in Saramandaia and in Salvador, our project CAN work and is ready for implementation:

Project Description

Our group has come a long way since the first few days of the Global Pact program. Our project began as we tried to tackle the problem of unemployment within the favelas. Unemployment was extremely broad and difficult to break down because initially we could not see past the issue of a lack of government funding for the development of underrepresented communities. Finally we realized that we were thinking too generally. Upon thinking more specifically, we realized that the lack of skills and the lack of community awareness about work opportunities could also be a problem. We believe that both of these issues could be traced to the lack of a steady flow of information about how to find employment and how to learn valuable skills. By implementing simple communications technologies within Saramandaia, through which information can be shared and passed on, we believe that eventually people will be able to create employment opportunities for themselves as well as learn skills from others within the community. This network will eventually lead to a better overall reputation for Saramandaia, and serve as an inspiration for other underprivileged communities. After listening to and learning from our Brazilian group members, we came up with a much more specific and feasible idea. We decided that it would be more effective to help a project that is already being implemented.

In order to learn more about local development projects, we met with Professor Genauto, a professor at Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA). One of his many projects includes working together with students at UFBA to stimulate economic solidarity in and working with projects already in existence within Saramandaia, an underrepresented neighborhood in Salvador. Our research began by traveling to Saramandaia to see first hand where we could be of assistance. After attending a few community meetings, we learned that the project ideas being discussed at the meetings were not being shared with the rest of Saramandaia because the people involved did not have the means to advertise. After some deliberation we decided that we could truly assist this community by initiating a communications project by which Genauto’s project members could spread their ideas to the rest of Saramandaia and to Salvador as well. By tackling a smaller issue like the lack of communications within Saramandaia, the people of Saramandaia will become better equipped to confront larger issues such as unemployment.

At the first community meeting, we learned that there are currently many developmental project ideas being proposed and initiated through a partnership between active community members and Genauto and some of his students. Project goals include organizing the cooperatives already in existence to help stimulate the economy of Saramandaia, to establish a community bank and community currency, and to create an information center through which the people of Saramandaia can have easy access to computers and public information. We were in awe of these incredible initiatives, but we learned that in order for these projects to be successful, the rest of Saramandaia must be aware of them. A community bank with its own currency cannot be successfully established if the people of Saramandaia do not know about it and approve of it. We also learned at this meeting that the radio is the most widely utilized source of information, and that Saramandaia has its own radio station. We realized then that we could potentially partner with whomever runs the radio station to provide the community projects with air time to announce their project ideas and involve the rest of Saramandaia. We also thought that if we could use this radio station to announce community project updates, we could also teach the youth in Saramandaia to use media technology to market their own skills and talents and help engender a new generation that is actively involved in the development of the community.

To continue with our action research, we realized that we needed to meet with associations that already specialize in communication. We first met with CIPÓ, an NGO that trains youth how to advertise and market their skills and talents. We spoke with Bruna, who coordinates communications workshops in various communities near Saramandaia, and asked her for community marketing advice. We told her our project ideas and although she really liked our radio station idea, she said we did not have nearly enough time to implement a youth training program. She also said she would be glad to provide us with various marketing materials, but that CIPÓ does not have the resources to work with Saramandaia because of the many communities it is already involved with.

After the meeting with CIPÓ we decided to focus our efforts on finding the person in charge of the radio station in Saramandaia. We learned through our project member,Ingrid, that Fabio, one of the community youth instructors, knows Antonio, the man who runs the radio. We called Fabio and scheduled a meeting with Antonio. This meeting was the final step in developing our launch project.

Ícone will begin a partnership with Saramandaia´s local radio station to make weekly announcements regarding community meetings and projects. These announcements will hopefully incite community involvement, which in turn will stimulate economic growth within Saramandaia. We have a space in the community where we can establish an office to act as our central headquarters; this is where our group plans to grow and become more of an active catalyst in the communications program. Antonio is very interested in our project idea and is willing to help us become involved in an effort to impact the entire neighborhood consisting of 40,000 people. With the help of Antonio and the cooperation of Saramandaia our organization hopes to develop and explore different educational avenues. Our main long-term goal focuses on educational communications workshops. These workshops will be open to all youth in the neighborhood and will teach them the skills necessary to communicate their ideas in an effective manner. Antonio wants the radio to be very educational and thinks that with our help we can make a difference in the development of Saramandaia.