Ze Frank, Kony 2012 and Don Quixote

When I was a little girl, my bed was tall enough for me to sit under. My sister and I had gotten on our own rooms for the first time in our lives. Our dad had cut in half the bunk bed he had made for us to share. Kerry got the bottom half, and I got the top half. It was my space, under my bed. I had pillows, a lamp and a record player. I read, dreamed and listened to music.

It was under my bed that I discovered Man of la Mancha. I was so swept away by Don Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea that I had the words of the story album memorized. To this day, I can still recite most of it from memory. It has been strong in my mind this morning.

In the past few months, I have found myself drawn to people in positions of anguish who are failing to fall prostrate to their despair…choosing instead to not only create hope in the midst of pain, but to share it publicly. I am inspired by the vulnerability in it. I am inspired by the strength in it. I am drawn to the humanity and imperfection of them. Through their bravery, I see the path to my own courage light up before me…and I push forward.

In every instance, however, I find encounters with another character in Man of la Mancha, the Great Enchanter. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Great Enchanter defeats Don Quixote in battle by presenting him with his own reflection in a circle of mirrors. Don Quixote’s faith in his mission is overcome by the “reality” of his circumstances and limitations. He falls, never to return to the field.

Cynicism is a tempting version of reality. The reality of our fallible humanity is a truth that is hard to argue with. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We break down. We do stupid things. And, as the windows into each other’s worlds increase as our online lives become increasingly visible, becoming the ‘voice of reason” amidst a groundswell of enthusiasm over anything is an addictive position to take. It arms up against the possibility of dashed hopes. It puts us into a position of “see? I told you so.” In the instance that someone’s imperfection shows. We did not fall for it.

The Joseph Kony 2012 campaign drew criticism from the moment it was launched, and then the criticism grew sharper and more pointed after the man who made the video had a very public breakdown as a result of the public scrutiny.

Ze Frank became an online sensation six years ago with his quirky breakthrough video blog. You can see the fear in his latest video as he screws up the courage to launch his next endeavor. He seems to be braced for impact. And, unfortunately, he is likely to get it as people will come out of the woodwork to offer up their commentary, good and bad.

The world is rotten and god doesn’t even know we’re living on it.
Aldonza
Man of la Mancha

I have loved this quote for most of my life and repeated it often. Cynicism has been my “go-to” forever. I wanted to be at the front of the “I-saw-right-through-it” queue. But I find that this kind of thinking has left me wanting. I want to be inspired. I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to find people’s bravery inspiring, especially if they are imperfectly human, like me. It gives me hope that all of us crazy, hot-headed, weepy, impractical, baggage-carrying misfits can do something beautiful. That maybe all our efforts will meld together, in ways we cannot even anticipate, to bring our broken culture into something beyond our ability to imagine alone.

So, to everyone out there who is thinking of putting yourself on the line and bringing your imperfection out for the rest of us to see – remember that what you see in the enchanter’s mirrors is only a very shallow aspect of reality, and that there are always going to be those who can’t see past that. Please don’t let that stop you.

To those of you who feel a little fire kindle whenever you see, hear or read something brave and human…comment, share, follow. Be bold in your hope. Set yourself up to be ridiculed for being naïve or misled. Don’t be afraid to be inspired.

And, to all of you, from a little girl, under her bed with a record player…

xo,
Kimberley

Advertisements

Why Kony 2012 Matters

It almost doesn’t matter what the “cause” is for the Kony 2012 campaign.

Almost.

At least for me.

I am coming at this from a particular vantage point. And I am writing this today, because I think I am not alone.

The glut of information of all that is wrong in the world has been overwhelming me for years. There is only so much I can follow, only so much I can research, before I begin feeling inadequate and unprepared for the task of doing anything about much of anything at all.

I only have so much in the way of resources…time…energy…money. Every choice I make to support a cause is also a choice to not support another, just as worthwhile, cause. And what is the tiny bit of money I can give against a tidal wave of need that rises into my world every day through the multiple media channels that surround me? Every effort I make seems consumed by even greater need, until I become paralyzed and block it all from my view.

Every day I learn more about how this government, that is supposed to be representing me, doesn’t. And that knowledge pushes me further into paralysis, because how can I possibly make my voice heard in the sea of lobbyists with bankrolls and party invitations? Can I really expect issues most important to me and my kids to be prioritized above the issues of those who have underwritten the campaigns of those in office?

Then, along comes Kony 2012 and I am transfixed. In the space of two days, my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter feed are all filled with posts about this viral video. It is what I always wanted the Internet to be, but what it has not been to this point…a vehicle for amplifying the voices of the many so that they could be heard above the cash that controls the government officials. The message has been distilled and simplified to the point that it is easy to deliver, easy to understand, easy to follow and easy to support. Someone has taken what is possible with social networking and turned it into something probable.

When we join this legion of voices, we are not only amplifying a call to the government to bring Joseph Kony to justice, we are becoming a community. With this campaign, we are sensing our power as a people. We are feeling what it means to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people…as the founders intended.

I have for years agreed that the government has gotten out of hand. I have not, however, been able to get behind those who would abolish the government or lessen its power. I have worked in the oil and gas industry too long to believe that self-regulation has any possibility of keeping us, as human beings, safe and that is just the tip of the iceberg. No, we need government. But I feel pretty confident that, if the founding fathers could see what this government has turned into, they would be horrified. And, if not, it is enough for me that I am. This government does not represent me or my kids. It is easy enough to see, in the decisions made by governing bodies every day, whose interests are being protected.

Kony 2012 is imperfect in its goals. I have done the reading and read the reports and comments on those reports until I am swimming in them. At no point do they outline explicitly HOW justice be served, but that it remain a highly visible priority until it is….but the critics have much in the way of material to work with in their criticisms. However, at the end of the day, three important truths remain:

  1. Joseph Kony is a brutal war criminal with a trail of brutal abductions, heinous rapes, atrocious murders and maimings using children as his army.
  2. He is still at large.
  3. We have had 26 years to bring him to justice and have not.

So, it is well past time for this to become a matter of large-scale public concern.

But this…this viral campaign…is more than that. It is opening doors to the possibility that we can, as a people, demand to be part of the conversation. That we can share information more easily than ever before and discover the truths that lie outside of the tightly controlled messaging being fed to us on any given issue. That we can find a way to join our voices of concern together in a way that makes it impossible for those in power, the ones with the ability to actually represent us in a tangible way, to ignore us.

That is worth supporting. That is worth fighting for. That is worth our energy.

 

Was I Ever Really There?

I didn’t want a going away party when I left Haiti. I got sick the day before I left and used that as an excuse to avoid the fuss-making over my leaving. I ended up going out for a drink with some friends and then catching the tail end of a larger party that was apparently also meant to be a farewell to me.

The next day I crammed my morning so full that my office goodbye was nothing more than a fly by of waving arms, air kisses and brief hugs. I am not even entirely sure that everyone there knew I was actually flying home that day and not returning.

And I did this all as if I were the only one to consider.

I did not give the friends I had made there a chance to really look me in the eye and tell me goodbye. I did not let it settle in to the people I worked with that I would no longer be a part of their work lives. I did not give anyone a real chance to have closure with me. It felt clean and tidy at the time. Today it feels selfish.

Working on a three-month assignment in a country as intense as Haiti is really such a strange beast, after all. It is such a short time, as it turns out. Enough time to learn that what you had originally thought you would do was not doable after all. Enough time to determine the best path forward, which is always a looser, more organic-to-the-culture approach. But not enough time to get anything like that going. Not enough time to see anything more than the flickering of success somewhere far on the horizon. Not enough time to have something to hold in your hands to show what your time meant there.

But the hardest thing about three months in that kind of situation is about relationships. I lived in close quarters with some great people there. Every day we would either be in each other’s rooms or we’d have only our tarped walls separating us, which encouraged constant conversation. I had many more friends to whom I sent demanding emails all the time for them to “Get on Skype” so we could chat…or “don’t even think about going somewhere without me this weekend.” I knew more about the habits and needs of everyone there than I know about any of my very close friends here. And every day, we’d share the frustrations of the day, the weirdness everything going on around us and whine about stuff that would not be worth whining about back home, but which gave us something safe to bitch about in a place where none of us really felt we had the right.

I have been home now for a month and a half, and I have been completely disappeared from that place in a way you can only understand if you have been there to see it happen. No one emails me. No one asks me questions or looks for counsel on what I know. Short term volunteers must flow through there now who have never and will never hear of me. The international staff that was there when I was closed the gap around the void I left, before I even got back home. To a newcomer there, I never was.

And I know this with certainty, because I was part of that gap closing in the past. My hands too drew the curtains behind those departing for home. It becomes so routine that the day someone has left, it is as if they were never there. There are occasional mentions in the context of conversations, but nothing much more than that. I never called or wrote either. And I understood it then every bit as much as I understand it now, which is to say…not at all.

Except to say that, in an environment like that, it is hard to become attached and lose people all the time. And it is not just the mushy and emotionally expressive ones who suffer those losses. Even the solid ones who do not show it feel the chipping away until they cloister themselves away to avoid as much of the attachment as possible.

The strange and unfamiliar sadness I feel over this is so complex that it is difficult to explain and I don’t process emotional things as clearly as I used to before Haiti. But, if I were to try, it might look like peering through a foggy train window toward a spot on the horizon that you can’t quite see, but know is there all the same.

xo,

Kimberley

Battle of Vetye

Tonight it is a national holiday in celebration of the Battle of Vertieres. I am sitting in a perfectly charming, if run down, hotel in Jacmel…alone. This feels like something straight out of an Ann Rice novel. Dark, distressed brick, stifling heat, tropical plants everywhere, white flowers drop from vines which wrap around tropical trees just outside of my room in the courtyard. Mosquito netted bed in the center of a room with numerous windows, no glass, just shutters. Truly a shame to be here alone.
As I sit in the dark bar/dining room, drinking my red wine and waiting for my poisson en sauce, I consciously avoid seeing rats scurrying inches from my feet in the dark. There are mice here too. It is a place of creatures. I am in their space.
An hour ago, a crowd of Haitians strolled through the hotel bar/dining/lobby area. Today is the celebration of the final battle before Haiti found their independence. It is wildly celebrated. I imagine the march through the hotel by dozens of people was a demonstration of defiance. No place is shut off to us. If this is not what it was, I don’t want to know. I want to think of these people rising and claiming what is theirs.
I thrilled to see them wander through. Women, men, children…all ages. They walked through totally without affect. No challenge was there. This is their space…that is all.
Just now a Ra Ra band marched through the street with a crowd following. The music was primarily drumbeats and earthy…horns and other instruments accompanied, but it is the drums that drive the Ra Ra bands. Beautiful and elemental. Scores of people followed behind, moving easily within the beats of the band. I stood envious watching them move so assuredly in their space. Tonight, they own their land. They are taking what is rightfully theirs. They are beautiful and magnetic. I don’t even want to join them in their dance. To join them would take away their power. This is their night and I celebrate who they are from the sidelines. I cannot be with them in this. I am separated by the chance of my heritage. Just as they are separated from me in mine.
I love that I had a chance to see them like this. Strong…beautiful…powerful and confident. No one seeking my approval, my money, my attention. Being with each other was enough. And watching them from the sidelines was enough for me.
As I am writing this, I Love My Life comes on the radio. It plays constantly here and surprised me when I first heard the Haitians singing it. I thought they must surely be joking. Fate has dealt them a bad hand. But I get it now. In many ways, they are better off than we are in the US. In many ways, I am jealous of what they have here. And that is my biggest surprise in my time here.
I want them to feel the strength they feel today every day. I want to fight on the sidelines for them. I want to do whatever I can to make every day a celebration of the Battle of Vetye.
Xo,
Kim

The Impact of a Child

I do not even remember her name and, at the time, I did not know there would be any long lasting impact. It was the middle of the school week, and this little girl had to have been all of 7 years old. She should have been in school, but she was along the main street in a tiny little town called Madrid, which is somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Haley and I were in transit on the way to Santa Fe when we met her. As we ate on the porch of a quaint restaurant in the town, a little girl came up to us with a box of rocks. Crude crayon drawings barely decorated the rocks. They looked hastily done, as if she had just ducked into the woods behind the diner to create some additional merchandise.

She gave the impression of a girl raising herself. Her comfort with walking up to strangers and asking them to purchase crayon colored rocks was disquieting. She saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of her with my daughter. I wonder if she wanted someone to have proof she was there. The fact that I cannot now find the picture of the little girl whose name I can’t even remember, is sad to me.

No one at the restaurant seemed to know her. As we walked through the town later, we caught site of her occasionally, always alone. Madrid is an isolated and very small town along this highway; it seemed improbable that she was alone and unknown there. We were there for hours, and I never saw her with anyone. I think part of me was prolonging the shopping that day in hopes that I would catch sight of her with a family, any family. As we drove out of the town at sundown, I saw her on a bench…looking for rocks.

I think about her more than I imagined I would. But not her exactly. I don’t know her story, really. But the story I have in my head, the one of the little girl or boy having to raise themselves in a world that does not really see them, that story belongs to a lot of kids.

The girl in Madrid did not create the fire in me to share stories of kids living in our periphery, but she did make me stop, and she did add some kindling to the fire stoking in me. I wish I had her story. I wish I could find the two colored rocks we bought.

I have been writing stories about the kids in Nepal recently. And today I am thinking about other children who have also stayed on my mind over time. As I gear up to submit a bunch of my stories to you over the next few weeks, I find myself curious about your stories. Tell me about some child you encountered that you still think about. It does not have to be a sad, dramatic story. Children generally remind us to be merry, and I’d like to hear those stories too.

xo,
Kimberley

Contest!!!

I am launching an uncontest! It may be the start of some kind of regular thing…depends on how this goes.

The contest will run until the end of this week (4/25/09). The challenge is this…

1. Think about the ultimate impact of your work – positive and negative.
2. Write a brief note to me that indicates that you stretched your brain cells
3. Receive a gift.

And while this is not a giant gift of significant import, it is something real, surprising and hand-chosen for you (because I know you)…not a Facebook button or Facebook Karma. For some of you, I will need your address.

To get into the mood, look at this 3 minute clip from the 80s

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

Think about the impact of your work on a larger scale – what is it in service too? Who benefits from your labor? What is the ultimate cost of what you produce? Think creatively and write me a note showing me you did your thinking. I’m doing it too and I will share back.

I have a little present with your name on it. Whatcha got for me?