That’s Racist! part deux

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In much of he western world, we live in multicultural nations. Over the past decade this has been depicted more so through the media which includes more characters of ethic minorities who are not there to fulfill a stereotype. These characters are there to reflect actual demographics and break archetypes of the past . It is even apparent when watching the news, that anchors are from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds reflecting the society we live in.

What baffles me though, is, why are we still dealing with racist hate crimes and xenophobia in this day and age? and in particular, why does the US seem to have so many more issues with xenophobia than Canada? The topic of racism has sat in the back of my mind all day and was initially sparked when I saw a news report this morning about a girl of Indian decent winning the tittle of miss America. I didn’t see what the big deal was considering in nations where immigration has fueled the population growth, it’s not unusual to walk down the street and see people from every ethnic background who were born American, Canadian etc. I do realize that no matter how multicultural and advanced we become, there will always be xenophobes and people who make generalizations and place negative stereotypes on certain ethnic groups. Of course there are some stereotypes that are actually true, like Persians driving white bmw’s. This is a true statement as I lived in a building that was primarily Persian for a few years and they even influenced me to buy one and Persians wearing too much cologne, the hallways almost consistently smelled like it!

Another true stereotype is Asians cannot drive, just go drive around the Pacific mall parking lot and you will see what I’m talking about. Good thing I still remember how to swear in Cantonese

Sadly though, there are some other stereotypes out there that hold no truth whatsoever. For example, the way middle eastern people are conveyed by western media as violent terrorists. It’s ironic, that if you look at most large scale public attacks in North America that have happened over the past couple years, they have been carried out by Caucasians.  Prior to 9/11, the deadliest American terrorist attack on record was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, yet I don’t live in fear of Caucasians or stereotype them as aggressive, violent etc. So why then do we often see fear and hate towards people who are Islamic, or even just appear as if they may be Islamic? I believe it is because the qualities of aggressiveness and violence are the only qualities ever displayed in the media linked to people of middle eastern decent and it instills fear in those who are less than worldly. A lack of worldliness and relying on the most easily accessible forms of media to gain education about what’s going on around you without questioning is a dangerous practice.  Unfortunately for some people out there, they cannot do much better than this, just watch five minutes of here comes honey boo boo. They’re illiterate so where else can they get their information from than the tv? They’re getting pregnant at the age of 13 so there’s no time to focus on expanding education and questioning things. They are too busy shoveling their obese faces full of fried chicken to look at what they see on television objectively.

So then, is this mentality the fault of all the uneducated hicks? I wish it were as simple as pinning this all on them for not venturing outside their boxes, but how can one venture when they are not given the inspiration to do so?

This leads me to question why is it that in Canada we have towns where people are pregnant as teenagers, drop out of high school or barely make it through and have little interest in anything outside of that little bubble yet there is almost a complete lack of racism? I grew up in a small city called Brantford which although the population is about 100,000 it still carries a real small town mentality. They didn’t get their first Starbucks until just a few years ago, they don’t have normal ice cream shops, they’re all little shacks where you go get your ice cream at a window that are only open in summer. They have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Canada! In my elementary school I was always the only kid of minority or one of two and I never had any issues based on the colour of my skin. Sure there may have been a bit of ignorance about what my background was, but there was never any hate directed towards me based on me being a minority. I don’t ever have any good things to say about Brantford because it’s a shit hole, but if I had to state the one best quality of that city, it would be the acceptance of minorities despite the town having an overall hick mentality.

I believe this distinction between Canada and the US exists due to differing fundamental values. America is classified as a melting pot, and Canada a cultural mosaic. I feel it’s a lot easier to come up with a definition of “American” than it is for “Canadian” when speaking in terms of culture.  When you think of American, you think of Hollywood movies, celebrity, large chains which have gone global, a lifestyle of wanting the best of everything and not wanting to work very hard for it, buying everything on credit and an overall sense of having to conform to a certain  way of being to fit in and be accepted. On the other hand, Canada is a lot less defined in terms of what’s Canadian, we have very little of anything that has blown up globally and also very little established in terms of what a typical “Canadian” lifestyle is. Don’t get me wrong, I know that American’s lifestyles differ greatly from person to person, but there is still that “American Dream” mentality that exists causing many people to feel like they have to conform to specific ideals, resulting in the melting pot. In Canada, we don’t ascribe to beliefs in a “Canadian Dream”. Immigrants travelling to both nations often do so looking for better opportunities in life. However, when the whole “American Dream” concept is removed from the picture, they’re able to cultivate their new lives more organically while comfortably maintaining aspects of their culture. When people are given not only the legal freedom to live and express their own culture along with the psychological freedom to do so, underlying tensions based on race, ethnicity and religion are seldom. In a society where immigrants are granted legal liberties of living and expressing their culture yet are consistently fed messages of “the American Dream” subliminally, it creates a paradox in which citizens can express and practice their cultures freely, but only if they’re American enough. This results in many keeping their cultures behind closed doors and shared only with others of their same cultural background. In turn, this leaves their culture and people of their culture easily susceptible to unfair stereotyping based on whatever the media depicts because that culture lacks a solid foundation in the psyche of the general population.

There is no simple solution to this problem as I don’t see “the American Dream” as something that’s going to die anytime soon although everything that’s happened in terms of financial crisis proves that it should have died a long time ago. I feel that small steps taken by individuals and communities are going to be what lead to increased awareness and more objectivity in place of unfair judgement and xenophobia. It’s up to people who feel uncomfortable publicly  displaying their cultural traditions out of fear to step outside their comfort zone and share with their mail man and the clerk from the store the same joys of their culture they share with their families and other members of their cultural community. If those steps are not taken by the ones who belong to the ethnic backgrounds and cultures that are most often unfairly ridiculed by the media, nothing will change. There is a ton of stuff that can be done small scale to gradually increase awareness, celebrate your culture and not exclude but invite others to learn

– A festival with entertainment and most importantly food. Rather than throwing a party/festival in a private community location, open it up to anybody who’s interested, advertise it, make it in an outdoor location. The town I grew up in still has an annual cultural celebration called the international villages in which every night a different country sets up food and entertainment.

– If you’re an elementary school teacher, encourage more cultural activities with your class. Projects where the kids have to do a report and presentation on their country. Partnering up with another student to educate and share with each other their traditions. A class pot luck in which everyone has to bring in a national dish.

– free newspaper/news letter printed in both English and your native language

– fund raising event for a local cause. Pick a cause that everyone in town is going to want to support, have the entertainment and food at the event reflect your culture. You are showing you care about the rest of the community and at the same time potentially opening others to appreciating your culture.

I shared these suggestions because these were some of the efforts I saw in my town growing up that promoted multiculturalism even though the ethnic population was so small. When I hear about such unfairness in the news, or hear stories from friends who have encountered racism personally or seen it happening in towns on travels to the US it saddens me, but also makes me feel so fortunate to have grown up in a place that promoted diversity.

There may be some out there who will always be racist and full of hate towards minorities…..and to those people I ask you to answer these questions with a yes or no.

Was your cell phone manufactured by a Caucasian?

Was your television manufactured by a Caucasian?

Was your car manufactured by a Caucasian?

Does the label on your clothing say “Made in the United States of America?”

It’s most likely you answered no to at least one of these questions…surely that’s not a sign  that we should all be open to the various cultures and ethnicity’s around us and working together rather than against one another….*rolls eyes*

The Journey is the Destination

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The title of this is a line I’ve seen thrown around a lot, but haven’t really understood until this morning….

Over the past few weeks I’ve been beating myself up over a few things, but in a nutshell I can narrow it down to a lack of satisfaction with where I am in life right now in terms of  success in achieving my goals. When I say success, I don’t just mean professionally, I mean that and a lot more. I am not satisfied with my level of fitness, I am not satisfied with how I am only modestly aggressive with work rather than being the go getter. I am not satisfied with the fact that I haven’t taken the time to read as much as I have wanted to, and I’m not satisfied with always saying I want to be almost fluent in a couple other languages yet I still only speak and understand Spanish and Italian at a half assed level. I am dissatisfied that I don’t have a much vaster knowledge on subjects that actually interest me. That’s only a fraction of what I’m not satisfied with.

I woke up on my 28th birthday just over a week ago, and felt like I wanted to stay in bed all day and wallow in misery with all those thoughts of “I should be farther in life than this” The feeling passed as I was flooded with birthday messages and met friends later for drinks. I indulged in a bit of a novelty and got a palm reading for my birthday, I have had psychic readings and palm readings in the past, years ago and thought it would be funny see what this palm reader who operates out of a local bar had to say.

As I expected, she didn’t say anything too interesting…..mostly vague characteristics which could be applied to almost anybody. She told me I have an “intense” personality, am an all or nothing type or person and am very hot and cold. *yawn* I was told I will have three children, and I will work late into life because i get bored easily. She said I need to watch myself with addictions like sugar and alcohol (almost all women have a sweet tooth and judging by the fact I’m not skinny she probably figured I indulge lol). I honestly don’t remember much of what she said now because it seemed so trivial.  However, one thing stood out that I related to. She said that I often take a long time to do things due to insecurity. I don’t know if she actually read that, or if she just mentioned it because everyone has insecurity in some way. Regardless, it was relevant to what I was thinking about earlier in the day.

I realized that much of why I am not where I want to be right now is because I haven’t taken enough action. I think a lot….I have many ideas, but my follow through isn’t great. I can see that a fear of failure is usually what holds me back from giving things my 100%. This morning I was reminded of a few times where I studied my ass off for an exam and didn’t do as well as I was thinking I would. The worst time was when I helped a friend who was completely lost study, taught her and she ended up doing better than me. Such instances left me just not wanting to try, and basically with two approaches to everything I do. I either focus so hard for a short period of time to the point I crash and burn (exactly what happened to me with those exams) OR I just don’t put very much effort in at all.  So what does the Journey being the destination have to do with any of that? Well, I came to realize that it’s not always achieving the goal that’s most important but there is value in every step of getting to the goal that’s meant to be fully experienced and by overshooting to the big goal, a lot is missed. With only focusing on the big goal and thinking of it as daunting and unobtainable it becomes easy to just not even try.

Most of you know me as a person of extremes…I’m either eating so clean to the point it’s ridiculous for a few weeks, and then indulging in pizzas and shawarmas for another couple weeks. I’m either working out 5-6 times a week or not at all.  Take those extremes and apply them to basically every other aspect of life and you have me.

I have come to the realization that if I continue on in this way, another birthday is going to come along and I am going be just as dissatisfied because for every step i take forward I take steps back. So my resolution for this 28th year of my life is MODERATION, MODERATION, MODERATION!

I plan to stick with this by setting small goals for myself that assist in achieving the larger goals.  I am not going to write out my entire plan on here, but for example with my health goals. I’m just going to eat things I like in moderation, no weeks of cutting out anything completely unless of course it’s something toxic and aim for a min. of 3x a week for working out, no pressuring myself to do 6x a week. Also, I need to keep in mind that with everything I do, expanding my knowledge is key for me in keeping my motivation. I look back at what motivated me when I first lost weight, and what motivated me when I was weight lifting intensely for a while and see that I was constantly engaged in learning new information both theoretically and practically. I need to invest a bit more time into reading and connecting with others who have similar interests.  I will stick to similar principles in all areas of my life, and see if this attempt at a balanced approach produces forward motion.

Step 1: do not overshoot, crash, and become discouraged

Step 2: Set a small goal for every area of life

Step 3: Go do it

Step 4: Repeat with next goal

Another reason why I am often reluctant to try is because I have had many instances in life where I have tried so hard to attain a specific goal and despite consistent efforts it has been held away. In my life hard work was not always equated with success in a traditional sense.  In those instances where I have had the things I was working towards withheld from me I have always been driven into some sort of internal lesson to reassess my life values….I won’t go into much detail there but just end off by saying those types of life situations and the frequency in which I have encountered them in the past few years have sometimes lead me to believe that ALL of my life experiences are supposed to be like that and I don’t have much control of the direction my life heads. I need to remember that at times I really am completely in the driver seat.

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Amazing People Doing Amazing Things

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You have all heard me babble on numerous times on here about the life changing experience I had volunteering in Tanzania a little over a year ago, I’ve gone on about what I learned, how my values changed from living in a primarily self serving way to a way of wanting to help others more. In many ways I can be an “ignorant westerner” still, especially in terms of being picky about having specific food items like coconut oil and hemp seeds. However, I currently live in a place that’s barely furnished and haven’t felt much urge to go crazy with furnishing…I will just consider it zen, at least I’m not sleeping on a mattress on the floor anymore lol.

Anyway, I will cut myself off there. Instead of listening to what I have to say, I would like for you all to check out what my friend Gerallt has to say about his experiences volunteering in Tanzania. Gerallt is one of the coolest volunteers I met, and although I don’t know him too well in terms of time, something about him cracks me open and I’ve shared with him many details about my life that very few people know and it seems him and I have shared some similarities in life experiences. I am very keen on helping the school Gerallt supports and fund raises for in Arusha and anytime I see or hear about the work he’s been doing I am so impressed by what a selfless person he is. The photo of the impala brings him to mind because I have seen him accomplish huge things to fast and it’s impressive.

I encourage you all to check out the facebook page for Cheka School and support in any way you can. Even skipping out on a few coffees, a few drinks or a few smokes can help, and it may help you kick some of your vice’s in the ass too 🙂

What inspired you to volunteer in Tanzania?

I would think that I’m definitely not alone in having always had the thought of assisting in situations of poverty at the back of my mind. I can vividly recall seeing iconic images of suffering in the extreme famine of the mid 1980s in Ethiopia. There followed at the time a global effort to contribute towards easing the suffering, culminating in the Live Aid effort set up by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (and a super display of rock showmanship by one Freddie Mercury!). Being around 11 years old at the time, it would probably have been one of the first few times in life that I’d have started to realise that all was not well in the world, and that not everyone’s life revolves around playing football from dawn to dusk during school holidays. The impact of that period of time would definitely have stayed in my subconscious, and it would be some 25 years later before I’d be able to act on that urge to “help” or “do something” whatever that may be. In around 2009, I found myself in seasonal employment, and being relatively commitment free (no wife, no children, no mortgage) I was left to my own devices for around three or four months over the winter. I spent one winter helping to set up a boxing club in my home town and volunteering part time for the National Trust, and that’s when I truly caught the volunteering bug. In March 2010, after watching a wildlife documentary on the Serengeti, it occurred to me that I could volunteer abroad at the end of the year. The first place that came to mind was “Africa” and after a spot of googling I found IVHQ who offer programmes in various countries on the continent at reasonably affordable prices (certainly affordable compared to other similar companies that I now know to be offering virtually the same experience for around five times the cost!). Choosing which country wasn’t particularly easy – but the fact that I’d always wanted to go to East Africa, had always wanted to go on safari after watching countless Big Cat Diaries and other African wildlife documentaries over the years and had a keen interest in hiking up mountains left me with a choice between Tanzania and Kenya. I decided on Tanzania after being convinced by some volunteers who’d had a great experience there. It definitely turned out to be the best decision I could possibly have made, and probably the best decision of my life to date.

In what way did your life change for the better from volunteering?

Some people talk about filling up their backpack and going to volunteer in an orphanage in a poor country and having this overwhelming sense that their life is immediately transformed in a matter of a few weeks, ie having an immediate and radically life changing experience. That indeed has been the case for many people following similar ventures worldwide. But I think for me that any “change” has been a more gradual process, and a series of smaller mindset changes have occurred, although I certainly recall that when I first left Tanzania that I’d had the most unique of experiences in my own personal life and that I had a deep, impactful feeling that I simply had to return the following winter.

The major way that my life has changed is that I have definitely found something that I am extremely passionate about. If I’m given a stage to talk about Cheka or Arusha and volunteering in Tanzania, then I could easily talk about it for hours on end. I wish the whole world could find the time to go to Cheka and meet the children, meet the families and the staff and it baffles me why people don’t hand over their life savings once I’ve described what we do at Cheka to them! In many ways, Cheka is a purpose in life for me and it is never far from my mind. The idea of there not being a Cheka for some reason fills me with a sense of great sadness and horror as does the idea of not returning there every winter for a few months.

Priorities have certainly changed in the time that I’ve been going to Tanzania every year. A lot of things are way down the list of importance these days. I still follow football, but it’s with a passing interest. I hardly ever watch television, and avoid celebrities and reality shows like I would the plague! Perhaps it’s a natural sign of maturing that I prefer a hike in the hills or a long walk through the countryside, but I definitely find that I do that a lot more since I went to Tanzania. I would of course like to think that it is observing the Tanzanian way of life has taught me to appreciate my surroundings and what I have rather than ageing!

I understand you now actively volunteer and fund raise for Cheka school. What are some key projects you have worked on for them and how have these projects progressed?

Currently, Cheka is set up as a small charity in the UK and registered as an NGO in Tanzania. That brings with it quite a lot of work, and it is shared between a structured Committee of five members each having their own specific roles.

I am currently the Secretary, acting Treasurer, Volunteer Officer and Family Business Project Manager of Cheka Foundation. Enough to be getting on with for sure!

The Committee Chair is Amy, our Teaching Advisors are Arika and Sarah and Al Kaasam who deals with sponsorship (Al was born in Tanzania but has lived in Calgary since he was 13 years old – I’m not at liberty to tell you how many years ago that was! Myself and Al were Cheka’s very first volunteers and he also returns every year to Arusha).

Cheka Foundation’s main project is Cheka School, a pre primary school for 50 children (I find that it ends up being more than that if I’m in charge of registration – I find it difficult to turn down parents who turn up and want an education for their child). It started in late 2010 with just a few children sitting on a living room floor with one desk, a blackboard and a bag of crayons – and a totally bewildered volunteer from Wales!

We split the classes into four groups based mainly on their age – 3 year olds, 4 year olds, 5 and 6 year olds. We employ two local teachers – Happy and Tabea – to teach them and in the main the children are taught by doing group activities which we find is extremely volunteer friendly (as opposed to a volunteer having to teach a class of 15 children as a whole, which is also an option). We also employ a Headmaster – Herman – part time to take care of the finances in Tanzania when we are unable to be there.

As well as teaching the 3-6 year olds we also hold classes for the former Cheka students who’ve gone on to Government School. We teach them English every day for an hour or so and we also pay Government School fees and buy uniforms for those children to make sure that they still attend at school. We actively try to find a sponsor for them so that they are able to go to a well established,  reputable English/Swahili medium private school locally.

As a further teaching project, we also teach some of the parents of the children. Quite a significant amount of parents are illiterate and never had the opportunity to go to school, or their education finished early by reason of poverty. Some parents were initially unable to even write their names or even a single letter but after a few weeks show significant progress and start to speak very basic English with a degree of confidence.

Last year, after making several home visits and creating profiles of all the Cheka families, we decided to assist some of the worse off families by discussing the financing of a small business with them. I used a fair amount of fundraised money to start up a number of businesses – such as selling fruit and veg, selling milk, cooking and selling food, egg selling, clothes selling and so on. With the assistance of the fundraising of a local 6th Form College in North Wales, we’ve managed to buy a cow and a goat for two different families as well as renovating one or two homes. Prior to my last visit to Cheka, I was given a lot of organic seeds to share amongst Cheka’s families and some 15 families in total benefitted from growing and selling vegetables such as broccoli, various types of beans, lettuce, turnip and so on.

Those are the main projects associated with Cheka School and I’m always keen to keep them growing as it gives a lot of different things for volunteers to see and do when they come to Cheka School.

However, our main priority has to be paying the bills to keep the school open. It is the only pre-primary school in the immediate area and is totally free of charge for the children and their parents. In order to keep it going we have to pay for the children to have two meals a day, pay for two teachers, a Headmaster, a cook/cleaner and two security guards. Our biggest expenditure is the rent we pay for the two houses in the same compound – one for the school and one for the volunteers. We raise money by donations and by having volunteers come to the school and pay rent on the house. We charge a very small weekly rent, and we’re easily the most affordable Volunteer Organisation in the area! In an ideal world, we would build our own school and volunteer house to cut down on costs, make the school more self sufficient and to take the pressure off fundraising a bit, but it’s difficult to find that level of financial backing. It’s hard enough just to keep the school open every year!

What do you think volunteering and supporting small organizations in Tanzania directly has given you personally and the communities you have worked with that goes beyond what supporting large international organizations could?

Working with Cheka to support the communities directly in the impoverished Sakina and Kyrani areas of Arusha certainly has been beneficial to my life. As we don’t profit financially from working with Cheka, all benefits have been purely emotional and spiritual for us rather than material (although the families out there are extremely grateful and will cook you a meal or bring a gift to you to show their gratitude).

When I’m out and about in Arusha I like to look around different projects and visit other schools and orphanages. It varies things up for me, I get to know the area better and meet new people who share ideas that may work for Cheka. Sometimes I’ll find a pretty hopeless looking situation where a local family has nowhere to turn so I’ll assist by raising awareness through social media. For example on my last visit, an Arushan friend of mine introduced me to Samwel and his family – a 12 year old boy who’s leg had suffered pretty horrendous burns (the whole of his leg up to his knee was literally red raw) and who had been left virtually untreated in a local Government hospital for around three months. His parents had no way of funding his treatment in one of Arusha’s better private hospitals, and together with a few other volunteers I raised money through a social media appeal. Money soon came in and we ended up managing to pay for the treatment of another little boy as well – 3 year old Noeli who’d had severe boiling water burns to his shoulder and the whole of his left arm. People were so incredibly generous and through their donations probably saved the limbs and lives of those two children. I did feel a real sense of achievement in helping those two families out – especially when after around three months I was leaving and Samwel had just started to put some weight on his leg for the first time in over five months and Noeli was happily running around, virtually pain free and getting ready to leave hospital.

I would say that direct, hands on involvement with a small organization on the ground can be something incredibly fulfilling. It takes you through the emotional mill, that’s for sure. It’s sometimes as infuriating and as frustrating as it is heart warmingly fantastic and joyously out of this word. It’s always great when you find a project that you can physically get involved with rather than just being the man who hands over the cash. I’ve helped to push a great big wooden wheelbarrow full of sand up a Sakina hill in the searing midday heat once. A never to be repeated experience for me!

For over two years I’ve sponsored the private education of a former Cheka pupil called Glory. I always look forward to seeing her and her family when I return to Tanzania. I’ve been able to see for myself how much she has progressed academically since going to her new school – and I was particularly ecstatic the last time I went to Arusha as her English had improved so much since the last time I saw her, which makes communicating a lot less troublesome (my Swahili is not as good as it should be – but it is something I’m working on!). It was also great to hear that her father had turned two packets of seeds and ten chickens into a successful veg and egg selling business. His success was such that he had bought a lot of material for building a new house for himself and his family so that he can knock down the mud hut they now live in. It will be a project that I will be getting behind when I return at the end of the year.

As we’re a non-profit making organisation money donated to us goes straight through to running Cheka School and supporting the local families. We transfer money every three months, which also helps us keep bank charges to a bare minimum ensuring that more money goes to where it should – straight to keeping Cheka school open and supporting the local families. As volunteers for Cheka, we don’t take a salary or reclaim any expenses such as flights or visas or the cost of living out there. We don’t have our own company vehicles and flash 4x4s to get us around and I prefer getting around on one of the local motor bike taxis or dala dalas (the local mini bus!) that are always an adventure. By donating to a smaller organisation like Cheka, you’ll definitely get more personal updates and a greater sense of knowing exactly where your money is going and exactly what it is being used for. We have a newsletter, a facebook page and a website to keep everyone updated.

Here’s a few links for you to look at –

www.facebook.com/chekaschool – please like it!

www.cheka.nl

www.chekaschool.com

What keeps bringing you back to Cheka?

A multitude of reasons keep me returning every year to Cheka. It’s almost a given now that I’ll be returning there for a few months every year at some point between December and March.

After my first venture, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to return there the following winter (or as soon as possible!). I had been completely taken by the way of life, the welcoming and friendly attitude of the people and the relative laidback-ness of it all. I was eager to go back to Cheka and help work on taking it to the next level and, of course, couldn’t wait to see the children again.

After I left for the second time, my plan had always been to skip returning to Cheka for a year and go to volunteer in South America. But the nearer it got to the winter months, the more and more the idea of returning to Cheka got inside my head.

And so it went. I never saw South America. I returned last December for three months and I now not only feel that I want to return there, but I want to make it a more long term move if at all possible. Our ultimate goal at Cheka would be to buy land, build a school and a volunteer house so that we can cut costs right down and ultimately benefit more children and their families in the area. It is something I’d love to develop and get involved with and I guess that the fact that this hasn’t happened yet is one reason that keeps me coming back.

Another reason I’m drawn to the area is the fact that every time I go I am guaranteed to meet new people and make friends and work with volunteers from all over the world. I have many local friends that I have known since the first time I went there, and I also get to meet up again with some volunteers that I met at the end of 2010. It’s always good to meet up with old friends and make new ones wherever you are in the world.

I always miss the hustle and bustle and the chaotic craziness (in a good way!) of Arusha. There is never a dull moment in that town. Getting from A to B around Arusha is hardly ever mundane and you never know what’s around the corner.

One of the major reasons why I, and any other volunteer with any other project, like to return is to meet up with children again. Ultimately it’s why we all do it. You see them at school and you love the fact that they are all so full of big smiles, energy, cheekiness and willingness to learn. I remember the first time I went on a family visit, and to see a Cheka pupil living in such conditions of poverty was pretty moving to say the least. You then see that same child the next day at Cheka and you’re totally in awe of the fact that they’re bouncing around so full of life and smiling and that makes you all the more determined in some ways. I don’t get so involved in the teaching side of things these days, but I’m always around during lunch when all the children are at the school and playtime is in full swing!

I also love returning to the area so I can update people who donate to the school or those who sponsor some of the children. I am also given fundraised money to spend on setting up businesses for families every year I go, and that gives me plenty to think about when I return. It’s interesting and challenging to go around Arusha to find the best deals for all kinds of stuff – clothes, chickens, cows, goats, cement or sand – and it’s also quite energy zapping when you’re caught in the Tanzanian sun in the afternoon (which also may be a bit of a determining factor in my returning to Arusha every year – it beats the Welsh winter!).

If you’d like to donate to Cheka School or any associated projects – such as starting a family business or sponsoring one of our children – please get in touch.

We also have highly affordable year round, volunteering opportunities at Cheka School.

If you’re interested you can email me at geralltparry712@hotmail.com

Thanks Michelle for letting me ramble on your blog and thanks to everyone who’s read it!

Reflections of the past couple months

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It seems like I never write anymore, and I definitely should be doing so more often. So much has happened over the past couple months that I haven’t communicated about.

Work is new, location is new and it seems like life as a whole is new for the most part. I only told a handful of people I relocated to Ottawa for work and it wasn’t anything personal against anyone that I didn’t say good bye or keep in touch. For those of you I told, you are the ones who are closest to me and know me well. For those of you who I have been close with in the past and didn’t contact, it was simply a difference in core values that caused me to fall away. For others who are acquaintances, or friends who I am generally not in regular touch with, you get to hear about it now!

I lived in Toronto for about 6 years and grew deeply attached to that city. As time marched on, relationships started and ended, friends came and went until it got to the point where I felt lost and alone in my own city which I had once been so lively in. Opportunities in all areas of life came to a stand still, so change had to come. As I always do, I left much of the direction of change up to the universe to decide i.e. Opportunity would come to me in the place I am supposed to be. Ottawa popped up, and it was an appealing change. Not sure if I will survive in winter here, but we shall see when the time comes if I see fuzzy little beavers around lie in the photo above, I am sure it won’t be so bad. I don’t know yet if this will be a long term home for me, I will be testing the waters here for a bit but so far I like it.

Things I like about Ottawa so far:

-less traffic than TO

-wider variety of coffee shops!

-small town feel in a relatively large city

-the fact that if you are a regular somewhere people acknowledge that. I went to the same freaking grocery store and coffee shops for years and nobody cared despite seeing me ALL the time. Only exception is the coffee shop Cabin Fever, those hipsters were so nice!

-All the great spots for running

-Gatineau park. Went for a hike with friends there a couple weeks ago, it was so lovely

-The simplicity and laid back vibe of many of the people in comparison to TO. It’s not as much of a look at me and look at what I have sort of place.

Although I like most things about Ottawa, it is a bit tough adjusting to a new home and new city. It’s not a perfectly laid out grid so I find it a bit difficult to navigate and the amount of French I hear here has me freaked out sometime and I really don’t know why lol. That being said, I am not homesick in any way.

For those of you wondering what happened to my plan to go to Australia for a year and do my masters degree in International Public Health, that plan has been derailed, at least temporarily. The financial investment became a concern so I’m taking my time on that one. My spidey senses tell me I won’t be married until about 4-5 years from now, so I have plenty of time to still go off on that adventure.

In the meantime I am living out an adventure a bit closer to home.

If I Told You I Was Homeless, Would You Believe Me?

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I thought I would share with everyone, the very humbling story of someone who is very close to me…..

From the outside, and her ability to keep up appearances, anybody would think her life is just all fine and dandy. However, for the past six months she has been out of a job…..she used up all her savings, couldn’t afford to keep her car, sold most her valuables and got evicted from her apartment. She is now homeless, and has been drifting around from place to place with just enough money to eat, and no stable income. She keeps her head above water with little wind falls of money that come along from different sources.

It’s shocking in a way, because she’s one of those people who comes across to others as always having it together. I guess it goes to show, you never really know what somebody is going through. Nobody would EVER think she’s broke or homeless by looking at her.

I’m sharing this story to make a few points about life that she has shared with me. She told me that with each hit she took financially, and all the material losses, she didn’t fight it, she allowed it to happen and it didn’t shake or break her, cause in a situation where you’re pushing so hard and see nothing changing, all you can do is let go. When she got her eviction letter she smiled, because she was no longer going to be pushed deeper into debt. When her car was taken, she smiled again because it was one less unnecessary thing for her to scramble to pay for every month. She realized that the material things were not what defined her, or things she needed and was empowered by the fact that she could live with nothing more than a mattress on the floor in her apartment and be happy.

However, as time continued, she began to wonder why she lost everything, and was now stuck in a corner with no opportunities coming her way for work, or every opportunity that she thought had her name on it slipped away, or even the odd jobs she tried just ended up falling through…

She eventually realized it was because despite having gotten through all the losses, and remaining in tact, her strong sense of pride and judgement towards others were still running full force. The way she spoke of this really struck me….there was a night where she had nowhere to go, although she had started asking a few friends for help, her lesson hadn’t really hit her yet. She sucked up her pride, and made a call to social services, telling them she needed a place to stay, and had no money. She was surprised that the conditions she ended up staying in were nowhere near as bad as she would have imagined. She took a short nap, and when she woke up it hit her that her pride and judgement were what she was still carrying around and needed to let go of. She had flashes of the first time she walked into the social services office to apply for assistance, she told herself at the time “I don’t belong here, I’m not like these other people” she saw herself as being above them due to her work experience, education, etc. etc. She also had a flashback to one of the jobs she tried out for some quick money….again, her thoughts of the other people working there was “uneducated hicks…”  It was her failure to open up to others and see through the barriers we sometimes call differences, but really are judgement that was holding her back from really being humbled.

She now sees that we are all essentially the same in most ways…we eat, we sleep, we breathe, we laugh, we cry all regardless of our looks, education, financial status, cultural background, IQ, etc. etc. and she’s going to carry forward seeing that and trying to relate to others rather than judging from the surface. She’s still a bit lost, but in giving up judgement and being humble the only direction from rock bottom to move is up.

We are all guilty of judging people on a daily basis, it happens because we’re programmed by society to do it from the day we’re born. We’re usually not even conscious we’re doing it. I think this story goes to show that we’re not necessarily damaging the people we judge, but more so ourselves.

The Time I Had to Pinch Myself to Make Sure I Was Alive….

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I know I go on and on about energy quite a lot on my blog, and I know many of you don’t believe that we are made primarily of energy, and that we have a need to work with our energy system to to maintain peace.

I decided to write about an experience I had a little over a month ago, most of you who regularly tune into my blog know that meditation and working with my energy is part of my day to day life and it’s a commitment, not something that I just do at my convenience because that’s not really how it works, its not another task to be scheduled into the day.

I had an experience just about a month ago and it’s very difficult to explain in words but I felt like my brain almost completely shut off, I felt completely connected to everything around me and the simplest things gave me pleasure and happiness….things like my hand touching my face, the way my feet felt touching the floor or feeling the texture of fabric. I went out for a walk and I felt like I was in tune with everything around me, I noticed the fine details of everything around me, details that would normally be overlooked. If I had to come up with a term for it, I would call it “life in HD”  Since this hadn’t happened to me before I had a moment where I thought “hmmm, I wonder if I’m dead :S” and I had to pinch myself to check

Through further work with my energy I was brought back to that “life in HD” experience again tonight, where I felt happy for no apparent reason and just felt at peace and connected with everything around me. As I was walking down yonge street someone came up to me and said “I was walking on the sidewalk on the other side of the street and I felt your energy, I just wanted to tell you” I had a couple more strangers say hi to me and it wasn’t in a “heyy baby, you’re looking sexy” It was pretty cool! and I didn’t have to pinch myself to check if I was alive or not this time 🙂 Just in case the question is running through your mind…..no I do not smoke weed or take any sort of drugs 😛

Anyway, my point with this blog is…..get your head out of your ass and learn to work with your energies, it makes a huge difference in how you feel!

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What I do to keep my sanity

I took some time to sit in the park yesterday and just observed my surroundings, I don’t know how much time I took as I left my phone at home (intentionally) so had no way to gauge time. What I noticed when I sat there was that every single person who passed me by seemed to be in a rush. It wasn’t the pace of their walking that always gave it away that they were in a rush, but more so the energy they gave off that made it apparent they were in a rush, not centered and their focus was on something completely other than their surroundings. 

From what I observe, it appears that most people live this way….always concerned with what’s next, what needs to be done rather than giving any attention to the present moment. Being robbed of my iphone a couple months ago has helped me with this tremendously, no apps, no e-mail and no browser = freedom. I only had one moment in those couple months where I’ve though “crap, I need that app!” and it was when I heard a song on the radio, some random unpopular station that sounded amazing…..I needed shazzam to tell me the name of it! lol I later checked the station site for a playlist but not luck. In the grand scheme of things though, the benefits of being without my iphone have outweighed the drawbacks. 

I also check my e-mail far less often than I used to because of this. With my iphone I probably checked my e-mail every hour and responded to most e-mails right away. Now, I check my e-mail 2-3 times a day and have found that it has not damaged productivity levels. If you think about it, just a few years ago, before anybody and everybody had a smart phone, we didn’t check out messages constantly and our productivity levels were not much different….or possibly better. What has happened is that with contact and information available to us constantly, we have made ourselves busier, cramming as much activity as we can into every minute of our lives. This constant mental activity and “I want it now! attitude” has caused us to lose our ability to work towards our goals and accomplish things in a grounded, structured and paced way. Many times I’ve been guilty of this myself, even before the rise of smart phones, I can remember several times where I would be at school, so caught up in what I was doing, and what I had to do next that I actually walked past people I knew on campus, they said hi to me and I didn’t even see them!!! Focusing too heavily on what we need to do next,we end up losing focus on the bigger picture of why we’re doing what we’re doing and from experience I’ve seen that sometimes, when I’ve started working towards a goal, gotten lost in the details of working towards it and never took any time out to meditate and get in tune with my feelings towards what I’m doing…..I realize it’s not even exactly what I wanted, and by the time I realize that I’ve already gone so far. It’s natural for goals and what we want in life to change, even if it’s something as big as career, or city you live in, things can always change and I think we owe it to ourselves to be present enough to life in the moment to to recognize those changes and respond to them as they come up, rather than when it’s “too late” I quote that because I never really believe it’s too late to make changes or go in the direction you’re inner guidance it pointing you towards…but it definitely becomes more difficult as more commitments and obligations come. 

 Just like everybody else I still do get a little too caught up in what needs to be done, but I’m able to notice now when I get off center. If you find yourself spending more of your time thinking about, reaching out for or stressing about something that’s not in front of you at this very moment than you are spending being aware of and making the most of what you do have in front of you at the moment, then you are off center. 

So, how do you get centered? you learn to work with you energies and meditate. I’ve had a lot of friends say “all that energy stuff is bull shit” and I suppose I can see why many people would think that, considering there are a lot new age weirdo hippies out there these days claiming all sorts of nonsense. Before its corruption by some of the new age spiritual movements, the principles of meditation and working with energies were rooted in ancient Chinese and Indian practices…not in gimmicks sold in new age books. 

I didn’t learn how to manage my energy from books, or anything I watched or listened to. It may have been a starting point for me, but I never really made significant progress until I learned how to tune into my own energy and feel how it responds to different people, things, places, situations and how to keep it flowing. It’s not something you can learn on your own, you need to be taught….and I know most of you will think “I can learn on my own, I can learn it from a book” because you’re stubborn…..but, do you see kids learning how to ride bikes from books? or learning to swim from books? As with learning anything that’s of a practical nature, you can’t do it effectively until you actually physically do it and as with riding a bike or swimming, you’re going to learn to do so much faster if you have someone teach you. 

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a teacher a few years ago who helped me a lot. If you’re seeking more peach in your life I would highly recommend you learn some of the techniques he teaches and see the difference they make. Give some of his articles a read and see if you want to take the plunge. What drew me to Steve’s work was the practicality of it and the lack of “fluffliness” For me, any websites regarding spiritual practice that consistently tell you to “shine your divine light” or “think positively” aren’t realistic. Anything that deny’s spiritual practice is something that will be hard work in the beginning and require discipline is guaranteed to fail in the long run. 

The law of karma is a law of balance, that being said……regardless of how positively you think, or how much you “shine your divine light” shit is going to happen in your life. It’s about learning how to deal with the shit in a calm, centered,present way and learning from it, not about completely removing it from your life….because that’s impossible 

 

WELCOME

 

Living With Less…or Living With More?

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I know I tend to babble on about things most of you don’t think about or care about on my blog….at least that’s what I assume. I’m going to carry on anyway though. We’re in the final month of 2012 and it feels like it’s gone by way too fast, I feel like every year goes by faster than the one before it, I swear time is speeding up and I have read some interesting discussions on that topic, but I’m not here to talk about physics…and the phenomenon of accelarting time could very well just be a part of getting older.

I have taken a bit of time to reflect on what I’ve learned over this past year, and overall the theme of this year for me seemed to be learning to live with less. Ever since the trip I took to Africa, that’s been the central theme of my life. I can easily count on my fingers the number of times I went out partying, I spent far less on material things than I ever have in the past, and gained a new perspective on what my goals should be in life.

I know I’ve already talked about these things a lot on my blog, so I’m going to try to keep this one short and try to not bore you all. I had another epiphany regarding life and how I should move forward to achieve my goals. I’m sure most of you remember the plans I was working on to start up a not for profit to benefit underfunded schools in Tanzania. My project was very slow moving, it seemed as if it was going to move forward and things were coming together, I had a friend commit to helping me through the paper work of getting registered as a not for profit, and then poof….he vanished. Now getting to the epiphany, I’ve been seeing more and more how I’ve spent loads in the past on things that have no real value, designer clothes that would be worth almost nothing now because they’re from a few seasons past, things that I’ve worn maybe twice and have long gone out of fashion. I thought to myself “I could have probably dramatically changed a village using just half of what I spent on all that” I realized that rather than focusing on getting a not for profit set up, and collecting donations I should just save up a little bit (a lot goes a long way in developing countries) and work on making a difference on my own in just one school first, and then use that experience and credibility to build something bigger…..I also realized that I need to move forward not just being conservative in terms of materialism but also having a better balance between what I spend on self and what I invest in projects  that benefit people other than myeslf. This is why going forward in the new year I have decided to contribute more regularly to projects that friends of mine are working on, in addition to continuing to live a minimalist type of life.

I do realize most people don’t care, and will continue not to care about these sorts of issues as shown when my friend Aleesha attempted to collect donations for an orphanage her family runs in fiji…she sent out a fb msg to all her friends and pretty nobody responded, but I did of course :p

Despite the fact that most of you will not care, I continue to post because whatever little sparks of inspiration I may ignite are totally worth it.

For some more info on one of the projects a friend of mine is leading in Tanzania check out Cheka school on facebook, my friend Gerallt has done some brilliant work in the time he’s spent abroad and he as some very interesting stories to go with his experiences.

I’m sure a lot of you are wondering why I would chose to be like this, and for those of you still very much caught up in materialism and excess you must think I’m living a petty miserable life lol. That’s not the case at all though, I find I’ve actually been happier because I can appreciate simple things in life a lot more. Things that I’ve cut back on doing in excess like nights out, when I actually do splurge on them I have a lot more appreciation and absorb the experience more rather than having it be one of those repetitive things I do just because. I’m definitely not going to become a cave dwelling monk anytime in the future, but I will continue to advocate living a well balanced life.

What I learned from Being Robbed by a Hobo

That face right there…that was the look on my face for a couple of days last week…

Most of you know I was robbed by a hobo….he took my iphone from right under my nose basically and I didn’t realize it until a few min. later……after realizing I went completely mental for the next couple days. My phone is still missing and I am currently using a blackberry from 2009……and I have to say, this has all been an eye opening situation.

I was sitting there having coffee and working away on my laptop when a cracked out hobo walked into the place and came right up to me….he leaned over my computer and got right into my face asking me several questions. I was nervous cause 1) he was majorly invading my personal space 2) I have no idea what this guy was on or what he was capable of doing, I didn’t know if he was going to attempt to chew my face off 3) He smelled really bad…..

I asked him to leave me alone, he walked away then a few min. later when I went to check messages on my phone…..it was gone. I then had a meltdown and caused a slight scene…someone was kind enough to lend me their phone to call the police. I waited over an hour for them to show up and take a report. I spent most of the following day fighting with Telus in an attempt to get a new phone for less than the $380 to buy out my contract…I also spent most of the day looking for an old phone from someone that I could use. In addition to that, I spent a lot of time scouring kijiji to see if my phone ended up being posted for sale. I spent those two days completely miserable…..and over what? A piece of plastic and metal…

I was panicked about missing important calls….After a bit more time I finally realized that despite shedding myself of certain dependencies in life i.e. being dependent on the way other people view me, or being dependent on having certain people in my life. I still haven’t overcome many of my materialistic dependencies. I lost my balance for about two days over a goddamn phone!

Being without a phone for a bit also made me realize the negative impact of society becoming so dependent on their phones…..just a few years ago, maybe 10 years ago or less, it wasn’t so common for people to have cell phones. I remember in high school not many people had them, and I got my first cell phone in first year university…I barely even used it to be honest and the only function that I used was receiving calls and making calls. Life was simple….the only times I conversed with people via a medium other than face to face was when I was at home on my computer. I checked my e-mail maybe twice a day, and that was enough. With the increasing capabilities of phones over the years it seems productivity levels may have actually gone down because we can get so easily distracted with things like being able to constantly check e-mail and facebook and various other apps.  With the capability of being able to be in touch and get back to people so quickly it’s like we expect everything to be done in the snap of a finger and go through life at such a fast pace without being able to see what’s actually going on around us. I’m sure there are also a lot of advantages to our phones, but I wasn’t quite so aware of the drawbacks until I lived without a phone for a bit and am now living with 2009 technology that doesn’t properly function lol. I did something interesting or weird…..however you want to look at it, a few days ago. I was still feeling a bit stressed about the phone situation but realized there’s nothing I could do about it and I had to accept that, so I took a walk around downtown by myself…..without anything with me, no phone, no cash. just myself.  It was amazing how much more receptive I was to my surroundings without a phone with msgs coming in constantly taking my focus. It was pleasant and I was very relaxed….putting the technology aside at times seems to be a good way to get back in touch with your surroundings and with yourself….I highly recommend it! and, I have decided I’m not going to buy another iphone, or smart phone…at least not for quite some time.

Conversing With the Homeless

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I have often been curious about how the homeless end up in their situation, how could life become so bad that when you’e at an ultimate financial low…you turn to drugs and thus remain stuck on the street rather than going for the logical option of getting yourself straightened out. I in no way look down on these people, have just been curious about what sort of traumatic situations they’ve been in to get them where they are.

Long conversations with the homeless aren’t something I’ve experienced before today….Usually they just ask for change and sometimes I give it to them, sometimes I don’t, end of story. They usually don’t talk much beyond asking for change or random gibberish if they’re really drugged up so it’s never been an appropriate situation to ask “How did you end up here?” Plus the fact that they’re begging for money makes me think they would just fabricate some sad story about their life to try to suck more money out of you.

I met a homeless woman today though, and it was a bit different….rather than the usual neutrality I feel towards them., for some reason, I felt different towards her. She wasn’t begging for money, just saw her walking into a driveway and she got freaked out by a huge raccoon that was sitting there. She said to me “Did you see that thing!?” Me: “It’s just a raccoon” I don’t know why, but I kept talking to her….It was cold out and she definitely wasn’t dressed for the weather, so I gave her my coffee which I probably wasn’t going to finish anyway. I told he to wait there, and I would bring her a jacket. I figured if I gave away 6 garbage bags full of clothes recently giving a jacket to someone wasn’t really a big deal.  (keep in mind she never asked me for anything)

I got her the jacket, and we talked a bit more….since I felt this was a situation in which I could ask about how she ended up on the street without being coerced into giving her anything else, I just straight out asked her. She told me she started doing drugs as a way to cope after a guy left her and took everything. She said she had $200,000 in the bank,  thought she would marry the guy, opened a joint bank account….then he took everything and left. She ended up crying when she told me the story. She also mentioned she has 2 kids who are around my age and they want her to come home so they can help her….She didn’t really say why she won’t just go live with her kids, I didn’t bother probing her though because sometimes people just don’t wanna say everything, and I respect that. I usually don’t spill all my personal stories to strangers either.

Anyway, she never asked me for anything else….seems all she needed was someone to talk to a bit and listen….That made me think, maybe what most people who’ve hit rock bottom really need is just someone to take time and listen to them. We give these people money, food, shelters to stay in….but how often is it we actually give them respect and show some actual compassion? I think that’s the one thing that’s lacking in initiatives that are meant to help the homeless, they’re there to meet the physical survival needs of the people but there’s not much as far as emotional support. I think the element of emotional support really is important considering that many of these people wound up where they are due to their lack of ability to handle difficult emotional situations.  I mean who just randomly thinks “I’m going to start doing crack…..it’s going to be so fun!”? I think you need to be in a pretty desperate situation before turning to substances to numb yourself…

I’m not trying to preach that everyone should just go randomly talking to homeless people now. I think the point I’m trying to get across is that if you’re ever in a situation where you’re helping someone (anyone, not just the homeless)….try to throw in some form of emotional support if you can, you never know, it could be the tipping point that shows them there’s still some good left in the word and inspires them to change. (that might be my idealistic thinking again lol)