Smiles, Struggles and Turkmen

One of the more useful purposes of social media is being able to stay in touch with my global network of friends and family while exploring events and issues within my local community. Thanks to a certain social media site, I stumbled across a post from a woman asking for help for Turkmen refugees in Mamak, a suburb in an older part of Ankara. So I filled my boyfriend’s car with clothing, dishes, and other random items to donate and off I went to Mamak on a sunny winter Saturday.

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Depot in Mamak

As I stood in the depot shivering from the February air, I gazed around at the numerous middle-aged men talking with the 2 Turkish ladies that had led me to said depot. There were piles of clothing strewn around the studio apartment-sized concrete walled space along with numerous bags of rice, legumes, sugar, bottles of sunflower cooking oil, and jars of tomato paste. My volunteer work in high school and university consisted of, well nothing I can remember, so I was a bit dumbfounded at what was going on. Obviously my lack of Turkish added to this confusion, but I tried to absorb all the sights, sounds and smells I could ingest.

After a lot of back and forth between the cast of characters I was observing, I went upstairs from the depot, with the locals, to the Cağdaş supermarket to buy baby food and bags of rice, legumes, sugar and jars of tomato paste, which filled the shopping cart to the brim. The massive amount of packaged food in one basket was something I had only seen at wholesale stores. This was when I realized there was an issue here.

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Iraqi Turkmens fled their hometowns in the Tal Afar and Mosul districts in northwestern Iraq when ISIL invaded their cities over a year ago. While I don’t personally categorize people (aside from asshole and non-asshole), national conflict, sectarian violence and cross-border war is a result of pigeonholing people for being who they are; whether they claim certain ethnic or religious associations, or are competing for oil. The divisions created among people because someone’s grandfather may have been born near a river in a perceived holy town and may or may not be of a certain descent is a fucking waste of time. I could get into the clusterfuck of ethnic backgrounds in this region and explain that Turkic people exist from the borders of China and Pakistan to the shores of the Bosphorus and beyond who sometimes prosper and are most often oppressed, is best left to social anthropologists. I will say I have been working with Turkmen from Iraq and leave it at that. Differentiating between Sunni, Shiite or Christian is pointless when people are suffering the same fate of displacement and persecution.

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When I met the group of volunteers from Iraq (refugees themselves) in the basement of a supermarket, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation.  Nearly one year into my attempt to save the world through volunteering with the grassroots organization Birlik, I have a bit more grasp on the situation, but more importantly I have a greater understanding of the impact of war on people, communities and countries. AHH_8157

Over 25,000 people-the numbers change almost daily- of all ages have come to Ankara to live in safety, however they don’t intend to stay. There is a camp in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, but conditions are terrible according to a family that recently moved to Ankara. Some evacuees in Ankara ran out of money- jobs are near impossible to find in Turkey as the economy is in a rut not to mention the country is trying to accommodate nearly 2 million refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria among some African countries- returned home to Iraq only to discover it was a grave mistake.

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Melek, Muhsin, Sachad and sister

On the first day of my new journey, we (local ladies and Turkmen volunteers) went to visit a family in order to see their living situation.  34 people from 3 families were living in a  2-story flat. There were 2 sofas and numerous foam mattresses lining the walls. As I walked through the home, I saw the rooms were full of sleeping material and nothing more. I was relieved they at least had a soft space to rest their heads, but little else existed there. Compared to the tarp walls of camps millions are living in from Jordan to France, I supposed it was a blessing to live within a concrete structure.AHH_8060

The following months I would visit  different families to take toys, books and sweets to the children. I quickly came to learn this was much like putting a band aid on a scraped knee. It was pointless. After all, people- mostly women and children as men have died or stayed behind-were living in apartments, wore clean decent clothes and served us Iraqi tea with heaps of sugar. Disillusionment kicked in as the haunting images of refugees the media shows us is quite different than what I was witnessing. My perception of a “refugee” changed drastically.

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Muhammed is a 10-year-old boy from Tal Afar who was near a suicide bomber when he was 2. Shrapnel from the bomb punctured his spine leaving him unable to walk. The family’s only request was for diapers. I went with 2 girlfriends to visit Muhammed and his family, which turned out to be a priceless encounter.  Muhammed’s little sisters immediately went to my friends and the smiles were infinite. Though I felt I needed to do more than just visit a family bearing plush toys made in China and cheap chocolate, I realized that creating happiness by showing interest in the peoples’ stories was something better than nothing (from my perspective). When I asked Muhammed questions he answered with a bright smile though he was unable to speak. This was enough to become the driving force behind how I would try to save the world one refugee child at a time.

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Muhammed, Nur, Ayet, Işıl

My close friend who fled Iraq 15 years ago, Mustafa, has been my foundation since the beginning. He is my translator and co-organizer for the events we have with the Turkmen. When he told me stories of trying to escape Iraq it seemed like I was listening to a horror movie script. Human perseverance is something extraordinary. The strongest statement he made regarding his past was that he didn’t have a childhood.

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Canan (volunteer Turkish teacher) and ladies

Fast forward a couple months to having lunch with two world-saving superwomen, one of whom works with violence against women here in Ankara. The organization she works for offers free psychological support to anyone, regardless if they have a Turkish ID or not. Great news I thought as the images of all the young women I had met flashed through my mind. So I took this information with pride to Haydar, one of the volunteers for Birlik “Together”, the organization that registers the Turkmen fleeing from Iraq to Turkey. He has become one of my dearest friends and biggest supporters in trying to help Iraqis transition into a new albeit temporary life. When I told him there is a place for women to get psychological support and did he know of any special cases, he laughed.

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Haydar and kids

Haydar said everyone needs help. His daughter watched a man be decapitated in the street. Some children witnessed their brothers, fathers, or uncles being killed. I had no idea where to go from there.

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Sisters

This may seem far fetched, however there are many signs the Turkish government supports ISIL, in the likes of recruitment camps based in southeastern Turkey, evidence of fighters and weapons crossing the border into Syria freely and illegal oil trading between Turkey and ISIL. The Turks’ hatred for the Kurdish people- the only ethnic group fighting against ISIL in Iraq and Syria and winning- is so deep that they will support the crazy ISIL fucks reigning terror and destroying thousands of years of history they consider haram or forbidden in Islam. Yes, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is a recognized terrorist group that has been waging a guerrilla war in Turkey for the past 30 years, but there is a misconception that Kurdish people support them so there is gaping wound between Turks and Kurds (Turks are mutts from the Ottoman Empire and Kurds are somewhat purebred- generally speaking of course), which is now fueling a civil war in southeastern Turkey at the moment. Innocent people are dying in the name of ethnicity and America is supporting both sides. Go figure. Let me not digress…

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Haydar said organize a picnic so I did. Mustafa, an Irish angel Roisin and I worked a few stressful weeks to create a day of release for 100 women and children. We found a beautiful place, Mavi Gol, for people to run amuck and forget about their lives for a day. Boys played soccer until they couldn’t stand. Young women made jewelry until the beads were gone. My darling friends cooked chicken until they reeked of barbecue smoke. The day was finished with bashing a pinata to ensure the kids had bellies full of sweets. This was a superficial activity that may not create world peace, but the laughter that ensued undoubtedly lasted for days and that was the point. The lovely volunteers consisted of people from Ecuador, Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Spain, Libya, Iraq, Ireland, the U.S. and a few of my dearest Turkish friends who all worked their asses off. When I advertise volunteering to help refugees on social media many people show interest, however so few are willing to actually put in the work. Yet another lesson I have learned during this emigration crisis. Support is crucial.

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Ha, Patricia and Umit

In the fall of this year, I organized an English course for 11 youth aged 10-15 with a core team that is still standing. People have come and gone as many foreigners (Westerners) want to say they help refugees, but don’t have the heart or guts to actually do it, so there has been a lot of disappointment and empty promises along the way. Despite this, I charge forward in my plan to save the world!

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First English class

Many kids don’t go to school here in Turkey for reasons varying from lack of Turkish language skills to mixed classrooms (Turkmen kids generally go to gender segregated schools) so we’re doing our part to keep a small, perhaps minute, percentage of a generation from being lost. For me at the moment the problem isn’t providing food to displaced people, but allowing minds and spirits to waste away. The idea of letting so many children live a life of despair is unacceptable.

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I could go on for days about my experience with these souls searching for a life away from conflict, which has ignited emotions from incredibly enlightening to grossly disappointing, but I think you get the picture.

I gratefully ask you to think, just for a minute or 2, about the millions of people struggling for a better life around the world.  If everyone can have a positive thought for a moment, the energy will combine and reach at least one individual that needs hope.

My heartfelt THANKS goes to all those that have supported me and continue to support me. You know who you are.

Peace.

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Picnic at Mavi Göl

Berlin in Spring

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

I’ve been to Berlin a few times over the past few years, and have left each time incredibly hung over and happy as hell. As in my normal life, I experience a wide range of emotions mixed with enlightenment and self-realization, however when I go to

Delicious trout and Miss Maria

Delicious trout and Miss Maria

Berlin it happens within a matter of days instead of years. Perhaps this is why I have a special place in my heart for the vibrant German city that offers proper European

Cem and Maria, tour guides and drinking buddies

Cem and Maria, tour guides and drinking buddies

hospitality. Yes, European hospitality seems like an oxymoron, especially coming from my

Bikes in the Park

Bikes in the Park

life in Turkey, but somehow the city and the people contained within shine like polished gems. And I fucking love them.

My dear friend Maria, who I met in Istanbul a few years ago, was the perfect hostess and tour guide. She made sure we tasted every beer possible, ate all the tasty German morsels, and explored as far and wide as possible. Drinking beer on a rooftop community garden,  Klunkerkeranich, overlooking the city was fucking awesome. Riding bikes around all major historical and government buildings, through parks, and

Art for babies

Art for babies

along the Spree was fucking great. Listening to Hip Hop heads make beats at Cafe Wendel, wandering through Bethanian, an old church converted into art studios, and eating California pulled pork during street food Thursday at Markthalle 9 were, well, fucking brilliant. Let me not forget the May Day festival in Kreuzberg, which was a mass of humanity from all walks of life enjoying live music and life in general.

Cafe Wendel

Cafe Wendel

We heard metal, Hip Hop, and traditional Turkish music all within a 3-block radius, with colorful people dancing tirelessly and imbibing freely.

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May Day

I had the honor of being a “model” for my friend Alesh’s sketch class. While it wasn’t the dreamy, romantic notion of sitting nude, draped in velvet fabric, in front of passionate artsy types, I enjoyed sitting on the pavement, drinking beer and chatting with a

Sketch class with Alesh

Sketch class with Alesh

lovely lady from Hamburg, all the while being sketched.

As I had usually visited Berlin for music festivals and short

Neus Museum

Neus Museum

stopovers, I wasn’t able to absorb the rich history of conflict that is an integral part of the city’s past. Maria is a wealth of knowledge about the GDR, Nazi regime, and the cultural implications both entities instilled into modern

Maria waiting for Korean sustenance

Maria waiting for Korean sustenance

Germany. What amazed me most was how far the German people have come in reversing the damage that was done and how progressive they continue to be. Especially when I compare to police brutality in the United States that hasn’t ceased to exist.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Cem and I visited Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, aka concentration camp, a short journey outside of the city. The small town of Oranienburg is very sweet, with colorful houses, children on bicycles and white picket fences. As we reached the camp, the experience became very surreal as the smell of death permeated my nostrils.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

While I still have images in my memory from the atrocities displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Houston that I visited nearly 20 years ago, walking on the earth was a completely different sensation. This camp was a “home” for mostly Senti and

Hair and eye color samples to determine race- Sachsenhausen Camp

Hair and eye color samples to determine race- Sachsenhausen Camp

Roma, or gypsies, who are people I deeply respect for their cultural contributions to civilization. Walking around the land, imagining thousands of people forced into a slow demise, was sickening, yet humbling somehow. The categorization of people according to their eye and hair color made me nauseous, but also pushed me to have a better understanding of humanity, both good and evil Hatred for people based on ignorant perceptions is a concept I will never fathom.

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The Victory Column

The moral of my story? Drink beer. Appreciate art. Listen to good music. Respect people regardless of their skin color, gender, or education level. Then all will be well. Peace.

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Maria and Mathias

The Best Turkish Wedding Ever

Maybe because she was one of my first friends in Turkey or maybe because she’s a stunning and humorous woman. Regardless, Ceren got married and I was blessed to be a part of it.

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Ceren and Naz

What was planned to be a “girls” weekend in Istanbul turned out to be a fucking wonderful and enlightening experience. Leaving dry and dusty Ankara behind, I embraced the 4-hour drive (riddled with monsoon rains) and tried not to think of the inevitable cosmopolitan traffic that would no doubt be waiting for me.

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Naz

Arriving late in Bakirkoy, my friend Anika and soon to be new friend Chelsea, were nearly 10 sheets to the wind when I arrived. The sangria was deliciously fruity and the conversation entertaining, candid and much needed. Some of us suckers in domestic relationships forget all too soon the inherent spirit and empowerment born from close female relationships. I haven’t forgotten the need for a proper ladies night, but I had forgotten how lively we can be when unleashed and unbridled.

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Ceren and Fatoş

The following hung over morning consisted of meeting twin girls who would be my bosses for the summer, an attempt at going to an overcrowded kuafor, ne hairdresser, and dolling myself up for a wedding I had anticipated for nearly 2 years.Image

Hair curled, heels on and dress covered in cat hair, I went with Ceren’s sister Derya and niece Naz to the family home. I walked in to a room of older women (and 2 men) waiting to send Ceren into her next life.   There was a heaviness in the atmosphere as Ceren and Derya’s father died 2 years ago and though not physically present he was very much in the air. Ceren was in a perfect dress that matched her raven hair, dark eyes, and red lips; nervous smile and impatience intact.

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Derya and Mum

The Cevahir Hotel in Bostanci is nothing short of grand, providing a lush green lawn facing the Marmara Sea. I sat with the family as we had arrived too early for cocktail hour, however conversation was very little due to my serious lack of Turkish. A young cousin played the role as translator for me, but by the end of the night he was a man of few words. I had exhausted yet another translator. Naturally.

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Ceren and Emre

The wedding was full of lights, smoke machines, Turkish love ballads, American pop songs, deliciously prepared and presented food, and limitless alcohol, and a belly dancer. What more could a girl in heels and creeping (down) strapless dress ask for really.

The following hung over morning consisted of Anika and I dragging our asses off Derya’s couch, primping young Naz and hitting the streets for more. Anika and I met 2 of my lovely students in Kadiköy for breakfast/brunch/tea and loose talk. The “girls” weekend continued with more laughter, more enlightenment and more solidarity. Ah, how I miss Istanbul.

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Fulya, Yasemin and Anika

Anika and I then proceeded to sit in traffic for the next 3 hours attempting to reach a tulip-laden park where her friends were having a picnic. The drive along the Bosporus through Istanbul’s most expensive neighborhoods elicited emotions of awe, appreciation, jealousy and conversation about Ottoman history. We finally found Emirgan Park and I must admit the tulips were breathtaking, however the never-ending tour to get there had us a bit frazzled. After sitting in the parking lot for nearly 45 minutes waiting for a space, cold beer calling my name as Anika had began to imbibe as co-pilot, we finally rested the Fiat. By the time I stood up, my left calf was broken and shaking at the idea I would have to use the clutch again in another couple of hours. Nevertheless, we arrived and rejoiced at standing up in fresh air.

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The Naz

The girl’s weekend had ended as the boyfriend was there, however my reenergized spirit was blessed to have had the insights, the laughter, the gossip, and the camaraderie.

Cheers to the ladies.

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A Simple Review of My Year

Just a quick goodbye 2013 note as I’m still blessed to be breathing, eating, walking, and talking shit as usual.

Chatting with nomadic goats in the Karaman region

Chatting with nomadic goats in the Karaman region

From ringing in the new (2013) year in Keystone, Colorado with loved ones to ringing in the newest year in Ankara, Turkey with yet more loved ones (ok, the boyfriend and 4 cats, but still), this past year has been a whirlwind of transition and growth.  Don’t we all say that?  Damn cliché.

Snowboarding in Davraz

Snowboarding in Davraz

Much of last winter I lived in Konya, but as we (the boyfriend and I) were moving to Ankara, house hunting occupied the majority of our time.  And drinking at the Ramada reviewing all the apartments we didn’t like.

Sunset from the salon

Sunset from the salon

April showers welcomed us to our new abode, which by the way kicks ass.  It’s huge, has fancy wallpaper and a swimming pool.  There’s no water in the pool, but we’re crossing our fingers that next summer more than just rain droplets will find the way onto the blue tiles.  I’m not going to mention that we are surrounded by construction (this is a developing nation, literally) and the security company has been fired, but not yet replaced.  Needless to say, I’m yelling at the management by way of translation through my non-conflict inducing boyfriend.  Perhaps we’ll have security by the end of the month.

Our empty swimming pool

Our empty swimming pool

May I remain strong in my decision to move to this country.  Having already saved 4 cats, I think I may need a villa with a big ass garden if I stay for many more years as the family may grow…  I do, however, dream of having a home by the seaside here, so time will tell I suppose.

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Celebrating Turkey during the protests

Just as my luck would have it, anti-government protests wreaked havoc throughout the country this summer.  I was lucky (and stupid) to have witnessed the protests in the capital city.  Though we had sniffles for the remainder of the summer thanks to the relentless tear gas, the adrenaline, solidarity among locals, and deep political discussions enlightened my excitement of living in Ankara.

Police clashes in Kızılay, downtown Ankara

Police clashes in Kızılay, downtown Ankara

Jet setting my happy ass back to the States to welcome my second nephew was the highlight of the year.  Soren is amazing and growing his marshmallow cheeks as quickly as he can.

Sand sculptures in Antalya

Sand sculptures in Antalya

And the worst part of the year was losing my Gramma in Arizona.  She was a tough cookie until the end.  The gathering of the family (as we Americans only do at weddings and deaths) was a priceless time full of laughter and a few tears.  The best way for Gramma’s legacy to continue is if the Pittsburg Steelers win the Super Bowl for the next decade.

Cactus blossom

Cactus blossom

So as life goes, I had a spectacularly delicious dinner of sushi and fried Chinese goodies to celebrate another year of my existence at our local haunt Quick China.  The name doesn’t’ do it justice.  It must be a direct translation of something.  Regardless, the food and martinis reassured me getting older really is about getting wiser.

Black Sea puppy

Black Sea puppy

October is the national month of fall weather and candy treats, in America anyway, but here in Turkey it’s a bit different. Mind you, I was able to attend a Halloween party as a classy but sexy cat and indulge in sweet treats imported from Colorado.   Most of the Turks dressed up as, well, Turks, but still attended the party with glee.

My partners in crime, Silvia and Cem

My partners in crime, Silvia and Cem

Nothing is more refreshing for my soul than a breath of fresh African air.  Stepping off the plane in Entebbe, Uganda creates mixed feelings of hope, fear, excitement and downright love.  My luck brought me back to my second home this year in which I’m eternally thankful. Granted it was a short trip, but the time with my extended family was beneficial beyond words.

My best friends and brothers, Burney and Mugagga

My best friends and brothers, Burney and Mugagga

Depravity is something only (I believe) felt by those who have it all (the West).  My folks brought, no shit, at least 200 lbs. of American goodness in the form of beef jerky, hollandaise sauce, brownie mixes, cherry chocolate kisses and other various indulgences.  And then there was food!!

the Almighty Zeus ready for Xmas

the Almighty Zeus ready for Xmas

Happy wishes, blessings and colorful light to everyone!!

NYE @ yummy Quick China

NYE @ yummy Quick China

Back to the North….

Last week proved to be another eventful adventure….

Burney MC and Friend

Burney MC and I caught the Post bus to Gulu in northern Uganda to attempt to establish End of the Weak in the north.  After the 6 hour bus ride we arrived safely and covered in a fine layer of red dust. The highlight was having grilled bananas, called gonja, so I was satisfied.

Having been to Gulu before, we walked the familiar streets to find the guest house Happy Nest, where we would rest our bones for the few days we were there.  We met with Juma, a radio presenter and local promoter to discuss running the MC Challenge in Gulu.  As it would be, all he really wanted was money as the amount of NGOs and misappropriated money has spoiled the people in this war fatigued area.  We attended a talent show, which consisted of young men and one woman miming over a well-known artist’s song.  Most of it was Hip Hop from the US such as 50 Cent or local celebrity Bebe Cool.  Although Burney and I laughed about it, it is quite disheartening to see these kids imitating Western music instead of creating their own. However, these talent shows seem to take place in so many cities and towns, that this is the entertainment of the times.

I met a producer named Babu who has become my main guide and go-to guy for information about the Hip Hop scene in the North.  He is a man of few words who barely cracks a smile, but he has been honest and helpful.  His partner and co-producer, Ash Bee, has also proven to be of infinite help and is the comic relief in my endeavors to provide a platform to help strengthen and educate hopeful artists in Acholiland.

Burney and I retired to the guest house late that night, discussing the struggles we faced with working in Gulu.

MCs in Gulu

The next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast of buttered bread and coffee, then set off to Babu’s studio for more discussion.  We met Ken, brother to Babu and a jack of many trades. He took us to a T-shirt printing shop where I proceeded to have End of the Weak Uganda shirts printed. Then off we went to meet with local boxing coach and mentor to Stacy, Kidega.  He gave us useful information on how to work in Gulu and with his brother Komacech, helped us gather rappers to introduce the idea of the MC Challenge.  After a brief nap, we returned to Alobo, which is a bar, restaurant and community center.  We met with a few MCs before the electricity went out and more came to speak with us in the darkness of the restaurant. When the power returned, Burney played DJ and the MCs spit their freestyles, most of them in English, which showed us again how imitation of Western artists is their main education.  It was great to meet the guys and see their talents and eagerness for some kind of recognition.

We had more meetings at a discotheque called Herm before going across town with another new friend, Adi from London. Adi is a filmmaker working with Al-Jazeera (largest Arab TV station) on a documentary of people involved in the 20 year conflict with Sudan. He had some interesting stories as the people he had met had experiences common to a war zone.  Talking to people about where they were and what they were doing during the conflict reminded me of my time spent in post-conflict Croatia in Eastern Europe.  There are many people who carry many signs of war, mostly large scars of violence inflicted on them.  After a few more Nile beers, we retired home yet again.

Friday was spent having meetings with radio personality Emma of Choice FM and manager of Herm’s where I intend to have the End of the Weak event.  I battled with them as they wanted too much money, but I think with the proper use of ‘fuck’ in some of the conversation they realized I wasn’t an easy force to battle, like many other dishonest whites in the area. However, they are getting more money than they should as my bargaining skills are developing with every meeting. It was a frustrating day, but we finished it off with spending a comical time with Babu, Ash Bee and friends. After too much booze for Burney, Stacy and I, we slept a few winks before rising for the next day….

Burney headed back to Kampala and Stacy and I headed to Kitgum, farther North.  We arrived in Kitgum, somehow, after the bus broke

Santana and I

down for what seemed like forever.  In a place without AAA, Stacy and I wondered how exactly we would get to our destination if the bus crew had not managed to get it started again.  As soon as we hit Kitgum, we went straight for a lunch of pork at a friends restaurant.  It is nice to be welcomed back with big smiles and warm beer.

It was a big night for Stacy and I, as our friend Hoppy Benny organized a Hip Hop show at Club Galaxy.  Benny’s friend and promoter, Santana, took Stacy on his motorbike and Benny taking me on his motorcycle, we headed to a radio station to promote the night’s event.  The radio show was in the local language Luo, but Stacy and I spoke about our projects in our best English. Although many people in the city of Kampala consider the North to be traditional and uncivilized, the Acholis speak better English than the Bugandas (people in the central where I stay).  After a short but entertaining set on the radio, we went to Santana’s station, which was in a large house and though the equipment is old, it gets the job done. After yet another entertaining 10 minute show, we went back to our local haunt for dinner, of, yes, more pork.

Off to Club Glaxay we went, where we found many young men and women ready for a talent show and Hip Hop event.  We stood outside talking before being escorted in to a large club full of people sitting watching TV. We went back to the VIP room where Stacy and I had a beer and talked about solving world issues while the people watched a soccer game. Once the show started, we went to the main room and sat in the very front row as we were the guests of honor.  Benny and Santana wanted us to speak, but we denied wholeheartedly as being on the microphone is not what we came to do. The  talent show consisted of more miming to Western music and some really great traditional dancers.

I discovered we were true VIPs when I had to pee and had a bodyguard escort me to the back.  He moved people out of the way as if I was Obama and no one could touch me.  I didn’t like the treatment as I don’t want to be singled out, but I imagine I would never have moved forward as many people are interested in talking to a muzungu.

Ice Dream and Chainy Crispy

Benny organized a mini MC Challenge so that someone from Kitgum could go to Gulu to represent a major town in the North.  Organizing this event has proven to be difficult in many ways, and trying to have musicians from many areas represent their local language has been my focus for the past week and will continue for the next weeks.  I was impressed with Benny getting the people together and I am so incredibly thankful to have him on my side.  After the Challenge ended, we were escorted to the back where Stacy and I became surrounded by MCs wanting to talk and see what we thought of their performances.  After many discussions with people we met before mixed with new faces, we were escorted out the back door as though we were JayZ and Beyonce.

After a few hours of sleep, we were up and ready to receive musicians from the previous night to discuss End of the Weak and Hip Hop in general.  Although people were slow to come, their was a great turnout.  Benny is establishing the Northern Uganda Hip Hop Culture to help stimulate and expose the artistic abilities in the North and so we spoke about what Hip Hop means and how it can help guide them.  It  seemed to be a productive meeting, under a tree in what little shade there was, and I hope the meeting will help strengthen the ideas and hopes of these guys.

Stacy remained in Kitgum to run a theatre workshop and I jumped on the Gulu Express bus to finish up my duties in Gulu. I had been told about edible rats in the North, and got to experience it first hand on the ride to Gulu.  They only come around in the dry season and so are treated as a delicacy.  At a roadside market, the biggest selling item was this big ass rodent that had been sliced in half and dried for sale.  With many people buying these supposedly delicious creatures, the bus had a scent of dead animal that would fill the bus whenever it stopped and the air became stagnant. I asked Ash Bee about this source of food and he became very excited in describing how they prepare it.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, I wasn’t able to partake in rat soup.

1st meeting of Northern Uganda Hip Hop Culture

I received a copy of the Sunday Vision, an country wide newspaper that had a Q+A with me.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it and was quite happy with the response from people.  If someone calls me a celebrity one more time though, I’m going to have to look into buying a car as celebrities don’t walk. Ha!

After a mellow night with Ash Bee and a brief encounter with Babu, I slept a few hours before catching the 7AM bus back to Kampala.

the road to Sudan

6 hours and a headache later, I arrived in Kampala where my bodaboda friend picked me up and took my dusty body and backpack home.  My bodaboda friend, Mayaja, being much in love with me, brought me a bouquet of roses and lilies and a chocolate bar for Valentine’s Day. It’s nice to know where ever I may go in the world, there’s someone who loves me.

A day of not much rest, and I had to get the End of the Weak auditions organized for yesterday, Tuesday the 16th……..

Having the day start with monsoon rain and then having people show up late to the venue Club Rouge put a damper on my spirits, but the auditions turned out to be a success.  Although there where minor glitches in getting started, the emcees did their best to display their skills to judges Tafash, a female MC from Kenya, and Sylvester, an MC from Uganda. After a few exhausting hours, Burney and I had accomplished what we came to do.

EOW Auditions

We finished up the night with Spoken Truth, a weekly event for poets and musicians to talk about whatever and then back to Makindye for a night of restless sleep.

Now I will eat my first meal of the day (it’s almost 5PM) then meet with a few End of the Weak partners and champions, who (some) will make their debut on Jam Agenda, a local show promoting music.

Another day down and more hurdles to jump but success remains attainable.

A shitty week….

7 Feb 2010

I started off the week by watching Stacy attempt her first community meal at the Bavubuka House.  She had intentions that everyone who wanted to eat would contribute  200 shillings (about 10 US cents).  So off to the market she goes and upon her return, she was smacked with the reality that the people didn’t understand or just didn’t care.  3 individuals made the meal, but other than that, there was no contribution.  It is unfortunate that in a so-called community house there is no real community.  The mindset isn’t there for the locals to help each other out, they prefer handouts. The only person who has not expected a handout from me is Burney, the emcee who is my partner with End of the Weak.  I’m not sure why he is different, but he is. He understands the value of working to achieve something.  The others just want things given to them.  So my frustration with the kids/adults at the Bavubuka House has been elevated this week, but I learned last year to not give too much of my resources.  Unfortunately, Stacy learned the hard way, as did I, that the most locals don’t understand the meaning of ‘contribution’ or ‘community.’

SP at “Miami Beach”

The funniest day of my life also occurred this week when I went with a friend and MC, SP Omungunjule to his home in the ghettos of Makindye and Katwe.  As Burney, SP and I started our journey in Makindye, we encountered 2 military police who were exiting the ghetto and headed back to the barracks across the street.  They were kind and quite funny, as they just wanted to make friends with a muzungu (white person).  After a few minutes of small talk, we continued our journey through trash filled streets and rows of concrete houses.  SP, being a comedian, jumped a rancid ‘creek’ of water and climbed atop a trash pile.  I jokingly asked if the stream of trash and human waste

ghetto girl

was Lake Victoria, SP responds with, “This is Miami Beach.”  As he continues walking through trash piles, he decides to climb into a ‘shed’, which was a few pieces of sheet metal and wooden boards thrown together, and do a freestyle. Not 1 minute into his speech, he slides backwards into the ‘trash’ pile, his face covered in horror for maybe 7 seconds.  When he realizes where he is, he screams, “Fuck off man! This is a toilet!” As he emerges with one side of his body covered in shit, I laugh so hard I cry.  Burney watches in disgust as his

SP in shit

brother attempts to scrape the human waste off of his pants with a piece of metal.  After a few minutes of hysterical laughter (and me making a video of the whole scene) a man passes by and tells us to follow him to a water spout.  SP washes the shit off him as a crowd of women and children stand and watch. I photographed the kids after my friend was clean as could be, then off we went for more ghetto adventures.  We walked through areas where I usually pass on a boda boda, except for an unfamiliar market area with clean streets.  Clean streets are a rare sight here, as trash bins don’t exist.  As it would be, the market area is for the government, and so it made (some) sense that it is the only clean street surrounded by ghetto.  Then the rain came.  The three of us stood under what shelter we could find, and when the drops slowed down enough we continued walking back to the house.  I’ve since watched the video every day, multiple times, and when any of us that have seen it even speak about it, laughter rises to levels that cause pain.
And so the week continued, with meetings to get sponsorship and advertisement for the next End of the Weak MC Challenge.  I organized the auditions for last night, Saturday the 6th of Feb,

making chapatti in Makindye

at Club Sway, a former hotspot but now dead spot. It began as a positive event, but about halfway through, a manager pulled the DJ out of the booth and cut the microphone.  Apparently, the woman I made the arrangements with either did not relay the event to her manager, or didn’t have the power to give me the space for the time she said.  Or they wanted money or they didn’t like Hip Hop.  Regardless what it was, they kicked us out.  So 30 emcees and about 15 onlookers poured out on the street and watched me curse and talk shit until I calmed down.  The 2 judges that were there, Tafash and Sylvester, said it’s no big deal, welcome to Africa.  And so I  brought my anger down a level and went home to drink.  My friend and housemate who has been in pain for a week, went to the clinic and discovered he has worms. And so we talked about parasites, eating meat, and well, shit.  We compared parasite stories and had some good laughs.
So now I sit here, cold, watching from atop a hill, the rain fall on Kampala, turning the dust to mud and pushing the waste of all kinds through the ditches.  I am still frustrated about last night, as it was a waste of money for many people involved. But, I will book another venue this week and continue on with my plans. As Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
And so I will fight like hell to continue establishing End of the Weak Uganda, a movement of improvement through Hip Hop.

The dry season….

As I sit at Speke Hotel, watching a stork feed her baby in the tree, I am sweating in my mini skirt.  This is what they call the dry season.  Relentless sunshine, a warm breeze and enough dust in the air that I think I am in the Nevada desert during the Burning Man Festival.

Mugagga, Stacy + I

When darkness sets in, the view from the back of a boda boda is one of headlights, bicycles and speed bumps all slightly diffused by the encompassing red Kampala dust.  Sometimes I feel as though I am in a dream state, until the boda swerves to miss a pothole and I am jarred back into the present.
This week was slightly uneventful compared to some although it was productive. I had a meeting with WBS TV and they are willing to put MC Challenge winner CYNO MC and Uncle 33 Bwongo on a show called Jam Agenda this Wednesday.  When I saw CYNO the other day, (as he checks in with my progress) I asked him if he is ready to be on TV.  His response was, “I am an MC. I am forever ready.” And with the crack of his smile and my laughter, we continued on with our duties.
Stacy started a mural project on the property in Makindye (ma-chin-day) that employed the skills of Mugagga and Zubie.  Zubie is a girl that lives next door and sister to the only female MC in the house, Fasie.  Mugagga painted a massive lion

painting by floodlight

head with an outline of Africa, and Zubie painted a beautiful African queen, or as she likes to say, a phenomenal woman.  It was fun to watch the progress through the week and now that it is nearly completed, it is fun to watch the sense of accomplishment of the mural team’s spirit.  It has become a nice and semi-relaxing place to chill at the end of the day to watch the stars and occasional bat fly by.
I met two more very cool and inspiring people in the Hip Hop industry, female MC

The Bavubuka Mural Project

Saints CA and manager to superstar GNL Zamba, Emrun.  They gave great insight in to the various characters in the small scene here and applauded me for the work I am doing with End of the Weak.  Getting more positive people on board will for sure help the project to grow bigger and better.
On friday, a few people from the house went to see Kwesa’s dying father in the hospital. Kwesa is a young MC who is quite stubborn, but is losing his father at a very early age and so I try to nurture as much as possible.  A few weeks into my stay in Kampala, he asked if I would be his mom.  I’m pretty sure its so I’ll give him ice cream and take him to America, but it is endearing to have some one greet me as mommy without my having to go through pain and cleaning up after a shitting,

Kwesa and friends

vomiting baby.  The hospital reminded me of my time spent in a hospital in Croatia, with old equipment, urine soaked blankets and well, sick people.  But I know we made the old man’s day by showing him his son has a good support system.
After a meal of an omelette and salad, it is now time for half price ice cream.  That is the highlight of Sundays here in Kampala city.  Two scoops of delicious ice cream for $1.50.
It has been a lazy Sunday, and I look forward to a busy and productive week ahead…..