Thursday, April 9, 2009

IF that's Alienation... where do i sign up??

A while ago I was asked to read an article about the alienation brought into our lives through the use of tools. The article heralds a resurgence of a technological primitivism. It advocates a return to home manufacturing (at least in part) of the products we use daily; home gardening, the making of our cloths, and so on.
Although the article is championed by the working center’s creator, I found the idea rather silly and short sighted. Firstly, the article falls into the same trap that all dreams of primitivism falls into, idealization of the past. The use of tools was not forced on anyone. The fact is, there are advantages of the alienatetion brought on by the use of tools. If I were to make my own shirt it would take me countless hours. Today, if I were making minimum wage ($9) it would only take me about 2 hours of work to afford the shirt I wanted. The article at it’s core, negates the social evolution that took us from the past to present. Over time, people adopt things that make their life easier/more productive, things that detract from our lives are simply dropped into the wastebasket of history. Our current means of production came into place organically, through the choices made my a large amount of people over a long period time, things that worked were incorporated, things that didn’t work were lost. The article idealizes the past to such a blinding degree that it fails to see the strengths of today and the weaknesses of yesterday.
Secondly, the article negates to incorporate the liberation that tools afford us. Simply stated, tools allow man to translate his mental prowess into his physical prowess. Remember, the distinguishing factor of man is his ability to manipulate his environment. Man is not the strongest nor the fastest, yet through his engineering he has surpassed his natural peers. With further innovation man has liberated himself from a survival based existence. Through the use of tools and our current means of production, I am afforded tremendous amount of leisure time, something I would not have if I was not alienated from the production of the things I use everyday. Alienation is not always a bad thing. I am not particularly skilled at the production of food while others are. It is in society’s best interest to have people working in the vocation that best suits their ability and aptitude. This by its very nature forces the individual to be ‘alienated’ from the production of a lot of things, while affords him to be immersed in the production of something specific, this is call specialization. Specialization allows us to have teachers, doctors, mechanics, and a long list of other occupations that would not exist without the alienation afforded to us by the use of tools.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The importance of serving is, ME!

Being in God’s presence, for me, is like looking into a mirror so that I can remember what I really look like. Sometimes, a lot of times, I forget what I look like. I let people’s reactions (negative and positive) distort my personality into a caricature of itself. These versions of me are based in reality, in the same way cartoon caricatures resemble their model, but they still distortions of how God intended me to be. That is why being in God’s presence is integral to me, it grounds me in reality.
Recently, I was asked about the importance of service work. 8 months ago I would have answered completely differently than I would today. 8 months ago I thought the importance of service work was to make a dent in the world’s problems. I thought that my; education, money, and experience, would be a magic bullet to the world problems. I thought I would walk in any situation, see a problem and give a quick prognosis, like; “Oh what these people need is more education.” Through the blunt rebuking of Scott Kline’s famous “you aren’t going to solve their problems” speech, I have come to understand that the true gift of service work is not something you give to others, but rather it is something you received from others. The importance of service work is the importance of seeing yourself as you were intended to be.
Let me give you an example. I did not like going to the working center. I had to get up early, take the city bus, go downtown (an area I have never been comfortable with), and work with people I would normally have tried to avoid eye contact with. To make matters worse, I only had the skills to do medial work (something I have always viewed as degrading to my pedigree). Then, one day as I was stripping down a bike, a impoverished looking mother came in with the cutest little girl the world has seen. The women asked which one was her’s, my boss pointed out a child’s bike amongst a stack of repaired bikes. The little girl rushed to the bike with an exuberance that would be lost with maturity. Suddenly, her smile dropped from her face as she asked a question, “mommy how much is it?” By the way her smile dropped I knew that question’s answer had been the dead end to too many of this young girl’s hopes and aspirations. My boss chimed in, “its free”. The girl turned with shining eyes and repeated his words in disbelieve, “free?!” That moment affected me in way that only engaged service work can. Initially I had been judgmental toward the less than coordinated mother (after all she had a unkempt mullet!). To me she was a result of series of poor life choices. Through that little girl however, God reached down and touched my soul. He warmed my heart to a family I would have secretly judged. He showed me the man I had forgotten I was. That family’s problems will not be solved through receiving a child’s bike. Over time I will again forget what I look like. That being said, it is wrong to believe that that moment of grace did not hold significance to it. For that one moment, everyone in the room remembered exactly who God had intended them to be, and for me that is the importance of service work.
If I were only interesting in making the biggest difference in the third world, I would not visit it. It would be a lot more efficient to do what the third world is famous for, out sourcing. Honestly, by going to these places we are providing our countries with the one thing they already have an abundance of, cheap labor. Simply stated, for the amount of money being spent to send me to Ghana I could higher two people that could stay there 4 times as long. making the biggest difference in Ghana is not the point of my service work there, however. The importance of my service work through beyond borders is the restoration of a small piece humanity. To immerse myself so far into the man God has intended for me to be, that it sticks with me. This sounds selfish, but I do not view it as such. The world can only benefit from having someone conceptualize and actualize what it means to be fully human.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Begotten Dukkha (Best Blog on here)

Begotten Dukkha

I am the prodigal son of a world that has lost its way. Money tumbles out of my hands the way dried leafs dance with fall breezes. I trail a line of entertainment down the width of a 20, roll it, twist off the ends, kiss the tip, and light the other end. Turning $100 into smoke is nothing; women, cell phone plans, and traveling paraphernalia are my current drugs of choice. Wastefulness is more addicting than heroine, more luxurious than cocaine, and its consequences are endured by people I’ll never meet. So, my days are spent strung out on guilt free excesses. I inhale extravagance, hold it in my lungs until they burst exhaling the American dream. The price for my addiction; an eternity spent in an alienated purgatory where everything is for sale but nothing is free. I can’t escape my primal drift towards a prosperity gospel. I fein for any innovation that puts the power of God in my hands; I want everything to be easier, faster, bigger, and stronger. My race, culture, and parents have provided me with the birthright of a god. Becoming a millionaire is a matter of good choices, a pinch of hard work, and time. I am the begotten son of generations of exploitation, oppression, and inequality. This is my blood diamond; it is my gift, it is my curse.
My salvation has taken the form of a fragile secret, an idea so delicate that it would weather if spoken out load. It is a hope rooted in causality; that by changing the external I can change the internal. It is a forgotten rite of passage, the idea of an internal jubilee, it is my hope of a cultural baptism. Let my eyes be open to witness an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. I am afraid of dukkha, but I know that it must bathe my soul in order to shed the expectations of king and become the man the world needs me to be.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Martin and me

It was a little after 11, my ex girlfriend was editing my essay; I was getting her a “thank you for saving my butt” coffee. Tim’s was closed so I continued walk down Belmont. As I continued on my way I came across an uncomfortable situation, several feet away I saw a crouched man on one side of the sidewalk and his bike on the other. To get by I would have to walk in between the two, the idea made me feel uneasy. I increased my pace, clenched my fist, and mentally prepared myself to destroy (…maybe that’s a guy thing). Just as I passed him he clenched his stomach and moaned in pain. In an instant I was disarmed, stopped walking, and asked “are you ok?” With one hand around his stomach he looked up at me and said that he had forgotten his medication at home. I asked “can I call someone for you?” He said that a nice woman had lent him her cell phone and that his mother was on her way. I felt as guilt free as a man who had just flipped a looine into an open guitar case. He continued to talk to me as I searched for a pause to slip in an “Okay, sorry I couldn’t help, have a goodnight buddy.” After 10 minutes a pause was no where in sight and it became obvious that the guy was searching for conversation. I surprised him (and myself) by extending my hand and introducing myself. It was the first time I shook hands with a homeless person. I will not glorify our conversation; it was a conversation of continual loops. Martin (as he had introduced himself) would tell me how he was not on drugs or chemicals (not that I ever asked), then he would mention how he was allergic to the mould in the leafs, he would move on to telling me about his medical history, how he never thought life would be this hard, and then back to how he was not on drugs. With every loop I learned more about him, as each loop had a slightly different variation than the first. The second loop I learned that he was 44, the 4th I learned that he could build just about anything with his hand, the 6th loop that he thought the doctor’s medicine was cancer causing (never mind that he was holding an unlit cigarette). I continually thought to myself, what am I doing here? I couldn’t help this guy; I couldn’t give him money, I couldn’t let him borrow my cell phone, I couldn’t even lit the guys cigarette (not that I would). Everything that gave me more power than this homeless person, he wasn’t in need of. It was frustrating not being able to give him a $1 and then proceed with my life. Eventually his 70 year old mother pulled up in a car. I loaded his bike into her trunk; he asked me if I smoked…. anything. His mother ignored that comment and continued to thank me. I walked away unsure of what/if anything I had actually helped him with. I know it sounds cheesy but as I walked away I prayed to God for understanding of the significance of what just happened. I kept thinking about what I did/didn’t do and came to the conclusion that I had in fact helped him. I offered Martin something that is worth more than the use of a cell phone or some spare change, I offered him engagement. At that time in his life Martin did not need anything that the modern world could have offered, he need something as old as man himself. He needed someone to share the slab of concert he was hunched over on, he needed someone to share the cold with, someone to talk to while he waited. I have come learn, through being involved with the working center and beyond borders, that the most important part of giving ourselves is just that, giving ourselves. It’s a lot easier to flip someone a buck than it is to have a conversation with them. I’ve given 20 bucks to a homeless person before, I’ve even worked in soup kitchens before, but this was the first time I really feel like I had actually treated a homeless person as a human being, a peer even. If Martin had just asked for a loonie, I would have tossed him what I had in my pocket (or lied) and been on my way. He would not be a person to me, he would have just been a form of kinetic karma. Instead he asked me to become involved with his situation and we both grew because of it. This is not to say that the experience was life changing. This is not my enlightenment, but I feel that this is a stepping stone in the right direction, a small step forward. I know I don’t fully understand what it truly means to engage the homeless, but I feel like I have grown towards that direction.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Better shared

Joanne told us to “rant” so here goes. I will first start with the positive; recently a lot of us have made a considerable effort to hangout outside of class. Out of the 11-13 (I don’t know the exact number) there are about 6-7 of us who have actually made it out. Every time I hang out with these guys I have a blast. I feel that with every week I am getting closer to you and that before long I will consider you guys (cough, cough, girls…) to be actual friends instead of just Beyond border friends. I feel that these friendships have enriched my beyond border’s experience so far and will continue to enrich my experience on the back end of my trip. It’s funny how this common experience can bring this group within a group together. I am not one to call you out by name, but if you have seen me more than twice outside of class, you know you are one of the people I am talking about. I would also like to give credit to those select few in class who have made a personal effort to get to know me on an individual level, weather that be msn chats, watching movies on my projector, or even talking to me about something beyond BB. Please keep it up, you are making my last term of university the best yet!
To everyone who has not made it out yet, please do. There are 10’s of 1000’s of people attending UW, out of those 1000’s there are 13 of us who can relate to you. There is not a single person in our class I personally don’t want to get to know better, and I know that the others feel the same way. I get that you have exams, essays, and lab reports, but we all do. Exams will come and go, but this experience will ruminate throughout your life. Know, however, that this experience goes beyond class and traveling, but incorporates the relationships you make both here and there. So please make a effort to come out with us, because beyond borders, much like life, is better shared.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

this isn't living

I am having a hard time writing a new blog. I know I am supposed to write like it matters, and it does, but part of me is tried of writing. Some people have mentioned that they are getting nervous about the 10 week count down, but truth be told it is not going by fast enough for me. I want to stop going to class, writing about it, talking about, preparing for; in short, I just want to go already. When I was a kid I hated the beginning of December because Christmas was still so far away, 25 sleeps! Ghana is even further than that! What exasperates the situation further is that I am constantly forced to think about it. I just want to get out there and do, instead of stay in and talk. For 6 months we have been talking about how life changing it is going to be, how great it will be, yet we are still stuck inside. I feel as if I am a kid stuck in school during recess, or like a race horse held back by the starting gate.
One of my biggest sticking points about life is that you constantly wait/work longer and harder than you enjoy the end result. You have to wait an hour for a 60 second roller coaster, you have to work for 40 years to retire for 20, you have to study for 8 months to go to Ghana for 3-3.5. I know life is about the journey, and you pick more stuff up along the way then you do when you reach your destination, still, I just want to go! I will mention that I think the beyond borders program is set up this way it is for a reason, and I have learned more in the last 8 months that I have in the past 3 years. Still, I am stuck behind this gate for another 10(ish) weeks waiting, every second checking my muscles for atrophy. Just put me on a plain already, I don’t care if I don’t survive because this in and of itself is not living.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Off to see the Wizard

My classmates and I, signed up for Beyond borders for change. We wanted to feel the passion felt by benevolent work, we wanted to be supermen and women. Only after we started our journey we came to discover that our intentions were more internal than external. We are going to do good work in these countries, yet we have been taught that we are not going to change the world. We came to discover we were actually looking for change in ourselves. There are as many motivations in our class as there are students. Some of us are like the Tin man, following the yellow brick for a chance to earn a heart. Others in our class resemble the lion that is desperate for courage, wanting a badge that says “if I can do that, I can do this.” Others want to be the Scarecrow in search for a brain, wanting a experience that shows us how the world “really” is.
Whatever the case may be, we are all making our way to Oz in hopes to obtain something. This much is evident in how many times I have read “I know this experience is going to be life changing” in my fellow classmate’s blogs. We have all come to the table expecting to get something in return for our service. This makes me wonder, “what am I expecting from my experience in Africa?” I strongly related to the lion. Part of me picked Africa because I thought it was the toughest environment offered. I figured if I could make it there, I could make it anywhere. I want to gain courage from this experience so that I could feel comfortable backpacking across Europe, or hitch hiking across America.
As with every good learning experience, I have not learned what I didn’t know, I have merely learned that I don’t know what I don’t know. I suspect that my badge of courage will be blown out of the water by something completely unexpected. I am fully aware I don’t know what I don’t know, none of us do. So we continue down the yellow bricked road with an idea of Oz, but not a good sense of ourselves.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dangerous Minds

Have you ever seen one of those movies where a white mentor shows ghetto kids the “right” way to live? From Dangerous Minds, to Freedom Writers, there seems to be an endless supply of pretty white women waving the white man’s banner of education and authority, to an unruly congregation of minorities. She is female, skinny, over educated, and oh so benevolent. I mean, she made it to the upper echelons of the elite, so of course she is the direct instrument of God. Her lesson plans are the embodiment of the living gospel. What these movies negate is that freedom is not found through the teaching of a more “correct” set of rules to follow. Gilded chains of the massa, at the end of the day, are still tools of bondage. Freedom is found through the equitable distribution of humanization. To be human is to be fully engaged in the process of creating, re-creating, and the negating, of our socially constructed universe. If the weight of a Harvard Graduate naming of the world, out weighs a crake addicts naming of the world, than freedom is lost for all. True freedom can only be found through the emancipation from a system that translates differences into backwardness. It seems to me that the “dangerous Minds” are not those of the ghetto students, but those of the ignorant teachers.
On this note, I have gained distaste for the term “developing country.” Developing? Developing into what, us? In my lifetime the world’s population will reach an epidemic 10 billion people! The world can’t support 10 billion Americans. Remember Life boat ethics? Plus, we are nothing to be developed into. Yet, we continue to believe the solution to war, famine, AIDS, and poverty, is a conversion to a America gospel, hallelujah! No, a “would like to supersize those” lifestyle is nothing that should be exported!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Shell of a Man, but i got a video!!

I recently found a website that contains a video about my placement. After finding this video I was elated. In an instant I went from knowing nothing, to actually seeing the place where I will be working. All through the power of Google, what was the internet ever like without it? There was a time before I had all this power, somewhere between elementary school and my first hotmail account. I remember a time where using a search engine was only a little bit more convenient than guessing URL addresses. Things are different now. Now I can Google “Sega, Ghana” and get a video response as my first hit, and Wikipedia as my second. What’s really amazing is how much I take these powers for granted. What happens in Africa when I don’t have a computer? What happens to my spell check, calculator, and most importantly my Google?! I’m pretty sure I would have never made it this far in school without the modern conveniences of high-speed internet! Going to Ghana for 3 months will be like living in the world that was supposed to happen after Y2K! I recently had an interview with my Professor, she told me to print lesson plans before I go. For a minute I thought she was being silly. “Nah” I thought to myself, “I’ll just print what I need when I need it (aka the night before).” Then it hit me, I will be virtually (pun intended) computerless for the duration of my stay. Sometimes I forget free high-speed wireless internet is not globally sponsored. To be honest, I am afraid that I am merely a shell propped up by the crutch of technology. What happens when the crutch is removed? Either I will learn how strong that man is apart from the machine, or I will learn that at the core, I am still the kid who got made fun of for his learning disability.

The video of my placement can be through the link, it is the first video you run into while scrolling down.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Let's get Physical

Today I had my physical; it’s safe to say that my doctor now knows me on a very intimate level, Yikes! I had filled in the information beforehand, but I had negated to read the medical examiner portion of the forms. So I found it odd when the nurse told me to change into a medical robe. Waiting in the doctor’s office (it always seems like forever), I looked over the medical examiner section of the forms. I figured I would brace myself for the evitable, that’s when I saw the word every man fears, “rectal”. I had no idea this was part of the physical! I had only braced myself for a worst case scenario of “turn and cough.” Immediately I began to panic, I tried to think of excuses (maybe I could txt a friend to call me in 10 min and pretend a family member had died), I contemplated leaving the beyond borders program, more then anything else I was grateful I took a shower that morning! Anyway, without getting into any details, I endured the examination. I am not going to lie to you, the whole physical part of the physical, was more than a little awkward, however not as bad as it could have been/how I imagined it. I don’t know what that portion of the examination has to do with me teaching in Ghana, but I guess awkward physicals are a part of growing up (this experience making me about 35!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lions! and Tigers! and AIDS! oh my!

As a child, Africa was held above my head like the empty threat of corporal punishment. My mother would say things like, “You should eat all your vegetables because there are starving children in Africa who would love to eat them!” Almost as if I was under the threat of hungry Africans eating my dessert before I had the chance to. I also remember my father saying things like “fine, if you don’t like the gift, we’ll just pack it up and send it to Africa!” In fact, throughout my whole life there has the empty threat of Africans taking my privilege away.
Looking back on, I don’t think I saw Africans, Africa, or individual African countries as being different things. Africa was a place that hungered for everything that I had; it was a desert place full of war, decease, and pot-bellied children. Of course as I have grown up I have realized that these notions do not encapsulate the gambit of African countries and people. Still, as with most of the sleighed dragons of my past, it’s planted teeth still linger where my experience is in short supply.
While I do not want to admit it, some part of me still views Africa as a singular entity of warning. Almost like the cracked egg in those “this is your brain on drugs” commercial. Like if I don’t do my homework, eat my vegetables, and say my prayers ... puff, I’ll wake up to discover I’ve been transformed into a African. I feel that this notion has presided in me for this long because I’ve never really looked at Africa as a real place. I have always viewed Africa as a metaphor, kind of like the notion of hell. In all honesty it is hard for me to picture; romance, celebration, and silliness, in Africa. For its only been presented to me as a place of; child sponsor commercials, genocides, and starvation. I hope that by going to Ghana i will see more than the; lion, tigers, and AIDS oh my. I hope I see things that show me Africa is not only about death and survival. I hope I see kids being dumb, chewing gum, colourful clothing, and other useless things.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Intimacy Without Borders

To be honest, not all of my motivations to participate in Beyond Borders are benevolent. There is a part of me that signed up for this program to make myself look better. Don’t get me wrong, that is not my sole motivation, but it is there. I’ve done a lot of good works in my life; I’ve volunteered with mentally handicapped children, I led a camp for kids with visual impairments, and last summer I even ran a church. That being said I have a tendency to devalue these experiences by frequently bringing them up in conversation. After all, nothing says “I’m a nice guy” like saying “I ran a church.” Don’t get me wrong, that was not the only reason I ran a church, but it was there. Truth be told, I don’t like that aspect of myself. Once in a blue moon I see a person who serves without anticipating some form of kickback, and I fall in love (mostly figuratively, once literally). I believe that man can only show his greatness when no one is looking. This morning while reading the bible I came across a passage that reminded me of my situation;
“So when you give something to a needy person. Do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your father, who sees what you do in private will reward you.” (Mathew 6:2-4)
I find this idea so romantic. It says to me, treat your works as an intimate experience between you and God, and it will become an intimate experience between you and God. Now our beyond borders experience cannot be completely private, we’ve already sent out dozens of letters, and our friends/family will be expecting stories upon our return. That being said however, there will come a time during our placements where we will do something truly great. Something that we are so proud of that it burns like secret in our mouths. I challenge you though to keep that moment as a truly private moment. Tell people of your trip, your experiences, of your joys and challenges, but keep that one moment of excellence between you and God.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Here we go again on my own

My name is John, and I will be spending the summer of 2009 in Ghana. I will be teaching (English?) there for three months. I have received this opportunity through participating in a program called Beyond Borders. Beyond Borders is a program ran through St. Jerome’s University (with partnership with Intercordia Canada).
I have never written a blog before, I am unsure as to how I should write on here, to complicate things some of my course mark is based off of these blogs, so here goes nothing. I have been requested to write about my research about Ghana (political situation, geography, that sort of thing), my experiences of preparing to leave to Ghana, and hopefully my experiences in Ghana. I hope to learn a myriad of things through this experience (learning to write a blog not the least of these things). I Don’t know what await me but I invite you to stay tuned and find out.

Testing 1,2,3

Hello, i have never made a blog before so it seems fitting that the first is titled "testing 1,2,3." Anyway, i hope this works.