Category Archives: reflections

Pope Francis’ commitment to the vulnerable

bergoglio-kissing-feet
Photo credit: The Jesuit Post

I am so inspired by Pope Francis’ determined commitment to shun the material pleasures and comforts that he could easily have access to as part of his papacy. He not only wants to get closer to the people, he embraces the poor, the sick and the vulnerable and preaches care for the environment.

This for me is what religion is about: a set of values that can guide us in our daily lives and help us achieve a world of peace, progress, prosperity, and greater happiness. As Pope Francis shows in this image, we are all worthy of love and we are all equal in the eyes of God. May Pope Francis’ actions enable faith to return to the faithless.

The thoughts I had when a scary plane ride got me thinking about my own death.

Ever since that crazy plane ride into Bogota a few weeks ago, I’ve been contemplating the prospect of death at an early age. The thought that keeps coming to my head is wow, if I died tomorrow, I would feel like I have no regrets, few wasted moments, so many beautiful adventures, much love and happiness, and have learned so much about people and the planet we live on, what scares me, what drives me. But most of all, that there is so much I have left to experience and I am going to drink life as if its a glass of fine wine and the bottle never goes empty. DRUNK on life! Have a great day friends!

Bridging people

An intersection in Carrboro, North Carolina

Having left Malawi a few days ago, I am now in small town North Carolina ahead of a big water-related conference taking place next week. Its quite a change from the life I’ve been living overseas the last few months, and as usual, makes it easier to notice things that might otherwise seem quite ordinary.

Yesterday morning, I had just finished running an errand and was looking for the bus stop to get a ride home. I saw a lady sitting in a parked car and asked her if she knew what direction I should be going in. Lucky me. She knew the area like the back of her hand and told me exactly what I needed to do. Her voice had a strong Southern twang to it and she was eager to help. I thanked her, barely noticing the brightly coloured vest she had on.

As I stand at the bus stop, a woman and child approach and sit down on the curbside. The boy is not a day over two years old; the mother in her mid-30s at most. They are of Asian ethnicity (from Thailand or Vietnam perhaps). The boy is shy and looks at me with big eyes. He looks away and burrows into his mother’s lap; she rocks him in her arms. I chat them up and discover they are in fact from Cambodia. The woman speaks in broken English with a bright smile and a soft voice. It makes me happy, somehow. I’m not sure why.

Waiting for the bus, small-town life passes by. There is something very pleasing and comforting about the slow pace of life. The interactions of the townspeople betray a familiarity and a security not often seen in the big city. A Ford Mustang roars by and honks his horn at a boy on a bicycle. An elderly couple, the man pushing a walker, shuffle by without saying anything – that comfortable, understanding silence that comes with time, communication that needs no words. The mother and son duo beside me, enjoying the sun and blue sky on their faces. Two strangers, one of whom asks the other for the time – to which the response is: “I’m not sure, but I just came from the post office and the lady had come from a late lunch. Maybe it’s about, ehmmm, 2pm?”

Then, I notice the woman from the car, the one who had given me directions, walking across the street. She is carrying a stop sign in her hand. She is a crossing guard and she is about to start her shift. Oddly, there are no children around and I look around searching for a crowd of kids from around the corner.

Willa Mae, a crossing guard
in Carrboro, North Carolina

A woman with a stroller approaches the intersection. Suddenly, the crossing guard blows her whistle and strides confidently out in to the street. She raises her sign and signals for drivers to stop. The woman and her baby are waved across. They smile and thank her.

I get up and walk over her. “Hello”, I say, and introduce myself. Her name is Willa Mae. I tell her that I have been admiring her doing her job and am wondering where all the kids are. She points to a building and says that they are about to finish class. Is she a volunteer, I ask? She proudly declares that no, she works for a nearby elementary school and has been doing so for about two months. “I took over this job from another fella who recently passed on”, she says in a matter of fact way. “Bless his soul!”

As we stand there chatting, a man begins to cross the intersection. Willa Mae excuses herself and  hurries out to stand between him and the traffic. He says hello to her. A woman from the opposite side crosses him, and they nod. All seem to know each other. I realise that although Willa Mae’s role is to ensure the safety of children, she is really an asset to the community. Traffic gets busier during these peak hours and she helps any man, woman or child cross the road safely. People meet and greet each other, perhaps partly because of her. She is a bridge, so to speak, between people and points. I feel somewhat self-conscious standing there, an outsider. Moments like these feel somewhat voyeuristic. An intimate glimpse into the personalities of strangers.

I spot the bus approaching, call out a quick goodbye to Willa Mae, and sprint back to the bus stop. The door opens and the driver grins at me, saying hello. Buses are free of charge in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. They have been for years. Feeling “bridged”, I return the smile and the greeting and sit down.

How does one marginalise the vulnerable?

Hillside view of the community of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya

Last summer I spent several weeks working in the community of Kibera, a large “slum” or informal settlement in the city of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. I’ve been following local news on the community since then and trying to raise the profile of issues that affect the local people. Most of this time this relates to water and sanitation but I am also interested in issues of access to health care, education, and jobs. A frequent source for me is the Kibera News Network, a grassroots television station using youtube as a platform to get the word out. I like it because it is run by Kibera residents and they share the view of the local residents. One of the stories I’ve been following is the construction of a large road through the community.

Continue reading How does one marginalise the vulnerable?

Reflections on a moment in Abu Dhabi

Today, during my lunch break from work, I decided to go jogging on the Abu Dhabi Corniche and I noticed something strange. Not that that’s unusual, since it’s Abu Dhabi after all.  ;-)

I saw a couple on one of the benches on the waterfront. An Indian man was sitting down. Stretched out across his lap and almost kissing him was a woman. She seemed to be of either Indian or Filipina nationality – I couldn’t tell. I found it odd that they were being so “close” in public.

Public displays of affection are frowned upon in Abu Dhabi, which has quite a conservative culture. There have been cases of jail time for such things. I have heard of women being spit upon for baring too much skin. So I wondered to myself if they would still be doing that when I came back on the return. Surely they wouldn’t risk doing it for a long period of time as someone (maybe a local) might draw attention to them or rebuke them. But on the way back she was still on his lap. I realized what had struck me as strange the first time around. The man appeared to be crying.

Suddenly, I saw the situation from a different perspective. I saw sadness, grief in his face as if he was totally inconsolable. I wondered to myself. I wondered if maybe she was sick or something terrible had happened to her like maybe she was dying of some terminal illness. It occurred to me that maybe he was taking care of her in her last days or that maybe they just couldnt be together due to religious or cultural reasons. Or maybe he or she would be leaving for an arranged marriage for example and they were being prevented from being together. I wondered if they were beyond caring what people thought of them being so close in public like that, and and beyond caring that someone might report them yet. I thought of different views in different societies and wondered had they both been born in a different country, would their problem even exist for them? It just made me realise that there are so many different perspectives to a situation and so many different world views. How to understand them all? How to reconcile them all, if even possible? These reflections and ponderings seem to be happening more and more frequently to me and especially since I moved to the UAE two and a half years ago. Something about this place has caused so much change in me, I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel more aware of what is happening in people, processes and places around me, more reflective, more pensive.

You may wish to read a post on a related topic – sounds of abu dhabi, posted on 10 June, 2008.

Identifying passions and skills

Source: http://www.eclectech.co.uk/b3ta/humphjump.jpg.html
:)

What are your passions?  What are you good at?  Have you ever wondered how to find out?  Do you find yourself stumbling through life, falling into opportunities because they just happen to be there?  Do you sometimes find yourself completely unsure of what to do with your life?  Maybe because you like doing so many different things and you can’t pick just one, or because you’re not sure what you like and so you just pick the first thing that comes along?

Lately I’ve been asking myself these questions and I notice that many of the people around me are doing the same.

On Tuesday night I went out for drinks with a friend of mine.  She told me how she’d studied piano from an early age.  She’d progressed through all of the various levels of piano schooling, right up to the Conservatory level.  She still plays occasionally and says that she hasn’t lost her touch … Anyhow, we got to talking about composing music, and the conversation turned to Mozart.  She mentioned that Mozart was so brilliant that he began composing music when he was 5 years old.  Mozart was considered one of the greatest composers of all time.  He was able to create music inside his head and then bring it to life.  I found this fascinating since I love listening to music but have never been able to manipulate it.  What I mean to say is that I can never remember the lyrics to songs and if you ask me to hum a few bars of my favourite tune, I wouldn’t be able to do it to save my life.  So it occurred to me that I even though I have no musical talent at all, I can still appreciate a wide variety of musical genres.

I began to wonder … what types of skills, talents, and topics is a person able to manipulate easily?  And by manipulate I mean play with.  I mean things that you can talk about without hesitation.  Things that you can go off on tangents about when you’re talking with friends or family.  Topics that inspire you to think and ponder and dream. Whether they come naturally or by discovery, I think it’s really important to know what really gets your groove on.  It seems to me that these would be the natural areas of foci for a career or study.  What do YOU like to wrap your mind around?  What makes you tick, dude?

If you can answer this question, try to ask yourself how can you hone this skill.  How can you cultivate <ahh… what a sexy word> it?  How can you refine this skill?  How can you make yourself a more adept manipulator of this topic? These are the opportunities I should be focusing on.  Opportunities that give me the chance to really develop a niche, an expertise in a particular field so that I can succeed in the future.  Remember, success lies where your heart is, not where the money is.  At the same time – don’t be afraid to aim for the sky.  It’s not so high.

Thanks to Sylvia Krezel for sending me off on this crazy mind warp.

Got butterflies?

Thousands of butterflies

I dare you to have an idea. Break that idea down bit by bit. Start with just a piece of it. Sometimes that one piece will lead to something completely different than you ever would have thought. Eventually your brain will become a factory for innovation.

The human brain is capable of conjuring up such incredible, fantastic dreams and ideas. How can we keep track of them all? How can we choose which to follow? It seems to me it would be difficult to remain focused in a sea of dreams and ambitions. Following all of them at the same time would be like running through a kaleidoscope of butterflies while flapping your arms and clenching your fists to see how many you can catch.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I dream too large, fantasize too much, or aim too high. I set myself these lofty goals, and get disappointed when I don’t reach or achieve them as quickly as I would like. I get so many crazy ideas going through my head that I get these pounding headaches, but hope and ambition are what keep the human flame alive, right?

I still want to do them all, I want to chase every dream and make it come true. How to choose? I can’t imagine letting them go, leaving them to fade away from memory. It seems to me to be such a waste to let desires and ambitions go forgotten, or unfulfilled.

A vision and a method: that’s my solution—a vision of one butterfly at a time, and a method to catching it. Why stop there? Aspire to achieve all of your dreams and goals. The human condition is to always desire something more; our ambitions will never be sated. And why should they be? Progress is what advances mankind.

Do you write your thoughts down? You don’t have to write like a great novelist to put your thoughts down on paper. Just jot it down, in point form, scribble it, scratch it out, it doesn’t have to be eloquent prose. Writing your thoughts on paper will let you open your heart and your mind and let you discover yourself.  Let the pen be your friend. Imagine if you did not write down every great thought or dream you had. You might forget them, one by one, and be left with … nothing.

Traditional North American Indian tribes have used dream catchers for centuries. In recent years, they have become popularized as a powerful symbol for good fortune and success for a person, their household, and the community. Some Indian tribes have differing interpretations of the dream catcher. For instance, the Lakota Sioux elder Iktomi had a vision of a wise spider while it weaved its web. The spider spoke to him and said:

“Use this web to help yourself and your people to reach your goals and make good use of your people’s ideas, dreams, and visions.”

 

The common thread in the legend is that the dream catcher will dispel evil spirits or dreams, and the good dreams remain with its owner.

Source: http://www.native-net.org/na/native-american-dream-catchers.html
Native-Net.org

This site is… a showcase for people who have followed their dreams, lived life for the moment, and seized an opportunity, any opportunity when the occasion arose. This site is for those people who have dreams but haven’t yet followed them because they don’t know how, or are too scared, or don’t think they’ll ever achieve them. Let other people’s dreams be an inspiration to you so you can break away from the rat race too.

My website gives me a window into my own mind. An open journal that forces me to be realistic, and open-minded; It serves as a constant reminder of dreams both realized and unfulfilled. Once I have put them to paper, they become really real, and to forget them or to not aspire to them would be a sure tragedy and a failure.

aim for the sky.

endless passion and ambition.

face your fears. live your dreams.