On Being Heroic

What gives meaning to life? This question assumes a supremacy over the question of how we can make life less scary. Two questions.

The former seeks life and fulfillment, the latter seeks safety and prediction.

Am I simplistic in saying our fear and doubt of self pushes us to this second rhythm of security and prevents a vibrancy of unpredictability.
To experience the fulness of human emotion, character, resolve and joy; we need to remain open and vulnerable. If we build walls around us with money, houses, jobs, degrees and orthodoxy we feel safe and successful, but we prevent streams of life to enter our being. That is why every person you meet is so fucking uninspiring.
They will make you feel like a fool for being naive, they will claim that your idealism is inferior to their investments and self obsessed drive for vanity, they will not just defend their skepticism, they will ridicule your belief in the good and better life.

There is only one way to live and that is as a hero.
Forget about leadership- leadership is an euphemism for vanity wrapped in moderation and position.
We need to look around and start fighting for what is right and missing.
Stressing about what is present and wrong can feel masochistically rewarding, but it wont give you life.
Imagine… Imagine how things can and should be, pursue that at whatever cost and you will find that it costs nothing at all.

What are the issues of the day? What gets you going, gets you angry, gets you sad? What situation requires your heroic intervention? Think small… not couch small, but listening, serving and learning small.

80 years to be a hero… What does that even mean? Where to start?

Changing your mind about some things…that might be heroic.

The Shift

I’ve known Alilo since he was 9 years old, he was my neighbor in Manica for many years and I made friends with him and his brother Paizinho. These two kids had lots of suffering in their lives… Before they were teenagers they grew up without a mother and when their father abandoned them, they were left to fend for themselves. When my friend Stefan visited, we discovered that these kids were living from green mangoes, eating them before other people wanted to. They lived in a house without electricity or water. When Cheryl visited from the states, we discovered that Alilo could not write,despite making it to grade 3. Paizinho dropped out of school… there are many stories of their hardships and efforts to help them, but that is not the focus of my post.

Their dad reappeared and their lives got better. Alilo and Paizinho continued their schooling and Alilo played in the junior GDM football teams. Then in 2012, their dad disappeared again. Things were back to being very bad. Hungry and lonely bad.

If ever a kid had reason to feel sorry for himself, it could be Alilo or Paizinho. They could blame the Portuguese for colonialism, South Africa for endorsing a civil war, their mother and father for abandoning them, the government for corruption, etc, etc,etc.

So when I arrived in Manica on my most recent visit, I saw Alilo floating around the clubhouse- doing gardening, picking up trash, carrying things and other small tasks. I asked the directors what it was about and they told me that when things got really tough, Alilo came to GDM and said this was his only potential chance to survive, so he just started working. He did not beg, he just started to work. Courage. Hope. Faith. Are these words really just abstractions, BS?

GDM after seeing how ‘serious’ Alilo was, decided to start to pay him $60 per month. Enough for him to buy food for the house and continue schooling.

What is killing our continent is blaming, complaining and making excuses instead of getting involved and sacrificing. Its about attitude. Alilo made the shift, the mental shift that is the backbone of true sustainable development. Skills and knowledge is important, but attitude and character is far more important.

Making the mental shift towards agency and responsibility wont make all problems disappear. It is, however the prerequisite for changing our lives.

Sure, those who deserve blaming should be held responsible, but that is a different issue than taking pride and responsibility for your own life.

Thanx Alilo, your humble example inspired me and gives me hope; it cancels so many negative stories and statements.

Contextual Reflections

I drove up to Manica, Mozambique through Zimbabwe this week. In a way it feels like it always feels: adventure, stress, depression, joy, hope, despair. The first four days of our trip provided some food for thought:

Vulnerability:

I drive with an old Isuzu and so I am neither independent nor self-reliant. The day before we had to leave my Isuzu started to give problems with the batery running low and the engine eventually starting to cut out. I drove to my friend Jean’s house and he helped me to charge the battery overnight. On day one, Jan the German volunteer arrived and as we were about to leave we realised the battery was flat again! It was 8pm at night and I called another friend Stefan for advice. He gave more than advice and got in his car and came to assist. Stefan paid for a new battery we bought at a BP in the city (10pm) but the problem were still not solved, so we delayed our departure and slept over in Joburg. The next morning at 7am I drove to my mechanic, Dieter and explained the problem. Dieter, knowing we were supposed to leave for Mozambique, stopped his own work, took the alternator out of his own bakkie, put it in my Isuzu and with everything working perfectly, we could leave Joburg at 8am. Dieter saying he will sort out the broken alternator and his bakkie later on.

The people showed me kindness and generosity… unselfishness. This would not have been possible if I had no need. Is our drive for independence and financial muscle justified? We feel safe in new cars, fenced houses and with large bank saldos, but my friends reminded me again that life is beautiful when it is messy, and need opens doors for others to show kindness and goodness, even personal sacrifice. From personal experience I know that money makes me less vulnerable and often less human. I feel grateful for having unselfish friends in my life, and their actions made me reflect on my vulnerability as well as how reliable and flexible I a when others come to me with their needs.

TIA

We spent 6 hours at Beitbridge. The system is a joke and the experience very unpleasant. Doc mentioned that one must just keep your cool. I have learned that at border posts in Africa. The old white man standing in front of me in the queue  have not learned this. He was visibly angry at everything and dropped subtle racist comments for all to hear: “this is typical!”, “I don’t expect anything else from these people” and “I’ve given up” reveals how Africa and its challenges can become unbearable if you link every bad thing or frustration with a skin colour. The fact that he was one of two whites amongst thousands of black people embarrassed me. Considering the colonial and oppressive history of Zim and SA and the dire need for reconciliation, seeing this white man treating black people with disdain and disgust, really bothered me. He created an experience which the black might also call “typical” and when looking at me, surely they will think “these whites are all the same”… I try to make sense of my being Umlungu, a white man in Africa, I try to be part of a new world where whites serve and cooperate, but every white man that acts like an ass puts the whole process back with a day, a week or even a year. How many good experiences are needed to cancel a bad experience. Africa as a continent has many challenges. I suggest we all unite, be positive and try to change things… or immigrate. Instead of complaing about ‘them’, just move to Australia.

Complexity

Arriving in Manica, the talk of the town was Tasso who stole the video camera at the club and went to sell it in Chimoio. The local used a traditional healer to discover who stole the camera and indeed Tasso admitted. A few months ago Tasso tried to steal the club generator, was caught and eventually forgiven. He repaid the faith people had in him by using his second chance to steal again. This time, he cant come back, he wont be forgiven. Why would he be so stupid? Why kill his future at the only organisation that has ever done good for him? Everyone is saying how stupid and short sighted Tasso is. Why would he makes such self destructing decisions? Why, is a good question indeed. Tasso is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, so he definitely doesn’t steal because he is lazy. When I thought about it all I realised that as I grew up, I had people and a system around me that rewarded me for good behaviour. I had incentive to be a good person, I had people who cared for me. Morality was part of the good life I was born into. Tasso never had anyone. He grew up in the mountains and had no mother and father, he always had to hustle to look after his sisters and brothers. Struggling for literal survival, not having anyone who gives a shit about you, turns you into a hustler. You focus on your own survival and you take a chance when the opportunity arrives. Long term planning is a luxury not afforded to the extremely poor. For 25 years Tasso’s brain was programmed that the world is against you, you are not special, you are not loved, no one cares, you have to make a plan, you have to fight. He never had anyone who explained to him how to ‘play the game’ how to invest, how to be patient and he never had people who tought him trust and inter-dependence.  I soon realised I was naive to be surprised by Tasso stealing things. For me stealing is dumb and stupid, but I grew up on another planet compared to Tasso. Now I’m definitely not saying all poor people are justified to steal things. Especially because many poor people have significant others who teach them about life, good and bad. What I am saying is if the world (including us) ignore Tasso and the likes, if their desperate need does not compare to our luxury clothes, meals and holidays, then we should not assume a moral superiority because he steals and we don’t. We, the system failed Tasso and his siblings… we should not be surprised at his ‘deviant’ behaviour. I wish he could have risen out of his context, I wish he coud believe that the people here at GDM really cared and it was worthwhile to trust in the organisation long term, as a new family, I wish and think many things… but I did not grow up in Tasso’s shoes, or lack of shoes.

Power Plays

When I think of development I don’t think about money and poverty as much as I do about equality, fairness, hope and fun. Why? In short, when my wealthy white friends travel to manica to go ‘reach out’ or ‘develop’ the youth of Manica in Mozambique, they very quickly realise that despite material lack, the people in Manica are richer than them in many ways. It is not about money.

“Wealth is the ability to be generous” I think the first person to coin the phrase was Cicero. By this definition, few rich people are rich, if you get what I mean. Sometimes poverty is very ugly and cruel and requires drastic material intervention. Yet, in ‘poor’ communities I always find much life, generosity, humanity and good. Rich people, like myself need to figure out how to turn our things into tools, things like money, blankets, skills can become small bridges that allows friendship and mutuality.

If you give, say you throw things over the river to the poor and suffering but you are not willing to build a bridge and walk there yourself, then your handout will do more harm than healing. Giving without going is part of the problem. And if we go, we have to go in fear and trembling as if walking on holy ground, because our cleverness and cash can destroy the beauty in the community and individuals we think we want to help.

We often ask, how can I help… how often do you ask, how can I be helped by those I intend to help?  That is the start of addressing the power venom we carry in our charitable footsteps.