Friday, June 20, 2014

The Great Country of the MV Explorer

As I find my way back to "reality" post voyage, days are filled with bridge-making and processing. How do I bring this abundance of new stories to my old life?  How do I bring the joy of the children of Ghana to my student's lives?  How do I bring the performance passion from India to my classrooms? How do I bring the blend of spirit and devotion from Burma to the programming of AFP?  I am having an amazing time this summer wrestling, embracing and defining those answers.  Its a process.  Its a fight.  Its a blessing.

As I complete this story, this Blog, this snapshot of much more than simply a "sabbatical," this life changing voyage...I am not going to attempt to write one final chapter that ties it all up neatly.  It wasn't a neat and clean experience.  It was a spiritual, intellectual, professional and personal shift.  I look forward to remaining present in this shift and to my total participation in each moment.  I look forward to the processing and application of the multiple gifts I have received overt the past 4 month--some I am aware of, many I am not.  I look forward to the SHARING--sharing the international treasures with my students, the Anne Frank Project, the Theater department and SUNY Buffalo State campus.  I am particularly excited to collaborate on new projects surfaced from my travels with new colleagues, from new disciplines, new departments, new campuses and new organizations.  The world has opened itself anew to me and my appetite to learn, process and apply is at an all time high!

It is difficult to offer a sample of photos to support this final entry as has been my practice with this blog throughout.  So, how can I help you visualize the sparks that ignited these thoughts?  By sharing possibly the most important "country" we visited...the MV Explorer, our ship.  This home away from home was much more than the place we ate and slept.  This was the village where we laughed, cried, debated, learned, questioned, studied, rehearsed, danced, sang, exercised, rested, meditated, washed, sweat...Lived.  This was home to our new family--a family of 600 students, 40 faculty, 50 staff and 185 crew members from around the globe all sharing a floating academic village in pursuit of dreams, ideas and change.  A temporary family that has become permanent.  Thank you to my, our new family, friends, explorers and colleagues.  We grabbed hands and took a giant leap of faith around the world together.  My hand is out and available to you for future adventures together...Ubuntu.

My students...

Intro. to World Theater:  Burma field lab 
Acting I:  on stage on the ship
Intro. to World Theater:  India field lab

The Mv Explorer...Home....

Neptune Day--A nautical tradition where "pollywogs" who are crossing the Equator for the first time must kiss the fish, bathe in fish guts and shave their heads (optional) in honor of King Neptune.

Faculty and staff are cast in various roles
Yours truly was the MC:)
The fish is real
The fish guts aren't...
Nate went for the shave
As did a surprising amount of women

The AMAZING crew of the MV Explorer.  


We are overcome with good fortune.  The lessons continue to reveal themselves to us daily.  The world is astounding and right in front of us.  People are Good.  Ubuntu, Namaste, Amahoro.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Giving Shape and Structure to Story in London

It was fitting to end our trip around the world in London--the home of so many his-stories and the greatest storyteller of the English language, Shakespeare.  Among the many professional and personal lessons I have learned over this journey, this sabbatical, this adventure is the power of patience.  The world is always right, the world always tells us where we need to stand to participate in the organic flow of all things.  Since we are just humans who have been taught that knowing is everything, it seems we have handicapped ourselves into actually believing this by rushing to knowing at every possible moment, experience and event.  Since I am human I feel the tug to know frequently--my brain feeds me the psychological propaganda: Come on, Hurry, know it, possess it, figure it out so we can rush on to know the next thing that comes in our path and put it away in our overflowing library of knowledge--there, we did it again.  Following this auto-learned path has led me to miss multiple moments and, most importantly and to-the-post, shuts down my ability to listen to the world.  My solution:  Shhhh the propaganda, stop, breathe and patiently listen.  The benefit:  the answers always come and the world communicates clearly where, why and how I should be at a particular place and time in my life.  The problem:  the answers rarely match the fantasies I created in my mind about why I was at a particular place and time in my life.  After all of the spiritual locations we have visited over the past 4 months who would have thought the cosmos would shake hands with the Zen in the UK?  The more I live the less I know...this has become increasingly obvious.

So what was the primal truth that came to me amongst the hustle of crowds, fish 'n chips and pints of beer of London?  The power of structure in story.  The immense and intense experiences from our journeys are often difficult to quantify, difficult to summarize, difficult to hold on to, difficult to process. Great plays and great stories are great because they are about huge events theatrically distilled through the art of storytelling.  The giant ideas of stories must go through the magical process of can we squeeze the essence of the experience out of the entire experience?  We can't keep the audience in the theater for Anne Frank's over 2 years of hiding in terror.  We can't expect the audience to have 100 days available to be told the story of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.  So, through the magic and skill of storytelling we dance, we sing, we paint, we trick, we condense, we theatricalize, we imagine...we provide Structure.  The most beautiful, inventive home an architect can imagine  won't be livable without a foundation, walls and a roof.  So too with great storytelling--no structure, no story. This is why we remember the Disney classics (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King) and forget those that strayed from the proven structure (Black Cauldron, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear)--Don't mess with our structure!  Structure is the discipline we crave as story receivers--it comes to us at the subconscious level and most of us don't articulate our displeasure of its absence with talk about structure--we say we were "bored" or we "just didn't like it...can't quite put my finger on why."  I can--you missed the love, care and guidance of structure.  Like a teenager who complains about parental rules, he may say he doesn't want structure but take it away and see what happens--broken windows, no homework, hanging with the wrong crowds are all pleas for structure.  My students who are reading this have already repeated my (our) favorite quote as it is the foundation of our work together:  "There can be no freedom without discipline."  Discipline is structure, it smacked me in the face during our short stay in London.

I now gather the pieces of our 4 month story and search for the structures that will hold this impossible, unreal, expansive, crazy, exhilarating, thrilling, challenging, rejuvenating, exhausting, eye-opening, heart-breaking, heart-expanding, life-changing, life-affirming story together.  I look forward to crafting this story to share with my family, friends, students, the Anne Frank Project and SUNY Buffalo State. How will I do this?  I don't know, but I have some ideas....thank you structure, thank you London.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
I saw the Globe's Titus Andronicus.
Wonderful production--a real treat!
Nate getting a Shakespeare lesson.  He's a terrific actor, staying interested for Dad:)

The structures that "hit" me and reminded me of my next storytelling step

And if the metaphoric structure of structures wasn't enough, some of London's finest made it perfectly clear as we watched the Changing of the Guard parade at Buckingham Palace...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Morocco: If These Mountains Could Talk

It is always surprising to me how people who have not been to Africa assume the continent is filled with stereotypical landscapes of barren earth, grass huts, wild animals, native dancers…you know the picture.  I suppose this is true with any place we haven’t actually experienced and breathes truth to the adage:  “Assumptions kill reality.”  

The three African countries we visited this trip could not be more different from each other—southern, western and northern Africa each possess their own personalities, flavors and landscapes…Oh My, the Landscapes!  I wish I could pull the multiple stories I absorbed through the countless miles of travel (car, van, train, plane) from my imagination and plop it on this page.  With my nose pressed against countless windows, the steam of my exhales created an appropriate dream-like, misty frame for the stories before me.  Perhaps nowhere was this “dream” more evident than through the magical landscapes of Morocco.  The realities of this country’s ancient (Biblical) history spilled before us throughout our trek through the Atlas Mountains.  This would be our second visit to Morocco, the last time (2011) ending just outside of Marrakech at the foot of the mighty Atlas range.  This time we knew we wanted to go further, through the Atlas into the Sahara Desert for a camel trek and camp out under the magic of the desert stars.  We were not disappointed.  However, in a great lesson of staying present for each drop of the journey rather then only focusing on the goal, we were told Morocco’s story by…Morocco. 

For this entry I will attempt to let Morocco, the Land of Morocco bursting with exotic tales from thousands of years ago, tell you its story the way it did to us...through a sublime series of mind-boggingly beautiful images.  Sometimes the environment speaks much louder than its inhabitants...leaving us mere onlookers to feel beautifully insignificant...again.

Our ship ported in Casablanca

Casablanca train station--Morocco's train system is excellent--
we took the 3-hour ride to meet our guide in Marrakech
View of Marrakech from the top of our Riad--
note the Atlas Mountains calling from beyond
The winding streets of the Medina in Marrakech--
Contemporary aggressive Capitalism meets the old world.

The drive from Marrakech to the desert was a day filled with  picturesque stops
at the ever-changing Atlas Mountains...
As the elevation changed so did the climate, the way of living, the feel...
each village becoming one with its surroundings.
Conjuring images of caravans filled with Nomads, camels, tents...
the time it must have taken, the acceptance of the terrain...
we tried not to speed through and take it all in

The Atlas Mountains are the meeting place of two different kinds of air masses—
the humid and cold polar air masses that come from the north and
the hot and dry tropical air masses that move up from the south.
Cedar and Juniper explode one moment...

And the next hour is filled with spectacular dry visions of ancient times...
so much history, so many people, so much land, so many stories...

And magical combinations.

Historic Kasbahs where Berber communities lived, battles fought, families raised, cultures created. 
We often simply stood in awe of what was before us.

And to the promised land....

The Earth Opens and Welcomes You

by Abdellatif Laâbi (Moroccan Poet)
The earth opens
and welcomes you
Why these cries, these tears
these prayers
What have they lost
What are they looking for
those who disturb
Your new-found peace?

The earth opens
and welcomes you
you're going to speak without witnesses
Oh, you've plenty to tell
and have all eternity to do so
Yesterday's words tarnished by the tumult
will gradually burn in silence

The earth opens and welcomes you
She alone desired you
without you making a move
She waited for you with none of Penelope's guile
Her patience was nothing but kindness
and it's kindness that brought you back to her

The earth opens
and welcomes you
She will not ask you to render accounts
of your fleeting affairs
wandering girls
heavenly bodies of flesh conceived in the eyes
fruits gifted by the vast orchards of life
sovereign passions that shine
in your palm's hollow
at the end of an indifferent language

The earth opens
and welcomes you
You're naked
And she's more naked than you
You're both beautiful
in that silent embrace
where hands can restrain themselves
and steer clear of violence
where the butterfly of the soul
avoids this semblance of light
to go in search of its origins
The earth opens
and welcomes you
One day, your beloved will rediscover
your legendary smile
and mourning will come to an end
Your children will grow
and read your poems unashamed
Your country will heal, as if by magic
when men consumed by the illusion
will drink from the fountain of your kindness

O my friend
sleep well
you need it
because you worked hard
like an honourable man

Before you left
you left your office in order
neatly arranged
You switched off the lights
and on stepping out
you looked at the sky
which was almost painfully blue
You gracefully smoothed your moustache
and said to yourself:
only cowards
think that death is the end
Sleep well my friend
Sleep the sleep of the righteous
Rest well
from your dreams too
Let us shoulder the burden a little