Kurdish-Inspired Questions

My Beginner’s Mind

I’ve recently returned from six days in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, which you’ll find in eastern Turkey if you look at a contemporary geo-political map of the world. Six days is nowhere near enough time to make sense of a place, especially when everything is changing so quickly in the Near and Middle East. But I acknowledge that for every person who becomes well-versed on a particular topic or in a particular region, there was a moment when they arrived for the first time with a beginner’s mind. So these are some of my beginner’s thoughts! (I’ll have different kinds of information that’s related to the bicycle advocates that I met with in Diyarbakir soon, but these are my rambling and only tangentially-related thoughts).

Diyarbakir Map

A Few Contextual Statements
It’s probably useful to contextualize some of my questions by starting with a few basic sentences about Kurdistan. Disclaimer- I do not claim to speak authoritatively on these matters.

With an estimated 30 million people across the world, the Kurds are the largest stateless nation in the world. Kurds live in exile in many parts of the world, and they come from land that’s split between four modern-day countries – Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurdish name for Diyarbakir (where I was visiting) is ‘Amed.’ I’ve been told that city would be the capital of Kurdistan if it existed as it’s own nation-state. Some scholars have called the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq a “model for rational governance in the Middle East.” This is particularly interesting since Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed relative autonomy, but not independence. Most, if not all, living Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, or Syria (I know even less about the story of Kurds in Iran) have faced torture and/or death, environmental destruction, oppression, politics, and war. There are also numerous stories of resilience and hope for the future. Life does go on.

Questions
In light of this, my journal entry on the plane out of Diyarbakir took on a very particular form – almost every sentence that rippled out from my pen ended in a question mark. It’s a long list, but below are a few questions I don’t know the answers to.

What are the factors that enable one person to have control over the life of another? What are the full ramifications of death and how do a people – how does a person – recover psychologically from war? Did the US somehow help start ISIS, like so many people there believe? Is there any escaping the game-playing and side-switching that nation-state governments play with each other? What is freedom, and how different is it for different people? What is meaningful autonomy? How many nation-states would there be if all ethnicities who desire a state had a state? Do nation-states always make enemies – ie is it a safer or better bet to stay nestled within another nation and just work toward autonomy? Is nationalism always dangerous? Dangerous in what way and for whom? What impact does war have on the environment, and how does the environment recover from war? Why was the Kurdish situation in Turkey framed as terrorism crisis instead of a humanitarian crisis? If framing something as ‘human rights’ victimizes the people we speak about, what is a more empowering framework? How to remedy raciscm and pervasive stereotypes of a whole ethnicity labeled as terrorists? How can regular people effectively fight against illogical policies of their governments? For example, electric power in the east of Turkey goes west before it comes east again, thus make it more expensive in the place the power originates. What, really, are all the effects of a dam? Why are there so few jobs here, and how do people survive without jobs? (ie how often do families support each other?) Is Ocalan a future Mandela? How will Erdogan shifting the role of the presidency in Turkey affect everyone everywhere in the country? What effect will it have that Kurds from all four countries are fighting together for the first time in history to stop the ISIS massacre of the Yezedi people? (Kurds have told me that the Yezedi are Kurds who practice the “original” Kurdish religion) What specific impacts are there on a stateless nation when international governments refuse to work directly with that group of people? How many stateless nations of people are there in the world? For every person who feels at home, how many people are displaced? What makes a nation versus an ethnicity? What are the qualities of a nation, anyway? And what does the existence of so many stateless people in the world say about the existence of nation-states and our world order?

Why am I hesitant to speak the truths I observe? Is it just because I acknowledge these truths are much more complicated than I understand? Is it because I’m afraid of criticism or of negative ramifications on both me and the people’s whose stories I share? How do I deal with the fact that the truths I observe are, at the very least, incomplete, and at the very most, simultaneously untrue? How do I get over my visceral feeling that, as an outsider, my thoughts are somehow less valuable and my truths are somehow less true? How much ‘truth’ can I fairly say I have gotten in my short six days, especially with my limited relevant-language ability? Are my truths about a foreign place that I see for only five days less true because of how much I miss? Or do I fairly bring a different lens to the table? Is there any truth that is complete? What is my role in these types of places, anyway? America, like it or not, is influential in the world, so I believe that ignoring the situation is not my place. But acknowledging where I don’t want to be ignorant doesn’t tell me how I should move forth in the world. Not directly, at least.

And so the journey continues.

 

Why I Now Have a Danish Social Security Number

Endless groups of bikes line almost every street in Copenhagen, mostly unattended and locked to nothing but themselves.  Such a common practice gives off an impression of low crime rates in Denmark that Denmark, especially to an American who would never imagine locking my bike so lackadaisically in such public spaces for such long periods of time. Any thief could easily pick one up and walk away! But my first impression has been very shallow – this is a story about theft in Denmark and why I now have a Danish social security number.

Just some of the lackadaisically-locked bikes at Copenhagen's Central Train Station.

Just some of the endless bikes locked to nothing but themselves at Copenhagen’s Central Train Station.

Before we get to my story, though, I’ll share the criminal story we encountered a day earlier. I started to pay with cash when Jack and I went kayaking in the Copenhagen canals on a beautiful sunny morning. When I asked for change at the part kayak-shop, part-cafe/restaurant/bar, though, the impressively calm kayak guy asked me, oh so casually, if I wouldn’t mind paying with card. “We’re low on cash since a thief broke into the shop last night and took a lot of our stuff – more than they usually do,” he shared. It turns out “more than usual” included a refrigerator, coffee machine, a CAR and more. ‘Usual,’ by the way, is about every month or two. Retrospectively, this seems like a strong case of foreshadowing. The next day, I spent a groggy morning in the common space of our hostel waking up with breakfast and coffee. Jack had left for the airport by then, so I was back to traveling alone. I got there around 8:15 am and by 9, the space around me bustled with hostel guests and I craved round two of a coffee and yogurt parfait. My camera bag sat right next to me while I shared a table with two older couples from somewhere else in Europe. I left the table ever so briefly to refill my bowl eight feet away from my bag, and it was just a little later that I noticed my bag was gone…. When you walk into the hostel, there’s a big screen TV with the view from the 14 or so security cameras around the place. Upon realizing my camera bag (with camera and audio recorder, etc.) was missing, I went right to downstairs to see which camera angles might have witnessed a thief. I took it to the hostel front desk, and he quickly pulled up photos from several different angles of the guy. We now had the whole story of  what he looked like, how he took it and how he left. Here’s what we saw:  a middle-aged man of ambiguous ethnicity.. I think white.. chubby with short brown hair, average height, wearing all black. In the midst of many people intent on conversations, coffee and breakfast, he slipped the bag slowly and slyly off the table and into another bag he had brought with him. He then left  by walking straight out the front door, turning left and disappearing by foot down the street. Not a guest at the hostel; just one of those guys that comes into busy spaces at peak hours and takes advantage of what’s available. It always only takes a few seconds.

The view from one of the security cameras that caught a view of the thief. NOTE: this is NOT the moment or the person.

The view from one of the security cameras that caught a view of the thief. IMPORTANT NOTE: this is NOT the moment or the person. I snapped this screenshot an hour and a half after the incident, after breakfast had cleared out.

Post-Theft Perks:

(1) now I’ll get to go Disposable Film Festival style and capture/create narratives solely using an iphone.

(2) I have a Danish social security number now, which means nothing more than I’m in the system so they can contact me easily IF they recover my stuff, but I like the new fun fact 🙂

(3) I was able to borrow a bike free of charge for the morning and afternoon so that I could ride to the police station and file the report. It’s difficult to be all that upset or anxious when riding a bike so comfortably on endless protected and raised bikeways on a fantastically beautiful day! I took an extra few hours after filing the police report to ride along the swan-filled lakes and enjoy an oreo milkshake and the largest veggie burger I’ve ever enjoyed.

At the end of the day, it’s just stuff. I don’t think I’ll be able to afford such a nice camera for a while again, but  I actually would have been MUCH more upset if my journals had disappeared. Irreplaceability vs. replaceability.

 

Oh! And so what’s gonna happen to this guy if they catch him? He might go to jail for 5-20 days, said the cop who recorded my case. Then he added, “if you want to be a criminal, come to Copenhagen.” are the words he left me with. “They get off the hook really easily.”

Even outside the police station, bikes are locked to nothing more than themselves, making it incredibly easy for any thief to pick up a bike and walk away.

Even outside the police station, bikes are locked to nothing more than themselves, making it incredibly easy for any thief to pick up a bike and walk away.

On a final note, I think one reason so many Danes are less paranoid about bikes getting stolen is that they choose not to use super fancy and expensive bikes. Then it’s not as much of a loss if/when your bike disappears. Because, as I’ve been told by the police and others since my arrival here, it’s a misperception that bike theft is low in this town.

Reunions in Copenhagen

I thought I’d be traveling ‘alone’ for my five days in Copenhagen – aka spending my time with whomever I meet at hostels and connect with about bikes and such (which still has happened). But it turns out one of my British-American housemates in San Francisco happened to be in the general northern European area last week/this week for business (a Thoughtworks gathering) and a visit with family.

I met Jack because, about a month ago, I moved into an intentional community in the heart of San Francisco that serves as a space for connecting people and ideas that revolves around values of connectedness, participation, sustainability, engagement, empathy, and mindfulness. Check out this video for a little more about that 🙂

A few of us were sitting around the kitchen table a few weeks ago in San Francisco, and I joked around with Jack that – since we were overlapping in northern Europe for two days – it would be logical for him to hop on over to Denmark from the UK before he heads back to the states.

To my serious surprise, he did! Three cheers for spontaneity 🙂 He was only supposed to stay a day, but there are good times to be had and much more to learn about in this little city (especially when your first day is filled with rain), so he extended his stay and housemate adventures ensued.

The old roller coaster in Tivoli, the second oldest theme park in the world and an inspiration for Walt Disney's own magical world. Side note- Denmark has the two oldest theme parks in the world. Checked off my bucket list 'attempt to sing a ukulele song while riding a roller coaster.' I also added it to my bucket list while we were in line for the roller coaster.

The old roller coaster in Tivoli, the second oldest theme park in the world and an inspiration for Walt Disney’s own magical world. Side note- Denmark has the two oldest theme parks in the world.
Checked off my bucket list ‘attempt to sing a ukulele song while riding a roller coaster.’ I also added it to my bucket list while we were in line for the roller coaster.

Jack Kayaking

Carlsberg beer pervades every aspect of Copenhagen, a place where they want to you drink outside. Turns our the Carlsberg Foundation invested a lot of money in building up the city back in the day (and growing the fire department in a city that seemed incapable of avoiding being burnt down). The Carlsbergs were patrons of art, science, etc. several hundred years ago.

More photos from this trip. Related Post: A Community Brunch Related Post: Map of Ellie’s Wanderlusting: Wedding 2014 Edition

Map of Ellie’s Wanderlusting: Wedding 2014 Edition

I have a little more than a month to travel this summer, mostly in Denmark, Copenhagen, and Eastern Europe – instigated by weddings! Zoom in to each city or country and see it get populated with the places I’ve either explored or have been recommended. It’s an open map, so please add any recommendations you have! Red pins are places I have yet to go or that are not entirely set in stone yet.

Community Brunch Endeavors at Le Chateau McAlamo

I like making french toast. I like making quiche. Both great for Sunday brunch. A week or two ago, Matt Lattimer and I were brainstorming ways to bring our little 22-person household community together, and more often than not that conversation comes down to food.

The brunch planning duo.

The brunch planning duo.

So planning for an epic family brunch began. We hope it will be a catalyst for weekly community brunches, and if not weekly at least semi-regularly. Matt and I began by dreaming through recipes and compiling a list of everything even remotely breakfast-related that made our mouths water. We dreamt of veggie feta quiches, Challah french toast, pesto breakfast pizzas, a yogurt bar and mimosas.

Living in a household filled with meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans and people who are gluten free, we thought it important to be all-inclusive. Having two vegan housemates with ciliac gave us the opportunity to experiment with both vegan/gluten free french toast AND breakfast pizza. The almost-vegan french toast ended up being my favorite! (side note: it’s very difficult not to cross-contaminate gluten things with non-gluten things, so that’ll be an ongoing evolution of providing safe options for everyone in the house).

Yogurt Bar, a must

Yogurt Bar, a must

Matt and I submitted our list to housemate Nikkia, who is one of the coordinators for our bulk food buying. She determined what could and could not fit into the house budget, and Matt and I contributed the few extra items – Challah bread and real maple syrup, most importantly. (Andrew Malkin later donated a bottle of extra special maple syrup to step up our brunch game even further).

The night before the big morning, Nikkia and I embarked on an epic Whole Foods endeavor by bike – extra perks for having a housemate who works at Whole Foods! Go Nikkia 🙂 She and I raided the shelves and carried everything home in two panniers and one backpack on our bikes – that includes four bottles of champagne, three 18-egg cartons, two loaves of challah, three bunches of bananas… and more. I felt like we had stolen Mary Poppin’s purse, with a never-ending bottom that enables you to carry any and everything in the world at the same time.

Anyway, Matt and I congregated at 8:30 this morning, thinking we’d get all the food items ready for preparation then have some time to relax before an 11:30 brunch. Hah – yeah right. Four hours later (around 12:30 pm), brunch was finally ready and served.

Breakfast Pizza and Quiche, to name a few options

Breakfast Pizza and Quiche, to name a few options

The way the whole morning unfolded was beautiful, and only possible, I believe, in a community such as ours of 20 or so hands available at wonderfully random (or not so random since we all wake up there) moments. As each person stirred for the morning, he or she joined in the food preparation by either asking what needed to be done, offering suggestions in friendly and supportive ways, and/or taking the initiative to create a dish-addition to make the base parts of the breakfast meal even better.

Konstantin, our fruit-delivery-by-bike buddy who delivers our pounds upon pounds of fruit every week, made a farmer’s market run to Civic Center in perfect time to broaden the possibilities for our yogurt bar and french toast with fresh strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, and grapes. Nikkia saw bananas and an opportunity, so the next thing I knew we had caramelized bananas as yet another topping. Someone, I’m not even sure who, pulled together some homemade whipped cream to add to the dessert-direction of the French Toast. I’m also unsure whose magic hands whipped together the peach puree that brightened up our mimosas. The list goes on and on!

Marion making morning mimosas with peach puree

Marion making morning mimosas with peach puree

I’m not sure how many helpers were coming in and out because the process flowed so smoothly, and one of our two community kitchens was almost entirely clean before we even sat down to eat. (It’s also really nice to have the space to facilitate events like this, by the way. Two kitchens and a well-designed backyard = great success!) So, in the end, with 10-20 people working away diligently and cohesively, a brunch emerged that completely outshone anything I could put together on my own. And what a brilliantly pleasant and sunny morning to enjoy good food with this community that will only continue to grow.

It was a different kind of organic. 🙂

For more photos, check out my Flickr album from the brunch or Nikkia’s Flickr photostream, which includes a continuous stream of photos from our various Le Chateau McAlamo food endeavors.
Brunch Plate
Brunch-time view from above

Brunch-time view from above

Konstantin and Yasi

Konstantin and Yasi

To learn more about Le Chateau McAlamo, check out our Vinyasa Homes Project.

We Found a Piano!

So I was riding my bike home today when I encountered an abandoned piano on the streets of San Francisco near Alamo Square Park. I’m always finding items gifted to the streets of San Francisco–books, picture frames, chairs, even couches– but this abandoned piano is the best find yet!

We still don’t know who it used to belong to.

As per my comrades in this adventure, Kyle and Carla: I had never before met Kyle before this moment, but he stopped to listen as I played a few tunes and to ask me why on earth this piano was sitting on rollers in the street. I had no good answer, but since he just started playing piano three weeks ago, we realized it would be a kick in fate’s face for him to NOT adopt this lovely contraption. So thus began our journey to roll it into his garage!

That’s around the moment that Carla joined us–she’s the one recording the video (until my phone quickly ran out of storage space). Carla, I had met twice before, and that’s a fun story in itself. It took us a few minutes to realize where we recognized each other from, but it turns out I had first encountered her four-man/woman band back in November when they played on the streets of the Mission in front of 826 Valencia on a Thursday night. I took their business card and a video that night, but lost both and had no way of tracking them down. :/ Five months later, though, I was carrying my ukulele in a coffee shop when a woman approached me asking if I also played the mandolin or banjo because her band was looking for new instrumentalists. Turns out it was her! Here and now, about a month after the second encounter, she stumbled upon new-friend-Kyle and I as we played tunes and debated ways to lift this abandoned piano to his third-floor apartment down the block.

I love the power of music 🙂

This reminds me of this beautiful video from the Disposable Film Festival, except our version of the story ended more happily. I guess if you leave something on the streets on NYC for more than 24 hours, that’s what has to happen.

Check out Carla’s band, Twig & the Berries, by the way!

On Dreams, Intimidation, and Bicycle Academia

I start to feel stuck as I work on doing outreach to bicycle-oriented researchers and organizations around the world. There are many people who are WAY more established in their ideas, thoughts, cultural and academic explorations than I am. I talk about wanting to give a human face to non-motorized transportation by creating short documentaries for web purposes about people and the role non-motorized transportation plays in their lives, but haven’t deeply explored the best way to methodologically approach that. What version of the each story do I want to tell? Design-wise, how do I want to present it? I envision myself using ethnographic methods of interviewing and participant observation to connect ideas and initiatives from different places, but what’s the best way to go deep and what’s the best way to remain compelling and relevant? What does it mean to produce documentary vs. ethnography?

I have more questions than answers, but here is something I do know: I am presently most interested in the different ways the bicycle is framed, understood, promoted, and utilized in different cultural contexts, particularly as a tool for empowerment. I believe comparative narratives of bicycle use in different places and ways can help get more people on bicycles in different parts of the world. My goal is to spend time in various places doing ethnographic research through interviewing, participant observation, and the production of short videos/interactive media highlighting localized transportation initiatives and illuminating the diverse and widespread human faces involved in sustainable transportation. The trick is establishing relationships in each of these places.

For the people I’m reaching out to, reasons to promote cycling are obvious. The Bicicultures  and Cycling and Society networks have much-more-established academics in their realm;   Bicycles Against Poverty in Uganda already has videos similar to the ones I’d like to make. My goal now is to understand for myself any of the people I contact should bother working with me–how can what I’m trying to do further what they’re trying to do? In other words, how can I work with them without being a bother? I only have an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology, and I’m still shaping my idea of what goes into  high-quality, compelling digital storytelling. I get both overwhelmed and excited when I start to see how many bicycle-related articles exist in the inter-ether… and they approach the bicycle topic from so many angles!

Some Blogs of Cycle Scholars:
Thinking About Cycling
Urban Adonia
Bicycle-related Academic Articles

Other High-Quality Bicycle Resources:
League of American Bicyclists Blog
Denmark’s Bikeability Site
Mexico’s Ciclociudades
Europe’s Cosmobilities Network
Denmark’s Bicycle Innovation Lab

Some Impressive Bicycle NGOs:
World Bicycle Relief 
Bicycles Against Poverty

In the yoga philosophy I’m studying right now, the concept of vinyasa krama is to step (krama) and to place (yasa) in a special way (vin). On the one hand, this speaks to cultivating a deliberate and beneficial physical practice (asana), but the concept also applies generally in life: “it is not enough to take a simple step; that step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way.” I’m applying for a digital storytelling fellowship for which the application is due on Feb. 28, but I haven’t yet been able to connect with scholars or institutions in my desired places to the extent that they’d be willing to affiliate with me. Part of me feels I need to have a clearer idea of how I delineate (or don’t delineate) ethnography from documentary from advocacy from academic research, etc., before I confidently move ahead in this game.  That process, I believe, would be best cultivated and developed in an academic setting, a world in which I am currently not living in. I AM, however, living in a world of freelance video editing and working as a communications assistant for an active and positive bicycle advocacy non-profit (San Francisco Bicycle Coailition). This is where I develop my thoughts and real-world practices of effective narratives/storytelling methods, and this real-world, applicable-skills process is just as important as the academic thought development process.

The bottom line is that the application is due in 20 days and I don’t have relationships or affiliations worked out yet. This makes me feel like I’m rushing into the Fellowship part of the process. I’d rather spend the next year developing relationships and see where it takes me and how my thoughts and methods develop. I still feel too new to this world. Being just nine months out of my undergraduate degree, I’m just getting the hang of this ‘real-world’ thing, yet I feel immensely under-qualified when it comes to academic conversations I want to be participating in. I love the learning process, but sometimes fear I’m trying to rush through it too quickly.

So once again, my current main goals with these Comparative Narratives of Sustainable Transportation:

  • Give a human face to non-motorized transportation by creating short documentaries for web purposes about people and the role non-motorized transportation plays in their lives:
  • Blog about cross-cultural similarities and differences in transportation trends—why might a trend in one location be the opposite in another?
  • Utilize ethnographic methods of interviewing and participant observation to connect ideas and initiatives from different places
  • Highlight organizations using the bicycle for different social goals

On Our Car-Crash Anniversary

A year ago this weekend I was in a major car accident that didn’t change my life.

Rather inconveniently, this happened in a very specifically rural part of West Virginia where both cell phone service and wifi are illegal—smack near the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone,  “a 13,000 square mile stretch of land designated by the FCC to protect two government radio telescopes from man-made interference.” That renders all emergency calls to cops,  ambulances (if needed), and tow trucks impossible. This is not the best place to total your car at 11 pm in freeze-your-fingers 2 degree weather.

We were lucky that two other couples had been driving fairly close behind us; otherwise we would have been stuck in near-zero-degree darkness with little idea where we were and no way to contact anyone. (This was also driving on backroads through woods nearly uninhabited by humans). Our fellow strangers helped us climb out the side (now the top) of the car, heaved and ho’ed with us to get the mangled piece of metal upright again, then gave us hours-long rides to our approximate destination.

The car rolled somewhere between 1 and 3 times with us in it, I’m not quite sure the exact number. The black ice snuck up on us—or we on it—as four of us chatted away, excited about our weekend tucked in the ski slopes of Snowshoe, West Virginia. It’s funny how minds and memories really do slow events down in these kinds of situations. I constructed this vivid vision of the Pringles in the front seat between Chris and I sliding somewhat gracefully out of their open container, hanging in the air before scattering everywhere as we flipped upside down, right side up, and to all the places in between. OB’s back-seat perspective of the flip, on the other hand, includes four pair of hands stabilizing our bodies using the car ceiling, Kelly’s and my long hair hair flying this and that way based on our shifting velocity.

The car settled on its side before we could process the fact that the wheels had left the ground at all. I tried opening and lifting my passenger-side door as it sat above me, but confusion and gravity joined forces against me to resist my efforts until an aforementioned stranger came along and helped us from the outside. Seatbelts are difficult to undo when all of your weight is resting on the buckle that now sits below you!

The next five hours were filled with a myriad of different coincidences and adventures, miracles by my standards, that led to eight friends (there were two cars driving up separately—one crashed, the other lost) being reunited at 4 am for a feast in our rented cabin. Everyone went to bed that late night, both exhausted and thrilled to ski when it got light later that day.

What still strikes me as most spectacular about this whole experience is how absolutely unharmed everyone and everything was (except for the totaled car, of course).  Between the four of us, we counted fewer than five minor scrapes and bruises. The beer was fine; the tomatoes were fine; the wo snowboards that had been strapped to the roof as the car rolled over them… they were absolutely fine. Chris and Kelly rode on their boards that same day, bodies and equipment completely unbroken. It still blows my mind.

Call it a miracle. Call it guardian angels. Call it karma(?). I see it as just one more thing that blows my mind about existence (and there’s a long list for that). Retrospectively watching our GoPro footage from that weekend (see below), I am struck by how simultaneously delicate and powerful the body is and by how things that are supposed to go horribly wrong can turn out bizarrely okay.

What a way to start a ski weekend, eh?

This little video is a year overdue bc I thought I’d actually do something interesting with the footage… but alas, I haven’t. Here are some shots from us toying around with a GoPro at Snowshoe in West Virginia.

This is right after four of the seven of us got in a car-rolling, car-totalling accident. Literally no injuries other than a drop or two of blood. And the snowboards in the footage? They were on the roof of the car as it rolled over them. No damage.

Music: ‘Linguistics’ by Cunning Linguists (and apologies for the video quality.. for some reason I didn’t convert from H 2.64 to Apple ProRes 422 before editing and that doesn’t make Final Cut happy….)