Hatching Free Range Ideas

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Power of Community

In Africa stories on March 31, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Obvious disclaimer: This post is based on casual observation from an outsider. The errors are mine. I hope that my Rwandan friends will correct and refine what I post here.

My perspective of Rwanda before my visit was one of divided community based on past history, Hutus against Tutsis. Today, I think of Rwanda as a united community with all eyes toward the future. I learned two community practices that I wish we could adopt here. The degree to which Rwanda has committed to these practices is total, from the top government officials to neighborhoods.

The first is Muganda, a kinyarwandi word I was told. I’m going to trust my source and hope that if the term is wrong, one of my new Rwandan friends will correct me.

Muganda is the clean up that occurs country-wide the last Saturday of the month. Everyone, I mean everyone, gets out and cleans Rwanda, from chopping weeds in ditches to picking up garbage, of which there is actually very little. I’ll write more about that in a future post, The Useful Life of Things. Muganda is supported by the Rwandan government. No one drives or walks on the streets between 8 and say noon, unless they are involved in cleaning. Needless to say, Rwanda is clean. The country banned the use of plastic grocery-type bags in the last few years. These bags were said to litter the African countryside. Today, you won’t see a one.

After the clean up, communities meet to discuss community business. Imagine getting together once a month to discuss issues and improvements for your community. Imagine having every member of your community committed to clean up. Our home owner’s association meets once a year. We have great intentions which disappear within a month. I wonder what we might do if we met monthly.

The second national community practice is Gacaca, a system of community justice, used now to process the perpetrators of the genocide. I won’t explain how it works in detail here because Wikipedia has a great article of explanation. But the source is the village court originally used to settle village or family issues, presided over by elders elected by the village for their honesty and fairness. A primary function of the court is to provide a space for a truly public hearing of the issues and settlement.

We are the world?

Africa is both connected and divided by language, scarcity and tribal history. I wonder about the bonds of community. How do we build them when we don’t have a common language or common history? When I say common history, I think about tracing common ancestry. I know we unite around shared problems, but what happens after the problem is solved, at least at one level? We say, “Well done.” And we move on to the next?

About 2/3rd of the plane between Washington DC and Ethiopia was made of up people from NGOs, medical schools or those on missions. Those from NGOs are paid for the good work they do — yes, not well-paid but they can think of it as a daily vocation. It’s full time even if their work on the ground in Africa is not. The missionaries and medical folks are there on a temporary basis, a short hiatus from their normal lives. They come to build schools, provide medical support, build homes.

It’s a working vacation from the day to day. I’m not saying that these contributions aren’t valuable. But are they artificial experiences with little evidence of struggle or failure? Aren’t the bonds we form through struggle and failure those that survive? We don’t really need company in our happiness. Sure it’s nice to be able to laugh together and to share celebration but we truly need each other in hardship, even when there is nothing to be done but to share tears.

The morning of my last day in Rwanda, a colleague from Kenya and I were talking over breakfast on the hotel terrace. I wondered aloud what it might take to sustain the focus on Africa after leaving. I don’t know the answer. I know that some people manage, like the woman with Blue Sweater; and Pencils for Kids. I would like a sustainable practice, a permanent extension.

I’ve written about Donald Miller’s book before — A million miles in a thousand years, where living a better life is about living a better story. I’d like my story to be one of building sustainable community. I wonder what that requires.

If we limit our work to those stories provided to us by others, do we also allow others to determine our story? What story do you want to tell with your life?


Security is a State of Mind

In Africa stories on March 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm

The uncertainty of new often manifests itself in fear. I guess, now that I think of it, uncertainty and fear are twin sisters. It’s often hard to tell one from the other.

When I first began to think about going to Rwanda, a country on a continent so far away and previously unvisited, there was plenty of uncertainty. I had to get a bunch of shots. I hate shots. Along with the shots came a litany of health cautions, that sounded something like this:

“You return from Africa. You’ve shown all your photos and told all your stories. You had a wonderful time. 2 weeks have passed. You begin to throw up. Do not go to your regular doctor; see an infectious disease doctor. You might have. . . ”

Fill in the blank.

I heard it at least three times with different blanks. I used the insect repellent that you allow to dry on your clothes and that lasts through 6 washings. I brought 25% deet. I’m still taking antibiotics as malaria prophylactic. As I said, the first night I slept under the bed net. I bought a money belt.

Friends asked me about whether or not Rwanda was secure, if you had to be cautious and careful, if there was unrest in the region. I assured them that from what I could tell, it seemed to be a peaceful country. I reasoned that Rwanda had had a very painful lesson in peace.

I write about these cautions and uncertainties, not because I don’t believe them, but because caution is required for all travel, not just Rwanda, not just Africa. Or Mexico. Or China. Or Europe. Or New York City. You are in a new place. A new place deserves alertness. It is outside what you know. You learn how to navigate in your new surrounding.

Here’s what I found. No one drinks anything but bottled water if they have a choice. Rwandans are also cautious about malarial mosquitos but the treatments have become much less radical so they know that they can be cured without great inconvenience. There seem to be fewer violent crimes than we experience in American cities, the ones that tourists are most exposed to are pickpockets.

I left my camera, wallet, computer equipment in my hotel room, taking only the money that I intended to spend. I paid attention but I wasn’t overly concerned. I acted just as if I was in a large American city except for drinking tap water and eating raw food that couldn’t be peeled.

And I smiled at strangers.  A lot. I always got a smile back. I learned to say Mara Mutsi, which meant that I could only go around in the morning or look like an idiot. I did both.

When I was leaving, in line to board the plane, I found this story. Picture this:

We’re standing in line to go up the stairs into the plane. About four people behind us is a young, fresh-faced man, holding a guitar by the neck. It has no case. He is also getting ready to board the plane. I worry about his guitar.

Me: Did you get that guitar in Rwanda?

Him: Yes. Big smile.

Me: It’s very nice.

Him: I think so.

Me: How will you protect it to get it home?

Him: I hope someone will help me find a place to put it.

Me: Do you play guitar?

Him: Yes. And as I was coming into the airport with it, the guard asked me the same thing. When I told him I did, he said that I couldn’t pass the checkpoint without playing it.

I wanted to hear him play but I didn’t ask.

Him: So I played it. The guard listened and nodded his head. Then I asked him if he played. He said he did. I pushed my new guitar toward him. He said, “You have to hold this then” and he handed me his big gun.

Me: Did he play?

Him: Yes, but I was so nervous holding that gun. I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do with it.

We all laughed. It made me think about all of the young men whom I had seen with guns around Kigali, policing the city. Were the guns not loaded or is Africa so familiar with guns that they almost disappear? Then I thought about handguns in the U.S. and realized that almost everyone you see could have a concealed hand gun on them. I might prefer knowing by seeing the big guns.

But I also wonder about the guard. He wouldn’t have handed his gun to someone if he was uncertain about what was going on, right?

The Gorilla Trek

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2011 at 2:38 pm

When you go to see gorillas from Kigali, you leave very early in the morning. Very. At 4:30. It’s about a 2 hour drive, mostly in the dark to Parc des Volcans. Along the road, you will see people walking to work for what appears to be several miles with large burdens. Rwandans are extremely hard working people.

It’s daylight when we arrive and there is coffee and tea available as we wait to see if we can get one additional permit. Gorilla trekking permits aren’t easy to come by, often you have to reserve several months in advance, but our Rwandan host seems to be able to make things happen, lots of things. We get the permit, form up our group of 8 and are taken to the entrance of the park, where our family of  gorillas were last seen. Any westerner might consider the “roads” we traveled to be impassable, maybe not even roads but we make it to the point of departure.

We each get a gorilla walking stick. We’ll need it.

An aside. The next time someone says, “Want to go trekking?” I’ll know what they mean. It’s not a hike as much as a climb and scramble led by a guide who has been climbing these hills for 5 days a week for 10 years. I’m grateful that my group is older, like older than me. I wish they weren’t German and would admit that they are suffering from the speed and the elevation. Oh well. When the guide asks about the pace, I’m the one who pants out, from the rear of the line, “It’s. . . huff. . . . a bit . . . pant. . . fast. . .  for. . . me.” He moves me to the front and tells me to set the pace. Then he sets off again. I can’t tell much difference but at least when I lag behind, he notices. It’s a good thing because the “path” that we are on disappears regularly into the bush. It’s more of a game trail than a path.

We cross elephant tracks and see elephant poo. Amazing in its volume. I can’t stop to take any photos. I’m already slowing us down as much as can be allowed. So no poo picture for you. Sorry.

The Trekkers are ahead of us with radios. Their job is to follow the gorillas at night and see where they settle in to sleep. Gorillas nest around 4:30. The Trekkers, all with big guns, make note of the location. That’s where they’ll go in the morning to find the gorillas. Then they stay with them until the guides bring people like us. We’re going up to the base and a bit beyond of this jagged peak.

Our guide, Edward, continues to tell us that it’ll be no more than a half hour to the gorillas. He later tells us about four or five times, that it will be no more than 10-15 minutes. After about 3 hours, we hear the gorillas. We see them up in the trees in just a moment more. The Germans have really good cameras. They push their way to the front to take photos. I hang back, just breathing for a bit, relieved that we aren’t going to continue up the slope. I wonder what it will be like to be face to face with these animals they call the gentle giants. The males weigh around 500 pounds. Any one of them, including the 2 year old babies are strong enough to rip your arms of. But they don’t.

Edward tells us his favorite gorilla story. He knows each of the gorillas personally. After all, they are friends of more than 10 years. He has a name that I can’t remember so I’m going to call him Fred for now.

Gorillas must eat about 60 pounds of vegetation a day. They eat a lot of bamboo but it seems that bamboo shoots are their favorite. And they make them drunk. One trek, Fred the big silverback had a load of bamboo shoots. He was staggering around and ran into a woman and knocked her down. When Edward leaned over to help her up, Fred kicked him in the butt and knocked him to the ground. Then he sat on Edward. We stand about 10 feet away. Fred never looks at us.

Hidden in the bush behind him is a mother with her 2 week old baby. Only 40% of the babies survive to their 2nd year.

Fred sneezes, snot going all over the fur of his arm. He licks it up until it’s all back inside his head, then he picks his nose for about 5 minutes. Edward explains that gorillas don’t waste anything. We all watch. Some people take videos. Imagine. How I spent my vacation.

We are allowed to spend an hour. I stop taking pictures and just watch. About the same time, I run out of battery. I’m beginning to think of what the trek down will be like, through the nettles that stand 4 feet high and the thistles big as artichoke plants.

At the end of our hour, we begin the descent. It takes us 1/3 the time that it took us to go up. I fall in the mud about 4 -5 times but the forest floor is soft. I hear people behind me falling. It makes me feel somewhat better.

Edward gives me his gorilla walking stick as well. Two sticks makes a difference. I am not falling all the way down any more. We emerge from the deep cover into the potato fields. We get to the creek we crossed early in the day. It’s about 1 o’clock now. Edward suggests that we remove our shoes/boots to cross since they’re all muddy and the rocks are slippery. The travel doctor has told me not to get anywhere near fresh water because of parasites. I keep my boots on. I can see that Edward is a bit worried. I quickly cross the rocks. He’s amazed. He doesn’t know that this is something that I’m used to. I cross the creek at home all the time. I know to spot your footing about 3 steps away and move quickly. The pushy German man pushes through, almost causing a problem. I glare at him. My grandmother was German. He recognizes her and backs off.

We’re back. I’m so glad to see the truck. I collapse gratefully into the seat. We drive back to Kigali, after dropping Edward at the little town near the park. The countryside is amazing now that it’s light enough to see it all.

When we get back to the hotel, I run a hot bath, remove my muddy clothes and drop them in a corner. I take four aspirin. In about an hour, I’m tired but not sore. I trekked to see gorillas and I survived. Not the gorillas, that never worried me. . . the trek.

Was it worth it, the pain, the humiliation of having to be the slow kid, the fear that someone might have to carry me out or wait with me until the rest of the group returned? Absolutely.

Would I do it again? No. But I did it this time. And, I’ll know what I’m getting into the next time someone says the word trek.


Rwandan Stories

In Africa stories on March 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I’m home. Despite almost 33 hours of return transit time, the stories I learned from East Africa are strong in my mind. I say East Africa, rather than Rwanda because I met people from Ethiopia and Kenya and heard stories from Sudan, so my experience was bigger than Rwanda. My geographical experience was limited mostly to Kigali, Rwanda’s lovely capital.

I will share some stories with you over the next couple of weeks. Think of this post as the introduction.

Setting Context

This is the Rwandan countryside, outside of Kigali. Rwanda, Land of a Thousand Hills, is a small country on the outside and large on the inside.

Today, I’ll start with the story you know, the 1994 Genocide. I start with genocide so that we can move beyond it. There’s so much more to know.

The Genocide

During three months in 1994, over 800,000 people were killed. 2 million left the country because of the Genocide. The total population of Rwanda at that time was 7 million.

As far as I can tell, originally Tutsis were the “ruling class.”  This quote is from the Genocide Memorial in Kigali and describes the roots of the division among Hutus, Tutsis and Twa.

The categories Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstances.

Under colonial rule, the distinctions were made racial, particularly with the introduction of the identity card in 1932. In creating these distinctions, the colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows as Hutu, and this also applied to his descendants.

In 1957, supported by the occupying Belgians and the Catholic Church, power was transferred to the Hutus. Over 700,000 Tutsis were exiled. They tried to return in 1990, which was the beginning of the Civil War. A peace accord was signed in 1993.

On 6th April 1994, the current Rwandan President and  the President of Burundi were flying into Kigali. Their plane was shot down. Within an hour, murders of Tutsis began. According to records at the Memorial, death lists had been prepared in advance.

The Memorial does a good job of recording the horror. It must have been 100s of times more horrible than any of us can imagine. I don’t think of it lightly despite the few words that I record here. However, there are many better sources for learning more about what happened. It’s worth learning. But, this isn’t what I want to share about Rwanda.

Moving forward

Like Rwandans, don’t forget. Hold it somewhere deep in your heart in wide-eyed contrast to today’s Rwanda, a vibrant, gracious country with zero tolerance for political corruption, a country that embraces the best of its historical culture with both eyes toward the future.

We went in the rainy season and it took about 20+ hours in total transit time to get there. It felt like several days in suspension. Even now. We stayed in Kigali, with the exception of the gorilla trek.

The weather is balmy; it’s the heart of the rainy season. My hotel is simple and spotless, with exactly the right amount of elegance. I mean spotless; cleaned top to bottom every day, stone tiled floors polished and shining. You don’t drink the water or even rinse your toothbrush in the tap.

We tour around for a few hours and we also stop and change money. You can’t seem to get Rwandan francs anywhere outside of Rwanda, at least not in the West, even online. The ATMs aren’t connected outside the country. Almost no one takes credit cards. I change $200 dollars and get stacks back.  Stacks.

Mara Mutsi. . .

. . . means Good Morning in Kinyarwandi.

That night I eat at the hotel restaurant, fish stew with potatoes, peas and bananas, what we call plantains, and South African wine.. Every meal has bananas — fried, grilled, mashed, croquettes, stewed, in gravy.

I sleep with the door open. Even though there is a screen across the sliding glass doors, I lower the bed net because it’s fun. It’s square and stretches over the edges of the bed, secured all along the sides. In the middle of the night, I have to find my way out to pee.

I wake the next morning to a lovely song which repeats as a neighbor plans for a wedding that happens that day, held in the yard of the blue roofed house you see at the bottom of the photo. I don’t know the name of the song or how to find it but if I ever do, it will be an audio port key that sends me back to soft air across misty hills.

Coming Attractions

I went through my photos today and was amazed at how few pictures I had for how many memories. But I’m glad that I didn’t see Rwanda through a camera lens.

You’ve now seen the mist. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the gorillas in it.

On other days I’ll tell you more. . . some of these:

  1. The useful life of things
  2. Reaching Up with a passion for change
  3. Security is a state of mind
  4. A gift exchange with East Africa
  5. Rwanda community
  6. You must go. . .
  7. Story and the boy who walked 10 steps

And I hope to share you with my new friends and they with you. They said they’d write stories too. They’ll help me if I get their stories wrong.  I’ll invite them now.

Out of Africa . . . uh. . .

In How we learn and think, I NEED THAT!, Wandering on March 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm

So, by now most of you know that I’m going to Rwanda for a facilitation workshop. But what you might not know is that the people who are attending are changing their world. With big open hearts. It’s already pretty humbling and I haven’t met them in person yet. But we know each other through an online course.

I’ve been in online courses before, but not with passionate facilitators. It changes my opinion on online courses. And maybe it’s another indication of how an experience changes when you have a highly engaged group.

So how do you engage people who aren’t already? How do you find and connect to personal passions?

Here’s my picture of highly engaged participation. No facilitator really needed.

I hope to post a bit while I’m there, but it will depend on whether I can split my focus, how hard it is to get online and whether I can get photos from my camera, through my little tablet (I should tell you about that!) and onto this blog.

My little tablet — A Coby Kyros. $150. Android operating system. Tim fixed it up so I can get apps from the Android Marketplace. He followed the detailed instructions for newbies that required his intimate knowledge of systems and programming languages. Brilliant!!! I recommend getting on if you need portable internet computing, but only if you talk to Tim. Otherwise, it’s a glorified gadget.

Visual Notetaking 102

In Visual Thinking on March 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Last night I drove to Austin for an evening workshop on Visual Notetaking 101. It was put on by VizThink Austin and was a nice event but I didn’t learn anything new. . I went because I needed a recharge from Visual thinkers. They were there — specifically Dave Gray and Sunni Brown, a pretty powerful duo. They talked to the newbies, as you would expect of a 101 class.  I think I was the wrong audience. But that said, there appeared to be about 30% of us who were wrong audience members, who said they already took visual notes. . . and published/shared their notes.

Like these.

It was too casual, without the Socratic depth that can make casual powerful. Somebody has to be willing to lead deep dives, either the class or the facilitator.

If I put my instructional design hat on (and you know I wear it a lot!), I think about how I might have structured things. Start with a story/drawing experience. They did. Pull out key points from that experience. They did but they didn’t extend those points or probe those points or the points didn’t provoke. Use the points in a new reference; replay the experience at a new level.

The classroom makes a powerful community but this one wasn’t. Was it too short a time period?.

Where is a learning experience for those of us who have started Visual Notetaking? Like a 102?

I’ve been doing it now for about three years. I draw notes for myself. I only record ideas that I myself find interesting. So, I’m not aiming to change careers to Graphic Recording. But I’d like to refine my skills in Graphic Recording to add a tool to instructional design. Where are the experts who can help me get from here to there?

For that matter, where does any mid-level practitioners of anything go, beyond self-study? Can we find a learning community between newbie enchantment and deep, serious expert conversations.  Beginners are welcomed into new learning communities; veterans explore new ideas with veterans, someone of their own skill level. It must be thought of like playing tennis with a good player versus a poor player.

Or, is it that the practice is so new that people haven’t figured out how or what to share/learn/teach?

In academia and in the art and craft world, there are 102 level classes. . . and classes where all levels explore NEW techniques, which leads to interesting multi-level discussions. But if you can’t afford a global or national conference, then what?

One thing for sure about last night’s class. . . They did deliver value for the very inexpensive cost. Lots o’ goodies.

But, there’s a place for a Visual Notetaking 102 curriculum. and 201. Maybe on some off time. . . Wanna play?

Global Citizens, lend me your ears!!!

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2011 at 11:30 pm

I had lunch with a friend today who asked me a great question. “Why do we call it Mexico City, when it’s Ciudad de Mexico? Why do we call Espana, Spain? Why do we translate the names of cities into our own language? It’s not that the names mean anything once they’re translated.”

Okay, it was actually several questions but he made one powerful point that I had never considered. I know about Middle East, Far East, Near East — all Western-centric references but I never questioned my centricity to place names.

I know that my Latin friends think I live in Estados Unid0s. What will happen to these references as we begin truly to think of ourselves as citizens of the world?

5th Grade

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Last night, Eric and I were making our dinner, in this case, Salad Nicoise. You know, with tuna and tiny potatoes and olives and lettuce and stuff, all tossed with a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. In passing, in some foolish reference to something, I said the words, “tuna pie.”

We both looked at each other and giggled like prurient 5th graders. How funny is that!!!

So, did you giggle too?