Best Journey Ever! Part 1
I fly to Conakry, Guinea, west coast Africa this morning. 33 hrs. of flights & layovers. Meet my teacher Aboubacar Sylla's family, get schooled hard by 4 hrs./day of drum & dance classes, excursions into "the bush", tropical coast, try to pick up some French & Susu. Following my legacy of shamelessly getting my butt kicked by real musicians in unprepared-for situations where I'm totally outclassed. Learning trial by fire style. So stoked!
This is an amazing opportunity that I could not turn away from, and it would not have been possible without the support of SO many beloved souls. Abou & Lisa, UT, the College of Liberal Arts, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies (LLILAS), the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (special shoutout to Liz and Christine in Advising), Allan Crandell, Joyce Pfennig, Emma Ratajczak, Nancy James, Julie Pfennig LaFon, Colton LaFon, Dani Crandell, too many fam to name... Please share the love in your respective clans and territories.
This is an independent non-credit study, but was made possible in part by a Foreign Language Area Studies fellowship from LLILAS & a Stacie Maureen Sowell scholarship in Spanish. Dr. Almeida Jacqueline Toribio, Dr. Niyi Afolabi, Dr. Henry Dietz, Dr. Orlando Kelm, Dr. Cristina Cabello C de Martínez, Dr. Darien Lamen, Dr. Jossiana Arroyo-Martínez, Dr. Belinda Mora García, Dr. Emilia Arce, Dr. Merry Wheaton. I genuinely appreciate the educators who supported and encouraged me, all the letters of rec, sharing your wisdom in the classroom & in office hrs... I'm writing you recommendations & speaking your praise because I am grateful for the positive impact you have on the lives of others. Teachers, parents, caregivers, healers, mentors, true friends- I am surrounded by you everywhere and feel an obligation to pass on your brilliance.
I believe that this program is valuable not only musically, but academically and professionally, to me, and to society as good faith intercultural collaboration & exchange. I'm going to photograph & video everything I can, faithfully study & participate, & learn a lot more than music & grammar in a "developing" or "underdeveloped" nation on the restricted list for UT study abroad. Awareness, communication, education, empowerment, these are the tools I am trying to cultivate in myself and learn how to share with others.
Tracing the roots back to Mother Africa. Music and massage have been present in every human culture in history. And they actually predate humans because many animals do both. Performance and practice hone the intellect,the senses, motor coordination, creativity, emotional expression, confidence, public identity, purpose, direction, focus, discipline, & commitment, & develop a sense of community honor & civic responsibility. Music is one of the activities that activates the most of the brain simultaneously.
It is applied effectively in healing, education and social movements. Organizations have developed out of individuals in the slums, without education, money, employment, resources, opportunities, or rights... and have transformed into multinational partnerships between lucrative commercial performance art and nonprofit community organizations. They are giving success to talented & marginalized youth & communities while building inner-city schools & reducing violence, drug use, crime, illiteracy, disease, poverty and inequality.
Even much of the Latin American music I perform was passed down by descendants of slaves from West Africa. I'm paying my respects to the homeland by accepting an invitation to visit & hopefully offer something of value in return beyond my payment. I'm also going to see the real world, because large-scale poverty, war, untreatable disease, these things don't exist to me except in movies, books and stories.
Guinea: 178th poorest nation out of 187, according to the UN. Africa is still rich in resources. So why so impoverished? The international slave trade was abolished, right? These nations are "independent"? I just heard the current human trafficking industry is well past the numbers in the colonial slave trade. The USA has the highest inequality index of any developed nation, based on a system that relies on poorer conditions for trade and working classes in the other countries that supply labor and goods. So the middle class is shrinking here and poverty is growing, and our partners have it even worse off. Hmmm...
Cool, human race, we've successfully proven we can conquer, dominate, massacre, exploit, and monopolize wealth. Good game. What about the challenge of providing sustainable consumption that benefits everyone? Worth a shot? World peace? You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...
I wasn't born in Africa, & I don't claim to be saving the world. Just another ignorant consumer who likes to learn. I just think maybe some of us, particularly perhaps privileged/white/male/Americans/2% of the world with a college education, might be thinking about ways we can learn from and value and give back to those who have given us so many gifts of abundance. It's not a guilt thing, it's not a blame thing, it's not a pity or charity case. It's a gesture of good faith and solidarity. We're all in this world together, so we might as well enjoy it and be good to one another.
I'm using my degrees in foreign language study and my Bridging Disciplines Program in Social Entrepreneurship and Nonprofits to continue to work with organizations that are contributing positively and productively to communities and society. I will always be called to my lifelong disciplines of music and hands-on healing, and so these must be some of the tools of my practice. Judging by the incredibly rewarding relationships I'm building with teachers, colleagues, and communities locally and internationally, I think the signs are promising. Whatever happens, I'll have some fun & help some people however I can. Next stop: West Coast Africa.
No Facebook or telephone or internet for me for the next 3 wks. Not to worry, I've got all my vaccinations, trip insurance & all my supplies. My teacher is from there, homes & meals provided by his family, we will have cheapo local cell phones, & his wife is here in Austin with all of our info.
Happy holidays to everyone, and I'll see you all next year! Probably post like thousands of photos upon my return. I love and appreciate you all, & I know that you wouldn't put up with this Punk Ass Bitch if you didn't share that love and respect. Thanks and praises, and super extra Namaste, Y'all,