Shamanic Ashram, Comunidad Ecologica

ashram-llamaHaving been half abandoned for some obscure reason, the place is a kind of Lost meets Aztec level on shoot-em-up Timesplitters 2 meets the Secret Garden; full of hidden passageways, indigenous sculptures, a couple of bad-tempered parrots, a couple of llamas who give you this ‘one step closer and I’ll fucking hoof you’ look if you try and pet them, and an abandoned open-air gym (I discovered on my 5th day – now just a few pictures of beach-ready-bodies, a thatched roof and some weights lying around). Aside from the gym, the only fixture which doesn’t fit in to the authentically Bolivian auto construct, is a disco-ball in what I imagine was once a events-space, which I like to imagine was the idea of the mystical Columbian coordinator who also happens to be a Reggaeton aficionado.

When somebody is welcomed into the community we literally hold hands round a circle and sway and dance, an experience which, depending on your disposition, is bound to be either liberating, amusing or deeply uncomfortable. Of course you come in without being told about this, so you’re just left a bit speechless. I just love the idea that at some point some dude was just like ‘shall we just hold hands and dance round a candle?’ And everyone else thought it was a great idea. I thought, travelling with my long hair and guitar that I’d successfully reached the apogee of the hippy stereotype, but had clearly forgotten the further gradations, where trees talk and Merlin the Wizard is part of the factual history of England.

The place was founded two years before my birth by a Shaman named Chamalú, whose 60th book ‘Existential Intelligence’ I’ve been translating into English to earn my keep. On his website you can find pictures of him with Noam Chomsky and Deepak Chopra, and I struggle to figure out where he lies on the spectrum between the two. His book is somewhat despairingly critical of a ‘they’ who have hidden true education, the meaning of life and ‘the mission’ in a culture of consumption and meaningless, and is similarly contemptuous of full stops. It is nonetheless very poetically written and with a clear, coherent philosophy which revalues many important but neglected areas in education.

All of this creates very interesting terrain in this self-proclaimed school of life, which is seeking, as it’s next step, to gain autonomy from Bolivia. I find the encouragement to periodically re-evaluate life choices and social ‘truths’ – such as questioning the 9-5 work existence as the only viable one – very healthy, and I admire the capability of some of the residents to learn through intuition, sensibility and spirituality, and while I certainly value these extra-rational modes of learning, I worry that if I open my mind too much then my brain might fall out. I also wonder if the all-encompassing positivity and gardens of paradise create a sort of womb effect that makes it very difficult leave your comfort zone and explore the outer world where Bolivia lies.

However, I would be doing the place a massive injustice if I didn’t make clear that what has been achieved and maintained in the place is nothing short of inspirational – for a person to coordinate the construction of a 10-building, 5 hectare commune/complex and for it to be maintained for decades by volunteers to successfully preserve a pure internal gift economy, where people all over the world are exposed to a genuinely radical way of organising communal life. It’s always easy to criticize, but to actually produce the incarnation of an anti-capitalist alternative is an incredible feat that few manage to achieve. If you ever go to Bolivia, I’ll be more than happy to put you in contact 🙂

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8 Months in Buenos Aires

buenos-aires

Spent 2 weeks exploring the city with locals, Couchsurfers, looking for a place to live.

Went to a free rock recital, asked what a political debate was about and made contacts with Maru, a political activist and educator, moshed to Argentinian rock.

Found a place to live, cracked open a beer with my new landlord and my host Tomas, who forwarded me the deposit for the house after hosting me for a few days.

Anonymously bought cartoon-animal toilet paper for my new house to use.

Intensified my online search for work, started going to salsa and bachata classes on the regular.

Had many perplexing experiences of watching Argentinian independent cinema at 50p a pop.

Gave up on surpassing the bureacracy to teach in state schools and found work in a private institute.

Came back home after a night out with a Chilean woman, Dany, and kept her awake because I’d lost my keys and stayed talking until the sun came up and I could go home and bother my housemates to let me in.

Met a woman at a salsera who asked if I could give workshops at another school.

Started regularly eating £1 quarter pizzas from the capitals fast-food/stone-baked pizza.

Left for my first date with Dany and ended up sitting together soaking wet and content in a cafe after roaming the city.

Started working regularly and was told by a 7 year-old boy that ‘we robbed the Falkland islands from them’.

Time warped away weekends chatting breeze, sharing the shelter of my single bed and watching Game of Thrones with Dany. Went with her to Montevideo to renew my 90-day stay in Argentina.

Got invited by Maru to a educational group working with kids in a Villa Miseria, (an Argentinian favela): ‘With the Feet in the neighbourhood and the shouts in the sky (Con los Pies…)’.

Got school kids to take on the roles of Women, the Irish, the Government and the working class in a workshop on World War 1 and then, on the advice of a rapper I’d met busking in the subway, went to see ‘France’s Wu Tang Clan’.

Went to an arts event set-up by a woman from Con los Pies in a reclaimed detention centre where pregnant dissidents had had their children born and stolen before the mothers were murdered by the dictatorship.

Went to see my favourite Latin Rapper with Dany and my roommate Erwin and managed to navigate a deliberately poorly explained scheme to get unlimited beer for £3.

Took on a masters in Pedagogies for Equality at the Department of Filosofía y Letras.

Spent 2 weeks drowning in work and studies and accepted that that was probably a little ambitious.

Went to a hip-hop event in the suburbs (pictured) which was raising money for communal canteens in the area and was surprised to see the breakdancers and b-boys competing to old-school 80s hip-hop from the states.

Decided I should stop bragging to random Latin people about how little I feel the cold and just buy a coat for their mild winter.

Had my landlord turn up and share my room for a week as he was having marital problems – kicking my friend Erwin out with 3 days notice.

Had my rent raised by 60% and used my 2 weeks notice to find a new place.

Moved into a new apartment with a Chihuahua, a Chat on heat and a Chatterbox señora, Patricia.

Said goodbye to Dany, who was moving back to Chile before I returned from my two-week trip to Paraguay in Argentina’s winter holidays.

Put my hippy-travellers shirts on and played the social butterfly for 2 weeks.

Found out I’d lost a third of my paid-work.

Bought a guitar in Asuncion.

Returned to Buenos Aires.

Tried to fill my new found time and loneliness with guitar and Portuguese practice.

Gave a workshop on Hip-Hop and spoken-word poetry and was applauded by the kids after rapping Eminem’s Lose Yourself to emphasise how 182 of the 192 syllables in the first verse rhyme.

Was warmly welcomed by Patricia, her daughter Malena and friend Dominique into my new place.

Went to free government-funded group guitar lessons with Dominique and learned some Tango, Folklorica and Rock Nacional.

Was visited by my sister for a week and used the opportunity to finally go to nights I’d found at the start of the year. Realised how little I go out in the city. Had an amusing stoned conversation navigating between different frequencies of Spanish with Chloe, Erwin, Erwin’s friend and his girlfriend Carla.

Started teaching English to people round the world on skype.

Got fired from the institute I was working in in the city for poor-performance.

Decided to follow Dany to Chile.

Had my first birthday abroad and had a thoroughly mediocre time until Erwin and Carla came and bought me pizza (by far the highlight of the day).

Spent my final day and evening in Buenos Aires making pizza and empanadas and drinking and chatting with the people I had come to know in the capital over my time there.

Visited the monument at Rosario, drifting in and out of Acid Rap and the public music stages set up for the first day of spring.

Spent a confusing 5 days in an anarchist arts commune in Mendoza, making and sleeping in a den in the shed in the back garden to avoid the dogs in the house.

Crossed the Cordillera and arrived in Santiago, Chile.

Daily Mail Reader Urges Argentina Kissing Ban Amid Paedophilia Angst

Pope Francis kisses baby before weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican
Pope Francis kisses a baby as he arrives for his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters) (Nov. 27, 2013) See POPE-AUDIENCE Nov. 27, 2013.

A Daily Mail reader is pressing for reform of Argentinian cultural tradition, it has emerged.

Nick Miller, 23, recently started teaching English in the capital Buenos Aires, and was shocked to discover that the students greeted teachers with kisses.

‘It just strikes me as totally inappropriate that everyone kisses each other all the time regardless of gender, age and location’ the young Englishman said. Consequently, he has called on the Argentine government to prohibit this social practice.

He is sure that there must be a relationship between these practices and paedophilia in the country, though he has yet to find either research demonstrating this or anecdotal evidence suggesting it.

‘It just seems obvious, doesn’t it?’ the Brit speculated.

A Diplomat at the Argentine Embassy is reported to be as confused by the policy advice as the ex-pat is about why he left his country in the first place.

Nicky’s 1st Dream

JustinBieberProtest

“Don’t you realise that the 3D printer gets dismogriphied if you transfer analytics through it’s graphical representation system?”

I’m on the receiving end of some bosses bossiness, this much is obvious. Problem is I’m in some office and don’t know how to get out cause I don’t know how I got here. I make up something to do and the shouting stops, it seems me pretending puts an ending to the orders coming, so now I’m running around stacking papers, putting them in containers labelled in a language I don’t actually recognise.

So, feeling somewhat indisposed, I take a break to shop in Sainsbury’s for food and clothes, I haven’t eaten in a while and my socks are starting to reveal my toes, So I go looking for those sections with the fresh-baked loaves, When I see George Osbourne in Aisle 4, which surprises me because,

I always thought he would do his shopping at Waitrose.

And he catches my eye at this moment, which people always seem to do in dreams. And not another is lost before I find him in my face extolling the virtues of budgeting:

Sainsbury’s is a one-nation supermarket, there are the aspirational brands for those such as myself who can taste the difference. There are the middling products for everyday hard-working British people and there are… others for the erm- more basic sorts of people such as yourself, he says – scorning at the baked beans in my basket.

There is no difference of value between branded and unbranded products that you can taste! And what if you don’t have the money to afford a decent meal? I work hard for my living but after paying extortionate rent from private landlords and overpriced bills sometimes I have neither the time nor the money to prepare a proper, nutritious meal!

Well, as a party of minorities and working people, we’re looking to eliminate inequality. And we thought Monaco, with the lowest poverty rate in Europe must be a country to emulate, so we’ve decided to follow their lead in not taxing anyone.

What the fucking hell are you talking about?? I exclaim.

But at this moment my boss reappears: “I didn’t permit you a leave of absence, this isn’t legit use of your free break, do you think you can just take time off, without even having to sign off?”

And our chancellor Gideon I feared had heard, but I turned round, him not having jeered a word, but to my surprise, he’d disappeared in a cloud of lies.

So I follow my boss dejectedly back and when he looked expectantly I sat down, and look around until I find something I could feign attention to.

Then arrives Paris Hilton, I don’t know why it couldn’t have been Joni Mitchell or John Milton, I guess celebrity has replaced a paradise either lost or built on, so now we’re harassed, accosted by these children. Anyway, on this occasion I decide to embrace this interruption:

Hi, why are you here? What is it that you do by the way? I say, I expect or something to that effect, trying to deflect memories of her night in Paris which made me detect something of mine that was slowly becoming erect.

Well, I had songs produced, though I didn’t actually write a verse in, I’ve got my fashion products and I like acting but not working My shows are reality, so I don’t do any rehearsing.

I say, yes, but what’s the meaning of you as a person?

And I go back to ‘work’ and, She goes back to smirking that smug smile, And I go back to shirking my work and while, She saunters off, her chihuahua patting frantically beside, goggly eyed, As if an alligator follows behind and it’s about to be gobbled inside,And my boss ogles her behind, mouth open wide and says, “woah, I’d smash her back doors in”, and while the feminist in me tries to say something back, I can’t be bothered to defend that twat so I sat and pondered how or why human kind had bred her or that dog-like rat.

When at that moment, Rupert Murdoch emerges disguised as a human, but all I could see in his beady eyes was a greedy need for a a rise in the size of his media lies leading leaders to compromise for the sake of political ties with even the seediest reader who buys…

… the Sun.

And he complains of the campaign against page 3, I confess I’d never made it past page 1, which was offensive enough for an offensive to be waged on, so I pull out a spray gun, attempting to erase the face of this aged-one whenthe cheeks of this Murdoch sag down like Dali’s clock, envoloping his weak knees until his whole body was a ball of wrinkles,

and he blew away in the breeze.

And all that is left was a colourful mess of a sprayed-on smiley face with a sideways ‘S’ – An indication of the confusion I’m feeling I guess.

My boss then again arrives, invented some contrived connection between the painted wall and how the company he directs actually owns it all and he demands I paid the ‘damage’ done. So I hand him a cheque with my day’s pay won, and the cheque and the graffiti vanish, leaving just my unhapiness and anguish.

That, and a mirror.

So I look in the mirror and the reflection stares back at me, when Gideon joins us so now we are three. Suddenly Paris stands before us, and now we are four. My boss joins beside her and we’ve become more, and now nobody knows who is who anymore. Then the window morphs opaque and into a door, so I turn the handle and open it to explore what lays beyond.

Fast Food and Street Vendors

Nahuel (2)On my first bus journey after arriving in the airport near Buenos Aires, a man got on and made a speech about the state of his life, after which the woman next to me told me to ignore him, that these Bolivians and Peruvians are always asking for handouts because they don’t want to get a proper job. This was all pretty awkward because the sisters immediately behind us, who I was chatting to before her and who had generously paid for my fair because I didn’t have a card that you need, had just returned from visiting their family in Peru. These two conversations also set a tone for my experience here: kindness and open prejudice. Naturally, coming from the UK where we generally keep all of our prejudices to ourselves, it took a bit of getting used to.

Since then, it’s been uncommon to find someone outright begging for money. Many in the capital are creative or entrepreneurial – or at least try to be. Sometimes this leads to somebody impressively honing a talent like juggling with the aid of the subway ceiling, and sometimes it manifests as the mixture of necessity with a complete lack of business acumen that makes a vendor’s sole product of choice a set of garish princess stickers. At any rate, it muddies the waters so that you can be charitable without it feeling like a handout to both parties.

One kid – perhaps disingenuously – described it as a hobby, though in all fairness he did have the kind of upbeat disposition to convince me. During our encounter, I helped him develop the language skills he needs to try to sell English speakers malfunctioning pens that they almost certainly wouldn’t want (in his case, the direct translation into English of the phrase he was trying to learn: ‘Hi, can I bother you please?’ would actually be a pretty accurate description of the situation, though probably not exactly what he was hoping to communicate).

On one of my less functional days, I got the wrong bus and so was late meeting up with people at a bar, and then lost my number so couldn’t top-up my phone. As a result I was brought by necessity to the nearest McDonalds, with which my relationship is maybe analogous to how a woman might feel about the creepy guy at the bar: you’re welcome to offer me a free drink (or in my case, free Wi-Fi), but me accepting it puts me under no obligation to allow your meat anywhere near me. Anyway, it was here that I had a touching encounter (fortunately not in the sense I might’ve used the phrase in the previous sentence) with a homeless guy who was quietly and respectfully passing his story around for people to read, which went like this:

‘Men and women: we are two brothers from the street Nahuel and Jesus, we pass you to tell a bit of our story, I want to tell my my experience and that my word matters. We go hungry and cold, we feel alone in this world looking to the sky, we come from a life with suffering, we have not had a good life but our heart is like a rock, I don’t want you to praise me, I want you to listen to me. When we come to ask for something to eat they always say that there is nothing, but they throw everything in the bin. But our feelings do not buy money, I am a dreamer and these drawings [above in the picture] are our dreams. I ask you if you can help me with something to survive in this world, that our guardian angel accompanies us. The paths of life are not what I used to believe, not what I used to hope, no what I used to imagine. I thought life was different, when I was young I thought things were easy.’

Having been quite moved by the message, I went and sat with Nahuel, bought some spaghetti and invited him to come and have a meal with me when I had a place of my own, in the hope that both of us could make much needed friends in the city. He seemed very grateful for the offer and as a result started offering me free herbs and spices with my purchase. Still at a loss for a number between us, we tried to arrange a time to meet again in McDonalds the next day.

I don’t know whether we somehow miscommunicated or whether, like the guy I once offered to buy food who asked me for dairly lea dunkers and a pineapple, there’s a reason why he’s homeless. By this I don’t mean that he deserves to be homeless – everyone should have a right to shelter – just that I can imagine that the kind of person who considers a whole pineapple and dairy lea dunkers to be a reasonable request could also be somebody who struggles to make rent payments on time. In Spanish they don’t have a word to distinguish between trustworthy and reliable, which is a shame because Nahuel struck me as about the perfect embodiment of somebody who is trustworthy but in no way reliable. However, whatever the reason may be, one of the sad consequences is that I will now forever be a person who got stood up in McDonalds.

Ode to Oxford

Oxford

I want to take you back.

Back to the days when finding any common ground wasn’t just a way to break tensions down but the entire reason friendships were found.

An excuse to go round, play computer games at another child’s house.

Back to Christmas eve football on the astroturf, with everyone playing,
To the righteous indignation we felt at getting kicked off… for not paying,

To evening words traded on msn messenger,
To mixing liquor raided to make nights messier,

To reminiscing on the older times,
To running from police for petty crimes,
To battling for hearts and mines-
weeper victories on Windows ’95s.

To the helicopter game and football tennis,
To Slime soccer, paper planes and tetris,

To pushing boundaries and discovering little sins,
To brutal murders on GTA and Sims.

To breaking rules, chasing fights and skiving school,
To late night swimming at Hinksey pool,

To the days getting shorter and to long dark nights,
To crisp-selling, diss-telling and 3 o’clock South Park fights.

To abusing those poor supply teachers,
To using Bebo’s ‘top-friends’ features,

To tutor time and Bernard’s watch,
To 3 victories under the countdown clock,

To getting fed Diane’s bread, to playing with playmobile and lego,
To Mr. Freeze, GAP hoodies and 10p freddos,

To when new music meant Avril Lavigne,
To parties over before midnight for under-18s,

To end of year songs and end of school Proms,
To when we were either townies or skate-bums,

To the sense of superiority over younger years we were adamant was fair,
And the resentment felt to elders for that arrogance of theirs.

To that short phaze of summer,
With more ways for fun and
Caught rays of sun and
Sports days and runners
and we thought the age,

wouldn’t end.

cause we were younger.

And returning to the cycle of school in September seemed like forever, cause it was all we ever knew.

So I endevour to dedicate this to all the ones who made this poem here in front of you now,
While I might start to feel like I’m grown-up bound,
That boy’s still a part of me, and I still carry him around.

So this one’s to those who made him, started him on his track,
I’m only looking forward now because you’ve always had my back.

Now I know a lot can happen in short while, an impact of shock, caught smiles, the opening of a lock, the conception of a child.
And a long journey has a lot of these moments compiled, and I won’t be free to see yours, nor you to see mine when we go down different passages in time,

And I need to say in advance because you never know if you’ll never get another chance,

I love you.

And I value you as much as I’ve felt you’ve cared, and happiness is only real when shared.

So let us treasure the time we have and find with it the worth that we can,
Remember that real diamonds are held in the hands of clocks and not the hands of man.

Though it may have come time for me to depart,
My destination a distant nation from this one far apart,
This city and it’s people will stay forever in my heart.

Strongarmed by the Establishment – an insight into the world of teaching

Gove

‘Not so much teaching as lion taming’ was the teacher’s description after an English lesson, my first ever at this particular Academy. At one point in the lesson, while the teacher was out talking to one of the students, another went up to the back of the shy kid in front of him and gyrated against the back of his head.

It’s never been easy at the school. Working in the 1% most impoverished area of the country, the balancing act between managing behaviour, breaking down English for the 40% of the school for whom the language is not their first, and preparing children for their GCSEs is a very hard path to tread. There are still numerous teachers at the school who gave me a fantastic example of how to inspire children at the school, though it appears to me that this number is dwindling with the high staff turnover.

A month after working at the school one student shows me a video of Dale ‘Deezy’, a rapper from East Manchester, who is highly regarded and respected by many of the students. It’s not hard to see why. Deezy, through his talent as a rapper and singer, did a much better job of speaking to these young people in words they understand than many of the teachers, before he was sadly murdered on the street where the student I was talking to lives. Dale’s brother left the school last year. We seem to forget these realities of children’s lives when we talk numbers.

A number of teachers have audibly expressed their relief when I come in to support them in lessons. I’ve heard many teachers complain about the lack of support they receive, which is hardly surprising when you see the attitude of the leadership team. The only time I see the head teacher in the first month of working at the school is the odd occasion he opens the classroom door to scowl at the lesson for a few seconds before leaving, not having said a word. Maybe this is how he aims to ‘create and support an outstanding cohort of staff’ [modified from something equally vacuous so it doesn’t appear on a google search], according to the Academy’s values and ethos on their website.

As far as I can tell, this reflects what he perceives his job to be: to control people, not to educate students or support staff in their teaching. Supposedly he’s there to improve efficiency and accountability, though when I ask weeks before the half-term and Easter breaks if I will have a job after them, I have to return to school afterwards to find out, working up to a week before it’s confirmed that I will have a pay check coming in for the work I’m doing.

He’s not in charge, however. The Academy is part of an educational Trust, whose CEO took over the school after her success as head of a suburban Grammar School. Since taking control of the school in August 2012, her salary rose from £120,000 to £230,000 last year, and this doesn’t even account for pay for her work as a consultant to the Centre of Social Justice or on the board of Ofqual.

I talked to one member of staff who has taken a cut of thousands of pounds in their salary and is having to take up a second job to support their family, who they now barely see. Like many others they were told that, despite their good work, there simply aren’t enough funds to pay for their full salary any more.

So how are executive salaries continuing to rise when staff everywhere are getting pay cuts? After all the accounting officer has ensured that ‘the academy trust delivers good value in the use of public resources’. Oh, wait. . . the CEO is the accounting officer who allocates (her own) pay. No conflict of interest here, I’m sure. No doubt her £230,000 salary simply reflects the value of the work she does, and that average rank and file salaries represent an overvaluation of the work they’re doing. She must be hard at work behind the scenes; in my 4 months at the school I’ve never seen her.

Aside from the moral question of whether it’s acceptable for somebody to receive a damehood (as the CEO has) when they’re syphoning off this much money from their schools’ budgets, this reward is clearly not based on merit. Until the most recent inspections the school was rated satisfactory. Despite the act put on for OFSTED this year, the school has been put under special measures and rated as failing in almost every category. Apparently what works for teaching grammar school girls in the suburbs doesn’t also work for students in the most deprived inner-city areas. Who’d have thought?

I applied for a full-time position for the following year building strategies for intervention with EAL and behaviour, and was instead told that my flexible contract had been terminated with a day of notice. When I went to the head to ask why he had cancelled my work he said he didn’t need to explain it to me and that I would have to arrange a meeting with his PA. He then called the agency I work through to complain about me. A version of this article was then leaked to the head and it was made clear to me that if I published it I would no longer be able to work for my teaching agency and that ‘my reputation would be tarnished’.

So what should be done? There’s certainly no simple solution, but from my perspective a step in the right direction would involve replacing the dictatorial hierarchy of management with a more cooperative system of governance, where passionate teachers are encouraged to take initiative and are supported; where children are listened to and teachers and governors strive to understand their lives and their backgrounds. Or, you know, we could continue to replace teachers who care with staff who will do what they’re told.