Thursday, January 30, 2020

Peace of mind....

“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.”

What is education for if it is not for peace (of mind)? 

I had noted down the meeting "P4P (Peace for People - Nepal) Teacher Hub" for Friday 30th January 2020 at 9:00 French time in my diary (15:45 in Nepal).  

There were a number of people, among them, a couple of Nepalese teachers, who had joined a Facebook Messenger chat at the invitation of my friend Santosh Bidari, activist, for Peace for People Nepal.  

“The fact that educators can now reach out to thousands also means that they need to slow down, to invite participants from different contexts for genuine participation, to listen and learn from others, to enrich their own understanding.” (Bali, Sharma, 2014)

We had talked together over the months, over the years about how to go about bringing change to our respective educational contexts.

Both of us have been working  for over ten years with a guiding question:

"What can I, as an individual, do to work towards enabling a meaningful (life) education for myself and those around me?"

What is education for if it is not for peace (of mind)?

We have both been faced by obstacles, some insurmountable, set-backs more or less easy to laugh about.

I live in the Auvergne, a land of Volcanoes, which for the foreseeable future are at peace.

They indicate on building permits over here, perhaps laughably, that we live in a zone of seismic activity...

Santosh lives in Dhading Nepal, a zone of seismic activity, and  experienced a catastrophic earthquake in 2015 measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale.

Learning about Santosh's work and speaking with him, his friends and colleagues, teachers and kids, I feel a mixture of emotions: awe, privilege, inspiration, happiness.

[When I read the experiences of others who have met him, I am not alone in feeling those emotions.
Here's Kristine Tauch speaking of Santosh: The Change can start with me - Hero of the educational system]

While we have had very different life experiences, while we may come from very different cultural backgrounds, while we many have very different levels of practical difficulties to overcome in our everyday lives, while we may have very different levels of freedom of movement around this OUR world, we have so much to learn from each other, and so many stories in common.

We have shared our stories of being brought up in religious family backgrounds, of the difficulties of  seeing the world differently and choosing different paths to those of our parents.  The dulling experience of many of the years we spent in school, the brutal, physical and verbal violence of teachers who left indelible marks on our bodies and our self-esteem. The inadaptation of an educational system which is reduced to the following of text books, copying from the board, bored to our cores, our core being stress-tested constantly for no other reason than that is what counts to those who count, to those who count.

We have been brought closer thanks to my ex-student, colleague, friend Terry Guirado who went to Nepal to work with Santosh and his association, living with his family, working, playing, laughing with the kids at the schools.

On his return, I remember having lunch with a Terry transformed,  but at the same time disorientated.

How could he now find peace of mind back in France?

He was in a state of culture shock.

Santosh, told me a story this morning of Terry's disorientation when faced with the reality of reliably unreliable electricity supply, lack of running water, the dawn rise rythms of the household, the time taken to get the water, to make the meal, to do the washing, to get to the next village, to reach the next town.

And I am suddenly thinking back to 1970's oil crisis, British power cuts, candles and our childlike excitement from being freed from the boredom of evening classes at boarding school.

God, I had forgotten how much power-cuts were a god-send.



And I am now thinking of how Terry is different now.

He was always different but now working on his thesis, his way of being, his peace of mind shines out like a beacon.

He appears relatively serene when faced with the pressures of his academic environment.

He has asked himself that question that we now share:

"What can I, as an individual, do to work towards enabling a meaningful (life) education for myself and those around me?"

One of his answers was to set up an association in France, a branch of Peace for People:

Peace for People France

Another of his answers was to come and share his experiences with perhaps 200 French students (modest estimate).

He has just messaged me with news of an event organised to collect funds for 8 students going to Nepal in March to walk and work with Peace for People and the kids that they help.

The event had attracted over 200 students who would run for kids in Nepal.

The excitement in his voice in the audio message left on Facebook Messenger speaks volumes.

Finding a common pupose, feeling togetherness, sharing effort, dreaming aloud, moves mountains.

No doubt he will share stories from the event on his website and we will find time to share this day's work.

Not that long ago, Terry was selling doughnuts and chocolates, to be able to go and help kids in Nepal.

Not that long ago, not one student that I spoke with of Peace for People had plucked up the courage to pack their bags and get to Nepal.

Now there's two hundred kids running around an athletics track for a small association in Dhading.

I feel mixed emotions: awe, privilege, inspiration, happiness.

The impact of  Terry's story, Santosh's story, the stories of these, our weirdly connected learning communities is such that we are working together on a research project and a joint conference submission.

How can people from the "Global North" and the "Global South" work together to enable meaningful lives and educations for themselves and those around them?

How can we work towards peace of mind, peace and protection for this fragile world which we call home?

How can we work together with the ethically and ecologically dirty technological means at hand, the data limits, the battery limits, the linguistic limits, to learn what really counts?

We are there together with Santosh, and Ram myself, and his family.

We manage communicating in English, not just a means of dominion but a means of communion.

I remember reading a Paul Prinsloo share:
Africa's colonisation of the English language continues apace.

And I realise that I am already learning a new version of English, a Nepalese version,  which includes "Namaste" "Sir" and "Miss" - yet another English to go with the Englishes that I am already more fluent in.

So here I am, sitting on a bench, choosing to write before I can eat to have some sort of peace of mind and I have 10 minutes before I meet with another close distant friend and colleague.

And we share that question:

"What can I, as an individual, do to work towards enabling a meaningful (life) education for myself and those around me?"

Because what else is there to do?

So there we are, Santosh and Simon and then Ram and his son and family meeting somewhere between life and death and IPs on a net, and others elsewhere asking ourselves the question:

"What can I do to work towards a meaningful education (life) for myself, my family and people around me?"

"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." 
John Dewey.

I suggested using Zoom so that we could record the meeting.  

We managed a session of 40 minutes before we had to retreat to Facebook Messenger.

And then the data plan ran out.

A few hours later, Aasha, another Nepalese teacher in this nascent "Teacher's hub", who couldn't make the meeting was able to witness our joy.

"You had such a good time with them@Simon sir. I enjoy watching this."

And I say to myself that that moment of dialogue was a moment of  life well spent.

And I say to myself that I can be of use to others when I feel useless, that I can learn with others when I feel ignorant, that I can be present for others when I am absent.

And I say to myself that now I feel, for an instant at least, some peace of mind...

Friday, January 17, 2020

Hit Pause.

I should be doing other things.

I could have been escaping into watercolor, charcoal, graphite... ether.

I had been away so long from writing here that I was hit by the mass invasion of spam comments, overwhelmed by the fake audience stats.

I looked at the puny world map, and noted an extraordinary number of Russian page visits...

Russian bots, I muttered to myself.

There had been a time when I would blog daily, the words would flow easily, the eagerness to hit "publish" gave me an absurd rush of adrenaline...for what?

This was Touches of Sense...

So, I had no regrets.

I have few regrets.

They have my numbers, they have my profile, they have trawled my soul.

I remember notes on a student's oral presentation "excellent with limited means".

Then, I had nothing more to add.

I had hit PAUSE.

So here I find myself, relatively privileged, with two passports, a steady, relatively satisfying job, with connections to people around the world with whom I have found my voice, learnt, learnt my value, studied, grown, written poetry and found cheer.

What was that Bahktin quote that Maha and Shyam shared?

“I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another… I cannot manage without another, I cannot become myself without another” 

Illusions of freedom.

The other day, I found myself saying to a student of Congolese origins:

"this classroom is a battlefield, we are fighting for our freedom, we are living in a war-zone."

That warzone for some of us is the size of a puny World map on a screen, on a wall, in our puny minds, with areas colored to indicate borders, territories countries and empires.

For others it is the dismembered bodies of their children become collateral damage of a drone attack.
For others it is their  burnt out worker-spouse hanging from a beam.

There are those who know nothing of and care nothing for our lives.

Disillusions of freedom.

There we were talking about our experiences, smartphones at hand.

"Is your phone tainted by the misery of 35,000 children in Congo's mines?"

The other day, I found myself remembering out loud to students a childhood memory of a comic story from the late nineteen sixties.  It was a story of an alien society where the young generation were addicted to little boxes which took them away from the reality of their world and once inside their little boxes they were lost for all.

I have so many real connections to disembodied, screen-captured people, that it is only now occuring to me that there is a fine line between enabling access and maintaining distance.

It's the hygiaphone separating the prisoner from the prisoner's visitor.

The prisoner has metal chains, the prisoner's visitor has emotional long as they last.

I find myself at a loss for words, sinking into the masonry of a wall or drawing a pile of skulls.

I have written in the past of how we have been occupied, of how I had and have been occupied, (collected here in A Military Education  or Empire  or Obstacles) of how I was brought up to wave flags for the monarch's jubilee, cheer for the three lions, the red rose, and feel proud to sing as one man "Land of hope and glory."

Last Night of the BBC Proms 2012. Elgar's famous 'tune that comes once in a lifetime' offers the opportunity for choirs and audience to take part in his Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in D major with A C Benson's words, 'Land of Hope and Glory'. BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Land of Hope and Glory

Mother of the Free

How shall we extol thee

Who are born of thee?
Wider still, and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;

God, who made thee mighty

Make thee mightier yet!

Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned

God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov'ran brows, beloved, renowned
Once more thy crown is set
Thine equal laws, by Freedom gained
Have ruled thee well and long;
By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained
Thine Empire shall be strong

Thy fame is ancient as the days

As Ocean large and wide:
A pride that dares, and heeds not praise
A stern and silent pride
Not that false joy that dreams content
With what our sires have won;
The blood a hero sire hath spent
Still nerves a hero son

Do they still sing those old hymns in churches and school chapels around the land or have they been quietly put aside?

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountain green?

And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Onward and onward, christian soldiers.

Now things are not so white and black, nor grey, they are become red in tooth and claw.

As they always really were.

The survivors of past World Wars knew the horrific trurth.

Now distance, context and monolithic histories are collapsing, stories of heroism become stories of hedonism and holocaust perpetuated on those we were fighting to save, or for Christ's sake, to anihilate.

No wonder they are putting up the firewalls to keep the people sweet.

And so on and on it goes, the (their) war for freedom....

 And those who hide behind masks....

And those who hide behind the boots of the brutes....

And those who watch the parades of the waving masses.

And I say that we are at war and  my family and friends are at war.  

We are caught up in their bloody eternal world war.

And they don't want you to know too much.

Telegraph's Middle East correspondent says Russia tried to 'discredit' her reports on Syria

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like it in terms of the two different narratives that have been going on in Syria.“I get called a regime change journalist all the time. I don’t support either side but you get accused of supporting the rebels because you report on the [Syrian] government’s atrocities.”
And it is becoming clearer and clearer.
Nobody in my family was ever really fighting for a Land of Hope of Glory. 
It was a land of Satanic Mills and bellowing chimneys, bellowing chimneys.
And grimy mill owners...hungry for another bloody war.

Brexit will have soon cost the UK more than all its payments to the EU over the past 47 years put together

Satanic Mill-owners are dancing, Nero-like while our world burns.

They were always at war with the nature of others and now the others is us all.

For if truth be known, the war was in their puny heads all along.