Get me outta here!

Friday, 9 September 2016

A Journey Violently Cut Short by Owen

It is 7:00 am in the morning. My friends and I are prepared to journey to a village called Kakamega. Kakamega is a beautiful village located in western Kenya. In its intestine, is a beautiful momentous spot. What makes the spot historic is the presence of a tall, gargantuan, crying stone. The stone has a head. It also has a shoulder. But it has no neck. It’s crippled. It also has no hands and legs. Perhaps that’s why it cries the whole day long. It has experienced eternal devastation. It was there during the eon when our ancestors were colonized. It was there when our country was headed to the dogs during the bloody post elections violence a few years ago. And that’s why my friends and I decided to go and commune with it. We had decided that we shall name the stone “Cinderella”.
We wanted to wipe her tears and tell her that everything will one day be fine, that we love her with all her disabilities. We wanted her to know that even though her face has old-age wrinkles and her cheeks have shriveled into her cheek bones, she is still as beautiful as a blooming rose flower.
As our journey to Kakamega begins, we carry our tents and foodstuff and the driver of the car we hired comes up with a cool suggestion.
“Guys," he proclaims, "for us to get to have something to remember about our trip to Kakamega, we should pass through Pokot. ”
“Cool," I reply, "what do you love about Pokot?”
“The history…. “
“What about the history?”
“There‘s a certain remand where the first president of our nation was apprehended for a couple of months. See, all the toiletries that he used at the time are still there. Even the last underwear he wore before the day of his release is still there. The last time I saw it, there were residues of some three pubic hairs left. I counted them. Don’t you guys want to see a president’s pubic hair? Come on!”
“Of course we do! What are we waiting for?”
It is 8:00 am. Our journey to Kakamega via Pokot begins. The road has a little bit of mist and fog. We get to a certain zebra crossing. There’s a batty woman who’s urinating on our traffic lane. So we are forced to stop our car until she’s done. No one is really eager to watch her urinate. At this point our minds are thinking of the late president's pubic hair, and Cinderella, the Kakamega crying stone.
After three long hours we arrive at the grasses of Pokot, we are tired. Blood has clotted in my buttocks. There’s a raucous stillness in Pokot. The type of stillness that gives the ticking of a clock a shrill tock at the dead of the night. All shops have been shut. We slow down our car. Peeping through my half closed window, I see a school that looks uninhabited. In front of the school's closed gates is a lonely notebook whose fatigued pages keep on being flipped by the whistling currents of air. 

And then, without warning, three gunshots pound on the silence that was there, followed by a woman’s painful scream that pierced our ears.
We are all bewildered. We are unacquainted of what to do. We are incapable of knowing whether the scream and the gunshot we heard came from where we came from, or where we should go.
What’s worse?
We are out of gas.
Our car stops a few steps from a grass thatched hut. We hear a cat meowing. A dog then barks three times. We panic even more. The driver trembles, tears balance in my eyes, my two friends at the backseat breathe like a crowd of women who are about to go into labor. Out of the blue, I feel like I am having a heart attack. A stream of sweat begins to drool profusely from the narrow openings of my arm pits. My heart punches my chest harder, I'm trying to get over the echoes of the gunshots that keep echoing in my ears but I can't. I can't because our vehicle has broken down and I can see droplets of blood and a chopped off hand. 

I then feel nauseated. My taste glands produce sour saliva. and at this point, I feel like I am going to pass out. Everyone in the broken down car was holding their hearts in their hands... I could tell it from the tears that balanced in their eyes. 
The driver then notices that the narrow path that leads to the grass thatched hut has trails of blood. At this point, I feel like peeing. My bladder is full of the coffee I took before we left. But I’m unable to get out of the car. We hear another gunshot in the air. Now I can feel some droplets of urine salivating to come out of my bladder.
As my pants become wet, a man appears from the grass thatched house. He has stains of blood in his hands and shirt. He looks like he has come from killing somebody, and in fact, he does not mind killing another one. He is in custody of a double edged machete. He wore a bag of arrows and held a big bow firmly in his hands. All signs indicate that he is coming towards our direction. From a distance, we could see a young boy calling, shouting. The bloodied man came towards our direction with the evil determination of a rapist on his face and because we were strangers in the village of Pokot, where two clans were fighting. we did not know where to run. We froze to immobility. I knew it was the end of us. I knew it. 
The last thing I remember before losing my consciousness, was a loud scream from my friend at the back seat and the panic of our driver when he desperately tried to restart the car. And then I was gone into nothingness.
There was a smile on everyone’s face when I opened my eyes at the hospital bed where I had been laid for two days. I was surrounded by nurses, my mother and the people we were with me when our car broke down in the village of Pokot. Standing with a calabash of hot peppered soup was the man we saw with blood stains on his hands and torn shirt. He hid us in his hut after I lost my consciousness during my first ever panic attack. We had the assumption that he was coming from killing somebody but that was not the case. He had just slaughtered his goat when his son told him about our broken down car in a war zone area. He narrated the story of our time in Pokot. The inter-clan war that was there, the violence we had seen evidence of was the midnight burglary of livestock - a violence becoming more and more common with the elections upon us. 

Our driver and my two friends said that, when I fully pull through, we shall plan another journey to Kakamega. And that once we arrive, we shall tell Cinderella, the crying stone, of the spiteful voyage we navigated through just to wipe the tears that that have been oozing from her eyes perpetually. And I will tell her of my own tears.


Monday, 20 June 2016

No Freedom Rings by Jeremy D. Elliott

When I decided to move to Chicago, a close friend of mine said to me, “there is so much violence there, the black men rape women on the street at gunpoint.”  I couldn’t find the words to remind him that I had been raped twice, in Arizona, by white men without guns.  He said to me, “at least in Arizona, those black men would have been shot, by a man who carried a gun.”  The men who raped me were never hurt, and were never brought to trial.  No armed civilian conveniently appeared to save my innocence.  Had I been armed, I would not have had the foresight to assume that I would have use for my weapon.  Just as they were then, my assailants continue to walk freely among men and women that they may harm.  There was nothing I could do.  There remains no recourse.
Last Saturday night 50 men and women were murdered by a man with a gun; not simply a gun, but an assault rifle designed for use by the military in times of war.  No war was declared, no terms of surrender offered.  Just an army of one, on an incursion of hate against innocent civilians, against a people who were gathered to celebrate a people’s ability to thrive despite hate.  No courageous civilian rose up to defend the innocents here either.  What kind of person brings a loaded weapon into a busy nightclub, anyway?  I don’t need to tell you, because we have all seen his face plastered across our televisions, computer screens, and newspapers, and I think it is well known that he wasn’t defending anyone.
A man can carry a gun, and a man can kill with a single twitch of a finger, but a man is still fallible, and a man can make the wrong choice.  I was raped twice, by a man; not a man with a gun, but a man with fear and anger.  Had either of those men had a gun, I would not be alive today.  I have never felt so lost, isolated and imperiled as I did while bearing the burden of those two men’s fear and hate.  Rape is a terrible thing.  Murder is a terrible thing.  It is disgusting to know that there are individuals in the world who would have you believe that these acts were warranted by God.  It is nearly impossible to find the courage to stand up and face another day, when these are the words we receive instead of comfort and consolation.

When I think of the tragedy in Orlando, I am reminded that we hang in such a delicate balance.  As minorities of any type, we must continue to show that we will not be victims of terror.  Women, Gays, Lesbians, Transgender, Asians, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, and every other underrepresented group of American Citizens must continue to make our voices heard.  But we will be raped, and we will be hurt, and we will be killed, because there will always be someone who believes that they have a God-given right to hand-out sentences for uncommitted crimes.
The crimes against one community are not more heinous than the atrocities delivered upon any other.  A crime is a crime, and if you do not stand opposed to a crime against a human being, you stand against your civil rights:  you stand against humanity, and you stand against yourself!  Instead, stand together with your brothers and sisters in this time of morning and fear.  Celebrate the lives of those who are dear to you, and reach out to those you may not have taken the time to know or understand.
For those who have lost their lives, there remains no further recourse; it may feel as though there is nothing to be done, but we can honor their memory by taking strides to stop these heartbreaking events from continuing to take place.  I live every day, wishing that I did not endure the pain that has been inflicted on me, but I know that it pales in comparison to what befell the men and women who lost their lives to the heinous act in Orlando.  

I struggle against the urge to remain locked in my apartment, because I was once told that America is the “land of the free.” Where "freedom rings."

Monday, 25 April 2016

An Open Letter From A Conservative American by Donald John Salmon II

Oh Hello there! Nice to meet ya! I’m Don, and I’m a conservative. *boo**hiss**boo* Yes, yes I know. It almost seems that in the political climate of the modern day, that being a conservative is tantamount to being the devil (as is believing in that devil, but that’s a completely different can of catfood). And I’m here to tell you that being a conservative, in this modern world, isn’t what people seem to think it is.
If you search “conservative” on, you’ll see this:

a person who is conservative in principles, actions, habits, etc.

disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
cautiously moderate or purposefully low:

A conservative is supposed to be someone who is “disposed” toward traditions, who wishes to minimize change, and who maintains a moderate outlook. Politically, and morally, moderation means to be accepting of others sides and opinions, their viewpoints, but to not have to share them, and accept that people won’t always share yours. And this is how I, and most other conservatives I know, live and breathe.  I have my opinions, and they are strong. I have my morals, and they are unwavering (most the time, lets not talk about that). But I am accepting of other people’s opinions and morals. And that’s what it is to be a conservative.
The problem, of course, is that the famous conservatives, the loud conservatives, the limelight conservatives, don’t keep this in mind. Whether they live this way or not, they get pigeonholed into having to propose and maintain a constant state of zeal, and often, as in the example of Donald Trump, hate, in order to grab the attention of their constituents.

Being moderate does not make you noticeable. But it’s the only way to be, in my opinion.

Now, in my mind (I have an active imagination, or I’m crazy, you decide) I hear you liberal, you socialist, and you atheists who happen to read Come Together saying “but that’s what I believe! I’m always saying accept them gayz! It’s you dirty conservatives that keep shoving people down with your dirty, dirty opinions!” And to you nay-sayers I say “Nay.”
 What I, and many others I know, perceive in the more “progressive” people of my generation, is a lack of acceptance. A personification of those who disagree with you, who believe in a God (which I do not, just FYI, not all conservatives have to be religious), or find homosexuality abhorrent, or think that the government should not be responsible for the lives of the individual people, are wrong, base human beings, abhorrent to you, and because they don’t share your opinions, or are actively against what you believe in, then they are against you. We’re not. I have so many liberal friends, atheist friends, gay friends, socialist friends, anarchist friends, libertarian friends, because as a conservative, I accept them, whether or not I agree with them.

I cannot enumerate the amount of times I’ve seen people cut off ties with their “friends” due to political ideological differences, and the fact that they don’t seem to see the hypocrisy in this is simply mind blowing. I see people who expound their personal beliefs of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and freedom of ideas but when someone disagrees with them, they remove that person from their lives (the “if you support Donald Trump” memes come to mind.)

Personally, I have been accused by my friends of trying to stay the middle ground, of trying to be a peace keeper, of not having an opinion. As you, faithful reader (yes, I know, there’s one of you) are about to see, this is simply not the case. I believe in the attempt to personify my own beliefs, and politically, my beliefs are as follows:

The core principle of my political, and personal, philosophy, and all true conservatives, is that people are entitled to one thing. To live their lives, the way they choose to live them.  And in order to do that, we need less government intervention, less forced charity, and less control from those above us, and that’s really the core difference between a liberal and a conservative.

And it’s why I despise the name brand Republicans, the tea partiers, and the Trumps. These people have been forced to adopt a persona of intolerance, because the opposing party, has a persona of complete tolerance (which as far as I have seen, is actually as intolerant as the Republican Party, but they don’t see it that way). These people are conservative in name only, or their personas are, and they give people like me a bad wrap.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

I Need The Toilet! by Natasha Ragsdale

It was 6am. The misty morning was whizzing by outside our train and my skinny sleeper bunk on the second of three levels was rocking me just ungently enough to irritate my already irritable bowel. It was time to get up and use the toilet, or so said my guts. The problem? I was in China on an overnight train to the Mongolian border and toilets were almost as inhospitable as Chinese train officials.

I waited in the queue of sleepy, cranky travelers with my personal toilet roll. You rarely get free TP in China, thus you always carry your own. I made a habit of snatching a roll on the rare occasions I stayed at a posh hotel. When I entered the train's metallic shit facility, the word shit was the most obvious descriptive that could ever have come to mind. I swear the place looked like a mental patient got artistic with his own feces. It was worse that that scene from "Trainspotting" about the worst toilet in Scotland.
Yet when you have to go, you have to go. The train wobbled and shook and I did my best to find a foot hold, hovering over the pit toilet that emptied onto the tracks, avoiding getting other peoples' butt explosions on my sandals. At one point the train lurched and I nearly ended up in a bath of gross but I held on for dear life and made my way out of the stall feeling a desperate need to apologize for the condition of the space, even though it wasn't my fault. I realized I would never take a clean bathroom for granted again.

I live in Japan which could arguably be the capitol of "Best Public Toilets Ever." We have built in bidets for men and women that lovingly spray "the place where your swimsuit covers" with warm water to clean your bits, music plays when we sit down, and the seats are warmed in cold weather.
Even at highway truck stops, bathrooms are cleaned every hour and they even sometimes place fresh cut flowers or plants along with nice soaps and air fresheners. I am spoiled. I will never be the same.

The world, in all it's splendor and weirdness is fantastically strange when it comes to the elimination of bodily waste. I remember when I was studying photography as a 13 year old and my dad and I took our annual road trip. I took pictures of every toilet I used because I was inspired by an artist who had done the same with garbage cans on his own road trip. My father thought it was amusing, he's a sociologist after all, so I assume that when he hears that I spent my afternoon talking about toilets with fellow travelers, he will be oddly proud.

So here we are. I am assuming that the average reader is used to a standard western style toilet with a flush mechanism. You know,  a sit down potty. The great porcelain throne. And yet a great part of the world has a different elimintation situation going on.

Stephanie Oye shared a great story with me, that I think is typical to a pit toilet newbie.

"The first time I ever used a squatty potty was in Indonesia. I had already been living there for 3-4 months and had avoided using them. We were on holiday in Gili Meno and had walked down to one end of the island to check out a restaurant we had seen the night before. About 3/4 of the way there I started feeling...not well... in my stomach. By the time we reach the restaurant I *really* needed the toilet. Of course the only facilities out there was a squatty. I grab some tissue out of my purse and decide I had no other choice. The owner leads me back to an outhouse. I go inside. I suddenly remember that I am wearing a one-piece bathing suit. I think, "well, I'm about to get buck naked in this outhouse squatty potty." I turn to lock the door.....and it won't close all the way, let alone lock! By this point I am in serious need to do my business, so I just say eff it and pull down my bathing suit. So here, I am....a fairly big girl, naked with my bathing suit around my ankles, trying not to let it touch the ground, squatting (for the first time, mind you) while precariously holding the door of this outhouse shut with one hand, dealing with a serious case of grumpy guts. I have never been happier to have a bum hose in my life. Made it much easier to cleanse while still holding the door shut (or as shut as I could get it.) Like anything else though, I made it through and it still cracks me up to think about it!"

Toilets are funny things in the world. I hadn't experienced a "squatty potty," as Stephanie puts, it until I was 19 and hanging out with some Algerian friends on the outskirts of Paris. I was confused. They even warned me, bless them. I was just happy that I did yoga and had some balance. My husband Jason recently informed me that it took him 3 years to figure out a squat toilet...essentially when I educated him to face the bar and hold on and not actually sit in the hole.

Squat toilets seem to have confounded so many of my friends...except Amanda. Amanda had this to say:

"We were visiting Santorini's main town of Thira. I really had to go and Brian spotted a sign saying "Rest rooms" and pointing to this building. No doors, no stalls and just a hole in the floor. What the hell, I really had to go, so I did. As I was leaving, three women entered. They were jabbering in Texas accents and then I hear one say (very loudly in a Texas accent) "There's no toilet!! What the hell am I supposed to do?" I about ruptured something laughing!"

Yes. Life exists with no running water. In Kenya I was staying in a tiny village and I used rain water to wash my waste down the "hole." There was also an outdoor hole, for more intense situations.
And I have also peed in The White House. When I was 12. It smelled of lilacs...the toilet, not my pee,  and had a lady who handed me terrycloth after I washed my hands. I, too, whilst dating a semi-famous journalist, experienced my first cocaine laced nightclub toilet in London. I was maybe 19. I had never been around drugs like that. There were about 6 skinny women with expensive shoes doing lines right there at the sink. I locked eyes with the bathroom attendant who just shook her head and looked to the floor.  I had never seen drugs. Not really. Funny how things change because many years later my NYC friends and I WERE those coke idiots, if only for a very brief time. The bathrooms of NYC were the social epicenter of our world, and it was fun, until my neighbor Heath Ledger died. And then I was done. That world was not for me. Those bathrooms were not for me.

From all parts of the world you get very personal stories about pees and poos and all the other in-betweens. Obviously. I have IBS so I have to talk more about toilets than most people do in a lifetime. I also TRAVEL with this disease. So toilets are actually a REALLY important aspect of the adventure world, to me.

But exotic local toilet stories don't always have to be gross or painful.
Cathlene Lett remarked:

 "You've never peed til you've peed in a dunny in the Australian outback! It was the cleanest outdoor toilet I've ever used, I appreciated the brush and cleaner provided to scrub your toilet down after each use."

See! Cleanliness even in the wilds of Australia!

So what does it say about different cultures by the way we look at their elimination process. One could argue that the Japanese have a lot of pride in cleanliness and delicate shyness about their private issues. Rose George once said "What they have done in Japan, is they've brought the toilet out from behind a locked door. They've made it conversational. People go out and upgrade their toilet. They talk about it. They've sanitized it."  Then again this is a place that sells used ladies underwear in vending machines, so I am still at a loss.

I have been all over the United States and seen so many diverse toilets from a beautifully painted yet shabby one on the Hopi reservation in Arizona to the dive at my favorite pizza joint in New York City where you felt you needed a big bat or semiautomatic firearm to fight off all the cockroaches. Perhaps the toilets in the US are as eclectic as the people who live there. I heard Donald Trump has solid gold toilets. Why does this not surprise me?

China was the worst for me. I have always considered toilet paper a basic human right but it seems there few "rights" that people have in China, besides good toilets. They can't drink their water because of lead poisoning and they can barely even breathe their own air without a mask, so it is not surprising that there is no pride put into the elimination of waste.

To quote Rose George again, "Rules governing defecation, hygiene and pollution exist in every culture at every period in history. It may in fact be the foundation of civilization: What is toilet training if not the first attempt to turn a child into an acceptable member of society?"

So then...are we our toilets?

Is the way we take a poo a metaphor for our culture? And because, as the book simply states "Everybody Poops" I wonder.....could going to the bathroom be a thing that could unite the world?

I'll leave you with that thought and this quote from George Carlin:

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Ones Left Behind by Natasha Ragsdale

I recently saw heroin for the first time in my life. It was over Skype or FaceTime or something. It was in the hands of one of my best friends and she was explaining to me the different kinds of heroin and how it worked and what the process was to prepping and using it. She was a pro, you see. She seemed to educate like a tenured professor to a naive but precocious college student looking at Manet for the first time. She showed me her collapsed veins. Her bruises. Not because she was proud, in fact she was ashamed and even in the heat of summer would wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. She showed me because she trusted me. Because she cared about me. Because she knew I loved her no matter what. And she needed me to allow her to unburden herself.

It's been a year and a half of non-stop death in my life. From the things I witnessed while traveling in the third world, to "pulling the plug" on my Grammie, but the worst of all has been the overwhelming weight of the deaths that seem so random. So unexpected. So terrifyingly personal and so, so pointlessly unnatural. Which I think is an odd thing to say as death is one of the more natural things that life has to offer. But what happens when you find out from a newspaper article that your friend and former neighbor passed out in the snow a block from your old apt building and froze to death because she was wasted?
What happens when you hear of another person you knew flipping his car near the same place? What, for fucksake, do you do with those last Facebook texts to your silly, sweet crazy friend who has broken her sobriety of years and is now texting you about all the coke she has snorted and is asking you how to stop her panic attack and all you can think of is DOWNERS, take some booze! No caffeine. No more cocaine! And instead she decides perhaps heroin. And she is found dead the next day. How can you talk to your elegant, gorgeous friend of many years about everything BUT her depression? Another OD. Or is it? How do you reach out to your classmate you've known since kindergarten when you don't know he is hurting? How do you pick up the pieces of all this and not feel broken to bits yourself?

My beloved first stepfather shot himself in the head when I was in grade school. That kinda shit just didn't happen in my world, my community. People didn't deliberately leave you forever. Sure people died. Of old age. It was sad. You cried. You understood. This is life. Death. But when people so young are dying for such stupid reasons it scares me and angers me. It also makes me ask....WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE?

Today I feel so lonely for my friends. For the ones who ended. Today I feel afraid I could join them. Death is arbitrary. Who knows what could happen? But today mostly I feel so strange about this culture of "live fast and die young." It is not like it is a new concept. Some would say it's aspirational, but to that i just have one response "Have you LISTENED to David Bowie's last album?"
That is a man clinging to every last beautiful breath and moment of love he had and creativity he could share. And there is a beauty in that. Until you realize that you would do anything and everything for one more kiss or hug, one more I love you then it is not natural. It's tragedy. It's not fucking natural to leave everyone who loves you behind. It is sad and selfish. It's heartbreaking. You are not here anymore. We survivors have to pick up all the shattered pieces of our hearts and carry on and every fucking time it happens there is another empty space where a person used to be.

My friend is out of the hospital now. She is planning to Skype me when she gets home. I hope when she reads this and when the families of the above mentioned friends read it, they understand my anger.  I am sure I might become a pariah to a few, but if I didn't get it out, if I couldn't lament and question and cry, I could possibly end up like the people who have left us.

And to quote the great (left) Amanda Palmer "And when they put me in the ground, I'll start pounding the lid, saying I haven't finished yet! I still have a tattoo to get that says 'I'm living in the moment." And it's funny how I imagine That I could win this winless fight. But maybe it isn't all that funny that I've been fighting all my life. But maybe I have to think it's funny that I wanna live before I die. And maybe it's funniest of all that I'll die before I'll actually see that I am exactly the person that I want to be."

I wish with all my heart that my friends who died so young, desperately and abruptly could have seen how wonderful they were. Are. And I hope that anyone who feels depression, anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, despair or are dealing with drug or mental issues will please get help. Below is a list of phone numbers in several countries, because I know our readership is vast and diverse. You can also email us if you need a shoulder to cry on. We are NOT doctors nor are we medical/ psychological professionals of any sort, but we are friends with open hearts. And our Facebook page is also a forum for people to talk about anything. "Come Together Magazine" is just what it says it is. People coming together. Welcome. We embrace you.
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
This one is international I think but has links to NHS in the UK

We here at CTM are not choosing to affiliate with AA or any 12 step program but if you are struggling with addiction here are some people who might help

Oh and here is Bowie and AFP videos referenced.  David  Amanda

Tashie and all the Staff

Thursday, 7 January 2016

This Is How We Will Die In Africa by Owen

The president shall rig our votes
In anger we shall riot on the streets
His army shall slit our throats
We shall die and concede defeat

This is the exact milieu in the country of Burundi, where the president has negated to get out of reign. The citizens are prowling the streets in remonstration, but the whole world has gone mute about them. No one has heard their shrieks for help; as you read this piece, Burundi is having grisly genocide. There is no press. Except the few of us taking our lives in our hands to report this atrocity.

There are curfews, there’s blood. The capital city of Bujumbura has curved into a city of fire. Everyone is crying for help. Hundreds of guiltless countrymen have been exterminated in cold blood; I haven’t seen a single Facebook flag or hash tag that says [#WeStandWithBurundi.] I haven’t heard any east African president condemn the merciless killing either. From the way things look, it’s unmistakable that all countries have decided to pew on the fence and watch Burundi die feebly.

The country of Burundi is now the mouth of a shark. It is an orifice of bereavement. All schools have been shut, all shops have been padlocked. I have waited for the media to broadcast the evils that are going on in Burundi, but the media is dead silent. When I see the gory images of Burundians, I harken back to the post-election violence that brought Kenya down to her knees, back in 2007. The president had refused to get out of power, as usual. There was an aperture between those who wanted him to continue with his reign and those who were against him. The aperture brought hate. The hate gave birth to an unprecedented violence.

To date, everyone has a bitter retention in their minds, of the congregation that was burned to ashes in a church. Only an empty wheelchair was left, it looked like it was waiting for its owner, who had promised it that they had gone to for a short call, and that they’ll be back shortly... that is how our friends and future relatives lost their lives. That is the same way Burundi will burn to ashes if we keep silent about the current situation. 

A mother has lost her child.
Children have lost their parents.
Men have lost their wives….
Women have lost their husbands….

Do we [stand with the bereaved] because their loved ones originated from decent countries? Huh? What should Burundi do in order for you and I to stand with them? What?

Friday, 20 November 2015

I Would Like The Disaster Please, With A Bottle of Sancerre by Natasha Ragsdale

In the last few days I have been examining a lot of my friends’ status remarks on Facebook, reading the BBC, Huff Post, and loads of news. I have had several online conversations with friends from all over the world. I watched my Facebook turn into a visual "La Marseillaise," with everyone's photos flying french colors, much like the beautiful rainbows we saw during the fight for marriage equality in the states.
 AND, I saw a lot of hate. From people I thought I respected, even loved. I saw fear and hatred and I watched friends destruct themselves and relationships over ill conceived notions of what the hell was really going on in the world. After all, no one was talking about Beirut. No one had talked about Kenya in April. But this Parisian Disaster, was, suddenly, on everyone's radar. And this Disaster was awful. DREADFUL. 
These days everything seems to be a Disaster. To someone. Everything from the words that come out of Donald Trump's mouth, to the harboring of refugees, to a fucking paper cup from Starbucks. Disaster, it would seem, is a universal, yet polarizing human condition. Except, in a way I feel, that we are slowly thrusting ourselves away from humanity and more into a zombie film-like nature where we believe that the worst is inevitable, that everything is against us, that we are DOOMED to Disaster. 
But when I really sat down and thought about the word Disaster, and what it meant to me, who has lived through many, is that my particular sense memory has me recalling the most ridiculous thing. Food! I was astonished. Every episode of my life that held some sort of Disaster, when remembered like a good little actress/writer in my giant sensual recollection box, had a memory of food, and I started to think about how, in times of great horror, fear, despair, or need, how truly fascinating it is to nourish. So I thought it might be interesting to catalogue my memories here and see what they amounted to.
I suppose the first memory I have of Disaster was my parent’s divorce, although consciously I don’t recall it as a Disaster, I suppose a therapist might, and it was a major moment in my life. The funny thing is I have no bad memories from it at all. The only thing I know is that after my parents divorced, there were suddenly these great weekends with my father that brought us so close together. Rituals that last, to this day, when we can embrace them. The first was Friday night dinners at El Chapparrel, my favorite, yet now nonexistent Mexican joint. We would roll in and know half the people in there. Dad would get his green corn tamale and chicken enchilada, and me a deep fried bean burro with extra hot salsa. We would laugh and talk about the world, movies, school…and when I went to bed at night I was always satiated and loved. In the mornings he would wake me and we would go to local breakfast joints like “Waffles ‘n’ More” (mmm strawberry syrup) or “The Juniper House” (best pancakes of my life) and then promptly hike it all off. He is smart, my dad. He knew how to make a transition from something potentially life damaging, like a divorce, into a cool new way of looking at life. Even with our summer trips, I have nostalgia for the camping food he cooked on the propane stove. It was lovely.
In a way the next life Disaster was something different. When my parents divorced I was still loved and had lost no one, but when my step father killed himself when I was still just a girl, I finally faced a Disaster head on. I faced it, and had to face my poor mother, who had lost more than even I had. It was around then when she stopped cooking, I think. She was never a big one for chef-dom, but after my Grammie, who had come in to help out for awhile, moved out, well…my mom could not be bothered.
Not that I blame her! In fact I got my love of experimental restaurant-ing from her! We ate out all the time. I learned to try so many new foods and eat on a budget! I learned all about the different jobs of waitstaff and soon we knew every waiter, busboy and chef in town! I have survived, during hard times, with this knowledge, and still make friends with waiters, bartenders, bussers and chefs all over the world.
There wasn’t much Disaster after this. I think, looking back, I lived a bit of a charmed life. It wasn’t until 9/11 that I endured another bout of disaster, as did all Americans. The funny thing was, that day, that actual morning, I was moving to London for the first time. I had a $1000 in my pocket and a dream of acting in my jet lagged head. My friends picked me up at Gatwick and we hurried along to a little pub. I do not remember what I was eating there. I only know that when the bartender switched over to the news and we saw what was happening, we all ordered several more pints of lager. The food that I do remember, after that tragedy, was served two days later, at a dinner party thrown especially for me, to introduce me to my new life and get my mind out of the terror regime that was becoming my country. Leila, my friend, made Iranian cuisine while her husband made French desserts. Someone brought English Trifle. The wine was from all over the world and so were the guests. We drank loads, stuffed ourselves, laughed, cried and cleansed. Through that dinner party I was able to see the world, and what was happening to it, from many different cultural, moral and intellectual points of view. I was relieved of the burden of worrying about a country or a government I could not understand anymore, but rather incited to listen to people and discern and to LEARN. That dinner made a new breed of American.
Later that year, not long after 9/11, I was traveling through France and had two more Disasters. One was in the old part of Nice. I was having my first Salad Nicoise with a beautiful glass of Sancerre and I watched a man die of a drug overdose just a few meters away from where I was sitting. I still love that salad and that wine, but it will always be an epitaph for that poor man.
The second French Disaster was a lot more serious.
I was staying in a seedy hotel on Rue de Mavais du Garcons. It means “street of the bad boys.” Shoulda been a sign. I was just bringing my dinner guests, Lionel and Susanne, back to my place for a quick drop of Absinthe before we headed out to the clubs, when we were accosted by the owner, who was a bit drunk. He refused to let my friends in my room. When I said it was just to have a drink and change my shoes, he said we had five minutes. We hurried up the stairs and no sooner were we in the room then he was banging down the door demanding to “speak to the man!” I was furious of course but Lionel took over. The three of them followed the crazy owner downstairs, but I had the most incredible feeling that I had to get out of there. I quickly packed my bags and started down the spiral staircase. Just as I got to a view of the front area I saw the owner pull some sort of bat from behind the desk! Lionel and Susanne ran from the man swinging at their heads. They barely escaped through the glass door. I don’t know what came over me but I was furious. He had locked them out and me in. I confronted him. Told him, in amazingly good french, that he would have to answer to the American Embassy. HE asked for money, of which I had none.
“But you are an American. Of course you have money!”
We argued. I don’t remember much but finally I just started screaming, to try and rouse another of the people in the hotel. Then he came after me with the bat. Just as I had reached the end of the line, the glass door where Susanne was pounding and crying, the Gendarme (with darling Lionel!) broke down the door and saved my fucking life.
Six hours later, at the prefect of police, turns out my hotelier was a terrorist, wanted for years for car bombings. C’est la vie, mais no?
How does this relate to food? It was Lionel. Lionel took my poor broken body back to his home that morning, went to the fresh market and bought the most amazing meats and cheeses, fruits and breads. I had the best French meal of my life that day. It renewed me, healed my wounds, gave me life, confidence, joy. It made me realize the magic of cooking. He made coq au vin and it save my soul, just as he had saved my life.
In so many times in my life, when I felt the waves of Disaster, whether it be political, emotional, natural, economical…food has always been there. The impromptu, half naked BBQ we had on the roof during the NYC blackout so none of our food would be wasted. The scones an elderly grandmother of a friend gave me with tea after my brief run in with the Northern Ireland Troubles. The big shopping carts of randomness from the food bank that I had to make into magic after the economy collapsed and my new husband and I were unemployed. A beautiful toasted bagel and cream cheese in the early hours after I watched a man be shot to death in front of me in Brooklyn. The champagne ceremony I held for my aunt who died, who was celebrated so that night, even though I was the only one who actually knew her. The way my also late Grandma used to fill her fridge with food when my dad and I would come to visit and insist on cooking breakfast and dinner for us, even when she was getting frail.
The sushi and soba shared with friends here in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, and recently, the complete cornucopia of delicacies, drink and delight that my oldest friends and family indulged me in, the quick use of a metal rod from my backpack to thwart off potential kidnappers, and when I went back to be with my other Grammie as she died. There is a resonance to these sad, sad things. These scary things. These survival things.
I think again of the zombies. I suppose in a way we can circle this back to zombies anyway as I started by talking about politics. But let’s look at the zombies. All they look for is food. We pretend to be so above the zombies but we are just the same. We are afraid of our own mortality and when faced with it, of course we revel in the pleasures we are afforded! The feasts after the wars! The drinks at a wake. We all can be put together again by food and drink. No matter where you are in the world, food is one of the main centers of all cultures. Something that is TRULY human. From the Masai who drink cows blood, to the French who eat snails and even that eternal comfort food, the Big Mac….it all means something to someone. When we eat, we are truly living. When we eat we say, “Hey man! I am fucking ALIVE and I can survive!” When we eat, we are dispersing Disaster.