Barbarianism Manifested

Barbarianism manifested

It is Sunday morning 9:00 AM PST (Pakistan Standard Time) January 9, 2011, I have electricity, and connection to the Internet. There was warm water for the shower, the noise of Pakistan’s daily life transmit through the windows, from horse hoofs clopping to trucks passing by on the road. I pour my hot water into my cup that has a spoonful of folders gold instant coffee and I feel fresh. Once the internet connects and I see the top story on Yahoo and then my day is shattered into a million fragments of hurt, disbelief, and frustration.

Only several months for me here when the hope that started early the decade was changed into tears, as I was just over two months old and people of the United States and many around the world wept due to the death of John F. Kennedy. The tragedy was magnified for the people of the U.S. since our nation was preparing to celebrate during this time of year our blessings at Thanksgiving yet our nation’s heart was heavy at the travesty of the manner of his death. Unfortunately our nation would experience the treacherous loss of life due to assassinations on three more occasions in the same decade totaling the number to four. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy all suffered the barbaric action of being silenced by the bullet from a gun instead of intellectual discussion aimed at resolution of “Justice for All”.  Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Yet Martin Luther King Jr’s hope, vision, and words were silenced as he suffered from the barbaric act exiting the end of a gun due to his passion and openness to speak from his heart what he felt needed to be said. In my own research into his life I remember locating a news article published immediately following the assassination where the reporter published  comments from people on the streets of America immediately after the shooting regarding how white people felt about the assassination. One of the quotes from a person was they felt it was appropriate that Martin Luther King was killed because he should not have been saying what he was saying in public. The article went on to say that a number of other people felt he should keep his opinions to himself. When I read this I was infuriated at that type of sentiment of people in our own country after a person’s life was taken for speaking freely.

Martin Luther, who did you think that you were?
Appointed by some higher up
Merely mortal, your plans were unaffordable
No one wants to pay for love

Oh, you beautiful fool
Swimming upstream, kicking up waves
Dreams weren’t meant to come true
That’s why they call ’em dreams
Oh, you beautiful fool

Sung by Kathy Mattea- written by Henry,D


Each of these four men our country lost in the prime of their life were all “Beautiful Fools” in seeking the ideals of freedom, equality, dreams and hopes for a civilized world. This was a dark time in the U.S., as it continued to struggle with the deep rooted social and cultural issues that existed in our country.

When I mentioned to people, both friends and strangers, at home in LA or friends around the United States I was going to Pakistan,  there was always a pause with a look of , did you say what I think you said-Pakistan! Our nation when it hears the word Pakistan immediately recalls all the headlines of negative words, images, and issues related to Pakistan. In Pakistan my base is in Lahore one of the largest cities in Pakistan, in the Punjab region, and Lahore is where the Punjab regions governance body is located. Each of the four regions of Pakistan has a Governor appointed by the President of Pakistan to assist in oversight of the region. The office of the Governor for Punjab is about 5KM from where I am staying here in Lahore.

The Governor of Punjab was in Islamabad earlier this week which is the capitol for the country of Pakistan. Islamabad is a five hour drive north from Lahore on motorway.  This last week on Tuesday January 4, 2011 the Punjab regions Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated. I too was in Islamabad on a trip related to meeting family and working on community reconstruction after the floods in the KPK region of Pakistan.  I was internally disturbed to be here in Pakistan, in the city of the assassination, and watch the news knowing that you are in the region where this has happened. Being here to see the grief, frustration, and disgust of what the gunman did on the faces of the people of Pakistan only affirms the people of Pakistan’s respect for human life and personal dignity. Here in Pakistan there is a great amount of remorse and pain due to this extreme act of violence.  The Lahore news wrote, the gunman was very religious and held strong beliefs regarding the use of the name Mohammad. It is important to understand that Al- Qur’an states that murder in any form is immediate separation from God. There are some fanatics that have twisted their beliefs and deem the act religious that are stating their approval of the gunman’s action regarding the Governor, yet the well over 90 percent of the people are disturbed and offended at the action taken by the gunman.

In the discussions I have had with people here about who this act leads to an increased concern in the United States regarding Pakistan. I discussed that the importance of intelligent discussion and the opportunity of free speech is important for Pakistan to develop into a nation that can compete in a world market. I field some tough questions regarding violence in schools that occurs in the United States and that political officials have also been assassinated in our country too. At first I was able to state that that has not happened in decades yet as I thought about it longer I realized there was four in one decade. To my disbelief in the same week almost in the same manner, a person gets within five feet, with a semi or automatic weapon and shoots another person for standing up for what they believe was right. Not just in Pakistan but also in the United States.

With all our modern marvels, technologies, scientific, and medical breakthroughs we still in the realm of human relationships and handling differences fail in the ability to intellectually, respectfully and with dignity to resolve to find common ground. Instead we resort to barbarianism manifested in the use of a gun to claim our turf regarding our ideological opinion. God please help us as mankind to use wisdom, lover and honor to advert resorting to animalistic behavior.


Character and Attitude

Character and Attitude
Winnie the Pooh has quite the cast of characters with various personalities that depict common characteristics and attitudes of everyday people. I am amazed how the A.A. Milne the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories disguised a common set of typical characteristics and attitudes found people that we encounter often in our daily lives into children’s books. The book series has a dual value for the adults reading these books and for the children who are listening. As the adult reads the story the adult mind can possibly relate a real person in their life to a certain charter either various friends, or associates at work that resemble almost each of the characters in the book. You can almost look at any level of your social circles in business or personal and find each of these characters represented in that circle. Pooh the happy minded bear that seems oblivious to many of the things that are happening in life around him. Piglet a dear friend that is often afraid and worrisome. Rabbit a total type “A” personality of people that need to control their world and yours. Roo, the young, energetic and adventurous Kangaroo who is all about discovering the world anew each day. Eeyore the ho/hum grey day donkey that seems to always have a little black rain cloud nearby for any moment. Then Tigger, the ADHD energy wonder that bounds through the world like a pinball hitting various things at any one given moment. You might find yourself in a meeting when you mind starts to wander thinking who in the meeting represents which character, or how many are the same of one character there is in the meeting. Be careful because when you start to smile, everyone will wonder why you are grinning.

How do we handle ourselves in this adventure we call life. Often it is said that people are looking at this at half full or half empty. One rarely considers the fact that we spend probably 50% being one way and 50% being the other way depending on the situation and the circumstances. It subtly creeps in how we respond to someone not really considering that we are leaning to empty versus full. I have experienced myself going from full to empty as a conversation unfolds. I find myself vacillating up and down as more information is added to the conversation. I can sometimes like, not like, like, not like the idea multiple times before I give my indication of my thoughts. Like and dislikes often are masked in the lack of belief that the project can be successful, and often the one proposing it from their vantage point see the glass completely full.
Emotions are triggered often by words and images that form a position on a topic that can galvanize a personal vantage point related to a topic and when that topic comes up any time in the future we use our vantage point filter from the past finding it difficult to move away from that perception. “Whatever” is a common word/phrase said by many people with a variety of tonal and facial expression depending on the severity of the situation. The phrase takes on many manifestations: “I do not care that you have just told me something about myself that you do not like.” “I do not care that you are going someplace to have fun but you are not inviting me.” “I do not care that where you are going is fun, that is not where I want to go to have fun.” It is amazing that a word such as “whatever” ( a guise for I do not care), can also represent a person saying; “I wanted to be included in the decision”. “I wanted to be heard in the decision making process.” I wish that before you assume and state what I am feeling can’t you simply ask me how I feel about the situation.”

The word attitude itself has a list of various meanings when someone says change your attitude; bad, controlling, polarizing, upset, apathetic, down, or many other single word adjuncts. Your attitude is amazing; great, happy, joyful, compromising, friendly, hopeful and this list also can go on. One word has its Yin/Yang, up/down, and even bipolar emphasis.

We were in a discussion regarding a particular region of Pakistan and discovered that there are strong stereotypical perceptions of the people that live in region by other Pakistani’s living outside of that region. In the midst of discussion you could sense the total fear and concern of some people in the room regarding performing any services of relief or help for the people in the region since the perception for doing anything in the region would not be accepted since the people are not interested in any outside assistance. The individuals leading the discussion had various different personal inputs and or personal experience on the topic that dispelled the misconception of the people in the region since those that had the concerns were only responding to what they had heard about the people since they themselves had never worked with or in the region being discussed.

Third party communication through the news media in television or print can create attitudes that become galvanized vantage points by what we hear and read. This third party vantage point development can elicit specific response towards people thus soliciting and expected response from those people. The idea of a self fulfilling prophecy is similar to this dynamic of attitude and misperceptions. When we encounter people that can share second hand their own person experience and see that they have an authentic personal experience and vantage point it is important to begin to adjust a third party vantage point due to the interaction of the people that are communicating their own actual experience.

It is hard to imagine in all the noise from the news media outlets that what I have experienced, what I have written about is really truly an accurate perception of Pakistan. When I was walking through the destruction of the villages in Pakistan due to the floods, the question came to mind, why do we see the devastation of the streets of Haiti, the dead bodies in Haiti being loaded into trucks for mass graves, and the new outbreaks of cholera and not any footage of media walking through these villages where people are almost freezing to death. As we entered one village Noor, Naeems oldest daughter encountered and older woman who when she saw our group arrive came up to Noor as Noor looked into her eye realized that this women needed a hug. When Noor embraced this woman she placed her head on Noor’s shoulder and began to weep. A willing attitude to see the world as it is not how others perceive it is critical in restoring people’s lives that are desperate for help.

Hand in Hand

Hand in Hand

I remember Stanley Clark from my early days living in Florida. My memories of Stanley are not in a video format of our activities but my memories are like snapshots in a photo album of moments that I had with him. Stanley was younger than me and he was either Japanese or Korean, I know the difference now but at that age the issue of being from somewhere else had no effect on how we felt about being friends and playmates. Stanley and another friend Rusty were both at that time in my life my best friends. Often in the hot Florida afternoon after school it was not uncommon to see Rusty, Stanley, and myself together. When two of us were walking down the street together we either had our arm around each other’s shoulders or holding hands as pals. There was never a concern in our minds of what others thought about us being together we simply were close and enjoyed the connection of our arms on each other’s shoulder or holding hands to affirm the kinship we had for each other.

Over time, we in the U.S. grow out of behavior of touch to affirm our kinship, the new cultural norm would consider this odd, and even mock anyone who might actually practice this behavior. I might also go as far as considering that many first world western nations probably have now adopted this new norm in their societies. I personally had forgotten the value of simply placing a hand into someone else’s to simply connect and say I just wanted to confirm our kinship and level of friendship we have with each other. To place your hand into another person and clasp theirs or even interlock fingers creates a connection of an interpersonal depth that affirms what our words often attempt to say but seem to simply be incomplete.

Prior to my first trip to Pakistan Mujtaba shared with me that people in Pakistan in their close friendships of no personal space. Mujtaba said “It is not uncommon to see people holding hands or sitting with their arms around each others shoulders.” When I arrived in Pakistan I began to notice this to be true and very common. I also discovered that when riding in a vehicle true “Pakistani style” the more people in the car the more intimidate the journey. Most people would say you mean cramped, no I meant intimate. Sure legs and arms fall asleep and one has to shift around in order to remain comfortable, yet the connectedness between the passengers adds to the dynamics of the trip. I personally found this to be true during the road trip I took with Murtaza and crew last time I was here in Pakistan.

Coming to Pakistan metaphorically was about me placing myself in the hands of others to assist me in every element of existing in Pakistan. I remember the first moment in Pakistan that I placed my hand in another’s hand, Rukhsana, grabbed my hand and held it with both of hers and we shared a special connection and understanding of how wonderful it was to be together, talking and sharing. The second person that I experienced that with was Ashfaq. The moment was when I was about to venture into the experience of crossing a busy Lahore street. Ashfaq immediately took my hand and ran with me to the center divider, and then when it was clear from the divider to the other side of the street. I was stunned at first at him grabbing my hand yet as we stepped into the street his grip provided me the confidence that transcended the thought of this is crazy crossing this busy street in Lahore, into I know we can successfully and safely cross the chaos of traffic conditions to the other side of the street.

Humans as a creature are blessed as species because we do have hands with opposing thumbs. Hands are one of the most amazing and complex aspect of being human. We as infants upon the discovery that we have a hand marvel that this appendage belongs to me and I can use it for various things. Our hands are very curious and can in their own connection become our eyes through the nerves. We train the nerves in our fingers over a life time to feel and communicate information that is necessary for what the eyes cannot see. Touch alone has its own database of information in our brain, along with coordination, and all the other functions that hands acquire over time. I would almost guess that this data base is possible the largest database we have in our mind, yet we do not realize how vast the information is in this database.

 As we become adults we become individuals in the journey of life striving and surviving as independent beings. Eventually we stick our hand in our own pockets, walk with our arms behind our backs with one hand holding the other arm, or even possibly a clinched fist ready in a moment’s notice to secure our personal space from an unknown invader. It becomes hard to relearn to reach out to support another person or even except the support another person is willing to provide if we are willing to allow them to take our hand.

My visit here in Pakistan a second time as I greet friends that I connected with during my last visit and new friends I have made during this visit, I now find myself reaching out without thought to touch another hand to connect better with the other person during conversations and various activities. I have come to realized that Paul and Linda McCartney really understood the value of hands transcending oceans and the powerful tie that hands play in connecting people “Hands across the waters, waters.” Hands across the water from the U.S. to Pakistan over time will build relationship by blending learning and healing in a manner that will transcend years of disconnected relationship into a connected affirmation of personal kinship.

Sweet Melody

Sweet Melody

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple
To last your whole life long
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough
for anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.                    Words and Music by Joe Raposo; performed by the Carpenters

Music is extremely powerful! I reference a song’s lyrics frequently in my blogs to assist in expressing what I am thinking, feeling, or experiencing. People might think this is odd, simple, unintelligent, or even shallow, yet these judgments are often derived from unfamiliarity of the melody, the words of the song, or the emotions that the song itself actually can bring to ones soul as they listen to the song. When I was little I heard the phrase that music can calm the savage beast, and I truly have experience the calming effects of music when I myself am upset. Music can melt away fear, anger, and hurt.

Music has a mystic manner of being able to take you instantly back to a specific place and time in your past. The transcendence is being half way in the current time sphere while existing in the moment in the past. The song “Weekend in New England”, was sung by a friend Cathy Lynn Vandenberg at a school concert in January of 1981. Though the words and the melody were identical to the song heard on the radio sung by Barry Manilow, the manner that Cathy sang the song was so profound unique and special. Several weeks later Cathy was killed in a tragic accident, and now every time I hear that song on the radio, no matter what I am doing I must stop what I am doing, even driving I have to pull over to the side of the road, because I am immediately transported to sitting to sitting in the auditorium of Eaton Rapids High School watching Cathy beautifully sing this song. I her only her last solo as I listen to the song on the radio as the music mysteriously in my soul listens to her there on the stage so many years ago.

I sat in Asim’s small bedroom with over 20 people at any one time over the course of several hours. Asim and Rizwan  with Asim’s electric guitar muted by the practice amp, the low light of a candle and various people in the room singing along as he played. The people ranged from 27 months old to people in their 50’s with and equal split of people above and below 30 years of age. The people ranged in ethnicity from; Pakistani, American, Pak/American, English, Pak/English, Irish, and Pak/Irish. The songs were a combination of folk Pakistani, Central Asia contemporary songs sang in Urdu, and U.K,/U.S. contemporary/rock sang in English. When the songs were sung in Urdu the Irish, English, and American that did not speak in Urdu, though we could not understand the words, we could understand the music by our souls ability to translate the melody into a sense of what the song meant. What we saw and what was heard transcended beyond language and through our visual and auditory senses, the manner the words were expressed and the melody, provided each of us an understanding and connectedness to each person in the room. 

At one point the Pakistani crowd turned to those of us that were not native to the land of Pakistan and asked us to share a song. Naomi who is visiting Pakistan for the first time originally from Ireland and now lives in England begins to sing a Peggy Lee’s I want to be Seduced a Jazz/Blues piece that simply stunned the entire room. We were enthralled with her voice and the manner that she sang her song of choice. At the end of Naomi’s song Naeem captured the essence of the song by wishing Imran and Sundas a congratulatory happy anniversary as we transitioned from one day into the next which was their fourth anniversary.   Later I too sang a song “Moon Shadow” by Cat Stevens since it has always been a special song for me since I was young. I felt that the entire experience was like “leaping and hopping on a moon shadow moon shadow-moon shadow” since everyone shared in the experience either by singing along or simply listening in their own way appreciating the songs in conjunction with the fellowship and fun.

At one point in the evening Naomi and I looked at each other and I said to her, if only people from back home could see this, Naomi replied, I was just having the same thought. We ended our sing, sing a song time in the wee hours of the next day with every person who was there in their own way savored the experience as if it was the finest food that we had ever tasted. The shared experience brought all of us closer together in a manner that time or even talking ever have done. Later in the day as many of us saw each other, we remarked at how special the experience was last evening. Naeem remarked to me in essence how music really could be a powerful tool of diplomacy. As Naeem spoke about diplomacy and music, I thought about what Tracy Kidder shared in his book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” Dr. Jim Kim went to Siberia for Dr. Paul Farmer to meet with officials regarding Partners in Health work in Siberia. The night before the meeting Dr. Kim and his host went to dinner and as the evening went on with beverages flowing the room erupted into song. The bond and unity formed during the evening sing along built a relationship between Dr. Kim and his host in such a manner that the actual business meeting the next day was now a simply an manner of formality. All of the work that was planned in terms of building relationship was no longer necessary. I think it is time we all start to sing, sing a song, make it simple to last our whole life long…. Just sing, sing a song.

Ceramic House Dreams

Ceramic House

At the age of eight I would find myself on Saturday working with my father helping pull wire on one of his electrical contracting projects. Later I found my own area of interest in construction working out on the farm house with Larry Lux an instrumental mentor in my life’s journey. I discovered carpentry to be an area that I really enjoyed. After I finished high school I went to college and studied commercial art and later transferred into a fine arts program where I vacillated between being a ceramist and or a sculptor. Unable to continue my college pursuits financially I found myself returning to Michigan to begin the journey of working as a carpenter building custom homes. I later moved to California where I did some commercial tenant improvements and then ended up in petrol chemical facility construction. After a stint as a carpenter in refineries I cross traded and became a pipe fitter which introduced me to structural steel. Eventually I finished my degree, in business yet I ended up teaching construction, engineering, and Architecture at the high school level. Little did I realize how this would interplay with my journey in Pakistan?

I was sitting at Rukhsana Foundation with Mushtaq Tahirkheli and Naveed Sheikh listening to them discuss what the optimal construction method would be for constructing houses in the flood regions of Punjab. Mushtaq felt that brick structures would be more permanent yet Naveed felt that mud structures were the traditional structures that the people had too and with so many houses needed Rukhsana Foundation could construct two mud homes to one brick home.  Suddenly as I listened I remembered a research paper that one of my architect students in 2006 had done on Nader Khalili on Ceramic Houses. I interjected the idea into the conversation where both Naveed and Mushtaq wanted more information regarding Ceramic Houses.

It is amazing how simple thoughts can become major intersections in your journey in life. It started with going on to Facebook to see if I could communicate with Amanda the former student that wrote the paper. In the processes of reaching out to Amanda I found another former student who is an architect available for chat on Facebook. Dorothy Vy immediately researched the information I needed and provided me the links for Nader Khalili. The information on Khalili, the reconnection with my former students and the interest of the Rukhsana foundation prompted on me on my return California to visit Khalili’s demonstration site here in the Los Angeles regions high desert area of Hesperia. Not only did I get to exam the work of Khalili, but his son shared a Rumi Poetry story of a person who sojourned far from home for a treasure, only to be turned away at the location he dreamed the treasure was. Yet prior to leaving a stranger shared his dream of where he saw a treasure in the city that the sojourner came from. Upon the sojourners home return his family held a celebration for the safe return and as he shared the strangers dream he got up and discovered a treasure in his own back yard.  

During all the years of construction I never considered that I would return to the four primary elements of earth, water, air, and fire to perform the construction of houses.  In the researching of the process of ceramic structures I found a treasure in the beauty of mud structures that become transformed into ceramic structures. Having studied ceramics this ignited an internal sense that this was truly part of my life long endeavors. I found a doctoral dissertation online by Anupama Kundoo that extensively recorded the work of Ray Meeker an architect and ceramist that continued and expanded the work Khalili had started.

Be careful what you dream of because life will provide you the opportunity to fulfill your dreams. On November 29, 2010, I awoke at 4:00 am to start my week and I noticed a missed call on my mobile of a number I did not recognize but knew the number was from another region of the world. Accustom now to getting international calls I realized that was regarding Pakistan. I in my mind never anticipate who the caller was at all. When I began to listened to the voice mail message I was shocked that Anupama Kundoo wanted to personally connect with me regarding the work I and the Rukhsana foundation were preparing to perform on a demonstration structure in Lahore Pakistan.  Anupama has agreed to consult and possibly become part of the resurgence of work on constructing ceramic houses.

It was a simple time, sitting in the dirt of our families attempt at having a garden; using my Tonka truck and Tonka earth movers to begin the construction of a world from my imagination. I now at 47 years of age find myself returning to the dirt of this earth as a solution for homes to help people that desperately need a shelter that will withstand the test of time, rain, and the effects that the torment of nature can have on people.