Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Diversity is a Harmony (a song)

verse 1
When will we all get together
Don't we know we're all the same?
There is a place called forever
Where we can be free of shame

One plants, another one waters
We each play our part
One day we'll all live together
If we live from the heart

Each one of us is a different song
A different song being played
And the melodies create a harmony
If we sing it in the right way

verse 2
We all have different strengths
We each lead different lives
But there is only one way
One chance to do what's right

Your color doesn't matter
Neither does your preference
We all have the same Father
Come and join life's great dance

Lessons in Attachment, Memories and Faith

Attachment is a Cause of Blindness

On Monday night I had a moment of emotional weakness when my hopes of staying with my sweet friend Paloma (at right) fell through after her landlords changed their minds about allowing it. During that emotional storm, I let go of the child-like optimism that helped to earn me my funky nickname. I allowed myself to forget about the kindness of people that I have met in LA, I forgot about the reasons that I live this way and about the opportunities that come in the winds of change. Do you know what my problem was? I was too attached to my previous plans and hopes for the city of Pasadena.

You see, if we hold too tightly to anything, be it material possessions, people or even ideas, we blind ourselves to the options, opportunities and blessings that surround us. When I live by emotions, I tend to live only in memories, always reminiscing about the great times I have had in the past, instead of trying to create new memories in the present. The lesson is to keep memories as reminders of the good times, but to be able to move on from them in order to live a productive life in the "now". The goal is to dwell on things I like about what is happening now, while still cherishing the experiences I had in places I may have liked better (e.g. Kenya).

Thankfully, I awoke to new hope the next morning, and reminders of the blessings in my life greeted my better attitude. Possibilities of my next move came up in my mind, and I began the day with a new vision. My sense of purpose and my faith were renewed. And so we have another demonstration of the fleetingness of human emotion. :)

Memories of Pasadena to Cherish

There are a couple of nice experiences of my time in Pasadena that I would like to share, while I get ready to move to a different part of this huge "concrete jungle".

One thing I have thoroughly enjoyed (and will continue to enjoy as I am able) is the dumpster meetups that my friend Eric has been organizing. We have had up to 9 people attend, with at least two people each time who had never tried the activity before. I feel great about being a part of getting people to become aware of the waste that our current society creates. The more people who know, the better. Then less people can claim "ignorance" and as more people opt out of this failing system, it will have to change. At least that's my hope. In the meantime, we are introducing people to free food and fun people. :D We have "rescued" so much food in the past three weeks. Countless bags of (organic) apples, more meat than you can fathom (including delicious Australian lamb cuts), so much bread, lovely greens, eggs and more eggs, two tins of fair trade coffee, white pomegranate tea and much more I have forgotten to list.

A related memory is that of Eric's 9 year old daughter Celina's incredible enthusiasm torwards her father's relatively new activity. She begged him to take her dumpster diving, and last week he finally took her to a convenient dumpster and asked me to meet them there. Celina and I worked side by side, digging through the plastic bags to pull out a multitude of mostly non-food goodies. Her excitement was contagious as the pile of toys and useful items grew. Celina had a paper bag that Eric was filling for her with her items of choice as we rescued them. The next day, three of her similarly-aged girl cousins came over, and Celina found the opportunity to show off her bag of dumpster treasures. It was a sight I will never forget: four girls sitting in a little circle, oohing and ahhing (and shouting, "You found that in the dumpster?!?") over each clean, perfectly useable item as Celina pulled it out of the bag. She had found two pairs of earrings, PEZ candy and a PEZ dispenser, many hair clips and other girly accessories, stickers, a wooden salad fork (I don't know why she liked that so much), birthday cards, "pop-it" fireworks and other fun things. Most of the items had been tossed because of damaged packaging, or lack thereof.

Meeting and sharing with people definitely creates the best memories. I have had a lot of good times on the campus of the local college, where I have spent hours talking with different people about the ideals of Freeganism and the bizarre practice of "food reclamation" (as the NY Freegans put it!).

But I will hold lightly to these memories as I move on back towards the city of Inglewood to begin to work with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker house and their soup kitchen (aka the "Hippie Kitchen"). I have worked with the Catholic Worker movement before (in a different city), and thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community and the opportunity to reach out to needy individuals in the area. This should be another great chapter in my ever growing book of adventures.

The Role of Faith in Freeganism (as I see it)

Freeganism is not a spiritually-based philosophy, and so the religious beliefs of those who adopt the name "Freegan" vary greatly. I personally think I am one of few Freegans who come from a Christian perspective (besides my friends in the JC community, of course). But with Christianity, I fully recognize that this is the conclusion that I have reached due to my cultural setting. Therefore, I can recognize letgitimacy in many different spiritual backgrounds, particularly if they are praticed alongside the ideals of Freeganism. But for me, Freeganism and Christianity go hand in hand. A simple lifestyle based on consideration of the earth and its inhabitants just seems to jive so perfectly with the teachings of Jesus Christ (e.g. "love your neighbor as yourself", or "you can't serve both God and Money at the same time").

I also believe that faith in something is essential to being able to actually practice a lifestyle such as mine or that of the JCs. Again, it's about letting go. It's about letting go of the things you worry about (such as financial support) and trusting, having faith, that God, the Spirit, the powers of the universe, or whatever you call all that is good, will work things out for those who try to live positively. I have found faith to be very integral to my spiritual and mental survival since my return to Los Angeles.

We need a faith, a hope, that things can get better in order to live lives that are separate from the system's expectations.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Freeganism, an acrostic

Food being wasted in great big piles
Rescuers coming from many miles
Eric's bike trailer loaded with stuff
"Everyone's welcome; there's more than enough!"
Gathering communities of people to share
Another world pictured through love everywhere
Nothing is wasted in the world we see
"Imagine all the people living life in peace"
Society's excess now becomes our meal
Make the world better, prove that love is real

Zero Waste, Zero Greed, Zero Currency

"Picture a world where no children are starving, 'cuz everybody shares their bread/ picture a world without any money, where people work for love instead/ You and I, we can make it happen/ if we make today become the day/ when love becomes our philosophy" (lyrics taken from "When Love Becomes Our Philosophy", written by Fran Gonzales)

"You may say I'm a dreamer/ but I'm not the only one/ I hope someday you will join us/ and the world will live as one" -John Lennon, from the song "Imagine"

What are my goals, my hopes and dreams? They are not new, not even particularly radicial (or so I think). Many people before me have touted the same ideologies, shared the same hopes and asked the same questions as I am doing now. But that is part of what encourages me to continue on this path and to know that there is hope for change in this dark world. I don't think that the system of things will change in my lifetime, but I want to live a life that inspires people to change their own lives in little ways that make a difference, no matter how small. Once you've changed yourself, you've changed a tiny part of the world.

People ask some common questions again and again. One example is the (IMO) ignorant, "We can never change the way things are. There will always be evil, so why try to change anything? It's just not realistic."

My answer: We can make a small difference in an individual life, we can inspire others to see hope, we can reduce our consumption and waste by a fraction, so why not try to change? Would we rather live lives that are not of any use? I think we should live out what we believe, whether it's "practical" or not. There is so much we can do. I personally see my life as an experiment, a search for the best way to live my life.

Another annoying question that needs to be given its due: "You couldn't live like this if it weren't for dumpsters and friendly 'systemites'. Aren't you dependent on the very system you criticize?"

To answer that, I would rather quote the wisdom of others who address that same question.
From Suelo's
FAQ website: "
Are swallows nesting in house attics dependent upon money? Are pigeons nesting on bank skyscrapers dependent upon money? Are barnacles clinging to aircraft carriers and corals living on buried artifacts dependent upon money?"

And from the UK Freegan FAQ page: " '(v) Aren't freegans dependent on the system they criticise?'

No! It could be said that the system is dependent on freegans to slow down its own self-destruction. The system is destroying the very things we are ALL dependent on - the earth and its inhabitants.

Freegans would like to see the end of waste and dumpster-diving itself. Freegans currently make use of the waste produced by the economic system because it would be a waste not to do so. We need to realise that freeganism is a viable alternative to the current system and not a reaction to it.

If more people live simply, there is more to go around.

If more people reduce waste, there is more to go around.

If more people share what they don't need with those who do, there is more to go around.

If more people give their time helping others, there is more to go around (and we get more done!)"

My answers to some questions about Freeganism

(taken from an email interview done earlier this year)
What does freeganism mean to you?

To me, "freeganism" refers to a set of ideals related to how our actions (particularly consumption) impact the earth and its population. Implementing the best use of resources is an important aspect of a freegan lifestyle. Freeganism is practiced through such things as dumpster diving (using resources that would go to waste), voluntary work (sharing human resources, like time and skills), and finding ways to limit consumption and materialism (in our own lives and those of others).

How did you get involved in freeganism?

Before I knew of the term "freeganism", my parents taught me to be considerate of the earth and involved me in such activities as dumpster diving and gleaning firewood from construction sites. As I got older and came across the ideals of the movement we call freeganism, I remembered the things my parents tried to instill in me. Otherwise, I found out about freeganism through friends who practiced the ideals themselves.

Are you completely freegan?

It is hard to say what it means to be "completely freegan". I do try my best to be conscious of how my actions affect the world around me and I volunteer my time instead of working in a job that perpetuates the current damaging system of greed, profit and waste. But because freeganism is not an organization defined by a creed, my lifestyle may be seen as completely "freegan" by some and not so much by others. The standards are not clearly defined.

Can you tell me about some of the things you do on a day-to-day basis?

My lifestyle is quite flexible because I do not work in a job for pay, so my daily activities vary. But I do consistently bin raid for basics like food and clothing (and whatever random goodies show up in the bins). Another consistent part of my lifestyle is doing work for free, though the type of work varies, too. I have done garden jobs for people, picked up litter, cleaned houses, worked on construction sites and so on, as needs come up (for friends and for strangers). Another aspect of freeganism that is important to me is education of the
masses. My friends and I like to speak to people about the ideals and goals of the freegan movement and to make them aware of issues that we see are important, such as the waste that goes on in the name of consumerism.

Do you ever worry about any health or legal implications of being freegan?

I do not worry about my health at all. With bin raiding, it just takes common sense to know what is edible and what isn't. Most food that you find is quality product, often within date and very clean. I can confidently say that I eat better as a freegan from bins than I did when I paid for my food. I could not afford the kind of food items
that I find thrown away.

Legal issues should not be a problem because bin raiding is not stealing... we are taking from what has been thrown away. The only grey area comes when people are accused of trespassing, but I do not worry about such implications because it is not common for people to get into trouble for such a small thing as dumpster diving.

What reactions have you had from other people about being freegan?

Many people do not understand a lot about freeganism. I have been called lazy because I do not get paid for the hard work that I do. Some people say that freegans are freeloaders that do not contribute to society and the image of freegans is not always positive. Other people have been inspired by the "eco-conscious" lifestyle that my friends and I try to lead. I have started a few people dumpster diving who had never done it before and have encouraged them to waste less.

What advice would you give to someone else who is thinking of becoming a freegan?

I would advise people to work together with other freegans, because building community between people is another imortant aspect of freeganism. People should examine all aspects of their lives to see how they are affecting the world and they should be willing to change.

Anything else you would like to add on the matter?

I would like to say that freeganism is about a lot more than dumpster diving or getting things for free - it is about creating a more sustainable way of life. Recycling is good, but a change of attitude is better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why I Love Cats

Purring, smiling
(as only a cat can),
his vertically-pupiled eyes are half-closed in bliss
as my hand drifts slowly,
across his silky silver coat.
My fingers' journey ends at that lovely flexible tail
and then begins again
above his grey triangular nose.
On my lap, contentedly
he lays,
Purring, always purring...
Get your dog
to do

Monday, April 20, 2009

Introductory Thoughts

Well, hello and welcome to my blog. I never really thought of having a blog before, and all of a sudden I had this random thought the other day that I should start a blog. The reasons are many: I like to write, I have friends all over the country (and out of the country) who may be interested in what I am up to, and people ask me all the time to tell them my stories from my travels and to share my thoughts. So now I am creating a space in which to do that. I must also give credit for my inspiration to my dear friend Suelo (a.k.a "Zero Currency Man"), who has a fantastically interesting and engaging blog which I love to read.

There are so many things I could say to get started. I am probably going to have a lot of posts in the first week or so, to get things caught up to where I am now, and then I may drift off a bit.

The Short Version

Here follows the shortened version of my last few months. Let's back up to November... I had just spent a fantastic time traveling with my JC brothers around Southern California, and then we had headed north up the beautiful CA coast. We got to San Francisco in time for a kidney transplant - a donation involving me sharing my "extra" kidney with a young man who has become a dear friend. Most of you reading this have already heard all about that, but this is the starting point I have chosen. :)

Then the guys and I took a plane and spent the holiday month of December in London, England (which was cold). On the first day of the New Year, we landed in Nairobi, Kenya, where we spent three wonderful months doing all sorts of
interesting, engaging and positive things. I will definitely share much more about my time in Kenya, as I see that as one of the best things I have done in my life up to this point.

After Kenya, most of the JC community flew back to England, to begin a three month spurt on the big island. But shortly after landing at Heathrow Airport in London, I made my journey back to the US, and I ended up back in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, to start a new chapter of my life on my own. That was three weeks ago.

That brings us to now. I am in a nice suburb called Pasadena, staying with a kind freegan friend I met in my first week of my return to Cali. I am very thankful for his hospitality, friendship and inspiration. On Friday, I hope to move in with my friend Paloma for a while.

So that's the short version. I will go into more details as I go along.

The Jesus Christians

First, I want to say thank you to the whole JC community for the three years I spent learning, traveling and growing with you. (to the right: a photo of the East Coast US team in Jan 2007) I still consider the JCs to be my family, and will always be grateful for the ways they have opened my eyes. I am
now what I suppose they would call a "friendly ex-member", but I see it more like I am an independent member of their community, a traveler carrying out the ideas and beliefs that God planted in me through them. My goal is to plant those ideals in the soil of my surroundings wherever I go and in whatever I do.

The JCs are a small, radical Christian community that I joined when I was 18.
They describe themselves like this (and I would say it's an accurate description): "A live-by-faith, work-for-God-not-money Christian community. We distribute Bible-based comics and other tracts, and do free (voluntary) work. Against hypocrisy and self-righteousness in the church. In favour of honesty, humility and love." (jesuschristians.com) They have about 30 members total in 4 countries around the world, but they have had a big (IMO positive) impact on the world around them. I send my love out to them all! (at right: US team, Jan 2008)

JC Music Videos

While I'm at it, I'll promote my friends further by posting the link to their Youtube page, which has 5 new music videos that they produced while we were in Kenya. All of the music is original, positive and deep. It's good quality stuff produced on cheap equipment. You can also listen to a large collection of their music here on Soundclick.

Life at the Holy Gardens

"Holy Gardens" is the name of the volunteer center where the JCs and I spent most of our time in Western Kenya. It is a lovely place situated across from the bustling open markets of a small village called Shinyalu in the remote rural area of the Kakamega District. The city of Kisumu (located on the shores of the famous Lake Victoria) is about 2 hours away on bumpy (treacherous in their bumpiness!) dirt roads.

Life in rural Kenya is much different to the materialistic culture we take for granted in the wealthy West. In Kenya, life is simple, almost nothing is wasted and dust covers everything. Being barefoot or wearing flip-flops is the norm, chickens, cows and pigs can be seen roaming the roads and children with no entertainment systems or video games are happy and have fun.

While in Kenya, my friends and I involved ourselves in several different projects that the center is engaged in. My favorite activity was the Easy English Program,
Add Imagein which we would go to the small, poor schools in Add Videosurrounding villages to help teach English using a series of books and flashcards that my friend Dave created years and years ago in India. On the right is my friend Kim, having a student read one of the books aloud.

Another thing we worked on is a new permaculture garden that was beginning to really spring up before I left. Digging, planting and watering was a large and enjoyable part of my experience.

There are many, many things I could say about my time in Kenya and my thoughts on the poverty and way of life I witnessed. I have a lot to say about the inbalance of wealth in the world, too... which was clearly displayed in my mental comparison of the place I grew up (the US) and the place I have taken in my heart as "home" (Kenya). But I will share those thoughts another time.

Life in Pasadena

While in Los Angeles, I have been trying to get involved in different ways of sharing the dream of a better world. I pass out literature ("positive propaganda") with a Freegan/Christian bent and seek to volunteer my time. I have made many new friends and interesting people. One thing I have been really enjoying is the "Dumpster Meetups" my friend Eric has been organizing. We have been scheduling a time for people to meet at a certain place, and then gone bin-raiding. Often there are a few "newbies", which is always great fun. The events (there have been three since I have been here, I think) have been great sucesses, with every attendee getting a large share of the perfectly good food that we "rescue" from the wasteful clutches of the landfill-destined dumpsters behind our favorite market.

I have been brainstorming and have plans for more fun things to do to make people think. I am also contemplating going traveling again, possibly with Zero Currency Man. Tune in soon to see how it all plays out!