In 2009 Ed Hale attended a two week Civilian Diplomacy Trip to the country of Iran with the world’s oldest non-profit peace and diplomacy organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Hale was among 11 Americans chosen for the trip, along with journalist Robert Dreyfus and author Larry Beinhart and several members of American prominent nuclear watchdog NGOs as well as other peace activists. They met with various members of different departments of the Iranian government including presidents Ahmadinejad and Khatami, Iranian Peace activists, members of the Islamic Republic clergy, Imams and Ayatollahs, leaders of Christian Churches and Jewish Synagogues there. They also had time to connect with a lot of the Iranian people all over the country, who were extremely happy and excited to meet Americans. Hale has been writing about the experience extensively in his Transcendence Diaries (run a search for “Iran”) and speaking about the trip to various groups over the years. CLICK TO READ MORE Continue reading “Ed Hale Photo Gallery From Civilian Diplomacy Trip To Iran”
Ed Hale music video — White House Jihad
Peace Delegation to Iran – Hale’s Personal Blogs
Peace with Iran — The website
The Transcendence Manifesto
“This is a message to all citizens of the world. In every nation all across the globe”
Our Message to the World
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White House Jihad Music Video by Ed Hale
Watch the music video for the song White House Jihad by Ed Hale on YouTube.
White House Jihad
Blood runs down pensylvania avenue Continue reading “White House Jihad Music Video by Ed Hale”
Ed Hale Travels to Israel-Palestine for Peace Mission & Spiritual Pilgrimage
Ed Hale Travels to Israel-Palestine for Peace Mission & Spiritual Pilgrimage. On October 10th, 2013 Ed Hale embarked on a two-week fact-finding mission and spiritual pilgrimage to Israel-Palestine with a small group of approximately 18 others with the Israeli-based ICCI Organization. The team will visit ‘holy sites’, attend meetings with various peace organizations and have an opportunity to stay with Palestinian families in the West Bank. Ed will be posting photos on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr and regular updates on his Transcendence Diaries blog. For more detailed information about the trip click here http://ift.tt/1g9fHjY
via Flickr http://ift.tt/1nAo9sa
Ed Hale to Release New Book Revealed in Recent Interview
“Scene in San Francisco” singer-songwriter-recording artist Ed Hale revealed in an interview earlier this month that he was releasing a new book this year entitled Bouncing Back When Flat. The interview will surely please fans who have been patiently waiting for the release of the follow-up to his wildly successful last solo album Ballad On Third Avenue; it is one of the most personal and in-depth interviews the singer-author-activist has ever given in his 15+ year career. In it he discusses a wide range of topics from his peace work and human rights activism, to the sound of his long-awaited new solo album, to his recent return to Billboard Top 40 status. He also dives deep into a variety of personal subjects that are usually reserved only for his popular blog The Transcendence Diaries. The interview reveals that Hale’s new book chronicles a very specific time in the singer’s life — one that he feels is important to share and may be an inspiration for many: the betrayal and business setback that left him broke, discouraged and homeless just a few short years ago and how he managed to recover from it, overcome the obstacles and rise back up to a whole new level of success and happiness. “This isn’t a subject I have felt comfortable talking about at all since it happened,” Hale says in the interview. “It’s still difficult to think about. But I understand why it’s important. If I can survive and bounce back from that, then anyone can do anything. I get that. That’s why I decided to write the book.” More news will be updated as it is released. In the meantime, we have reprinted the interview for fans in its entirety here with permission from the author. Originally published on February 1st, 2014 here: http://www.flyfreeavatar.com/2014/02/bouncing-back-flat-interview-with-ed-hale/
FlyFreeAvatar.com recently had the opportunity to get recording artist Ed Hale to sit down for an in-depth interview. This is a project we have spoken about doing for several years, and the New Year seemed like the perfect time to finally complete it. Hale has been in the public eye for most of his life, having released his first album at the age of 17. He is best known as a singer-songwriter and recording artist — as the lead singer of the musical group Ed Hale and the Transcendence, scoring numerous Top 40 hits over the last fifteen years — including classics like “Superhero Girl”, “Scene in San Francisco” and “New Orleans Dreams”. He is also well-known as a successful entrepreneur and businessman, a prolific writer, and an outspoken social and political activist and human rights advocate. He has a reputation for being open and outspoken about his personal life, especially in his popular long-running blog The Transcendence Diaries, which is celebrating its twelfth year online this year. He is refreshingly candid about sharing his spiritual views as well – a rare quality in the entertainment world. Being actively involved in community building and Civilian Diplomacy work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Hale has traveled the world extensively for diplomatic, peace and work trips and speaks six languages. Most applicable to this site, Hale has taken all of the Avatar Courses numerous times over the last 15 years and continues to do so on a regular basis.
FlyFreeAvatar (FFA): When I first thought about talking to you for this interview, there were two questions that came to mind immediately. The first was about how your music has been affected by taking the Avatar courses. And the second was about all the success you’ve had over the years and how much of a role you think Avatar has played in it.
Ed Hale (EH): Yep. I can see that. Those are the two questions I get asked the most when it comes to Avatar. But that’s TWO questions you know. [laughs]
FFA: Okay so let’s start with your career success. With the band’s last album’s success and the hit singles you had from your solo album, “Scene in San Francisco” and “New Orleans Dreams” climbing the Billboard Top40 Charts, why don’t we start there? With your career success. How much of a role do you think Avatar has played in that?
EH: Well I had achieved success in music at an early age. Long before I took the Avatar Course for the first time. So I don’t want to mislead anyone on that count. But it was short lived. I mean, I was signed, released an album, had a few hits and was touring before I finished high school. And then it was all over before I graduated college! [laughs] But this latest success? I think we could safely say that I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for everything I learned in Avatar; let alone be in Billboard magazine.
FFA: Your early career, that was when you were known as Eddie Darling…
EH: Yes. That’s the embarrassing truth. But you know, when we’re young… we don’t know. We think we know… but we don’t. At the time I guess I thought that was a cool sounding name. But that was such a crazy experience to go through at such a young age. None of it was on my terms. It was all up to other people. Just a very large greedy money-making machine. If they like what you’re doing, you’re in. If they don’t like what you’re doing, you’re out. No compassion, no sense of artistic integrity or guidance. It was really disheartening for me as a young artist. I thought that was going to be the start of this amazing career, but it didn’t last very long. A few years in the big leagues and it was over and I was back in the local club scene.
FFA: But you obviously didn’t give up on music, which has been a hallmark of your career, this persistence. What led you to keep going?
EH: Well I did give up for a while there. I went back to college and got really into that. But it didn’t last long. I just couldn’t stay away from making music. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable NOT making music. It’s just the one thing in life I enjoy doing more than anything else. Except being married of course! [laughs] The difference was, when I went back into music then, that it was going to be on MY terms. I didn’t feel like I had any control in it my first run-through. So that was one of the many reasons why I took the Avatar Course. I wanted to harness more deliberateness in my life. Not sure if that’s a word… But I really liked the idea of “living deliberately”. [Living Deliberately is the name of the first book by Harry Palmer. Palmer is the author and creator of the Avatar Course and has published many books on the subject.]
FFA: You were young when you took Avatar for the first time.
EH: Yes, I was 21 or 22 years old. Back then that was considered “young”. Now there are kids eight and nine years old taking the courses. It’s incredible. I used to feel like “the kid” around those courses. Now I feel old compared to these kids. [laughs]
FFA: Yes. It’s amazing. But still, 22 is still pretty young to take Avatar. Especially back then when the course was fairly new and unknown. What prompted you to take it?
EH: Well it’s like what I was saying, about the last album, and really all of them over the last ten years… I took Avatar initially because I wanted to feel more in control of my life. I wanted to feel like I was creating my experiences. I could FEEL that what it was about totally vibrated with what I believed personally. I mean, the whole “we create our experiences based on our beliefs” premise… I believed that already. Or at least wanted to. But how do we control our beliefs? That’s what puzzled me and interested me the most. And I learned how to do that on that first Avatar Course; and in the future ones that I took like Masters and Wizards. It gave me the ability to create my beliefs deliberately. So instead of feeling caught up in a large out of control system like the music business, I created feeling in control and confident. And every album since has done better than the last. It’s really been a very positive force in my career. For sure. There’s no arguing about that.
FFA: So do you use the tools regularly?
EH: Yes. Absolutely. I try to live through them… By using them all the time… Like in every moment. After a while, it transcends “using the tools” and just becomes… a way of life, a habit, how you live.
FFA: Have you used the tools specifically about your career? In other words is there a direct correlation between the success you’ve had and using the Avatar tools?
EH: Yes. Absolutely. In terms of using them specifically around my career, I learned from some of the more experienced Avatars out there – and I’m not sure if this is “a thing” or not… But I learned that they might go to a course and dedicate that whole course to just one aspect of their lives, like say their career, or money. Other things come up of course, because it’s all connected, all the different aspects of our lives… but I went to a Pro Course [The Avatar Professional Masters Course] and decided to dedicate the whole course to my career. And it was a truly amazing experience. Doing it that way.
FFA: In what way?
EH: Just the discipline you have to have in order to do that, to stay focused on one thing; controlling your will to be able to do it. And then the variety of tools available to you to explore that one aspect of your life. They offer you so many different perspectives you’ve never thought of before. And the course keeps you on track to really get to the bottom of things. In whatever you’re focusing on. In that case, tackling your beliefs about one specific subject, like your career, from the variety of different angles that are provided to you by using all those different tools. We released the Rise and Shine album a few months later and that album took off bigger and faster than we ever expected. It opened the door for us. Before that, we were a new and relatively unknown band. After that album, we became a national act. The songs were charting in cities all over the country. That was when I first started learning about where all these cities were that we hear about all the time around the country. From the radio station play charts. [laughs] I can’t help believe that part of what helped all that to happen was because I had dedicated that course a few months earlier to focusing just on my career. It was so effortless.
FFA: Have you done that with other areas of your life? Is it something you always do?
EH: No it is not something I always do. But I have done it with other things. But not usually. I did it regarding relationships one year and that was also very successful. I found my soul-mate because of doing that I believe. I cleaned up all the beliefs I had about love and romance and relationships… But usually I just take the courses and allow whatever comes up to come up. And you know, what I notice is that if your attention is on your career, then that’s what’s going to come up for you anyway. So it’s not really necessary. It all tends to work out perfectly if you don’t fight it and you just let it flow. Ultimately it’s your consciousness, no one else’s. You just have to decide if you want to be a victim of it or the master and leader of it.
FFA: That’s well put. So how do the courses affect your music? As an artist?
EH: Well I get that question a lot. And the answer is I honestly don’t know. I know that the answer is supposed to be really incredible and mystical or magical in some way… There’s this expectation there it seems… But honestly, in terms of music, I’ve been writing and playing music since I was a kid, since before I could walk. So if I were to be totally honest, I don’t know what affect it’s had. Freedom maybe?
FFA: That’s fair. Freedom in what way?
EH: Well… I can tell you this. When I first took the Avatar Course and then the Masters Courses, I felt OUT OF THIS WORLD. I had never felt so good in my life. Just like… I don’t know, flying is how I would put it. High as a kite, but without drugs. High on life. [Hale is very animated as he speaks. His eyes are wide and he uses a lot of hand gestures.] I felt SO confident and SO fresh and new and GOOD inside. I KNOW that came through in the music I was writing back then. It gave me a feeling of invincibility and that definitely translated to me having a new-found confidence as a musician and as a writer… to write whatever I wanted to and forget about any of the so-called “rules of the business”. You know? So in that sense, the courses did affect my music tremendously.
FFA: Some of your songs are very spiritual. You tend to write more specifically about spiritual matters than other mainstream rock or pop singers…
EH: So now I’m mainstream? That’s a first!
FFA: You know what I mean, singers in the public eye… most of them don’t write about spirituality as much as you do. Even the ideas of Avatar and Abraham Hicks are referenced. I also couldn’t help notice that you credit Harry Palmer on some of the songs.
EH: Well yeah, [laughs] you get so excited after you first learn all that knowledge. It’s a big WOW moment. Like discovering chocolate or sex for the first time or something. [laughs] But bigger. Just the knowledge is mind-blowing, right? So it’s a given that you’re going to want to share that with people. Just not go overboard with it… hopefully. But if you use the tools on a regular basis, if you practice BEING an Avatar… then you feel like you’re walking on clouds most of the time. Those ideals and principles are embedded in you. Simple things. But profound. So they tend to come out in the lyrics. If I write a lyric that sounds really close to something I’ve read then yeah I’ll give credit to wherever I think credit is due. When I was younger I was writing a lot of songs about spirituality and transcendence and stuff like that and it really did feel like I was channeling the ideas of Avatar through music at times. So I would credit whoever was the inspiration. That doesn’t make our publisher very happy [laughs] because it creates a lot more paper work. But it’s the right thing to do. Harry Palmer’s ideas have been a huge influence on me and how I think… ever since I was a kid.
FFA: Does he know that he’s written songs with you?
EH: I don’t know. [laughs] That’s a weird way to put it. But I’ve never kept it a secret. We’ve never talked about it. I always wonder if he gets these checks in the mail and then wonders where they’re coming from. [laughs]
FFA: You’ve also had tremendous success in business, as an entrepreneur.
EH: I’ve tried. [laughs]
FFA: Well you have. That’s an aspect of your career that isn’t talked about as much. You were a successful entrepreneur before you were 30, irrespective of your career in music. And that seems to be a running thread throughout your life, starting businesses and being in business, since you were very young. [Hale started his first company at the age of 20 when he opened up a rehearsal and recording studio. Since then he’s owned health food stores, juice bars, a vitamin manufacturing company, a business consulting company, a record label and a real estate investment company.]
EH: Yeah, for sure. That’s another one of those things that I just absolutely LOVE. Business. Being in business. LOVE it.
FFA: You say that about a lot of things!
EH: Maybe I do… [laughs] I don’t know. I guess I just love a lot of stuff. Hey that’s the Ambassador!
FFA: So what is it about business that you love?
EH: Well I was raised in that kind of an environment, number one. I grew up with my parents owning businesses. So I think that was instrumental in it. And I have just always enjoyed being in business for myself more than working for other people. Though I don’t necessarily believe that it’s easier. I actually think working for other people – especially for a large company – is the easier path to take, for sure. But for someone like me… I just could never imagine doing that full time and long term. Plus, there’s also a real rush you get out of the risky and adventurous aspect of being in business for yourself. Unlimited reward but unlimited risk as well. I get off on that.
FFA: But how do you keep up with it? And how does Avatar affect it?
EH: You know that’s two questions, right? [laughs] I’ve always been fascinated by being in business for yourself. Since I was a kid I always admired those kind of people. Tony Robbins has been as big an influence on me as say, someone like John Lennon. Almost equal. And I also found that I was good at it, or at least lucky in it. So I keep up with it as best as I can. Probably not as well as I could honestly. The Avatar thing, that’s a different story. It helps obviously. I know that. That’s the thing… Avatar helps you with everything. It’s not just one aspect of your life. It’s your whole life that is affected.
FFA: You’ve talked about Harry Palmer and Tony Robbins a lot throughout your career in interviews. They seem to come up quite a bit.
EH: [laughs] Yeah I guess I do. But hey if you’re going to have mentors, they might as well be great ones. And for my money those are two of the brightest minds in the world today when it comes to personal achievement. Even though they’re very different. Stephen Bauman too. He’s more of a spiritual intellectual who keeps your integrity on its toes. But really all of them do that. [Stephen Bauman is an author, speaker and Methodist Pastor in New York City]
FFA: I know your love for Tony Robbins and Stephen Bauman. But in relation to this website and its readers, how does Avatar help with your success in business?
EH: Well to me I think the answer to that question is obvious, but for someone who’s never taken any of the Avatar Courses before…. okay, we can go there… Say you’re experiencing the same challenge over and over again in your business. Everything seems to be going well except this one thing… Or perhaps LOTS of things… You can keep banging your head against the wall over it… Hire new people, recruit consultants, read more books, take more classes, etc. etc. OR you can take a look at the beliefs underneath this problem and once you discover them, you can then DIScreate them. That’s a term that Harry Palmer came up with in the Avatar Course. It’s brilliant. And voila! They’re gone. That challenge will no longer be there. THAT’S how it can help. It’s miraculous. If people have ever seen that movie The Secret… it’s like that. But it’s real.
FFA: You make it sound so easy.
EH: Well in a way, it is. Not all the time. But it isn’t rocket science. It’s a very natural thing. It’s an organic process, just like breathing oxygen. We just have to re-remember it… Discreating limiting beliefs helps us remove obstacles in our life that up to that point seem insurmountable to us. I can honestly say I would not have experienced the level of business success I have had in my life, especially as young as I was, without having that knowledge and those tools. To me it’s a no-brainer. The same with religious faith. Both help.
FFA: Speaking of obstacles, you’ve had your share and always seem to bounce back, which has been an inspiration to many people. What’s the secret? Or does that give away the plot to your new book? [Hale has a new business/inspirational book coming out this year entitled Bouncing Back When Flat]
EH: Besides what I just said? [laughs] I mean that kind of sums it up, right?
FAA: I was hoping we could go a little deeper.
EH: Okay well which ones? There’ve been a lot of them. [laughs] It hasn’t been as easy as people seem to think it has. It never is. Not for any of us.
FFA: A few years ago you experienced a major business setback that left you broke and even homeless for a while, which is what your new book is about. I’ve read some of the interviews about that experience and it’s shocking. But you turned it around. What I’m trying to come to is how you did it… [In 2006 Hale discovered that his business partner, Naomi Whittel (nee Balcombe), now at Reserveage Organics, had sold one of the companies he had founded, Ageless Foundation Laboratories, without his knowledge to a publicly traded company. Hale didn’t even know his company had been sold — finding out only through the SEC filing, and Naturade Inc., the company who purchased Hale’s company, didn’t even know Hale was an owner of the company until months later. The story has been written about extensively, but Hale has been relatively quiet about it until a few interviews last year.]
EH: Yeah, that… [This is the first time in the interview Hale becomes quiet, anything but animated.] That’s still a tough thing for me to talk about. But I understand that it’s important and why you think it’s relevant. I’m still coming to terms with it all.
FFA: Well that’s why you wrote this book, right?
EH: Yes. Absolutely. It’s an important story. I know that.
FFA: Not many people can imagine living through that kind of a setback, let alone bouncing back from it. But you did. Rather quickly some would say. And you have had tremendous success since then. More-so even.
EH: Yes, I know. And I’m very grateful for that. Hence the book. If I can do that, then anyone can do anything. That’s how I look at it.
FFA: I read an interview you gave last year where you did talk about it and it was inspiring. I only ask because the story does have a happy ending. You didn’t let it take you down, but instead you found a way to work your way back to the top. That’s an incredible achievement.
EH: Yes, it did take me down. I mean, how could it not have? One day I was going about my business and living my life, not a worry in the world, and then in one fell swoop everything I had in the world was gone. Bank accounts, credit cards, my company, retirement savings. Everything. Gone. It was the single most challenging thing I’ve ever lived through. For sure. But you’re right, I didn’t let it keep me down forever. I started from scratch and rebuilt. And slowly I was able to rise back up.
FFA: Without giving too much of the book away, how were you able to do that?
EH: Well for one thing, my faith is very strong. We’ve talked about that. I’ve never hidden that. I try not to be preachy, but I also think it’s bullshit, pardon my French, when entertainers keep their faith in the closet because they’re worried about how it’s going to affect their career.
FFA: You’ve certainly never done that.
EH: No, I haven’t. I talk about it when it’s appropriate. It’s important to me and I believe it’s important to a lot of my friends and fans.
FFA: You write a lot about religion and faith in your blog and sometimes sound almost anti-religious, almost like an atheist, which I know you’re not. And yet at the same time you write a lot about being a Christian and how challenging it is. Can you explain that a little?
EH: Well I’m definitely not one of those “100% sold” kind of people. I think anyone who’s really honest about their religious faith is going to be confused about it… and struggle occasionally. Because there are just so many contradictions in religion and spirituality… The difference with me I guess is that I haven’t necessarily chosen a side yet… I’m still open to all of them…. dissecting it all. And I explore all that a lot publicly in the Diaries. [Hale is referring to his long-running blog The Transcendence Diaries].
FFA: I know a lot of people find that inspiring. But you also anger certain groups of people with this “openness”.
EH: I know. And I don’t mean to. What I’m really doing is what I believe we should all be doing if we’re serious about spirituality and faith… questioning, studying, exploring. I’m not trying to make anybody mad or even question what they believe. To me it’s fun. It’s academic. But it also meaning beyond that.
FFA: I think most people recognize that. So your faith is one of the things that brought you through that business challenge?
EH: Without a doubt. A lot of reflection and prayer. And a lot of counseling with mentors. Seeking advice from older people that I looked up to. Also I had a really strong community around me. Family and friends who were there for me. That’s a tremendous asset. Something that you can’t buy. If it weren’t for that, I don’t know if I’d be here today. Because when that kind of thing happens to you, you really start questioning your life. All your effort and hard work and even your beliefs, things that you’ve taken for granted your whole life all of a sudden… you start questioning.
FFA: Like what?
EH: Well like… just everything. For example, you assume that if you work hard and you’re a good person that you’re going to succeed. That’s what I’d ALWAYS believed. My whole life. And I experienced that. Over and over again throughout my life that’s what I experienced. And then when this happened, it was so shocking, that it was hard to put those pieces back together, of that belief. It didn’t ring true to me anymore. Being a good person did NOT equal being successful. I started wondering if maybe that was just bs and perhaps we were supposed to be bad people and that was how to succeed. That was my first gut reaction of course. It took me some time to overcome that idea…. because bad people seem to succeed just as much as good people.
FFA: It’s easy to see how you could come to that.
EH: Right? But here’s the thing. I was wrong. We’re not “good” people because we want to succeed. We’re good people because we believe that’s the best way to live life. You know? My friends and family would call me every day, I mean every day, just to see how I was doing and check in on me. That was a big help. And we would talk about it and little by little they got through to me. I remember this one time I was driving around Manhattan with a friend, Big Mac, I LOVE this guy. He’s super funny, a southern guy. And he had just finished seminary at Princeton… So he is a spiritual guy too…
FFA: You write about him in your Diaries. I know the name.
EH: Yep. I write about EVERYBODY in the Diaries. Much to their displeasure! [laughs]
FFA: I definitely want to talk about that later, because I have a lot of questions about your blog and the reaction you’ve gotten through the years, but I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought. So go on with the story.
EH: Okay… So I was telling Big Mac how I was trying to make sense of God’s plan for my life with making this horrible thing happen to me. With Naomi and the business. That perhaps God was trying to show me a different path to take, rather than all this success and being a business tycoon that maybe God wanted me to be more focused on making the world a better place. And Big Mac, he just looked over at me and said “Bro I could never believe in a God like that.” I’ll never forget it. That was just one of those moments in life you never forget. I was like “What do you mean?” And he said “Ed, God doesn’t make bad things happen to people. God is grace. And love. Who did this to you? This Naomi chick did this to you.” The way he enunciated her name in his southern drawl… I can still remember it… He said “People did this to you man. God didn’t. God is the one helping you. Not hurting you.” I turned around in my seat and I began to cry. Right there in his truck. Because that was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. I had been so puzzled by it. I couldn’t figure out WHY it happened… I was still trying to make sense of it. But he made me realize in that moment that it didn’t have anything to do with God or God’s plan… it was people. If anything, God is there to help us, not hurt us. At least in his view.
FFA: And is that your viewpoint now?
EH: Yes. Absolutely. That really resonated with me. When he said it. And looking back, still, it totally changed my whole point of view. That’s what I mean by my beliefs were being challenged. I was actually so fooled for a while there that I thought maybe that “God” wanted me to suffer in that way… It’s crazy. But luckily, if anything it made me stronger. And more importantly it offered me a reference point for how to view life when bad things happen to us. That it’s not about blaming God, every time something good or bad happens to us. People were the cause of it. And more importantly so was I.
FFA: How so? How were you the cause of it?
EH: Well that’s the part where I think I got the most out of the experience. Where if there is anything positive to take away from it, I got it. The first thing I did, because I had taken Avatar, was I started looking at my own past actions to see what was there, what had I done, in my life… I started reflecting on my own responsibility in the whole thing, instead of blaming anyone – and trust me it was easy to blame people… it was a horrible thing they did, they broke the law in a hundred different ways, and worse… broke my heart by taking advantage of our friendship… I HATE stuff like that… people like that. But I knew I needed to look for where and how I was responsible… So on the one hand, I saw how we have to be real when it comes to people doing harmful things to us; it happens. We can’t live in a bubble and pretend that there aren’t bad people out there. Because there are. But I also saw that I had some responsibility in it too.
FFA: That’s admirable, but in what ways were you responsible?
EH: Well I can’t act like I did anything overtly wrong to cause it… Sometimes people can make the mistake of over-owning things I think. It’s not like I was acting unethically or broke the law or something… I was a good guy. Same as I am now. But I had been warned that that kind of thing might happen before it did… at least a hundred times before to be honest. It wasn’t like it came out of the blue. I had been in business with Naomi for years. And that was the main thing we argued about, was her always wanting to break the law and me always saying that we most certainly should NOT. And our employees would always be stuck in the middle, between our two viewpoints. She constantly accused me of being “self-righteous” and I just wanted us to play it straight. So I had definitely been warned already. But what had I done about it? Nothing. Sure we had stacks of legal agreements between us that prohibited us from doing those kinds of things… But based on what I’d already experienced with her in the past, I should have known better. I should have taken more action BEFORE all that happened. And I didn’t. Why? Because I was being lazy, yes… or because I was resisting conflict. For sure. I didn’t like conflict of any kind. I love people and I love harmony and I’m all about love and peace, you know? So I just pretended like everything was fine when I knew it really wasn’t. I could feel it…
FFA: You were in denial… of your intuition?
EH: Yes, absolutely. Living in denial. Pretending. I helped to create the whole thing through knowing about the potential for something like that to happen and NOT doing anything about it. NOT acting when you know you should can be just as bad as TAKING an action that’s harmful.
FFA: So you took responsibility for the experience? Did that make it easier to deal with?
EH: Yes, absolutely. It gave me a sense of relief. It enabled me to feel the remorse for my non-actions that might have contributed to it, and other things, and then to move on. What it does is help you feel responsible for it rather than like a victim of it.
FFA: That’s a great example of using what you learn in Avatar in the real world.
EH: Yes. Totally. I think so. That one experience compelled me to fill three whole notebooks with actions from my past that I felt weren’t necessarily aligned with being a good person and to make amends for them. In order to get a fresh start. It led to a lot of self-reflection and taking responsibility for my past. I became a better person through doing all that.
FFA: When you’ve written about the experience that’s what you mean by it also being a positive experience…
EH: Yes. Let’s face it. No one wants to go through something like that. To have everything you own taken from you by other people. That’s a bad thing. The betrayal aspect of it alone is enough to make you feel so discouraged and ungrounded… so unsure of yourself and the world. When someone lies to you so overtly and is doing it from a place of friendship, it can really screw with your mind. But you have to find a way to turn it around and see the positive side of it. And for me the best way to do that was to start looking at me instead of at the others. And to start planning how I could improve who I was as a person… Once again I saw firsthand how our actions in the world can affect others, either in a positive or in a negative way. That’s the least we can do. Take stock of our actions and make sure we are having a positive impact. So that’s what I did.
FFA: That is inspiring. And within a few years you had overcome it and were back on top again with three hit albums, songs on the Billboard charts, and your now infamous trip to Iran… Do you think there’s any correlation between what you went through and the success you’ve had?
EH: No. I don’t. Maybe, I don’t know. I know it inspired me. But only through necessity. Before that happened I was really enjoying life. Taking advantage of how hard I had worked and how successful I had become. After that, I was forced to go back to square one and start over again and rebuild my entire life and career from scratch. It really inspired me to become successful again. I was determined to. So in that respect yes there was a correlation. But I’ll tell you this: no one should ever believe for a minute that they need to endure some kind of tragedy or suffering in order to succeed. That would be a very impeding and unnecessary belief to cultivate.
FFA: That’s a good point to make.
EH: Well if you go and read a lot of the articles that were written when our first album after that experience came out and became successful there is a lot of attention paid to the whole rags to riches aspect of it, “from homeless to Billboard!” became a headline. As if there was a romantic aspect to it. And I can promise you that there is nothing romantic about going through something like that. If you can avoid it, do so.
FFA: Well the story is an appealing and inspiring one, from an entertainment or person of interest point of view. You can see that…
EH: Yeah, I can. Totally. Which is one of the reasons why I wrote a book about it. I mean, I get it. How often does something like that happen to a person? Not very often. It’s more like a movie than real life.
FFA: There is another aspect about that experience that I wanted to have you talk about if you don’t mind, because I think it’s important. Ultimately you decided to settle the whole thing with your partner out of court. Yet the case still remains unresolved years later. Why did you decide to do that? And do you regret it now? [Naomi Whittel signed a settlement agreement to pay Hale for the sale of the company in order to render it a legal transaction months after the sale and prevent the case from going to court, but the agreement has never been fulfilled.]
EH: Well that’s more than just one question….
FFA: Okay. Why did you agree to settle out of court? Why didn’t you just go about it in a more traditional business manner?
EH: You mean by taking legal action?
FFA: Yes. Laws were clearly broken. Contracts were breached. It seems like an open and shut case.
EH: Right, I know. And it was. I get this question a lot, especially from other business people. There was a ton of criminal activity revealed. Fraud, forgery, tax fraud, embezzlement, a lot of lying and stealing… You know. Crazy stuff. It was something right out of a movie. Totally unreal and way outside anything I’d ever dealt with before. It’s insane when you think about it. This was a situation where yes, I probably could have played tougher… But for one thing, there’s a good chance that Naomi would have gone to jail if I would have gone public with it by taking it to court. And I was still operating under the misconception that Naomi and I were friends. We had been engaged to be married after all for years. So I still cared about her as a person. Secondly, she literally called me every day for years from the moment I found out what she had done…. Begging me to settle. Even though it may seem in retrospect like such an open and shut case now, at the time, I was still receiving these calls from her every day begging me to settle and not go to court. I felt very pulled. Between my loyalty to her as a person, and to her family… And to doing the right thing perhaps…
FFA: So now you think that taking it to court would have been the right thing?
EH: Well it would have been the more normal action to take under those circumstances…. But also I felt that there had already been enough legal action in our lives. I mean, she had created such a huge mess of legal actions for us already. It was all lawyers and law firms galore… for years. No one was winning except the law firms as they say. But because I had made peace within myself about it, and she was pushing hard for an out of court settlement, I looked at both outcomes… Part of me really wanted to “get justice”. Because in business that’s what you do. If someone commits a criminal act, they deserve to get what they get, right? Justice, to the full extent of the law. I got that. But at what cost to me and my own sanity? And at what cost to my family and friends? They’d already been through the ringer because of what happened. I reflected on it and prayed about it a lot… And it just seemed like settling it was the right thing to do. To put it behind us as quickly and smoothly as possible.
FFA: Plus you assumed that once you settled that it would really be over and behind you as you say.
EH: Yes, I did. Totally. I thought that would be the end of it. The end of “the Naomi saga” once and for all. It happened. It was bad. But the ball was in my court. I could sue and drag it out in court for years, or I could forgive and settle and move on with my life.
FFA: But it didn’t end there. After all that, the settlement agreement remains unfulfilled. Which is what led to the major setback you experienced. So do you regret that decision now?
EH: Yes and no. Yes, because I wish it were over. I regret what I had to go through. And I am sublimely shocked that we’re still talking about it years later. I don’t honestly know how she can deal with it still being out there open and unresolved. But no, because in that moment I feel like I made the most responsible and mature decision that could have been made at that time. Trust me, forgiveness in those kinds of situations is difficult… but it’s the HIGH road. Being vindictive or seeking vengeance, that may be the more common road, but it’s not the high road.
FFA: Yes, as an Avatar I completely understand you choosing forgiveness over revenge. Even though in the end it was a costly decision…
EH: Yes, it was. So far at least. But I’m still giving her the benefit of the doubt. That’s the part that a lot of people don’t understand. At first she swore up and down that she had nothing to do with it, that she was “forced into it by her husband and this pack of evil attorneys” they had hired. I didn’t necessarily believe her… But you know, when you’re close to someone like that… It’s hard to cut the line completely that connects you. There is still love there. And compassion. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt.
FFA: But it sounds like a very one-sided kind of compassion.
EH: Maybe it is… That’s something I wonder about sometimes. Long story short, she swore up and down that she had every intention of fulfilling the agreement, and more than anything she was just afraid. At the time I felt like I was doing the right thing, by being compassionate and forgiving, because that’s what WE do, right? And protecting her…
FFA: Yes, I agree. That’s what we do. But this brings up the question of when is it better to look out for yourself by taking a more Guardian Heart approach? [Guardian Heart is a concept explored in the book Resurfacing by Harry Palmer.]
EH: I know… There’s a fine line between being a nice person or a good person and letting someone take advantage of you… They are two different things. And sometimes we confuse them. Maybe I’ve crossed that line now… I hope not. But I can tell you now, after going through all of that, I understand the importance of the Guardian Heart a lot more now, of not confusing being a nice person with being someone who allows others to take advantage of them. That IS something that we tend to get confused sometimes as humans. I also see the importance of standing up for what we believe in or just being committed to protecting ourselves and our loved ones. I know what you’re getting at. And I am in no way attempting to promote forgiveness as being equal to letting people take advantage of us.
FFA: There is a certain responsibility we have to ourselves and to others in defending integrity and justice for the good of everyone…
EH: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the reasons why I decided to write the book about what happened. It’s not just about the inspiration factor. But more about the responsibility to others. Not just to inspire other people who might be going through a similar challenge, but also to warn people that this kind of thing can happen to the best of us. No matter how nice we are or how good of people we are. No one is immune to it. You have to look out for yourself, no matter how nice of a person you are. But it is how we deal with it that is the true measure of a person.
I remember Tony Robbins telling a story once about how he went through a similar experience in his business life. His CFO was also his best friend and he discovered that this guy had been embezzling a ton of money from their company and it just shattered him; challenged his optimistic outlook for a while. When he told that story, I couldn’t relate to it at all. I was too young. I had never gone through anything like that. But when almost the same exact thing happened to ME… THEN I could relate to it. And knowing ahead of time that he lived through it really helped me. His story and his struggle with that inspired me. And I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be surprised that something like this even happened to me, because I’ve never really talked about it openly before. But I get it now. That responsibility to share it so other people can learn from it. That’s important.
FFA: I believe it is too. Not to spoil the finale of your book, but can you share at least a little about how you were able to rebuild from something like that? Tangible things, actions that you took.
EH: Yes, absolutely. If you can imagine waking up one day and being absolutely flat broke after years of working and having made a ton of money… Going from wealthy to broke overnight. That money still exists, but you just can’t get to it. Someone else now has control of it. You can’t even afford your next meal because your bank accounts have been taken over. Horrible right?
FFA: I find it hard to imagine. I think most people would.
EH: Well me too… Until it happened. After it happened, I wasn’t just broke; I was also extremely disheartened. It was hard to believe in humanity at all. But I didn’t want to become a jaded person. Or cynical. Or believe the worst in people. So I used the Avatar tools to let all those potentially negative beliefs go. I discreated them. And I deliberately created being who I really believed I was: a generally positive and optimistic person who believed in myself and others. I took every guitar I had and walked each one to a different friend’s house and left it there and said “I’ve been hit in a bad way. You know this. I need money for an attorney and money to eat. Here’s a guitar. This is what it’s worth. If you’re willing to help, I’ll leave it here till I can pay you back.” And you know, every friend I had was more than willing to help me out. It makes me emotional still. Because it really showed me how powerful friendships are. I had guitars all over the city in different people’s homes as collateral. And honestly half of my friends didn’t even care about collateral. That was just for me. To make me feel more comfortable in receiving help…
FFA: That’s exactly the kind of thing I was hoping you would share. These tangible actions that you took. I think people will find them very inspiring and informative.
EH: Well yeah, obviously in that kind of situation you have to find a way to get on your feet. Just to be able to eat. The part that hurt the worst is that Naomi and I were connected at the hip for ten years before that. We were engaged to be married for God’s sake. AND business partners for years after that. So she knew that once she did that that I would literally not have a cent to my name, nor even a way to eat. It was astounding to me that someone could do that. But once it happens you have to move on and find a way out of it. So that’s the first thing I did. Then I hired an attorney to help me sort out just what the hell happened. And then I started doing consulting work to bring in money. Business and health consulting. And of course liquidating assets. Physical things… And then I started hardcore trading again.
FFA: You mean trading in the stock market?
EH: Yes. Something I already had a lot of experience with. But besides real estate there’s no faster way to make money fast when your funds are limited. Of course it works in the reverse as well. So you really have to have a strong stomach and nerves of steel. But it was all about taking very real and tangible actions to move forward and start to rebuild. All of this AND still trying to finish recording the new albums with the band at that time and play shows in different cities.
FFA: I remember that. I bet a lot of people wondered why you changed so many things in your life at the time.
EH: Yes I’m sure they did. Because I also leased out my apartment in Manhattan for a while to make money. Whatever it took. Living with family and friends. It was a freaking nightmare honestly. But it was also a tremendous challenge and so kind of fun… When people asked me what was up, I didn’t hide the truth. But I also didn’t advertise it. I just kept moving forward. It was an insane position to be in. But you start from where you are. You start with the basics. You create being happy to be you, and simple things like “I can do this”. “I can make it happen”. “I believe in me”. Things like that. Using the Avatar tools to create those realities. Or whatever “tools” you have available to you. In spite of how challenging things may appear. You do it anyway. And at the same time you announce it to the world. Tell everyone what you’re doing. For me that meant telling everyone “The Ambassador is down but he’s not out! I’m rebuilding the empire!” Perceive it as a challenge, a doable challenge. And set about every day to being real with where you are… but also striving toward bigger things. I truly believed that I had learned a valuable lesson, but that I was not meant to stay down for long. That was not my destiny. I didn’t take all these courses and read all these books to let one major setback ruin my life forever. I was totally committed to rebuilding in spite of that setback.
FFA: When the first song from your new solo album made it onto the Billboard Charts, after going through all that, did it feel like your hard work had finally paid off?
EH: Are you kidding? Yeah. It was amazing! We laughed, we cried. And then laughed some more. A lot of jumping up and down screaming. One of the greatest days of my life. Friends calling from all over the country because they just heard the song on the radio or in their car… Things like that. I think because of the immense disadvantage I had been placed in – and everyone knowing about it…. That’s what made it so much more enjoyable for everyone. To be down like that and to rebuild it all from scratch and then top it off by hitting the Top 40 a few times. That was an amazing moment for sure.
FFA: You really did “bounce back when flat” as you say.
EH: Yeah, it’s hard to believe. But we did it!
FFA: And it didn’t end there. Around the same time, you were invited to be one of only a handful of Americans to visit Iran post-revolution on a peace mission. How did that come about? [Hale visited Iran in 2009 on a well-publicized Civilian Diplomacy mission along with eleven other Americans in leadership positions from a wide cross section of different industries. He represented the arts. He just returned from a similar trip to Israel-Palestine recently. In between he’s also visited countries in Africa, Europe and Central and South America to build homes and community centers.]
EH: I’m glad you asked. Because it’s actually a really magical story in a way. I was at this silent retreat at a convent of nuns…
FFA: You always say these things that sound so outrageous… Like you’re narrating a movie.
EH: Hah! Well I’m telling you, this is what happened. It sounds crazy. But that’s how it went down. I was at a silent retreat at a convent of all these sisters in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York. Episcopalian I think. And you couldn’t talk for like a week. So I used that time to just unwind and decompress. But they had this policy where during meals you could do some light talking… something like that. I met this one sister who was really cool, very hip. And we shared this passion for global human rights activism. We couldn’t really talk that much. But we got to know each other. And at the very end of the retreat she told me about this historic upcoming delegation of Americans who were headed to the country of Iran for a two week peace mission. She said that the application process had expired, but that if I got mine in really quickly that she’d put in a good word for me with the international organization that was putting the thing together. I had been trying to get into Iran for five years. I must have applied ten times and was denied every time. I had already been studying the language, Farsi, so I could speak the language a little bit… That helped. And you know, there’s more, but basically it all came down to me being at this silent retreat in the middle of nowhere that got me into Iran. Sort of. I suppose it was more than that. But that was the original impetus.
FFA: Being in the right place at the right time. It’s fascinating how these little miracles happen in our lives when we’ve put our attention and intention on them.
EH: Exactly! First our attention, then our intention, get rid of beliefs or ideas that are in the way and BAM! Things manifest!
FFA: Can you talk a little bit about your activism?
EH: Well it is something that I am passionate about. I think it’s an easy way to feel good. Because you’re giving back. It’s not all about you. It’s nice to step outside of it being all about us sometimes. A lot of times actually. [laughs. Hale has become reanimated. His eyes have that light back in them.] Every one of those trips will stay with me forever. I hope this is only the beginning.
FFA: And again you started a business around it. But this one was a non-profit. What is the goal of your PeaceWithIran.com organization?
EH: Just that. Peace with Iran. Exactly what it says. I honestly see it as a reality. I see it happening. Maybe not this year. But soon. The alternatives are far worse than the simple act of a peaceful reconciliation between the two countries.
FFA: From your mouth to God’s ears. What was the most important thing you learned from your trip to Iran?
EH: Great question. I’ve written a lot about this already, but I’d say that the first thing that struck me was how genuinely nice they are there and how much they love Americans. That was very much a surprise for me, for all of us on that trip. We never hear about what nice people the Iranians are here in the States. And we also don’t hear about how much they love and admire us here. That’s an important thing to share I think.
FFA: What other areas of activism are you interested in moving forward?
EH: Well now a lot of my focus lately has been on Israel and Palestine… That’s the real hotbed I believe… Even in regards to Iran, it seems to all come down to Israel and Palestine at the foundation.
FFA: Before we go too far off into world politics, can you talk a little bit about your new albums? What keeps you motivated to keep making music at such a rapid pace?
EH: Well I tend to write a lot of songs. AND at the same time I tend to have a lot of ambition when it comes to always wanting to out-do what we did last time, artistically. Every time we get an opportunity to make a new album it feels like such a privilege. So at first we just head into the studio to record our quote-unquote next album. It always starts out as a simple process and then it just starts to slowly get more and more complicated. So it’s just me wanting to challenge myself, see how far I can take it I guess. And the fans, their reaction to it…
FFA: So are the album titles official now? The ones that were just released to the public?
EH: Almost positively yes. Welcome to the Rest of the World for one, and Another Day in the Apocalypse for the other. They’re starting to sound really different from each other now. And the songs have been chosen for each. So we can see the finish line… finally.
FFA: So when can people expect to hear the first single or finished product?
EH: We’re not 100% sure, but my guess would be sometime this spring or summer…
FFA: Well I know a lot of people are excited to hear the albums. The last thing I want to ask you is if there was one thing that you could share with people about any of the Avatar Courses, what would it be? As someone who has taken all the courses and continues to do so.
EH: Well that’s easy. And hard, because there’s so much you could say about it. I mean, it’s a HUGE thing, right? I write about it a lot actually. On the one hand, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of being… You learn a whole new way of being, through becoming more adept at feeling and using your intuition… You become more honest and real. More in line with the truth. But on the other hand, it’s also just a series of courses. You know, it is what it is, whatever each person makes it out to be. I guess that’s what I would say about it. That in essence, the Avatar Course is essentially just a series of courses that contain all this confidential knowledge that you sort of already know, way down deep inside, like it resonates strongly when you read it, as if you’ve known it all your life, right? [Hale is once again excited and animated] And yet now it’s been broken down into very easy to understand and doable steps. That’s amazing! No one had ever done that before. I could go on and on… but put it like this: Take all the cool stuff that we’ve read about in metaphysical and new age books, AND all those documentaries about quantum physics and the so-called paranormal, and then turn all that into a nine day course filled with exercises and processes that teach you how to actually do THOSE things. Tools to help you gain more control over your life and the world around you… more personal power. Now do that with hundreds of thousands of other people from all over the world speaking seventy-something different languages! THAT’S what Avatar has turned into now after almost 30 years. A giant collection of the most enlightened or maybe better put the most enlightenment-seeking people on planet earth. It’s the coolest thing happening in the world right now hands down. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world working on being the best they can be AND trying to make the world a better place! Incredible stuff. People always ask me, “Is it worth the money?” And I’m like “Oh my God, no… it’s worth ten times as much.” Talk about a paradigm shift. If someone is looking for a real paradigm shift –something really transformative in their lives – I can’t think of anything else as powerful or noteworthy. At least not yet anyway. Out of everything out there. And I’ve tried it all and then some.
To find out more about an upcoming Avatar Course, visit www.Avatarepc.com
To find out more about Ed Hale, visit iTunes or www.edhale.com
TRANSCENDENCE LEAD SINGER, ED HALE, APPEARS AT OCCUPY SEATTLE – IN HIS BATHROBE!
Ed Hale, lead singer of the rock band turned music collective Ed Hale and the Transcendence, showed his support for the Occupy movement this week when he appeared at the Occupy Seattle protest holding a sign saying “No Sleep till Justice” and “Put Greed to Bed”. But as usual with the often outspoken and always creative artist/activist, Hale showed up looking as though he had just gotten out of bed, literally! Wearing nothing but a pair of slippers, pajama bottoms and a bathrobe, Hale marched the streets of downtown Seattle with thousands of others, his strange choice of an outfit driving home the message of the sign he lifted high above his head as he marched. Hale’s myriad approaches to protest and political activism through the years — including dressing up as a US Army General to protest the war in Iraq, or his Peace Missions to Iran as a Civilian Diplomat — have always been bold and creative, and sometimes downright controversial at times. Combined with the rapid pace at which he records and releases music, two of Ed Hale’s multiple personas have come together now in a cohesive manner more than ever before in the public spotlight; offering something for everyone. Read more about Ed Hale’s “Occupy weekend” in his long running blog The Transcendence Diaries: http://www.transcendencediaries.com/2011/10/occupymyweekend.html
Read full press release: http://glgpub.com/blog/launch/transcendence-lead-singer-ed-hale-appears-at-occupy-seattle-in-his-bathrobe
“NEW ORLEANS DREAMS” RISES TO OCCUPY #23 ON THE AC TOP40!
This past week “New Orleans Dreams” rose 5 more spots to land at #23 on the Adult Contemporary Top 40 Chart, setting a new record for Ed Hale and his band Transcendence. Ed Hale’s poetic and subtly disguised political message song is now the highest charting hit single on commercial radio of his career, just sliding past the Transcendence song “Superhero Girl” which peaked at #24 on the Alternative Rock Specialty Show Chart in 2003.
Concurrent to the rise of “New Orleans Dreams” — a song with rather uncharacteristically potent lyrics compared to the normally light-weight subject matter of AC commercial radio, Hale spent the weekend at Occupy Seattle marching with thousands of others through the downtown Westlake Park area.
For those looking to go deeper or for more alignment with the politically charged atmosphere of the times, iTunes offers both the 3’35″ “radio edit” version of the song that most listeners are familiar with, and the extended 6’50″ full-length version from the album. Download one or both versions of the song today.
And for fans of the more indie-rock/pop sounds of Transcendence, the band Hale and company have been in for the last nine years, don’t forget to pre-order their long awaited new studio album All Your Heroes Become Villains, which hits stores nationwide on November 15th!!!
To connect with Ed Hale or the super-group Ed Hale and the Transcendence, head to Twitter and Facebook today.
FINDING THE FLOW IN COLOMBIA – UPDATE #3
Day six. A quickie. Several of our team members fell ill over the last 36 hours. I too had a brief bout with the old ‘rumble in the jungle’ yesterday morning as previously reported; not sure if it was the unbearable heat, the grueling work, the lack of sleep, or something I ate or drank. Same goes for the other troops who went down over the last two days. You just can never be sure. But we’re back on the work site and we’ve finally hit that flow-space that most work trips find eventually within themselves. It can take anywhere between two days to five if its going to happen, and when it does you can really see and feel it. It’s palpable. One minute you are on a team of twenty-something unique individuals of all different ages, races, backgrounds, and social circles, who may or may not know each other, each with their own work habits, ideas and beliefs; each with their own opinions, fears, hopes, and aspirations – God knows all trying their best to get along and get the job done, but still separated by that invisible line that exists between each of one of us and “the other.” On almost every work or peace or mission or activist trip I’ve ever been on I have noticed that at some point the group as a whole will reach a new place in consciousness where the individuals unify, become one unit and work as a whole that almost always is greater than the sum of its parts in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. Not sure when the exact moment in time that occurred for us on this trip, but it has. We spoke about it today after we got back to the hotel in our group meeting. We hit that stride where everyone is now working together in harmony and it feels great. Heat, illness, and back-breaking work aside, several commented that the work site has now turned into “a happy place.”
And I thought to myself, “imagine that, a happy place… when just a few days ago there was such a feeling of sadness and frustration in the air in this community. But for this brief moment in time we have managed to all get over ourselves, forget about our “real world troubles back home, or the differences that we pretend between us, and work together, and the ensuing result is that a very happy place indeed has been created there. The theme of our meeting today (for often these meetings do have a central theme to them – each one is created, organized, and run by one of the team members (this one in particular was very special and stood out to me personally and to many of the others I believe) was “harmony.’ And yes there is harmony in the air now. One team member commented that she observed harmony in the ever changing sounds that our work creates – whether it be the sound of people moaning as they dig yet another hole in the earth with a shovel hour after hour, or the back and forth sound of a saw against hot steel, or the sound of a loud cement mixer that we are now using… sometimes the sound can even be the silence that briefly follows one of our meetings when everyone just sits there and takes it all in after a long hot day. The sounds correspond to whatever we happen to be working on that day, and as we progress in the process of constructing this building the sounds continue to change right along with the tasks at hand.
Yesterday the children of the little town up the mountain that I wrote about – Rincon Del Mar – sang us a welcome song to show their appreciation for our visit – which when looking back I find strange because it is we who should be grateful, for after all it is we who are being log allowed to enter their small community and poke around taking picture and learning more about the world we live in through them and their stories; the experience of course is always very moving – no matter where you visit in the world on these kinds of trips. One of the lines in the song referred to “And those mountains will move…” And we all agreed that yes it is a grandiose vision to have, a utopian vision, perhaps an unrealistic one – to think that today, right now, in this time and place in human history we are all contributing to the creation of a better world and indeed we are moving those mountains if we have to. If there is a need to, we will do it. Call it sheer will, perseverance, the will of God, divine intervention, idealism… whatever one calls it, it is happening more and more and more around the world we live in now. Mountains are being moved all around us. Like him or hate him, the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America this year is but just one example of this; and there are so so many more. Right now as I type this blog post I am struck by a slight awe contemplating how many other groups are somewhere on planet earth doing a similar such thing. Or even individuals just on their own, helping others. Imagine it. Try to see it. For it is indeed happening.
I guess the real question, if there is one, is how to balance all the giving that one wants to do to make the world a better place with making sure that we also take the time and energy to take care of ourselves as well. Sometimes we can get out of balance and not spend enough time or energy on our own lives and that isn’t a good thing. Just remembering to stay balanced in that.
Speaking of harmony, another thing I have noticed is that our communication – and the fact that we have some 40 plus people now on one work site speaking either Spanish or English or a combination thereof (but only a total or two or three who are truly bilingual) has become entirely transparent. It is almost impossible now for me to tell the difference between when I am speaking or listening to English or Spanish in any one moment. It all just sort of blends into itself. Almost all of the team members now are full on going for it attempting to speak as much Spanish as they can with everyone. It is really inspiring. Kind of cute. Very cool. That communication barrier that might have existed in our first few days here has completely disappeared.
One thing that would render this entire post worthless if I neglected to report on is a story that one of our teammates told us today. Several of us went into the village proper – to the school actually – (I did not, but instead stayed on the work site) and did arts and crafts with over 90 children from the community for a few hours. Imagine that too. because that’s a big thing. just as important as the construction we are doing here on this church and community center. She spoke to the principal of the school and she told her about this girl who was there today doing the arts and crafts who is 12 years old. She had to try to stop her from going to school with a knife to “take care of some kids” who were teasing her. She said that’s what she as taught by her parents. The principal tried to teach the girl that there were other ways of dealing with disagreements we have with others and when their conversation was over that she hugged her. the principal was balling her eyes out when talking about how at the end of their conversation with the girl she leaned down and hugged her and how the girl started crying because she said that was the first time that anyone had ever hugged her before, that that was the first time in her entire life that anyone had ever “touched her” in a loving or caring way, rather than a more hostile way. Imagine that. Not a good thing to imagine. For sure. But imagine that same girl now having this large church and community center in her village that will be church, school, after school care, consulting and counselors and advisors, social networking with nicer folk more than eager to hug her or play with her or hang out with her and do fun stuff. A place that if all goes according to plan should remain there in that village for decades to come. That is a nice thing to imagine. It is why people do things like this work trip I believe. At least for me, that one story will provide enough fuel to keep my engines burning all day tomorrow.
There is a boy who lives in the village named Paulito who has really taken to us. We get to that work site by 7:30 or 8 AM every morning and every morning he’s out there waiting to work with us. Working right along side us. Never did any manual labor in his life, but he’s ready willing and able to do anything just to be a part of the project. It’s been like that since we got here. everyday more and more people from the village are coming to the work site to help out. It’s really something to see. At first I didn’t quite understand what was happening. perhaps these were people being paid to help us I thought. Like on other work trips we occasionally hire “professionals” so the project isn’t just being coordinated by a bunch of DKNY sunglass wearing “volunteers” from New York City. But as it turns out all of these people are just plain old ordinary people like us who happen to live around the area and either like what we are doing and want to help out, or they just dig hanging out with a bunch of Americanos. We’ve heard both reasons for why we have been joined by so many local people who are now working right along side us. there are no longer 26 people working on this project. It’s more like 40.
The Bishop that is responsible for the project (he is the Bishop of the Methodist Church in the entire country of Colombia) explained to us one teary eyed evening that we aren’t building a church in a small poor town and we shouldn’t for a moment fall pretty to assuming such a simple idea. But that what we are really doing is building a community; helping to “peace” back together a community that was ravaged by fifty years of civil war and government non-intervention. Where there was once just a “housing project” filled with thousands of displaced strangers to each other, almost all of whom are living way below any country’s standard of poverty, many of whom evidently prostitutes, illiterate, or have challenges with alcohol or drugs, there is already a community coming together through this shared experience of working together to construct this mammoth two story building on a plot of land that just a few days ago was nothing but empty dirt, grass and weeds – with some garbage laying around on it. There are now giant 15 foot reebar columns jetting into the sky out of the ground and 24 giant holes dug into the earth. It would be impossible to miss what’s happening there. And word is spreading fast. As each day more and more people from all over the large area of Cartagena come running to our work site to see what all the commotion is about. Most come to stay and help out.
Many of the team members have taken a liking to one or more of the local people we are working with and for and developed friendships with them. Special bonds that are hard to describe. Working that hard, in that kind of heat, for so many hours and days in a row, for such a utopian cause and vision – something that would have seemed absolutely “never going to happen” impossible a few weeks ago creates a very unique, special, and almost other worldly bond between everyone; between both the team members and the locals alike. One really gets the very real feeling that these people feel that they were and have been “truly and totally forgotten” by the rest of the world for decades. Not only is it expressed verbally when you speak with them and hear their stories and their ideas and beliefs about themselves, but you can also feel it in the air. But that has changed. Let us hope that just because we leave that this new positive feeling and optimism does not leave with us.
For whatever reason I have formed a common bond with this cool little kid Paulito. He almost never leaves my side. No matter what I’m working on he wants to help. Even hardcore stuff like sawing steel reebar. He’ll go for it. He speaks no English so occasionally communication is a little iffy but we do alright. If he can’t help with actual work in any particular moment he will take my bandana and towel and go wet them for me and wrap them back around my head and neck, or get me water or Gatorade. He also occasionally surprises me by slipping ice down my back just for fun. I am glad to see him lightening up more and more as the days go on. I have also now started getting him to understand that he is free to drink from our water cooler or have a Gatorade if he is thirsty. He asks. That’s the thing. its just so odd… this humility and politeness that is so naturally expressed by the people here. He works hard and he deserves to drink up when he needs to. But he always asks first. Frankly I love the kid. I really enjoy working with him and feel he’s got a smart head on his shoulders and a good heart. When we go to leave he walks us all to our cars and he just stands there with this sort of sad look on his face… I’m not sure if he is grieving our departing just that day or if he is already thinking about the inevitability of our having to leave at some point in the not too distant future. Four days to be exact.
I found out today that he is only ten years old. He’s very smart for his age. He’s got all the makings of a super –achiever, or at least a darn good and decent person if things go right for him over the next ten years. Tomorrow I am privately going to visit his mom, who I’ve met several times, with our translator to ask her some questions, get some information, find out what their most primary needs are, what can we do to help make things easier for him over the next few years. I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that he needs to know about – Juan Camilo our translator told me that he should be there so he can realize how much potential he has, that a basic stranger from the United States would be so impressed by him that he would want to help him out and sponsor him. And also that it will help him over the next few years not give into temptation – something that I feel might be real easy in this particular community living under those kinds of circumstances – but instead really feel inspired by the situation and give life one hundred and ten percent for the next ten years. I’m thinking of some kind of sponsorship to get him into a good junior high and then high school and make sure that all his needs are taken care of.
Today it occurred to me that out of all the kids I have sponsored over the years through the two different orgs that I work with that I have never actually met any of the kids in person. Only pictures cards and letters. But with this kid, I already know I dig him. and I already know he’s a good person with a lot of potential. It’s a win-win. I already sponsor kids. So why not do it with a kid I’ve met in person and know deserves it. the idea excites me. A good sign. (as long as the ideas that excite you don’t harm another and better yet if they actually help someone else besides yourself, yes?) Yes. Yet another good thing to think about as we fall asleep tonight and prepare for yet another hot day out in that Colombian sun.
DIGGING DEEPER IN COLOMBIA – UPDATE #2
So much to report yet so tired. It is just past 10 PM on Tuesday night, the fifth day of our ten day work trip in a small village called Flora Del Campos – a government housing project community thirty minutes outside of the much wealthier coastal town of Cartagena in Colombia. This might be a good place to interject one of the many ironies that we have thus far encountered on the trip. [Everything I will write about tonight I will try to keep brief and to the point as best as I can – though even when it is demanded of me, this time out of the dire need to get to bed earlier than midnight and get some much needed sleep, I still almost always find that task difficult. Perhaps best if I just jot down thoughts and observations rather than attempting to break any of it down; so if it all seems a bit disjointed, pardon me just this time at least; for indeed we are more than tired. Way beyond “tired.”]
Our team is made up of 26 butt-kicking, hard-working, and selfless angels of all ages, ethnicities, social classes, and races. All of whom belong to the same church in Manhattan in the United States. We live in a very sheltered and special world that seems more theme park most days than average American town or city. New Yorkers know this about themselves. Some I believe might even take a certain pride in it. To live in New York, to survive there, is a daunting and challenging endeavor. Hence the pride. The cost of living is ridiculously expensive, downright overpriced frankly. We know that. Yes it’s true that most of us live in shoebox size apartments that cost an average rate of $1300 per square feet to own (why the majority who live there do not own but rather rent). Your average rental will run you $2000 per month and for that you can get yourself a decent 500 square foot “studio apartment” which is a fancy way of saying “one small room with a couch and a bed in it. You might get a “bedroom” if the owner of the property at some time or another threw up a wall in the middle of that room and added a closet.
Yes it’s true that many don’t have full kitchens in their apartments – a little refrigerator and an oven will do – even though its smack dab in the middle of your “living room” which often is also your bedroom, dining room, and every other “room” of your small cramped quarters. Manhattanites don’t usually need kitchens very often so they don’t mind. With so much good food all over the place, jam-packed social calendars, and the fact that you have to work 24 hours a day to make enough money to live there renders a real kitchen rather futile to many. Don’t get the wrong idea though. Plenty of people do have larger places. Many of my friends have “two bedroom” apartments which are slightly bigger, but anyone else in America would have to try real hard to stop from laughing when they take the house tour, which should take all of one minute, and realize that that two bedroom apartment could easily fit in their own living room “back home.” But again, it is a matter of pride. Something to the effect of “we live in one of the greatest cities on planet earth at this time in human history and therefore don’t mind working our tails off and overpaying for everything for the privilege to live here.” Indeed it is an honor.
Though it can also be a curse. Easy to get trapped into a semi-hypnotic fantasy world where you really do believe that a bottle of soda or Gatorade should cost four or five dollars, or that it is very very very important to be wearing just the right shoes for the season or be the first to discover the ‘hot new restaurant’ of the month, or week for that matter, since so many seem to come and go with the wind. A curse indeed, because for all our pride and prejudice about our beloved city, and for the admirable battle New Yorkers fight with a smile on their face and that kick in their step (down countless city blocks and staircases) just to get from their place of residence to their equally small office, there is a sense that despite the general discomfort and pain in the ass it is to live in the city that never sleeps, we love it; and we love it so much that we tend to forget that “somewhere out there” is a “real world.” Just past one of the many toll-bridges or even more expensive toll-tunnels there are regular people living regular lives in good old fashioned regular homes. Driving cars, preparing food in their large lavish kitchens, kids playing in the yard, backyard barbecues and all that other stuff that makes America what it is is for the most part completely lost on a people who will send food back at the drop of a hat if it isn’t exactly what they ordered. But for good reason. That meal may cost a few hundred dollars a plate if you’re living it up, or it may only be a four dollar slice of pizza. But that pizza better be damn good, because the battle over which of the three thousand pizzerias in that 14 by 2 mile wide island is the best is something that makes the front page of our blatantly liberal newspapers – something that conservative media has no problem pointing out on an almost daily basis. (for the record, for all its challenges I would never live anywhere else in the US. At least not at this point in my life. I just dig it for a variety of reasons.)
So why talk about New York? Here? In Colombia? Well, the thought crossed my mind as I was walking down a non-paved clay-dirt “road” through a small town in the very north of Colombia called Rincon Del Mar. Where the houses are so small that they make New York apartments look like mansions. It could have been all the children running around with no shoes or shirts on and shorts so dirty that one is forced to wonder if that is the only pair of shorts that child owns or has ever owned. It could have been the horrifying realization that not one, but two, three, maybe even four families call that one house “home” and anywhere from ten to fifteen people might live in it, day in and day out, with no electricity, no air conditioning, and no five dollar bottles of soda or Gatorade.
It might also be the fact that for fifty years the Colombian people have endured a civil war – one so ugly that it would be hard to imagine it could be real except for the fact that we know it is – between three different groups fighting for control over their rich land and heritage – the recognized government and its military, the “paramilitary”, and the “guerrillas.” Each as wretched and deceitful, violent and manipulative and opportunistic as the next. The people are the people. And unfortunately their stories are truly horrific. Today we took a three hour drive to said little town so we could see another one first hand. Not that the community of Flora Del Campos that we are currently breaking our backs in on this trip is not “real” enough, for it is. We learned yesterday in our evening ending group meeting much more about the town and its displaced people and one would have to admit that there wasn’t much positive to take in – except for the fact that the government does seem to have the civil war under control now and that people from all over the world, including the United Nations, are coming into help these people and that even though things look pretty bad from the outside, we are assured that they were much much worse just a few short years ago.
So off we head to Las Brisas Del Mar. A coastal town in the North-East that sits atop a mountain so high and steep and without any paved roads or highways going in or out of it for miles that you have to park a few miles down below it and hop on the back of a “motorcycle taxi”, hang onto the driver with everything you’ve got as he carts you up to the town – up this clay dirt road headed to God knows where feeling like you are literally at the end of the earth, the driver swerving back and forth all over the bumpy road trying his best to avoid the millions of giant holes in the ground. A ground that no one plans on fixing or paving anytime soon. Within less than an hour of our trip I felt that uneasy queasy feeling in my stomach that our driver calls ‘the rumble in the jungle’ and knew I needed to stop immediately for a bathroom. Could have been the scorching heat pounding on our bodies for hours, or the fact that I forgot to not use the water and brushed my teeth with the bathroom sink water, only once I might add, or the excruciating pain my body is in, the lack of sleep compared to the brutal manual labor we are doing all day, or the windy bumpy roads we traversed at break neck speeds for hours, or it could have just been pure exhaustion… whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Jumped out, ran to a counter, go a key and ran into a public restroom. First thing I noticed was that there was no toilet paper. But when you’re that sick you just don’t even care. You just need to go. So I went. Now as crazy as it sounds, in many situations on this trip we have been forced to encounter and deal with many crazy sounding circumstances, after I was finished I pretty much just had to do whatever I had to do, which in this case was dig through a disgusting garbage can in said bathroom and look for any sort of paper to at least attempt to clean myself. Yes, it was gross. But it was SO gross that I personally found it rather cool. Or maybe it just the fact that I was able to use the bathroom and not puke and poop my guts all over the car in front of my teammates that caused a slight euphoria to take over my mind temporarily. Either way, I was back in the car in no time.
So up we go to this small dirt poor village. And I mean dirt poor. Like nothing we’ve ever seen except in Hollywood movies minus the glitz and glamour and obligatory “indigenous beauty” of the village. We were quite literally at the end of God’s green earth. In the middle of nowhere. And the funny thing is is that there are thousands of people living up there. People just like us. Our brothers and sisters. They showed us the new water tower that the Methodist Church built a few years back, so now many of them have access to water… for that they are very thankful. They also showed us a new small medical emergency building that is being constructed there now. All one thousand feet of it, if that. Now that I think about it, its more like five-hundred feet. But boy are they happy about it. For generations the people of this village have had no choice in a medical emergency or when a woman is about to go into labor and have a baby than to hop on the back of a motorcycle and beg them to drive them an hour away (hanging onto a stranger on the back of a motorcycle) to the nearest medical facility. But soon, if the right kind of money keeps coming in, they will at least have this. there will not be a doctor nor even a registered nurse there at the facility – for they simply cannot afford one, and no one is going to just magically appear and announce “hey I want to be your village’s local doctor” – so what they will have instead, if they are lucky, is a “health consultant.” At best.
The sun beat down on us so hard that another teammate become very ill again today. By this point I was feeling better. I must have taken six Dramamines, five advils, ten pepto bismals, the list goes on and on. Anything to just get through this day… I was just focused on survival. The sun was that hot. And the ride up there was that bumpy rough and winding. Drinking liquids one would think would help, but it doesn’t. For me the only thing that helps is to fill up a bottle with water and just pour it all over my body starting on my head and working my way down. That hot. We visited their church. Their only church. In a town with thousands of people. One church. And the only thing that signified that it was indeed a church – for it looked like all the other stone and mud and palm tree roofed huts we could see around us – was a plastic four by four banner that read “Nueva Iglesia Metodista” with that infamous cross and fire logo on it. Just a very hot stuffy and dark little hut/house. So hot and stuffy that we couldn’t even breathe. Sweating like crazy. sweat just pouring off of everybody’s poor tired faces. It was quite a site to see. On the one hand I felt so bad for us all, and on the other I felt inspired that we all had the courage and strength to be there, toughing it out, making the connections and the contact with these people… they expressed so much appreciation, not for our money or help, but just for us coming there to meet with them and interact with them and to listen to their stories. This was the real gift one could tell that they appreciated.
I believe that their living conditions are so bad that they do not even entertain the idea of people giving or loaning them money. they just don’t have the reference points for “we need money” to even think those thoughts. Their real gratitude was in seeing all these pale foreign faces from the “estados unidos” sitting there in this dark room of stifling heat staring back at them sweating till we were all soaking wet. This is what they kept saying. they had prepared a few songs to sing to us, their only accompaniment was a little drum and hand clapping, but the songs were beautiful. the words even more uplifting. Just wanted to find a way to welcome us and express their gratitude that we came all this way to see them and listen to them.
They told us of what it has been like to live there for so many generations. The paramilitary camped out just a half a mile down the road would drive up every morning at five AM into their village and raid all the houses for all the boys ages anywhere between 6 and 30 and take them. Period. They go into the houses, take all the boys and force them to either be slave workers for them or train them to be child-soldiers. The girls’ fates were even worse. Taken from their homes at all hours by force or gun-point and dragged down to the “commandante” of the paramilitary group and forced to “service” all the men. This went on for years and years and years. No government in the world stopped it. No one tried. The Colombian government was helpless. It was, by all accounts, a civil war that lasted at least fifty years, some say its origins go back much further. And these people lived this as their daily lives. Scared to death 24 hours a day. Praying to a God that never seemed to hear their prayers or who was unable to do anything to help.
But along comes this Bishop… his name is Juan Alberta Cardena. He has been working in this community for seven years now. Slowly he has brought progress and a modicum of decency and security to the community. A small church that counsels people about recovering from their hardships, ears to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a strong man to advise them too to be strong. A church that also acts as a school so the children can learn to read and write so they will not continue the cycle of ignorance that leads to nowhere. And hope. The church in this community offers hope. It is there. right there. In their little village. Open 24 hours a day if need be if someone needs something. perhaps just a prayer, or a meal, or some advice or counsel or information. It is really something when you ponder how important and profound just one little building can be to a people who have almost nothing. They sing together and pray together and one can feel an optimism in the air there now… compared to what one feels in the air when they recount what life was like for them just a few years ago, when life seemed heart-wrenchingly hopeless and insufferable. You could really feel the difference that this hope offers the people. They have a long way to go… a long way… this will be a generational thing.
Truth be told, the African people of Ghana actually seem much more advanced in many different arenas than the people here in these small poor villages of Colombia where they can’t even read or write and don’t have any way to make money. They don’t know what a lawyer is, most have never seen doctors ever in their lives, nor schools, nor hotels or television or shopping malls or mailmen. It’s just crazy when you think about it. Basic survival was really all that was on their minds for decades, generations. But little by little this is now changing. This bishop is on fire. He is the Bishop of the entire Methodist Church in Colombia. His spirit is strong and powerful and aggressively focused and disciplined to the task at hand. And yet his heart seems soft and caring, compassionate and kind and generous. I now understand why our church way up there in New York City has taken on this project – out of all the different peoples around the world who need help we chose this country as our next big project. and each person that is a member of our church who gives money to the church is helping these people, though many of them don’t even yet know it, but each should be very excited, happy, and proud – for their donations, no matter how small or large are really helping people. I am humbled to be a part of this group of very special giving people.
And I now understand why out of all the places where there is need in the world we chose this country and these people. There is much need and wanting here. More than I have ever seen before. Anywhere. Including the “favelas” of Brasil. (yes, it is worse here… somehow… hard to explain… but it is almost as if civilization just forgot about them and left them behind…)
But there is also a glint in the eye of this lion of a man called “Obispo” or “Bishop” so strong and gleaning that one cannot help but get the sneaking suspicion that he really does believe that he and so many others like him, who he works with now, and who are going to come after, is going to create real measurable positive change in the lives of tens of thousands of people, his people, over the next five to ten to twenty years in this country. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon these ghastly roads are paved, electricity added, running water and indoor plumbing, stores, shoes, clean clothes, villages where everyone can read and write, where people come and go as they please because they have access to transportation, perhaps even a few cars of their own, air conditioning, better medical facilities, and eventually aware citizens of the civilized world who are able to make contributions to society at large using their God given talents and skills… they just need to get over that hump between survival and living so they can discover those talents, gifts, and skills… and that’s happening now. We are slowly pushing that cart over that bump in the road.
And after we leave in a few days, more groups, from more churches and non-profit organizations are going to come here. Feeling the same thing that we did. Inspired. Ready to do more. Willing and wanting to share and to talk about it with others so they too can jump on the bandwagon and lend a hand. It is only a matter of time.
In other news, we got to see a lot of things like herds of cattle, old men wearing hats riding donkeys down old unpaved dirt roads, wild hogs walking around, little piglets, sloths hanging in trees, fawn and deer, real cowboys on horses…. and of course hundreds of beautiful little children….
O.k. that’s it. It’s way past my bedtime and I’m going to be feeling it tomorrow but this was important. Needed to let it all out. Until next time friends, as always, we are the revolution.
BREAKING GROUND IN COLOMBIA – UPDATE #1
A quick update. It is Sunday night July 26th 2009, the end of day 3 of a ten day work trip in Cartagena, Colombia. We are all exhausted. How we will ever make it to day ten I have no idea. Specifically we are here to do one thing: build a church and community center in a poor neighborhood forty minutes outside of the beautiful coastal town of Cartagena called Flora Del Campos. The area is a project town so to speak comprised of a few thousand people who have been displaced from their real hometowns, neighborhoods, schools, and of course from their own houses. So now they live here. All of them from different areas of this fascinating country called Colombia. None of them natives of the area, or neighbors, or childhood friends or relatives of each other; just thousands of displaced people from all over the country and of all ages who became homeless because of the never ending wars over the last forty years between the “paramilitary” of the rich and powerful monopolizing feudal land owners and the equally questionable communist “guerrillas” who have tried for decades to defeat them.
This is our simple mission. But we are quickly learning that there is much more to it than just “building a church for the poor.” Tired. I have been on the road now for five weeks, primarily in the US. This trip was planned months ago; but it came suddenly. Shocking really. Not enough time to plan or pack or consider what or where or when or how. Flew into New York after more than four weeks gone and woke up at 4am the following day to catch a flight to Bogota and then Cartagena. It is no way to live, but it is better than a day job. Maybe. With each new flight I wonder more and more. I am tired of flying. tired of airplanes. Tired of airports and taxis and early mornings and late nights. More than tired. Exhausted and then somewhere beyond that I would suppose… With the new album out and all the work involved in promoting it I lost track of time and never really stopped to ponder this particular trip. I knew it was on my schedule. But I never stopped to really think about where we were going. It just sort of happened. Next stop. Colombia.
All that changed today. Colombia is famous for being infamous if nothing else. Famous for its coffee; infamous for its rather copious cocaine supply, and its place in history in the “war on drugs.” When you say Colombia to people the first thing you hear in response usually has to do with either coffee or cocaine. Its fifty years of ongoing civil wars and guerrillas are less spoken about, but once here, they are impressively moving, shocking, dramatic, and heart-wrenching. The country is also well known for how beautiful the women are and for the fact that many consider “Colombian” to be the best spanish spoken in Latin America (though one understands that both of these ideas are subjective).
Friday was 18 hours of travelling and meetings. Period. Nothing more nor less. If cloning were possible this is the first job I would assign to mine: “wake me up when we get there, are all checked in, and relaxing in our room.” Saturday we had to be at the job site by 8am. Having just travelled for 18 hours the day and night before this was an unexpected and unbearable thought. Worse actually waking up to it. But we made it. The heat here is the hottest I have ever felt. Hotter than Africa. Hotter than the hottest New York concrete Summer day. Something akin to Southern Arizona or Texas at noon in summer. Why we are here to do manual labor under the hot burning sun during the hottest season of the year I do not know. (It occurs to me now. Perhaps we could have come a bit later or earlier in the year. But I also remember looking up the weather here a few months back and noticing that the average temperature here stays exactly the same all year round. 98 or 99 degrees. All twelve months of the year.) So what time of year we come here to work is not really going to help or hinder us either way unfortunately. That’s too bad really. Because truth be told I enjoy work and mission trips of all kinds and try as best as I can – like many – to do at least one a year. But this one is almost too difficult. I don’t say this to frighten anyone else who plans on joining the next brigade we will send to continue working on this project, but only as one of the many facts of the experience. The sun is scorching. It is like nothing I have ever felt before.
On our first day, within less than an hour one of our team members got sick from sun poisoning and had to be rushed back to the hotel. At the same time a few more of us, including myself, felt the same as she did. One minute I was pounding a pick axe into the hard brown dirt of the earth and ten minutes later I had this strange sensation that I was about to pass out. I was panting, couldn’t catch my breath, my skin felt like it was on fire, my head hurt, I felt like crying from how much pain I was in. I stumbled blindly to the tent where we seek the refuge of some moderate shade to sit down. That was it. Something was terribly wrong. Perhaps I under-estimated how hot it was? Perhaps I over-estimated how much work I could do at one time or how fast I could work in such extreme conditions. Sun poisoning like this, whatever you want to call it, is a fascinating feeling. It is brutal. It attacks you slowly. You don’t realize until it is too late that you are about to feel dreadfully ill. So you might work for just a few too many minutes longer in that hot sun than you should. And then slowly… no breath, burning skin, head pounding, no breath, burning skin, head pounding, please make it go away, sit down, no, stand up, try walking, get water, I have to throw up, I need to lie down, perhaps… Yes, this is how it feels.
Lucky for me, the Queen Mother (many will recognize her from the Going to Ghana videos) recognized that there was something wrong with me before I did – pointing out how red my face was – and got me water and then began icing me down with bags of ice, as I sat there in a daze panting, trying to see straight and catch my breath, hoping that I would not pass out. Yep. Not kidding. It’s like that. And we are working in it all day for ten days straight. Doing very heavy manual labor to the point of exhaustion by 10 AM in the morning. One of our drivers, a local woman named Bernarda in her late fifties perhaps, then took over for my care for a few minutes. She explained to me in this very cute “Spanglish” that I needed to slow way down in the heat, that I was working way too fast. She then put my long hair up in a clip, iced me down some more, and then massaged sun block all over my upper body. I wasn’t using any… bascially because I am stupid. I come to that same conclusion every few days. After about twenty minutes I regained my strength and felt better. As most of us soon realized the best way to do it is to work for about ten minutes – depending on what one is doing, breaking up hard rock in the ground with a pick-axe I can only usually go for about five to ten max – and then break for five to ten minutes. More even. You then ice yourself down, pour cold water all over yourself, drink tons of water and Gatorade (I’ll take that product placement check now please), and get your breath back. Of course I would be remiss not to mention the obvious: there is also the issue of extremely sore hands and muscles, and the fact that many of our hands are now covered in blisters. Personally, my three biggest issues are my skin burns like crazy if I am out there for more than ten minutes at a time – it actually feels like it is on fire, I have about seven open or popped blisters on my thumbs and fingers and hands, and I find it difficult to catch my breath doing such heavy work out in such hot sun. Other than that it’s all easy breezy.
So, why are we here? I mean, why bother? Right? It doesn’t sound fun, and honestly it just isn’t. The work that is. So why do it? Why not just give money so these people can have a church and community center here? For years I thought that donating money was the way to go. If you give enough, according to how much you make and what you feel is appropriate based on your own values, then you’re alright. You’re doing your fair share in the “service to others” aspect of your life and all is well in being a human on planet earth. My first work trip, as opposed to peace delegation or mission trip or protest march or demonstration, showed me personally why it is so important to actually show up on work trips now and then in person AND give. To most readers I will assume that the answer is obvious so I won’t go into it too much except to say that for me personally I have recognized that there is something very very very important in meeting and making contact with the people you are attempting to help. The money is important, yes. But more important is the personal connection and the meaning that is unearthed in the hearts and minds of the people when they see you live and in the flesh and realize that you just flew half way around the world to come work for them and to help them.
Some facts: the building that we are erecting here in this small village is the very first Methodist Church that has ever been built in the country of Colombia. There are only two other Methodist churches in the entire country. Both rented spaces and neither real churches with a steeple or anything like that. Just plain old ordinary buildings. So we are building the very first Methodist Chuch in this country. That is a very powerful feeling. Both to us and to the people here in this country and especially in this community. Another thing I learned is that the church that I belong to in New York is funding the entire project. Think about that for a moment. This strange community on the other end of the planet is having an entire church, rectory, and community center built for them – the first in their country’s history – paid for entirely by a few hundred people in New York City. Just plain old ordinary Americans who live in Manhattan are donating any free money they have to provide this impoverished little village with this giant edifice that will hopefully supply them so many things over the next few decades… I contemplated this fact today while walking around the work site. thought about all the things that a church could provide a people so wanting in so many ways. A place to worship their version of God together, a place to foster community, even an idea as simple as just “a place to come to on a regular basis for years” if they so desire, everyday if they want to, a place to learn, to volunteer, to meet future friends and spouses. A place that will provide them with teachers and mentors and others who truly care. A place to help them with medical needs, emergency needs, education for their children, and even just entertainment. Really made me think about how we can take these things for granted in the States back home because we have so many churches. We also have televisions and other distractions that perhaps lead us into not even recognizing the power and importance that a church can have in our lives if we start going to one now and then. For a people like this, here now, without the basic things we take for granted in the Western world such as indoor plumbing or kitchen appliances or electricty or decent schools, a church can be a very powerful and positive force for good in their lives and in the lives of their children and grandchildren to come.
Yesterday we celebrated their church service with them. They worship on Saturday nights here in Colombia, instead of Sunday mornings (imgaine that in the US!) and the pastor of thier little chuch – which is actually the pastor’s house – which is actually nothing more than a seven by seven concrete room adjacent to thousands of others (picture army baracks painted various colors such as pink and purple and red and yellow stretching up and down for miles as far as the eye can see) led this service. I am getting very tired so will keep this breif. He had a tough time keeping it together emotionally as he looked out at these twenty-three strangers’ faces staring back at him. All of us from New York in the United States here in his little village working our butts off for ten days in the hot sun… and more than that knowing that after will come another team, and then another, and then another, until this building is completely erected and fully functional. The man just couldn’t come to terms with it. Who could? In that position? I felt for him.
I really felt what that must feel like. How can one possibly show how much appreciation one has in a situation like that to the people who are helping you and your community? He told us that he had prayed and prayed to find some way to express his gratitude. And all he could do was to profess to us with tears pouring and leaping out of his eyes that he is so inspired by our efforts personally – as a man and a fellow human being – that he was commiting himself to spend “every day every hour every minute every second of the rest of his life to attempting to give back the way that he felt that we were giving to him and his village. And then he sang to us. Acapella. Just him standing there singing by himself, smiling and crying, as a gift to us. A present from him to us as a way of showing thanks. Of course there wasn’t a dry eye under that tent in that moment. It was one of those transcendent moments that one never forgets. I personally can still see his big beautiful brown eyes filled with joy and tears and a little bit of fear that he may never be able to give back enough in his life to satisfy how grateful he felt in that moment and feels today and will feel tomorrow and for years to come I’m sure. It was a pure bilss moment for everyone and well worth the trip and the hard work.
It was then that I knew why we were there. And why I was there. Why I am here. Still. Typing away while the others are at dinner. For it is these moments that make the difference between being alive or thriving. Between making it or making the most of it. So I madly type away as quickly as I can with nothing but going to sleep on my mind because I have nothing but inspiration and joy and gratitude in my heart for this experience. And to think that maybe we can gather just one or two more persons into this world of giving to others… the possibilities are endless for us if more and more of us catch the fever of selfless service to others. (though I hesitate to write these words for so many reasons. Firstly because I do not believe that giving to others is selfless. I find it very selfish in fact because one gets so much more than one receives. The greatest treasure bought on the most expensive vacation that the world has to offer gives us nothing compared to what we get when we go on any kind of trip like this – even if it just for the day or a few hours even giving to others. I have spent my whole life trying both. I have raced my convertible turbo-powered BMW down I-395 in Miami Beach going one-hundred and twenty miles an hour and felt fantastic with that wind blwing through my hair and all that goes with it. I have also attempted to feel good through living the msot lavish lifestyle money could afford by pampering myself with everything from weekly massages, manicures, chiropractic visits, hot tubs, $100 plates of truffle pasta, and thousand dollar shopping sprees. And these are damn fine things. Damn fine. But they just don’t give back to the heart in that visceral life-altering way that service to others does. I wish they did. Life would be easier. But they do not. And this is why I say that giving to others is a selfish thing to do. Because we just always walk away feeling as though we got more than we gave.) The point to take away though is that if each of us committed to dedicating at least one week of every year of our lives, and I’m thinking of everyone here, even those of us in the absolute most dire circumstances, I get the feeling that life on planet earth for human beings would be a much different experience. For all of us. Much better that is.
I don’t believe this is too far fetched of an idea. For, as many, I have noticed us trending in this direction for some time. Especially in the last five to ten years. It is only a matter of time. Life may indeed by an absurd masquerade ball disgused as a circus dressed up like a Greek Comic Tragedy most of the time, but it also seems to be interspersed with small miracles every now and then along the way. What if we started attempting to create more and more miracles in our shared lives together deliberatly? The possiblities.
Of course, like most of us, I personally feel like I have so far to go in this arena. Most of the time feeling so selfish and small in comparison to others who appear to give so much more freely than I do. But I cannot allow myself to let this feeling stop me from at least trying to help as best as I can.
It is not late, only 10:40 PM, but our new meeting time in the mornings is 7 AM. So I will wrap it up. But this, this is important. Today we met with the Bishop of the Methodist church of Colombia. He flew in to personally work side by side with us for the rest of our stay here. And he told us some of the most hair-raising stories you’ve ever heard. Hollywood movie kind of dramas of paramilitary soldiers hanging guerrillas from trees with ropes and chopping their bodies in half with chainsaws right in front of him kind of stories. Being kidnapped and held in a hole without food for five days knowing for certain that he was about to be murdered at any minute kind of stories. After all, this is Colombia. And that is why we are here. So I will return to share some more in a few days. For sure. But for now I’m going to hit the hay and pray that the sleep will recouperate me enough to slam it another day.
Random facts and thoughts: There are more women on this team than men, many more. How amazing it is that there is no difference in the work ethic or the quality of work from either sex. Everyone just works hard. Some of the girls seem to be able to stay out in the heat and keep working longer than some of the men. And vice versa. I think it just depends on the person. It’s really something to see someone out there digging away for ten to twenty minutes straight without taking a break (our first task was to “break ground” – we are literally starting this new building from scratch and building the foundation of this two story church and community center) When we arrived there was nothing there but an empty field of grass and dirt and some little wooden stakes in the ground. Our first task was to dig 24 holes four feet by four feet and three feet deep into the earth. Next we will then mix our own mortar or cement and shovel it into each hole and at the same time have the ridiculously daunting task of hand-sawing hundreds of pieces of steel reebar that we will place into the cement that we pour that will eventually hold the columns that will make up the foundation of this building. It is quite the job. In many many ways. We are all very lucky to be on this particular trip.