February 19, 2018

privilege is

Privilege is the ability to leave, while others remain trapped by circumstance.

Privilege is choice and freedom and the ability to navigate between worlds. Privilege is the ability to voluntarily immerse yourself in the suffering of others, for the sake of self-righteous empathy. Privilege a photo op. Privilege is walking to the well to see how heavy forty litres of water can be and imagining ten kilometres, knowing that in a few days you will be taking twenty minute showers and eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Privilege is getting to know a person only by listening to their tragic stories and framing their existence by their net worth. Privilege taking a break from your week of roughing it with a nap by a pool and honey glazed, rosemary butter nut squash. Privilege is living by a different set of rules because of your birthplace and passport. Privilege is donating your left overs and feeling good about yourself, because you think you are helping. Privilege is having your lunch, fresh sandwiches with brie cheese, waiting for you on the way to the airport. Privilege is feeling guilt and shame, but doing little about it, convincing yourself that you are doing more than others. Privilege is looking out the window, sipping clean water and watching the latest Hollywood movies, as the airplane leaves and takes you home.

Privilege is knowing that you will not sacrifice more than you have to in order to maintain your privilege.

February 11, 2018


I dreamt in chunks last night,
my exhausted body unable to move
each limb sawed off like a sad branch
laid in a pile of lifeless lumber.

My mind, however, was awake
and wild in dreams of wonder:
Does wood remember being a tree?
Paper of wood?
Books of memories before they were stories?

The dreams were intense and world blending:
Jason was there and we were in a fancy restaurant,
me agog over some nice wine and the cut
of an helium tomato, yellow in this case,
and he asking for his fifth glass of water.
It is known in our circles that he is seldom
impressed or aware of the subtilise of tomato flavours.
In my dream I wonder
if his disdain for fine dining
is still the case,
seeing that we haven’t eaten
in a restaurant together,
fancy or not,
in years.

In my other dream, my students are there.
We are in Italy and I have patched them together
as a quilt I hope will take.
I am hosting a parent event in a piazza.
The sun is bright and everyone is enjoying
tomatoes and wine.
The blanket of kids I have woven have found skateboards
and are doing alie-s and jumps on the ancient cobbled streets
wearing hats and sunglasses.
Looking cool and confident
as kids their age should be.
The parents are getting drunk and singing each other love songs.

I am a bridge that spans many worlds,
keeping it all together, unsure of the exact location of the center.
I am a web of spans held together by fragile wire.
The distances may vary,
but these connections are taut and made of steel.

I must confess I am awake now, at least I think I am.
Ready to face the conscious part of my consciousness.
I envision the day lived in chunks as well.
I am in my room at Daraja,
The pre-dawn sounds of howling dogs, chirping birds, and rooster crows
are a symphony unconducted music.

The room is dark, expect for the tunnel of
light cast from my laptop.
Outside the window,
the inky sky is fading into shades
of lavender like bruised human skin.

It is six am and I am sure I will not sleep more tonight.
My limbs have awoken and the pile of wood
has been reconstructed into a moving tree.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow are a jumbled mess.
Film scattered on the floor
waiting to be rewound and led through
a projector.

On the bus ride, Sarah and I talked about a persons
tolerance for discomfort
and the privilege of choice
that leads to freedom.

We watched as an old woman, perhaps fifty years old
back hunched over till her chin touched her knees,
carried a pile of soon to be fire wood, trudging
along the side of the highway.

This display of injustice and discomfort
is not new to me, but I wondered how many
of the kids behind me on the bus had ever
considered this woman and her place in the world.

How many of our kids and had wanted to
stop the bus and ask the woman if they could carry the wood
for a while, and help her stretch her back with the latest yoga moves
and perhaps offer her a glass of wine
and a yellow heirloom tomato covered in chunks of Himalayan sea salt
and maybe offer her a ride in an air conditioned car,
perhaps a Porsche SUV, to a warm safe bed with goose down pillows
and sheets with a thread count that screamed luxury.

How many of our kids considered
going back in time when this woman was twelve years old
and finding ways to get her into a classroom, with a book in her hand
and a teacher guiding her choices and removing her from a husband or even father
telling her what to do,
giving her sanitary pads and offering her a menu of choices
that are often only reserved for the educated and the privileged like us?

I wondered if any of our kids made the connection
between the girls they would meet in a few hours and the woman on the road.
Between their own privilege and the battle against poverty.
Between the world of dreams and reality.
Between the dark night and the dawn.
Between problems and solutions.

The day is about to begin.
I’m a first draft poem of mixed metaphors
unbound like an old film on the floor.
I was awoken in the night
by the urgency of this creation.

I wonder what I’ll do with it next.

February 8, 2018

Coming Home

Four years ago while an Ebola scare blanketed western Africa, I was in the process of trying to get a student trip to Kenya. The Daraja Global Concern group at my school was in its second year, and I was eager to find a way to take as many kids from Singapore to Kenya as I could. I knew that Paris was closer to Western Africa than Kenya was to the disease, but parents didn’t seem to understand this geography. Additionally, the high cost of the trip, the fact that it was the first time it had ever been offered, and because the GC itself was little known, made recruiting very difficult. In the end, after weeks of stress, ups and downs many conversations with kids and parents, the trip was on the verge of being cancelled. We just didn’t have the numbers to make it viable.

We needed a miracle.

We were lucky to get four. Their names are Paula, Shruti, Georgina and Jenn. These four amazing women, educators and friends, decided to take a chance and pay their own way to go. We took five kids, a mom and five teachers. And just like that the trip was launched.

And earlier tonight, I finished packing for our fourth trip. Since that first trip, every year the numbers have increased. We have taken the entire Psillides family, more parents and more kids. This year we are maxed out at nineteen participants, including a teacher, and a mom and two kids from Dover. We are able to afford to take three official teachers, Martin and Sarah, and I am super excited to be taking four G7 kids from my cohort. I cannot wait to see their growth on this trip.

I have written at length about this campus and the magic of the Kenyan landscape. I have waxed poetic about the power of meeting these girls. But honestly, the best part for me is watching the young people from UWC South East Asia realise that everything they ever thought about Africa is false. I love watching them take in the pace and smells and interactions with the people on the Daraja Academy campus. I love watching our kids run from the geese and milk the cows. Plant the cabbage and sort the beans.

And to be perfectly honest and selfish, I love returning to my room, the one I have stayed in on every trip, dating back to the first time I went with Kaia years ago. I love watch the red dust gather between my toes and watching the stars drape the sky every night on my way to bed. I love the porridge and the beans and the ice cold Stoney when the weather's hot. I love catching up with Ruth and Chris and Stephen and Charles. I love sitting on the Jason’s porch and reminiscing and future planning. Basking in the notion that we did it. We arrived. This is the world we imagined when we were young and stupid and full of mistakes. We knew even as teenagers that we were meant for this world that we have created.

In closing, I was scrolling through Twitter tonight, slowly becoming enraged by military parades and sexual assault and racism, and like most nights I was feeling helpless and ineffectual, but then I remembered that in a short time I would be in Kenya, with students from a school dedicate to peace.

I remembered that the weapons I have chosen to fight the forces of greed and ignorance and injustice are at Daraja. What better force that these young women to create a world that is the opposite of everything I hate about the current forces in power in the US and beyond?

The work we do, however, small and seemingly disconnected, the work of connecting people from different classes and genders and races, is the work that will bring down the forces of hatred. The love we plant and foster and share through committed, authentic and sustainable relationships with communities that mirror our values, is what will save us all.

There is no need to feel helpless. We cannot change the entire world on our own, but we can dedicate our time, energy and money to small communities around the world. This friendship building will teach us everything we need to know to fight the forces of greed and oppression.

Find your people and spend your life committed to hearing their voices and doing your part.

See you soon Daraja. I’ve missed you.