Category Archives: medya

The zen advocate

When I first met Marianne Elliott, she was standing on her head as part of my upside-down New Zealand welcoming committee.  I’m not the only person to get to know an inverted Marianne. This accomplished human rights advocate is also a yoga teacher, with a focus on helping those who do good.  And me oh my, has she done a lot of good: from creating the Action Plan for Human Rights in New Zealand, to helping the government of Timor-Leste craft their human rights strategy, to heading a UN office in Herat, Afghanistan. You can hear more from her in her book Zen Under Fire , on her blog or on the Huffington Post.

THE LESSON: There is always a new frontier. Whether in the causes I care most about, my writing, my various enterprises or my spiritual path, there will always be another mountain to climb. There is no finish line in this race. In fact, I’m slowly coming to realise there is no race. So I might as well enjoy the journey. And, you know, stop to smell the roses from time to time.

THE QUESTION: Only one? I have so many. I’m a little burning-question-generating machine. Here are a few from this morning: Is reducing a narrative to a level comprehensible to a four year old the only way to get 70 million people to watch your video about child soldiers in Northern Uganda? Did I go too far in simplifying the narrative in my own book to make it accessible to a non-expert readership? What will I write about next? (That last question prompted by the fact I’m off to have lunch with my editor in 30 minutes)

THE INSPIRATION: I’m inspired by people and projects that explore new stories, and new ways of telling old stories, about places and people affected by conflict. In the past year I was inspired by the Face2Face project in Israel/Palestine (not new, but new to me) which uses humour and juxtaposition to retell an ancient story, the exquisitely beautiful Touch Down in Flight video of Afghanistan by Augustin Pictures and Gayle Lemmon’s book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, which tells the true story of an Afghan woman entrepreneur. I’m also reluctantly, begrudgingly inspired by the Kony 2012 video. I have no end of questions about the ethics of that style of story-telling, but I cannot deny being deeply impressed and, yes, inspired by just how catchy and compelling the video has proven to be. There are some lessons in there.


The Satirist

Sami Shah is a Pakistani comedian, writer and ad-man based in Karachi. When I first met in him in 2009, he was hosting News Weakly, Pakistan’s version of The Daily Show, while practising his act using virtual second-life comedy clubs. He takes his jokes across the country with nationwide tours and has a weekly column The Express Tribune. And now, my friends, I’m going to duck and cover as I ask you to give a warm welcome to Mr Sami Shah…

THE LESSON: Fortunes change faster than you can order a gun made of gold. As Libya country was wracked by revolution and rebels overtook every city, I could see that the years poor Gaddafi spent preparing for just this moment were not enough. For too long he believed in his own infallibility. He thought that surrounding himself with a shield of Amazonian hotties and sleeping in golden mumus, that did not hinder sprinting, would keep him safe. The bulletproof tents should have helped too. But in the end, I learned that none of it can prevent you from ending up in a drainage pipe pleading for your life. The lesson this has taught me is if I ever end up being a brutal dictator, I won’t shortchange the brutality. Go all out. Kill everyone. And do it in urban casual. It is better for blending in. Also, keep an extra Ukrainian Nurse handy at all times. You never know.

THE QUESTION: Where can I find the perfect pair of skinny fit jeans? Every time I buy a pair that are perfect in how they hug my rump, they tend to be too tight in front, crushing all feeling in my groin. Is it too much to ask for a pair of tight jeans that understand the need to hug my butt, leave space for my tackle and still outline my muscular thighs?

THE INSPIRATION: News coverage of Bin Laden’s porn collection changed me as a human being. All too long I have suffered guilt as I surfed the Internet, searching for just the right video to get the job done. Am I a pervert? I wondered. Are my needs out of the norm of society? Then, a few days after Seal Team 6 put a bullet through the head of the winner of Creative Terrorism 2001-2002, I learned I was not alone. If Osama Bin Laden, a man who had 3 wives in his compound, could watch filmed pornography without his conscience bothering him then why should I feel shame? Now, whenever I load up youporn, I think of Bin Laden. I think that’s what he would have wanted.

The polymath

James Bowthorpe does. Always has done. He does things like set a new world record for cycling round the globe, building a boat out of salvaged wood and sailing it up the Thames, making music videos, designing sets for Florence & the Machine and passionately campaigning for Parkinson’s research. A proper polymath. I saw James last month and returned a mini-disc player he’d lent me 10 years ago, complete with a little wooden holder he’d crafted for it. Reckon that just about sums him up — craft + tech + generosity.

THE LESSON: 2011’s big lesson is, give it a go, you never know. This is not a new strategy for me but the lesson has come through the range of results, some good some bad, and it’s helping me to whittle my pursuits down a bit.

THE QUESTION: I don’t really have one constant burning question that consumes me; in many ways I wish I did. I am looking for that question though – my question is, what’s the question?! Frustrating for everyone.

THE INSPIRATION: Lots of inspiring things happened to me this year, here’s a couple. Lake Tear of the Clouds in upstate New York blew me away, twice, with its understated portent and dignity. I didn’t know a little lake could do that. I was also inspired by the documentary film Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. Lastly I’m doing some work with a company called Finisterre down in Cornwall – they are an inspirational group of people and no mistake.

The crusading strategist

I first met Daniel Maree in LA. He was working for Participant Media: we talked storytelling and social change over a sunny Sunday brunch. Fast forward a few years to a wintry New York, where we recently caught up over a hot cider and I discovered that his passion for global justice has taken a very personal turn. He’s a man on a mission to free his father, Olympic runner and anti-apartheid activist, Sydney Maree, from prison in South Africa. Daniel is making a documentary, setting up an advocacy campaign and  starting the Second Chapter  (a project to “realize of the ideals of South Africa’s liberation struggle”). Thing is, he’s also got a day job… Head of Social Strategy at McCann.

THE LESSON: A good idea, well-crafted and pursued with passion, doesn’t need a gatekeeper’s stamp of approval to succeed. I learned this after successfully funding my documentary film through kickstarter this year. I spent years developing grant proposals for independent documentary development funds I will not name—(cough) Sundance and Tribeca (cough cough)—only to be turned down for funding. I was devastated. I almost gave up. Instead I decided to try kickstarter. I was able to raise over ten-thousand dollars in less than three weeks. Power to the people!

THE QUESTION: Will I ever make it back to the gym? I haven’t worked out in years, and with the holidays coming up, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Oy veh. Oh, I’m also curious to see how things will turn out in Egypt (and Occupy Wall Street)

THE INSPIRATION: Watching Dewey Bozella accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2011 ESPYs after having served 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Like Muhammad Ali and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Bozella endured the inequality of systematic power structures and came out on top. He’s a huge inspiration to me and to the campaign to free my father from prison in South Africa. Check out Dewey Bozella’s story here.

The radio star

Karachi based Munizeh Sanai quite literally rocks my world. In addition to hosting her own daily drive time show, she’s also runs an entire radio station. Yup, she’s the General Manager of Pakistan’s City FM 89, which is hands-down the country’s best music station (bestness as measured by my incredibly scientific broadcasting quality metrics).

Last time I was in Karachi, we spent an amazing Sunday together, discovering where colonial statues go to die, zoning out in the sunday book market and wandering round the christian graveyard at dusk, (where the bodies were rather less buried than we would have liked). Ladies and gentlepeople, I present to you, the one, the only… Munizeh Sanai…

THE LESSON: They say that babies only grow when they’re sleeping. I learnt this year that grown ups only grow when they take their time out. When you realize that you can’t be good at everything all of the time and the only way to be really good at some things some of the time and the only way to really move forward is when you once in a while stop and do nothing. Whether this is a daily half hour of mindful meditation or a once every six month getaway, the only way to survive and thrive in your reality is to leave it constantly.

THE QUESTION: In reference to life and living in Karachi, Pakistan – Are we amazingly resilient or completely delusional?

 THE INSPIRATION: This July, while in New York, I had the chance to see Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience produced by the British theater company Punch Drunk. To describe it in too much detail would be depriving someone who hasn’t seen it yet of one of the most essential elements that make it so riveting – surprise. But I can say that the 4 hours that I spent checked in to The McKitterick Hotel were transcendental. My understanding of reality was left compromised or rather, shifted in a way that no drugs could ever manage. I was thrilled with the human imagination, blown away by our bodily strength and mental focus, turned on by our openness to experience and in love with a man with a moustache who may or may not have been Macbeth. The fact that we are capable of creating such an overwhelming and rich emotional and physical experience has had me lost in a world of dreamy possibility ever since.

The Social Technologist

I’ve  known Christian Payne on twitter for a few years as @Documentally, the grandson of @granumentally and the father of @minimentally . We finally got to meet at the Do Lectures. Over  beers in the barn, I realised I had a lot to learn from him. This man wields social media like a freakin light saber. Never seen anything like it. Christian started off as a photojournalist and has never looked back, from vlogging for the British Council in Pakistan, to working alongside Reuters with  political leaders, to documenting the plight of Iraqi refugees for the UN. Using every medium out there, he describes himself as “eclectically equipped”. This Do Lectures storify is a great illustration of the richness of his storytelling.

THE LESSON: I feel I should answer these questions twice. Once for those who have kids and to whom I’ll not sound like a cliche and once again for those that don’t. I thought after watching my first child born it would be hard for me to be amazed at anything else. I was wrong. Last week I witnessed the birth of my second child and it was as if I my eyes had been temporarily taken out and scrubbed clean. Any filters I had been growing over the last couple of years had once again been removed and my appreciation of things was once again set to “Wow!” The biggest lesson I learned in this last year was that you never need to cease to be amazed at the world around you and this amazement reflects in everything you do.

THE BURNING QUESTION: I’m a Social Technologist. That’s a pretentious title I’ve settled on in order to package my skill set. Mobile media making, blogging, talking, teaching, are all things I do to earn a crust. For me to survive as a freelancer, to keep innovating, I’m armed with all kinds of questions. I ask one question more than any other. What’s the next big thing? This burning question has stayed the same ever since I decided to diversify as a photographer. The only fluctuation is in the translation of the word ‘big”.  Big used to mean most popular or most adopted means of communicating effectively. It might still mean that, but more importantly, values like ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ are being added to the mix. I share, advise and educate in all forms of social technology and as a result am responsible for the message I propagate. When I look for the next big thing, I’m also aware that people in my field can easily become advocates of the things they share.

THE INSPIRATION: Apart from the birth of my little girl, the most inspiring thing I have seen this year was the virus like wonder that emanated from the Do Lectures. I go to hundreds of conferences but none came close to that spontaneous gathering in West Wales. You will see a number of articles online trying to fathom what it is that makes the Do Lectures so special as a meeting of minds, a sharing of ideas and a call to action. It’s quite simply the people. The journey they have been on and the journey they undertook to get to that place, at that time.

Inspiring people inspiring people. Who then headed out on their separate paths to do the same.

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