Ancient City. Modern Dopeness

Today we went into the town of Ohrid and explored the cultural landmarks. We also took an hour long boat ride across lake Ohrid to a little island (close to the Albanian side), where we saw a church and had dinner.

Macedonia is a place that stands out in the ancient world for its role in inculcating Christianity into the Slavic cultures.
The Macedonian language is a Slavic language.  It uses the Cyrillic alphabet that has 32 letters. It is not a phonetic alphabet, meaning it is not like the English alphabet which can be "sounded out."
The people here have a rich religious legacy, but interestingly, church does not figure largely into their general lives. The comics expert, whose name is Bosko, explained that under communist rule, religion was forbidden. (It's the "opium of the masses" a "tool of the state" and all of that), so church is not the go to institution on questions of ethics or morality. Church has only been allowed to be practiced openly since the fall of Yugoslavia in the 90's.
The director of the IDEA organization, Marjan, and his colleague Mite (pronounced Mee Tay) characterized the orthodoxed services as dark and frightening. They reported that "being quiet" was reverenced and that they looked to stories of charismatic black church in the US with fascination, because of the use of joy and music in the services.
I sang some gospel in my presentation, and more than one person was moved to tears. I appreciated that the same moving feeling I get from the emboldening lyrics and tones made it across the VERY different language and culture. However. I'm not sure I would wish the deeply conflicted place of the church and religion that the US has in our society.
Overall, the town is beautiful and the people are friendly. I have to report that climbing the hills to get the an ancient amphitheater almost killed me, but other than that a good time was had by all.
Check out the video here:

 

 

Your Blues is Like Mine

I have been collaborating with a Macedonian hiphop Dj and producer named Goce (pronounced GO SEE AH). He began to talk about why hip hop was resonant with him and Macedonian people. He sees hip hop as a dissident art, as he came into consciousness of it in 1989 when socially conscious groups like Public Enemy were popular. He explained that Macedonians has endured slavery under Turkish rule. He talked about the particular way the Turks stole and enslaved beautiful Macedonian women, and as a response, Macedonian men began to carve crosses into women's foreheads so they would not be stolen by Turkish enslavers.

He saw himself as sharing the legacy of enslavement with black Americans.   Goce also talked about how the lyrics of indigenous Macedonian music shared the characteristics of blues music.
These resonances gave me a lot to think about. Check out some video here:

The Global Reach of Blackness

Today I presented about Fannie Lou Hamer. This is a presentation I've done many times now, but because of the audience it was quite different. Because the audience was European and specifically people from the Balkan Peninsula, I stopped much more frequently to explain terms. I spent time on "sharecropping" "Jim crow" and explaining why voting was a signature battleground for Mrs. Hamer. The group was thoroughly engaged and asked probing questions.

 

One particularly resonant question had to do with why African Americans faced discrimination when it was clear that we had added so much to the culture. The audience member cited the arts specifically.

 

From my brief time in Europe and reading Toni Morrison, I came up with this explanation.

 

First I explained that the system of enslavement was very intimate in the US. I talked about how Thomas Jefferson had a family with his wife and a family with his slave, and (to forget complicate matters) the slave was his wife's half sister.

 

I then talked about how white people in the US gave up ethnicity to just be "white."

 

I didn't say this at the time, but they gave up their songs, and cuisines, and religions, and ancestral memories.

 

I told them that being "white" in the US is an identity that is built in opposition to being black. So, in many ways white people need black people around to provide their identity. This explains the schizophrenic "I hate you/ don't leave me" psychodrama that is much of US race relations.

 

I have to say, that after spending time with such a diverse group of ethnic Europeans-- people from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, -- I have never felt sadder for white people gave up. There is so much beauty in a multivariate whiteness that isn't self conscious and tentative. That is backed up by thousands of grandmother stories.

 

Later, I spent time with my smaller individual group whose focus is hip-hop and protest poetry. I led them in a quick and dirty lesson on prejudice, discrimination, and structural or systemized bias. Then they wrote activist mission statements. Finally, they drafted some poetry of their own.  I played Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution will not be Televised."  I also shared a poem with them that I wrote called "Caveat."  It is a feminist poem with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as the major figure. I share it for the students whose voice may not be geared toward the "rah rah" of hip-hop, but more toward introspection.

 

Then my co-teacher Dj Goce arrived. What a delightful gift he is!  Goce is Macedonia's venerated hip-hop pioneer and producer. He brought in his turntables, his beat machines, and tons of personality. His deep knowledge of the music and the culture and his producing gift is prodigious.

 

So many artists have talked about the deep love and appreciation that black music gets globally, but the sit next to this Macedonian man as he argued for a return to socially conscious lyrics in hip hop. All while spinning vinyl was simultaneously surreal and enlightening.

 

Tomorrow, the students will go "crate digging" in a local record store and work to create a complete social justice project that combines poetry and hip hop.

 

Here are some highlights from the day:

 

 

“Friend is Worth More than a Dollar”

Today I rose super thankful for not having to sleep in the airport, and then slog through an eight hour flight, a two hour flight, and then a two and half hour drive . . . unwashed.

 

My grandmother used to say, "A friend is worth more than a dollar."  Her reasoning being, if you are in a strange town stranded (like I was), one dollar would not get you a room anywhere.  A friend, however, (cue: praise hands) will (cue: Aunt Esther saying "Whoa Glory!") have a couch, a floor, or may even pay for a hotel for you.

(cue: sanctified choir chord changes)

 

CUE: HAPPY FEET!

 

So I was able to spend the night in a safe and welcoming place because of Neal and Tayari, who are now in my will.

 

After that, I rode a train and a bus back to Dulles, and besides a slight heart attack when the gate agent claimed my reschedule was invalid, I arrived in Skopje, Macedonia and then my final destination of Ohrid without  (an additional) hitch.

 

Check out the video here:

Mississippi Meets Macedonia

I am traveling to Macedonia in southeast Europe to lead some training for the IDEA organization.  The International Debate Education Association (IDEA) "gives young people a voice through education, debate and by raising their awareness about worldwide issues."

I will be serving as the expert/trainer in the areas of protest poetry and Hip Hop lyrics.  There are also comics, and graffiti artists serving as well.

Over the next week, I will be sharing the following topics:

-Defining Bias

-Defining White Supremacy

-Moving Toward Activism

-Creating an Activist Mission Statement

-Protest Poetry

-Writing Your Own Protest Poem

-Writing a Group Protest Poem

As I write this, I am supposed to be going into my second day in Macedonia, but as I prepared to travel to southeast Europe, I ran into a few . . . glitches.  Okay, someone was struck by lightening on the runway.  Omen?  Check out this video and  see.

 

 

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