Damn Good Biking

Damn Good Biking
Mammath Mountain

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Contemplating the future

Hi guys, sorry for not writing more about calif0rnia or keeping you all up to date on the goings ons. It would seem that I find myself in a bit of a quandry as what exactly to do. Since I have been gone from the Peace Corps for an extended period of time and my end of service date rapidly approaches at december 15th, they are inviting me back only if I agree to another year, and that decision needs to be made in the next couple weeks.

I can't say that I find this an easy choice, there are many things pulling me in many directions. I have a wonderful fiancee' whom I utterly adore and if I stay than my goal for the next year will be to work towards studying at the Horticulture school in Santa Cruz, along with an oppertunity to potentially mexico to work on a comercial agriculture farm and learn about farm management.

In contrast there is Niger, my home, my mud hut and birthplace to all of these possibilities, but the real stipulation is that I never finished the work I was gaining ground on. I have spent better part of a 1 1/2 years studying, traveling, and most importantly learning new perspectives and gaining so many experiences. Then poof! I'm back in the states?

I'm looking for work and now in short game mode, thinking about the immediate future working menially to keep a float isn't what I feel particularly tailored for at this time. When I look at my paltry readjustment allowance I see it whittled away in a few short months despite how frugal I live, and the money I would use for the Horticulture program never used for its actual purpose.

What happens if i leave and come back, will i find myself in a different position financially I would have a couple more thousand anchored in a bank account if not invested. Maybe also with more time available I can devote it towards my next step after the Peace Corps. Only if given the opportunity for closure, maybe that would be enough, but another year? I know I would take away much more than the first two years, but after finishing my work, will I be better suited to move on, and more prepared for living in the United States?

It has been difficult to leave something so unfinished that has given me everything I could have asked from it, to leave my friends, animals, but also the many many projectrs I was working on. Niger for me has mostly been about the work, though a lot of other experiences have given me equal pleasure, it has been the greatest time of my life sharing these experiances with everyone along the way.

My perceptions have been that the more you see of the world and its diversity the more you will love it, and its sharing these experiences with others as I have grown that has fueled my desire to keep going and its this passion that calls me back.

If I don't return I won't see this as the end of an adventure, a definitely disappointing ending, but it isn't one that was made in vain or a disaster. Besides it can't rain all the time and the sun will surely shine anew. I feel to have enough passion to light my way for many lifetimes.

thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A growing Movement of Agriculture

Hi guys, many of you often wonder what I will be doing after the Peace Corps, thanks to my very good friend and brother in farms, Matt McCue, this will hopefully be a part of my life's work.

and don't cuss the farmers with your mouth full.
Seriously we're lethally trained.

Unique food, peace and farmer event coming to French Garden

Sept. 14 event links Iraq vet with white linen evening
BROTHERS IN FARMS — Members of the “Farms Not Arms” group participated in a recent Petaluma Farmers Market. Pictured from left is: Josh Anderson, Colin Sillerud, Lily Schneider, Matt McCue and Sufyan Bunch. - photo provided

Sebastopol’s French Garden Restaurant will lay out the white tablecloths for a special afternoon dinner on Sunday, Sept. 14, from 3 to 6 p.m. to help launch a new collaboration between seasoned farmers and energetic young veterans looking for their place in the current food revolution.

“Farms Not Arms,” headquartered in Petaluma is sponsoring this event to promote the Farmer-Veteran Coalition.

Produce for the event is grown by Iraq war vet Matt McCue and his crew, including other veterans, on the French Garden Farm nearby, according to Dan Smith, owner of both the restaurant and the farm.
Executive Chef Didier is transforming the dinner menu.

Longtime organic farmer with Del Cabo Organic and Project Director of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, Michael O’Gorman said he was very excited to announce that his friend George Naylor, Iowa soybean and corn farmer, and Past President of the National Family Farm Coalition, will be the event’s keynote speaker.

“There is no one in the entire country,” O’Gorman said, “that can explain how agricultural practices, policies and politics have created the dire situation our food production is in.”
Much of Michael Pollan’s recent book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” was dedicated to Naylor and filled with references to his first-hand observations. Pollan is also involved with the Slow Food movement, which emphasizes preserving traditional food sources and educating people about food as a center of community.

“There truly is a revolution going on in food and farming,” O’Gorman said, “and Sonoma County is Ground Zero for it – the growing public demand for healthier, fresher, more diverse, and most importantly, locally grown food. But we can’t make it happen, unless we reverse the 200-year-old trend of having fewer and fewer American farmers. Farming is a life-long commitment to long hours and physical work. We will not find the farmers without reaching out to the two million young Americans who have come out of the military since September, 2001.”

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Tikiverse

Parting from our last excursion from the Ikeaverse and the 70's era wolf pack of rockers we move to a separate reality experience when "Hemily", myself and two others pack our gear into the heart of Virginia near Gettysburg where their friends put on an annual camp out complete with fantastic music, camping, jam circles, and not to mention some of the tastiest pulled pork sandwiches I've had in quite some time. Don't get too much pork in Muslim Niger!

Anyhow after a day of watching Henry complete in Maryland at some back water harbour bar about two hundred "remember the glory days" mix of former high school athletes, fraternity jockey boys, and yokels compete in beer pong. Nothing is really worth mentioning this other than saying WTF!!!! is this. Serious, guys competing on who can throw a ping pong ball into a cup of beer for cash and prizes is stupid, but watching the testosterone soar and shit talking fly was only made worth for it the free food pilfered, and the insanely cheap beer we drank.

Anyhow, after the ding dong tournament we arrive at this wonderful spread of a place complete marshlands and a picturesque creek flowing through a beautifully landscaped home. At the house they had erected a full on stage where the night's entertainment included a bluegrass band from Pennsylvania, a local jam band from Gettysburg, as well as some filler material such as a guy with a guitar.

For a little venue of less than a hundred folk they had one hell of a stage erected complete with professional sound engineer along with all his studio equipment.

The patrons of this wayfarers pilgrimage ranged from cities such as DC and Baltimore, and even some of the local color infiltrated the camp. I recall in between our jam session when I got up to stretch my back and grab some fire water from a tent I saw a pair of hairy confederates near the distant campfire away from the jam bullying each other over politics and I don't know who could piss further. Though they could never agree on the exact same point they were both arguing on with fingers pointed and teeth bared, agreement was settled when one made the popular call to solidarity balking Fuck'n A!!' White Power!, White Power!

Where the $%^* am I?

ahem, I'm from a free state. Well kinda, Missouri was kind of split.

Leaving them alone and not alluding to the fact that their arguments were shit, and it did little good to intervene in such nonsense I returned to the Jam knowing two things. Unlike them I have opposable thumbs, and I can certainly piss farther.

But the point of this blog isn't to touch on the subtleties of Beer Pong, or knuckle dragging extremist, its about my first Jam since being back after a year and half of isolation in Niger from playing bluegrass/jam music. Mind you I picked up the mandolin mere months before leaving for Niger and someone telling me to play a G chord was as alien to me to comprehend as these morons were to understanding that America is most likely going to have its first its first black president.

Down with Whitey!!


Its no secret playing mandolin is no longer a hobby or passion it is an extension of who I have become over my walkabout in Niger, and though I do on occasion jam with rasta's, and other varieties of Africans, and all other walks of life. As a mandolin player in Africa my instrument is more of a novelty and though it does fit in, its not the roots of the music I constantly play.

So one could say this was my time to shine and see what I could do after my year and half's journey.

I arrived at the jam a little late after needing to take down some liquid courage, they knew I was coming and were excited to have a mando' player infiltrate the ranks of banjo, fiddle, and two guitarists. Still a little sheepish and suffering from a bit from not feeling entirely welcome at the small venue I awkwardly picked a seat behind the players and softly included my chops, and a few small runs up and down the fretboard when inspired to do so.

After about twenty minutes of this type of playing my very good friend Henry (the music critic) crouched next to me and said "quit being so precocious and show them what you can do".

Precocious? What the....? Precocious? I have had a lot of life experiences wandering the spinning big blue spinning ball, been loved and loathed and called accordingly. But precocious? Never.

How does one even respond to that?

Well here's how.

Understanding my friends point and he was right, I've come along way to far to simply be mouse'ish and not do what I know I can. So at the next break in songs I was going to do something a little out of the ordinary at a jam circles, I was going to play something of my own.

So the break occurred, while everyone was waiting for the next song to play I started off the beginning of one of the songs I wrote called "Tabula Rasa" which is Latin for "a new beginning" Its a simple piece Dm F C, then back to DM and in Nigerien fashion it repeats itself with the melody and bridge never changing but only in intensity.

I don't know exactly why I decided not to sing the lyrics I wrote for the song but instead I chose to improve the song by weaving a story that was a summation of my wayfaring that began with my induction into adulthood by joining the military to pick up a gun to make my way in the world, but became seriously disheartened as an effect from what I experienced. Then the song morphed into the trials and tribulations of living in Niger then wrapped up with an unexpected intensity that left me emotionally charged and a little misty eyed when I ended the song screaming about the pain of losing my spiritual rasta guide Patrick in a fatal accident one day before we were supposed to link together to help operate a music festival for Nigerien artists and musicians.

My friend was a rastaman
we played for love of all god's man
but when we found our way
and 'bout to wander away
he up and died.

When I started the song everyone sort of stared at me wondering what the hell was this, I was breaking jam band circle code, but when they took in the lyrics and got the gist's of the chords the fiddle came in, then the banjo, lastly the guitar added its instrumentation and before I knew it a full band was rocking it out behind my mandolin and lyrics, though my eyes were closed the entire time I could sense the intensity of the attention of everyone present.

After we finished the song there was an eerie silence as everyone stared, I rubbed a tear from my cheek with the back of my long sleeve shirt and the fiddle player turned around and said. "Dude, did you write that?", Ah well kinda, I wrote the song but improved the lyrics. "Damn, that was intense."

Welcome to the wayfarer's world.

Later as we liberals and hippies took over the bonfire after all the supremacists left about 0230 after a solid three or four hours of playing, I felt my previous precociousness left way behind moldering in ashes after ripping up and down the mandolin.

At the fire the guys in the band asked me more about my journey, my music and commented that my isolation and self taught style of playing mandolin was quite unique and that they were thoroughly pleased to have had the chance to play with me. I felt likewise, it was my D day of playing in America, though it was simply a jam at a inconsequential home festival it was my first time ever playing with veteran musicians at an open jam of the sorts.

In many ways this event was very therapeutic for me, to me when something is really burning deep inside of me there is no way to convey my thoughts through work, conversation, or the spoken word, my medium of choice is the mandolin. It has been there on all the nights in Africa where I have experienced such a wide range of emotions both happy and sad. But all memorable.

I have no preconceived notions of ever trying to "make it" playing music its not my goal to rely on this in my life, but to get through life when I need it most. But who knows music has become the form other form in which I can be completly honest and portray the world I see through sharing my experiances and emotions. It has become an unexpected surprise in which I use to often connect with others. So if it challenges people to think critically, open their minds, or just enjoy a little melody and sing along, well then my job is done.

We'll its getting late 0200 and I need to start winding down for the night, I'm also watching America play Holland in Olympic soccer and I'm a little torn, though i am rooting for America, I did live in Holland for a small very influential period of my life and I am also rooting for them.

So in my confusion I'm going to leave this blog the way it is until my Microsoft word works on my computer and I can edit out all the junk.

alright hope you enjoyed this quick waste of your time.


Wowsers the world is getting smaller

This is incredible, right now I am sitting at the dining room table and watching the Beijing Olympics on my computer both through live streaming and recorded events. It really is remarkable this whole communications technology age, since returning home I have discovered You tube. Youtube was up and going before I left sure, but since all things are usually a couple years old before I get wind of them it makes it even more enjoyable.

Since discovering these mediums I have used them as a wonderful resource to view a range of topics and beautiful things such as musicians performing to staying informed on current world events such as watching actual footage from the Iraq war as well as the terrible developments of the Geogrian-Russian war.

I apologize for not blogging more already about my trip as promised but tonight I'll bear down and hammer out another entry.

Being overwhelmed by how much more connected our planet is becoming connected it reminds me of a firm belief that we are all connected to one another. There is nothing worse then having to hear from someone balk "ah who cares if it happens on the other side of the world, it doesn't affect me" but AH CONTRAIRE MONFRAIRE, it does.

okay that's it, I"m just feeling so awed by all the new developments of human communications and feel strongly that as these types of networks continue to expand we are only going to learn more and more about each other, whether it be how terrible or beautiful we can recreate a song, or how devestating a war can be from actual footage instead of receiving it filtered through the powers that be whom wish to sheild us away from the terrible realities of conflict.

So I urge you if your not traveling, or activily learning more about the world on a regular basis take the time and see what's going on, believe me EVERYTHING is connected and it does effect you.

my soap box'n is done. Time to watch Nigeria and Japan Soccer!!

ahem... go USA! "

Monday, August 4, 2008

Day tripping on the Warshington DC leg of the journey

So when I visited DC two exceptional friends from PC Niger sheltered me. Independently they are mighty but when conjoined like voltron they create a unstoppable force called "Hemily". Tucked safely away from all the evil conservative bushit's of Washington I was sleeping safely in one of the east coasts' most liberal bastion's. A wonderful hood called "Tacoma Park".

Emily is a American Studies PhD student at George Washington University, and is dead set to do anything to bring down the man. For example when our PC friend Matt (whom I just visited) was pulled out of Niger to return for the "surge" in Iraq it was her wrath that had us in immediate contact with the upper eschelons of the policy department within the pentagon.

Henry though more subdued, is quite a force himself. Always in the constant pursuit to become an Olympic marathoner he is a one man wrecking machine of a editor for a weekend culture edition of a newspaper in southern Maryland. Though he is doing all the work himself, theatre, movies, food, reviews etc. etc. His real passion is music and is also a contributing writer for "Bluegrass Now" as well as band manager.

ya good friends to have I know.

Anyhoo, my too few of days in DC were spent catching up with the both of them, but due to schedules it seemed I seldom got to hang out with the both of them at one time. While Henry was away, if time permitted, Em' and I would go into DC and do neat-o things like visit the art museums on the national mall. I even got to gawk at my favorite paintings by Thomas Cole called the "Journey of Life" one of my songs I wrote is based on this monumental work

So here is a little snippet of one of our days.
On July 18th one day after being officially axed from the Peace Corps Henry and I took a road trip to spend some time to ourselves, work, and goof off. He was on assignment to do a write up for a local band playing at a fair, and I was on board to kick it like a ninja.

So we went to southern Maryland, and let me tell ya it might have loads of crabs, sailing, and transplanted affluence; but when all of that is stripped away it is a honest to goodness back woods god bless Americanistanagan.

So naturally two hippies seeking adventure and suffering from extreme parchment and emaciation sought refuge in the town we were seeking only bar. An American Legion.

I know, I know, One would think... Whaaaat? American Legion?

But seriously listen.

I grew up on the road and I learned that if you do a stint on the open road burnt out,counting pennies and in need of a road pint and cheap food. My friends there is no better refuge than an American Legion.

Sure sometimes when I walk in the proverbial record scratches and the heads turn, but as a wayfarer I know how to morph immediately, and often have rounds bought in my favor.

Ah Hi I came in Peace!! Go respective sports team!!! God bless 'Merica.
In AL's folk are always talkative, mostly hospitable if you skip to their beat.

I mention they often buy rounds?!!

So in the American Legion we bellied up to the bar sitting next to some guerrillas of
American folk, after eating a few wings, spouting some 'aMerkana with a tactical special ops trainer and a crew cut former marine/gym coach we washed down our opinions while enjoying a few delicious sammy adams brews.

Then it was time to walk out all uprightish and serious, it was time to get get down to business.

Getting lost in a one bar town is easy when your perceptions are a little hazy, we thought it was us, but little did we know its a natural phenomenon when in close proximity to time portals.

As we eventually found our way to our destination we found ourselves at the predetermined meeting spot: one of the musicians house. Then all things went all wavy gravy.

First entering the house all things appeared normal they were very inviting, the man of the house reminded me of someone like many of our school janitors. A nice man, but seldom do students learn who he is.

On the surface it appeared to be a modern home; hardwood floors, TV, chips on the table, a kid strangely zoned out on the couch watching TV (apparently autistic), a wonderful backyard complete with landscapes and an edible food garden.

But when they took us down stairs...

Down the rabbit hole we went, and what we thought were three normal subdued folk who like to dabble with music turned into a viscous wolf pack of rockers safely hidden deep into their retro lair.

Their jam band palace complete with stand up mic's, huge ass amp's, speakers, instruments, everything all created spasmically in a long forgotten time. Even the tuner for their instrument's was a throw back not to mention one hell of a psychedelic light show in itself. It was like a Frankenstein grandfather clock with tentacles.

Crazy man.

No matter what laws of nature where broken in this teleportal, nothing could remind us in this fantastical realm that the golden seventies were three decades ago.

After the initial phase of being severely dazed and confused I was generally enjoying myself and as we watched and listened to some very surprising enjoyable melodic harmonies we were diggin it. They rattled off their renditions of songs such as the Beatles "nowhere man" then as a closer a twelve minute rendition of CSN&Y's "Southern Cross". WOW!

Sorry I mean Far out man!!!

Completely bewildered by what the hell just happened to us we made the 2-1/2 hour trip back to DC and pushed fervently through an Atlantic blower to meet Emily at her current place of employment which was somebodies house who apparently is a political poller who hires Em' do crunch numbers and apparently dog sit.

Anyone interested in Rhodesian Ridgebacks? Seriously cool dogs, but I wouldn't trust suburbonized ones to hunt lions like they were originally bred for to do anything more than cower from a stuffed animal of one.

There we stepped out of the cozy neatly manicured neighborhood into the ikeaverse. A home of rigid lines, modern furniture, and a general lack of feeling that actually anyone lived there.

But really a beautiful home, northwestern style, wonderful landscaping. But all very factory made, its rude to say but a freezer full of icee pops was the warmest part of thier house.

But they had a GINORMOUS plasma tv armed to the teeth with a thousand and one channels, I can't say I would want to spend more than a few minutes in thier house, but to a kid whose been isolated in a mud hut for the last year and a half I could have spent days in front of that thing.

So steadfast in our determination to see what liberals on the other end of the tax bracket live like we ate some icee pops and watched little frogs ride bicycles all over the mountains of France.

Ah home for the Tour du France!! Generally sucks up about three weeks of every summer for me.

Seriously aside from men in skin tight lycra its one of the humanities greatest athletic competitions. Fascinating sport, naturally been a fan for years.

Thinking of it, not only was this day a passing through a few different universes, my whole trip across America was.

As a nine fingered guitarists once sang "what a long strange trip its been"

Well folks thats about all I've got left in me. Today I rode my bike for the first time in a year and half and was giggling like a school boy the whole way. Two months ago my only wheels were a wheelchair. I love healing!!!

Time to publish.

I've hammered out this blog late into the night and its time to enjoy a well deserved pint of IPA and start settling down with a few games of computer chess before calling it quits.

Alright sai anjima!!

tomorrow the Tikiverse: An Archipelligo of the Jam Band Incidents.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Salaam Aleikum!

Finally back in Charlottesville Virginia, whew!

I did it, two and a half weeks living on the road carrying little more than a small messenger bag with a couple changes of clothes and the mandolin which is what I would typically travel about Niger.

This was a wonderful journey, not only was it an opportunity to explore my options after the Peace Corps, visit with old mates-making new ones, then filling the rest of gaps Jamm'n, farm'n, hike'n, all in effort to "cautiously" challenge myself as a final test to learn for myself if I am physically fit enough to return.

I learned I don't know my third week in Niger that if your not 100% or damn near then don't do anything. Seriously. Heal. Niger is welcoming and really lovely but it is a mean bastard if you wander into the elements without caution.

Where would I even begin, damn I am just so happy to have been able to do all those things. You guys have no idea how difficult it has been to have my wings clipped, nearly my entire time spent here has been indoors laying about resting/healing in between rehab and jamming and exploring the local scene.


A happy man is at this end slowly typing away.

there will be a full write up of the exploits, check in regularly this week I will try to post something each day.

O yeah I was offically released from the Peace Corps...ashaa, but no worries I worked it out and will be returning to Niger in about two and a half weeks, as a fully reinstated hopeless idealist and dirty hippy.