December 23, 2010 § 1 Comment
My Saturday to-do list included a hunt for birth certificates, a grocery stop for wine and light bulbs, the writing of this post, and the projection of our budget needs for the month of January. Needless to say, my plans were re-railed by the Great Unknown! I was casually asked if I would like to partake in a ‘yoga flash mob for peace.’ This is not an offer my to-do list will every stand much of a chance against. And thankfully so. The unfolding of this peculiar and spontaneous event was nothing short of totally fulfilling and one of the most unique experiences I have ever had.
A flash mob is the sudden assembly of people in a public place, who perform an unusual act for a brief time, then disperse. It is a form of performance art, usually organized through social media. The concept was created by the senior editor of Harper’s Magazine, Bill Wasik, originally to make fun of hipsters always in search of the ‘next big thing.’ In May 2003, he sent participants to four prearranged Manhattan bars, where they were divided and received instructions. 100 of them were sent to the ninth floor rug department of Macy’s to gradually gather around an expensive rug. When approached by sales people, they were instructed to explain that they all lived together in a warehouse outside the city and were shopping for a ‘love rug,’ and all purchasing decisions were made as a group. Simultaneously, 200 people flooded the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel and erupted into applause for fifteen minutes straight, then dispersed. The remainder invaded a SoHo shoe boutique all pretending to be tourists. The point is to give no explanation or justification; to leave it open for interpretation like a poem. But as much as a flash mob can function as a cunning shot at hipsters, it can just as tactically deliver messages of hope and empowerment. The unconventional is becoming convention.
Now give me the yoga! Above are members of the Africa Yoga Project, led by the all-too-extraordinary Paige Elenson, founder, and Moses Mbajah, Country Director. This incredible organization empowers the driven youth of Kenya by teaching them the high-minded art of yoga (specifically Power Vinyasa). These inspiring community pioneers are then matched with sponsors worldwide. who enable them to teach peace and tranquility through the art of physical and mental discipline, in areas that need it most: rural, slum, and city landscapes alike. From a sustainability standpoint, they create a job for every sponsor that endows such possibility, and the dollars that cycle through these ambassadors lift a countless numbers of families and business owners in strategically targeted, struggling economic areas. All for $110 / month. Incredible. Having felt their true joy, bursting energy, and limitless sensibility, there is no question as to whether the Africa Yoga Project will succeed to incredible heights; the question is whether they even yet realize how colossal their impact will be?
Now imagine five our girls, Ruth, Hannah, Ann, Miriam, and Eunice, watching sixty young people practicing pre-flash mob, smiling, twisting, hooting like they are hunting in a forest; a new, peculiar, powerful tribe! It is through groups like these that we are able to teach our kids unity and raise them as globally minded citizens. Seeing Uncle Brian walk out of the studio as if it were the scene of an accident was a humorous additive. We were informed during preparations (for those of us Great Unkowners) that this flash mob would not only simultaneously occur in London and Los Angeles, all to benefit the Africa Yoga Project (!), but that the days events at all three locations are the feature of a documentary being produced by Baron Baptiste, a pioneer of American yoga and close partner and supporter of Africa Yoga Project. The upcoming documentary is called “Yoga for Unity,” and the purpose is to explore the transformative effects of yoga, specifically in combat of tribalism, violence, and poverty. So, yes, you will see me crooked and off time, glowing mzungu, smiling like an olympian (the only olympian thing about it).
With our Sun Salutations limbered, our bellies warm, and our children elated, we piled on a bus with some seriously FIRED UP yogis and headed to Mathare, one of the worst slum areas in Kenya and Africa.
I say this with delicate respect for the deep injustice of a slum; the crime of it’s very existence, but there is something oddly beautiful about a place like Mathare. The way the Earth tones of a project high rise and the burnt dirt contrast so distinctly with the bright laundry feathered densely on every rail; as if the whole building, the whole slum could lift up and fly away. Add the layers of buzz, folds of curiosity, and the sheer number of people, and the energy only accentuates the sense of take off. It shouldn’t exist. But because it does so too do groups like the Africa Yoga Project and Flying Kites Oasis Program. Among all of this we quietly paired off from the bus and wandered around as if disconnected. Ruth and I held hands and followed some goats gnawing at the tufts of grass, until the signal was given to congregate.
The lot we assembled in was once a housing area, burned down during post-election violence of 2007. The same violence that sent us Francis and Jane, that killed over 1,300 people and displaced 600,000 into refugee camps; a place known symbolically as a painful mark in Kenyan history. And suddenly, from seemingly nowhere, seventy plus people came together, all different shades and tribes, and began moving and breathing in unison. Without a moment’s pause children ran to join in and adults stopped dead in their tracks to bare witness. Our girls kept giggling. Moses led us through our planned series twice. And our act of peace and awareness concluded with everyone linked by hands in a huge circle encompassing the lot, and one by one we shouted a word of choice, children from the slum and yogis alike: “Pa Moja (Togetherness)!” “Forgiveness!” “Hope!” “Yoga!” Ruth shouted “Unity!” And without an extra word, we dispersed.
The way our girls opened a door to a whole new vein of thought; so too did all the onlookers, children shouting loving words, and the thousands of people who will see this flowering in Nairobi, Los Angeles, and London in “Yoga for Unity.”
Help me in thanking Africa Yoga Project for their beauty and strength. Click the link below to watch an inspiring clip of their transformative effect in motion.
I write to you from Nairobi, beside a bag of small gifts, a glittered silver star for our tree, and a handful of lights to make our holiday together an unforgettable one. I’ve got a goose and four chickens to pick up on the way home, so we have much to be thankful for. Our kids will be distributing food and books chosen from their own shelves to give to families in the community, and we will be doing our best to sing carols along the way. Few others in our village will experience such peace of mind this season, but they deserve to.
Be overjoyed by the blessings all around you and the freedom you have to grow and sculpt the moment in your hands. Your support is a gift; loved ones are a gift; YOU are a limitless gift! Welcome love and humble grace.
“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war,
we shall have to begin with the children.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi ~