Tag Archives: kandahar

Shitting All Over Democracy

Friends,

The video counterpart of this post can be found here.

A few years back, while living in the Maywand District of Kandahar, Afghanistan, I noticed that there were two Western contrivances we tried to force upon the locals: Democracy and the toilet. You probably had at least a passing awareness that we installed a “democratic” government there, but you probably weren’t too familiar with the implementation of toilets because it really only happened on army bases.

So what’s the common thread here? Well, both inventions are things we take for granted in the west. They are ubiquitous and we see them as somehow empirical and eternal. So ingrained are these ideas for example, that many have a knee-jerk reaction to shitting via squatting the same way they have a knee-jerk reaction to ideas like dictatorship. Does this make sense?

I don’t think so. From an evolutionary perspective, shitting while squatting is much more the normal state of affairs and it is still practiced widely around the world, so any aversion to it is actually aberrant. Ditto for democracy. We are born into family units where the rules aren’t voted on. We are told what to do. So whence cometh democracy?
Also, with regards to democracy, we live in a natural world with very clear physical rules like gravity, scarcity and other constants which really don’t change based on popular opinion.  So again, whence cometh democracy?

Pretending that toilets or democracy are in any way the natural state of affairs, rather than Western contrivances and fancies, is myopic self-delusion.

In a beautiful action illustrating this point, my interpreters in Maywand unwittingly showed me  the folly of trying to shoe-horn Western practices into other parts of the world.

The interpreters, Afghan natives, were accustomed to squatting while shitting. There was no place to squat and shit on the base and they couldn’t leave the base due to safety concerns so they had to use the porta-potties located on-site.

Porta_potty_Seat.jpg1856A5EC-1851-49A8-A9A43FBD4779870A.jpgLargerIn case you don’t know what a porta-potty looks like.

And they did, but in a decidedly Afghan way: they would stand on the seat and try to shit through the hole. Admirable effort and best intentions notwithstanding, more often than not, they would shit all over the seat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was actually a profound metaphor for the folly of trying to shoe-horn democracy and other Western ideals onto a people unaccustomed to them.
Now for the record I have no especial esteem for democracy, as I alluded to earlier; nature is a dictatorship and its laws are absolute as opposed to relative. But, assuming democracy did have some especial merit, that doesn’t mean that the world is just gonna accept it any more than they accept the toilet.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when things like toilets and democracy, things which we have, if you think about it, been conditioned to accept as normalcy for our entire lives, don’t catch on like wildfire when transplanted elsewhere. Or if they get shit on so to speak.

We don’t have a monopoly on the right way to do things and we would do well to remember that.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Light me up that cigarette; DON’T strap shoes on my feet

My Friends,
   I don’t even know where to start.  I feel like I have tons to say about my trip to New York but at the same time I am much more enthusiastic to talk about my ongoing training for bare-footing around the globe.  So first things first, I’ll talk about NYC some and get that out of the way.

I Want to Be a Part of It
 
   Most people, well some people at least, have been to Manhattan and can attest to the fact that there is enough shit to do there.  Even with no shortage of attractions to spend money on however, you can still have a good time without spending any money at all.  For example, you can…

…do yoga in Central Park…

…pose in front of cool shit…

…or even just say “fuck it,” and climb city infrastructure.  Sometimes you just gotta carry it like that.
   However, a lot of the attractions which are uniquely New York do cost some skrilla money.  This isn’t too much of a problem as most of the costs aren’t too prohibitive, and if you plan ahead you can even bundle together attractions with a city-pass and save some money for street meat.  However, what I found intolerable was the security associated with some of the more famous attractions.  For example, to get to the Statue of Liberty we had to go through two sets of airport-style security (one in Battery Park and the other at the base of the monument).  As well, the last time I went to NYC (August 2008) there were similar security measures to get to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and I don’t imagine it has changed since that time.  It all seems a little much.  I realize that the city could be a potential terrorism target but is the answer really to treat tourists as suspects?  This suspicion itself does not sit well with me, but it is exacerbated by two factors: For starters, I AM ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS!!  Like for fuck sakes, I went to the ‘ghan, hunted tewwowists and worked with Americans to achieve common ends.  Can’t a pimp get exempted from the anal probe in light of services rendered?
   Second, it seems the vast majority of people in charge of making tourists jump through the hoops of security seem like well…non-persons; the kind of people who I wouldn’t give a second-glance to on the street.  But all of a sudden they are vested with arbitrary power by the state, municipality, country, whatever the fuck, etc… and they have the ability to make my trip suck.  In “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque, the main character, Paul Bäumer muses while recalling his slave-driving sadist of a corporal during basic training, something to the effect of how “those who are most insignificant in daily life are taken the worst by the military.” (paraphrase)  I think this holds true even for security positions as these people compensate for their low prestige by flexing authority when they can.  But on the other hand, a small minority of these types I have dealt with, whether at the Statue or Liberty, the airport or border crossings do make an effort to put people at ease and process them with minimum difficulty.  So for the future I just have to hone my douche-radar and try and predict which security person will be the most amicable before I pick a line or kiosk to go through.
   So I hadn’t meant for this to be a diatribe against the stringent security measures in NYC and I have already said more about my trip than I had planned to so I’ll just fill in some pertinent details in point-form for the benefit of those who care.
-stay at the Mansfield Hotel on West 44th and 5th Avenue -awesome hotel
-eat street meat; its affordable, delicious and held to strict standards by the city
-Statue of Liberty is cool in spite of security but access to the crown requires advance booking.  When crown booking re-opens (the monument will soon be closing for maintenance) I will book a ticket there and then plan a trip around my crown booking thereafter
-If going to Brooklyn, take the Williamsburg Bridge to Bedford Avenue and head north into the neighbourhood of Williamsburg.  According to Wikitravel, Williamsburg is now what Greenwich Village used to be before yuppies and gentrification.  Definitely a cool scene; quaint and quirky with a certain charm.
-Times Square is equal parts awe-inspiring and suffocating, especially in the evening for the latter.  Worth walking through but know you’ll feel like taking a shower afterward
-Sam’s Pizza in the financial district = motherfuckin dizzope
-Signs for fallout shelters are under-publicized relics that hearken back to a more innocent time when denouncing your neighbour as a communist was an expedient method of disappearing them.  Next time I will bring a wrench so I can hopefully steal one of these bad boys off the side of a building (yes that is me professing intent to commit larceny; realtalk)

K, thats about all that comes to mind right now.  On to….

F-F-F-Fabulous Barefoot Adventures

   Since I began training last week for bare-foot walking I have noticed marked improvement.  The training has consisted thus far of daily walks, conducting my affairs around the house on my tippy-toes and routinely spreading my toes when I am am barefoot in my house (all the time now).  These last few days in New York were mostly recuperative; although I walked a ton I did it with shoes and sandals, save for the few hours I spent walking up the west side of Manhattan au naturel.  But now, back in my element with all acquired abrasions and cuts on my soles healed, I have redoubled my efforts to make up for the last 26 years of abuse my feet have suffered at the hands of my shoes.  To that end I set out barefoot today carrying my backpack, the very same one I will carry on my trip loaded to weigh 32 lbs.  The walk was difficult at first; the pitting and imperfections in the concrete were a lot more pronounced with the extra weight but once I got warmed up and made it to the wooded trail I started on last week, my feet really began to shine.  After a minute or two of acclimatization to the rocky, uneven terrain, I began to adopt a quick pace that I was able to maintain, and on the way up the final hill out of the woods (still gravel and rocks) I even managed to jog.  This was a far cry from my first foray into barefoot-land last week on the same trail where I took twice as long with no added weight.
   This significant improvement has convinced me that I want to do this trip with nothing more than my bare feet and a minimalist shoe such as the Vibram “Five Fingers.”  I was looking at a few of the different models and there does not seem to be one yet designed specifically for bearing a heavy load but the one which looks most amenable to my purposes is the KSO Trek

Made with real kangaroo skin …seriously

I think between these beasts and my bare feet I can probably traverse most of the terrain that will be thrown at me.  So now I must procure a pair to incorporate them into my training regimen.  Till then I keep at it barefoot, which is as real as it gets.
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo

 

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