MALVA, MAMA AND THE MOUNTAINS OF SPAIN – #underthemask

For six months, up to the end of January 2020, we were blessed @Griot to have in the team a young Spanish editor and filmmaker called Malva Soler. She took time out to travel to the Canary Islands for a few weeks, before visiting her parents, in mainland Spain. Our intention was to welcome her back for activities in the Spring. But, now she is in lockdown, in the mountains, with her family. This is her experience of living #underthemask

After five weeks in Lanzarote having a pause and working on my next step I came to visit my family in Valencia.

Before I left my ‘holiday bubble’ my country was locked down and I got trapped.

My first feelings were quite dark – well actually, dark as hell.

That feeling is normal I guess, we all are programmed to feel fear and guilt – What am I gonna do? How am I gonna pay my rent? Where am I gonna work? It sounds tragic.

But this darkness is gone, after 21 days I realized that this lockdown is here to remind me the meaning of freedom.

We are probably all feeling like we’re in jail.  But actually, we set aside our slavery.

We won’t be working 9 to 5 – we can enjoy being home, being still, being at peace,

I am beginning to realise we basically have to live every single moment, everyday.  And we probably would do if we let our imagination flow.

Now is when creativity is our most valuable asset.

My days here, in the house of my childhood, with my parents are different, everyday,

Now, I’m quite glad I got trapped here. The house is on the top of a mountain with four acres of land.

All of my cameras and computers that I use for work I left for my return to the UK.  I’m almost naked in terms of work material.

Instead I have the chance to work in the veggie and flower garden,
clean the house, learn recipes with my mom, fixing things inside and outside, I’m gaining a knowledge of permaculture, I’m reading all these books I’ve got on my list. Also, as a family we practice yoga everyday before playing cards or table games.

I’m connecting with all of those people I met while studying and traveling around the world who I haven’t had communication with in years.

But the most powerful thing I’m doing is connecting with myself, I’m feeling strong and confident. I’m writing future projects and collaborations. I’m connecting with very talented people that I’m pretty sure I’ll be learning with.

Since I diluted the darkness, all I was looking for during my holidays is coming true

I’m feeling blessed in some way, maybe because my roots are again in the earth surrounded by nature, or maybe because I’m feeling more connected than ever with my parents and I’m having a real pause, time for reflexion and dedication.

This coronavirus is separating the souls from the bodies of thousands of people everyday – alone, not even saying goodbye to their families.

And it is showing us our own poison.

The worst virus is the one that hides our power. We, as human beings are creative, incredibly kind and powerful. Let’s fight, together, against THAT virus.

 

What a joy for us to be share with you, the special nature of Malva. We wish her, her loved ones and countrymen and women peace and good health in grip of the Spanish Lockdown

Balkan Breaks abandoned – for now: #underthemask

I was triggered this morning by Facebook. It often happens. And it’s generally the unsolicited ‘memories’ that start it.

Today, it was pictures of Easter travels to the Balkans. My son Madoc and I would visit Bulgaria – partly for pleasure, partly to take care of our ‘affairs’ in the country.

Nine years ago, nearing the end of one of my busiest years in business, during which I spent 20 weeks working abroard, I had a cycling accident.

I have no clear memories of it, but reports are of me launched high above the crossbar, with the bike up above me. I came down on my head, fracturing my skull and giving myself a minor brain-bleed.

A month later, still uncertain how complete my recovery was going to be, I bought a semi-derelict cottage, on the side of the Konyaska mountain, 10km from the city of Kyustendil, close to the Macedonian border.

I told myself “it’s a no-brainer”!

At the time, Bulgaria was outside of Europe. To buy a house, I needed to set up a business in the country. That business has to produce annual accounts, hence the need to visit at the turn of the financial year.

In 2014, graced with a 10 day window to holiday with Madoc, we loaded the land rover, with all the toys you could imagine – bikes, inflatable canoes, tents, BBQs – bundled our six-month old spaniel in the back, and set off on a major road-trip.

Madoc’s ipad ran out of battery by the time we reached Reading, so we entertained ourselves for the remainder of the journey, playing I-spy, (in which all the answers were Squidge – the name of our dog) and singing “ten-green bottles” and “one-man went to mow”

Four days later, having been stopped for speeding twice, we made destination just after midnight.

The house of course, was still derelict. But we had commissioned some work on the barn. We slung a couple of hammocks, spent three nights swinging in them, recovering our spines, loaded the dog back in the truck and drove home, without off-loading a thing! (another four days!)

The land rover trip was a unique experience. One of a huge number  we have had as a result of our investment in the country.

We still haven’t finished the house – though it looks very different from what it looked like back then. Ironically, before the COVID19 crisis we had identified some funds to undertake the next scheme of work, in time for us to fully occupy the house this summer – high quality problems, that will remain on ice for now.

So, I reflect on lives we took, so much, for granted. Coffee shops and chatter, freedom of movement, a certain confidence in our health and wellbeing.

We have pressed the re-set button, in a major way. The only certainty for now, is the uncertainty. The only direction is forward, the way only clear is to the next bend.

But is it not always like that? Is the certainty we normally comfort ourselves with just an illusion?

Maybe what we are being offered now is another chance to recognize that all we have is here, all we’ve got is now and to question what we would like to put our attention on, with each breath we are gifted. In each moment of each day.

By the way, I checked in with our closest friend in Bulgaria earlier. Dave Moore is in isolation. But He often is! This year however, he is in a new relationship, in his remote country home.

“To be honest, I am not so affected by it,” he said. “Can’t go to any café or restaurant so the home cooking is getting better.”

Dave works as a builder and lives in a very remote spot. “I guess living in isolation has less contrast to someone living in the towns.

“I do have some work in the next village so life is easy that way,” he added

In the blissful early days of a new relationship you can be anywhere and not smell anything but winter-flowering Jasmine, or cherries in spring. Long may that state continue for my dear friends in Bulgaria.

 

HG 3/4/20

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will continue to share experiences of life #underthemask. If you have a tale to tell, do please let us know.

 

 

 

Guatemala grits its teeth – #underthemask

Guatemala grits its teeth – #underthemask

As the virus crosses the world “like a back-packer” today’s blog post concentrates on the impact of the virus in Guatemala. On the day we should have landed in Central America to look at a programme of work based on sequestering carbon and building a cycle of funds for development projects, we caught up with our partners on a zoom call. Alex Eaton works for the organisation Stoveteam. He says the news of the virus spread like wildfire:

“ About a week ago, nothing was really happening in Antigua,” he said, “except that people showed concern for Italy and China.

“But my worst fears came true, the virus travelled across the world like a backpacker.”

The first signs of the potential of the disease to disrupt life came with the announcement that Easter processions would be cancelled.

“Guatemala relies on tourism, and Semana Santa (Easter Week) is the biggest money-maker of the country.,” said Alex.

“This season’s festivities were expected to generate $50 million and bring upwards of one million tourists to the country.”

The country was confused. Waves of information were tumbling through the country, along with guidance to people.

A aeroplane had landed with tourists on board, who presented the first positive cases. The government moved quickly to close the borders to prevent the rapid spread .

Alex said the decisions came quickly and life in the country changed overnight: “On Monday: President Alejandro Giammattei made a televised press conference and said the air, sea, and land borders would be closing to limit the spread, and schools too.

“On Tuesday: we learned that non-essential businesses would be closed and public transport throughout the country would be stopped for a two-week period.

“The prohibition stated that restaurants would be closed as well, but pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations would remain open.

“And on Wednesday, he spoke again to the national public to urge people to stay home .”

It’s a familiar story. Life continues but people are struggling.

Workers are at home and children too.

“For most Guatemalans, no work means no money – and that’s a hard reality for a third world country that already has immense poverty,” said Alex.  “No public transport means workers can’t get to their jobs and the closure of business means chaos when thinking of paying bills.”

For the rural communities, working in agriculture, little has changed. But in a had-to-mouth economy, where survival was already marginal, the future looks incredibly uncertain.

Alex spoke fondly of the landlady of his house, who’d said, with her head hung low, “With the closure of businesses, I am not able to sell my handicrafts and feed my family”.

We will continue to share experiences of life #underthemask. If you have a tale to tell, do please let us know.

 

HG/2/1/20

 

 

ISOLATION TOGETHER – participatory communication in isolation

In today’s blog from the frontline of the COVID crisis, we are coming a little closer to home. One of the new members of our team here at Griot is Lette Batten-Turner. She is a remarkable addition, coming from a background of study in international development and participatory communication. Lette was about to launch a project with refugees and asylum seekers, when we went into lockdown. This is the story as it stands:

Colette Batten-Turner

Isolation, Together

Lette Batten-Turner

The current global health pandemic, while disruptive and unpredictable, may provide an opportunity to dynamically reimagine, adapt and grow. This is not to diminish the severity of coronavirus; the impact it will have on the poor, the loss of life and the effect of illness on ourselves and our loved ones.

However, for those of us working in the creative industries and able to stay safe and well, self-isolation is a chance to pause, take stock, and imagine ways to adapt to the current climate we are living in.

Prior to the lockdown, I was in the process of organising a participatory photography project in Brighton, UK, exploring themes of home and displacement with refugees and asylum seekers. Once it became clear that social distancing was the most responsible action, the collaborative project I had envisioned was postponed for the foreseeable future.

This caused me to reflect on the themes I was interested in. The concept of ‘home’ and how we interact with spaces kept coming up. It was a viable topic to explore while in isolation!

I began self-documenting, taking daily photographs visualising my experiences of self-isolation.

I had five 35mm disposable cameras I had planned to use alongside DSLRs in my participatory photography workshops and I began to consider how they could be used to record my community’s experiences.

I live in Hanover, an area of Brighton and Hove with a famous community spirit. The ‘Hanover Community Noticeboard’ Facebook group has over 17,000 members – people who live, or once lived in Hanover. Community members offer advice and stories, the best spots for a roast and free sourdough starter kits!

In the age of COVID-19, parents are sharing learning resources for home-schooling, residents are offering free online yoga classes, buying groceries and collecting medicine for those who cannot leave their houses.

This sense of community, so integral to this area, fuelled my interest in how we are all experiencing this period of isolation alone, but at the same time together.

After proposing the project, I almost immediately received messages from around 40 people of different ages, keen to get involved.

Having distributed the five film cameras, I set up a shared platform where others could upload their photographs. The focus is not on the quality of photograph, but on creating a record of how our community came together and experienced this significant period of history in which we are all kept apart.

My interest is in how photography can be used ‘as’ social change, as well as ‘for’ social change. ‘Isolation,

Together’ aims to bring people who may be feeling isolated and alone together visually.

In the same way that participatory photography has been shown to empower communities and individuals, exploring our experiences of self-isolation – moments of frustration, boredom, stillness and peace – and translating them into visual pieces provides a cathartic release in itself.

 

 

 

Over the time we are in isolation, we will be keeping a close eye on Lette’s project and the developments in Brighton and will bring you more on it, when we have it!

All images courtesy of Collette Batten-Turner.

#underthemask

 

 

 

INDIAN LOCK-DOWN

If you think there are challenges at home, picture social-distancing in a country with over a billion people.

India has many memories for me, one of the most vivid is what seemed to be a totally eccentric sense of spatial awareness! To the extent that, in my favourite state, a burn on the ankle from a motorbike exhaust is known as a Goan Kiss!

Much of my travel in India was for work. Experiences in Goa, however, were driven by my engagement in the early years of Western yoga.

It may seem bizarre – to travel to India to be taught to salute the sun by someone from, say, Brighton. But western bodies need western sensibilities. Our hips don’t open the same way as most Indians, our backs are stiffer, and so on.

I was brought to memories of India earlier this week. During my shopping mission to the local Waitrose I chanced upon papaya fruit and mangoes. In Goa they used to say (with a wobble of the head) “Mangoes coming, tourists going.” The arrival of these fruits marked the start of the hot season; the beginning of the build-up to the Monsoon; the return of Westerners in time for spring at home.

But this year, many are stuck.

The travelling community in Goa is of course international, but it is dominated by visitors from Israel, Russia, mainland Europe and Britain.

Many have now been airlifted home. Not so the British writes veteran Yoga teacher Jane Sleven on her Facebook page.

“I’m on a small gated compound with pretty gardens and a pool (we’re not swimming, but we’re walking round it for exercise),” she writes. “We’re all helping each other. Many of us are friends with Goan locals.

“We feel safe, we have food, water, and we’re all healthy. I’m on several WhatsApp groups where we exchange advice, updates, support and encouragement. “

But she says that it’s not the case for many British holiday makers, who have been blissfully unaware of the growing global panic about Coronavirus and had therefore not many any plans.

Most are staying in humble guest houses without cooking facilities or fridges, so with the closure of the shops, markets and restaurants they are left very exposed.

“These people have been very ill equipped to cope with the scenario that has developed.” Says Jane, “they are short of food & other essentials and are of course very distressed.

“Humanitarian flights from Israel, Russia, Germany, the US  and other countries have taken many back to their home countries.

“Not so the UK – who’ve done nothing!!”

Stranded UK nationals are firing off emails to Foreign and Commonwealth office and the offices of the politicians in the hope they may be returned home soon.

Jane, however, is happy to stay. She says at her age she would feel safer staying in India than risking long transit delays and self-quarantine on return to the UK.

“After 20 years of annual long stays in India, 12 in Goa, I feel extremely grateful and privileged to be here,” she says. “I’m missing my family and friends but I am hugely reassured to know they’re all safe & well.”

So as I sign off this blog from the global pandemic I am minded to paraphrase some lines from a Buddhist meditation. For all at home and overseas at this time: “May you be well, may you live free from fear, may you be filled with loving kindness”

HG/31/3/20

#underthemask

 

 

 

PANDEMIC IN PERU

If you’re going to be locked down anywhere there may be fewer more interesting places to choose than Peru – but lock-down is lock-down, no matter how breathtaking the scenery and charismatic the people.

I have been watching with interest the journey of drummer and musician Aaron Meli on facebook in recent days.

He is a frequent traveller in the Andes and man of great charm.

He speaks with huge fondness for the Peruvian people and the welcome they generally extend.

But fear is gripping the country and it’s having its effect.

Writing on DAY 9 of the Peruvian lockdown Aaron said that a normally friendly country had become quite hostile.

“Today I cycled from Pisac to Lamay,” he wrote, “which is a 14 km ride one way.

“I sneezed whilst riding my bike and got the stinkeye from the a local couple who started to question where my mask was (it was in my pocket whilst I was riding).”

Then when he got back to town, having done his shopping he sat on the riverbank drinking water and eating cacao as the police walked by.

“We were shouted at by a local couple peering over the fence,” he said, “‘ get out of here, we don’t want your virus’ they hollered.

“I’ve always found Peruvian people very friendly but I’m starting to feel the heat of being a gringo here right now.”

And he’s not alone.

A recent article in the Boston Herald told the story of two 28 year olds, also stuck in Peru.

Nick Terzian and his friend Stephen Loder are reporting a strict curfew where the police are raiding hostels and confiscating alcohol.

“We all would like to be home and be near our loved ones,” Terzian told the Herald in a series of email exchanges from his hotel in Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes.

“This country, I think, made one of the more aggressive moves quickly.” Terzian told the Herald in a series of emails from his hotel in Cusco. “It went from bars and restaurants open to having the military/police in the street not allowing people outside.”  It’s an approach that has kept the virus’ impact on the country very small so far.

“We’re not on vacation here anymore — we’re just stuck inside the same way a huge portion of the world population is at this exact moment. The biggest difference is that we’re quarantined 4,000 miles from home, without a clear idea of how or when we’ll get back,” said Loder.

Of course, we will come through the pandemic. What is not yet clear os what will have changed.

Some things will have altered for the good. Maybe we will be more reserved and conservative.

But even in the midst of the the biggest social and health challenge in living memory we are still finding some joy. Picture the pleasure behind the photograph of Aaron Melismas, on the back of a Lama with a fellow musician… bizarre, and heart-warming!

If you have experiences of the pandemic to share contact us at hello@griot.co.uk

#underthemask

Africa and the virus

So far the continent of Africa has got off lightly in terms of numbers of cases of  COVID-19 – but how long will it last?

The most recent figures we have seen here at Griot Creative suggest the virus has now been confirmed in 39 of Africa’s 54 countries. There were just over 2,500 cases by this weekend – tiny, compared to the population of 1.2 billion (data from Kasi Insight).

But, imagine the impact if the virus takes hold in the way we have seen in Italy or New York. Africa’s health provision is creaking in most countries. If Coronavirus sweeps across the continent it could be devastating.

So in the first of our blog posts from Africa  we thought we would take a look at the impact so far in Kenya – a country I should have been landing in today, for a conference with the British Ambassador, to discuss the future of media in the country.

Our man in the country is Eric Kimori has a rational view of the pandemic panic that is bubbling. But, he says, leadership is being shown and the population is responding.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy have volunteered to take an 80% drop in salary for the duration of the situation,” writes Eric, “cabinet secretaries, speakers of the National Assembly and governors will take a 30% pay cut

“It may seem like a drop in the ocean, but the savings could purchase valuable drugs and other necessities in the country’s response to the pandemic.”

But it’s more than just political leadership that’s needed. And already the community response is overwhelming. In a sprawling slum on the outskirts of Nairobi a local youth centre Mathare One Stop is setting up public hand-washing areas (pictured below) and is delivering training on best practice for prevention of the spread of the virus

Across the country in Vihiga County the community development NGO Christian Partners Development Association is finding it very difficult to continue to support the most vulnerable members of society.

“Most of our programmes are highly interactive, whereby we meet our target beneficiaries in the field mostly through our advocacy, awareness creation and development implementation work,” says the organisation’s CEO Alice Kirambi.

Although the government has avoided a total lock down of the country, it has warned of such future measures.”

In fact the country has launched a curfew this weekend, restricting movement of people between 7pm and 5am.

As CPDA  works at the heart of gender rights and social inclusion it makes it very difficult to function.

Africa is nothing if not a continent of innovation and resilience. Of course it is hoped that the current low number of incidents will continue, but if there is a significant rise, the spirit of the people will once again rise to meet the challenge.

Under the Mask

 

As a planet we are all experiencing something momentous that will have lasting change.

Griot is used to working and documenting stories from around the world. We now need your help to do this, as we too are having to retreat for the coming weeks.

What is going on for you and your community? What are the positive, emergent aspects of the social isolation we now find ourselves in? Have you a story to tell about community cohesion, family togetherness or acts of human kindness?

We would love to hear from you and share your experience. You can do this

  • in writing (250 words max plus one photograph)
  • with an image
  • a poem
  • a piece of music or
  • in a short video (1min).

‘We are the sum of the stories we tell ourselves’- how would you like your journey through the coronavirus experience to be remembered?

Email us here: hello@griot.co.uk
#underthemask

PEOPLES VOICE 10 Years On – The re-launch


MOVING ON – PEOPLES VOICE

We have spent considerable time, energy and resources in empowering groups, individuals and communities to take ownership of the tools of media expression in recent years.

Across all of our commissions we have worked around the world – from Bangladesh to Peru, from Tristan da Cunha to Greenland.

When we started the Peoples Voice project Facebook was in its infancy, having first launched (just before us) in 2004. YouTube followed in 2005. Even access to the internet was a time-consuming, unreliable affair. There were no smartphones and camera-phones were rare and limited, at least by today’s standards.

What we set out to do was to democratize access to basic tools of media representation. To engage in a process of story-creation and dissemination that would advocate for people who had rarely had an opportunity for their voice to be heard.

We’ve come a long way! The world-wide-web, 30 years old itself next year, now reaches well over half of the world’s population. Devices exist in almost every part of the globe that allow us to connect and it has never been easier to be seen or to be heard.

So what is there left to do? What will be the focus for the next 10 years of Peoples Voice?

Of course, we will continue to campaign for a platform, because many are still not getting their stories told. But as we consider what lies ahead for the next 10 years, we find ourselves asking: Whose story is it anyway?

Our tried and tested workshop programmes will, of course, continue to:

Play games that impart skills
Develop skills to gain trust
Build trust to unlock ideas
Shape ideas to draw plans
Write plans to form scripts
Animate scripts into scenes
Edit scenes to make films
Share films to build knowledge
Through knowledge spread harmony
From harmony, empower change

We have always believed that we are the sum of the stories we tell about ourselves. Our client groups have reported great therapeutic benefits from working with us.

So, in the re-launched Peoples Voice we are going deeper!

Before we begin the creative process, we start by looking at who we are and where we have come from. We examine the stories you have always told about yourself and who or what shaped those stories.

Wherever you are in the world, you, you can still have a right to be heard

We address the hidden voices of loyalty and judgement to:

ancestors
present families
society
peers
our own preconceptions!
With this knowledge we can choose if we want to keep telling the same story, or take the lessons from the past a shape a new one.

To find out more about how Peoples Voice can support you and your organisation, give us a call or drop us a line.

daf@griot.co.uk

07789 916418