Killer Coffee

Muscat, Oman – January 2016

Sultan Qaboos was staring right at me in full regalia, armed with a sable and a dagger. I counted 20-odd medallions on his wide and ribboned chest. He was looking sharp and merciful.

Next to him was another photograph of the Sultan, wearing army fatigues and looking 40 years younger. All shops in Oman hang pictures of their beloved leader on their walls, but this coffee-shop was more dedicated than most. All across its tea-stained walls, Sultan Qaboos was stepping in and out of private jets, shaking hands with world-leaders, inspecting parading soldiers and waving at his minions.

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His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman

I was near the capital’s busy and touristy market, the Mutrah Souq, waiting for a round of instant coffee as it were. Made generously with milk and sugar, the way they take it, and the way I love it. From their halwar kameez dress, I figured the staff was Pakistani, but the customers wore mostly Omani dishdashas. I was definitely the blond one out… More

Ireland Revisited

I recently spent 3 fabulous weeks in Ireland with some good friends – new and old. (If you are just here to see some sweet pictures from my latest trip, then scroll down to the gallery part). It was probably my 7th trip there in the decade that has passed since my first impromptu immigration to Ireland. This near-mythical island fascinates me with its resilient culture, at home and abroad. Between 9 and 10 million people have emigrated from Ireland since the 1700’s, and today the Irish People and their descendants count more than 80 million humans. This post is an introduction into the migration-happy Ireland that i have come to know and love.

Fáilte go hÉirinn – Welcome to Ireland!

 

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Also known as “The Emerald Isle”, Ireland is indeed a very green place. Lots of old castles and rugged cliffs too. Just like the brochures really, except they don’t always mention the incessant rain…

Early Irish Impressions

When I was 20 years old, I was living in England’s “San Francisco” – the lively seaside town of Brighton – where young back packers and middle-aged party-addicts spontaneously get stuck until they run out of money or mental health.

I ran out of both after about a year of odd-jobs and shoestring-debauchery – but what a year it was! This was my first bit of proper impromptu migration, traveling alone and with nothing but opportunity and adventure ahead of me. Here I made friends from around the world, and one such friend was the Irishman Joe (Great Mystery rest his soul). More

Pray, Eat, Sleep – It’s Sunday!

In Tonga Sundays are holy by law. The three main activities are lotu (church), kai (eat) and mohe (sleep). Although I have a strong bias against the Christian church (thank you fanatic Inner Mission preacher from my childhood), I found that there was little else to do on my first Sunday in Tonga, so I decided to give it a go.

The choices were so many that it made me dizzy, but in the end I went with my French room-mate Thibaut’s idea of going to the official state church – the Free Church of Tonga – where the King was supposed to be.

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A main road in the capital on a Sunday afternoon… F… all happening here.

Where Is The King And Who Paid What?

Like a true Tongan, though, the King doesn’t always do what is culturally expected from him. With that many cultural rules you really can’t blame them. Instead, the King mostly frequents the Methodist church which is conveniently located near the Royal Palace. But the Prime Minister was there and I know that, because he picked up Thibaut as he hitch-hiked into town after the service!

And what a service it was; the singing was incredible. Not only was there a super professional large choir and brass-band, the whole congregation sang with full voices in perfect pitch. As I found out later, this church is the most conservative in all of Tonga and this was reflected in the fact that every single person was wearing black.

Thankfully I always travel with a dark suit (you’d be surprised how handy that is when you’re boarding a flight with a guitar that was supposed to have been checked in) and so I managed to blend in somewhat. Thibaut and myself were the only whites there, but as Thibaut had donned a shiningly white shirt I felt like he got most of the looks, so I felt safe enough to sneak an audio-recording of the fantastic harmonies into my little recorder. More

Waitangi Day – Day Of The Wailing Waters

Just the other day it was Waitangi Day here in New Zealand and I bet you have no idea what that really means. And if I tell you that Waitangi means ‘waters of sorrowful cries’ in Maori, you’re probably still none the wiser. For most New Zealanders, Waitangi Day is just another welcome day off, yet for those in the know, this is a day that marks either a celebration or a lamentation of historic proportions.

It is often said that out of all the European colonies, New Zealand treated their indigenous Maori population best. Many Kiwis will happily reiterate this statement, often pointing the finger at their barbaric neighbours in Australia who still hold one of the worst track records in terms of racism and inequality. Compared to the Aussies, New Zealand is a veritable role model and a text-book example of how to establish a colony while still respecting the native population. This is certainly a convenient truth for the less than 170-year-old New Zealand government, largely consisting of European descendants…

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One of the ways this popular belief is upheld is by marking February the 6th every year. A public holiday in New Zealand, this day commemorates the signing of a treaty – the Waitangi Treaty – between some 45 Maori chiefs and the Queen of England, who thus annexed their land and made it part of the British Empire.

While the Waitangi Treaty has had obvious benefits for the Maori – such as being recognized as humans rather than animals like colonial powers did in South America, Africa, Australia etc. – the treaty was by no means a just affair, nor is it even, to this day, part of the domestic law of New Zealand.

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A Burner Is Born!

A first-time Burning Man participant shares the magic of New Zealand’s regional Kiwiburn. Meet the Festival Community at the frontiers of culture and see why burners never look back… A 15-minute engaging read, written to the soundtrack of Black Napkins, Happy & Solsbury Hill.

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This guy is what it’s all about. Photo: Randy Brophy

A Passionate Preface

I have lost my virginity to a burning sensation. My mind, body and soul has been cleansed by a week of thorough debauchery so spiritually charged that my life feels many times enhanced. Henceforth I shall identify as a “burner” with the explicit aim of setting large men on fire all around the world. Have I joined a cult? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

They say that burners leave a burn with instant withdrawal symptoms. I couldn’t agree more. I am literally dancing down the street looking by-passers in the eyes with a big smile for a gift and a heart so open you could pass a galaxy through it. Is this an addiction? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

Burn those old patterns away, burn away the barriers in my brain and burn up my life in a singularly meaningful, intentional and inspirational blaze of creativity and love. In other words; if you ever doubted that I had gone stark raving mad in the elusive eyes of society; doubt no more, because; I just want to burn!

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Okay, here’s your “naked” shot, now go perv somewhere else 😉

I honestly thought I knew what it would be like to go to a burn. Silly me. I have lived in communities for the past decade, steadily putting on festivals and parties and however many crazy concerts and ceremonies. In my life I have travelled and lived on 5 continents and randomly connected with thousands of beautiful strangers. But I have never seen anything burn so pure as the burning man at Kiwiburn.

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Christchurch Rising From The Ruins

This is a piece about a broken city where socialists are saints, where scaffolds are high and the church is made of toilet paper rolls.

My traveling compadre Javi and myself (aka Beauty & The Beast) get a 6-hour ride to Christchurch with Doug – a Kiwi Philosophy Major turned concrete truck driver and quad-lingual tour guide. We pass through the stunning McKenzie Country and behold the vast mountain-rimmed glacial plains while discussing ethical dilemmas and etymological theory. In true Kiwi style he puts us up for the night and after a lovely family pancake breakfast, we go busking in the streets.

Playing Up The Strip With Cliff Richard

City Mall is a vibrant oasis in a strangely desolate cityscape. Javi and I play our quirky music to hundreds of by-passers. Enough people smile to make us continue for hours, and enough people throw a coin or buy our CD to make it worth our while too. We sit in the improvised main street where brightly colored shipping containers make up a funky shopping environment and buskers on every corner vie for attention.

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Past meet present on high street Christchurch. In front of the spiced-up shipping containers, native plants like flax has been planted.

The old pop-singer Sir Cliff Richard (who obviously had a paid gig) also walked this strip recently, and remarked; “it looks fantastic. I think you should keep it that way.” Being the one and only place in town where there is some kind of business-as-usual feeling, the place attracts everyone out for a downtown stroll.

Eventually it is time for a picnic in the park. As we enjoy our lunch, Wiremu comes to the creek for a smoke. We offer him some tea but he’s alright. It is Sunday arvo and the weather is fine. His son is stoned on cheap wine and doesn’t say much, but father likes a yarn: “Wheah yu from den ae? Nut from around hia are yuz?” Maori English never fails to charm me. Especially when spoken by a friendly face like Wiremu’s.

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Julinbah Yowarl Revisited

Some of you might remember a post I wrote about half a year ago (when I was still attempting to fit a novel into a blog-post) about a very special event called Rainbow Corroboree, or Julinbah Yowarl in the native tongue of the Bunjalung people.

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Every aboriginal ceremonial dance that I have seen so far, starts with a cleansing dance. Using branches with fresh leaves for “brooms” and lots of smoke, the cleansing dance is a way to clear away any bad spirits before the corroborree.

The Julinbah Yowarl Rainbow Corroborree is held twice a year on every equinox . Instigated by the Bunjalung steward and holder of the local songlines, Lewis Walker, the event is a colorful celebration of Aboriginal culture and a way of building bridges between white and black Australia.

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An Ipswich Hour

Yours truly, digging deeper into suburban soil. What's this, is Cornelius finally settling down? Read on to find out...

Yours truly, digging deeper into suburban soil. What’s this, is Cornelius finally settling down? Read on to find out…

Disclaimer: This post is written under the influence of heavy prejudice and a self-centered cultural bias. Be prepared for gross generalizations and faulty facts.

I was hanging out in Brisbane for a day and catching up with Aussie friends that I had met while in India. Going from one outback destination to another, I realized that this was my first truly urban experience of Australia. More

Cruelty & Creativity

I’ve just arrived in Cairns in the north-eastern part of Australia. It’s tropical here, and I am sitting on a veranda only a stone’s throw from the ocean. All around town there are backpackers hanging out in the parks and on the beach, eagerly awaiting the Total Solar Eclipse which can be seen from the area around Cairns early Wednesday morning.

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Mim Has Always Been Part Of Australia’s Alternative Scene

I feel incredibly lucky not having to wait in some anonymous guesthouse room or sleeping rough in the park, but instead staying in a beautiful old wooden house by the sea. The house belongs to my new friend Miriam whom I met at Ponyland when she was visiting her daughter.

“Mim” is one of the many incredibly friendly people who are helping me experience Australia beyond the tourist façade. I never knew this place was so wrought with wickedness…

My first big travel out of Europe was to the South of Senegal in West Africa where I first had a human being tugging my sleeves, crying and begging me to help her kids in the name of Red Cross and all things good in the world. Heart-wrenching.

Since then I’ve worked as a Human Rights Activist in Cambodia and as a journalist for the Tibetan cause in the Himalayas, and in my travels there has generally been a theme of going to hardship countries and fighting for the cause at hand.

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Getting Legal With The Locals

In this fairly complicated (and pretty twisted) world of capitalism, having a bank account is paramount for any money-handling citizen. Only in the last year have I realised what this means in practical life: In order to access public services, benefits and citizen’s rights, one is dependant on the willingness of a private company to handle your money!

In my relatively short life I have already been a customer with 7 different banks and I have been using and abusing their services in the typical fashion of the mainstream consumer – mindlessly. Then I became aware of the oxymoron concept of “Ethical Banking” and I haven’t looked back since. If anything, it is the all-pervading and merciless energy of money that we as individual Human Beings have to grab the reins of and direct towards a sustainable model.

Night Sky Money

Snoozing in my tent at the Rainbow Corroboree I’d overheard a conversation between a lovely-lazy psychic lady with a bent for loud laughs and Jim Beam and a steel-mandoline player with a hat full of dreadlocks and passionate attitude towards liberating Australia’s water supplies from Fluoride and other obnoxious chemicals.

Somehow it appeared to me that the water-activist would be able to point me towards an ethical banking alternative, so I stuck out my head and obtained the following information: “There’re no ethical banks in ‘Straya dude, but you should just sign up with a credit union like Southern Cross. Credit unions are owned by their members, so at least you won’t be payin’ to the man! They operate on a local community basis but all the Credit Unions are linked together so you can get your money out all over the country.”

Personally, I never really liked paying to “the man” (however vague a figure he might be), so I decided to follow the advice. Plus I really liked the name “Southern Cross Credit Union”. I have always been fascinated with the star formation called the Southern Cross – a symbol and a metaphor for the new world in the Southern Hemisphere for so many Northern Hemisphere immigrants before me.

To the native Australians, however, the star formation is known as a possum sitting in a tree, representing the sky deity Mirrabooka. Throw in the most visible dark nebula – “the Coalsack mark” – and this prominent patch of night sky becomes the head of “the Emu in the Sky”. Beautiful.

Local Business

Back in Byron Bay, I therefore went and chatted to the lovely ladies Julie and Lyn at the local branch of the Southern Cross Credit Union. To open a bank account here, all I had to do was to walk in with my Passport, Driver’s Licence, $10 and a letter from the Tax Office sent to my hostel, and 15 minutes later I walked out with an Australian bank account – simple as that!

Simple, of course, because I belong to the privileged tribes of the so-called “developed countries” who have enough finacial leverage to allow its citizens access to the systems of other money-hoarding countries.

If I was, say, a Congolese tribesman, it would have doubtlessly been a different story full of red tape and blatant racism. Ironically, the symbol of the most radical racists in Australia (violent and ignorant skinheads) is the very same Southern Cross, which, as it happens, also figures prominently on the Australian flag.

Aboriginal Banking

However, some tribes have access to Australia’s wealth-generating system across the enormous cultural – and historically tormented – gap between European colonialists and indigenous people, in Australia often referred to as Traditional Land Owners. We’re talking about the Aboriginals of course, who only recently have been treated with just a pinch of recognition.

Where I had to produce three legal documents issued impersonally by various government authorities, an Indigenous Australian is required to bring the following:

A written reference from a community leader, who is one of the following:

  • A person who is recognized by the members of the community to be a community elder; or
  • If there is an Aboriginal council that represents the community – an elected member of the council; or
  • A member of a Regional Council established under section 92 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Commision Act 1989; or
  • A member, or a member of the staff, of a local land council established under section 21 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976; or
  • A member of the staff of the ABoriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commision; or
  • A director of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander corporation within the meaning of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commision Act 1989.

                                Brochure from Southern Cross Credit Union

From my understanding this means that all you need is a personal letter of recomendation from someone, anyone, who knows anyone in the world of Aboriginal bureacracy or business or simply from Gran’pa down the road in your local village. Pretty neat if you ask me.

Keep it Comin’!

With my new account came an old-fashioned paper-card with a hand-written account number and a plastic slip so it doesn’t tear. With that and my Tax File Number I am now officially a legal money-making entity in Australia. All I need know is for the money to roll in…