Tag Archives: Jarrod

Bokamoso, an inspiring African Youth Choir

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By jarrodgrabham12

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Last Friday evening the George Washington University’s Marvin Centre theatre became the location of a cultural crossroads. On one side of the highway of life was the audience from the Western world. We brought to the table first world problems such as, “what color should my new BMW be?” and “why is Apple taking so long to release iPhone 10?” Facing us on the other side of the civilization juncture was the Bokamoso Youth choir from Winterweldt, South Africa. “Ubuntu”-meaning the interconnectedness at the heart of our humanity- is the word the organization uses to summarize itself. It is a very apt description.

It was a sobering experience for the Western world contingent. We observed the spectacle before our eyes with great curiosity. Narratives illustrating the challenges facing Africa’s youth today prompted the realization that our first world problems are insignificant. The effectiveness of the message was exacerbated by skillful dance and harmonious song. We were made aware of some of the prevalent issues facing African youth today. Topics explored included the treatment of immigrants, poverty, gender inequality, high unemployment and the complex balancing of traditional rites of passage with modern life.

The US creative team behind the music composition, screenplay and dance choreography are to be highly, highly commended. The delicate interplay between humor and tragedy, perceived realities and cold fact, had the audience at times in fits of laughter, at times in quiet reflection. Such artistic mastery can rarely be experienced for an entrance cost of just US $10.00.

I particularly enjoyed the performance because I had briefly interacted with some Bokamoso members when they came to a GWU University Singers’ rehearsal earlier that week. They taught us the African spiritual ‘The music of the LORD’. Our voices in collective harmony spoke of the power of unity. We left the bleak confine of the Phillips rehearsal studio basement with an avid aspiration to save humanity from itself by spreading the power of unity through song. Ubuntu!

You can learn more about this excellent organization here: http://www.bokamosoyouth.org/

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Operation ‘Shadowed Horizon’

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By jarrodgrabham12

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CIA Head of Desk: “Director, we have a problem.”

CIA Director: “Yes?”

CIA Head of Desk: “South Sudanese ground troops are rapidly mobilizing on the North Sudan border.”

CIA Director: “Oh. Well. Let me see. Maybe, before you head out to procure that second thin crust pizza with extra pepperoni, olives and non-salty sardines, perhaps you’d better send a message to control.”

CIA Head of Desk: “Umm…I guess so huh…”

This is an insight into the 5 hour dialogue that occurred this past Saturday (30th Jan.) within the confines of the Rome-Phillip building at George Washington University. Up to 100 students from not only GWU’s elite Elliot School of International Affairs, but also military colleges such as the Navy School at Annapolis, who were dressed smartly in cadet uniforms, I might add, gathered to participate in an exciting crisis simulation. Code name operation ‘shadowed operation’, the goal was to create effective solutions to humanitarian building issues in Central East Africa.grop

I was given the position of ‘Head of Desk of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) in Nairobi, Kenya’. Apart from running for extra pizza and soft drinks to keep our weary minds alert, I was responsible for ensuring human and satellite intelligence was being kept up to date for our operatives and to HQ back in Langley, Virginia. It was a fascinating experience for all involved, without a doubt one of the highlights of my time at GW so far. This was especially the case when I was given permission to order the dropping of some several thousand propaganda leaflets over south western Somalia to help counter radical Islam, namely the group Al-Shabaab.streets

 

Disappointingly we didn’t get the opportunity to do something extra-ordinary such as sending in the 101st air borne paratroopers, or signaling superman to descend majestically to save the day. The simulation was a great experience for me nonetheless because in its ordinary-ness it was believable. It mirrored reality, down to the bureaucratic headache which is the American Administration. For students who thought that they could quickly end poverty and bring about world peace, the simulation very successfully conveyed the complexity of the issue to all involved. This was a sobering experience for international affairs students from this “get it now” generation. We all realized that solutions to serious problems such as poverty and state building take longer than expected and we were reminded of that old adage: patience is a virtue.lincoln

(All that said, one of the neatly dressed navy college students “Casey 16” convinced us, the CIA, to lend her a secret operative to assassinate South Sudan’s president. The attempt failed miserably and our operative was allegedly tortured. Well, it was our first day on the job after all… )

 

 

Apart from Saturday’s fling with an Independence Day style mission, this past week was just a regular week, really. On Thursday about 10 of us went to one of DC’s best Spanish restaurant “Jaleo”. This was apart of Food Week, where you could get a three course meal for only $35.00. The chili shrimp was particularly delicioso with its stirring marinade and subtle sting. I’m not sure about the others-and I’m not game to ask honestly- but for me Jaleo’s spicy chili shrimp was the unexpected legacy of Food Week. The subtle sting lasted longer than the hour of fine dining, I can well assure you. Oh, and I almost called our waiter Manuel at one point; he was short and from Barcelona, just like that notorious Spaniard out of Fawlty Towers.”¿Qué?”

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MarieMarie Jolly, an eighteen year old French exchange student who hails from Troyes, invited some of us exchange students over for a crepe party Saturday night. For someone who Majors in International Business boy can she fry up a mean crepe. The divine smell of French cooking took me back to our family vacation in Paris in the Summer of  ’13. O la la! It was an altogether pleasant evening, especially when Marie shared the exciting news that she had been ranked number one in economics at the prestigious business school she attends in Paris. I assured her that some day she would be France’s first female President. With her in this important position and me as the head of desk for the CIA in Nairobi, Kenya, running around getting pepperoni pizzas for the Mission Director, collectively, alumni of the George Washington Spring exchange ’16 would rule the world. Suddenly, our dreaming was distracted and there was a return to our college student manifestation: le tour de crepe-plate-washing-up had begun…

 

 

Jonas the Snowzilla

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By jarrodgrabham12

2016

I am hurrying to catch the metro, short of breath. Behind me I am pulling my 85 litre travel bag stuffed with warm clothes and study materials for the next few days, or weeks. Snow storm “Jonas” is coming, you see, and there is no knowing how big he will be or what mood he will be in when he finally decides to drop by. It could last for days. Nobody knows. Coming from Australia, I am unaccustomed to copious amounts of white, fluffy snow interrupting my study routine and by extension conveniently granting me, and most folk in the north eastern states of the USA, a three or four day weekend. Pity about all those missed classes…

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Washingtonians are getting ready. Employers have rented hotel rooms for their staff so they can work longer hours (apparently some places refuse to shut off, even in the face of a storm). The George Washington University has been closed early. Everywhere I go I see students, staff, citizens frantically scurrying like ants before a thunderstorm that threatens to wash them away. Many stock up on necessary supplies, bottled water, toilet paper, and Jif, extraordinarily crunchy non-oily peanut butter, to spread on Grandma’s famous family pancakes. Everyone is determined to survive ‘Snowzilla’.

Unlike most of my college friends, I had been invited to see Jonas out off campus, with my friends the Thomas family in Northern Virginia. The three days I spent there just flew. Whether it be sitting down to a breakfast feast of buttermilk pancakes served with bacon, blueberries and dripping in ounces of maple syrup or Maine blueberry sauce -all washed down with a cup of real American coffee; jonas11appealing to Jonas’s softer side with Americana tunes such as “My Way” by Sinatra on the Steinway; spontaneous snow fights in 30 inches of snow before an enchanting mid-afternoon sun; or learning to use a snow blower with Jonas at my heels: it was a terrific experience I won’t forget. The Thomas’ epitomize the ultimate hospitable American family. The warmth and generosity I experienced made me feel like I was back home. Let me tell you, they have three very lucky Shi-Tzu dogs.jonas10

 

 

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The positive thing about otherwise reckless snow storms, like Jonas, is they give people the opportunity to slow down. We live in a very fast paced life, and every now and again it’s important to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Although I didn’t take part, a lot of my friends back on George Washington City Campus participated in a snow man making competition in Kogan Plaza. I can visualize exchange and residential students alike frolicking carelessly amidst the powdery white, like children in an enormous sand pit. For some, no doubt, it would have been their first time experiencing snow. According to social media, such outbursts of public interaction were to be seen everywhere Jonas traversed. Meanwhile, back in Virginia, one of the Thomas’, Jenny, and I stayed up until long after the witching hour to complete a 1000 piece puzzle of an American newsstand. So although a lot of homeless people were inconvenienced by his wrath, Jonas’ legacy is that he gave many the opportunity to catch up on some rose-smelling.

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Thanks Jonas.

PS: Perhaps you’d consider making a little reappearance in early May? Right around the time of my finals would suit me just fine…

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The Californian Zephyr!

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By jarrodgrabham12

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Fast across the windswept plains of Nevada, traveling snake-like in its calm embrace, steams the Californian Zephyr. The stuff of legends, in 2016 she continues to defy her critics and captivate her admirers. She is no ordinary train. With a lifetrack spanning over 2, 438 miles (3,924km), the elegant locomotive drifts from open Oakland, California to Calamity Jane’s Windy City, Chicago, on the banks of Lake Michigan.

It was onboard the Californian Zephyr I saw the New Year in. This experience reminded me of an interesting New Year’s custom they have Sri Lanka. On the evening of last day of the year, apparently, every window and house in Sri Lanka is drawn open. This symbolizes the departure of the old year and the welcoming of the new. Riding the Zephyr during New Year’s for me bore a resemblance to this custom: the inexorable choo-choo powering forwards scattered the bygone year across the Utah salt plains, whilst coasting into an exciting new era.rocky3

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For a three day train ride, my time aboard the Zephyr passed surprisingly quickly. Whilst sipping chilled apple juice in the comfy observation lounge, we watched the snow fall in the splendid Sierra Nevadas, eagles dare in John Denver’s Colorado Rocky Mountain High whilst elk gathered in wildered bemusement at the galloping iron horse. Almost everyone I met was outgoing and willing to stop and chat. I cant say whether this was a microcosm of American hospitality in general or whether such amicable behavior was a survival mechanism that is seen when humans are forced to interact with each other in a particularly restricted environment.  Since I have been riding the rather stern and serious DC metro for two weeks, my bet is the latter. Either way, I really got my fix of human connectedness over the three day train saga.

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One group of sojourners I have fond memories of was a group of young 20-somethings that spoke with soft, genteel voices and, as we would say in Australia, smelled of hard yakka. They were old order Amish from up state Indiana. I learnt that each of them easily worked a 60 hour week, whether that be on the farm ploughing the old fashioned way with a  team of diligent arbeitspferden (work horses) or putting the final touches on an RV in a factory in Elkhart. Yet their countenance did not appear weary and worn,instead they smiled with contentment. Dissimilar from their contemporaries, they were not selfishly submerged in a psychedelic trance of ipod listening, ipad lunging and iphone lounging. On the contrary, they sat in neat rows on the upper level lounge playing Rook, a family card game, chuckling like innocent children when a break through in red or green cards was reached. Occasionally, one could sound out a smattering of Pennsylvanian Dutch here or there, when they felt it was appropriate to speak their 17th century tongue without drawing too much attention. My short visit with Ervin Schrock, who invited me to visit his farm sometime, with Norman, Raymah, Grace, Lavern and Kevin, was like I had joined the Dr. on a Tardis trip back to a simpler and more holistic era when technology took a back seat to human interaction and deep Rook-inspired belly laughs.

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If an author ever runs short of character ideas, they should book a seat aboard the Californian Zephyr. The number of fascinating people I met, each with their own quirky style, accent, humor and behavior could rival Debrett’s guide to the peerage of Great Britain. There was my seat mate Robyn, who was on a 15 day train journey, circumnavigating the US in search for new ideas and inspiration; Colchee, a woman from Chicago whose ninety year old mother, she assured me, was well known in Illinois, and rubbed shoulders with Obama and Rev. Jackson; Tom the lower level lounge attendant whose PA system voice bore a striking resemblance to Rev. Lovejoy from the Simpsons and who could forget Tad, the self proclaimed ‘bootlegging redneck’ from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who was more robot than man, having been run over by an excavator last year. Tad dwells on a diet of noodling (catching fish with his bare hands), fixing moonshine like the “good ‘ol days” and attending a restaurant chain associated with the onomatopoeia of owls, whose waitresses, Tad assured me, “th’all reel pruety”.

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As the Zephyr chugged its way into Union Station, Chicago, vivid nostalgia came over me. This had been my home for the past few days and the meeting place of life long friends. I had laughed until I cried, cried until I laughed (at how expensive the dining cart bills) and overall had the time of my life.

Take my advice: take the train.

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Can I fix you something to drink, Sir?

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By jarrodgrabham12

“Can I fix you something to drink, Sir?”- like something out of a Hollywood script, these were the opening lines of my 7 month trip to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. The flight steward on the United flight from Sydney to Los Angeles spoke with a New York accent and his grin stretched across his face like a beaming Cheshire cat. I am from Australia and when a complete stranger smiles that broad, either a ten year drought has just broken and it’s raining cats and dogs or they’ve just won the lottery. But the steward wasn’t being facetious. He was being American.

My name is Jarrod Grabham I have just finished my first week of exchange at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Thus far my experience has been riveting. I feel like I’ve wondered into the pages of a fast paced novel; the experience is surreal. I have to pinch myself each time I casually saunter down Pennsylvania Avenue to number 1600, location of the White House. Washington D.C. features so prominently in the media as the home of Western Democracy that it has almost developed an ethereal quality. Then again, I am not used to big, fancy cities. I hail from a small 200 year old settlement built on the banks of the Macquarie River in New South Wales, called Bathurst.

I am doing a double degree in International Security Studies and History at the Australian National University in Canberra. Considering my majors, you can just imagine how thrilled I was to find out that I was to spend a semester abroad in D.C. The streets are paved with history and the city is a center for both security policy  (the Pentagon is a metro stop!) and for the field of security studies academic criticism. The clock is ticking however, as I will only be here for 4.5 months. I will have to take the advice of my 9th grade science teacher and become a sponge, soaking up the facts and figures of the city’s rich and intricate history.

Canberra is not dissimilar from Washington D.C. It is the capital city of the nation, a center for world class museums, a melting pot of ideas and cultures and the home of Federal Parliament. On the other hand, Canberra is far less significant internationally compared to D.C. Several Americans I have spoke to have told me they have never heard of it… talk about being a “legend in your own lunch box!”

One of the biggest draw cards of Washington for me is its terrific history. Every nook and cranny has a plaque, a memorial to ponder. Some would goes as far as saying that Washington D.C. is the key to understanding the history of the United States. I posit if not the key then the keyhole. This is because D.C. has been the platform for many scenes of American socio-cultural transformation. I challenge you: try to build a mental image of the 1950s /60s American Civil Right’s Movement without conjuring Dr.King beckoning intimately to the multitudes at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. You can’t. The truth is that D.C. goes part and parcel with U.S. history. I just cant wait to start soaking up the facts.

Oh and Mr. Cheshire Steward I will take you up on your offer, can you “fix” me a chai late please?  No? Oh well… grand cities aside, Sydney’s coffee may well be the thing that boomerangs me back to the land down under…

Running to the White House!

Running to the White House!