GoViral 2018 – Almaty, Kazakhstan

GoViral was a whirlwind: a three-day festival in Almaty, Kazakhstan (June 15-18, 2018) focused on innovation of all stripes.

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listening is my jam

This is only the second year that the festival has been up and running, and I was floored by what the US Consulate General in Kazakhstan has been able to pull off. It was an honor to be a part of that magic––not just the official events, but all the side conversations that happened as a result of lots of people with ideas and passions gathering together.

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door to the US Maker Space in Almaty

I gave a talk in the opening ceremony about poetry, and the unraveling of my 4-year journey so far (video here).

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ye olde opening slide, complete with cardboard aesthetic (am I predictable? yes)

In preparing for the keynote I realized that I don’t know if I’m still a poet. Poetry is the place I come from, the soil I grew up in, but not necessarily where I’m going.

As I do this project for longer––going on 4 years this September (if you count the beginning as the NYC People’s Climate March), or 5 years come August (if you count the beginning as my bicycle journey down the Mississippi River)––I find myself transitioning out of poems and into multimedia forms that let each storyteller speak in their own voice, rather than having my words reinterpret theirs.

Audio / image / creative nonfiction: the 1,001 Stories project continues to take on a shape and form of its own.

Poetry will always be a homeland I return to. For now: here’s to movement & play.

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fun fact: I did a whole lot of dancing backstage to calm nerves before delivering this talk

After the opening ceremony I presented on three panels alongside some superstar activists and writers from Central Asia & beyond.

Art communities and creative industries changing modern cities: with Aida Sulova, Asya Tulesova, and Anisa Sabiri. Moderated by Galina Koretskaya.

Seeing other people’s worlds: travel writing that goes deeper than the surface: with Tynan and Jeff Miller. Moderated by Anuar Nurpeisov.

How to use storytelling for social change: with Denis Bihus, Mary Mitchell, and Lara Stolman. Moderated by Madi Mambetov.

(All presentations were dubbed in Russian & will be uploaded in English in the coming weeks).

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Big thanks to my Harvard classmate Didar KM for inviting me to be a part of the festival.

(Fun fact: we took Deborah Foster‘s class “The Art of Storytelling” together freshman year, the course that made me decide to study Folklore & Mythology in the first place. Best decision I ever made).

If you haven’t already, go check out Didar’s comics: Abai Cartoons. Seriously awesome stuff.

Other things that were wonderful / that I don’t want to forget:

A) Dancing backstage with the best volunteer anyone could dream of working with (Yekaterina Kolessina!)

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caught in a rare moment of stillness (most of the time we were dancing / discussing politics)

B) climbing the big mountain that overlooks Almaty with Anuar Nurpeisov and Ben Yu. We saw a sideways rainbow, and miraculously did not fall.

Hi, my name is Devi and I was raised by mountaineers. Sometimes I like to climb 🌈

A post shared by Devi Lockwood (@devi_lockwood) on

and C) making a whole lot of audio recordings on water and climate change in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: 29, to be exact.

Backstory:

For ten days before the festival I journeyed to Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan alongside translator Qanat and photographer Sardar. We listened to stories about everything from cotton farming in the USSR to the Aral Sea to the legend of Issykul Lake’s formation and what it’s like being a woman who runs a bottled water business (and how a lack of infrastructure maintenance has necessitated bottled water consumption in the first place).

One of these stories, told by a storyteller who grew up in Afghanistan, ripped me open & reaffirmed my conviction that we need to create more spaces to talk about water. Water is life, and a lack of access to clean water can be deadly. More on that in the future.

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The sometimes frustrating, sometimes amazing, always a learning experience magic of translation A.K.A. linguistic triangulation. (Step one: listen. Step two: listen again) 

We translated the cardboard sign into Russian…

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there’s a spelling error hidden somewhere in here –– we fixed it later

… with materials provided by a friendly fruit seller in Balkhash:

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that’s journey photographer Sardar shaping the cardboard sign in-progress

The stories I recorded in Central Asia will be available eventually on the 1,001 stories map. Stay tuned for updates!

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Yours truly. Photo by Sardar.

This was my first time documenting stories while accompanied by three dudes (translator, photographer, driver). It changed parts of the trip, but not the whole thing.

If nothing else, it was a relief to be able to bring up Rebecca Solnit‘s book “Men Explain Things to Me” in the confined space of a bumpy van ride, and not be attacked for being a feminist. Referencing that book on a van ride from Laos to Cambodia two years ago brought about physical violence. (Again, more on that later, perchance –– that’s the subject of another thing).

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toilet block on the way to Balkhash. ladies to the left.

Lake Balkhash itself was stunning, and also a site of great ecological complexity / layered histories. Half the lake is salt, half is fresh, and the shores are filled with great people to talk to.

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@ a place where lines blur

Sardar shot material for a 20 minute film about my journey to document human stories on water and climate change, feat. music by Kazakh composer Kuat Shildebayev.

Cultural Curator Timur Nusimbekov, creator of Adamdar, edited the film, and did a whole lot of organizing backstage to make all of this come together (planning events in Balkhash, Bishkek, and Almaty). Timur, you rock.

I’ll post the link here when it goes live.

UPDATE: the film will be shown in Kazakhstan at the Almaty Indie Film Festival!

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Photo by Sardar

In the process of recording material in Balkhash, I realized how little I know about the Soviet Union, and all that has happened after.

I asked lots of questions. (Stories are doors. I like doorways).

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Also: let’s talk for a second about architecture. Soviet buildings stick around long after the USSR itself has crumbled. Balkhash city was built about 80 years ago, and the bones of the town are still strongly reminiscent of that era.

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From Balkhash we zoomed to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for an action-packed weekend. I gave two talks at Chicken Star, hands down the finest chicken/coffee/art establishment I have ever stepped inside.

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Seriously –– I love this place. Not for the chicken (although I hear that it is indeed quite good), but for the community.

If you ever find yourself in Bishkek, Chicken Star is not to be missed.

The founder, Chihoon Jeong, is the kind of person who can intuit what kind of drink you need before you even know that you need it. What a gift.

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talks on talks –– taste the joy?

Kyrgyzstan at sunset is its own kind of gorgeous.

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Like any responsible story collector, I did my best to see things from different perspectives.

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handstands are fun

In sum: it was a blur of a two weeks…

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moments before being eaten by a cloud, on the way up to Big Almaty Peak

… filled w/ beauty of a distinctly Central Asian variety:

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water is life (Almaty, KZ)

For now: the journeys continue.

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upwards & downwards & upwards again

Big thanks to the storytellers who talked to me about water / climate & the GoViral event organizers who pulled off the near-impossible feat of gathering so many fascinating people from around the world in one place.

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If you have the opportunity to attend or speak at this festival: go. You won’t regret it.

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until soon –– over & out

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The School of System Change Launches in London

Back in February I attended opening days of the School of System Change, a cross-cultural gathering orchestrated by Forum for the Future in London.

Here are some of the notes that I scribbled down during opening days:

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The world is a system that is constantly changing. Through storytelling, we can co-create what is needed to address complex challenges. Stories are a map for understanding the world, a microcosm of what’s happening in the larger whole.

The goal of the School of System Change is to build a community of people practicing those skills. We are alive and part of this ecology, this system.

What is the shape / thread / wave of your life? What is the context? Life is change, is motion.

If you frame things too quickly, it becomes your prison.

Sin crisis no hay crecimiento.

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Walking away from the thing often means circling back to it. Challenge your own story. Create a structure, a framework, but recognize when you’re holding onto old stories, and have the strength to let them go.

What is the story that you always tell yourself about your life? What happens when you let that story go, and tell another story?

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We can understand ourselves as agents of change. There are many roles.

(At the moment my role is Connector / Amplifier / Disruptpr / Archivist. I move between).

We can look at change through the lens of relationships. Working smarter means getting out of our silos.

People don’t like change. People fear change. To admit that your theory is wrong is really hard.

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London is dense with layers of time.

Become cunning. Bring others in. Give them the opportunity to become part of the change. Rather than telling them something, bring them on board.

System change is about partnerships. How can we create spaces where those relationships are built? People are very busy. We need to find spaces to step out of  busy-ness and reflect.

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#resist together (Paris)

The Latin root of the word “conversation” means “to turn together. Human communication is a dance ritual.

We live in language. Language is a place. You’re a different person in a different language.

Find the part of the system that you can twang. Seek a journey for maximum wobble.

The future is a figment. It doesn’t exist. The future is a product of the present.

Institutions aren’t immutable. They can be redesigned and reinvented. Think for the long-arc, the 100-200 year future.

Leadership in systems change requires that we have:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Courage (to look deeply at ourselves & our strengths and weaknesses / biases; to know them; to listen to others).
  3. Joy (because it’s hard to overcome the barrier of time and attention)
  4. A group of people who believe in the need to change and define the problem together.
  5. Fail fast. Fail forward.

What does your ideal future look like, feel like, etc.?

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textures of home, other side of the pond

How do we get people who have the power to change the system involved in system change?

We must have the patience to listen and seek to understand perspectives that are different than our own.

A map is a tool. A systems diagram embodies structure and causation.

What is the behavior in the system that we want to change?

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You don’t create systems change. You create the conditions for it. Do the thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect the right outcome.

Keep options open. Do stuff and see what happens. Then re-frame your strategy, noticing things that were completely outside of your strategy that work well.

What is the underlying assumption of the system?

Everything is in a state of flux. Things are always in the process of becoming, just as a murmuration of birds flows and shifts.

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Image via alain delorme

Tensions make life rich. We have to deal with tensions that can’t be resolved. Unsolvable tension is, sometimes, good.

Things emerge when something changes that suits the local conditions.

Embracing complexity means embracing that the world is more systemic and emergent than we’d like to think it is.

~

Here is some audio I recorded from other participants on their thoughts on Basecamp’s opening days.

Women’s March on London + audio

STORYTELLING FROM THE GROUND UP:

On January 21, 100,000 people took to the streets in London to protest Trump’s inauguration, marching from the U.S. Embassy to Trafalgar Square.

I tagged along with my audio recorder, and recorded interviews with 18 activists who attended the march.

This turned into two reported pieces, one for Cosmopolitan UKand the other for The GroundTruth Project.

You can read both here:

http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/reports/news/a49012/british-women-march-against-trump/

http://thegroundtruthproject.org/london-protestors-womens-march-trump/

Here’s a small sample:

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And if you’ve ever found yourself thinking: Devi makes audio recordings — why hasn’t she shared many of them with the world?

FEAR NOT.

The GroundTruth Project created a playlist of my recorded interviews. You can listen to the recordings on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/groundtruth/sets/voices-from-londons-womens

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In love and resistance,

Devi

Bangkok: Puppets, Bicycles, Spirit Shrines, and Front Flips

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Just over a week ago, Charlotte and I left Aotearoa New Zealand for Thailand. After four months of trying every possible boat option we could think of (as a passenger on a cargo ship, working on a cruise ship, working on a yacht, etc.), nothing was working.

The plane ticket to Bangkok was cheap. I packed my bicycle in a cardboard box. We flew.

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Airports are for poetry.

(Here’s the final stanzas of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: “Gate A-4”)

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It was a strange feeling, being on a plane after having avoided air travel for so long. My feet hurt. The air was so dry. Cargo ships are loud, but airplanes are louder.

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Two flights, an 8-hour delay in Melbourne Airport, & a taxi ride later, we caught the sunrise in our open arms… and then promptly fell asleep.

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A friend from my hometown is kindly letting us stay at her flat in Sukhumvit. We’re way up on the 16th floor, witness to power lines // roofs and trees.

Out of frame: taller buildings // bright bright lights // loud loud traffic // rain // thunder // every building has its spirit shrine.

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Judging from observations, the spirits like to drink red Fanta.

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People bow at the spirit shrines as they pass. I have so much more to learn about the place of religion in Thai life, but I love what little I have picked up so far.

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Spirit trees, like this one in Chinatown, are protected from being cut down.

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I’m starting to get in the habit of drawing things to give my writing brain a break. You can see more sketches at drawingsbydevi.tumblr.com.

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Up on the balcony, Charlotte and I ate our first dragon fruit. It tasted like a beetroot walked into a kiwi fruit––savory and delicious.

Then we started the quest to find Charlotte a touring bicycle. I’ll be writing more about this in the future; the saga is ongoing. After a few false starts, we’re nearly there!

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Vrrroooooooom. Look out, world, there’s a singer on wheels soon to join the ranks of touring cyclists doing cool shit. Rumor has it that Charlotte has started a theater blog, too…

Speaking of which, if anyone knows of venues in SE Asia / beyond that would like to host Charlotte to sing, do be in touch 🙂 Best bet is if there’s a pianist or other instrumentalist to accompany her.

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Three things to know about Bangkok:

ONE: It’s hot. Well yes duh, Devi, it’s hot.

This is not Boston heat, folks. It’s not Fiji heat, either. It’s hotter, even, than most days in Tuvalu (plus more traffic, more population, and greater distances between places, so moving in Bangkok means reckoning with CARS, MOTORCYCLES, TUK TUKS, TAXIS, PURELY DECORATIVE CROSSWALKS, NONEXISTENT SIDEWALKS, EVERYTHING). Step outside in the middle of the day in Bangkok and you’ll be dripping with sweat within minutes.

Bangkok heat is the kind of heat that is exhausting to walk in.

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TWO: Crossing the street is an adventure. When I say “an adventure”,  I mean: it’s stressful: a full-body kind of stress. Pedestrians don’t have right of way: cars and motorcycles do. There are a few pedestrian overpasses, thankfully.

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THREE: The only drinking water is bottled water. More on this later, too. Having access to safe drinking  water that flows from a tap (or from the ground) is a huge privilege. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

FOUR: Everything is wrapped in plastic. I’m doing my best to refuse as much plastic as possible, but the stuff is everywhere. Drinks come with straws. Bananas in the 7-11 come wrapped in plastic, and then the cashier puts that bundle inside another plastic bag for you to carry out of the store.

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The saddest bit, as we all know, Is that all that plastic goes to the water, and then into the sea. We’re on track to have more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

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I met up with Madeleine Recknagel, an activist working to change the culture of plastic use in Bangkok. She’s a cool cat. You can learn more about her work on her blog.

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Thanks for showing us around some of the temples, canalas, and back alleys, Madeleine!

SPEAKING OF MEETING UP WITH COOL FOLKS:

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That’s Li Murphy at left, and Awais Hussain at right, both Harvard Class of 2015. Li co-founded Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers. Awais was head of Harvard’s spoken word poetry group Speak Out Loud, and also does awesome things in physics and philosophy.

We went trampolining and had a yummy dinner at a night market. Awais did his first front flip. Li told me a story about water buffalo.

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collecting stories at the night market — the cardboard sign lives!!!

AND OH MY GOODNESS, so much has been happening that I almost forgot:

Charlotte and I visited Sema Thai Marionette, a puppetry company dedicated to working with underprivileged children and doing research into Thai puppetry traditions.

We went to their morning performance of a show about the Rambutan Prince at a school in town, and then hung out at their puppetry workshop for the rest of the day.

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The team of puppeteers helped me translate my cardboard sign into Thai…

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…so now I’m ready to collect stories on the street. Thank you so much, Sema Thai Marionette! It was so wonderful to get to know the whole troop, and to spend some time with the puppets, too.

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Charlotte and I loved the bicycling marionettes––

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… the pedals even moved! 🙂

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More soon, lovely people of the internet. For now, I’ll leave you with some street art from the neighborhood. Wheels on wheels.

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Over and out,

Devi in Bangkok

Earth Day Guest Post on Carolyn Studer’s Blog: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion

“Defeatism is a product of linear thinking and I am not a linear thinker. I meander. I am a river and I am alive and that, at least, is cause for celebration.”

“I believe that listening is the best gift I have to give to this world.” — yours truly.

Happy belated Earth Day! I loved answering questions for Carolyn Studer’s blog. There’s a poem, three audio stories (!), a shout out to Centauri Summer Arts Camp, the People’s Climate March, Cilla McQueen, and spare thoughts on optimism mix, too.

Here’s the interview: http://www.carolynstuder.com/earth-day-with-poet-devi-lockwood-1000-voices-speak-for-compassion/

Enjoy.

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