MUTINY IN MALI – SOURCE OF STORYSHARDS
VULNERABILITY – LEADERSHIPS’ NEW FRONTIER
In recent months, BBC World News and New York Times coverage has triggered dark memories of a challenging place I’m not likely to return to. West African Mali, with its ongoing fundamentalist factions and frictions, was the exotic context for my own personal leadership meltdown. This experience, in which I was a most venerable, yet vulnerable, international photo-tour leader, instigated a seismic shift in my intentionality around my worldwide cultural and decorative arts photography career.
In fact, it was my mis-adventure in Mali that gave rise to STORYSHARDS: Archaeology for Your Life. My meltdown in Mali cut a swath through my ego, and refined my leadership skills on and off location. The experience transformed my photography into broader more useful realms of Engaged Creativity. Which is to say, I have transcended the need for every little picture I take to be images all about me, myself and I. (This theme will be developed soon in Engaged Creativity: Tea & Empathy.)
Actually, I loved Mali, mostly: the mud Mosque at Djenne; the majestic gold-bedecked women in divine damask boubous and poofy headgear; the palpable ubiquitous spirits; the buzzy markets with their jolly printed textiles and Mudcloth; the muezzins sounding off far and wide; the Niger River at dawn and dusk; the vastness of the Sahel. But the dark side of adventure travel in deep Africa cast a spell on the photo-tour I was leading. Blindsided by the fears and vulnerabilities collective within the group, spooks and inefficiencies sabotaged our trip. Putting in to the Niger at the now now desecrated Timbuktu, with its renown Arab Library empty and a shambles, we embarked on the two-week trip – all hell and high water.
My amulet of self-protective gris-gris was not potent enough to protect me from my own hubris and naiveté. The group, I assumed, should be just hunky-dory roughing it, night after night, on the Niger River. Thrilled to be open to adventure – to the unexpected in this most discomfiting context and culture. The itinerary went way-off and group dynamics sadly awry due to miscalculations of times and tides on the Niger, resulting in a poison dart throwing amidst mutinous group members. As the creative panjandrum of the trip, I became the principle target. The whole saga Heartbreak Hotel can be read in on my StoryLines blog page
STORYSHARDS is a visually contextualized retreat that honors your personal story and the creative re-purposing of your life. The program is carried uniquely by a sequencing of multimedia vignettes that follow a narrative-arc familiar to many. Akin to an archaeological dig, with its creatively constructive imagery drawn from diverse cultures and contexts, the program’s visual segments include evocative transporting music. The program’s unique structure opens to mutuality in group conversation around the various ups and downs of our lives. They are the ground for your Story Forward.
Most of us have been fired in life, somewhere along the way. Perhaps we still carry a sense of vulnerability around this. An engaging well-received segment in STORYSHARDS retreats is my Malian meltdown with its exotic archetypal characterizations, bizarre details, and humor I can now bring to the episode. Most important, it’s a creative and imaginal context in which to honor lessons learned, and to consider the role of honest vulnerability increasingly thought to be foundational to modern day leadership.
Women, especially, are speaking of their ability to acknowledge and take ownership of past leadership goof-ups. Re-imagining our disposition to the global whole is integral to the new systems awareness and evolving in to shared leadership models.
Considering leadership anew, in her book IRON BUTTERFLIES – Women Transforming Themselves and the World (Prometheus Books, 2010) Executive and Life Coach Birute Regine, EdD writes of vulnerability as a dynamic and requisite aspect of leadership’s new frontier: “When we can accept vulnerability in ourselves and others, we level the playing field. We are all vulnerable; it is our shared humanity. If you’re not connected to your vulnerability, you believe you don’t need anyone, and that you can just give orders. But when people are connected to their vulnerability, they are more willing to cooperate and collaborate. In this way, vulnerability actually helps create conditions for a more cooperative society.”
With not much of a cooperative society in the midst of my Malian mis-adventure, I felt like the Scottish explorer Mungo Park as fictitiously depicted in T. Coraghessan Boyle’s wondrous historical adventure Water Music (Penguin Books, 1981). In 1806, coming to hell and high water, the Scottish explorer, sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society, discovered the source of the Niger River, and met his dreary demise. As Boyle portrays it, towards the close of his second expedition, he was a near-goner on the banks of the Niger – definitely cooked. Over a bush-meal of flash-fried jackal paw-pads, his stupefied guide queries him:
“So tell me, Mr. Park, if I ain’t gettin’ too personal, Just what is it you see in this explorin’ business anyhow? I mean you have been starved and abused; sick with the ague and the fever; your clothes is in rags; half your goods is gone; and your horse is layin’ over there…”
I was unseated, as well, fried and a near-goner as I waved-off my dazed and disaffected group. At the Bamako airport, a supportive member of the group stated to me point blank: The Vessel is Broken. Picking up the pieces over time, and by taking responsibility for the shards scattered in Malian sands, my creative intentions re-formed resiliently with unexpected new directions and capacities, giving rise to STORYSHARDS: Archaeology for Your Life.
The news media these days makes me wonder whether the Animist Dogon are still dancing the night away. When we were there, my mutinous group sat in wonky plastic chairs on the sidelines. I jumped in with the Dogon dancing with abandon around a humongous bonfire sparking high into a whirling African galaxy. Today, though remote in the Bandiagara Escarpment, tucked in to in their stone aged thatched hatted villages, the Dogon are not immune to the current troubles. As if adventure tourism hasn’t had an impact over the years, now the Tuaregs and other groups are seeking refuge and attracting attention to the remote region, compromising the Dogon’s lifestyle and creative minority culture.
Here’s a video of a Dogon Mask Dance I filmed when I was there. I’ve just interwoven strong graphic images of Mudcloth throughout the video ceremony, which can be viewed on the StoryShards Youtube Channel
In the last year or so, dreadful abuses by Al Qaeda look-a-likes have been afflicted upon the generally peaceful and culturally inclusive Malians. Striving to protect the Malians from growing factions without and within, French troops have been policing the country’s porous desert borders, striving to quell sand-grown cells. French President Francois Hollande visited the troops last February. Their boots were ripping and melting in the hot rugged terrain.
Reminding me of my own Malian meltdown, is the sorry tale of a camel gifted to President Hollande. He could not get the beautiful animal back to France in a timely fashion, presumably to enjoy Parisian life in the gorgeous Menagerie Jardin des Plantes. I really empathize with the camel’s demise: Left behind as a prime beast, culinary Malians ceremonially cooked it up for dinner. A newly chosen camel is alleged to be on its way to Paris.
For more of Lisl’s Story Lines, see the liberally illustrated StoryShards.info