A crash course in changing the world.
I don't actually live in Baghdad, but was invited to dinner March 20th to celebrate the opening of a new cultural center in the main city. Musicians from all over the world are performing first in a low-key atmosphere of peacefulness and shared comfort. Among the groups playing short sets tonight that I recognize are the Armenian Navy Band, Sigur Ros, and John Zorn's International Circus. There are dervishes accompanied by spoken poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, with the cosmic rhythms of some of the world's most ancient instruments played by Jaron Lanier and the Troupe. This all leads to the main event which is the world premier of a new Cirque de Soleil performance, Caravan.
I'm eating falafal in an exquisitely warmed pita, with all the spices you'd expect for a finely-contrasted local creation. There is wine aplenty, which indicates a more relaxed social interpretation of Islam.
I'm wearing a teal-green tye-dyed turban with a traditional tye-dyed flowing robe, it remind you vaguely of something you see in Ghana. I consider it the height of fashion, because it makes me feel exalted. However, it could be the hashish talking.
As for who prepared the meal, all the guests are aware of a climate of sustainability at the root of the community center's mission statement. Local ingredients, well-trained chefs from ancient traditions, celebrating life and embracing the other as one. It's an experiment in international communication, and it wasn't funded by any government. No. This was a project dreamed up by social innovators seeking to provide a culture-space for experimental engagements such as this. Throughout the first two decades of this millenium governments and large banks attempted to fund big parties in the hope of constructing an international spirit of collective play. Usually these efforts were less successful, and less fun, than their participants would have hoped for. International social innovation networks have picked up the slack and thrown some genuinely transformative parties at major cities around the world, opening centers like this one in Baghdad in a number of countries, including Mali, Ethiopia, Morocco, Tibet, and Laos. Each center is extremely unique, and a global community of social innovators travel from center to center participating in the production of cultural innovation events. Local farmers generally offer their wisdom in the form of elaborate video courses on local agricultural legends, farming techniques, seed cultivation; and they also accept apprentices to work the land, which makes them eligible for land grants through the innovation network. Not only local farmers get involved. Any arts and crafts, musical or dance styles are seen as jewels of wisdom. The mission is not to package indigenous wisdom for export. The mission is to do indigenous wisdom justice.
So we're celebrating in Baghdad tonight. Celebrating the human community. This is the surface of vast innovation, of green technologies, sustainable architecture, and media-enhanced social networking. This is the surface of alternative currencies and finance mechanisms. This is the surface of things to come.
peace // cameron