Many of you know, I am also the Events Editor for YogaCityNYC - an awesome opportunity as I see most every NYC yoga related event passing through my inbox. This week however, one caught my eye that left me so enraged that I can't let it pass by without comment. The fire has been lit.
A prominent and rising teacher in the NYC yoga community who leads adventures all over the world, including on yachts in the Caribbean and service-oriented retreats in South America, is now advertising his latest excursion; Rwanda.
For a mere $4,500 you too can have a week-long "authentic African adventure" while you "connect to community, beauty and nature while participating in an unforgettable service and yoga experience."
Authentic? Really? I bet most Rwandans travel on all-expense-paid inclusive poverty tourism jaunts often. And that in addition to their regular yoga practices, there is ample time to visit the national parks, and experience a gorilla trek to boot.
Now I am sure that there are some very sweet service-oriented activities planned. So the rich white Americans can feel that they have actually done their part in helping the poor black Africans; a vacation with a Survivor-esque volunteer flavor if you will.
Speaking of which, (try and stay with me here) I get a lot of flack for not having TV. As an actor is seems reckless; as a "socially-conscious" person it seems I am always ill informed. But honestly? I can't take it. I am so over-filled with reality television and absolute mindless, poorly written "artistic" programming I could scream.
And where do we draw the line? Is nothing sacred? Personal? Private? It appears that it isn't enough anymore to simple watch and point at the fools heart-breakingly displaying their various misfortunes on screen. Vicarious doesn't cut it. Because if you have enough cash, and the desire to tell yourself that you are actually helping people by creating a community garden (I mean who doesn't love to garden!) and showing them your best sirsana A, well then - you're on your way to creating your own "reality" experience first-hand.
Last year, a journalist friend and I spent a weekend in New Orleans. He was working on a story about the increase in suicide and depression among teens post-Katrina, and another on a project called "300 Million in the Making" that was creating awareness on the high levels of led in NOLA's soil. We went to the St. Roach neighborhood to conduct some interviews, and came across some artfully renovated homes, and their inspired owner/curator, Kirsha Kaechele. She invites artists from around the world to create installations in the 6 homes that she bought and renovated here post-destruction; her organization is called the K.K. Project. It's very "cutting-edge", and she is considered a leader and an activist for social change. We saw Kirsha's organic community "slow food" garden and photos of after-school activities (a handful of young girls baking and doing hair).
Part of her "Life is Art" foundation also includes fancy catered dinners and events which take place in the middle of the abandoned and run down streets. Streets that were devastated not even 5 years ago, and let's be honest - weren't the epitome of abundance before Katrina. K.K. maintains that she is "helping" the community, bringing art, awareness, community projects, and organic vegetables.
Call me crazy (and you all know my passion for organic and slow foods) but it would seem with the increased incidence of teen-suicide here, organizing therapy and better schools should be A1 on the agenda; not doing hair and delivering vegetables to local prominent eateries.
Please, let's just really call a spade a spade and stop pretending we are doing more than we really are; and a whole bunch of self-serving in the process. K.K. is actually exploiting the community to manifest her edgy (albeit beautiful) artistic vision. Rich people from all over can partake in an "authentic" experience while they sip perfectly mixed cocktails and dine in the midst of artistically-arranged and well-lit poverty and destruction. If the photograph of her sexy and perfectly-disheveled petite frame posed in teddy next to a local black boy isn't an indication of where her real loyalties lie, I don't know what is.
The misunderstanding and bleeding of the boundaries between what is art, what is service, and what is real has become so dangerous and insidious it makes me boil with rage. The Real Housewives aren't real. Eating dinner on fine china in St. Roach isn't what it's like to artfully live there. And yoga excursions to Africa aren't really helping anyone.
It's time to wake up.