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Month: May 2019

Get Up Off That Thing!

I was in grade school when my mother bought our first personal computer. It was an Apple II/c and I eventually learned key passages of the user manual quasi by heart. The one that fascinated me the most was a paragraph in the back, where they talked about accessories you could get for your computer. I would read about this thing called a modem that allowed you to connect with other weirdos like yourself [myself] and I’d go all dreamy-eyed.

Fast forward to 2019 and like a growing segment of the world population, a good chunk of my entertainment, a non-negligible amount of my socializing and nearly all my income is secured via this series of tubes. All I need is power, a decent ‘net connection, and all systems go. I could theoretically hike to the top of the Morne Laselle and bang out translations so flawless you’d get a tear in your eye.

In theory.

In real life, it means my work commute is a 10 foot walk from my bedroom door to my [not-so-little] desk corner in the living room.

So I, like untold numbers of freelancers, have to put in thought, deliberation and a bit of self-trickery into staying hearty and hale. In the absence of stairs to climb up, or photocopiers to take a brisk walk to, how does one stay as limber of body as of mind? How do I, like Janelle, get the vim to last forever and the vigour to dance all night?

Oh, let me count the ways…

Take a Break…

My first tool is my work break timer, Workrave, an open source title that I’ve used for over 15 years. You can set up two kinds of breaks, both of which lock down access to your computer for amounts of time to your liking. If you’re ultra-disciplined you can also set it up to lock down your computer completely for the day. (Not my Netflix-infused life, I can guarantee you that!).

Workrave has a built in sequence of recommended exercises meant to relieve the most frequent desk bound worker ailments: eye strain, tension in arms and shoulders, etc. Over the years I’ve gleaned my own resources here and there to add a bit of variety. I am forever indebted to the Workrave team – but those exercises haven’t changed since 2003…

… Or Break A Sweat

Those strategies have been helpful in keeping the worst of the kinks and knots at bay during the workday. The larger challenge remains of committing to a sustained and regular workout. What’s a freelancer who’s a natural homebody and who doesn’t play any team sports to do? I’d tried many a formula to rope friends into being virtual workout buddies (including inviting folks to join Fitocracy) – but nothing seemed to really take.

Until WhatsApp.

The default messaging app of the Global South, it seems to find its true meaning with its groups feature. Not too long ago I decided to leverage my WhatsApp peeps and finally get the workout buddies I so longed for – and it worked! The winning formula was tackling as a group workout challenges from sites like POPSUGAR or Buzzfeed. I heartily took on the role of team cheerleader-slash-taskmaster.

Ti pa, ti pa

Working out is great – but your body still needs to actually walk a certain distance per day (2 million years of evolution as nomadic/hunter-gathering bipedals will do that to ya.). So, how do I “force” myself to get those steps in? StepBet! For me, it’s the perfect carrot and stick solution. You put an amount of money into a pool (usually around $30-40) and if you don’t make your daily step goal just for that week – YOU LOSE ALL YOUR MONIES!!!

No walky, no money.

The leftover pot is split between the app and the other players in this pedometer-enhanced Darwinian endeavour. Despite the name you’re not actually gambling, since results aren’t left to chance but are based on your own will to get up and talk a brisk walk.

With this app I’ve gone from almost completely stationary to putting in 8-14k steps per day over a matter of months – while making a smidge of beer money. Yes, I love the positive impact StepBet has had on my health. Its echoing of the Haitian community finance strategy of sòl (similar to West African tontine) warms the cockles of my better-beating heart.

So that’s a quick roundup of my tips and tricks for not letting my body fall into complete and utter disrepair. One day, I’ll be able to win crip walk marathons alongside the best of them…

Serena Williams doing a Crip Walk
Serena Williams doing a Crip Walk

How do you keep that body moving? Tell me everything in the comments…

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Out of Step: Dance Livelihoods and Decent Work

Fête du travail et de l’agriculture. In Haiti, May 1st was consecrated as a paid national holiday in the 1961 Labour Law. Celebrated worldwide, International Workers’ day flows well with entrenched ideals that go back to Haiti’s struggle for independence: that the people who do the work should not only enjoy the full fruits of their labour, but that these should allow themselves and their loved ones to flourish.

May Day happens to fall two days after International Dance Day (April 29). This year the Haitian dance scene SHOWED. OUT. Events were held across the country – open houses! master classes! lectures!

One of the fewer discussed aspects of the art, though, is how fares the dancer-as-cultural-worker? Where does she learn the craft? How does he chart a career? How much will she earn – and when can she expect to make more than a living wage? What happens when he gets injured, falls ill? How does a dancer make ends meet in their old age? Is decent work for dancers something that’s attainable, or just a pipe dream?

Decent work, according to the International Labour Organization, is work that is “productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment” for all genders.

Today, sticking to that one (and easiest) indicator – pay – with a bit of digging you can find (deplorable) statistics on dancer incomes in certain developed countries. In Canada, for example, dancers earned on average $15,100 per year, a whopping 64% less than the national median for all workers, and about half the average recommended living wage.

Its much more of a challenge though, finding equivalent information for the Global South. Over the last decade there’s been a more sustained effort to quantify the economic heft of the cultural economy here in Haiti, for example. Barbara Prézeau-Stephenson’s La richesse culturelle d’Haïti : mythe ou réalité ? (2007) was the first widely accessible foray into the field. More recently, Ayiti Mizik, Haiti’s musicians’ professional association, published the nation’s first ever music industry mapping. Unfortunately, neither of these studies covered dance and choreography, or livelihoods associated with them.

Cap-Haitien, where I lived for just over a decade, is one of the rare places in Haiti with a local folkloric dance association. We can thank the regular performances for cruise boat tourists visiting Labadie for that. With some nudging, I was able to get one of the dancers to reveal that they were paid 750 gourdes per performance, but no pay for rehearsal (this was in 2009, when the equivalent US dollar value was $18.75). In comparison, minimum wage had just been raised from 90 ($2.25) to 125 gourdes ($3.12), and the starting salary for a doctor at the local public hospital was 15,000 gourdes ($375 US) a month. Today a living wage is estimated to be at minimum 1,750 gourdes per day (42,000 gourdes per month, and in today’s constantly in free fall exchange rate $495 US).

As it stands, cultural worker + developing economy = extremely precarious living conditions by default. Hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll see more energy, intelligence and action devoted to changing this equation.

In the meantime, happy May Day, and stay on beat!

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