Start with the Corners

…or reason #1 for starting an app called Culture Dock.

Have you ever been watching a film and you hear one line that feels like it’s being spoken directly to you? Each word hits you, like you’ve tapped the ‘pronunciation’ button on Duolingo, the one with the turtle next to it so you can slow it down and take the opportunity to really understand. I was watching the British ‘rom-com’ Man-Up on Netflix when this quip from a bar stool, between friends, became less a line in a movie and more a manual for life:

You’re an emotional jigsaw, you need to piece yourself back together. Start with the corners and look for the blue bits.

The date was March 19th and I’d just finished my last round of radiation following surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. My hair had grown in about half a centimetre and the strength in my body had begun to return but not much else in my life was operating cohesively. We had started development with the Culture Dock app  but with all the recent challenges, I was losing site of why I embarked on such a massive project.

It wasn’t the first time I’d looked for markers, not the first time I’d felt like my body parts were scattered all over the place, needing to be put back together again. But, it was the first time I’d heard an inspirational quote that was, at the same time — so damn functional.

‘I’ve got this’ I thought. The ‘corners’ represent the reasons I created Culture Dock. Once I remember these, it’ll all makes sense. Right?

The first corner is easy. I’m in Johannesburg, South Africa and I’m way out of my comfort zone but for the first time in my life, I’m doing something that I decided to do on my own, that I’m passionate about.

A few weeks, prior, I’d shown my portfolio to the editor of a newspaper. The publication called New Nation was black owned and edited and almost entirely black staffed. With deep roots in the anti-apartheid movement, its editorial team had found their place in the struggle as journalists and photojournalists fighting injustice with pen and camera. I was a skinny little white woman from a ski town in the Canadian Rockies, presenting portraits that I’d taken in the kingdom of Lesotho that my photojournalism instructor would have called ‘smiling peasant shots’.

“These are very nice’ the editor Gabu Tagwana, said to me, “but have you taken any action shots?”

I must have presented as a curious story to him, one he wanted to see play out because despite my feeble answer that “I’ve shot plenty of photos of ski racing in the mountains of my home town”,  I got the job.

I’m covering a rally in an area then known as the Western Transvaal. The right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) is granting freedom of the city to its leader, the notorious white supremacist leader Eugene Terre’Blanche. Accompanying me is another staff photographer, Andrew Tshabangu. As we photograph the ceremony, Andrew stays close and at one point quietly asks me to ‘not venture too far away’. As he does this, he raises one eye above his camera to tell me, rather shakily, ‘These are the photos I’ll never forget’.

In defiance, not far away, Umkonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress, is granting freedom of the township to Joe Modise, the founder of MK. From marching bands and grey uniforms with swastika-like emblems, Andrew and I slide into a stadium full of black South Africans. It isn’t long before he ventures off, my eyes following him as he explores freely with his camera. I stand, feeling exposed on sun- parched grass with bleachers, packed with people, on either side of me. Fists rise in the air and without music, Nkosi Sikelel‘ iAfrika, fills the stadium. As the booming voices belt out the pan African liberation anthem, it resonates in a place deep inside me and I remember what I came to do – take pictures.

I fall into a rhythm, moving with the sounds and personalities of a country stiffened by fear and bolstered by courage. It’s the beginning of the most incredible year of my life. With camera in hand, I feel grounded but also open and curious. I find in this, the most incredible way to exist. We don’t have to be in such extremes to have our sense of curiosity about the world jolted. I’ve since learned I can return to familiar stomping grounds, lift my camera and see things I’d never noticed before.

My first corner of this jigsaw puzzle life isn’t a place or a thing, it’s the memory of a feeling I don’t ever want to lose. It was hard to find, at first because it got lost in the messiness of raising young children in a foreign country and living life as a hausfrau for an unintentionally long period of time while my husband climbed the corporate ladder. That long lost piece snapped into focus in a single moment when he walked out on me saying, ‘I don’t want this, I want to travel, see other cultures.’ Must I mention that we met in South Africa? That I’d written a book about the culture of his home country, Switzerland; that I’d been waiting for the day we could again travel and enjoy seeing more of the world?

Pardon the well-worn cliché but It seems I’m on a streak of turning lemons into lemonade; turning heartbreak into words and words into apps and apps into platforms that help people understand one another. But, I haven’t yet got that far. I guess you could say, I’m still looking for the blue bits cause there’s still work to be done.

I invite you to read more about the Culture Dock app and to make a contribution to our crowdfunding campaign on Start Some Good. Thank-you to all who’ve already pledged their support and shared this campaign on Facebook. Every little bit helps!

Stay tuned for reason #2! 

Purchase my photographic memoir, Black Taxi: Shooting South Africa, about the year I spent working as a photojournalist in Johannesburg during the lead up to South Africa’s first democratic elections. 

Five Reasons Why

Photo: Grant Trammell GT-Insta@thenybureau

Today we launch a crowdfunding page for Culture Dock on a site called Start Some Good. That we’re doing so on a website with this name, says a lot. With a platform that facilitates cross-cultural understanding across the globe, we, essentially aim to put a little more good into the world.

About Culture Dock, I’ve had people say to me, ‘It’s one of those ideas you wonder why no one has already gone out and done it’. I’m a 50+ single Mom who created a tech company and slapped a CEO label on myself to get an idea out into the world. So why me? Why now? I have no interest in pretending I’m completely comfortable in the world of tech start-ups. The reasons for ‘The Dock’ come from my experiences in life and in the world and in this, I see its strength.

‘Five Reasons Why’ will be a series of blogs I’m going to write during the run of this campaign. I’ll start with the most obvious reason for creating a dock celebrating global culture and somewhere along the way, I’ll confess to the one I’d rather not admit to.

What I write, will have little to do with technology nor the hustle of being an entrepreneur. I’ve been living that for the past couple of years yet every day, beneath all of that there is a story that got me here. I’ve had to tap into it consistently to ground myself through the bumpy times. An author and journalist at heart, I find the crafting of pitch decks and executive summaries (and don’t even get me started on financial projections) to be somewhat soul destroying. Not losing site of how I got here, is what keeps me and this project going.

Totally History by Jackson Pollock

I once wrote an article for a ‘good news’ website called Tonic. I interviewed Leslie Hawke (yeah, the Mom of the lovely, Ethan Hawke) who during our interview revealed that someone once told her that her resume resembled a Jackson Pollack painting. At 48 she made a life-changing decision to leave an executive position with a tech start-up company in NYC and decided to join the Peace Corp. It was the first time in her life, Hawke said, ‘that things really made sense’ and everything she had done up to that point, served her during her time in the Peace Corp. When her stint was up, she went on to set up her own program, The Alex Fund to help severely disadvantaged children in Romania.

Hawke was just three years younger than I, when she flew off to Bucharest and never looked back. In her story I see similarities, ‘cept I made the journey backward. I started working as a volunteer in South Africa and ended up with a start-up tech company in Toronto; everything I’ve done until now, serves the vision that is Culture Dock and only by not losing sight of this, does my life make much sense at all.

We’ve been in a three week pause with the app as my developer performs a fix on the iPhone version. During this time, I turned my attention toward this crowdfunding campaign. Since we’ve been ‘bootstrapping’ the app, we literally must buy time now, to populate the app and get it ‘investor ready’. Not wanting to start the campaign with a glitchy app, I asked my developer if it would be ready by the 21st. He assured me it would and I prepared the campaign to launch on the 24th. Another delay ensued and the date was pushed to the 27th – April 27th a date etched in my memory but from twenty-three years ago and really where the story of Culture Dock begins.

Hope you stay tuned!