Thursday, May 6, 2010

Best Birthday Ever!!

For my tenth birthday I had a hippie themed party and sleepover. It was a pretty big hit in the fifth grade. Everything was tie-dye, we played a ton of games, and made our own ice cream sundaes. I always said this was the best birthday I had ever had.
This year it was my twenty-second birthday-and I was in Brazil. I woke up, our first day in Brazil, and felt so blessed. It hit me; I am spending my last semester of college traveling the world and although I am growing up, I got to spend the day at Arte Consciente, dancing, singing, and playing as if I were ten again.
Arte Consciente is Portuguese for “Conscious Art”, a program in a favela, or slum, in Salvador, Brazil, that taught less fortunate children talents such as drumming, circus skills, boxing, graffiti, and dance. The program was chosen one of the best programs in Brazil by the UN, awarding them for the fact that their impact was powerful and positive for the country. I was a little nervous going in, wondering if I should bring my camera, afraid to get robbed, I was afraid that a large group of white people stomping through the neighborhood would upset the locals. But walking through the favela I was at ease. I was comforted by the smiling faces, the “ola’s”, and Alex, from Arte Consciente, guiding us and showing us his community. People were not afraid of us; they were welcoming. Then as soon as we set foot through the graffiti door of Arte Consciente I felt at home.
We all settled into our chairs, trying to see the front of the room, shoving our already sweaty bodies in next to each other. No one spoke the same language (I think Brazil had the toughest language barrier-the majority of people only really spoke Portuguese-lucky for us we had Sophia-the interport student there to translate). There was a divide between our half of the room and their half of the room, but that would soon change.
The show began. We watched, we laughed, they laughed, they performed with strength. It was hard to watch and not want to move. For the last four months there has been a spirit of dance within me, nonetheless a spirit of dance on the ship. These kids from Arte Consciente have had the spirit of dance with them for years. At last, it was out in both them and us. Once the drumming began, we could not keep it in any longer. The kids starting pulling us up to dance with them and quickly the chairs had to be stacked and put away. There was no room for separation. Languages no longer mattered, just dance. We were dripping sweat, but smiling. I haven’t smiled that huge in a long time. I haven’t felt that much positive energy flowing around in my whole life. We were chanting “Arte-Consciente-Arte-Consciente” and we all believed in the same things. We were together with rhythm, dance, and love.
There was energy pulsing in me. It was one of the best days of my life. Positivity was radiating and there was hope in all of us. I didn’t want to leave. Luckily we were coming back our last day in Brazil to paint the walls of their performance and practice space (which turned out to be a huge and beautiful success), but even knowing there would be another chance to play, it was hard to say goodbye to the kids who lit the fire in my heart with inspiration.
There was no way that my birthday could have been off to a better start. Except maybe with a shower-which was quickly arranged so that we could all fancy up before heading out for more celebrations. I am blessed with great friends, travel companions, and soul mates, who all spent the night with me. It gets busy in port and I never expected as many people to show up, but they did. I felt loved beyond belief. And I was eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas. What a life. Sophia again pulled through in the clutch with the dinner recommendation and then a dance club around the corner. Free cover for girls-love it Brazil. So we finally got to go dancing in our short skirts and small dresses (something we have been culturally forbidden to do in most other countries-which is a struggle due to the heat). Even though we danced all day, we danced some more. I’ll never stop.
Personal favorite: Brazilians don’t dance alone most of the time. So if you go up there to dance with your girlfriends, you will get approached by Brazilian men who will pull you tight, spin you around, and keep you on your feet. I danced instead with Toby-although neither of us knew how to dance like these Brazilians do. But we laughed hard and kept moving, kept swinging around, having the time of our lives. Toby is officially my favorite dance partner I have ever had.
All day and night I continued to say: “This is the best birthday I’ve had since my fifth grade hippie party!” And it was. I was a child again with Arte Consciente, and I was myself, dancing, eating, enjoying my friends and feeling the love.
Thanks to everyone who made it a great birthday and a great Brazil, even those of you back home who sent me an email. Seriously, it all meant so much to me. I can not stop repeating myself. I am SO blessed!

The Smelliest Country Award Goes to...Ghana!

There was twenty adults, four children, and two chickens in our tro tro. It was hot. John Duffy was sweating with his knees up against the seat in front of him. There were women outside the windows selling hard boiled eggs off of their heads, or men with frozen strawberry yogurt, or a cart full of random electronics that look like they should have been in the sale bin at Toys R Us seven years ago. We were five white kids, who only spoke English, and were just looking for a ride down to Cape Coast. The tro tro station was five minutes from our port, we thought it was an hour, then we thought we’d be taking off soon. John slept, Toby and Caity made friends with the locals (a man named Sam immediately becoming a pal and thankfully a watchful eye), and Bailey and I tried to play with the adorable little girl a few seats over. It was three hours before we were finally full and on our way.
Once again we think, we will be there soon. Should be another four hours until we get to Cape Coast so we begin to settle in. The windows are all open so it is cooler now that we are moving and the chickens were readjusted in their plastic bag, sticking their heads out of a hole so they could breathe and stop clucking. We were packed in tight but comfortable. Ten minutes in we are driving past a school. We are going fast, I suppose a little faster than the already fast norm of Ghana. We are peaceful until the people in the first two rows of seats begin to “whoaaaaaaa”. We look up quick. SLAM! My face goes into the seat in front of me. I see children running across the street. A silver car spins over the divider into another car. We are all holding our breath. The air was still. The school children were staring.
“Is everyone okay?”
Everyone appeared fine.
I momentarily worried about the chickens.
Caity’s leg was stuck in between her seat cushion and the seat back in front of her, squished together when the car forced forward. We are uneasy about this. People are piling out of the tro tro. We are told to leave-but Caity was stuck. Sam steps in, standing on top of the seat, pulling the seat back, pushing her leg, lots of pushing, pulling, and finally a release.
Toby starts videotaping.
We are standing on the divider between the two streets. We are all looking at our tro tro, smashed in front and leaking, then at the silver victim, front and back smashed in, tires popped, back window shattered, driver frantic.
-The driver said it was his sister’s car. He didn’t have insurance because he never thought something like this would happen. He didn’t know how he would ever repay her. His and his sister’s lives are shattered now too—this sat with me for a while.-
Our tro tro driver approaches us and reminds us repeatedly not to leave, “another tro tro is on its way”. But now there is traffic on both sides of the road, backed up for miles.
We are shaken, but we get back in the new tro tro and continue on. Nothing else we could do.
We learned in Ghana nothing is as long or as short as you expect it to be. Despite all of our expectations of time, we ended up at the coast before dark.

Thankfully there was comfort here. Here, where the history screams of torture, submission, and enslavement, a few blocks and a few centuries away, there is peace. People are smiling at us. Men try to sell us things. They tell Bailey she can have one white boyfriend and one black boyfriend. They tell me they would like to suck on my breasts. Awkward. They are kind people. Strangely sexual, complimentary, and infatuated with white women but they are kind nonetheless. We brush off the comments and stand our ground-our ground usually close to John.
We get dinner right by the water. The beach is beautiful and we are relieved from our stressful day. Best of all, there were drums and dancing. I love Ghanaians for loving the root of our souls. Rhythm is pulsing through us all. We are all smiling and understanding. Music, rhythm, movement-this is where we can all relate. We listen, relax, and enjoy that night and the next night. We find more SASers, we meet some locals, we have a private drum circle on the beach. We sang Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, a song I have found that if you start singing almost anywhere in the world people will start singing it back no matter what their nationality or language.
So we tried not to worry about a thing. We sweated ourselves to sleep, stuffing too many people into a hotel room, we sang with the locals, we gave them our liquor, we walked over the rainforest walkway, we explored the slave dungeons, we danced-and every little thing was alright.
Bailey and I officially squirm every time we are in a fast moving taxi/tro tro/etc, but we’ve learned to stop looking out the front windshield. We are still alive, thank goodness, and we got to enjoy the West African lifestyle like the 13 other adults, four children, and maybe even a little bit like the two chickens.

My Holy Spaces

1-Table Mountain-Capetown, South Africa
2-Poet’s Table-Black Hills, SD
3-Angkor Wat, sunrise-Siem Reap, Cambodia
4-Great Wall of China-Beijing, China
5-Backwaters, sunset-Kerala, India

Sorry SA

South Africa, specifically Capetown was amazing! I am not blogging about the rest of my time there-about safari, or wine tours, or south african students, or the water front, or toby from tom jones band and shen the new love of my life. I am behind on blogs so I am updating the other countries first. Please know that I could talk about South Africa all day long so if you want to talk about it do ask and I will tell.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Highest Moments

     Our first day in Capetown, I set out with a group of friends to go to the top of table mountain.  There are two options to get to the top of table mountain: a cable car that takes you directly from the bottom to the top and vice versa or you can hike.  Worried about time, we considered the cable car.  But the line seemed miles long so we decided to hike fast.  How bad could the hike be anyway?  Most hikes that we’ve been on along this voyage have been windy paths with a slow incline.  Doable.  But when we started this hike it was a complete incline. Step after step-and f you remember from my China blog, the Great Wall ruined me on steps.  But we assumed it would have to flatten out soon so we kept on.  The higher and higher we climb I begin to realize there will be no release.
     I am complaining.  I have to stop every fifty feet.  Nick, Max, and Bailey were patient with me; they waited at every stop.  I tried to keep my mouth shut instead of blurting out how I regretted taking this hike, nonetheless taking this hike in jeans, nonetheless taking this hike in jeans at noon.  But as I looked down the mountain I could see there was no going back.  At every stop I kept thinking, “I could make it down….I could do it….I’ll just meet them at the bottom”.  What a wuss.  But I continued on.
     Once I got about half way up the mountain I began to hike longer stretches more easily.  I could breathe again.  I felt alive!  From that feeling on I was good to go.  I was pumped.  I was out of my mind high on life.  I couldn’t stop; I had to keep going to get more of these endorphins. I was alive!! I could tell we were getting close to the top.  I was yelling love in between the rocks and over the water of the cape which was getting further and further away.  I was alive!!!  Finally…the end.
     I reached the top!  Somehow, someway, and it was so worth it.  I have never felt more accomplished, rushed, or holy in my entire life.  We were literally looking out above the clouds.  This was the closest place to heaven on Earth.  So we danced on a huge boulder, on top of table mountain-on top of the world-and danced our praises and our gratitude.

     The dance was not over.  As soon as we got off the mountain we rushed back to the ship to meet up with Jenny and the spiritual dance group.  We were off to a dance studio that held a similar dance class to the spiritual dance we did on the ship.  It’s called five rhythms.
     The room was huge.  Half of the people were South Africans of all ages, the other half were college students from our ship.  I was afraid we were invading; I was afraid we were looking like idiots because we didn’t know this dance as well as our own.  In our dance we move, we walk, we explore the space.  The people here were contained and holding their ground.  I closed my eyes and danced how I wanted to, regardless of what I thought was wrong or right.  Quickly, my fears went away.  My feet were dancing, along with my legs, knees, arms, elbows, hands, fingers, neck, head.  My body was present.  Before I knew it, we were all dancing.  There was no longer a weird difference between us ship people and these locals.  We were just dancing together in this space, sharing breath and energy.  The music never stopped and neither did we.  It was one of the longest dances I have done and even though I was exhausted from the hike and the dancing, I had to keep going.  I have never been more of myself in my entire life than I was in that hour and a half.  That was a moment that was home.
     We went out to dinner with Jenny after the dance.  We had salad, pizza wine, and love.  These dancers have become my soulmates and I could imagine no better way to end my night than with them.  I thought about going out.  It was our first night in Capetown, we should be partying-raging.  But I felt no need.  I was here with my people, with myself in South Africa, feeling energy and love.
     Best day of my life.