I’m touring schools here in Lafayette Louisiana and having an incredible experience. Something happened yesterday that made me pause and give an issue some thought. A young girl of about 11 years old asked me, “Have you ever been a slave?”
Now on the surface you might think the question lacks a knowledge of historical chronology but when she posed it, I quickly saw it as an opportunity. I took her inquiry as an opportunity to address a very delicate social/economic and political issue related to race.
I explained to the young girl that “technically” slavery here in North America ended in 1865, long before I was born. I then segued into an explanation of how past history affects those of us alive today by letting her, and the other 200 children present, know that I had not escaped its’ touch.
The audience looked confused. I described how there are two forms of slavery, one physical, one mental. While I had never suffered the physical cruelties of my ancestors who were enslaved, I was surely victimized psychological and spiritual by it.
Without going into much detail, the point I was able to make is that the chains of slavery may have fallen from the wrist, ankles, waist and necks of our ancestors but we are still affected today by the vestiges of what was known as “The Peculiar Institution.”
I spoke to them of the difficulty of breaking the mental chains that bound me in my youth.
As young as these children were it was reassuring to witness their affirming nods and bright understanding eyes.
I would love to go into more detail on this issue because I think there is so much more understanding needed across all socio/cultural lines of this society.
I’ve gotta get to another school. Maybe I’ll set aside some time later to write more on this topic.
Thanks for reading.
First of all, the performance was awesome, amazing and I’m not talking about my part in it. I’m actually talking about the young people in the audience, which was close to 300. Not only were they engaged the entire time but I could actually feel their presence, support and energy. It was amazing.
I didn’t know until the end of my presentation that many of the teachers had left. I had been in that room with a few adults who weren’t their teachers and about 300 students.
When I closed out the presentation, no one moved. I mean no one, not even the adults in the room. I’m sitting on stage trying to figure out what going on when one of the adults tells me that they have never experienced anything like what we just did before.
Many of the other young people chimed in.
Now, I’ve been around the block a few times and I know how children will finagle time to get out of class but “this” wasn’t “that.”
It is so difficult to describe the level of positive energy in the room. I know I’m not doing the moment justice.
It ended up with me having to figure out how to dismiss them from the auditorium and send them back to class. I, quite literally, filed them out by grade level. The last group remaining were 8th graders.
They were quiet, attentive and extremely respectful. As we were the only ones left in the room I decided to give them more time. None of the adults present had any issue with my giving their students more time.
We talked, traded questions and then I closed with a story specifically for them.
I hated having to rush out. I am going to have such fantastic memories of this country and its people.
I will return in 3 weeks to perform for a festival in the Costa Rican City of Alajuela.
The people here have made me happy to know that I am coming back.
¡Chau, pura vida mi gente!
There is a response that I’m finding common here amongst the people, both adult and children.
Each time I’ve finished a performance, instead of the students filing out, they rush the stage with their arms held out wide for a hug. When it first happened I was caught off guard. By about the 3rd time I started to realize that maybe this is how young people here show their appreciation.
Today I had an incident that forced me to sit down and write this out.
A young girl of about 4 or 5 ran to me following a session of storytelling for a group of children her age and attacked me with a hug. Within seconds I had throngs of children in line or nudging their way in for hugs. The little girl kept saying, “Thank you Baba, thank you so much Baba!”
I loved her enthusiasm.
After all of the children had finally filed out, about 20 minutes later, the young girl returned with her mother. She ran into the room ecstatic, “Baba I have something for you!”
Her mother stood to the rear and permitted her daughter to present me with the gift of all gifts, a packet of cookies.
“This is for you!”
I took the cookies with such enthusiasm that she became even more excited, literally jumping up and down.
Her mother stepped forward and chimed in. She explained that the night before, as she was preparing her daughter’s lunch for school that her daughter instructed her to prepare something also for Baba.
Keep in mind I had yet to even cross this child’s path. All she knew was that I was coming to her school and that she had seen me on the Internet, in pictures and maybe heard some audio.
She held her arms out open wide once again.
I knew she was expecting compensation for the cookies.
And so we hugged.
After arriving in San Jose Costa Rica on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles I was met by my tour manager and whisked away to a school for my first performance. I tried not to allow my exhaustion to show through the veneer of energetic engagement but it was a little difficult.
The students were incredible. From start to finish they were exceptionally attentive. I actually loved that they rushed the stage at the end of the performance, pelting me with questions, wanting to talk and just simply desirous of sharing space. I, personally, think this is the best part of performances.
As we were talking I noticed a young man returning back through the side entrance of the auditorium. He waded through the crowd and was able to get right in front of me. He held out in front of him a “Pati,” sort of a turnover that contains meat, spices and a hint of vegetables.
“This is for you,” he proclaimed.
This young man had gone to the cafeteria, spent his own money in order for me to have a small slice of Costa Rican culinary culture.
His name was Estefano and to say that he touched my heart would be an understatement.
The last time something like this happened to me was in Colombia and I’ve never forgotten the young girl’s face that surprised me with a real-deal Colombian empanada.
I don’t know what makes some of us more empathic, caring and giving than others but I sure wish I could package it and make sure everyone got a dose.
I hadn’t been in the country more than two hours when I was pleasantly accosted by this warm gesture from a child.
Following Estaefano’s lead, three young girls departed the auditorium and sprinted back in holding desert for me. The smile that widened my cheeks hurt my face. Thank you Ania, Sofía and Karina for your loving, kind natures.
At the time of my writing this blog, I haven’t even been in Costa Rica but a few hours. If the way these children responded to me is any indication of what I can expect of the rest of the schools I visit, then this promises to be one joyous, love-filled adventure.
At least once, sometimes twice a week I try to make time to sit quietly and listen to records. Usually before the needle rises on one of the last albums I’ve got my nose buried in the pages of a book. Time ceases to be of any consequence.
I’ve been listening to a young musician named Leon Bridges a lot lately. In his song “Coming Home” he sings the lyrics, “The world leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”
In moments when I’m feeling a sense of this, I’ll reach for my Kora and start playing. The Kora has been a gift to me on so many levels. Its ability to fade anxiety and still the heart/mind is nothing short of phenomenal.
Just like spinning my vinyl or reading, the Kora places me in balanced opposition to the chaos that can often be found in life.
It hit me some months ago that I’m always called upon to be the performer, the entertainer when it comes to my storytelling and music. I can’t say that I’ve ever truly shared the simplistic aspects of my art that bring me the most personal joy.
On August 13, 2015 @ 8:00 pm I’m going to do just that… share. I’ll be at one of my favorite haunts, The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles. No flamboyant robes, extra sound equipment or colorful accouterments. Just me, the sound of the Kora, and whomever chooses to come and sit with me that evening.
The address is 433 South Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013.
If you’ve never been there before, you’ll want to get there early. I can spend hours thumbing through old books or perusing the records section.