Hi Everyone! I’m coming to you from the beautiful metropolis of Dakar in Senegal West Africa. I’m currently working with the International School of Dakar and networking with several NGO’s. I’ve been having an awesome experience thus far. I’m alerting all of you that I’ve posted an episode of BABA TALKS to YouTube. Here the link: BABA TALKS episode 11.
There have been some challenges on this trip but they all have been opportunities for growth and nothing less. I have shared laughs, tears and intimate conversations with so many people here that it is impossible to not believe in the awakening of souls. So much has changed in Dakar since I was last here. So much has been built up.
Tomorrow we are heading out to Thiaroye to visit with Momina. Those of you who have read my book, Road of Ash and Dust: Awakening of a Soul in Africa will be familiar with her. I intend to honor this woman to the best of my abilities tomorrow. I’ll also get to see so many of the Cissokho family that I have not seen in years. The children of my time here are all adults now. Time waits for no one.
Well, I’ve got a ton of work to get to and sites to see. Keep following me on Facebook and Instagram where I’m posting pictures and videos as well. Let me know what you think of episode 11 of BABA TALKS.
Dooni dooni kononi bé nyaga da!
For those of you who haven’t been “in-the-know” for the past few months, I’ve been publishing a little VLog (Video Log) called BABA TALKS. Nothing formal, just me shooting off-the-cuff about what’s going on in the world of BABA. I just posted episode number 10 on YouTube. Here’s a link: BABA TALKS episode #10 on YouTube
In this episode, I talk a little about my talks with the mouse, upcoming international tours and a school on lockdown that I visited today. Like I said, the kind of stuff that happens every day in the life of a storyteller.
Check it out, subscribe and leave a comment or two.
If you have any comments, questions or want to me address an issue on the next episode of BABA TALKS, then send me an email or simply respond to this newsletter.
Thanks for following me on this journey. You are “always” appreciated.
I posted an entire story that I shared with an audience of middle schoolers. Click here to view the entire 2:30 video Sharing a Teaching Tale of Confusion
If you get a chance to view it, subscribe while you’re there and leave a comment. I value the input of all of you. Many of you have hung in there with me on this journey for decades. I honestly believe that it is your input over the years that has a major part of my success.
I’m going to be putting out BABA TALKS episode #10 soon. I’ve got a few ideas of issues I’m going to discuss but, please, if there is anything any of you feel is pressing that I address please send your ideas via responding to this newsletter or email me directly email@example.com
I’ve got a couple of international trips coming up and I’m going to encourage all of you to please join me on the journey via social media. You may never know how comforting it is to be abroad and get little messages and tags from friends back home. I’ll discuss the Senegal trip the closer it gets.
Did I mention that I missed an opportunity to play at the Queen of Soul’s funeral, Aretha, because of my international travels? I know I did but I’m just saying it again because I’m trying to off-load it from my conscious. Wow, I really wish I had been here to honor her that way.
I’m going to be posting some more downloadable stories soon on my website. They were a bit hit before but I took them down because I’ve got “quality-control” issues. The newer tales are going to be a higher resolution and of higher fidelity.
Ok, as I’ve said before, I try to keep these as short as possible. I appreciate each of you for being there for me and being on this email list.
Until our paths cross again, dooni dooni kononi bé nyaga da.
I think the last blog post I wrote was about receiving the Heritage Award at the Aquarium of the Pacific. That was 2017. Wow! 2018 was a whirlwind of storytelling activity. I toured Louisiana, all over California and ended the year by touring in Beijing, China. I also started a partnership with Los Angeles County Library and helped develop a program for the Obama initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Not sure why, but I’m always uncomfortable using the pronoun “i” too many times and the last paragraph has a whole lot of “i’s” in it.
I’m hoping to be able to blog a bit more and keep all you more informed about the happenings on this storytelling journey.
In 2019 I started a series of vlogs (video blogs) titled BABA TALKS. These are just short videos of me talking off-the-cuff about some of the everyday occurrences in the life of a professional storyteller. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes a bit sad but always truthful. I’ve attached a link below to episode #09 of BABA TALKS if you’re interested in checking them out. They are all posted on my youtube channel. If you visit, subscribe to the channel while you’re there.
I’ve had an explosion of requests to travel internationally this year and I plan on talking more about those invitations once they’ve all been solidified.
Overall, I’m excited about the potential 2019 is offering. Did I mention that this will be my 25th year as a professional storyteller? I’m sure I didn’t. Yes, 25 years on this journey. Time truly flies, but more like a concord than a sparrow.
I’m gonna close this out and hopefully post a few more before another year passes us by. Thank you for taking the time to read and, as always… “dooni dooni kononi bé nyaga da!”
The past few months have been a blur. December I was touring in Spain and the Canary Islands (short video clip of part of a performance there). While in Spain I participated in a Spanish Book Festival to promote ROAD and then returned to a flurry of performances for Kwanzaa ending the month with the honor of presenting at the founder’s, Dr. Mualana Karenga’s, 50th Anniversary Kwanzaa Celebration. I created a slideshow for those who might want to check out what it was like. 50th Anniversary Kwanzaa Celebration slideshow.
The pace didn’t ease up in January as I continued promotions for the book and headed to Nevada to tour schools in Las Vegas, ending with a culminating performance at the Charleston Heights Arts. Possibly the most touching part of the Las Vegas tour was my visit to the West Las Vegas Arts Center. It felt more like a family reunion than a performance as I got to cross paths with friends I hadn’t seen in years.
Early February I flew to Minnesota for a short residency in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Crookston’s Diversity Department. My attaché, Ms. Lorna Hollowell facilitated a memorable visit that included, not only university events but activities in the community as well. I am eternally grateful to her and her visionary programing.
A few weeks ago I was notified that I was chosen as their 2017 Heritage Award Honoree. Did I mention how fast paced life seems at the moment? The award will be presented at the 15th Annual African American Heritage Festival hosted by The Aquarium of the Pacific on Sunday February 26th @ 12:20 pm.
With a little help from family and friends I’m going to live-stream via Facebook. The live stream will begin at 12:10 pm and continue through the ceremony. Live streaming works out great when you’ve got a really diverse collection of friends spread out over seven continents. I’m excited because my West African Drum and Dance Family Dembrebrah has agreed to open the award ceremony and I was also notified that the City of Long Beach Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Mark Taylor, will be in attendance.
If you can attend, I’d love to see you there. If not, join us on Facebook Live.
It has definitely been a long, arduous journey but, after 6 years of self-inflicted mental torture, constant cursing and unexplainable elation, my book Road of Ash and Dust: Awakening of a Soul in Africa is “finally” complete. I am, quite literally, jumping up and down right now! The book is a “coming-of-age” story detailing my first stay in Africa. I’m too old to be embarrassed any longer so I just tried to be as brutally honest as possible in my writing.
If you are one of the fortunate souls to be on my email list then you’ve already received this notification. For the rest of you, I want to invite you to take advantage of the limited time 99¢ Download at Amazon.com. Click Here: Road of Ash and Dust
If you download and enjoy your read of the book then please, please leave a review on Amazon. Books that receive reviews tend to rank higher than those that don’t.
For those of you who’ve already been sending me messages of congratulations. Thank you so much.
I am going to go do something I haven’t been able to do in a long time, take a walk in the park near my home. Sounds simple but writing consumes so much of your life, sometimes the little, simple joys of life fall to the wayside.
Please go and get your copy now and let me know what you think. Here’s another link just incase you missed the one above: Road of Ash and Dust: Awakening of a Soul in Africa
Just like many other children during that period of adolescence, I was transitioning into my age of reason. I was beginning to understand the world I was living in a different way.
I had grown up learning the sacrifices of men in our family who had served for generations in the U.S. Military. I had also grown up hearing the tales of men in our family who had been lynched. It was the latter that caused a disruption to my developing psyche.
My teacher’s name was Mrs. Johnson and I had a secret crush on her. She was a brilliant woman whose manner was so disarming she could get us to do anything, or almost anything as I soon learned.
The night before this pivotal experience, I had an epiphany. All of my years in school I had been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance without ever thinking what it was saying. That night, for some reason, my 11-year-old brain was reflecting on the Pledge when the words “… with Liberty and Justice for all” jumped out at me.
I remember thinking to myself, “That’s not true, there is no Liberty and Justice for All!”
My limited life experiences were all the validation that I needed to know that the words were not true.
What needed to happen the next day in class became very clear to me. I didn’t tell anyone what I was planning on doing.
The next day at school, when all of the children stood for the morning routine of saying the Pledge, I remained in my seat. I wasn’t scared. In fact, I was filled with such a level of righteous indignation that no one could have deterred me “not even Mrs. Johnson.”
As my classmates said the Pledge, she kept staring in my direction, her hand patriotically resting over her heart.
When the students finished, Mrs. Johnson called me over to her desk. She asked me why I had not stood up to recite the Pledge. This was my moment to show her that my actions were purposeful. I explained to Mrs. Johnson that my pastor had taught me that a pledge is a solemn promise, an oath and should never be taken lightly. I further elaborated that the words, “… with Liberty and Justice for All” would have had me telling a lie. I didn’t feel as though everyone in our country received Liberty and Justice.
Mrs. Johnson pulled out a slip of paper, wrote something on it and told me I had to go to the office and see the principal.
I hadn’t been scared before, but I was now. The principal! Only the worst kids went to the principal’s office. I was in trouble and being in trouble was something my mother never tolerated from her children.
I had backed myself into a corner and there was no way out. I hadn’t thought through the potential consequences of my actions. My fear was heightened, not so much by having to go see the principal, as it was by wondering how my mother would react.
I don’t remember the principal’s name but I can still see his face turning red while reading Mrs. Johnson’s note. He unleashed a torrent of anger-laced statements and spoke about ungrateful youth, sacrifices others had made, and my ignorance. What stood out most was that he kept asking me if I understood and when I answered, as respectfully as I could, “Yes,” he was angered even further.
“Yes, what?” he yelled.
I knew what he wanted and it hurt me to give it to him, but I did.
“Yes… sir.” I replied.
He must have made me reply “Yes sir” about twenty times before he picked up the phone and called my mother at work.
More fear gripped me. Never, ever was my mother to receive a call at her job. This was an unforgivable sin on my part. I had done something that made them have to call my mother at work. I would probably be killed when I got home from school.
The principal told me that I would not be allowed to return to school until I apologized to both he and the class.
11 years old is a difficult age. The hormones, mix of emotions and lack of social equilibrium are the main ingredients of adolescence. I wasn’t sure of anything at this point except that the words of the Pledge were not true.
The school bus dropped me off across the bridge from out little apartment. That was the longest walk home I have ever taken.
I walked in the door knowing my mother was there waiting for me. I steeled myself for an epic spanking. There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to happen. I was about to feel the pain of my decisions in more than one way.
My heart was pounding as I rounded the corner of the entrance into the living room.
There she was, sitting in the lounge chair, but something was wrong. She wasn’t glaring at me in that way that she usually did when I was about to get spanked. She wasn’t biting her lower lip as was her custom whenever anger overtook her.
I was thrown off balance. I wasn’t sure what was going on.
In the most calm voice I had ever heard her speak she said, “Come sit down.” She motioned for me to come and sit on the chair next to her. At that moment, I was really scared!
She asked me what had happened. I couldn’t believe it! I was going to get a chance to tell my side of the story!
I launched into one of the most impromptu, persuasive speeches in the history of orators. I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I pled my case using every fact my young mind could gather, familial anecdotes that I had heard from her and many of the elders in our family. I threw in my grandmother’s words for good measure to help sway her opinion.
I remember this like it was yesterday. She placed her index finger over my lips to quiet me. What came next was a pivotal moment in my maturation and growth as a man.
My mother began to explain the power of words and ideas. There wasn’t a bit of condescension in her voice as she spoke to me. She explained that we human beings are not perfect, in fact, far from it. She pulled me closer to her as she told me that we, human beings, are constantly struggling and striving to build something greater of ourselves.
I was shocked when she told me, “You have every right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
I was totally thrown off balance by her statement and struggling to make sense of what was happening.
After a long, purpose filled pause she continued, “The Pledge of Allegiance is not about what “we” are today, but what “you” will help make us tomorrow.”
My mother hugged me as she told me that, because I understood so much, it was my responsibility to fight and struggle to bring the beautiful ideals that we human beings strive for into reality.
I grew that day in my mother’s arms, listening to her words.
The next day I returned to that school on that military base in Fort Hood, Texas with a greater sense of purpose and pride. I apologized to Mrs. Johnson, my class and the Principal, but not for having sat down during the pledge. I apologized for not having understood my purpose and responsibility in bringing to fruition the ideals it expresses.
My mother died only a few years ago. I miss her tremendously but the lessons she taught me growing up still live on through me, the children I’ve raised and my grandchild.
i am truly one of the blessed of this earth to be able to travel the world and share with so many different people of different cultures. I received word recently that one of the most amazing souls I’ve ever met transitioned. His name was Seu Geraldo Tartaruga and he was a brilliant storyteller.
I met him while touring in Brazil. A group of local authors in Rio thought it was important to put us together in a room and just watch what happens. I’m smiling now because my time with him was magic. We sat in the home of a friend of his and share a meal and possibly “billions” of words together. Not kidding.
I always travel with gifts, small tokens that have more cultural significance than monetary value. Before we parted I handed him a gift. He smiled broadly and explained that he also had something for me. I was surprised. It turned out that he and I shared the same custom of gift giving.
Each time we lose one of these brilliant lights, the world feels just a tad dimmer.
I am going to miss you Tartaruga.
Yesterday I was on my way back home driving from Northern California to Los Angeles. I pulled into a rest stop and went to stand out in an adjoining field. I like to break the monotony of driving long distances by stopping to take time and enjoy the beauty of nature and fresh air.
While standing there in the field I noticed a hawk soaring high off in the distance. It looked as if it were headed straight towards me, descending in my direction. It appeared too far off in the distance for me to feel any concern.
I was transfixed watching it glide downwards towards the earth, still in my line of site.
I couldn’t move. I had never witnessed anything like this before.
The hawk’s glide turned into a dive as it seemed to hurl itself towards the ground. It expanded its wings and swooped into an ascending arc, almost colliding with the earth. As it was coming up in its arc it had a large snake clutched in its talons.
The moment was hypnotic. Somehow, what had seemed so far off in the distance was no longer. The upwards arc of the hawk’s flight brought it within inches of me.
I ducked to avoid the snake’s thrashing tail from hitting me in the head.
My momentum in trying to avoid the snake’s flailing body spun me around in the direction of the hawk flying away. I watched it fade off in the distance, over the horizon with the snake still jerking in its talons the entire time.
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.
Yesterday I was not feeling like performing. I had that “wanna-stay-in-eat-popcorn-and-watch-movies” kind of feeling. Even though I know it is a mental test of adapting, I still keep inching closer towards the soothing sensation of apathy. Not good, I know.
During the cab ride I kept reminding myself of magical moments I’ve experienced here in Argentina. I was revisiting vignettes in my mind that made me smile. It is funny. Once you begin to smile, your attitude changes. By the time we made it to the school I was a bit more upbeat. I only needed one more thing to push me over the edge of contentedness. The eyes of young souls enchanted by the experience of listening to stories. I got my wish.
The school is called Barker School and it is way out on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in an area called Lomas de Zamora.
From the moment I entered the halls of the schools I was greeted and treated like a king. I’m not joking, literally! There were young women prepared to introduce me, children were seated and waiting quietly and oh so patiently. They were hanging on every words, every syllable. It was evolving into an incredible experience. The older children 11 and 12 year old presented me with a gift and, when the performance was complete, the entire audience got up and began moving forward towards me. This seems to be happening more and more lately. I need to figure out why.
I spent my break engaging them all. I don’t care about breaks as much when I have children standing in front of me willing to talk, engage, and ask questions.
I had to head over to the primary school. This is when things took ahold of me and forced me to write this blog.
I was giving my all in a tale meant to elicit an empathic response. I was standing in front of children average age of 6 years old. Their fluency level was really good but you could tell they were just learning.
Near the end of the performance a young girl keeps her hand raised in a very quiet, respectful manner. Her demeanor actually made her appear quite powerful in comparison to her tiny size.
I silenced the room and asked her what it was she needed to say. And these are here exact words, not joking, “I love this moment.”
A 5 or 6-year-old child grasping the concept of appreciating “the moment.” I almost jumped out of my skin. The words I’ve written in no way do justice the ambience of the room or the gentle, but powerful tone of her voice.
I sang that child’s praises loudly and clearly before closing out the session.
It felt as though “everyone” present appreciated that child’s wisdom… me included.
There are times when I feel as though I live in an alternate reality. I probably engage more people in a week than most do in a lifetime. What seems surreal to me is the reaction that so many people have to storytelling. I have lived long enough to know that I am only an ingredient in the recipe that makes for a session of successful storytelling. On some levels, when people gather to share words, it ascends to something much more ritualistic than performance.
Let me give an example. One of my rules is to only share stories that touch me deeply, emotionally. I’ve always felt that if a tale resonates profoundly with me, then there are others it will do the same for.
Yesterday I shared, for the first time, a story that has been stored in my mind for years. I can’t even tell you why I haven’t. I just haven’t. Something about the people, the atmosphere of one of yesterday’s sessions inspired a need in me to finally tell the tale.
When you are passionate about the content of the words you’re speaking, it is like setting a bird free from a cage. I build upon my relationship with the audience in front of me but never lost sight of my own emotional attachment to the story. Even when tales are sad, or unpleasant, I find beauty in their ability to create personal change. I finished telling the story.
As the audience was exiting, I was approached by one of the women present. Her face looked troubled. I could see that she had just had an emotional experience. She came to me and hugged me. As she was hugging me, she said, “That story made me cry, I felt her pain,” and then, while making deliberate eye contact with me she finished with, “thank you for giving us that.”
I am honestly in awe of the power of story. These types of things are occurring more and more often. Each and every time, no matter the content, I am filled with an indescribable joy to be doing what I do everyday.
I am thankful to be living a purpose-filled life.
Today was another day of performing at schools trying to see as much of the city as I could from the windows of my taxi. My tour manager, Sofi, is astounding. She is really on top of her game. I have not wanted, nor needed, for anything.
I’ve been looking forward to today because, in the evening, I had made arrangemnts to visit Movimiento Afrocultural. It is a local cultural spot for Afro-Argentinian culture in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires. The visit was arranged for me by a local friend of mine Yoli.
When we arrived there, the first person to greet me was a man of gentle but powerful bearing named Diego. I could tell right away from his eyes that his soul was steeped in the culture Candombe. The first thing he did was hug me, tightly and tell me that I needed to consider the cultural center my home. It felt good to be welcomed into the community so easily, so smoothly. Within a few seconds another brother named Fernando was hugging me.
A while later, I sat with the children and did a story in Spanish and a little music. Afterwards I had a chance to sit with the adults and talk a little about contemporary Afro-Argentinian Culture, history and issues of the day. I got to share with them what I thought were similar issues for their brothers/sisters in North America.
One of the brothers, Fernando, presented me with a humongous butternut squash. I made sure, after we sat in a circle and talked for a bit, to hug every single person present before I left.
To detail the experience would take a book. I was blessed by this moment in time and I hope that the people I crossed paths with at the Movimiento Afrocultural feel the same.
They really want me to return on Saturday but my schedule probably won’t permit it. I will take the singular blessing of having crossed paths with the few I did and savor the moment forever.
I’ve been experiencing a really interesting phenomenon since I’ve arrived in Uruguay and Argentina. I haven’t spoken much about it because it is a bit embarrassing. But since I now have a portion of the answer I’ll share.
Each school I’ve visited I’ve encountered audiences, especially among the very young, of exceedingly “wide-eyed” and enthusiastic children. I have these experiences back in the U.S. also but it usually has to do with the flowing robes, mysterious looking instruments, etc.
Every performer feels their audiences. It isn’t something that can be described. You’ve simply got to experience it. So, when I say this, there will only be some of you who will understand. My audiences have been “hyper-attentive”. I’ve looked into the eyes of 7, 8 and 9 year olds and seen an enchantment usually reserved an appearance of Santa or the Easter Bunny. The “pin-drop” silence is occurring 100%, no matter what school I go to or age I engage.
The answer to my sudden “star-struck” celebrity was revealed to me as I walked through one of the schools and the youngest children, maybe 4 and 5, were at play. As I walked past their play area they began screaming, in unison, “El Rey Mago! El Rey Mago!”
For those of you not in “the-know,” El Rey Mago is the Spanish word for each of the three wise men from the Nativity. These children thought I was Balthazar, the wise man possessing a gentle, darker tone to his visage.
All of a sudden, it hit me. In a country where the population of people of African descent is 0.37%, to be a person of color is a bit of an anomaly. The only relationship many of these children have to a person of color is in their Catholic religious services and Christmas. Thus I have presented to them as Balthazar, one of the three wise men, incarnate.
I wouldn’t have written about this if it had not occurred on more than one occasion. I have been very curious as to why so many of the youngest children crave touching the hem of my robes or freeze wide-eyed when standing before me.
Not sure what, if anything, I should do with this. There can be several advantages to being one of the three wise men. But then again there can be several disadvantages. I’ll let your imagination run with that one.
Jungian Devotees out there would have a ball in dialoguing this out about Archetypes and collective consciousness. Maybe the older children are experiencing some form of sub-conscious recall. Among them I’ve experienced Argentinian slang yelled out as I pass by. I was walking by a group of older children just a few days ago and one of them yelled out to the others, “re-piola chabon!”
Interpreted as, “That is a really cool dude!”
I just returned from a Tango lesson here in Buenos Aires with my wife and son. It was much more challenging than I thought it would be. My back was pouring with sweat. I love challenging myself with new things. I’ve learned never to get “too” comfortable with life. Upsetting the balance of ourselves helps us to grow.
I have always considered myself a person who loves dance. In learning the Tango I kept wanting to put some more body parts to work, hips, knees, torso, etc. and I kept getting warned by the instructor to stiffen up. To me, stiffen up and dance don’t ever belong together LOL.
It was only an hour but I really felt challenged. I am proud of my wife for obliterating her comfort zone for me. My son helped by shooting a lot of video and taking a ton of pictures but I’m not sure those will “ever” see the light of day.
I really wanted to Tango because of the African Ancestral roots of the dance. I’m all about connecting with my ancestral lineage and I thought learning the Tango in Argentina would be a wonderful experience.
It was! I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back for another lesson but I have a special memory now that I’ll treasure forever.
I learned to dance the Tango in Argentina!
I’ve been here in Buenos Aires for a couple of days now. My first gathering was a group of 16 and 17 year olds. I gage how the rest of the tour will go in a country by the very first performance. It was early, really early and, as most people know, morning is the “worst” time to try and engage teens (there is actually science to back this idea up).
The school I was at is 120 years old. There was so much character in the architecture that I kept getting distracted by small details in the aesthetics of the library we were in. A large viewing window, like you find in New York department stores, faced a constant stream of pedestrians and vehicles competing for cramped space.
As the youth entered I tried to make sure I made eye contact with each one of them. I do this with every performance. Well… I try at least. I could see the tiredness in their weary eyes and I read their body language as “not yet ready anything close to mental intensity.
I was right there with them as far as physical fatigue. I had just gotten off of the plane from Uruguay the night before and hadn’t made it to bed until almost 1:00 am.
Once they were all in the room. I introduced myself. I rarely have the schools introduce me. I like to be the one who sets the tone and establishes a rapport, a relationship to my audiences. I took a silent pause after letting them know that I was not in control of what we would do this day, they were. I then let me then know that I needed them to make a decision. Their eyes lit up a bit. I had touched something in them. The question I ask groups this age is, “Do you want to be entertained this day, or would you like to engage in truth?”
You could have heard a pin drop. I elaborated on what entertainment would be like. I then gave a brief description of what might happen if we were dealing with truth. At this point I gave them 1 minute to discuss amongst themselves what decision they would make.
Following that 1 minute, I asked them if they had made a decision. Mind you, there were about 70 teens seated in a semi-circle around me in this room. They said yes and, for the first time that I’ve been doing this 100% of those present said that they wanted to deal in “truth” during our time together. I knew something special was about to happen.
For the next hour we talked, I punctuated our collective conversation with a few proverbs, a couple of stories, and a little music and then we closed out our time together with a song.
The time together was pure, unfiltered and true to each heart present. When we finished I thanked them for introducing me to Argentina and released them back to their teachers.
No one moved. I mean literally… no one moved. I thought I had miscommunicated and so I said again, “Thank you for our time together you may leave now.”
The students didn’t move, the teachers didn’t move. I wasn’t sure what to do.
The entire group stood up together and walked toward me. The engulfed me in a huge semi circle and began asking more questions. I looked at the teachers unsure what to do. One of the teachers explained that this was their break. I asked them if they understood they were missing their break. They all laughed and began telling me that they were making a choice to stay.
We stood there for another ½ hour communicating, sharing and hugging. It was an extraordinary experience, one that will never leave me.
Last night I we left Uruguay and arrived in Buenos Aires a little behind schedule. I was starting to really feel the physical effects of touring on both mind and body. While we were at the airport I felt myself slip into some sort of “wide-awake” state of mental blankness as I stared off into nowhere sometimes.
The thought of ending performances in Montevideo, boarding a plane that same afternoon and then getting up early the next morning to begin performing again fatigued me. Add to the stress of travel that fact that my wife and stepson were flying in from the U.S. into a different airport and you’ve got an absolute path to sleeplessness.
After a series of, what I can only call, mishaps with misguided public service workers, we finally made it out of the airport.
The apartment the company is providing me is quaint, kind of cute. It has a loft.
As my head hit the pillow, I was thinking about the students at Kennedy High School in Uruguay. Our session together that day felt much more like ritual than assembly. I start out with a plan but, inevitably, the students guide me in a whole other direction. I know that is the way of ritual. I’m getting better about relaxing into it and appreciating the beauty of the moment.
Most of the youth I’ve encountered are desirous of hearing and experiencing something “real.” I like to think that this is what I bring to the table.
I’m going to blog about my first performance in Argentina in the next blog. I’ll be working with a group of 16 and 17 year olds.
Let’s see how it goes. Let’s see if I can continue to “keep it real.”
I haven’t had a chance to talk much about the actual visits to the schools here in Uruguay. I can say that I have yet, crossing my fingers, had a single negative experience. In fact, I’ve had quite the opposite.
I’ve found the students, teachers, and even the administrators to be highly engaging.
Usually when I visit schools in the U.S., the principals and administrators are too busy to sit in on the sessions I have with their students. Here in Uruguay I’ve had headmasters spend the entire time with me during the sessions, listening to the stories, enjoying the music. It has been amazing. I’ve had administrators close down their offices or take their lunch breaks and sit in on my performances.
I’ve found my sessions here in Uruguay to more “collective” experiences than isolated incidents of “enrichment” for the children.
Something I’ve particularly enjoyed is being able to provide nuance and depth through my tales even with the younger children. Typically in the U.S. there is a need to manage the audience much more than I’ve had to here.
I was at a school just yesterday. The headmaster is an 81 year old woman who has been an educator all of her life. She is well known here among her peers. In fact, some of the teachers I’ve worked with at other schools say that she was their teacher when they were children. These are women in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Well… she came and sat through all of my performances, the entire time. After the performances I went to her office to tell her goodbye. When I arrived in her office she hugged me. As we were releasing our embraces, she looked me in my eyes and said, “You are touched by the hand of God.”
She went on to explain what she saw in my performances. She spoke glowingly of the depth of my connection with the children.
By the time I walked away from her I felt uplifted and spiritual affirmed.
I’m sharing these few moments but they represent so many more. For every moment I share, there are probably 10 more similar situations that occur.
I was finishing a performance at another school and a young girl had a folded piece of paper that she kept clutching to her heart. Every time I walked by her, she kept motioning towards me, trying to get my attention. Finally, near the end of the performance I stopped and asked her what it was that she needed. With the most gentle eyes and wide smile she reached up and handed me the folded paper. I opened it and it read, “I Love You Baba.”
I would need volumes to write for you every one of these incidents that has occurred during my time here in Uruguay. I’ve got two schools left. If the recent past is any indicator of the future, then I’m expecting to leave the country a better person than when I arrived.
Last Saturday my tour manager, Sofi, took me to the historical city of Colonia. It is one of the earliest settlements here in Uruguay. Its’ history is a blend of Portuguese and Spanish Colonial conflict. Everything from the architecture to the roadways is a blend of the two colonial powers.
We took a small commuter bus to get there. There were about maybe 10 or 12 other people on this small tour with us. They were mostly Brazilian. The tour guide mixed his Spanish with a touch of Brazilian Portuguese, which totally through me for a loop. When he stayed in Spanish, I was cool.
I appreciated the ride, the quiet, and the serenity of passing through the country. On the way going I was wide away and totally into seeing the Uruguayan countryside.
We had a few stops on the way. The two most memorable were a chocolate factory and the theater where famous Tango master Carlos Gardel had his final performance before his death in a plane crash in Medellin Colombia.
It was a very cold day but walking the historical, stoned streets of Colonia felt serene. I loved the slower pace of the day.
The restaurant we ate at in Colonia was quaint and full of character. The traditional parrilla was exposed for all to see. It was so impressive I even shot video of the flames and cooking.
Possibly the best thing for me about being in Colonia was the “people-watching.” I love to sit and silently explore other cultures just by watching the people going about their daily lives. Colonia wasn’t full of tourists. There were local families mixed in with tourists strolling the streets.
On the ride back, I actually fell asleep a few times. By the time we returned to Montevideo I was well rested and ready for another week of touring.
I’m not sure what adventures or tales the rest of the tour will bring but I feel more than ready to face and embrace them.
Last Friday I visited Casa de la Cultura Afrouruguaya. I try to explore as much of the cultural landscape of the countries I travel to as possible. With a hectic work schedule and maintaining business and familial connections back in the U.S. it gets to be quite difficult.
I connected with a young woman filled with spirit and quiet intensity at the Casa de la Cultura Afrouruguaya. Her name is Mazumbambera. We connected immediately. She is in her early 30’s, the same age as my eldest children. She opened the doors of the Casa de la Cultura Afrouruguaya for me and, immediately, made me feel right at home.
I lived much of my life down south in the U.S. and when you travel the world you find the depth similarities and shared experiences in cultures separated by time and distance, diaspora. Even when I went to West Africa I was able to “fit-in” by practicing the principles taught to me by the elders I grew up around. This same exact dynamic exist even in South America and other parts of the world where you find people of color.
While I was touring the building, I heard a group of Candombe drummers and dancers in the streets below. I rushed to the balcony of the casa. What a sight! The streets of Palermo filled with drummers, dancers, and families slowly flowing in one unified direction.
When I interviewed Mazumbambera she spoke of Candombe as a form of resistence. She really didn’t have to say much more. I got it. I understood. Dance, Music and Art in general are all forms of, not only expression, but also a means by which a people defend their humanity. It is how I became a storyteller, or griot, for those who comprehend.
Mazumbambera gave me a perspective on Candombe that I would not have received if I had sat in my hotel room and only read about it.
It wasn’t long before a young brother named Ferna Nuñez joined us. A man studying with he and his family named Pablo Araya accompanied him. The Kora fascinated them and so you know I had to play for them. There is a recording studio in the Casa de la Cultura Afrouruguaya and Ferna is the main engineer there. They wanted to record some Kora playing. There was no way I was declining this invitation.
We got into the studio and I recorded a few tracks of solo Kora and then we did some Kora and Candombe drumming combinations. It was a little hit and miss at first but I could feel the blend beginning near the end of our first song together.
I posted most of these pictures on Facebook.
It got to be really late for me and so I had to leave. My schedule is really tight but I would love to return to the Casa de la Cultura. Ferna has invited me to meet his father, a Candombe Master. I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen with this schedule but I’ve got to slice off a sliver of time to allow my soul to be fed once again.
Since I’ve stepped off of the plane and started visiting schools here in Montevideo, I’ve been getting enthusiastically hugged and kissed by both old and young. I’ve visited about 6 schools so far and at each school, the children have erupted in spontaneous demonstrations of affection. Each performance has finished with a mob rush towards me, hands extended, hugs offered and little notes passed to me from several of the children.
The actions of these children tell me more about the adults here than anything I could ever learn in an interview. These affectionate children demonstrate to me that their homes are filled with loving adults who care and nurture their little spirits towards acceptance.
At one of the schools a teacher, her name is Florencia, gave me an affirming embrace. The children cheered her name and forced her forward following my performance. I could see that the children loved and respected this teacher. She embraced me and spoke of her appreciation for the work I was doing with the children.
Years ago I sat with a brother of mine as he was near death. His words to me were, “Touch is a key to truly knowing what life is about.” I try never to forget that.
The trip getting here was long, oh so long. I spent 6 and a half hours on a plane going from Los Angeles to Panama and then, after only an hour layover in Panama, I voluntarily assaulted my body for another 7 hours on a plane from Panama to Argentina.
Now you might think that a professional glutton for punishment would have stopped there. Right? But… oh, no… why would I? I arrived in Buenos Aires around 1:00 am, got to my hotel close to 3:00 am and boarded another flight the next afternoon for Uruguay.
I can see you shaking your head at me.
For the most part I enjoyed the experience. There were a few comical moments in transit. On the flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Panama a man boarded the flight, sat down and immediately fell into a deep slumber. We knew he wasn’t dead because he began snoring like a moose. The insanity of the situation was that he passed out as soon as he sat down and then commenced to snore for the entire, yes I said “entire”, 6 and half hours of the flight. I should have made a time lapsed video.
When we were deplaning from the second flight to Argentina, and I am not in any way, shape or form embellishing here, a young dad placed his son in the overhead storage bin to play. Yes you heard, or read, me right. This guy placed his son of about 3 or 4 years of age in the overhead storage bin. I really regret not having gotten a picture of that.
Anyhow, I’m in Montevideo now and I haven’t had a chance to get out and take pictures. I’ve worked for the past two days. I do plan to get out and shoot some video, take pictures. I’m also looking for interesting subjects to interview.
The performances have been really interesting but I’ll blog about those later.
Thanks for keeping up with me. Until we cross paths again, dooni dooni kononi be nyaga da.
I’ve always avoided talking about food. I don’t enjoy explaining to the, oddly, curious what I eat, why I eat what I eat or where I get what I eat when I eat. With that being said, some might find it curious that I would choose to play “food critic” and write a review of a restaurant thousands of miles from my regular stomping grounds.
Why? Well, frankly, I couldn’t help myself.
A few nights ago, in Bucharest we entered the doors of LoVegan, a restaurant situated in a corner of a building on Romana Square (which is actually circular but that’s my issue, no one else’s). While my wife and I were sitting and chatting a young man approached our table. His name was Alexandru Bugnariu-Nocolae and he is the head chef at LoVegan.
In Alexandru’s hands he held the most beautiful presentation of a main course that I had seen in some years. I was curious what his purpose might be and he did not waiver in letting us know that he wanted us to try one of his new dishes.
Here is what was fascinating. This young man had no idea who I am or that my craft is that of a professional storyteller. His passion guided him on an animated explanation the dish he had prepared.
Alexandru regailed us with the Greek myth of “The Gordian Knot.” Most storytellers probably already know the story but for those who do not. The Gordian Knot was an extremely complicated knot tied by Gordius, king of Phrygia.
When he began talking about chariots and Alexander the Great, I was hooked. He probably could have cooked me toast at that point and I would have lauded his praises as a chef.
He placed the plate in between my wife and I as he continued his tale, alternating between describing the reason for the presentation of the food in front of us and delving deeper into the intricacies of the poetry of the myth.
Once he ended his tale telling with the climactic end of Alexander the Great taking out his sword and cutting into the knot and going on the fulfill the oracles prophecy by conquering Asia; Alexandru gently backed away from our table explaining that he would return for a critique.
My creative spirits had already been awakened by experiencing the passion he had for his craft of cooking and the aromatic scent of an intricately prepared meal wafting beneath our noses. I was onboard and ready to tell him, honestly, whether I hated or loved his food.
As an artist I understand that “true” artists prefer critiques regardless of how painful it may be. I was willing to give this young man the painful truths as I interpreted the meal.
The presentation was created with four outer corners representing the wheels of a chariot. The center portion, the chariot itself was a charade on a bed of potato (not sure what type) containing poppy and other spices. Roasted asparagus and anise formed the outer edges of the chariot.
I decided to start on the outer edges of the dish with the pumpkin sauce. I’m sure it was the rich orange color that drew me there first. Sitting atop the pumpkin sauce, spread at all four corners were four thinly sliced, rounded pieces of seasoned beet to mimic the actual wheels of the chariot.
I took one of the beets into my mouth at first because I was curious to see how he had seasoned it. Seasoning of beets is less a mechanic of cooking and more an art. I was caught off guard because the beet was a bit spicy, somewhat like the taste of cayenne blended with a hint of black pepper. I know I’m wrong about the specific seasoning used but this will, at least, give you an impression of what my taste buds experienced.
Almost automatically I scooped into the pumpkin puree in an effort to tame the explosion of fiery spices. I wasn’t disappointed. The pumpkin puree was cool to the touch and blended exceedingly well with the spiciness of the beet. The pumpkin puree had a calming effect on the beet’s veracity.
I then chose to move right into the top of the chariot to see what other treasures I might uncover.
The meal was actually becoming more of an adventure than an opportunity to dine. I was really enjoying myself but I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of an honest and forthright critique.
I dug my fork into the center of the chariot and was surprised to see that there was creamy, hot, spinach and mushrooms buried within the bed of the pulped potato. The steam emanating from this area of the plate created an extremely pleasant sensory effect while I began eating the contents of my fork.
My mind registered a bit of an epiphany when I realized that I had just gone from the cool pumpkin puree to an aromatic and hot center. He had purposefully toyed with the interplay of qualities. I was forgetting to be a critic and was rapidly becoming a fan.
The smoothness of the mixture of spinach, mashed potato and mushrooms would have been enough of a meal for me to enjoy but when I dug deeper into the chariot there were pieces of sesame near the bottom. Now, I’m not sure if he did this on purpose or if this was one of those coincidences but I got the distinct impression of the grittiness of soil that would have been common beneath the wheels of a chariot. The taste, for me, worked well between the sesame and potatoes.
I did have an immediate dissonant reaction to finding celery in the chariot. It didn’t seem to fit well with the smoothness of the interplay between all of the other ingredients. I actually wondered if he had included the celery as sort of a play on the guiding ropes of a chariot. The fibrous texture of the celery definitely mimics rope or strings to the palate if that was the desired effect.
I shared my ideations with Chef Alexandru and tried not to pull any punches but when food is delicious, it’s simply delicious and we must surrender to our joy in consuming it.
If, and when, I ever return to Romania, it is possible that I will not be able to eat any other food unless it is prepared by Chef Alexandru of LoVegan.
Leaving Romania is a bittersweet experience for me. On one hand I can’t wait to return to the familiarity of home and, on the other hand, I’m going to miss the amazing souls I’ve crossed paths with. I have taught and been taught here in Bucharest. I’ve experienced open hearts welcoming me in, and closed minds trapped by their own myopic ideations.
Just as I had experienced in many other parts of the world, to speak in absolutes is to engage ignorance. To say that “all” of anything is good or bad is an abstraction that limits our ability to truly see one another. The propaganda that I grew up with that Communism is bad, Democracy is good is an infants entry level understanding to how societies function and the laws of political engagement are formulated.
I will not white wash the experience that so many Romanians had under an oppressive political system but I, also, will not ignore the amazing strides in construction of infrastructure and social identity that others harken back to pre-revolution years.
I have tried to spend more time listening than speaking, which is difficult since I make my living by speaking. I love, respect and appreciate each person who was willing to share their personal pain in giving me their points of view on the history of their nation and it’s transition.
I am definitely departing Bucharest much more informed than when I arrived a week ago.
I am a learner, a life long learner and I am always seeking experiences that enhance my capacity to understand and empathize with the other souls I inhabit this planet with. Romania offered me this opportunity and, for this, I am truly grateful.
Thank you to each and every person whose paths I crossed on this journey. I am richer for it and I hope, in some way, that I have been able to contribute something to your lives.
I’m old enough to remember the 1989 Revolution, as we witnessed it in the U.S. from the comfort of our homes anyway. I still have vivid images of the orphanages overflowing with emaciated children trapped behind the metal bars of dilapidated cribs. I know it’s been decades, but for many of us born in the Cold War era, some ghosts of the past fade slowly.
On my way here, on the plane I tried to rid my mind of any pre-conceived notions or ideas. I wanted to arrive in Bucharest with an open heart and an open mind.
My first few days here I walked the streets. I do that whenever I travel. I just walk the streets and take in whatever the city has to offer. The strangest thing for me was seeing the behemoths of communist architecture draped or topped with humongous neon signs advertising Coke, T-Mobile, Metropolitan Life, Dove, etc.
It was almost as if when communism began to fall, multinational corporations swooped in and, instead of installing flags to lay claim to new territories, they quickly put up giant billboards and neon signs.
The City is almost like any other big urban center in the world with the exception of its communist era aesthetics. It is a landscape of people moving quickly, with purpose, coffee shops as plentiful as religious institutions and clogged arteries of traffic with vehicles indicating the many socio-economic stratums existent in modern-day Romanian life.
It is easy to see, by the insane number of McDonalds, KFC’s and competing mobile phone services that change has come swiftly and the undeniable appetite of consumerism is taking hold.
As I’m walking around, I’m seeing small, outdoor screens playing previews for current blockbuster movies and commercials for all types of hair and skin products.
This onslaught for immediate economic ascension hasn’t brought with it an equally rapid global socialization.
In an era when technology has supposedly shrunk the world, the oddity is that I am still an anomaly here in the streets of Bucharest. As I walk the different areas of the city I’m witnessing emphatic reactions to my presence. People quite literally stop and stare. A young woman was pushing a stroller and the child, about 3, maybe 4, began yelling and pointing in my direction. As they passed the child leaned out of the stroller, craning to continue yelling and pointing.
I’m beginning to believe that maybe technology doesn’t really bring the world together in the way that I had initially thought.
A few years ago I wrote an article based loosely on Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village.” I called it “Stranger in the Village Poland.” It covered my experiences in Poland that, I felt, mimicked what he had experienced in Switzerland.
I may need to write a “Stranger in the Village Bucharest” version.
Thus far, the most prominent similarity I can “definitely” say I’m experiencing that Baldwin did is the cold.
To say that it is cold here in Bucharest would be equivalent to saying you might experience a “slight” chill when standing outside naked in the frozen wilds of Alaska. Maybe the years have conditioned me to being a much gentler, softer kinda guy but I don’t think I can ever grow accustomed to losing feeling in my extremities.
Well, I’ll try to get a few more of these blogs out about my daily experiences here.
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed with what’s going on in my world.
So, until we meet again, as they say here in Romanian “la revedere!”
Arriving in Paris after a 10 hour flight still felt magical. I booked my flight to Romania with a 24-hour stopover in Paris. I wanted to see a few sights, taste a little of the cuisine and flex my “oh so smooth” French Language skills.
Paris is truly a beautiful city, no one can deny that. One thing that is immediately apparent is that the face of Paris is changing. Years ago when I first came through Paris, actually more than 20 years ago, I experienced, almost exclusively Europeans of an almost homogenous decent. My travels around the city yesterday and last night divulged a cityscape teeming with people of diverse nationalities.
I’ve been following France’s immigration issues for decades, especially its relationship to Africa. The African presence in Paris is truly impressive.
Those of you who know me, know that I love to take public transport when traveling. It allows me quicker and greater access to the people (pros/cons I am fully aware of).
Early in the day, travel via the metro was easy. There were very few people and seats were in abundance.
In the evening, the metro was, quite literally, a transport of insanity. People were pushing and jostling their way onto the metro, creating an extremely unpleasant sardine-effect.
The Eiffel Tower was impressive as usual. You cannot come to Paris and not visit the Eiffel Tower.
The streets are, without a hint of trying, filled with a combination of wonder, excitement, danger and desperation (a strange cocktail of almost any large urban center).
One question that I can’t seem to wrap my head around though is this, “Does everyone” in Paris smoke?”
As progressive and informed as French Culture seems, it is amazing to me the number smokers I encountered. Even in the airport there are small, enclosed cubicles behind class walls designated as smoking areas.
I’ll post the images on my facebook pages.
While I traversed the streets of Paris, it was freezing cold. Snow was falling. Seeing some of the homeless people made me wonder how the heck anyone could survive in the streets in this weather?
If I had to complain about anything, it would be the Metro during rush hour. My heart broke at seeing the multitude of people, especially women, being pushed and crowded into the metro.
Paris has grown and her growing pains reveal a not so nice underbelly of the city in the transport tunnels beneath the ground.
It took me hours to thaw out once I made it back to my hotel. I’ve got Romania on my itinerary and I’ll try to check back in with you all once I get there.
I am first and foremost, a professional storyteller and so I tend to address social themes from a very formative, if not, narrative process. I also realize that my opinions will make perfect sense to some of you and to others, I will probably sound like one of the adult characters in a Charlie Brown cartoon.
When I witness the unfolding of trauma in Paris I’m left with more questions than answers. For me, what is happening in Paris is less a “Freedom of Speech” issue and much more a symptom of unresolved societal distresses.
First of all, let’s agree that the concern of “Freedom of Speech” was settled, conceptually, by France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in the late 1700’s and so there is no dispute to be had there.
What I’m finding disturbing in our developing narrative surrounding the attacks on the people at the Charlie Hebdo offices is a very superficial rendering in our analysis, or lack thereof. There seems to be an almost immediate denial or deflection of root causes.
As a professional storyteller, in approaching my craft, I am charged with communicating with each according to their capacity to comprehend. When I engage the potential of my craft I think first about the individual, then the family, then the community, the state, then the nation, etc., etc.
In order to reign in the enormity of contemplating each of these elements in isolation, I engage the theory that they are all components of larger organisms, sort of a semi-Gestaltian approach.
Here’s a simple analogy: When we experience eruptions on our skin, the outer expression of our existence, we, human beings, being as vain as we are apt to be, rush towards topical solutions for resolution. Now, intellectually, we “all” know that the eruptions on our skin are merely external manifestations and warnings that there are problems internally.
All organisms seeks homeostasis, balance. When we do not have balance we define what is happening to the organism as stress or not being at ease, dis-ease.
I would posit that societies function just as organisms and that disruptions to peace are topical signs that there is internal disorder. Instead of seeking a diagnosis of what is creating the dis-ease, we apply a topical solution to the matter until the symptoms fade. So now, visually, we have restored balance.
The problem with this mode of functioning that the internal stress is stills present even though we don’t witness it externally. The result is that more, and greater eruptions continue to occur until our ignorance produces, sometimes, fatal consequences.
Here are a few of the questions. What are the internal conflicts in a society that are the root causes of the violent eruptions?
What functions do inflammatory media serve towards balancing the organism that we call a society? What are the internal social conditions that break down the normal human need for balance and set individuals, organizations at odds with one another, forcing these topical lesions and rash of violence to appear?
Now, don’t think that the U.S. is immune to these same forms of inquiry. No… not at all.
Here in the U.S., the day before the shootings in Paris, we experienced an act of domestic terrorism that has gone unreported by national media. There was an attempted detonation of an Improvised Explosive Device outside of an NAACP office in Colorado Springs. How many of you were aware of that?
Returning to my line of inquiry, I have to ask what are the conditions that lead to such a potentially horrific act and what societal function is served by an almost total blackout of information?
Societal stress and dis-ease is not created in a vacuum. The narratives are formulated long before the disruptions occur. If we are to solely examine these issues as 1st Amendment, or Freedom of Speech issues, then we are applying topical solutions to gaping, bleeding wounds.
Like I’ve said before, I’ve got way more questions than answers and I guess this is fair because I’m sure that there are greater minds than mine equipped to provide the answers.
If my inquiry or analysis offended anyone, I sincerely apologize. These meandering thoughts are simply the work of an itinerate teller of tales.
I consider myself more resourceful than sagacious, more pupil than professorial and definitely more the initiate than master of anything, but this past week here in Ecuador has thrown me into quite a bit of self-reflection.
Plain and simple, I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.
Earlier in the week I completed a session of sharing stories and facilitated discussion with an assembly of teens. One of the young women from the group approached me. Her expression was sad, her demeanor defeated. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “You said that I was beautiful. I am not beautiful.”
During my telling of the story I had identified her, as well as many other of the youth in the audience as “beautiful people.”
I listened to her words and tried to empathize. This was not the typical teen, angst ridden, fishing for a compliment situation we all know and are aware of. She was truly tortured by her identity.
I was torn between wanting to scream at the top of my lungs at a pop culture that systematically propagandizes destructive images to our youth and our failure as elders to combat the crisis.
Her reasoning was the same as I’ve heard from young women the world over. A distorted standard of beauty has been proselytized that does not reflect the reality of the world we live in.
Before allowing her to walk away, I pleaded with her to try and see herself as truly a beautiful, substantive young woman. I left that school with my heart aching.
I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.
In another school, a young woman approached me after a performance and pleaded for a moment of my time. I sat down next to her in a chair near the stage and began listening. Her narrative of familial dysfunction, being bullied and adolescent confusion made my heart sink.
After more than an hour of listening, I asked the young woman to trust me as we sought out an adult on the campus for help.
I needed another adult to see her as I did. I needed a trusted adult to listen to her as I had. What I really needed, and was hoping for, was someone empowered to take action on this child’s behalf.
I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.
Another day, a teen boy walked into a room I was preparing to leave and asked if he could talk to me. I never deny these occurrences and they do seem to happen often.
We sat down and he began to tell me about a young woman whom he had hurt emotionally. I felt as though I was sitting with my son or one of the young men I had mentored years ago. There was definitely a lack of maturity in his reasoning, and a selfishness mixed with a seedling of narcissism in his recounting of events.
I listened intently trying not to make any judgments, but it was hard. I’ve lived too many years and cannot escape the whispering voices of my consciousness.
When he finished speaking, he paused for a response from me. I wanted to be thoughtful and so I asked him for a moment to let me think. I did. He sat there watching me mull over his situation for about 10, maybe 12 minutes. Once I felt comfortable with my thoughts, I shared them with him.
To say that I was harsh with him would be an understatement. To say that I was cruel would be a misunderstanding of my intentions. I spoke to him as a father would his son. I spoke to him about the disgust of objectifying women. I challenged him to dig deeper into his soul to discover a more positive reflection of self (someone that would make him proud). As odd as it may seem, the more direct in tone and uncompromising in discipline I got, the more he seemed to resonate with both my words, and me.
By the time we finished talking, he told me, “You are the first person “ever” to talk to me this way. I love you for what you have just given me.”
He left me to immediately go and apologize to the young woman. He had tears in his eyes. I left the campus and have not seen nor heard from the young man since.
Many seem to think my life is about performing, sharing tales and music. It is not. The majority of my time is spent listening to others. The incidents as I’ve shared above are not rare, nor are they exceptions to the rule of my life.
I present myself to the world as a storyteller but I am beginning to question the clarity of that title.
Maybe it is time to redefine the role and definition of what a storyteller is, and really does.
I’ve been in the City of Quito here in Ecuador for about a week now. Without exception, all of the schools I’ve visited have been overwhelming in their hospitality and the people I’m meeting on the streets have all been warm and friendly.
I’m staying in an area known as La Mariscal. Many locals call this area “gringolandia” because of the number of tourists that populate this part of Quito. Friday and Saturday nights are absolutely wild. La Mariscal has lots of clubs and bars and on the weekends is when they go full throttle party mode. Not my scene, so on weekends I tuck myself in early with a book, some music and snacks.
The fact that Ecuador’s economy uses the U.S. Dollar as its currency has made things easy for me. The dollar really stretches here. Just to give you an example, a bottle of water that might cost $2.00 in the U.S., cost $0.48 here.
I’ve got an amazing tour manager who flew in from Argentina to coordinate the tour. His name is Mariano de Oña Martinez. He has gone out of his way to make sure that I’m comfortable and that I have everything I need to do my work successfully.
When not performing, I’ve been doing a lot of walking. I like to walk and take buses when I’m in a new city. I don’t even care where the buses are going; I just ride. I feel you get a more genuine perspective on local life when you immerse yourself in it. Unfortunately, while walking, I’ve encountered quite a few used bookstores (my absolute favorite places to visit in other countries). I say unfortunately because I can’t stop buying. I have bought so many books that I’m going to have to figure out how to get them all back into the states. Not smart, I agree, but… hey, they are all treasures I could not have found back in the U.S.
I’ve also found an organization I can’t wait to visit called Centro Cultural Afroequatoriano. They are only opened on Mondays and Thursdays so I’ve got to figure out some breaks in my schedule to get to them.
I’m having a wonderful, relaxed time and I’ll make sure to send a few more blogs out while I’m here. If any of you have any questions that you want to send me, or you’ve been to Quito and you have suggestions, don’t hesitate to shoot them to me.
I’ve opted for a different method of celebrating, something more reflective and representative of who I am. I’ve given a lot of thought to this. I’m sure of what I’d like to do to acknowledge my 50th year. I’m going to get up early on the morning of June 2nd. I’m going to sit quietly in the desert and watch, no savor, the sun rising. In the evening I’m going to do the same by appreciating the sun setting.
My life has been an existence of constant motion and activity. How often do we sit and simply enjoy the brilliance that surrounds us? I can’t think of anything I’d rather do to celebrate half a century of living than to sit quietly and witness one of life’s true miracles.
For those of you who are regulars to my blog you know that periodically I visit Children’s Hospital and go bedside-to-bedside sharing music, stories and conversation with the children. I’ve been doing this for years. Initially, when I first started, I thought that it would get easier with time; that I would become “somewhat” desensitized to the pain of the children I would witness.
This hasn’t been the case. It is actually getting harder and harder to make these visits each year. I’m experiencing a strange juxtaposition between a feeling of wanting to resist facing the unknown and a compelling sense of need to fulfill purpose.
As I was driving to the hospital I began admonishing myself for having these thoughts. I know most of you will call it self-reflection. It actually felt selfish, somewhat self-centered for me to be thinking about myself, and how I would cope with the experiences I was about to have. It wasn’t lost on me that I was focusing on my own condition without taking into the account the severity of the conditions so many of the children I was on my way to work with are facing.
She sat up front; closest to the area I was performing. The entire time she smiled, sang and punctuated every moment of our interactions with her own witty, creative quips. Her bright, youth filled, eyes betrayed the notion that 92 years is capable of dimming anything in the beauty of the human spirit. For the moment, she was my muse.
The room was flooded with so much joy and positive energy that it felt more like a celebration than a performance. Nursing facilities hold a special place in my heart. I am always seeking opportunities to commune with wisdom.
Following the performance, no one moved. I wanted to have some time with my muse to get to know her a little better. “Everyone” remained in the room and filled it with such excitement.
I wanted to know her name but each time I would start to ask, I was presented with questions, or thoughtful comments of others.
I finally had a chance to turn to the elder angel and ask her name.
“Hope, my name is Hope.”
Life is so poetic.
A classroom of 30 students, and I, were involved in a speaking-listening exercise. It was quite simple actually. I randomly chose students to present a fable, or summarize a fable, to the class. Whenever a speaker approached the front of the room, everyone present was required to physically position themselves as “focused” listeners.
We had been working on this assignment “in-class” for a couple of weeks. There was one particular young man who I’d recognized had a ton of potential, but his outward behavior betrayed the true character I knew he carried within.
I decided to call on this young man to start off our exercises. He mumbled to himself, groaned and then, begrudgingly, made his way out of his seat and to the front of the room.
Did I mention that the school was hosting a special “Family Day”?
Well, as fate would bequeath its most nefarious aspects to me, this would be the day of one of my most harrowing ordeals in a classroom.
I’ve spent the last 30 odd years living in, around, and near the illusion that is known as Hollywood. I have more stories that I can’t tell, about people I shouldn’t know or, never even wanted to know, than I care to reflect on. Whatever you imagine about the insanity of Tinseltown, multiply it by the square root of psychosis added to the area of a sector of surrealism and you’ll have a really good understanding of why they call this town “Hollyweird.”
Oops… I apologize. I’ve digressed.
To the world, it is known as “The Entertainment Industry.” Locals and insiders refer to it simply as “The Industry.” Why am I telling you all of this? I’ve been comfortably ensconced in my small but rewarding world of holistic storytelling. I’ve been in/out of “The Industry” working in various capacities, but my love of storytelling was what helped me maintain balance. I love the relationships I’ve been able to build over the decades from simply sitting with others and sharing music, stories and conversations of depth.
2014 will mark my 20th year as a professional speaker and musician. In the blink of an eye I’ve traversed two decades of dedication to craft. Time is such an elusive concept to reflect on.
When I started on this path, everyone hailed it as a bold move to walk away from my corporate employ and out into the unknown. I can honestly say that I’ve not had a single day of regret.
In the coming months I will continue journaling the experiences that greet me in 2014. I’ll also be challenging myself to not rest comfortably on accomplishments of the past.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year will bring and what I have to offer it.
In July of 2010 I was touring Poland, sharing music, stories, food and lots of laughs. I was working with a man who is like a brother to me, Michal Malinowski. As we traveled about, Michal kept raving about a Japanese art form known as Kamishibai. Apparently, he had met a man he called Mukashi Mukashi and this man introduced him to the ancient art form.
The Art of Kamishibai originated in Japanese Buddhist temples during the 12th Century. Monks used rolling scrolls to teach lessons of morality to illiterate audiences. Fast forward a few millennia and the art form survived with a revival in the 1920’s and 1950’s. Men who rode around on bicycles selling candies began to use Kamishibai as a way of pulling together greater numbers of children to purchase their wares. They would ride village to village with a small wooden box containing a large display window. Instead of the rolling scrolls used by the monks, these entrepreneurs traveled with a set of illustrated boards, which they switched out as their stories progressed.
Michal had bitten into the Kamishibai fruit and nothing could stop his proselytizing. His passion for the spoken word is one of the reasons I consider him to be a brother. Being trapped in a van with him for hours on end, I learned much more than I desired to know about Kamishibai.
When I left Poland I put any thoughts of this art form behind me.
I had just finished a performance for an assembly of teens at an all girls Catholic School in the La Molina District of Lima, Peru. It went over amazingly well. I always try to balance my presentations with wit, humor and just enough surreptitious instruction that the audience isn’t even aware it is happening. I was proud of my performance this day. The feeling of accomplishment that one gets when your work is completed and you have given your all is exactly what I was experiencing.
The messages I attempt to leave each and every audience with are: “self-awareness is key to discovering your life’s purpose,” “remembering and respecting the sacrifices of those in your past is not only important, but a prerequisite to understanding your place in the world,” and, finally, “a reverence and deep respect for the culture of other peoples is the only worldview that will build tomorrow’s, much needed, global community.” I take these concepts seriously and reiterate them throughout every presentation.
I know the theme of my performances sound rather heavy but music and storytelling have a way, like sugar, of helping the medicine go down. Of course it would be a healthier brand of sugar that I am dispensing.
So I finish the performance, put away my instrument and pack away all of my gear. My tour manager and I head out to the reception area with the school’s coordinator. It was such a calm, serene feeling walking through this pristine campus of delicately placed flora and fauna, meticulously manicured lawns and trees with branches bursting with color. As we navigated the pathways leading to the reception area, we passed classrooms, offices and the like. My ego definitely got a bit of a booster shot as we heard children yelling my name and calling for my attention. They were literally begging me to look in the direction of their respective classrooms to acknowledge each of the smiling faces, and enthusiastically waving hands.
It has been a week of constant, rapid motion, daily performances and digging deep to pull from that reserve of energy fueled by passion for one’s purpose. One of the issues of being a professional speaker, musician and performer is that there is “never” a moment that you can place your performance on cruise control. Every organization or individual that patronizes your services expects to receive the highest caliber presentation they can and your task as presenters is to “exceed” their expectations. I strive to do this, but when the weekend comes it is time to recharge. In this way I can ensure bringing the best that I can to all the audiences I encounter.
To say that I was tired by the end of this particular week would be an understatement. The last thing I wanted to do was plan more activities for the weekend, but… I had been invited by my “brother-in-spokenword,” Wayqui, to visit his school, La Escuela de las Palabras (School of Words). There was no way that I was going to miss an opportunity to commune with other storytellers here in Lima. So I pushed the “I will sleep tomorrow button” on in my mind and prepared for a day of more movement and activity.
Working in schools across the world is a unique experience. I find that we are more alike than not, especially when it comes to personalities. To the letter, it is almost eerie the similarities in personalites I encounter when I visit schools. The people may speak different languages, wear different clothing and even exercise different religious practices but, as a rule, they all exhibit similar traits and characteristics of their counterparts the world over.
There is one personality that I am continually confronting that I am working hard to combat. It doesn’t happen often, well, actually, it occurs often enough that, when I enter a school I encounter a personality we might call the, “Well Poisoner.”
This person’s actions are rarely, if ever, malicious in nature. Actually they are expressing a care, concern and respect for me, and what I’ve come to do in their school. I realize this and hold no ill will, but there are consequences to our meeting.
Yesterday I finished a performance at a school in Lima and hopped in a cab to get to the bus terminal. My tour manager, Yoli, and I had just enough time to eat a quick meal and hop aboard a Cruz del Sur Bus taking us from Lima to Trujillo. Little did I know that my ride was going to be eleven hours. Yes… I said it, eleven hours. It took me a shorter time to get from Los Angeles to Lima (eight and a half hours). Luckily we were riding huge comfortable seats in first class. One word of warning to anyone over five foot eight planing on visiting Peru, “You will definitely experience discomfort because of your height, and a lot of it.” The first class seats were amazingly cushiony and comfy but, stretching out was not an option for me.
I thought I would enjoy seeing the country side as we headed north towards the coastal city of Trujillo but the land in that direction is pretty much barren, dry, desert. The buses are enormous though and actually have stewards and stewardesses.
I laughed when the stewardess came on over the loudspeaker and adamantly proclaimed, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the toilet aboard this bus are for urinating only, not to be used for any other purposes.”
It is so funny the reception one gets when leaving the borders of your own country. Today I visited a school and was literally mobbed for autographs. Can you believe it? A lowly storytelling man with harp in hand, mobbed for autographs. I must have signed hundreds of pieces of paper, notebooks, etc.
You know you’re doing good when your audience already knows some of your songs, stories and about your life. What an amazing experience.
Day by day I’m getting a more complete picture of Lima Peru. Everyone I meet is excited about the country’s food. Have you tried this, have you tried that? I must get asked these questions twenty times a day. I’m taking things slow. I want to avoid that “uncomfortable, bloated” feeling we see advertised so often in commercials.
So, here it goes… on Monday I met up with a Peruvian Storytelling brother that I’ve been communicating with for months. His name is Wayqui (which in the language of Quechua means “Friend”). I appreciate this man so much! He went above and beyond to make sure I felt welcomed here in Peru.
Wayqui and I hit the streets Monday and walked, took buses, walked some more and shared stories along the way. I visited the major Plazas here in Lima and even got some inside scoop background history on a few things. There isn’t anything like passing the day with someone local to learn what “really” going on. My once healthy United States diet has been ravaged by my policy of trying things, at least once when abroad.
One of the things I do when I travel to new places is “get lost”. I do it on purpose. I know it sounds dangerous but it is really one of the best ways I’ve found to get to know a city and get to know it well. I’ll usually start with the local transit system. In Senegal it was old, beaten down mini-vans operated by private owners that doubled as buses for public transport, in Colombia I hopped on modified jeeps that sat 8 to 10 people and in Brazil, well… Brazil has amazing pubic transport.
Here in Lima the buses are regular buses but operated by private owners/companies. They cost pennies on the dollar but aren’t built for comfort. I rode one for a few miles and wandered the area, meandering through the streets.
It wasn’t too difficult for me to notice that I had walked miles upon miles and had yet to encounter a person of color, specifically someone of African Peruvian descent. It wasn’t as though I started out looking for this but the absence of people of color was too conspicuous to ignore. I put this thought out of my mind and sat in a park reading a local paper “Diarios Peruanos.” I don’t typically drink soda but you can’t visit Peru and not try, at least one, Inca Kola. It did. It was good. Sort of a light cola/vanilla taste to it. Not too far off from the Vernors I used to drink as a kid in Detroit.
I just arrived in Lima Peru a couple of hours ago. I’m feeling the years. It’s true what they say about Father Time. I don’t make it a habit of cursing but airline seats will push even a saint to edge of madness. It seems like there is a conspiracy against anyone over six feet tall to make sure our travel is as hellish as it can possibly be.
I’ve already met with my tour manager, Yoli, gotten the instrument put back together (not tuned yet) and reviewed the itinerary for the next five weeks. Common sense would’ve dictated that I try to relax for a few moments for jumping into work-mode but, well… you know… common sense ain’t so common.
I’m looking forward to making some connections with the African Peruvian community here. It is part and parcel of why I do what I do. Whenever I travel and connect with the different communities across the globe I feel like the pieces of a torn fabric have be re-woven much stronger.
Last Monday was the culmination ceremony for the “Speaking-Listening” residency of the middle schoolers I’ve been working with in Santa Ana for the past four months. The road getting them through the barrage of speaking and listening challenges over the last few months has been littered with conflict, joy, tears, laughter and, sometimes, even a few miracles.
I had about 200 students participating in the culmination. Whereas the focus is typically on the speakers, my attention was directed to the audience. Together, me and these six classrooms of middle schoolers had labored through some pretty intense focused listening exercises. This was their time to either succeed or fail as supportive, focused listeners.
Each speaker that approached the stage pushed pasted their individual fears and doubts. It was exciting for me to witness. To say that I swelled with pride would be an understatement. There were a few hiccups in the focused listening of a few in our audience but I will take two or three falling down and getting back up as wonderful odds.