Anyone have any ideas how to get an extremely fragile West African harp from Los Angeles to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic? You know it is too big to carry on, too exotic to gate check, and way too precious to send down a luggage conveyor belt. What any decent griot does is stand at the Delta counter for more than an hour talking with very helpful agents who are also in a quandary as to what to do. After much searching codes on the computer screen, phone calls to headquarters, and locating supervisors…the agent handed over “the situation” to “special assistance needed” representatives. They were able to solve the problem economically in about thirty minutes. The solution, you ask? “CAGPT” stickers placed all over the kora case. Whatever that means….Thank goodness for it. The kora made it to the Dominican Republic in one piece with only one broken string.
The journey begins…
Today I flew into Santo Domingo to participate in the second annual “Festival International de Cuentacuentos” sponsored by the First Lady of the Dominican Republic. When I stepped off the plane I was greeted by a man carrying a sign with my name on it. He escorted me to a VIP room reserved for guests of the Dominican Embassy. Once inside, I was offered water and a comfortable couch to sit on while officials walked my passport through customs and immigration AND picked up my luggage. I was escorted out a private door and into a waiting taxi. My suitcase, kora, and passport were waiting for me as I blissfully exited the VIP room. Is this how the other half live?
After a short drive along the beautiful Caribbean coast, I was delivered to my hotel. A gift was waiting for me, along with some of the most hospitable hotel staff I have ever encountered. I was escorted to my room so I could freshen up. I had twenty minutes to change clothes and get ready for an opening reception of the festival. My first thought was that it would have been nice if they could have at least given me time to relax for a few minutes, but then I remembered…they had. There were probably still people from my flight in line at customs. I pulled it together and headed downstairs to another waiting taxi. We drove through the crowded city, giving me an opportunity to see some of the buildings that were hundreds of years old. I was just settling into the “tourist” thing when we pulled into the parking lot of a newer building. This was the site of the reception held to welcome the storytellers who were attending the festival.
I was led into the building and brought into an auditorium filled with storytellers from several different countries. Speeches were made and the festival officially began. The best part for me though, was the reception afterward. I was greeted by about fifteen children and their mothers who were all really eager to learn more about where I was from. I spoke briefly to some of them regarding our shared African ancestry. Some of them seemed genuinely surprised to hear me share that Africans were brought to this island centuries ago. I’m excited to have the opportunity to present my love of ancestry to a warm and welcoming people here in Santo Domingo.
After this, I’m thoroughly exhausted but I wanted to make sure that I blogged something for my most faithful readers. I know as the adventure proceeds into tomorrow I will have more to share.
¡Buenas noches mi familia!