Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cartoon 34: Birthday Blues My Butt!

 It was Ana's birthday and we were all sitting around her living room in Villa de Salvador, Peru. I was wading into her jungle of hair to give her a special birthday hair-do when her husband and son walked in saying, 'Sorry we are late, we were in the market and all of the sudden they closed all the doors and no one could get out!' 
           Apparently, in one of the big street markets downtown there was a heated conflict between police and workers.  The government and big business owners had decided to move the formal businesses that were at the center of the market to a different location in an effort to erase the informal economy that had grown up around them.  As I've seen all over Latin America, millions of small illegal tent stores had filled the streets surrounding the mall creating a whole market where a certain lawlessness reigns. Inside, it's a fast life of tons of people and noise and any product you could possibly want and cheap.  To me it looks like chaos that's organized in an incredible web of relationships where life bursts at the seams with activity and stimulus.  This economy is an important source of income for many families who struggle to find work within the formal economy.  In this case, when their livelihood was threatened, the workers took matters into their own hands and as the businesses tried to move, the workers blocked their departure.  Basically all the police in Lima were called in to defend and boom, a stand off. 
       While this was happening, petty robbers saw an opportunity...with all the police in Lima busy downtown, there was no one available to protect the smaller markets in other areas.  They began to sack stores all over the surrounding neighborhoods and store owners were on their toes ready to defend themselves.  At the smallest commotion, stores, like the one that Ana's husband and son were in, would close and lock their doors no matter who was inside.  No one was leaving until the root of the commotion was determined.  Eventually, most businesses in our neighborhood decided to close to avoid the threat causing yet another problem...birthday cake.  The youth that we work with wanted to surprise Ana with a birthday celebration but with no stores open, they couldn't buy a cake. So they went on a crazy search through the neighborhood and eventually found someone who had just had a birthday and was willing to offer the remaining half of their cake for Ana's party.  Imagine the look on her face when everyone yelled 'Surprise!!!' and she found a half eaten cake under her birthday candles :)  To me this was a testament to the resilience of this community and to the Latin American community in general.  What I have learned of the story of Latin America is filled with oppression, violence, tragedy, and laughter.  I learn over and over through their example that depending on each other, we can find the way to laugh like crazy at our half eaten cake that because of its story tastes better than a most beautiful 15 layer cake made just for me. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cartoon 33: Still Thinking About Body Hair

The Arawak, indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada in Colombia, believe that our body is a representation of the Earth. Our hair represents the jungles and if we cut it off, we are throwing our bodies and therefore the Earth out of balance.  When they do cut their hair, it is traditional to take it to the river as an offering.  As they drop it in, they speak the words, "We are one", reminding themselves that we are just another part of nature.
 The particular sect of Taoist monks that I visited in Duitama believed that our hair acts as our antenna.  It can allow us to perceive our surroundings and the world with more depth.  Cutting it off is like loosing our whiskers.
In Bogota, often even the men shave their armpits.  Mine were particularly bushy when I was there and two girls that I was working with pulled me aside one day and timidly said, "Señora Sara, do you know that in Colombia it´s seen badly to have armpit hair?"  Based on my example, I think they thought that all women in the U.S. sport bushy armpits hehehe. I giggled a bit and said, "Yes, it´s that way in most of the cultures I´ve lived in, but it's important for me to choose for myself what I like." I explained how important it is to accept and celebrate ourselves exactly as we are, hairy and round and sometimes even stinky. I was surprised when they said they had never heard anything like that before and I appreciated my mom and her wonderful earthy woman friends.  (Just for the record, I still shave. However, through this exploration I have lost the shame that I once felt to lift up my arms or show my legs if I hadn´t been able to shave for a few of days. Heck yeh.)
An indigenous group in the Amazon called the Ticuna practice a ritual called the Pelacao. When a young woman gets her first period, she goes into a room with only women for three days.  There, they feed her and talk to her and care for her and they pluck out all of her hair a strand at a time.  They explained to me that this is a right of passage and a symbol for excepting that being a woman is difficult and we have to be tough.  Now with more emphasis on childrens rights, they often just cut the girls hair.
On Taquile, an island in Lago Titicaca on the border between Peru and Bolivia,    as soon as they are married the indigenous women began to collect the hair that falls out when they brush or comb it.  They give this hair to their new husband and eventually, when there is enough, he combines it with wool and weaves himself a belt!  How romantical!!


With all these different ideas it´s been interesting to ask myself, "So what does hair mean to me?" I know that sounds like kind of a weird question but after sharing time with some groups that find meaning in everything, it seems clear to me that although we dont necessarily assign it consciously, everything does have meaning and its added a lot of meaning to my life to make conscious and choose what I want things to mean for me.  Does that make sense??

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cartoon 32: Alien Encounter

              From Leticia, Colombia to Pucallpa, Peru, I traveled for about 9 days on a series of boats down the Amazon River.  I think this was the most disgusting experience of my life.  I hope to share my honest experience while being respectful and expressing my deep appreciation for the people who work and consistantly travel on these boats.  They were my famlily for those days which for me, were a real test.  They helped me keep laughing and playing. They shared their stories and experiences and taught me to find an inner calm that I coundn't imagine was possible. 

     But dang ya´ll this ish was narsty. (Translation: Man, this boat was gross!) Not all the boats are like this but the one we 200 strangers were stuffed on one that was built for 100.  
It was soooooo stinky that when I came off of it and got to my destination a week later, my new students asked me why I smelled like dead fish!  The bathroom and the shower were one and the same so all the surfaces were covered in brown wet goo, origin unknown.  Everything was covered in the feathers of the chickens who were dismembered daily on the deck in front of our very eyes and then thrown into a pot to feed us.  We slept in hammocks so close together that swinging had to be a boat-wide coordinated effort.  There was a family that slept under my hammock because their was no other space.  The walls were covered with drying clothes because the women of the boat did laundry and washed their babies daily in the 3 bathroom sinks.  It felt like being trapped inside of a vibrating tuna can because the old old motor made the entire boat shake uncontrolably.  And it was so HOT that I left puddles anywhere I sat down.  I don't mean to be negative, in fact as I write this I'm sitting here laughing at myself, poor little gringa girl who thinks she's hard staring at the ceiling at night completely overwhelmed by the other realities of the world. 

     All that said, I hope that ya'll can feel why the following story is so important to me.  On day three,  a man came up to me as I was taking air on the front deck.  I had just seen a toddler taking a poo in a corner and I sprinted out front to try not to vomit. I think he noticed my upset and he said 'Hey girl, draw a squiggle.', and handed me a piece of paper.  I did and gave him the paper back.  In under a minute the paper was back in my hand again and the man had turned my squiggle into a super funny expressive cartoon character's face. 'Wow!' I said, 'Let me try!' and thats how it all started.  The man was the nightwatchman on the ship.  He spent the dark hours on top of the boat watching out for river pirates.  And from that point on, I spent the first hours of every night at his side. His name was Roman and it turns out that he had always dreamed of being a story teller and cartoonist.  He showed me notebooks filled with characters that he had drawn in the wee hours of the morning while the passengers slept swaying slightly to delicate waves of the Amazon. His favorite character to draw was an alien named Tito.  Every night, he would tell me a different story about what happened when the character that I draw meets Tito.  Below you will find my favorite one... 



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cartoon 31: A Light One

 
This is an image that was gifted to my sleepy eyes one night as I brushed my teeth outside of my little borrowed bamboo cabin in the pitch black deep inside the thick forested mountains of Boyaca, Colombia.  In the stillness of the drizzly night, a monk made his way through the trees illuminating his way by a candle whose light rose and then expanded around him as it bounced off of his clean white umbrella.  He looked like a little bubble floating through the forest completely surrounded in darkness.  He didn't know I was there, I didn't really know if I was there. The image was so unreal.

I was at a Taoist temple which I sought out in an effort to learn some new tools to help me maintain my center during this crazy trip called life. I made an instructional video with the monks about how to find balance, strength, flexibility, and relaxation through aerial dance. 

The community was really incredible. It was made up of about 600 people with no cellphones, no T.V.'s, no "aggressive" music (for them this included reggaeton, rock, rap, punk, salsa).  Everyone wore loose fitting clothes and got up at 3 every morning to pray and do exercise until the sun came up. Then they would go about their business and again at midday, one hour of exercise before lunch. Then one last time at 5pm they do a bit of exercise before dinner. Three times a day they would eat sweet corn soup and homemade whole wheat bread.  They drank the fresh water of the mountain which had an amber color from all of its minerals.  They breathed clean air and used only diet, exercise and herbs as their medical care.  I had never been in a place like this and it seemed so revolutionary the idea that we could just decide to remove from our lives anything that might contaminate our mind, body or spirit.  From the outside looking in, it seems like the monks dedicate their lives to being positive, healthy, and strong (wow you should see some of the martial arts flips that this one monk could do)and therefore contribute to the overall uplifting of humanity. Of course their lifestyle is very depthful and strategic and I only got to know a small bit but either way, I am leaving this community with a renewed dedication to making choices in my day to day life that will truly serve me in the long run.  The internal space that these choices create can be my temple for a now... 



Friday, September 21, 2012

Cartoon 30: Be Careful, Not Afraid

    


   
I headed out to Colombia on my own about 2 and a half months ago and to be honest I was scared silly.  I said to myself, "I could eat bad food or get bitten by a huge bug and get sick and die!! What if I get robbed?? I could get kidnapped!" I was so scared to be the only one responsible for deciding what to do in an emergency situation.

I can now officially say that I have eaten bad food that made me sick and I got better.  I have been bitten by so many bugs that my legs match my favorite polka dot dress and I haven´t died yet.  My good friend was robbed and said it was the best thing that ever happened to her cuz she doesn´t have to deal with so much STUFF anymore.  And I was even kidnapped in Medellin! A guy was borrowing his friends taxi to drive himself home and he saw my friend and I looking for a cab. He thought we were cute so he decided to pick us up.  About five minutes into the ride he confessed that he was not actually a cab driver and that he had no idea how to get to where we wanted to go.  My heart stopped in my chest.  My friend spoke up fast saying, "Hahahaha you´re so funny, well why don´t you come get drinks with us?" (Her idea was to get us out of the car as soon as possible without causing the guy to escalate.) He agreed and we went to a bar.  After hanging out for a while he turned out to be a very nice kidnapper.  Just a normal guy with a really wierd way of picking up girls...

So I was really scared when I left for Colombia.  And fear is so powerful, after meeting so many people on this trip I would say that its got a pretty strong grip on most of us.  The first thing that people tell me about the places I´m going to are the dangers. They tell me about all the bad things that could happen there.  What´s up with that? 

Fear is so powerful.  In my vida, I have lived in fear of many things: being alone, getting sick, hurting myself, making a mistake, not knowing the right answer, not having what I need (money, companionship,_____). I have often lived my life trying to prevent these things from happening. I feel like life is teaching me that I can´t prevent them and once they do happen, they aren´t so bad.  Traveling alone has opened me up to be cared for by so many people. Its taught me that we are a generous, loving, protective species and adios to the few that are lost and trying to take advantage of others.  

When I first arrived to Colombia, I confessed to a friend my fears.  I said, "Everywhere I go I find people who tell me there´s danger at every turn. ´Be afraid of this!´´Be afraid of that!´ they say. How could I not be afraid of this world??" And she said, "Do they say ´Be afraid.´or ´Be careful.´ Although I do believe that we need to start talking about the fabulous things in the world instead of the dangers, what my friend said was just the redirection I needed.  The key is to be careful, full of care and attention in everything that I do.  Trusting the wisdom of my actions helps me let go of the fear that breeds anxiety and inaction.  

So thank you to Natalia and to life for teaching me to be comfortable as a lone cowgirl holdin´on to caution but throwin´fear to the wind.   

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cartoon 29: Dancing Police

Huge shout out to Colombia. It has been one of the most profound places that I´ve ever been.  The amount and quality of the public art, the diversity of cultures and ways of thought, the intense natural beauty, and the generosity and fighting spirit of the people leaves me awed...
AND...
Can you imagine ever seeing a scene like the one above in the US?? This is an image I rode by while on the bus in Bogota.  I asked the guy next to me what was going on and he explained that the police are trying to do 2 things:
1. Find creative ways to teach people the law and,
2. Change the image that people have of police as oppressive authority figures.

So they hire stilt walkers and sing and play music in the street!! I died laughing picturing the APD, NYPD, LAPD, ETC. doing something similar. HAhahaha! I love it.

Later I found out that all young men here are obligated* to serve one year either in the military or the police upon graduating fom high school.  So the po-po dancin´ in the streets were probably some of those guys who don´t carry guns and are known as ´Auxiliares´.  But either way what a frigin´awesome vision to stumble upon. :)


*As always there are all kinds of exceptions that make it much more likely that only certain populations actually end up serving, i.e. poor folks.


P.S.  As you can see I didnt have a way of scanning the cartoon this time so its not all perfect like I might want it to be but hey a theme of mine lately has been embracing imperfections so here I am, imperfect!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cartoon 28: Old Baggage, New Tools

Can you believe its been a year already since we started virtually crossing borders together?? At the year mark I was so thankful to go home for a bit and sit my butt down.  I got to take a look at myself and see what the first year of travel has taught me.  Literally and figuratively, I got to drop off old baggage that was weighing me down and conscientisize the new tools that I have acquired.  I apologize in advance cuz this is gonna be a long entry, but I guess thats a good sign cuz it means I´ve learned a lot! So I separated the entry into sections so you can read what interests you…

I´m leaving behind…
Uno.  Striving for ¨Perfection¨
One time Daniel, Joaquin, and I were hired to do a circus cabaret in a bar.  Fifteen minutes before the show was supposed to start, we hadn´t talked about lights or music and the boys were still painting their faces. I was so stressed I thought my head was going to burst.  I couldn´t understand why everyone was so calm! Just before show time, we quickly told the owner of the bar which songs were for what acts and we ran off  to start the show.  It was amazing! As we did our thing everyone, the waiters, the owner´s wife and even the audience organized around the success of our show. (Everything is relative of course cuz I think Daniel and Joaquin, both Mexican,  felt that the place was tough because people expected a well put together show…) Lights came on when they were needed, the music was adjusted as we went, and when we made mistakes, we smiled knowingly at the audience and for the most part they smiled back, enjoying our shared humanity. What??! You mean perfection is not expected?? I could talk for hours about how this space to mess up has calmed my mind and spirit. What a healthy thing to feel that my humanity is valued and that the goal is not to execute tasks like a flawless machine.

Dos.  The Fast Life- Impatience
A very smart man told me that impatience is born in priveledge. When you gotta wait for the bus, which is not tryng to accomodate you, you can learn fast that impatience doesn´t serve you.  In my experience down here, I can be as impatient as I want  but it ain´t gonna change the fact that people are  gonna stop and chat with neighbors and enjoy their morning coffee and arrive to our appointment when they get there.  The buses are gonna run late and maybe not even come and the excuse of traffic will always be a valid reason for tardiness no matter how long one has lived in the same city with the same amount of traffic.  So I have no other option than to sloooow down.  After getting used to it, it´s pretty great.  I find that I experience more fully each moment because I´m not so worried about what time I have to arrive to the next moment.  Of course I will admit that sometimes it drives me batty because things take FOREVER.  Even in the restaurants (nonturistic), they aren´t necessarily trying to accomodate you.  You could sit in a restaurant for 30 minutes before the waitress even talks to you and then it will take another 30 for your food to come out.  Uufff and if you ask for a change to your food thats different from what´s on the menu, good luck!!  But I really think that this slower rythym of things and less accomodation has helped me focus less on what I want and more on what I have.

Tres.  Not Honoring My Needs
You´ll never guess what I´ve found out that I need at this stage in my development…
I don´t need to know how I´m getting from Colombia to Peru or who I´ll be living with a week from now.  I don´t need more than a backpack of clothes for a two year trip.  I don´t need a job or a house or a car.  But you know what I need? Nice shampoo.
Sometimes I´ve judged myself for spending the $ that I could use to eat for a week on a bottle of nice shampoo, especially when I´m meeting groups of people who dont even use soap. They bathe themselves in saunas using their own sweat to cleanse themselves of toxins.  They smell like coffee and sweet corn.   They use the natural oil of their skin to keep their skin soft instead of fancy Victorias Secret lotion. Honestly, I think that makes a lot more sense but you know what? It brings me peace and happiness to run my fingers through my soft hair and I cant WAIT to get home to be able to use my delicious smelly good lotion!!!

Cuatro. Shame About Being From the US
Okay let´s face it, we don´t not have the best reputation in the world.  Down here, among many things, we are known for what´s on T.V., Hollywood, tourists who unknowingly support the exploitation of the people and land of a nation, and the actions of our government which more often then not are so heavily based on our financial interests that they clash with cultures whose tend to place more value on human relations.  I love my country and the people in it but because I was always so blind to the actions of my government outside of our borders, it was a huge shock when I arrived to Mexico and began to learn why people perceive us as they often do.  Sometimes its been hard to stay grounded in the things I love about my country when learning about the countless US supported genocides and our government´s tendency to support the policial party that most suites our financial and power interests regardless of how horrifically oppressive the regime may be.  And when I say support I don´t mean ¨Yeh! Go team!!¨ from the side lines.  I mean providing the ammunition and training to kill civilians and execute leaders that have been chosen by the people.  This is so hard for me to stomach.  And I was ashamed that I didn´t know that all this was done in my name.
But I´m leaving that shame behind.  Part of the reason I´m on this trip is to educate myself about these realities and there are plenty of people all over the world that don´t know what their government is doing when they are not looking.  The US is a beautiful place where incredible things are born and I am standing tall saying that I´m from the US and showing that we are so much more than many think we are.

And finally… Cinco. Disappointment at the Lose of My Team/Anger at Joaquin
What can I say about this… I guess just simply that I was carrying around a lot of weight from the disappointment of the lose of the original team I planned to travel with. And a lot of hurt for how things went  down with Joaquin.   (See Cartoon 16: Holy Shit).  But at this point in my healing I am so thankful that we decided to jump into this crazy dream together.  Just because it didn´t turn out how I ´d hoped doesn´t mean it was unsuccessful.  Joaquin and I did an incredible amount of learning together and I would never be on this amazing journey without his influence.  I would have never learned that I, and I believe everyone, have the ability to find what we need (food, clothing, shelter, love, and nice shampoo) wherever we are because the world and its people are generous and we don´t need half of what we think we do.  Feeling grateful to him (and Daniel) has helped me release the pain and find love and amazement in its place.

So for those of you who have made it all the way to the end of this entry, I greatly appreciate your patience. I know this is a fast world and it means a lot when we find the time to witness each other and share our experience.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cartoon 27: Rest in this WildLife



One of my favorite things to do during my time with America Latina Cooperativa was to hang my head out of the window of the motorhome as we travel just letting the landscape wash over me.  I could feel the stress of traveling, of learning so much so fast, of meeting so many people with incredible and intense stories and of living a rather intense one myself wash away as my eyes glided over the awe inspiring lush lush nature of Mexico and Central America.  In Mexico we met a caterpillar (pictured in the bottom right hand side of the drawing) that was unbelievable!! He was the size of an elongated hotdog with bright yellow and black strips and his belly was brilliant red-orange!  As we drove down, I watched the incredible beauty fly by, taking in the deep deep greens and watching the flowering trees change from yellow to orange to red on our way toward Costa Rica. In Nicaragua we met these amazing trees that actually weren't trees but groups of vines that had surrounded a tree and taken it over leaving only the vines in the shape of a tree. Wow! 

Now I have parted with the folks from America Latina Cooperativa.   We became a family for three months of intense work, accompanying each other in every part of our lives. Sharing with folks in the different communities living incredible stories, seeing things that someone from where I´m from was never meant to see.  As my gramma would say, what a priveledge. I read a great quote the other day, ´Life is not about finding ourselves, it´s about creating ourselves.´ This trip has continued to create me in a million new ways, and I just keep watching the rolling mountains that remind me that no matter what I´m going through, the capacity of life is just so so huge that the stress just isn´t that important. It´s time to go home for a Rest in this Wild Life...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cartoons 26.1, 26.2, 26.3: Things That Are Crazy Different in Latin America Thus Far


 Going to the bathroom is wow different depending on where you are here. Basically everywhere public, there are no seats on the toilets and either you bring your own paper or you have to pay to use the potty and they give you paper.  Then you throw the used paper in the trash can beside the toilet.  I don´t quite get how but for real it usually doesn´t stink.  Then in a lot of rural places, you are given a bucket of water that you dump into the toilet bowl which makes the waste go down.  It has taken me about two years to figure out the necessary angle and velocity you have to pour the water with to create the vacuumy force that sucks the poo down.  I must confess I´ve had some sh%&ty experiences in the learning process ha! (Okay sorry that was way obvious but a girls gotta find a way to laugh about learning curves that include unpleaseant splashes yuuuuck!) 
Moving on... there is much less privacy around going to the bathroom in my experience here. One place we stayed the house was basically a cement box and there was barely a curtain between me on the pot and everyone else.  It´s really good though because it´s forced me to release a lot of shame that I´ve had around the natural processes of my body.  I used to not even want my boyfriend of five years to hear me pee.  Now, Joaquin, my most recent boyfriend, used to call me ´Little Moon´ after one of the many times he came to be my lookout as I exposed my round pale booty to the moonlight. :)
  

The showering system is also pretty different.  A lot of times there´s no separation between the shower space and the sink and toilet.  Its kinda handy to have the toilet there so I can sit down down and wash my feet :) But I can´t seem to figure out how not to soak everything in the bathroom while showering.  I think I´ve seen like two tubs since I´ve been here, seems that houses generally don´t have them. And there are a couple of different systems that I´ve seen for heating the water:
1. Turn on a small gas-powered hot water heater about 20 minutes before you wanna shower and then turn it off before you get in.  You have about 5 to 10 minutes of hot water so you´d better be fast!!
or....
2.   There is an electrical heating device attached to the showerhead that heats the water as it comes through.  Definitely the most efficient but the water pressure has to be pretty low for this method too work.
There´s lots of conciousness about saving water here cuz, well, they can´t just consume to their hearts content.  One time when we were living in San Cristobal (Chiapas, Mexico), we went without running water for like a week in a middle class apartment in a good sized town.  We caught rain water to flush the toilets and wash the dishes.  From what I understand, the government sends enough water to fill the storage tank generally located on the roof of the house and if it runs out before they decide to put more in, you´d better hope you´re resourceful.  I almost got cussed out one time at a Circus Convention using the public shower.  I didn´t turn the water off at any point during my shower and a girl yelled, "Hey, we turn off the water when we soap up!!!!" I can definitely understand the woman´s frustation with me being that in the US we consume like 70% of the resources taken from the earth each day....oh dear...
Hmmmm, other miscellaneous stuff...the lights go out like once a month, heating and air doesn´t exist in most places- folks just put on more clothes or take them off as the case may be... oh yeh! This is kind of random but one of my favorite things in Mexico is that when you walk into or out of a restaurant, you almost always address the other people in the place by saying, "Probecho!" which means "Enjoy!" Cool right?

The last thing I just have to share is something I kind of touched on in Cartoon 23.  People are so frigin' generous!!! One time I was in the plaza in San Cristobal helping Joaquin and Daniel after a show and a woman came up to congratulate us on our work.  I thanked her and then I complimented her earrings and she said "You like them? Take them!" And she took them out of her ears and gave them to me.  And then she continued to invite us to her home on the beach if we ever wanted to get out of the city! And she meant it too. 
At parties, often people just buy a cajuama, a big bottle of beer, and pass it around the party.  You let yours go and within 5 minutes another one circulates back to you.  Pretty much everytime you go to someone´s house even just for a moment, they offer you food and drink.  Countless people that we´ve stayed with have offered to lend us their bikes or cars whenever we need them without even asking about our skills as riders and drivers, little do they know I crash at least once everytime I get on a bike :) 
Many times I´ve told people about the trip that I´m on and they offer to take to lunch just because they know that moving from place to place without a steady stream of finance can be tough.  And people are also way generous with their time.  In fact they often laugh when I say the phrase "Thank you for your time". "My time?", they say, "Time is not mine."   When asking for directions, people are generally so helpful and will often say "You know what, I´ll just take you there!" I see endless support for social projects too, people just pitch in when they see good work being done.  This kind of brings me to a topic I´m going to explore in one of my next cartoons but let me not get ahead of myself.  I´ll just finish up today by sending out a ginormous shout out to the people of Mexico and Central America..."THANK YOU!!!!"



Cartoon 25: Inspiration



Sardinal, Costa Rica.  This man is from a community in Costa Rica where a big transnational company came in about ten years ago and tried to buy up the land for access to the crystalline waters there.  I´ve learned that this is done all the time in the places that I´ve visited of Mexico and Central America by big transnational companies like CocaCola. Yikes. It´s ugly.  The company promised that they wanted to put in a piping system to make water more accessible to residents so some sold their land. The company began to build and as the project advanced it became terribly obvious that the water would not be accessible to the community, it would be used for foreign interests.  The community came together and with sticks and stones and their bodies and protest and perserverance they sent the transnational hiking.  The company was 70% finished with building and they fought brutally to maintain the project but eventually they were forced to leave.  The community had no one funding their efforts, no academic strategists choreographing their actions.  They had necessity and unity.

So now whenever I feel too small, overwhelmed by the injustices committed by those with financial or social power way more complex and established than mine, I have these people to think of. Whenever I feel like I could never have an effect inside of a broken system that has such momentum, I can think of them, a direct connection to the love, fire and determination and that it takes to risk everything for what you and your community know is just. They are a true inspiration for all my life. 


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cartoon 24: Cultural Competency




Granada, Nicaragua.  Working with kids down here is a different story coming from working with the tough cookies in L.A., the Bronx and Atlanta.  I remember when Joaquín (from México) came to work with me in New York and was almost knocked flat by the force of the attitudes of those ten year olds.  They knew how to strategize around getting anything they wanted and they were more decisive than I will probably ever be.  They tested the inner strength of every single person who walked through the doors of their community center.  You had to earn the right to teach them. 

Down here, although kids often start working and doing 'grown up things' at a young age, somehow it seems like their childish, playful, open spirit remains intact.

This cartoon is of a first acrobatics lesson I did with a group. It was a lesson in cultural competency for me. I left them alone for free human pyramid building time and I almost had a heart attack when I saw the positions they had gotten themselves into. Three boys were doing a three-high (one standing on another's shoulders and then another on top of him!!)!! It was like they had no fear and they trusted each other right off the bat. I ran up freaked out like "Okay um okay that's great!! How creative you all are!!! Umm okay let's just get down now." To myself I'm thinking, 'How the health are they gonna get down????!'  And they proceeded to calmly and easily help each other down to the ground. After this I was like, 'Light bulb! We do not need to practice teamwork and trust building here! Working as a team is much more often part of everyday life here. I imagine that all types of cultural factors play into this: bigger families, less resources, tighter knit communities, less value placed on individual achievement...  Here we needed to focus on stuff like individual expression and forming and sharing personal opinions. Taking leadership!
I flashed back to my class of super vocal, willful individuals in the Bronx... How amazing would it be if these two groups could work together! I wish I could just smash the two classes together and, with good facilitation, watch the learning sparks fly...

Don't you just love how teaching is an endless source of education? Yeek!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cartoon 23: Recycled House


San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  This was the first place I ever saw a home made of things scavenged from the dump.  It's inside of a whole neighborhood of houses like this.  When we asked, this woman told us that her neighborhood is special because it is more peaceful than others.  She does not lock her door against possible intruders, in fact she doesn't have a door. 

The dump was just at the entrance to this community.  I guess the neighborhood was formed close to avoid having to lug building materials and other useful things too far?  People scavenged not only to build their homes but also to meet day to day needs.  The first thing I saw as we pulled off of the main road was the little girl on the top left of the drawing bound through the piles of trash in a bright turquoise princess dress.  I immediately flashed back to when I was a girl and wanted to wear my princess costume everywhere.   I fought my mom to wear it out anywhere we went- to the grocery store, to school, to the park.  I watched her and her friend play with a small cardboard box, filling it up and then dumping it out. 

Mmmm I'm trying to think of what reflections I can share.  The thing I thought most about after this experience is the odd fact that while I've never seen such poverty, I've also never experienced such generosity.  During the whole trip, people with way less resources than I'm used to have opened up their homes to us strangers and trusted us entirely.  They have fed us and opened up everything they have to us.  I have never invited strangers into my house and shared not only my space but fed and given the keys to a stranger, much less nine strangers!  I almost can't even imagine asking that where I'm from.  It kinda seems like when people have more (including myself), they are less open with what they have.  And people who have less are often much more generous and open.  So I'm thinking about how I define the limits of my generosity.  I'm asking myself, how often do I give something when it means that I will have to go without? 



Monday, April 30, 2012

Cartoon 22: Peace and Love???


Apparently 'peace and love' is how folks in Nicaragua refer to hippies :). I've been busted again but I still maintain I'm not a hippie.  We need to widen the categories for people living alternative lifestyles!
Anyway this kid poked his head into the window of the motorhome as we were preparing to do our social circus show in an urban community in Nicaragua. He said, "Oye, ustedes son 'peace and love' ?" Ha! Everybody burst into laughter thinking of all our bickering.  Nine people of different cultures living, eating, working, sleeping and waking together in a motorhome ain't what I would call 'peace and love'.  
Sometimes I feel like folks romanticize being a traveler.  Like it's all peace and love and complete freedom from your everyday troubles.  Many people say they wish they could drop everything and just go like we have.  This is not a complaint but in my experience, it is freedom but only because it gives you more everyday problems.  On the road we are constantly resolving what and where and how to eat, to get water, to sleep, which way to go, who to trust etc. so we don't have time or head space for the problems of a more stable life.  I think its been quite healthy for me not to be comfortable enough to let my mind wonder into the problems or pleasures of the past and future.  I really hope I can maintain this level of attention to the present moment in any lifestyle that I inhabit in the future.
One thing I can say about traveling is that it's freedom from certainty (the imagined certainty that we tend to invest so much in).  I read this quote on a wall in a cultural center in San Jose, Costa Rica and I wanna share it with you guys:
"Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position.  Certainty is an absurd one."
Right on. :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cartoon 21: The Salvadoran Guerrilla

We spent a week in San Antonio de los Ranchos, a community that organized to form part of the guerrilla during the war in El Salvador in the 80’s and 90’s.  Whoa, the stories.  One woman shared that during the war she was a lookout and a community organizer helping protect the civilians that escaped to the mountains fleeing the violence.  She told us of one of her many memories of the attempts of the military to extinguish the people in resistance in the mountains.   She barely escaped by running through a rain of bullets to a nearby peak only to watch the 16 remaining families massacred.  Later, to reunite with the group who had gone in the other direction, she had to walk through where the bodies of her loved ones still laid.  This woman is the one waving in the picture above.  She now directs a social organization that plays a huge role in maintaining a unified community through arts and education. (http://www.tnt.org.sv/ENGLISH/DefaultTNT.php )

The feeling of harmony, unity and safety in this community made it stand out from others.   Folks there told me that this was because religious and community leaders helped organize the people there before the war in resistance against continual oppression by the government and elites supported by our US tax dollars in form of military aid.  The human rights violations were so bad that many of the powerful members of the church took to the mountains as well as part of the guerrilla.  In another community that we visited, a man told us the story of how his family had to provide food and shelter to both guerrilla and government at different times depending on who was controlling the area.  He remembers a time when his grandmother fought with a guerrilla priest because he burnt down a church.  The priest explained that in current circumstances, the holiness of the space had been violated as it was being used as a military post. 

I was told that the war ended when the guerrilla had gained enough ground to negotiate with the government as equals.  The peace agreement included the formation of a political party comprised of members of the guerrilla, the Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberación Nacional (FMLN).  While we were in San Antonio de los Ranchos, it was election time and a large part of the community organized to offer political education and to get people to the polls.  At the end of election day, there was a huge community wide party in the main plaza to celebrate the victory of the FMLN in their county.

For me it was incredible to see almost an entire community organized around building the reality that they want for themselves.  It made me think of how back at home we are so separated, at least in middle class communities.  The possibility of self-sufficiency often leaves us living lives that are completely independent from our neighbors.  Too often in my life I've left the government to do the work of deciding for me how our cities, states and country run.  I let them decide by what rules I play.   I think that’s something that I want to do when I get back: dedicate sometime to creating a community, city, state and a country that really represent the values that I think are important.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cartoon 20: Enemy of the State


In Guatemala City the police drive huge black pickup trucks and they are all over the place. In the face of all this security, I’ve never felt so insecure.  They look like war tanks roaming the streets prowling for the enemy.  This is in the wake of a 36 year war between the government and the pueblo that ended in 96’.  Come to find out that our US tax dollars helped supply the funds and ammunition for the Guatemalan elite to kill 200,000 children, women and men. 

I drew this cartoon after the fourth time we were stopped and searched by the police in Guatemala.  A group 8 of us were walking down the street to get a drink and one of those trucks pulled up and at least ten police men and women jumped out and told us to get up against the wall.  Each one had a huge gun that could probably extinguish a whole village in under five seconds (and maybe did at one point considering that many indigenous villages were massacred and erased during the war).

During the search I felt like I was in a bubble.  I was originally facing the wall but I turned around with my hands up to see what was going on.  I watched as the police-woman aggressively searched my friend, passing her hands over my friend’s body like it wasn’t a living thing.  I watched the looks on my friends’ faces being submitted to this invasion and waited for my turn. It never came, they skipped over me.  My friends told me that this is probably because I look so foreign and the police don’t want diplomatic issues.  I looked at the line of police that stood watching us with their riffles and I wondered how this scene would end.  They recorded our information in their little black book and then, not having found anything, informed us that this had been a routine revision and that we could continue on.

Even just being present, not having been touched or spoken to, I felt totally criminalized and violated.  What were these people doing pointing guns at us???  It made me think of how folks who were racially profiled in the aftermath of 9/11 must have felt.  Or Latino folks in Arizona and the other states that recently passed the law that says police can stop and search anyone they even suspect of being an illegal immigrant.  Or how folks in other marginalized communities in the US must feel at the hands of corrupt police.

One thing I love about what I’ve seen of Latin America is that people spend time in the streets.  People talk to strangers.  They joke a lot and are warm and friendly.   Quite the opposite, the people of Guatemala City seemed very serious.  People walk fast, they don’t say hello or make eye contact.   I felt like people were scared and couldn’t expand too much into their skin for fear of repression by the authorities.  I drew this picture at a barbecue thrown by the generous folks who housed us.  The backyard of the home was fenced in by a tall, cement wall topped with barbed wire.  With this cartoon I hope to express the feeling I have that the well being and happiness of the people of Guatemala City is seen as dangerous in the eyes of its government.

Upon talking to folks, I began to understand their response beyond the seriousness and closedness  that I perceived and it is truly amazing.  Many neighborhoods have organized their own community police.  They take responsibility for keeping justice within their own communities and negotiate with the state and federal police for them to only come for routine checks.  A friend brought me to a creative and interactive free museum documenting the war which seeks to assure that the war crimes do not go unpunished. We worked with an organization called Caja Ludica (www.cajaludica.org) that hosts international parades of stilt walkers which declare loud and proud their dedication to free expression, art, song and dance. 

I leave Guatemala feeling deeply shaken with my heart strings pulled up and down by equally fierce forces...  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cartoon 19: You Might Be a Hippie If...

I’m getting quite good at peeing outside. It’s something I’ve always had trouble with, never could seem to not splatter myself.  But on the road I’ve gotten lots of practice. Aren’t you proud mama? 
I’m letting myself get all hairy too.  It’s kinda crazy cuz for most of my life I’ve shaved almost every day.  My toenails were always painted and I even blow dried my hair for a while there.   Now I am meeting parts of myself that I’ve never known!  Weird!  I realize I’ve never known what I truly look like, without any alterations.  For the first time since I was 12 I am not seeing my legs as sexual objects.  The beauty of my armpits is not more important than truly knowing and honoring myself.   I have to admit that for a while there I didn’t want to lift up my arms cuz I thought people would be grossed out but little by little that's less important and now my bushy armpits make me feel rather cool.
And you know that style of jewelry that’s all beads and shells and seeds?  The kind thats often brightly colored and sometimes really big?  Don’t tell my new friends but I always thought that kind of jewelry was kind of tacky.  But it turns out for some, wearing it is a source of pride and an act of rebellion.  The pride comes from using products that celebrate a closeness with and respect for nature.  The rebellion is against systems and industries that radically damage the earth and its inhabitants… In this case, specifically against gold and gem mining.  I want to try to explain what I’m understanding about this rebellion… We all know that folks from Europe came to the Americas, among other reasons, in the wild search for gold.  They killed, raped, pillaged and exploited in the name of progress.  What I didn’t know is that this conquest is still in progress.  That was 500 years ago and all that gold got used up.  But the demand for it hasn’t gone anywhere so the conquest continues.  So many communities that I visit here share the story of being forced either physically or by poverty, to leave their land to big mining companies from Canada, Europe and the U.S.  All of the sudden wearing jewelry made of beads and seeds is a lot more appetizing.
The last thing I want to talk about are my crusty feet.  For real, this is a big deal for me cuz like I said, I used to paint my toe nails all the time.  There wasn’t a day that I didn’t have a perfect pedicure.  Now, oy vey, I’ve got callouses and infinite desert sand under my toenails. The callouses are kind of useful though cuz they’re great for scratching the millions of bug bites all over my hairy legs!
Oh the sacrifices we make for our dreams…


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cartoons 18: Shelter for Sons of the Beast

One of our first stops in the caravan was a shelter that was built close to the border between Mexico and Guatemala that was established as a refuge for sick or injured immigrants. "The Beast" has become the name of the cargo train upon which undocumented immigrants ride through Mexico on their way to the United States. (I originally thought that this train went through Central America so that's why the drawing shows it there.) The path of these people is incredibly violent.  As shown in the picture, the immigrants ride on top of the train. Many loose their lives because, having traveled for long periods of time in constant risk and without rest, they simply fall asleep and fall off the train. One young man told me that he got caught up in the adrenaline of the constant danger and began testing the limits jumping from train to train. He lost his footing and lost his legs.  A woman that I met told me that woman who travel this path pray that rape is all that happens to them...
When we arrived at the shelter, I stepped out of the motor-home, saw the people missing legs and arms, and I stepped right back in. I sat my butt down in the bathroom of the motor-home and cried all the tears my eyes could squeeze out.  Out of respect, I didn't want to cry in front of these folks who have lost so much fighting for the opportunities that I was born with.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself growing roots.  Time to face reality.  As grounded as possible, I stepped out and almost immediately, a woman with one eye in a wheel chair called me to her.  She spoke garbled Spanish but I eventually understood that she wanted me to roll her into her room and put her next to the fan.  It was HOT.  I met the other two woman who lived in the room, one missing a leg and the other didn't speak.  The two vocal women started squibbling over who the owner of the fan was and I just sat down in a plastic garden chair that was one of the few pieces of furniture.  In the face of basic humanity of the squibbling woman, all of my big understanding of the social systems that brought us to this moment faded out and with it my anxiety about being there...

We stayed at the shelter for three days learning about how it functions and interviewing workers and residents. On the last night, we did a social circus show for the folks living there and in the surrounding community.  Afterward we performed excerpts of the show in the rooms of the folks who couldn't come out to see the show.  The moment in this picture moved me to tears.  During our performance was the only time I saw the woman lying in the bed open her eyes.



Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cartoon 17: Sprouting Wings

On New Years I did a poorly planned meditation.  It was 11:30pm and what I most wanted was to take off everything that I wasn’t born with, wrap myself in a white blanket and sit down in silence to perceive the coming of the New Year as a rebirth.   A cleansing, a moment to honor that everything I need, I have.  I couldn’t seem to find a quiet spot so at the last minute, I cumbersomely climbed out onto the metal roof of my house, just me and my white blanket.

I reached the top of the roof and got all comfy for my meditation. Just before I closed them, my eyes stumbled upon the metal roof, sloping downward at a rather steep angle. Crap, I thought, How the f am I going to get down.  Images came to my mind of me loosing my balance and with it the blanket, sliding down the roof flailing, and landing in the driveway 15 feet down with no clothes on. Ha!  Climbing up was so much easier, I had my eyes on the prize and wasn’t paying attention to how high up I was going.  I giggled because this is exactly what I’m feeling like in my life right now.  I’m on the cliff of this big dream I constructed with my x and now I don’t have any idea how to get down.  That’s where my friend Jason comes in. I told him about my meditation experience and he said ‘Well maybe you’re not supposed to get down. Maybe you’re ‘sposed to sprout wings and fly off that mother!’

In the meditation, I managed to hunker down and let the worries go.  I decided that at that moment, getting down wasn’t important, this was the moment to just be with the world up there.  With my unfocused, soft gaze I was able to enjoy the fire works of all of the city.  Looking at nothing in particular allowed me to perceive it with all of my senses. The laughs and excitement of my neighbors, the sparklers of the kids across the street and the big blasts of the downtown fireworks show.  Eventually, I had to get down so I decided to let go of perfect blanket coverage and throw it over my back while I very very carefully scaled down the roof backward.  Luckily I made it safe and sound and no one was the wiser :)

In my life, I’m still on top of that roof. 
What I have is this moment.  The immediate past is too painful and the future completely unknown.  I am not victimizing myself either, I made every decision that lead me up to this point and I am happy to be here. 

Another thing I have is my people.  I was able to go home to spend the holidays with them in the middle of all this mess and I couldn’t believe their reaction to me.  When I felt like my world had completely fallen apart, their collective response was, “You’ve got this. You will be fine, we have confidence in you, you are strong and the world will take care of you ”.  They have a confidence in my decisions that I don’t even have in myself. What a gift.

Upon my return to Mexico while trying like crazy to live in the present and not worry about which direction my life would go, I was teaching an acroyoga class and a beautiful Brazilian gal walked in.  We hit it off well and as we talked we figured out that she is the best friend of the aerial director of America Latina Cooperativa (Option 3 from the last cartoon)!  After hearing my situation, she immediately sent an email to her best friend Julia, the aerial director, and Bam! New collective, new life…

For the next three months, I will be traveling with America Latina Cooperativa (http://www.alcoop.org/?lang=en ), a group of 9 people from Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and the US.  We are geographers, sociologists, social workers, educators, photographers, filmmakers and artists and here´s the plan:
¨Based on documented research, artistic, educational and audiovisual production activities, we intend to strengthen networking among social movements, to present their work, locate points of influence and action through mapping, with the purpose of consolidating its presence in our America.¨ (thats a pretty big definition so if your interested in more info look at the website mentioned above)

   We will be posting video updates along the way so I’ll have lots to share :)

So this cartoon is dedicated to my peoples.  Without your confidence in me, I would not have been able to bounce back emotionally to be able to enjoy the moments that the world has put in front of me. 


P.S.
Here’s the first video spot :

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cartoon 16: Holy Shit

Where do I start?  About two months ago, Daniel decided that he would no longer be traveling with us.  He now knows that he wants to dedicate his life to dance and he felt that he was not able to do that with us.  So we were down to two, my boyfriend Joaquín and I.  Then, about a month ago, Joaquín and I broke up.  Our relationship didn't stand up to all of the intensity and stress of our crazy dream.  This cartoon is basically all of the memories that are swimming around in my mind from the preparation for the trip and my time traveling with Daniel and Joaquín. And now we are down to one. Just me. Without any of the plan that I spent the last two years of my life creating with my partner and his good friend.  Wow.  Joaquín proposed that we continue to travel together as friends.  That sounds like emotional hell to me.  I will not sacrifice my emotional well being to be 'comfortable' in an old dream that, for me, was lost when the love was.

So wow, now I am in the middle of Mexico, in the middle of someone else's dream (my original dream was just to go Brazil and work with the social circus programs there. Then I met Joaquín and he invited me to travel by land with his collective and I said that sounds like a great adventure! Well, I was right). 
I do not dream of traveling on my own through Latin America.  Many people do, but not me.  I wanted and want to have a home base. To work and collaborate and live and learn with others.  So I'm thinking of everyone I've met in the last 6 months, who could I travel with?? I've come up with 4 options:
1. A group of 4 awesome Spanish women.  I met them in a Theater of the Oppressed workshop just before Joaquín and I broke up. They are super warm and excited to have me and God it would be fabulous to travel with women.  The only thing I'm not too excited about is that they are hitch hiking.  Hitch hiking is very different here, it's much more accepted and way less dangerous. But still I'm not to excited about the idea...
2. Farandula de la Esperanza: A couple who do social circus and are traveling down in a camper.  I have met them at two circus conventions and they do fabulous work. I've sent them an email but haven't heard back yet (http://faranduladelaesperanza.com/?lang=es)...
3.  America Latina Cooperativa: A group who is traveling through Central America doing social circus shows and workshops with the goal of strengthening the network of social organizations throughout Latin America. I met the aerial director at the first circus convention I went to and we got along great.  I emailed them as well but they don't seem too interested, we'll see what happens (http://www.alcoop.org/?lang=en <----- This one's in English)...
4.   Alone.  My best friend in Mexico City has contacts in pretty much every country throughout Central America.  I could ride buses from country to country and meet up with her contacts and then go to social circus organizations upon my arrival in each new city. 

So now it's the waiting game. Trying to stop my heart from jumping out of my chest while I send a million emails and try to put a new life together. Did I mention Wow? Life is crazy.  I never thought I'd be where I am and in two weeks I have no idea where I will be...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cartoon 15: Dabbling in Oppression

Okay so this happened at a 'Fiesta Popular' which is basically a block party to celebrate the local saint. Each neighborhood here in Mexico has their own saint and once a year they have a street party with fireworks and bands and all the people come out to celebrate the saint. These events aren't heavily touristed and I am lucky to be staying with folks from here so they brought me.

The energy of the band just swept me away and I started dancing like crazy as I tend and love to do.  I was movin' and groovin' and smilin' at folks and havin' a blast but after a minute I kinda felt a weird energy.  I stopped and realized that a circle of people had formed around me and they were all staring at me. Whoops. I had totally forgotten the environment that I was in and that my behavior was very abnormal there.  A woman dancing alone, moving her hips, smiling at everyone.  Way to create waves Sara. As the last panel of the cartoon shows I got every response from 'What a slut!' to 'Wow you are so cool!' to 'Come here baby'.  So I danced over to the folks who were looking friendly and curious and hung out with them for a minute til' the circle disappated. Then I danced my butt back over to my friends and stayed a little closer and moved my hips a little less for the rest of the time.

The question that comes up for me with this situation is, "How important is it to me to act as the liberated woman that 'I am' if it means that I cause too many waves to be in and learn from certain places?"  Eventually the attention, not just to me but to my whole group because many of us were obviously not from there, got to be too much and we left.
So...oppression! It is so crazy to live in a society in which woman's rights are not the same as what I'm accustomed to.  I have so many questions about how to respond! Do I dress like a boy (self-oppression) so that I don't have to deal with comments or unhealthy attention? (In one week I had three different men say gross and hurtful things to me in the street) Do I stick with men I know all the time?  Women here create a web of support, beautifully conscious and generous with each other, taking care that everyone gets home safe and doesn't have to be alone.  (Makes me ask myself if in the dominant culture of the US we needed each other a bit more would there be less of a culture of competition between women there?)

 I feel dependent on my travel mates (both males) in ways that I am not used to. I have to ask for help based on realities that I don't want to support and I don't understand completely. I don't know how much of the need to be accompanied all the time is a real danger or is part of a traditional way of thought that teaches women that they need men to protect them, that they need a man to be complete (not that that doesn't happen in the US buts I feel like it's on another level here).  I realize that I have not had to develop the humility it takes to depend on other people.  I'm used to being in relationships only for love, not financial support or protection.  That means, if someone treats me badly, I'm gone.  Now I start to feel how those other considerations can play into relationships. 
      
For the first time I would self identify as part of an oppressed group.  This is the closest I've gotten to understanding what it's like to have ones life opportunities severely shaped by gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.  I must look to my community to find ways to get what I need in an unfair system.  It is incredibly painful and frustrating and, at the same time, it is turning out to be a really rich experience. Seeing the web of support here, feeling how people I hardly know take care of me, groups of friends that I just met offer to walk me home if its late at night.  It is making me a stronger, humbler,  more well-adjusted person. How odd the concept to be able to dabble in being part of an oppressed group.