Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cartoon 44: Coming home after 2 years, 11 countries, 35 organizations, a million transformations.

My forehead leaned against the window, I watched the lights of Rio de Janeiro fade into an unfocused yellow glow and then into black as the dark clouds of the night came between me and the earth.  
This is the end of a two year love story with a passionate, warm and sometimes more than slight machista.  Present focused, rebellious and romantic. Full of contradictions, anger and corruption.   Tie-dyed with the colors of a million rich traditions and deeply moved by culture and art.  Wandering through the corridors of her mind changed mine.  Her stories made me laugh, cry, clinch my fists and raise my eye brows up so high they kissed my hairline.  As I left, she smiled like almost always and assured me 'I will be with you always',  her words a challenge to live out her lessons of resistance and celebration, dance and music as liberation. 

I closed my eyes and then opened them again to watch the sunrise over my homeland's skies.  My ears were filled with the chatter of momentary traveling companions sharing stories in the thick delicious accents of the Southern U.S.A.  My heart filled with so many emotions, my body began to relax, and my lips started flappin' forming familiar phrases and smiles of fraternity with my countrymen and women.  I felt as if I was speaking a language that I didn't know I knew.

And then a wave of fear, 'What did I just do??? I will never be whole again! I will always be stuck between worlds with pieces of my heart planted all over the Americas!' A wave of hope and peace came... May these pieces prove resilient and offer lasting fruits to my family who I have left behind in each place.  What an amazing thing to discover that my family is not as small as I thought it was. That in fact I have brothers and sisters all over the world just waiting to make magic as our paths cross again or for the first time.  
 Again I began to contract, wondering who I am, wondering how returning to my home city will be and how I will fit in. I fight for the willingness and celebration of the unknown that I've practiced so much in the last few years.

I breathed and tried to release and trust, letting my wise body and open heart into the driver's seat.
My body memory took over again and delighted me with her ease in communication.  'I'm actually understanding everything that is going on ha!!', I thought.  I felt the plane jiggle and jolt and soon my toes tickled the hot asphalt of ATL.  

Beautiful green glittering leaves on fluffy full tress.

Sweet smells of honey suckle and magnolia carried on the warm humid breeze. 

Giggles and squeals of my family coming to embrace me.  

I am home now. And now I know I always was home, I just didn't know it yet.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cartoon 43: The Favela

      I had the opportunity to live in a favela for the last month that I was in Rio. When I walked into the concrete labrinth the first time all I could think about were scenes from 'City of God' of everyone dancing and waving around huge guns.  The first night I hardly slept, imagining that at any moment the special unit police would bust down the door to search my house for drugs.  My eyes slammed open and then squeezed tight shut again to pray everytime I heard a 'BOOM' (which happens often in Latin America as they are always celebrating something with fireworks :) ).  

                    Little by little the 'community' began to reveal itself to me.  The favelas are now called 'communities' in an attempt to destigmatize them and the population that lives in them.  Although some of these neighborhoods are still dominated by narcotraffic and violence, many have passed through the process of 'pacification' in which police take control forcefully and instill new systems of power. 
           One day I arrived to the circus workshop I would give to find the youth stirred up.  They told me that that morning the process of pacification had begun in their neighborhood.  They shared different opinions, some anxious about the the police enterring by surprise and searching their homes wrecklessly.  Others expressed happiness and hope for more freedom and peace with the police presence.  Adult community members shared that too often power passes from the hands of trafficers into those of corrupt police.  The violence may lesson but the constant 'jogo de cintura' or agility in perceiving how to be with each person and situation doesn't.  

           The community I lived in was pacified 7 years ago and is just above the lovely Copacabana beach, a huge tourist attraction just to the right of Ipanema.  At one point we didn't have water in the house for two weeks so we had to use the tourist beach showers to keep clean.   It is such a mind trip that these two realities exist so close together.

           Many of the neighborhoods are composed of the descendants of immigrants who came to the city looking for work.  Unable to find affordable housing, they began to climb and build their homes in the mountainous parts of Rio.  The labrinth effect is a result of family after family coming to construct, little by little covering the land until the cement bases and sidewalks connected like puzzle pieces.  There are no roads or room for cars in the communities.   Random jumbles of wires and pipes run through the labrinth bringing electricity and water into the homes.  Many of the walls are painted with colorful murals that helped me not get so lost since at first all the cement box houses and staircases looked exactly the same to me.  

           To reach my house I climbed the skinniest staircase ducking under one neighbor's laundry and stepping over another's trash.  The smell of black beans and rice and friiiiiiiiied chicken so often enterred my nose on the warm wind.   I would open the window to look over the rooftop patio of another neighbor who constantly blasted a mix between Brazilian Funky and 90s R&B from the U.S.  I looked out to watch people flying kites on other rooftops and then let my gaze drift to down to the white buildings of the city and then past all the way to the ocean.  

           It's funny how we only hear about the dramatic violent part of world news and then when things start getting better, we don't hear about it anymore.  I'm so thankful and enriched to have this experience and get to expand my mind's version of the 'favela'.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cartoon 42: Bright Yellow and Orange Earthworms!!

Ya´ll know when it gets really hot in the summer and the earthworms  try to cross the sidewalk but end up getting fried on the way? So that happens to hot-dog-sized bright yellow and orange wormy things here in Rio!!! WHOA! 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cartoon 41: Men with Wings...

You know all the super curvy ladies we see on T.V. in the carnaval parade of Rio  de Janeiro?  The ones wearing lots of feathers and doing incredible things with their hips?  Well I was here in Rio for carnaval and I didn't see a single one of them.  Actually yes I did but she had big broad shoulders and an adam's apple...

Turns out that that parade is part of a closed event that most Brazilians I've met here have never been to.  The peoples' carnaval in Rio is frigin' incredible. The entire city shuts down for four days of nonstop celebration (keep in mind that Rio is a big city of about
 6,000,000 inhabitants!).  Walking through the city streets you find these millions of people self organized into gigantic block parties with free live music.  Between these parties roam buses topped with rockin' bands followed by parades of all kinds of people dressed up in crazy costumes. The public transportation resembles party buses because there is always at least one group of rowdy partiers yelling and laughing and riling up the rest of the folks until the whole bus is singing the Carnaval anthems that everyone knows.  But it's not just all drinking and singing and smooching (although there is A LOT of that...I made accidental eye contact with a guy across the street and he took that as an invitation to come shove his tongue down my throat. He tried and he got shoved instead and then HE stepped back to look at ME like I was crazy!) Like I was saying, it's not just all that...there's also street vendors selling hot dogs topped with corn, olives, miniature eggs, tiny french fries, and pink sauce! Ooo and frozen mix drink popsicles YUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!!

 There were many things that really knocked me off my feet for what I imagine there social implications were. (After I'm here for a while I'll let you know how my understanding develops.) In all of the parts of the city I roamed to, I did not see a single police person!!! We are talking about millions of strangers going out all day and night to get muddy and sunburned and drunk (drinking in the streets is legal) and squuuuuueeeeezing together on the streets until we almost couldn't move with no third party to resolve conflicts. From what I saw, there wasn't a need. Here's to being empowered, whether by necessity or by choice, to resolve our issues within our own communities!  People in the apartment buildings poured water onto the grateful crowd below to help us cool off! Here's to getting soaked and not giving a crap if our clothes/hair/make-up get drenched!! The group of fabulous folks that received me here, few of them professional musicians, organized their own parade singing classical latin grooves over contemporary Brazilian rhythms. Here's to forgetting perfection and just rockin'! Last but definitely not least, I think the best part for me was that 85% of the male population was dressed in drag. And I don't mean your gramma's ol' baggy dress.  I mean tutus and angel/butterfly/fairy wings! I mean devils in red sparkly high heels! I mean liiiiiitttle bitty shorts on biiiiig buff men :) Dang that ish was cool.  Here's to equality in sexual objectification ha!

No but for real, here's to being able to make fun of ourselves and to laughing with strangers.  Here's to everyone singing in public and to baring our round bellies.  Here's to everyone picking up a drum or a triangle or stick and a bottle and being part of the music.  Props to Brazil, I have a feeling I'm gonna learn a lot here...

Monday, April 8, 2013


YaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhoooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOO Ya'll!

:) :) :) :) :) :) :)







Friday, March 29, 2013

Cartoon 39: Receive


I was sitting in a busy circus tent working with a young man who had honey colored eyes, a half shaved head, and gigantic holes in his ears. We were practicing meditation techniques to develop presence and focus to support our circus work. We got so deeply invested in the exercise that we didn´t realize that lunch time had arrived. The buses that were meant to take us and everyone to the cafeteria filled up with all the other colorful singing laughing crazy circus folk and headed off on down the road. We opened our eyes to find ourselves alone in the huge red and blue tent with empty bellies and no transportation to get food. So we each decided to go scavenging.

As I walked through the campground of the circus convention, I happened upon a big white van with a license plate that said Cordoba, Argentina. It was the temporary home of the two smiling faces and open hearts that calmed my growling stomach with a delicious fish sandwich and hierba mate (traditional Argentinian tea). It was only appropriate that that's how I met the people that would later receive me in their home in Cordoba and teach me a lesson that life has been trying to get through my hard head this whole trip: how to receive.

A month later when I arrived to their home, they welcomed me with a bed to sleep in and delicious Argentinian style barbecues every night. When I asked about their hopes and expectations for the time that we would be working together, they said, "We just want you to be happy."

It's amazing to have not worked for money for almost a year now, I work in exchange for food and housing. I've never given so much in my life. And I've never received so much. In every country, complete strangers have taken me into their homes, They have trust me with everything they have, open up their hearts to me, share their tears with me, their laughter, their hate and frustrations. And they have given me everything I need. Often times the people who are taking care of me aren't even part of the community I'm working with, they just believe in my project.

Many times I've found myself so worried about deserving what people are giving me, that I don't even truly receive it. My mind swims trying to figure out what they are expecting of me in return. By stepping out of the monetary system, I have stepped into a grey area that has opened my mind and heart to deeper understanding of what it is to just accept and enjoy what people want to give to me. I'm not getting what I need because I'm paying for it, or because I've worked for it yet (when I first arrive to a new community I'm learning the context, diagnosing and planning so I'm not producing anything tangible for a while). I'm getting what I need because people want to give it to me.

I'm now watching myself in all parts of my life when people are giving to me. A compliment, admiration from people I meet, a person who finds me attractive on the street. I notice that I get tense in these situations, wondering what I should do, what does this mean, what does this person want... I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm just going to let what people give me wash over me like a river, nourishing me and filling me up just like the person who gave it would want it to.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cartoon 38: Peoples Stories of Dictatorships

It was raining torrentially and I was sitting on a bus in Santiago, Chile.  I asked the guy seated next to me where I should get off so that I wouldn't have a long walk to the metro and he told me.  Then, he looked at me and said "You're from the U.S. right?" I nodded and he came back with, "So what do you know about your government's involvement in the military coup that put Pinochet into power?" He was happily surprised when I said that I had learned that, along with the usual training and weaponry, the U.S. government had financed in large part the manipulation of the media and transportation systems so that people could not get food or honest information eventually facilitating the coup(I had only just learned about this because of similar interactions). We continued to talk for a while, him offering me more detail about how everything went down. This type of interaction has happened to me so many times on this trip.  It seems like people are bursting at the seams to explain to me what's really going on with U.S. foreign policy.  Along with the more political conversations, people also share with me their personal experiences....

In Santiago, I stayed with a sweet couple who made home cooked meals everyday with yummy green beans just like at home.  During the 'sobremesa' (the tradition of sitting a while and talking after eating) they told me stories of their experience of Pinochet's regime.  They explained that the first year was like hell on earth.  The mother only left the house when totally necessary, like to pick the children up at their different schools because so often people, even children, left their houses and never came back.  Everyone had to be inside their houses by nine at night, if you were out it was a great excuse to be  disappeared. The mother said she didn't really even want to leave the house so that she wouldn't have to see the dead bodies floating down the huge river that runs through the city. Amazingly, she said, she didn't loose any immediate family, just a young man in the neighborhood.  He was involved in the resistance movement and one day was sent to leave a pre-set bomb at a strategic location.  At the last minute the location was changed. On his way to the new place, time ran out and the bomb exploded.  His friends still remember seeing parts of him splattered and hanging on the powerlines.

An army tank driving through downtown Atlanta or any other city of the U.S. is unimaginable to me, much less all of the other horrors that these folks lived through.  So I'm only left with questions and a wild search for real life ways to answer them through my actions....
How do I deal with the fact that my government did this claiming to protect me from the 'Communist Threat' when the government that was taken out was a Social Democracy chosen by the people?
How do I make it so that my tax dollars don't pay for this to happen anywhere else???!!!!!
Could this happen in my country?
Inside the U.S., what would we do if it did?
We live such separate lives...would we be able to unite enough to forcefully and peacefully resist?