Travel: tips, tricks and why I do it. Part II – HOW

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How badly do you want it? I won’t preach, and I won’t deny that there are extenuating circumstances that may prevent individuals from setting aside funds for travel. And when I say travel (n.) I mean — going to another place for the sake of the place itself, for getting to know the place vs. vacationing (n.) — going to a place for the sake of yourself, relaxation, escape. The former already assumes a sacrifice, a potential sacrifice of comfort for the satisfaction of being, of experiencing, and of immersing yourself. In simpler terms, I travel to travel — to meet people, to eat their food, sleep where they sleep and learn how they live (as much as possible), versus to take part in their most luxurious offerings, catered to outsiders, often curated by outsiders themselves. Sometimes, the two overlap, of course, but assuming a life of travel vs. one of vacationing cuts down your costs in half + already. It’s all about the mentality.

For me — this means limiting my daily habits to cater to the greater, consistent goal of traveling as much as time permits. People have other vices.

Here’s how I do it:  

1231. Flights: 

I just recently began to involve myself with a points-credit card, which enables me to ultimately earn miles (equated to free travel miles on a plane) for my daily expenses. I.E. I’m still searching for options, but when I decide on one, I will update this.

In the meantime, what I’ve been doing is focusing on cheap flights — I’m healthy enough (at least for now) to endure long and uncomfortable flights if I have to. So 1-3 layovers for me is worth the trip, if it saves me serious money. And oftentimes, I don’t care where I’m going — flexibility is key.

Resources for finding cheap flights:

Flight Search Engines:
  • Skyscanner
  • Momondo
  • Kayak
  • Google Flights
  • Matrix Software: the site looks like it’s from the 1980s, but trust me, it’s good in its ways of helping you search for the most affordable options irrelevant of time and location; it’s used by many travel companies
Special Websites: — for when you don’t care about where you’re going, but you know you’re ready to leave 
  • Flight Deal
  • Secret Flying 
  • Entrusters: haven’t tried it, but apparently you can fly for free if you ship items for people around the world. It’s on my bucket list.
  • Travel Pirates
  • Groupon
  • Living Social
  • Concorde.io – I have yet to use it, but according to the founder on CNT: “I built this tool for people who are impulse flyers with flexible schedules. As one user recently put it, I am building a tool for the person who “…[wants to] know if I could suddenly get to Poland for $350”
Airlines: 
  • Air Asia — for cheap flights to and in between Asia
  • WoW Air — for cheap flights between Boston, Washington DC + Europe
  • Norwegian Air — for cheap flights between the US + Europe
Random tips on flights:
  • Check foreign versions of website i.e. expedia.fr vs. expedia.com
  • Clear history/cache — airlines keep your data and recent search history saved, often increasing prices just for you based on that
  • Call / pick up phone for better deals
  • Search for smaller airports in the same city, sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to/from there
  • Skiplagged — for finding cheap last minute flights
  • Purchase as close to a holiday as possible for a better deal
  • Cheap places to travel to by month: Travel and Leisure
  • If you travel on a budget airline, keep your luggage to about one carryon to avoid defraying your savings by extensive luggage costs
  •  Before booking your flight- make sure you have the necessary visa(s) you need; otherwise, if you can’t get it in time, you may end up losing your money! Sometimes with proof of upcoming flight you may get them expedited.
  •  To that end, make sure you have the necessary vaccinations needed (if in the US, according to the CDC).
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2. Housing: 
  • Hostels, of course, if you’re a student and/or budget traveler
  • New! – TalkTalkBNB– I just found out about this network whereby hosts/travelers meet, with a similar concept to CS VV, but with the intention of learning new languages from each other. I have yet to test it, but it’s definitely in my plans!
  • Couchsurfing.com — my personal favorite — for being hosted by or meeting up with locals (free, but it’s nice to bring a relevant gift to your host)
  • I just learned about Servas, also free and similar to CouchSurfing, but with a much more extensive application process whereby volunteers interview you for membership; stay is usually restricted to 1-2 nights
  • Airbnb.com — hotel alternative, where you can rent rooms, entire homes, and even bungalows or tree houses, among other options during your stay
  • My Twin Place — for Homeswapping
  • WWOOFING — for housing in exchange for your paid and/or volunteer work around the world
3. Random Tips: 
  • Let your banks/phone companies know a few days before your departure that you will be leaving to avoid disruptions in either service
  • For best exchange rates: my experience is that the best is to get cash out from an ATM once you get there and not get currency inadvance for each country; also, when asked to pay in your home currency or in theirs, it’s always best to go with theirs for the best rates
  • Take out the ‘deodorant’ in a deodorant bar and stuff it with cash/ credit cards or other valuables…I just learned this from attending the Women’s Travel Fest in March — Annie Griffiths, National Geographic’s first female photographer does this
  • Especially if you’re traveling extensively, make sure that you have the necessary medication prescriptions pre-approved for that time with your insurance — sometimes this may take weeks due to extensive paperwork and proof of travel
  • Check airport terminal of departure, as well as updates on flights as close to the night before or the day of to avoid wasting time in case your flights do get cancelled or terminals change
  • Check the currency the day of travel to know where your currency stands agains that of the destination
  • When done traveling then make sure to claim miles or rewards points from the respective airline, if it’s not done so automatically
  • Be aware of the country’s dialing code and of any relevant emergency numbers – keep a note of it on your phone!
  • Wikipedia, WikiTravel or do a simple Google search (for me on the plane or at airport) to have a fresh outlook on the history and culture / what to do in the country (if you’re being spontaneous) right before landing
  • Don’t board the plane right away if you’re not in business class because you’ll have to wait —  they will mostly always call your name if you’re late/if the plane is waiting for you
  • Always check to see the power outlet of the country / if you’ll need one of these universal converters
  • I like to lay down on the tray table of the airplane, when other positions are unbareable, but maybe clean it first since apparently it harbors more bacteria than your toilet
  • Sit near first class lounge for free wifi
  • When done traveling then make sure to claim miles or rewards points from the respective airline, if it’s not done so automatically
Passport: 
  • If you need a last minute passport (in the US), just show up at a local government agency! Don’t fall for local scams. Also, for some reason, they’re not allowed to tell you on the phone that they accept walk-ins, but my experience is that walk-ins are taken care of faster than those with an appointment.
Packing:
  • Roll your clothing like this for space saving in your bags/suitcases – Video + Video <— this one is just WOW; a girl packs 100 pieces of clothing into a carryon
  • Bring a water container, so you don’t have to pay for water – most places like Starbucks etc. will refill it for free— bring a filter for non-potable water (you’d be surprised how much you spend on water!)
  • Wear neutrals that can be washed/ mixed and matched and worn on different occasions to save room
  • Layers are your best friend!
  • Less is more! – Don’t bring emergency items like an umbrella, if you know that you can purchase them cheaply in the location (should you even need them), especially if the weather does not suggest rain.
Apps: 
  • Google Maps – works offline now, so you can use the application in the country of destination; it’s like a modern-day compass ?
  • Download necessary maps + translators before getting to destination, just in case you don’t have wifi when you land

Road Trip resources:

For Renting an RV: Cruise America
Maps and other resources:
Additional Resources: 

 

Where I’ve been so far according to TripAdvisor: where i've been

PPS; It’s not super accurate, since I’ve never been to Australia/ it confused some other cities for being there

*I will continue to update this blog post

 

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The History of Mambo – Salsa Dancing As We Know It

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Via – Eddie and Maria Torres

Last weekend was the New York International Salsa Congress, where, as the name suggests, individuals from all over the world congregated to share in a weekend of workshops, performances, and parties that went on until 3am.

I learned some new cha-cha from Nieves, bachata moves from Alex and Desiree, spin technique from Shani Talmor, and for the first time, was introduced to Bugaloo with the King of Salsa himself – Eddie Torres.

The best part is that I was able to share the experience with a lot of my fellow New Yorkers who I see “in the scene” throughout the year, as well as with my friend Lisa, who was here all the way from Holland — and whom I met about a year ago exactly at a social at Gonzalez y Gonzalez.

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Over the years, this art form has become so much more than a bodily expression. It is a method by which my body frees my mind — one of those rare moments throughout the week where I put my phone down, and connect to humanity by the way of music and dance. It is one of the few things in life that I never wish to measure or rate myself on, that cannot be quantified. Physical touch, musical vibrations that consume your existence, friendships that sometimes do not go beyond the dance floor but that are never superficial – that is what salsa is to me.


One of the most beautiful moments from the Congress was a 2 hour story session, where Eddie Toress, the coined “King of Salsa” sat us all like grandchildren in a liitngroom, to hear his stories of how this art has become an international phenomenon.

The Story:

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While he was growing up, for five dollars, he could dance all night, listening to five different bands at various clubs throughout the city: it was called the Golden era of Salsa. In 1962, the Palladium closed. Eddie Torres was only 12 years old. At the time, however, people started dancing the age of 13, by way of house parties. Friends would alternate houses, and the mothers, often teenage mothers at the time would allow the parties, but not any drugs or drinking, at least not inside the house.

By the age of of 16 or 17, they were allowed to go to nightclubs, which let them stay until midnight, when they started serving alcohol.

In 1966, he started dancing at Hunts Point Plaza, which was one of the major clubs at the time, along with Corso. While these were the most famous, at the time, there were over 10 Latin Clubs where people could party hop in NYC, and the sheer diversity of opportunities is something that Eddie is nostalgic about and laments about the current salsa scene. In the clubs, they would play boleros after 4/5 boogaloo/pachanga songs, which is also  something he says is distinguishing about the time.

“Italian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, or Jew — your color didn’t matter — that is, of course, unless you didn’t know how to dance…”

He never went to the Palladium, but he grew up dancing with all of the dancers that went there. They learned from each other! At that time, there were no instructors — the dance schools — “the Arthur Murrays and the Fred Austeres, would only let you watch for about 5 minutes, and I didn’t see what I wanted there— at the time, you had to look inside yourself to find your dance.”

The Palladium was magic. If you told people that you danced at the Palladium, then others knew you could dance.

At the Corso, he met an Italian lady, June Laberta, who soon became one of his most avid dance partners. She was a ballroom dance teacher, who has charismatic and charming, but simultaneous demanding and encouraging of Eddie’s trade — she motivated him to start learning music theory and to standardize Latin dance. Laberta was adamant that if he were to pursue his dream of working alongside musician Tito Puente, who had graduated from Julliard, he had to learn music theory. and was a profound musical theorist. Reluctant at first, Laberta further encouraged him by having strangers ask him questions related to music theory. Frustrated by not knowing the answer enough times, he finally decided to learn from her.

His parents and family members, all electricians/plumbers, urged him to follow trades along these lines, but instead, he dreamed of creating a market for this dance, which he did.

June would record his dances at the time with a Super 8 camera, the first which had no sound! When she died, a friend called to let him know of the news and to tell him that she had left him a package — with over 300 recorded videos, which have now helped teach instructors all over the world hinting at the importance of the usage of technology, even in theoretical ways!

Before the videos, it took 2-3 months for his students to learn the shines!

He eventually met Tito at some point after one of his shows, and asked him if he could audition quickly with Maria, whom he had met at one of his classes in the Bronx. He did not have the time, at that point, as he was traveling, but invited them to perform at his next show. ‘Without seeing it,” Eddie wondered? Tito was tired of seeing him dancing at Corso! “Eddie, I know you can dance!”

At first, afraid of his initial performance did not want to ask Tito his thoughts on it — Tito’s smile deceivingly never wavered, which made it hard to read . After following him his next concert, Tito was surprised that Eddie did not tell him about his arrival: “If I would’ve known, I would’ve asked you to perform your number!” — Eddie and Maria surprised them with the costumes in the trunk of their car! And boom, the revolution was started — from local shows to Madison Square Garden to the shows for the president President — they started touring the country and the world, complementing Tito’s music with their dances.

Does he believe that he created “on 2” dancing? No, but he did standardize and create the infrastructure/education necessary for its rapid expansion. He created the methodology necessary to have this dance viewed as an art form.

How did Eddie standardize/name the shines? Well, randomly: “If I cross my feet twice and do a Susy Cue (his first coined shine) — Ok! I’ll call it a double cross, Susy Cue… I learned this one from the Cubans, so it’s going to be called the Cuban!”

Eddie urges dancers to stop thinking in “levels” and to make the connection on the dance floor — to never just give “pity” dances to others, as he used to receive from girls. Instead, he urges them to find a way to connect. Those “pitied” can someday become great teachers and dancing professionals. In fact, he often encouraged ladies to allow him just “one” dance — and that if he embarrassed them (as he was seen as a profession at the time), that they had the right to be slapped in in the face by them and that they were entitled to walk away from him.

“A final encouragement — you are forever a student! Learn so that you can be an individual and have your own style. Dances change every 10-15 years! At some point, my friends were off learning the Hustle and we saw a drop in interest in Mambo, but I told those friends that they would be back at some point, learning from me, and they did! A few years later, they were back in my class. We see the same things going on now with Bachata and Kizomba — learn it all; be creative! But I know that Salsa will never die.”

Someone told him that he’s created more jobs than Donald Trump… I cannot confirm nor deny, but I won’t argue the contrary.

Happy that the Congress has a new home in its home of New York City, he stood up and posed for our group picture.

 

Servas Conference: Speaking at the House of Representatives – a Weekend of Intergenerational Dialogues

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On August 1, 2017, the United Nations Department of Public Information will host a day-long event, titled, “Intergenerational Dialogues on the SDGs”, focusing on the importance of breaking down barriers that contribute to ageism and all divisiveness based on age discrimination. Instead, the focus is on collaboration, specifically as it relates to enhancing the goals of the 2030 Agenda. official_visual_dialoguesMore information on the event can be found here, which can be accessed virtually via the UN Web TV. In-person registration is available here.

Indirectly in line with this, I traveled to my first Servas Conference in Washington DC, where I was given the privilege of speaking at the Rayburn House at the House of Representatives.

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I presented my discourse in front of our membership, which is largely a community of individuals aged 65+.  I talked about Kitchen Connection, my experience as a youth representative to the UN DPI, and my most recent adventures to Peace Boat — and I must say that I’ve never felt more understood by a community before.

65+ on paper, but ageless in reality — the members of Servas, a community of travelers and hosts that do so in the name of peace understand the innate values of human connection, dialogue, and conviviality, some values that I know are not always present, regardless of age.

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One of the questions that arose was the “issue” of the membership being an “older” one and figuring out how to engage more youth to be a part of it. I brought up the Intergenerational Dialogues as an example of the demand for such interactivity and of the privilege that it was for me to be connected to individuals who had the time, the energy, and the desire to share a piece of their life with me, and how I was certain that other youth would love to be a part of it.

We spent the next three days, learning from other guest speakers, including Max Amichai Heppner, who is a Holocaust survivor, and author of the book, I Live in a Chicken House, recounting the story of how his family sought refuge in Holland, with a family who hid 10 individuals and who risked their lives to do so. At some point in his discourse he mentioned: “I was the only 8 year old who already had his grave dug out for him.”

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Next to Max in this picture is Sheila who represents the estimated 8,300 homeless people who live in Washington DC. As the nation’s capital, all of us see this as an unacceptable statistic.

Standing side by side, what we realized is that Homeless or Holocaust – although in many ways incomparable are representative of the power of human injustice. Our presence there, however, is a testament to the desire of its reversal, however. And we do not stand alone.

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Carolyn Powers shared stories of her work at Internews  where reporters risk their lives in honor of the importance of the flow of information in conflict zones. The individuals working on the ground, often with makeshift radio stations help to disseminate vital information in war zones, refugee camps, and areas affected by natural disaster – often as basic as where to get water or how to access help from the various NGOs that come to assist in times of crisis.

Other highlights of our time together included:

Meeting and learning about the incredible work of UNA-USA – I can’t wait to collaborate!

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My induction into the membership as a board member. When I first received the email requesting calls for nomination, I honestly ignored it: “I may consider it when I’m 50, I told myself.” Months later, I was nominated and asked to join. Above you have a visual of our virtual meeting with the treasurer. This is symbolic of Servas’ commitment to intergenerational dialogue and collaboration.

Getting to hear from Elizabeth who is a conflict specialist about the same polarization and climate of “otherness” that has been happening in conflict zones for decades happen here in the West.

Learning a bit about the Quaker lifestyle and the importance of divine silence.

Being encouraged by Raymond and Richard to focus on my dreams and most importantly, on the quality of those dreams.

Following her escape from East Berlin (and risking 6 years in prison for it!) learning from Helga about her adventures to all seven continents and getting chills when she said that there is “nothing in Antarctica that doesn’t belong!”

Hearing about Nancy’s experience working as a librarian at a women’s prison and bonding over our mutual love for Orange is the New Black.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe many delicious vegetarian options.

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Gathering at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the 1953 Korean Armistice.

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Going on a post-conference tour of Washington DC guided by Hayden Wetzel.

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Presenting with Jeanne on the work of the UNDPI and of the SDGSs.

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And getting to see my friends, who happened to meet for the first time a month before, and who already get along incredibly.

Cheers to humanism instead of ageism. #NGODialogues

Special thanks to:

Phyllis Chinn, US Servas board chair
Hayden Wetzel, Conference organizer
Tracy Jordan French, US Servas Administrator

Darryl, Jeanne, Mary-Jane, and all of the lovely new friends that I have made.

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Back on a Ship: Peace Boat Edition to Panama, Nicaragua and El Salvador, through the Lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

 

IMG_3791.JPGI was graciously awarded the opportunity to serve as a scholar onboard the Peace Boat this summer for its 94th voyage around the world.

As we learned at our orientation, Peace Boat was started in 1983, after a group of Japanese students wanted to promote peace and understanding as a result of the “Textbook Scandal, when Japanese students wanted to change the misrepresented views/information in textbooks of South East Asian countries. The students decided to do this by traveling on a small ferry that has since then evolved into a mid-sized cruise ship – And very soon (launching in 2020) into the world’s first “Eco Ship” – which will be a sustainable vessel, sailing as a literal flagship for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It will feature amenities like wind and solar power, and a dance floor that captures the energy people exert while dancing on it.

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The ship, which travels to over twenty countries every 3 months is open to anyone, regardless of nationality or age. However, aside from our program, which calls for youth from all corners of the globe, one must be aware that the ship is “heavily Japanese”, as most of its marketing and operations are based in Tokyo, thus attracting a large Asian crowd.

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This calls for a very interesting experience onboard, including, Cuban-style salsa lessons, held in Japanese (luckily, you only need to know 3 numbers and about 5 words to follow along), lots of great Japanese foods for all dietary requirements, and in general, the opportunity to learn a variety of languages, including English (for the non speakers), Japanese, and Spanish.

For me, personally,  it was an opportunity to become a student of the SDGs, mainly seeing how a very theoretical system of goals is practically applied and viscerally benefitting the lives of many.

I shared this with the DPI: While there is an innumerable amount of summer programs for youth, the Peace Boat provided me with the unique opportunity to travel to Latin America “through the lens of the SDGs” — we met with government officials and farmers alike, much as we do at the UN, but this time, we were on the ground with them, having a tangible learning experience. We stayed with the Embera Quera Indigenous tribe in Panama and learned, as best as one could, what it means to live sustainably. Also in Panama, we met with the UNDP regional office, which shared how the SDGs are being implemented in Latin America. On board the ship, we hosted a Peace Forum with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in El Salvador. As a youth scholar for the SDGs, I was invited to present on the SDGs that I closely resonated with, ran workshops on Social Enterprise and Design Thinking, as it is relates to promoting the SDGs. The experience complemented my recent completion of a Master’s degree in Food Studies and Social Entrepreneurship. This truly emphasizes the importance and autonomy that is given to youth as part of this program, which I am eternally grateful for.

 I’ll give you a brief run down of how the next two weeks unravelled: 

June 20 – Orientation at Peace Boat Office 

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June 21 – Fly to Panama City, hotel check-in, and welcome dinner

June 22 – Visit UN Development Program regional office, session on Sustainable Development Goals in Latin America

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Today, we learned about the rapid development of Panama City, in the greater context of Latin America, about the importance of the Panama Canal, and of the great history of colonization and liberation that has greatly impacted this beautiful nation.

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At UNDP, we learned from Javier M. Blanco about the importance of the three principles of the 2030 Agenda: universality, integration, and leaving no one behind — as it relates to the greater context of ensuring that countries are first and foremost able to adhere to the Agenda. We learned about how, in spite of suffering from other violations, like those of human rights, Cuba rates relatively high on quality of life for a relatively low level of income.

He continued with examples of how, while Brazil is developed, the rates are not inclusive, as some are geographically left behind

In the US and Europe for example, lots of crops are used to feed animals and not humans, which creates an inefficient use of these crops; whereas in India, one can see a relatively low level of meat consumption and high crop usage for human, which leads to a lack of universality amongst participating members

In Haiti, the integration of SDGs when natural disasters happens is key — i.e. access to water, resilience of its infrastructure, and the reparation of its cities/zero hunger

From Romeral Quintilla, we learned about the importance of UN volunteers, particularly youth volunteers, in securing the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. She emphasized that volunteering is a powerful means of implementation of the SDGs, as oftentimes, the volunteers were working on the ground long before the Goals were established, which gives them a unique leverage in the field.

Lastly, we heard from Adriana Zacarias who heads UN Environment and who shared key personal and governmental suggestions on the implementation of the SDGs, as it relates to the protection of the environment.

On a personal level, she advocated for decreased consumption, and urged us to think about this in terms of food, housing, mobility, consumer goods, and leisure. To complement this, she focused on 4 tenets, which are common in sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle, and respect — these, she emphasized, could only be achieved after a change in attitudes, paired with facilitators and the infrastructure to allow us to achieve these goals.

We continued our day with a visit to the Panama City Mayor’s office where we learned about the importance of positive reinforcement, as it relates to encouraging youth who are leaders as representatives in their community. The city has established three programs: Joven a Joven, Vivir Con Propósito and Foro Juventud Por la Paz – all with the purpose of encouraging youth, even those who are “trouble makers” – to divert negative energy into positive energy.

June 23 – Visit RET (Resilience, Education and Training) program for refugee youth in Panama

By sharing in a series of SDG – focused activities with youth who had been exposed to some of the most callous sides of life, we learned about the impact that government crises have on fragile populations, especially youth.

What is remarkable, however, is that the youth is resilient, hopeful, and some of the most energetic human beings I have ever seen. I was in the midst of filming a 13 year old girl Venezuelan who gave her testimony before she proceeded to passionately crush an egg we were supposed to keep intact throughout the day break), because she was so dedicated to share the inequalities of her current educational system.

These are the kinds of stories we need to continue to tell.

June 24 – Study Program and cultural exchange with local indigenous communities in Panama

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This was the day that I fell in love with a monkey. Manolo had lost his mother, and the Embera Quera community, which we called home for an evening, also welcomed him.

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The 3 month old spider monkey will remain with them until he is an adult, at which point he and his fellow adopted toucan will be freed.

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What I loved most about our stay is the true sustainable nature of these indigenous communities — while some of the women gloss their lips and the children sing some of the latest songs, they manage to keep some of the traditions of their ancestors, which have also kept them alive for thousands of years.

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Unfortunately, the government no longer allowed them to plant in their region, as it was declared a protected area, so they had to relocate. A comment from a friend shed a lot of light on this situation: “…the indigenous people weren’t indigenous enough for the government” — this is so true! In this case, the plants and the land were more important than its people.

In spite of the injustice, the children seemed to be more knowledgeable than many adults I know — some spoke French and Japanese and one recounted the history of The Great Wall.

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Some highlights of our stay was cooking with the women — which involved finely grating rice for a sort of wrap, learning about traditional healing plants, including plants that remove fever and the bark of a particular tree, which they use to paint their bodies for protection from insects and disease. Lastly, we learned how to make traditional bracelets, which I was surprised to know was not all that easy  – even for the simplest of designs!

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I can’t forget about our sleeping situation, which involved us sleeping hoisted above one of their wooden houses with a mattress and mosquito nets — I would pay for this experience alone!

June 25 – Embark on Peace Boat in Cristobal, Panama, onboard orientation

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Today we boarded the ship for the first time, which was really a fun experience, especially having the opportunity to share it with our friends at RET, who joined us for a visit.

My peers and I practiced our presentations on the SDGs, which allowed me to learn a lot about the SDGs through what they were specifically passionate about.

I ended the the day, taking advantage of the gym on board and singing to the tune of many songs at Karaoke.

June 26 – Panama Canal passage, preparation for lectures and study sessions onboard

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I’m still not sure that I know exactly how it works, but I can tell you that it was very exciting to pass through the Panama Canal.

We spent most of our day outside, again preparing for our presentations, and figuring our the mechanisms of the canal.

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I changed Karaoke for salsa dancing onboard, which allowed me to practice Cuban style salsa dance for a second time in my life!

June 27 – Onboard lectures and workshops

Today, I finally tracked down the matcha ice cream, which I had not indulged in since my time in Japan in 2014 — for future Peace Boat voyagers — it’s in the gift shop!

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I returned to a group salsa class from 11:30 – 12:30pm, proceeded by lunch with my peers and our presentation on our respective SDGs, which was concurrently translated into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese – a mini UN!

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From 6 -7pm, we watched the documentary,  Paper Lanterns, which told the story of the American prisoners of war who were killed during the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

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After dinner, the film was complemented by a private conversation with four Hibakushas, survivors of the nuclear bombs. As some of the only survivors left to tell share their testimony, this was truly an honor.

I was especially motivated by their advocacy work, which takes the form of talks on global voyages to 80+ countries on and off the Peace Boat, emphasizing “words instead of wars.”

In support of SDG #16 – which advocates for peace, the Hibakushas are unrelenting promoters of clean energy and continue to work with the UN on a nuclear ban.

June 28 – Arrive in Nicaragua, Climate Action study program and mangrove forest visit. Return to ship for departure.

IMG_4452.JPGA delay in the passing through the Panama Canal caused the ship to arrive in Corinto, Nicaragua in the late afternoon instead of in the early morning, which sabotaged our visit to the mangrove forest.

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It was, however, the perfect reprieve for us. We rented bikes, which toured us around the peaceful town. I was surprised to see a poster of Chavez, Venezuela’s former president, which I was told was put up by the local government, which was grateful for the support that he provide the people with.

Being here reminded me of a briefing I attended at the UN, which spoke about how Nicaragua did not sign the Paris Treaty, as it felt that it would be disadvantaged if it did sign, given its low level of development, which would only be aggravated if they committed to high levels of sustainable energy usage without having the necessary infrastructure.

Before I could continue to think about this, we danced for a bit on the streets, and the ship called us home.

June 29 – Arrive in El Salvador, disembark from Peace Boat, cultural exchange program

We hosted students from the University of Don Bosco in El Salvador for a Peace Forum, where we learned from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the ways that the SDGs are being prioritized and implemented in El Salvador.

As a country previously divided by civil war, priorities are on SDG 16: restoring peace, justice, and strong institutions because as was repeatedly emphasized by many of the panelists, peace is not the absence of war.

The government has decide to delegate the tasks of the SDGs among 71 groups that work to implement them on a national level.

We got to hear from the youth, who play a particularly important role In El Salvador, as, unlike in more industrialized nations, the population is very young. They urged the government to establish programs that would involve youth to assist in the process of SDG implementation.

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Of course, we took a break to eat a pupusa, a Salvadorian pocket of corn stuffed with an array of beans, vegetables, and/or meat — which we ended up having at least once a day for the rest of our stay.

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Our visit continued to a school in the town of Santo Domingo de Guzman, which houses the country’s sole language learning center for children to learn the indigenous Nahwat language. The is the language of the Pipil people, who are “cousins” of Mayans, but direct descendants of the Aztecs, as they came from Mexico to Central America, but were more culturally integrated as Mayans. Their roots were nearly obliterated, after an ethnic cleansing by a dictator in 1932.

For fear of persecution, the indigenous people chose to be clandestine about their practices, often changing their clothing, religious traditions, and slowly forgetting their language.

Fortunately, a partnership between the University of Don Bosco and the Ministry of Education was established in 2010 to revitalize the Pipil language, the result of which is a school where children, ages 3-5 years old join elderly ladies who cease to work in order to become teachers at the center.

The incredible thing about this is that the classes are taught by these ladies who have never gone to school and who are themselves illiterate! Regardless, the Ministry of Education has recognized their teaching capacities as surpassing that of many formally trained instructors throughout the country.

Dr. Lemo created this program, which now has a partnership with the University of Navarro, Spain, which sends student-teachers over for 3 months to assist in the teaching process.

He urges that the grandchildren of these ladies are the hope! There are 7000 different languages that are spoken around the world, but more than half will die in 50 years because of the same situation as Nahwat languages, the inability to use language publicly i.e. on the radio, in places of worship, in court etc. which forces people to speak other languages.

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Is learning this language even practical? Well, as a person who has long advocated for bilingual education, I can attest to proven scientific benefits, which Dr. Lemo is cognizant of – however, for the local community, it means the preserving the way in which future generations will acquire their values and maintain their culture.

Most biodiverse places in the world are also the most linguistically diverse, which does not seem to only be a product of causation.

We “don’t expect El Salvador to become bilingual, but we have to have this community preserve its culture.”

June 30 – Visit University of Don Bosco in San Salvador, forum on Peace and Sustainability 

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We completed our exchange with Don Bosco University by visiting their campus and listening to a few of their professors discuss peace and how it is manifested in El Salvador.

We learned that for various reasons, 200,000 youth drop out of school every year – 8/100 have access to college, and only 21/100 have access to a baccalaureate degree.

The first professor urged that for a small country, El Salvador’s “only asset” is its people.

The second professor who spoke was a former member of the military who emphasized that friendship is hard between the rich and the poor, between the rich and the rich, and between the poor and the poor, which often incites conflict, and at the base of that conflict is a relationship of different interests that are constantly in flux.

For him, war is a result of unresolved conflicts. His belief is that humans are the most violent of beings, which means that conflicts are often violent.

His experience as a military officer led him to test his ultimate ability to be resilient, and wants El Salvador to be the same because “no one negotiates with the weak — in El Salvador, there are never any negotiations – even the dollarization is imposed on us!”

“Are we in peace today? No. We are still in war.”

25 years after the Peace Agreements were signed in Mexico, he believes that social movements are necessary in order to live in true peace.

Youth, he urges is the key: for him, it’s not about age, but about the capacity to see the world, to make a difference, and to have the courage to make a difference

July 1-2 – Cultural exchange in El Salvador with local community groups focused on the SDGs

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Panchimalco is a small colonial town in El Salvador. Just 4 years ago, there were a lot of problems with a gang called the Maras in this area; there were armed people everywhere, but for as long as it has been in existence, it has been known as “Ciudad del Arte” –  “ Art City.”

And that underlying beauty is what healed the town.

Artists in Pachimalco were convinced that art is the way for peace, and with a supportive mayor, they started programs to support folkloric dance, paint, music lessons, and sculpting for the youth.

They used this as a tool for violence prevention and the construction of peace, which to date has decreased homicide rates in the town, by decreasing the amount of free time that the youth has, diverting the energy into positive skill building.

We were honored with a showcase of all of these art forms.

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In the afternoon, we visited the Alberto Masferrer Univeristy, with a student-run presentation about the culture of El Salvador, as well as its Civil War.

From 1981 to 1992 El Salvador was historically marked with war, leading to a loss of infrastructure, economics, and above all, its people.

It began as a result of a series of human rights violations, resources being concentrated and controlled in the hands of a few, overall inequity, 60% of population being marginalized, and the organization of these peoples in the name of national liberalism.

Development of the war: many organizations merged to form the FMLN Political Party in 1980 to incite/instigate the insurrection. They were not strong enough to deplete the government, but they clearly left their mark on the government, fighting for the next decade until amnesty was declared.

When the peace accords were signed, much of the damage was reflected on its educational system, which now leaves my peers to revitalize it.

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Ana with one of the Scholarship Recipients

The day concluded with a visit to San Isidro, where we learned of the importance of corn, as a member of the community said: “we belong to corn – because corn is the foundation of our diet”.

We also learned about the Mana Ojushte project, which aims to revitalize the ojushte seed, which was forcibly forgotten by the locals as a result of the 1932 ethnic cleaning, which promoted assimilation and an obliteration of indigenous practices.

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Ojushte

Also known as the “sacred seed”, “maju”, and “ramon” in Mexico, Ojushte contains vitamins and minerals like protein, iron, zing, vitamins A, B, C, E, fold acid, potassium, triptofane, calcium, and fiber and is naturally gluten free and low in fat.

in 2010, Zacarias, a Peace Corps volunteer came to San Isidro and liked the way that our host, Ana Edith made all-vegetarian food. He first tried ojushte in the house of an elderly member of the community.

Zacarias thought the town should rediscover the crop as a great source of protein since the community didn’t have enough money for meat. He brought it back to Ana – who then joined him to visit the lady who had first shared it with Zaharias but who refused to share the secrets with them. Eventually, they figured out how to cultivate it on their own and since then have won multiple awards for reforestation, as a way to combat hunger and malnutrition in the region.

This is particularly important because after Haiti, El Salvador is the second deforested country in all of Latin America.

Ana not only employs the farmers, but also those who cultivate, and gives scholarships to local students who want to be in the culinary fields.

For lots of youth, their only hope in the San Isidro, is going to the United States, but she believes that there are lots of opportunities right within San Isidro.

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Cultivation:

  • Buy seeds from local cooperative
  • Cultivators are paid $8/day ($3 above average) to dry, toast, and grind the seed for drinks, breads, crackers, or as a supplement for food
  • Can last for 5 years in perfect state, unlike corn and beans

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Blessing of the Seed: 

  • Use tree bark that is blessed by the Catholic Church as incense
  • Partake in a “monkey” and “jaguar” dance
  • “All humans walk on the earth, but we think about the sky

July 1-2 – Cultural exchange in El Salvador with local community groups focused on the SDGs

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We had a pretty relaxing day before our departure, hiking up a volcano, visiting Mayan ruins at Joya de Ceren – a World Heritage Site, and different from all of Meso American Mayan ruins, as instead of displaying temples and religious sites, this archeological site is a showcase of normal life, a community where people coexisted 1500 years ago.

They lived among homemade gardens, agave, cacao yucca, and guayaba cultivations, with three to five people per family, and each family sharing something with the community, be it his/her shaman abilities, a communal sauna, and of course some of the crops from their gardens.

This spirit of communality and equality is what El Salvador is craving at the moment.

We had coffee and shopped a bit in Santa Tecla, where an artisan handcrafted a dream catcher for me, in my favorite hue of turquoise.

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Back at the hotel, I had the honor of co -leading the rest of the Design Thinking workshop on the SDGs.

July 3 – Return home 

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Before parting ways, we had the honor of sharing our time with former guerrilla warrior, Ana Francis.

After 1992, she did not pick up a single weapon, and upon her reinsertion into civil society, she started working against the exploitation of all of civil society and is now an incredible advocate for women’s rights.

She co-founded Las Melidas, a center that now serves as one of the primary spaces for advocating for women in El Salvador, leading efforts to fight the criminalization of abortion, domestic violence, and a paternity law, which forces fathers to be emotionally and economically responsible for their children, even retroactively, and even if they are out of the country.

She also advocates for women’s rights as workers, sex workers, intergenerational dialogue, and against the wage gap.

On the 26th of July, the center celebrates is 25th year in operation.

Belize: Mayans, Mennonites and Me

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The cutest puppy I saw!! ❤

For the first time in years, I decided to travel without planning to make plans. Normally, I plan the bare minimum, expecting to be very flexible with my itinerary, with a few specific places or activities in mind.

After graduating with my MA a few days earlier, and feeling like this has been the fastest year of my life, I decided to book a stay at a resort (fancier than normal for me), and to not leave.

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This was 50% a success. While I did manage to relax, unwind, and enjoy the retreat (there were only about 5 other people at the resort for my entire stay) — I did end up going to some Mayan ruins and went snorkeling on the Blue Hole. What can I say, I tried!

Here’s a bit from the journey:

Where I stayed:

El Secreto is about 11 miles north of the town of San Pedro, which means that it is completely remote — the best/only way to get into town is via a chartered speed boat.

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I managed to hitch a ride on the speed boat with one of the outgoing hotel guests, which got me into town, also running errands for the hotel, like buying chickens 🙂

I drove one of the golf carts that I drove (and managed to run over my purse/camera – hoping it still works!) #donttrustmewithyourlife

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The following day, I decided to stay in for most of the day, so I worked a bit, managed to lose my balance on a hammock and fell into the water with my phone (thank the heavens that it’s somewhat waterproof), watched Master of None, and then went out on the charter boat for a bit. With the captain of the ship, I saw sharks and stingrays, and he even let me drive the boat for a bit!

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Back at the hotel, I took advantage of the Jacuzzi, which was such treat — this area alone is about the size of my NYC apartment hah.

After not seeing many people for a few days, I decided to satisfy my history craving with a visit to Altun Ha — the Mayan temple that is famously depicted on all of the Belkin beer bottles in Belize, both cultural icons which they are very proud of.

IMG_2023Some more interesting facts about Altun Ha are included below, but I will say — in the middle of the forest, and in the blazing heat, it is not a good idea to forget your water, especially if you’re planning to climb up the stairs of the temple.

Physically exhausted, I went back to finish watching Master of None.

The following day, I was up at 4am to join a tour of the Blue Hole, the only sink hole of its kind in diameter, structure, and geological grandeur. It’s a perfect circle! Unfortunately, my diving license was expired, so I had to resort to snorkeling, but as I learned, it was better for the sea life. If I had an underwater camera, I would be able to show you the adorable sea turtle that we saw!!!! And the many dolphins and starfish and stingrays. Quite frankly, it was absolutely incredible, and a perfect way to end my time in Belize.

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Shark!! Apparently, they’re friendly. 

 

——

Fun facts: 

I arrived in Belize on their Labor Day, which meant that literally no one was on the streets; it didn’t seem to change much after the

They seem to have a reggae mix to everything – even to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”

Someone told me that in Belize, “Bob Marley is like Jesus”  – and just like in Christian homes, a picture of Bob Marley is virtually hung in everyone’s home

I’m sure it’s not unique to Belize, but fishermen spend up to 2/3 weeks at sea, living together in tiny sail boats; In general, this depicts the grandeur and great importance of the sea and sea life to coastal-living Belizeans

Belize has mennonites of African decent who converted to it after the arrival of German mennonites (originally settling in the US, then Mexican, and then Belize in the 1950)

There seems to be a very peaceful, appreciation, and reciprocal acceptance for people of different cultures and ethnicities in Belize

Approximately 50% of Belizeans self-identify as Mestizo, Latino, or Hispanic and 30% speak Spanish

As a former British colony, Spanish was banned in schools is now commonly taught as a second language, which is greatly due to the size of Belize in comparison to its Spanish-speaking neighbors

What I mostly heard spoken, however, is a “Kitchen Spanish”,  a form of Spanish mixed with Belizean Creole/English

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Fast food in Belize isn’t really “fast food” as it is known to much of the world – in Belize, this normally means a home cook has food prepared and heated on the street or on a stand

IMG_1839It’s small in Belize!!! With a population of 350k people, and most of the land uninhabited (which means that populations are concentrated), everyone seems to know each other and as such calls one another “brother” — confusing at time when you don’t know who is a blood-related brother

You can ask for “to go cups” for your alcohol at bars

Belize was struck by a pretty catastrophic hurricane in 1961, which led the country to move its capital a bit more inland

IMG_2098Belizeans make some really great handmade chocolates from locally/organically grown cocoa.

You will not find a McDonald’s or other fast food chains here

Belize is home to many luxury resorts and jungle lodges. However, there are not many all-inclusive branded resorts here. I did, however, see a Wyndham hotel being built along the coast of San Pedro

The tallest building in the country is Canna Temple, a Maya pyramid at Caracol.

Great video talking about Belizean culture! 

Altun Ha:

An old Mayan trading post

Had 10k residents at its peak

Dedicated to the sun god

Holds the remains of elderly priests

Mayans inhabited Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, which make up the “Mundo Maya”

Found a jade head – kept at central bank of Belize; Jade came from Guatemala, which was most likely traded here

Jade — green represents growth and fertility

For those to be accepted into elite family — had to have flat forehead and cross eye

Babies were applied wooden boards to the front and back of their heads and then wrapped in order to make their heads malleable and adapt to this shape/standard of beauty

Means would have red beads hanging from a tree and would have their babies focusing on it swinging back and forth until s/he would end up with a cross eye from straining his eye for so long

11% of current Belize population = Mayan people

Mayans copied Incan style of building

Mayans introduced chocolate into the world; cacao beans were their main form of currency — mainly for flint — like diamonds

Human sacrifice for pleasing of the gods was common— but not so much at Altun Ha because it was used as trading center

They believed in 9 levels of the underworld —- which one would need to fight off to get up to the upper world, which had 13 levels

Structure of Altun Ha has 9 levels underneath, which represent hell

Played basketball with limbs -the winners (***not losers) were sacrificed to the gods

People sacrificed = went to heaven – not having to fight off the 9 level, so people were happy to be sacrificed

Would burn the bodies & incense would go up to the heavens

Both males and females would pierce themselves

Males thought the female tongue is the most powerful part of body; they would pierce their tongues and nipples

Men pierced their penis

Would bury Mayans with al spice to keep the smell down, as they lived among their dead

1961 = when they discovered Altun Ha – covered under vegetation after the hurricane

The fall of the Mayans was greatly credited to the conquistadors who would have the Mayans trade their expensive things for a mirror for example (previous to this, they had never seen themselves and thought this invention to be magical)

Some believe that peasants revolted against their rulers and  that this led to demise of Mayans at Altun Ha

Others believe that the soil lost nutrients because of lack of sustainable farming

The Mayans from Altun Ha went other places where life was better after 1150 AD

First Mayans believed to have come originally from Asia – following buffalo and other large animals across Bering straight – and ended up over to Western Hemisphere

 

Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and a little bit of Panama

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Some trips are more tumultuous than others. And that is precisely how I choose to describe my time in these three beautiful countries.

I preface this by saying that because of my carelessness, I lost my phone, wallet, IDs and most importantly, a lot of time (spent driving to numerous banks and Western Unions in order to retrieve money in each country) after I was pick-pocketed on a beach. Because of this, it was difficult even to wake up on time (no alarms), communicate with people, cancel the cards (before a laptop and another expensive technology was purchased on my cards), transport myself – and take pictures (my camera battery eventually died). It could have been anywhere in the world, and it happened to me because of me, and perhaps for a reason that is beyond my mental reach at the moment – it did happen to me once before (and it changed my life), which is quite a governing thought.

Now that the negative is out, I can focus on the greater picture, and marvel at the beauty that was my time in these countries, of course, as always, greatly due to the people I met.

Here’s a little play by play of what I did during my 2 weeks in South America, this March:

Day 1: Peru

I walked around Lima

Day 2: 

I met with the Peruvian Tourism Board, learning about their efforts to promote their Peruvian cuisine

I went to the Peruvian Food/Cultural Dance Show: Brisas Del Titicaca

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Day 3-5: 

I flew to Cusco!

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And found this beautiful baby. ❤

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And these talented weavers speaking in their native Quechua language.

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And ate this incredible corn. The perspective is off in the picture, but each piece of corn is about the size of an American nickel.

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And fell in love with a llama.

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Train to Machu Pichu – $3 for locals $100 for tourists – private company, subsidized by tourism

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Workers unloading equipment for those Coming back from Inca Trail

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And got a “private” tour of Machu Pichu with this brilliant man – ended up being no-one on my group tour!

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And bumped into my friend, Giuseppe, whom I met exactly two years ago in Berlin through CS! He’s now working in Cusco! (Small world).

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People have more hemoglobin in Cusco due to the altitude — rosier checks, bugger lungs, helps them to breathe more

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And met with representatives from Pro Mujer in Lima! Was gifted this beautiful image <3.

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How the beautiful dyes are made in Peru – organic colors

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Went to a cultural dance show!

Days 6-9: Ecuador 

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Flew to Guayaquil where I spent time with this beautiful Couchsurfer, Veronica.

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Spent 4 hours driving around with this honorable cab driver, until we were finally able to get money transferred to me — without him knowing if he would ever get paid for his time.

Met with the Ecuadorian Tourism Ministry to learn all about their foods:

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Love the way processed foods simplify the decision making processes – depicting whether or not something is high or low in fat, sugar, salt!

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Went food shopping with my Couchsurfing host, Andres and his family.

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Was amazed by the diversity of beans.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the diversity of potatoes! Ecuador had over 7000 diverse potatoes about 100 years ago!

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And then we ate.

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And ate!

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Made it to the center of the earth and balanced an egg on a nail!

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Met up with some more Couchsurfers ^^

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Had some really good moonshine.

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And saw a really giant cabbage!

Day 9: Layover in Panama City – nice colonial architecture in city center! 

Days 10-14: Colombia

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Stumbled upon my salsera friend in Cartagena!

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Met up with incredible incredible first-time Couchsurfers who helped me to explore Bogota, gave me a salsa CD, fed me, took me to/from the airport, and most importantly, inspired me greatly with their stories.

Foods I like:

      PERU:

Papa a la guancaina, Quinoa with nuts, Corn chips

     EDUADOR:

Cheese is amazing! , Ice-cream de paisa, Banana with cheese inside, Choclo – corn

      COLOMBIA: 

How many arepas they have!, Arequipa; RECIPE FOR COLOMBIAN DRINK:  Colombian soda (colombiana), agua ardiente, colombian beer

Interesting learnings: 

Peru:

  • Heard someone say — “Pero tiene calorie — Peruvian dog heals you if you sleep with it” — calories aka referring to the transfer of energy that occurs
  • Smoke before coming into the mountain – blow steam, asking for permission because mountains are alive and sacred
  • Machu Pichu – did not build on tectonic rift because they knew the structures built there would break and/or fail; energy changes there, to the point where pendulums held over this area freak out
  • Incense give mother death blessings, burry chocolates and sweets or asked there because she liked that
  • They were great astronomers – believed in sun as god because he gave them all of the land’s bearings
  • Peru Rail – made by British who in exchange took their land and minerals – now, tourists subsidize travel for local who pay $3 vs. our $120 round trip
  • 1911 Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Pichu while searching fro another land – where the Incans fought the Spanish (Incan king relocated there because Spanish were there – that land, unlike Machu Pichu had gold, which is why the Spanish never made it to Machu Pichu) — in 1912 Bingan was sponsored by Yale and the National Geographic Society to restore/clean up Machu Pichu, which at the time was completely covered in forests.
  • 1500 people visit Machu Pichu each day
  • Heard someone say, “Que dice la cabeza” – interesting way to say this, almost separating mind and body
  • Cuzco means — ombligo del mundo (belly button of the world) – as was once considered – center of the world
  • Surround Machu Pichu home = agricultural area – sustainable farming
  • Homes build facing east for more sun and ventilations on incline as to not block one another
  • Traditional names change – Quespe to Quispe – to be more Spanish like
  • Women for smarts, beauty of the sun would even be sacrificed during bad natural times would clean and create jewelry for the clergy; could maybe be king’s concubines
  • People have more hemoglobin here — rosier checks, bugger lungs, helps them to breathe more
  • 80s – 90s terrorism = decrease in tourism because of communism — 8x tourism from that time
  • Saw dog eating another dead dog — even driver was surprised — cannibalism!
  • Sacred valley – fertility, river – reflection of the milky way
  • Saw a human stop sign

Ecuador:

  • 1880 began cultivating cacao in Ghana
  • For Aztecs and Mayans – chocolate = sacred drink
  • Chocolate: high flovanoid = protects from sun; smell relaxes; releases endorphins = cultivates love
  • Aztecs: traded 10 grams of cacao for 1 rabbit
  • People use mole to mix spices then add a bit of water for seasoning
  • 1830 Ecuador separated itself from Colombia
  • Fought Peru over land in the Amazon and Ecuador lost – so lost a lot of land
  • Position on the equator = interesting climactically = lots of diverse flare and fauna — i.e. galapagos – darwin!
  • French helped build monument in center of the earth

At the Central Bank of Ecuador: 

  • Bartering happened first – had designated places where they would trade during Precolumbian era – would walk around trading stuff, no horses prior to Columbus
  • Would trade volcanic rocks, cinnamon, cacao – “peppa de pro” – which is said to have originated in Ecuador, coca leaves for chewing – energy to keep walking, conch shell which looks like a uterus = fertility – used as offering for the gods
  • Ecuadorian “mandala” would be primary merchants — now represented in a clay figure – strong looking, gold chains making him a merchant — must speak many languages – women merchants wore more jewels, still merchants
  • Change to coin once the conquest happens
  • Spain had coins since the 13th century — 1492 = Spanish came and found gold – were told that people from the South came with gold, so they went South
  • The Spanish had to accept to barter until 1535  when gold became a thing in Mexico
  • First coins were made with a hammer like tostones – they were imperfect and as such were easily falsified
  • From images of “both worlds being conquered under one king” to images of Filip V to Carlos III and Greek gods, which were an infatuation for all
  • From Mexico to Bolivia, they used the same coins, as they were all part of the same kingdom
  • 1821 – Ecuador gained independence from Spain, under the reign of Simon Bolivar which united Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia under the GRAN COLOMBIA
  • 1830 — Independence – first president = Juan Jose Flores – got machine from England to make first Ecuadorian coins – Gold Escudos + Silver reales
  • Gold previously used for deities, not for money –  natives recognized the value of gold, but did not equate it to commercial value, was sacred!
  • Gold needs to be mixed with copper, or else it disintegrates completely
  • 1860 — Begin to export cacao, so Ecuador gets so much more money and create their first banks/banking systems with help from American/European systems that were already established
  • 2000 – because of importing a lot of American products (no limit on importation) and overall consumption foreign goods = devaluation of Ecuadorian money = eventual high inflation and switch to the dollar – as it is today

Colombia:

  • Lots of Venezuelans, as in Ecuador and Peru, escaping persecution and danger – many prostitute themselves in the “Tolerance” zones, which are filled with drugs and violence –many are tricked into being there
  • Many are reluctant to travel to the US/Mexico, as they face discrimination for being Colombian and the stereotypes associated with them i.e. as drug dealers and pimps

Uganda 2017

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What About Uganda?

My most recent travels led me to Uganda where we were greeted by the Musuke god (rainbow god) whose light reigned over us during our welcome dinner.

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For two weeks, about 15 students ventured to Kampala to participate in a cultural dance exchange whereby we (Americans) would learn traditional Ugandan dances along with students from Kyambogo University. We would come together as teachers who would pair up to choreograph dances with children who would then perform with us at the National Theatre four days later.

I write this, as I eat mindlessly in front of my computer. And my first thought is: “Wow! I haven’t done this in over 20 days.” And immediately with that thought comes a sinking feeling of solitude.

The root of all problems is expectation, and to avoid feeling this way, I need to realize that not every day will be as rich and exciting as the time that I spent in Uganda – I may not have incredible conversations over lunch every day, dance beyond my mental limits, or be inspired by a country that is pulsing with peace and acceptance, but my daily life can be an embodiment of this experience.

As one of our professors, Jill Pribyl, mentioned, “All humans come from East Africa. History tells us that the first human was found to live here, so if you feel at home, there must be a reason why.”

I hope that some of my learnings and stories make you feel at home:

I. History

IDENTITY:

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There are 56 tribes in Uganda – 1/2 of which speak Bantu languages — all tribes consider themselves different peoples

Acholi /Acoli people are people who live North of the Nile who are called Northerners

  • For the Acholi, dance is life; they have the biggest number of dances that are still in circulation
  • The classroom for one to learn Acholi dances is the community and the people served
  • Northerners — when the British came – they made northerners soldiers and part of armed forces in Buganda (South) – since they didn’t speak Lugandan, they were not liked
  • The Acholi had war for 20+ years when children were given guns and as such there was a power/authority shift amongst adults and children, people of the North and of the South
  • Because of this turmoil, dances were lost and transformed

LANGUAGE:

  • Bugandans speak Lugandan
  • Acholi speak Luo
  • Banyankole people speak Banyankole
  • 50+ languages spoken in all of Uganda, but the Bugandan language is widely communicated

COLONIALISM:

When colonizers came, the British decided that the Acholi were warriors, but previously, they considered themselves human beings and not even distinctively Acholi

The British made individuals bring all of their valuables to a centralized location, so that they were able to distinguish what was cherished by the locals, ultimately curating that into the Ugandan National Museum, which is the largest museum in East Africa

GEOGRAPHY:

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Uganda is the  country

Buganda is a region within the country

In the South is Lake Victoria, so there is no Southern region

PARLIAMENT:

1955 – is the year that the Buganda parliament was built, which sits 8 times a year

  • Built after the King made a trip to Northern Ireland – Belfast inspired this architecture
  • At meetings, attendees must wear traditional wear — Kanzu for men and Gomesi – traditional garb for women

The king in 1856 was the first to be photographed; he sent mail to the Queen of England, requesting “more white people” to teach Ugandans how to read and write and to propel Christianity. He had 86 wives – At the time, the king would ask any/all women to serve as his wife; men would happily give up their wives to serve their king. He built the kasubi tombs for the kings and their predecessors.

Another king came into power at the age of 1 — married one official wife in church; at the age of seven, he went to Europe. Ideas he thought of while in Europe: table tennis, and the ideas that women should be able to go to school, eat meat, eggs and fish. He made a school for kings – Kings College Buganda.

King – father to the current king refused to make East Africa one Country — he was exiled in England then son came and built parliament

People love the Kingdom — queen/king establishment!

The Buganda kingdom is the most famous/organized kingdom in East and Central Africa, so it serves as a model for all Kingdoms in the region, which consult this one for advice.

Elder son is never king, only the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th son etc. can be — eldest son serves as a consultant.

Kabaka – Title for a King in Uganda if s/he is living – otherwise called a Busekabaka — a dead king, but kings are never really “dead” to Ugandans, instead, they’re “disappeared”

A king is a king for life, even if the king is not well liked by the people

Ssekabaka — predecessor to the kabaka

MISCELLANEOUS:

Gaddafi mosque is the second largest in Africa, donated by Gaddafi, who was a good friend of Ugandan royalty

Uganda – Kenya – Tanzania is the old East Africa — now includes Burundi, and South Sudan as parts of the region

Uganda has had the same president since 1986

1890 – first Ugandans to travel abroad for school

Model T – 1925 — first car driven in Uganda was driven by British Governor

Olympics 1956 – British lost soccer game to Ugandans even if Ugandans were not wearing shoes

The British helped to build the Buganda palace in 1922

There are 56 clans in the Kingdom, and each clan has a specific role in the tribe. Members of the Cow Clan, can’t marry other clan ladies from that specific Clan and cannot eat that specific animal.

Legend of a father and his three sons: 

Kakama (king)

Kahimina (cattle leader)

Kairo (servants)

Still, the descendants of these individuals remain king, cattle herders, and servants, respectively!

Bahima vs. Bairu – Bahilma— because they have cattle, they are wealthy —  they depend on milk, ghee and butter – women of this tribe believed to be lazy

Bairu— tilling lead = getting wealthy, but slowly; both still trade and exchange services with each other

 

II. DANCE 

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Dance is cathartic for all human souls, but as it relates to Uganda, dance is an expression of worship, celebration, preparation for marriage, honoring life, and even complaining about death.

In a circle, men are always to the right of the women, as a symbol of protection

As compared to traditional American dance, which focuses on elevating the body i.e. ballet, Ugandans “keep it low” i.e. akel dances, which are grounded and really use the floor to accentuate movements

Ugandans don’t create dances, they are taught dances as children in a religious, traditional or social setting; dance is part of Ugandan culture, whereas in the US, the culture is mostly closed to paying students of dance

Dances are fading out, as only people in the villages are learning many of them; those in the cities may learn traditional dances if they are a part of a cultural center that teaches dance

Dance learning methods: just follow and repeat, “we” mentality, no singling anyone out, no mirrors

1. Ekituguriro Dance: 

  • Dance comes from Western Uganda
  • When men go to the fields, women go to the gardens
  • Dance comes in because of the cattle
  • Trying to mimic the cattle because they are prized and praised, going up the hills and down the valleys drinking water
  • Jumping, thumping, stomping, hands held high hip movement, is a resultant of the footwork
  • Mostly men dancing
  • Vocal accompaniment – talking about the day – often holding a hidden message / events of the day – doubt entendres – as well as direct meanings
  • Men secretly talking about women, and not exactly about “cows”
  • Performed during joyful occasions, not during deaths
  • Put on cattle skin
  • Eat butter, drink milk
  • Fabric comes from arabs/indians that came to trade
  • Now commercial to some are paid to dance this
  • Form of cultural preservation
  • People earned through school/community
  • Form of social affirmation form

2. Matuput Dance:

  • Ceremonial Acholi dance to resolve conflict – was to bring everyone back together, fighters and those affected – everyone in the community from both parties
  • Men and women had particular pre-established roles
  • Now, individualism is more and more accepted, which means that women don’t need to marry, shifting power dynamics and as such, dance dynamics

3. Akel dance:

  • Acholi youth dance, a social dance for boys and girls who are ready for marriage; gendered dance
  • Men stand on right side of women as this side is a symbol of power and strength
  • Circular formation, like a hut, where they would first perform this dance, so they are very compact in a close group
  • The dance is grounded in different rhythms — the torso is leaning forward, no solos (as this is a communal dance), gender specific, knees bent
  • Accompaniment: voice, drums, whistle (pirini), calabash, cow bells, beads around waist, and other string instruments as they may
  • In contrast with the Banyankole people who are conservative, Acholi people wear mini skirts to show off bodies — if you (as a man) can’t dance well, you do not get a wife! Dance proves how well you are able to take care of the women
  • When Arab Traders arrived with their fabrics, the Acholis wore more clothing, but initially just covered some body parts/private parts with animal skins
  • Acholi women always wear beads (virgins) – but also used for dance
  • Men danced for discipline couldn’t be aroused while dancing – taught how to behave through dance
  • Circular – partners chose each other on the ring, but there were suggestions from family members as far as whom one should marry
  • Akel Song U U We-e —> No, I don’t want you! When a man comes to pick a    lady for marriage, this is her response. | Akel lamin ma-a —> admiring her to the extent that s/he will be like his mother

III. Culture/Education

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5 Dimensions of culture — 

1. Relation to authority

2. Conception of self — individualism vs. community

3. Concepts of masculinity vs. femininity

4. Ways of dealing with conflict

5. Longterm orientation

1. Relation to authority — Ugandans have a high level of hierarchical authority  

Working with Ugandan Children —  “be aware of the quiet ones” — Ugandan saying because Ugandan children tend to be quiet and reserved – a product of colonialism and top-down approaches to teaching, which focuses on not challenging authority, and as such it stifles creativity.

In large power distance cultures like Uganda, parents treat children not as equals, but as subjects that must respect adults at all costs.

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  1. 2. Conception of self — individualism vs. collectivism Ugandans primarily associate themselves as part of a collective culture – identifying with their immediate family, extended family, clan, tribe, and kingdom. They expect protection in exchange for loyalty in a symbiotic social coexistence.In a more individualistic culture like that of the United States, friendships and even family ties are voluntary, allowing children to speak their mind as a sign of honesty rather than as a sign of discord with the larger group.

    In a collective culture like Uganda, children think of each other as “We” — with the goal of harmony being maintained. Resources are shared and socialized in outdoor settings.

    Values shared by the culture are considerations of what is moral vs. immoral, feminine vs. masculine, and good vs. bad.

    This idea of collectivism influences ideas, especially the ideas expressed in public, which may be synonymous, but different and more individualistic in the private sphere. Again, this is with the ultimate goal of maintaining harmony.

    For this reason, as teachers, we were told to find language that allows the children to think for themselves.

img_13823. Concepts of masculinity vs. femininity   

Greetings — not greeting mom when husband is around, no greetings if girl’s outfits are too short, too tight, and/or she is not married; these ideas alone hint at the gendered characteristics of traditional Ugandan culture.

However, during my short stay in Kampala, I was shown the highest forms of respect and acceptance as a woman and as a foreigner.

Patrilineal society – dad is the head of the home and woman is the main planner, is to bear children or man will find someone else; children are highly valued

 Patrilineal society – dad is the head of the home and woman is the main planner, is to bear children or man will find someone else; children are highly valued

4. Ways of dealing with conflict – communal, traditionally by bringing both dissenting parties together, often through dance 

5. Longterm orientation – i.e. do you think of the future in terms of tomorrow, 5 years, or 10 years from now? – Ugandans normally live in the moment.

 

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MISCELLANEOUS:

Fire places were traditional educational places at night, only taught by elders of the communities

The Aguara (calabash) is a primary representation of Ugandans’ resourcefulness. It was used: to fetch water, to shower, as a plate for food, as a cup for drinking, as an instrument, a chair, an umbrella, a cover baby for rain, a pillow, and an alarm clock as women come and play the calabash to wake up their husbands.

Primary sources of entertainment:

Traditional:

  • Mankala – Mwebo Game
  • Blacksmithing

Modern:

  • Soccer/Football

IV. Religion/Spirituality

“For God and My Country” is the motto of the country, which speaks to the depths of religion (Christianity)

Uganda is primarily a Catholic nation, with traces of Anglican and Muslim religions

Despite statistical representations of official religions, Uganda is a highly tolerant nation of all religions, promotes freedom of worship, and as such even has a Bah’ai temple!

MISCELLANEOUS:

“Dead bodies are respected more than living bodies”  — made out of bark from the birch tree Walloombe — God of Death

Bangalore people – believe in God – Nyamhuanga

In 2009, the King celebrated his birthday with the Catholics, and in 2010, he celebrated his birthday with the Muslims, which speaks to the cultural understanding and collaboration of the country at large

“We thank God, known by many names” – Professor Grace announced before one of our meals, speaking again to Ugandan’s religious understanding

Uganda is a nation with over 50 tribes and many more languages, which may add to its tolerance of diversity

There is an increasing duality between conventional medicine and homeopathic medicine, and traditional spirituality and post-colonial religions, which seem to coexist organically

Coffee beans are one of the first meals that connects you to ancestral spirits in Buganda

If you are impotent in Buganda – it is believed that your parents or grandparents have a curse behind your family, so they come to Sseswiba Falls with beer and pots to offer their ancestral spirits

Belief in life after death complements Christianity

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V. Family

TWINS:

Twin ceremony — twins are highly valued, as they are known to increase population, also from the legend of the twin born Rivers — Waswa and Kato — Waswa is the firstborn

—  ceremony, Bolo Laputa must be performed,  otherwise it is known to bring diseases for the kids

Nnalongo – mother of twins

Ssalongo – father of twins

Bark cloths used as blankets and cloths used for initiation of newborn twins

MISCELLANEOUS:

Children are highly valued as part of the family and as an addition to the labor force, complementing the work of the cows

Individuals are distinguished from either the west or north regions of Uganda according to their last names

Mixed babies, lighter skinned babies are generally not treated well and seen as “half breeds”

 VI. Role of Performing Arts

Frank, the director of Tender Talents Performing Arts Center, was once part of the N’Dere Troupe, the youngest of his group at the time who was always asked to train the incoming youth, and as such learned how to teach others. He has now been giving workshops all over the world for the past 17 years. “I don’t think that there’s a stage in Kampala that I don’t know.”

He has since returned to the community where he hosts 350 children in his center. He uses the arts to train the children in other disciplines, from history to geography and cited one of his students who said that “if it wasn’t for the art program, he wouldn’t have made it as a lawyer.”

We had the honor of watching one of their performances, which had been entirely choreographed by children. The lights stopped working and nails on the stage often hurt the dancers, but they kept going, speaking to their unwavering resilience.

“Once you do good things, good things come socially and physically,” Frank mentioned in response to someone who offered to build him a space for the performing art’s center, after he was asked where the children danced (previously outdoors).

This speaks to the power of performing arts as a vehicle for growth and transformation of individuals and societies.

For many children, like those whom we visited at the Break Dance Project, dance is an outlet for communal expression and an escape from poverty, most importantly the psychological and physiological stresses that come with it – through dance, the body does not speak poverty, it speaks freedom and connection.

As previously mentioned, dances are fading out in Uganda outside of villages where dance still form part of daily life: organizations like the N’Dere Center and Sosolya Undugu Center are keeping souls and culture alive.

VII. Food

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At – Sylivia’s house — “I have 10 different types of jack fruit trees in my backyard, and each tree’s fruits tastes differently; I have no need to pay for fruit, I just ask my neighbor, and she just asks me”

Ugandans have lunch at 1pm

Millet (Akaro)  is a staple food cereal — it is still the food that people use to welcome guests and dignitaries into their homes

Realization: saw many women eating alone in public spaces – in the city anyway

Lots of Indian and Chinese immigrants i.e. business men, so lots of Indian/Chinese food establishments and influences in food like pilau rice, which I am a fan of!

People don’t fry foods in the north, so it is generally “healthier”

VIII. Money

  • It is good to bring $100 bills minted after 2003 to ensure that they will be exchanged
  • Tip isn’t required but it is highly appreciated by all service workers

IX. Miscellaneous:

  • “Ugandans respect dead bodies more than live ones”
  • Birds are important, many songs about birds
  • Boda boda — “border border” motorcycles, as a primary transport in Kampala – called this way because they were used to transport people from Uganda to Rwanda
  • Taxis – are group transport vans; “private hires” are taxis as they are more commonly known
  • Uganda sits right on the equator, so 12 hour days, 12 hour nights — pretty great weather!
  • Horns were once used for blowing & communication — before, one’s grandfather decided what partner you took, and announced it through specific horn blowing
  • Takes three months for something to go from end of Nile in Uganda to Egypt
  • Every president of the US that is elected prompts people in Uganda to start naming their kids after that, including Trump
  • Many British style bricks used – similar architecture throughout Kampala
  • Roads/ infrastructure in Kampala generally good, compared to other similar GDP areas
  • Covered up hygienic pads for my friend at supermarket with a separate bag, seems to be a taboo and a form of preserving secrecy
  • Circumcision is highly valued — saw a booth across from the National Theatre: “get circumcised now!”
  • Very little recycling in Uganda, garbage is burned

X. Reflection

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“Seeing the sons and daughters of their soil divided makes us quite perplexed,” Simon Ewasu said regarding how polarized our views were on the United States’ levels of freedom. This for me was the first moment that greatly materialized the importance of our being in Uganda. Many of the people that we interacted with were first exposed to Americans through us, which was a mutual blessing given the diversity of our group as first/second generation Americans, recent émigrés, and visiting students.

The next few weeks were a reminder that my identity as a minority in an increasingly intolerant State made me ever more connected to the individuals that I had the opportunity to work with, not as a colonizer of ideas but as a collaborator.

I was reminded of this through our many visits to performing arts centers, where dance was the source of life for many children whose talent could not be compared. Their talent alone spoke for the power of the arts, of opportunity, and of human collaboration, which is at the core of my belief that empathy trumps sympathy when trying to make a difference.

Empathy brews empowerment, and empowerment dissipates hierarchy, bureaucracy, and other top-down approaches to the thriving of human souls.

This approach allowed me to listen in different ways and to open myself up to a community of dancers who have the rigor of businessmen, paired with the creativity of the overarching artistic community.

As our professor, Deborah Damast mentioned, “Your identity is only up to you” — and as such, my ideas of myself as a “non-dancer”, whose memory would fail her until the very end, and who could not make a distinguishable difference on her own were blurred. The truth is that the power of this program is beyond me; it is beyond any single human and his identity as an individual. The power lies in the collective, and in the strength that this collaboration forges as part of human history.

 

 

Who I am.

I recently took a DNA test. There are the results: I’m about 50% (South/West) European, 30% (West) African, 5% Native American, and the rest, miscellaneous.

I’ve always felt a connection to people of many ethnic communities — both tangible and not. This just validates that.

In my personal fight against racism, even against those thoughts that are unconsciously embedded within me, I am reminded that discriminating against people of these different communities is like discriminating against and hating these parts of myself.

We don’t know what secret stories our blood has to tell, but oftentimes, they can connect us more to our past and more to each other.

 

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