Cuba: an interview with Kendra, a solar-powered dancer

Hola! October is almost here but the sun is still shining 🙂 I met this lovely woman at my buddy, Shane’s, Birthday BBQ a few weeks ago.  That afternoon, we talked at length about our travel experiences. I asked her to share some details from her most recent stay in Cuba with us!
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Detroit, MI and now I live in Brooklyn, NY

Are you under 30 years of age or older?

No, 25

When did you first leave your country and describe that experience?
Well, Detroit is 10 min from Canada, and my parents used to travel there often to shop (when the USD was double the Canadian dollar) but I don’t really count that.

I really left when I was 12 years old going to Cuba.  I went with my dance teacher whom I had been studying Afro-Cuban dance with for a year and a half.  It was amazing.  I remember everything being so beautiful to me.  It was my first time in the Caribbean and I was fascinated by all the bright colors.  The houses were yellow, pink, turquoise.  The cars were old, like I had seen in history books and just as colorful.  And the people exuded as much brilliance and color as the atmosphere.  They were warm and welcoming, but still full of fire.  I had my first kiss there in Cuba!

Do you have any fears? If so, please describe.
I have fear of failure.  I come from a community of unfulfilled dreams.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, because me and my personality were developed as a result.  However, I never want to have to say, I once wanted to do _____ and not be able to do it.

Although things have not been as expedient as I would have liked, I have been pretty good at accomplishing the things I have wanted to do. Dance and Travel have been the top two, and 2010 has been fruitful for both!

How do you spend most of your days? Working? Studying? Etc?
I spend my days either working like crazy or having nothing to do.  That’s been a semi-personal choice and I enjoy it sometimes.  I am in the nothing to do phase and I wish I was working more.  When I am in one state I always seem to crave the other.

How was your last trip funded?
By myself.  I work as a teaching artist and I worked my ass off last school year to pay for my trip and be able to not work for the summer.  I am also blessed by God and the financial angel that when I need it, it always comes from somewhere and right on time

Why do you travel? What do you enjoy most about it?
I mostly travel to dance.  I love dance, and I am committed to learning as much about dance as possible.  I may travel for other reasons superficial, but I’m always looking for dance where ever I go.

But along with dance I love to learn about other ways of life.  Art and culture and reflections of each other, and if you can engage someone through art, specifically dance for me, I can often get them to open up about culture and the reality of how they live.

So I enjoy seeing the beautiful works of nature and culture in the places I go and exploring how people really live; in my mind, I always juxtapose it to how I live in the US.

How many languages do you speak? or do you plan to speak?
Now I speak english and pretty good spanish, not quite fluent, but getting there.  I want to learn portuguese and possibly french and creole.

List 5 things you MUST bring with you when you travel.

1. Book to write in (even if I don’t use it)
2. A nice dress
3. Money
4. Open mind, eyes, and heart
5. Bug repellent

What is your earliest memory of traveling?
Driving to Florida from Detroit, MI in my Dad’s black Explorer. It was a 17 hours drive and I slept 11 hours.  I went to visit my grandmother who is one of the lights of my life, so I was excited.  I spent the time laughing and joking with her, shopping, and bowling with my family. Heaven for a 9 year old.

Tell me about your last trip. Where did you go, how long did you stay and what was the purpose of your trip?
I went to Cuba.  I stayed 38 days total, I was in Havana for 1 day, Mantanzas 1 day, Traveled by bus for 1 day, then stayed 28 days in Santiago de Cuba, and 7 more days in Havana.  I went to Cuba to study dance.
During this trip, tell us about your most memorable conversation and with whom?
I had a conversation with a woman and her daughter whom I had met a bar with live music the night before.  Funny story, I had in mind that this woman was a jinetera, Cubans who seek out tourists to hang out with while the tourist is in town with hopes the tourist would take them out to restaurants and buy them things.  I was supposed to meet the woman in a plaza, but decided I didn’t want to meet her to I went to a store a few blocks away to try to avoid the area we were to meet.  And  ran smack dab into her! Destiny.

Anyway, to my surprise, I ended up having a conversation about life in Cuba and the health care system.  She is a dance teacher just like me, and she was describing how on her salary, it is impossible to care for her two daughters (without help of their father, also one who had chronic asthma) so she had to do hair and nails, and sell knick knacks, and other hussles to survive.  We talked about the inaccessibility of medicines in the free clinic and how people had to pay a whole month’s salary for medicine in the international clinic.  We talked about the lack of means to show any dissent to the government policies and what was happening in the country.  We tried to explain to her the concept of health insurance and how for the poor in the US, out situation was not much different from those of Cubans, and in some cases worse.  I ended up buying her sodas and chips and went along my way with a wealth of new information.
What did you learn during this last experience or stay?
I kind of answered this question in the previous question, but in summary, I learned about Cuban dance and historical culture, which I already knew something about, but I newly learned about the reality about life in Cuba.  In the program I attended, I got to see the hospitality and good side of Cuban life.  But staying longer and really sitting down to have conversations with people, I learned about how it is to really live there.  I got the good and the bad.  I went to people’s homes, with 5 or 6 people living in house with 4 small rooms.  I visited a home with more space but with a dirt floor and roosters running through the house (but still had the latest jams bumping from the dvd player and tv).  I used to wish I was Cuban.  I now appreciate being American a bit more, but still have gained a desire to learn even more about Cuban culture.
Would you return? and why?
YES! I am trying to figure out how and when I can return now.  I need to learn more.  I want to take more dance classes and possibly do my own (or maybe through a university one day) anthropological studies of Cuba.

What and/or who inspires you?
I am inspired by women who can do many things but find the balance between work, friends, and play. I am also inspired by beautiful, soul filled music.

How would you describe your relationship with the sun.
I say that I am solar powered.  I love the sun! It’s color and how it illuminates the world.  Although it is very bright early in the morning, I hate to wear sunglasses it creates a barrier between me and being able to experience the sun and the true colors of the world. The sun gives me energy, and just like it comes everyday, reminds me to rise and go experience the world.

When the sun is not out I always feel completely drained and often a bit sad.

Are you happy?
SO happy!  I am alive and just got back from an amazing, inspiring journey, and feel better after having step throat for 2 weeks, I’m elated. But mostly I am happy because life is good and I choose to be happy.

Kendra is a Dancer, Teaching Artist, and Choreographer
Her email signature reads: Dance, Live, Love, Feel!!

I’ll post a few pics from Le Fooding in the eat or be eaten section later this week.

Until then, Be Happy!

*Lala*

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yearning for learning

weeks ago, i read this article in the NY Times about something called The Big Shaggy … this paragraph particularly spoke to me:

Over the past century or so, people have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy.

You can read entire David Brook’s article titled, History for Dollars, by clicking here.

the primary focus of this article specifically relates to the declining job market and a greater emphasis on humanities in the education system. however, i gathered much more especially after reading hundreds of comments.

the article itself is rather confusing if you ask me yet my understanding of The Big Shaggy is such: it’s the inexplicable pull towards one direction (good or not-so-great) versus another.

why have i chosen certain relationships over others? why am i living in an over-crowded and polluted city when i much prefer the ocean and natural environments? why can’t i be satisfied with working at the neighborhood grocery store? why have i moved to four different cities in my adult life? what inspires me to reach for the stars? why can i be so difficult at times?

could it be the inner beast in me?

where have you experienced your inner beast? in the kitchen? on the dance floor? in the boudoir? when you’re drunk? in the boardroom? on stage? Yes! to all of the above.

it’s been brought to my attention that the following 12 months are critical in terms of planning the next nine years of my life. if i am going to accomplish my goal to publish a book then i gotta dig deep and concentrate for long periods. in fact, i am working on taming my inner beast so that i can get some work done. now that i am 100 percent again, i must be careful not to repeat some un-healthy habits that ultimately bring gloom and doom. The Big Shaggy has worked for and against me over the years. being an artist, many days i’m in overdrive in relation to humanities. i could definitely use a lesson or two on practicality and mathematics.

this past weekend, i danced and raged all day and night because it was my birthday (yay)! it had been awhile since i had done it up in new york city 🙂 i had a super blast plus i have the blisters to prove it. speaking of blisters, starting next week, it’s all about bed rest and boot camp! that’s right, i have registered for a 4 week boot camp course. what better way to re-introduce discipline and focus into my life. i know, i must be crazy!

now, think about it. can you awaken your inner beast or is it time to tame that bad boy???

What have you observed about yourself lately?

How deep are you willing to go to uncover The Big Shaggy in you?

Are you living life to the fullest or holding yourself back?

What can you do to achieve your wildest dreams?

i believe if we focus on being our best self then the ugly beast will fade in the background. or is it all plain bullshit?

i am giving these questions a great deal of thought.

until we meet again, give thanks for every day we are here NOW cause life is precious and brief.

Happy Summer Solstice!!

*Lala*

Eat a plum or peach today. Yum!

p.s. the images are from an exhibition at The Invisible Dog gallery space in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; NY.

absolut brooklyn

i have so much to say but only ten minutes before my bedtime. tonight when exited the train station, i saw an ad for this:

Absolut Brooklyn trailer featuring Lemon Andersen directed by Mr. Spike Lee.

would have loved to hear some fly beats or jazz horns underneath those lyrics but hey! Fort Greene is on the map for real!!

may your day be full of love, laughter and sunshine!
*Lala*

peaks and valleys

Over one year ago, I began writing this blog as way to stay in touch with my family and friends during my stay in Brasil. Looking back on this past year, it has been amazing yet frightening, a melangé of love ups and let downs, supreme highs and sporadic lows yet still i rise and cannot help but be optimistic about the coming season: Summer. It’s my favorite time of year because my main squeeze is in full effect; I’m talking about the sun, of course.

In my opinion, Springtime is a total mindfuck (excuse me). One day it’s gorgeous and sunny then the next day is grey and damp, and so on. Nature has a way of imparting life’s biggest lesson: there would be no peaks without valleys, no flowers without clouds and rain. We would not be able to gloat on the mountain top if we hadn’t emerged from the valley below.

Today I am giving thanks for peaks and valleys. My weekend being a murky mixture of both.

Saturday, I took a very long bike ride then found myself in Red Hook on Van Brunt Street at the suggestion of a friend. A tiny enclave of fine dining restaurants, wine shops, an ice cream parlor, and Baked, a bustling cafe/bakery that’s been open since 2005 served as an ideal resting spot. I spent most of my afternoon there, chatting, writing, and sipping on fresh mint ice tea with the sun on my face. Upon my arrival, my energy was scattered; however, by the time I hopped on the bike again, I felt collected and whole again.

There is also a large garden center hosted by Chelsea Garden Center farther down the block. It seems as if I am beginning to fancy gardening. Hmmm…

Again, activities with friends were the highlight of my weekend. A Saturday night invite for wine and tea ensued conversations around film, travel, unconditional love and the conditions of life.

Sunday’s original plans crumbled in the rain; although I managed to share a delicious almond and chocolate pastry with a friend while sipping on ginger tea at Nunu. Just as we parted ways, I received an unexpected and much appreciated text invite to attend a live performance by Ceu, a young Brasileira songstress, at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. I had a beautiful evening and the timing of the invite was perfect for so many reasons.

See my heart is on the mend. My spirit is putting itself back together again. These last few posts have centered around my feeling low yet looking on the bright side and giving thanks. This blog has become a digital diary of sorts and although the purpose of it is to share my incredible travel experiences, it is also a documentation of my personal life and many interests. (check out the pages on the right)

Life and relationships ebb and flow or flutter then flounder. My perspective is such: it is better to have loved and have been loved then to never have loved at all. This post is dedicated to love coming full circle. Last night’s concert was a satisfying end to the love I experienced while in Brasil and beyond. Flying high, sailing free, and basking in the pure light of truth. It’s all coming back to me now.

A beautiful Argentinean woman named Mia Maestro along with Aaron Robinson opened for Ceu last night and she too brought smiles and warmth to a rather damp evening. I am ever so grateful for the expression of words and song.

Thanks for reading and please eat something RED today for the heart space.

Try strawberries, rasperries, or add fresh red pepper or cherry tomatoes to your salad.

My dinner of spinach pasta, olive oil & garlic, arugula and roasted peppers

Hugs and smiles,

*Lala*

friendspiration

Friends come and go but great friends are harder to come by so when your spirits collide, hold on for dear life because there is no such thing as a coincidence. My life would not be half as interesting if it wasn’t for the amazing, beautiful, intelligent, funny, dynamic friends who inspire me on a weekly — and sometimes daily basis. This past week has been incredible in the friend category and it was just what the doctor ordered: a huge dose of love, support, and encouragement encased in smiles, hugs and laughter punctuated by food and drink 🙂 At the start of the week, I had no major plans besides to volunteer at the Gen Art Film Festival for two days. This is where I watched the feel-good film, happythankyoumoreplease, an absolutely perfect title to describe this past week. When my spirit is low (which it had been lately), I reach into my cure-all box in an effort to revitalize. In this box is a list of TEN THINGS that MAKE ME HAPPY plus a few items to help facilitate that process:

1. Hoola Hooping (I also like playing jacks but rarely do)

2. Watching films (movies)

3. Writing (and Reading)

4. Bike riding or walking

5. Experiencing Nature

6. Cooking/Preparing yummy healthy food/Eating!

7. Getting together with friends/hosting dinner parties

8. Traveling

9. Making photographs, and

10. Dancing  (listening to music which makes me dance)

These are in no particular order. Essentially, they are the activities that enhance my life stupendously. Oh, and I forgot 2 others : kissing (loving) and volunteering.

IF you haven’t made one of these list, try it so that when you are feeling a little lost, hurt, or low, you have a reminder of how magnificent and full your life can be at any given moment. If any of my friends are reading, I want to say THANK YOU for BEING in MY LIFE. You are an inspiration to me. I am so grateful that we have met and I will do my very best to keep you in my life for always.

So by week’s end, having had no other plans, I was blessed with an unexpected visit from an old friend who is moving to San Francisco and wanted to share the news with me first-hand about her transformation, an old friend who currently lives in the Bay area visited because he had been invited to appear on the Martha Stewart Show next month (go Bryant!), a dear friend who had recently returned from a month-long journey in South East Asia brought gifts and stories, a cousin from Texas called via skype just to see my face, plus I hosted an impromptu dinner party. All of this punctuated by a long walk in Prospect Park, a Food Coop shift, loads of productivity, and several mini-visits from friends in the neighborhood who were just passing by. I also indulged at two of my favorite Senegalese restaurants in Brooklyn: a bistro and Joloff.

As the commercial says, Who Could Ask for Anything More? I am giving thanks for a new day, new opportunities, new beginnings, and most importantly, to FRIENDSPIRATION ! Thank you! Thank you!

Enjoy the week and keep smiling! and remember to eat something GREEN today 🙂

OH YES!!! notice the SUBSCRIBE button at the top right, if you want to be sent an email when I update my blog, please add your email to the subscription list. Muchas gracias! Obrigada! Merci! Arigato! Thank you!

*Lala* the Sunchaser

NEW grey reverend music

February 27, 2010

Grey Reverend is a singer/songwriter, composer, and talented musician. For NYC residents, he will be performing LIVE at Sycamore in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn on March 19th at 8pm:

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If you miss this opportunity, check out his myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/greyreverend. Thanks for your support.

Lala

the bridge of possibilities

the first time i walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, the date was september 11th, 2001. i had only been in new york for a little more than two years and was not aware that one could cross the bridge by foot until that very day. the weather was warm for a fall day, i was late — as usual — for my weekly staff meeting which began at 9 o’clock every tuesday morning. i believe i boarded the c train at 8:30 in hopes of walking in the meeting room exactly at 9am. well, you know this did not happen.

Brooklyn Bridge - Sept 2009

Brooklyn Bridge - Sept 2009

no doubt a tragic series of events ensued from the hijacking of a few planes, many lives were lost or altered all over the world. america, land of the free and secure, was vulnerable beyond belief. i, of course, knew nothing of this as we sat on the subway train for more than one hour. next stop chambers street — or so i thought. we never made it to this station because that is where the twin towers had lived. at nine-thirty-ish, i exited the station on 7th avenue glad for the re-routing of the c train considering i was late and this detour landed me one short block from my retro office in the 333 building. for once, my reason for being late could be backed up and proven, if necessary. i rushed through the elevator door and was stopped by the sound of a radio blaring in the corridor. (me:  breathing heavy) “i am so so sorry, my train was stopped for over an hour…(breathing heavier)…why aren’t you in the meeting, i asked?” one of our web programmers calmly said to me, “someone flew a plane into the world trade center.”

huh?

several hours later, i was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with a new friend and his co-workers. this was a sad day overall; however, as i remember, we were in good spirits while making the journey back to brooklyn. no one worked this day with the exception of the rescue workers, firefighters and police, including us. we were in survival mode and fortunately, had not known anyone who had been working in the vicinity of WTC. my personal experience was emotional yet peaceful. there was a certain calmness as we talked and walked towards home. i felt safe in a cleansing sort of way — stripped of everything trivial and petty.

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

since then, i have traversed the Brooklyn Bridge at least 75 times. it is a sacred space for me where the wooden planks offer me security and guidance.

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

a week ago, i meandered across the bridge for the first time this year and felt the same sense of assurance as i did eight years ago. i photographed the large and small details of this amazing structure built in 1883, as well as the actions of the numerous individuals and family members vying for just the right spot to take their portrait. in actuality, this was a busy day on the bridge like september 11th. however, it has been the place where i go to think about what’s possible even on the most tragic of days.

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

Brooklyn Bridge Sept 2009

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on that very day in 2001, everything changed for me and for the better. it was the last time i worked for anyone on a full-time basis. it was the first weekend i visited the bronx zoo. it was the first time complete strangers bought me dinner in a soho restaurant just because i had ‘a friendly smile’. it was the beginning of the end of a four year relationship that had turned stale. and it would be the beginning of true freedom for me. nearly six weeks later and after being laid off, i  boarded a plane for west africa just in case we were really under attack, i wanted to be in the land where it all began. it was time for me to start over and make myself strong again.

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