Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Soul of NOLA


For people unfamiliar with New Orleans history, the French Quarter and its myriad of bars and tourist traps is the focal point for their experiences in the city. But if you know a little history or like me, have roots in the city, you know that the heart of NOLA is in the historic Treme' neighborhood and the iconic Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park.


Treme' is the oldest African American neighborhood in the country, as well as the birthplace of jazz. It's where African American musicians developed the Mardi Gras Indian tradition of drumming, call and response mingled with brass bands. Of course, the essence of all these traditions started in Congo Square, the spot where enslaved Africans gathered on Sundays to drum, dance and celebrate their cultural traditions, which still informs every aspect of New Orleans culture. As soon as we landed, my family and I headed to Congo Square to go to the Treme' Gumbo Fest and hear the legendary Rebirth Brass Band. Standing on the spot where my ancestors connected with their spiritual heritage, I felt a surge of joy and pride. I felt like the soul of New Orleans was waving and singing right before my eyes.




Sunday, November 19, 2017

Next Stop: New Orleans



This week, I'm going on a special trip. I'm headed to New Orleans with my mother, aunt and uncle to research our family history in the Crescent City.  I've been digging through centuries of records and history to discover the lives of my ancestors and in New Orleans we will try to trace their steps. We'll be visiting neighborhoods, cemeteries and historical societies for my research. We'll also be attending the Gumbo Festival in Treme and soaking up required music on French Street and all the  necessary restaurants.  This is a guaranteed adventure into my family's history so please stay tuned!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Child Acrobat Performing On An Ahmedabad Street


This is Buchi, she's eight-years-old.  Walking around the mid-sized city of Ahmedabad, I never saw child beggars or street children like the media portrays in cities like Mumbai or Delhi. So I was a little taken aback when I spotted her tiny body gliding over a tightrope on the side of a busy street.



She moved with focused grace and didn't seem disturbed by the cars, buses and bikes whizzing by but I was still relieved to see her brother hovering nearby.


My fellow travel writers and I made sure to give her money directly for her talents and she looked happy for the acknowledgement. She never spoke a word over the blaring Bollywood music but I could see that she was alert and quick-witted. We learned that families of acrobats used to roam Ahmedabad streets regularly but the practice has lost favor, which I was glad to hear. Hopefully, Buchi only performs part time, when she's not in school.



Monday, October 30, 2017

India's Spectacular Navratri Dance Festival


Billed as the longest dance festival in the world, India's Navratri Festival is filled with color, music and dance. Running nine consecutive nights to honor the goddess Shakti, I was excited to witness this joyful celebration in person. From the minute that I landed in Ahmedabad, which is noted for extensive and particularly dramatic Navratri festivities, I could feel the high energy.



The opening ceremony exploded with a red carpet, spotlights, processions, video projections and a dizzying array of dancers and music. It was truly overwhelming just to keep up with the spectacles because dancers were on the stage, twirling through aisles and prancing on the side of the stage.


I'm glad I had the chance to watch subsequent days of the festival because they were different from the opening night. The first night featured a swirl of professional dancers and singers but other nights displayed dance students and judges rating their performances.


I got to congratulate these girls after their lovely show and I had fun watching the different interpretation of the Gujarati  raas-garba dance from small villages.



The girls in this video are performing with traditional sticks called dandiya. 



In this video, these village dance students performed for judges.


I shopped for a traditional Navratri sari at the market and wore it to the opening ceremony. My outfit attracted a lot of photo requests that I wasn't expecting but it certainly made the experience even more memorable!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Faces of Gujarat, India


I discovered that everything I'd heard about India is true. It is colorful. It is chaotic. It attacks all of your senses. Landing in Ahmedabad, the capital city of Gujarat, India's westernmost state, I was swept up by the street scenes, the temples and the constant motion of tuk tuks, bikes and people. But as I explored more of the surrounding villages, I realized that the essence of everything is the Indian people. They always welcomed me with ready smiles and warm greetings.


These women were preparing chapatis, an unleavened flatbread, to offer us as we visited an ironworker's shop who handmakes all kinds of  bells.


These men live in a small village and asked that their photo be taken. They gave us a tour of their homes and offered us chai.


This woman demonstrated how to make cotton thread at the Gandhi ashram.  She guided us through the rooms and complimented me on my dress, which she mistook to be Indian (it was an African design).


These school children greeted us when we arrived in their Bhuj village. They sang for us and asked for pens, which I had plenty of to pass out. The knowing smile of the teenage girl really captured me. She watched quietly as the children scrambled around but her personality stood out clearly, just as the spirit of India stood out in all of the faces we met.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Help For Puerto Rico



Puerto Rico is part of the United States of America. The fact that I have to state that is part of the problem and shame, that accompanies this country's history. That's because Puerto Rico is not a state but a territory of the U.S., which  essentially amounts to being a colony. Chicago's own Boriqua  Congressman Luis Gutierrez, (D-ILL.) has referred to the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. as an association with "a distant and inattentive colonial master." I can think of a few other words as U.S. government response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico lags and American citizens continue to go without water, electricity and food. This goes beyond demolished buildings and ripped infrastructure, 34 people have died and that number is expected to rise if the neglect continues.

Dozens of grassroots relief efforts have sprouted to try to address Puerto Rico's relief needs. Here is a list of vetted charity organizations that will deliver resources where it is needed:

United For Puerto Rico: This is the initiative started by the First Lady of Puerto Rico and one that I personally support.

Hispanic Federation Relief Fund: Elected officials have partnered the Federation to organize a special fund.

Hispanics In Philanthropy:  This organization sends donations directly to community organizations in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Florida.

Unicef:  I also regularly support Unicef, they have created a special fund to support children in Puerto Rico.

The photo above shows a view of San Juan from El Morro Fort that I shot last year.  As you can see from the image, Puerto Rico is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The culture is beautiful. Please help the island.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Next Stop: India!


From the food, to the music, fashion and wellness, I've admired Indian culture for a long time. This week, I get to experience one of my top bucket list items by visiting Gujarat, on the Western coast of India. I'll be hosted by Gujarat Tourism and they have compiled an exciting itinerary, including witnessing  and participating in the annual Navaratri Festival, shown above. The nine day Hindu celebration is one of the most popular dance festivals in India, which celebrates the nine forms of goddess. Gujarat is also Gandhi's hometown so I'll be visiting his ashram and exploring ancient stepwells, temples and small towns. I know it will be a life-changing journey so please look out for posts and pix!