Love & Lunacy on the Nile: Girl Power!

I love this Nile River life of feluccas, temples, and interconnecting villages and canals.

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I love running along the Nile and through the villages. My Egyptian name is Sama. It means “sky.” Children run along with me, yelling, “Sama! Sama!” It’s a lovely sound and puts a big smile on my face. I look to the blue above me. At night, wispy clouds have covered the sky and the big yellow moon has seemed more mysterious than ever as it slides in and out of the shadows. I love the skies of Luxor.

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But I can’t just live here. I have to contribute and be a part of the community! So, I brought a boxing bag and set it up on my terrace.

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Now I teach boxing to young people. I have a twelve year old girl who is amazing. It’s her parents’ wish for her to be well educated and go to college. Her father is very proud that she is learning boxing. She gets it better than any of my male students–she can remember combinations and she naturally breaths right. I also have an eighteen year old young man who is on the Luxor villages soccer team. He wants to get in the best shape he can because he wants to apply to be a police officer. Main thing, give me strong abs, he says!

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My boxing student, Iya, and her little brother.

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My boxing student, Osama. 

I feel like I’m doing my little bit to bring power to young girls here and show boys that girls are equal. Life still goes on in these villages as it has for hundreds of years. But change is coming, and I contribute to the most positive aspects of that change.

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Love & Lunacy on the Nile: Jellabiya Time

A Visit to the Tailor

When I was in Egypt at age ten, that would be in 1967, my siblings and I found the clothes men wore to be very funny. They looked like pajamas to us, long striped cotton garments,. Women were covered from head to toe, all in black.

In the villages of Luxor, most people still wear traditional jellabiyas and I don’t find them funny anymore. I love them! They are the most practical apparel a person can wear here. I am plagued by mosquitoes and the jellabiya covers my entire body. I can sit comfortable with my feet up on the sofa, like most people do here. Air flows freely through the light material, keeping a person, if not cool, at least cooler than one would be in tight-fitting clothing.

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I had a jellabiya made by the ladies of the village, who are experts in making them for women. Then, I decided to try the tailor who makes them for the men. I wanted to see if there was a difference in quality and style. I love the light and shadows, the colors, sights and sounds of these streets.

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The gentleman was a little freaked out by my request but he rose to the occasion. I am excited to see what my two jellabiyas will look like.

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I still find the women in their black clothing a little sinister, I must admit. At night they appear to be as dark spirits gliding silently along the ground. This place is filled with magic and graceful beauty.

 

Luxor East & West

 

Luxor Nile
Sailing on the Nile at sunset

 

The sights, sounds and colors of this intimate city of Luxor, built on the east bank of the Nile. Why go over there, except to the supermarket to buy the things you need, or maybe to see some museums, okay, of course, you should see the museums, the people on the west bank say. These people have been born beneath the golden mountain where rests the kings and queens of ancient Egypt. I am living on the west bank for two months amongst interconnecting villages built on canals, interspersed with wheat fields and banana groves. I awaken to the cacophony of birds, braying donkeys and children’s laughter, call of the muezzin–and loudspeakers of people selling wares who drive by all day, various farm machines, motorcycles–everyone rides a motorcycle…but mostly birds.

 

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View from the terrace of Irie BnB, where I’m staying

I’m sorry to say I can’t recommend where I stayed, at Irie BnB, Al Bairat, West Bank. It’s a beautiful building and great location, however the woman who managed the place was a nightmare and most unprofessional. I paid two months in advance and when her behavior became so erratic and aggressive, I had no alternative but to leave. She promised to refund me for my second month but never did. I have nothing against smoking pot, however this woman smokes it constantly, even had many pot plants growing in full view on the terrace, a public space where tourists are invited to sit. This made me very uncomfortable, considering it’s illegal to grow pot in Egypt. The washing machine is on the terrace and guests are invited to use it–except when she decided I shouldn’t use it anymore. She threw my laundry on the ground and when I asked where I should hang them to dry, she responded that I should find a rope and string them up in my room. When I asked if this was how she treated all her paying guests, she laughed, used some foul language I won’t repeat and told me if I didn’t get out of the apartment immediately, she would throw my clothes out on the street. Needless to say, I left, and to this day she has not reimbursed me for my money. I’ve never had an experience like this anywhere in the world in my travels. It verged on scary and could be termed most bizarre.. She started out nice, although somewhat brusque, but it seemed once she got the money, she just didn’t care anymore how she acted. Her behavior was unethical. to say the least. I didn’t report her because I happened to fall in love in love with her brother-in-law, the man who owns the building that she and her husband manage and we got married. (He husband is very nice and seems to find himself in an awkward position). Perhaps that was her problem, she didn’t want me marrying her brother-in-law. At any rate, it’s impossible to know what goes through someone’s mind when they are so bitter and angry and I can only imagine it has more to do with her own problems within herself than anything else. Case in point, the next person who came to stay lasted about three days before she packed up her bags and left. I don’t think anyone has stayed there since.

So my advice would be stay somewhere else! There are many, many wonderful places to stay on the West Bank. After my initial fiasco, I stayed for ten days on the sandal, Amira Sudan, the most romantic of sail boats. It is where my husband and I got married. I am now moving to Luxor permanently, it has captured my heart–in more ways than one!

 

How I Packed Up and Took Off to See the World

Check out the link to my essay on how I freed myself of extra baggage and took off traveling two years ago to find inspiration for my writing. Thank you Amy Oestreicher!

“It doesn’t matter if I am in a café in Phoenix, wrapped in blankets on a freezing night in the Sahara Desert, or writing with a view of Arenal volcano, four fans on full blast to keep the sweat from landing on my computer. I could be in a penthouse suite overlooking the Bosporus, or on a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, or maybe a train across India (a goal of mine). Each space has an atmosphere that speaks to my spirit and sparks my imagination. Each view, whether dark or light, colorful or noisy, joins together to become an added layer in my life.

The shrinking of my possessions has meant the growing of my freedom. The giving up of a static living space has opened a door to the universe. I am not bound by one location, one thought or one experience. My feet move in any direction I point them, light and free. ”

Love My Detour!

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How Social Activism can Inspire and Promote Your Writing–All while Turning You into a Better Person

As writers and artists we have unique opportunities to change the world.

Check out my article in Night Owl Reviews about the win-win opportunities of social activism.

How Social Activism can Inspire and Promote Your Writing–All while Turning You Into a Better Person

We Are All The Same, and Thankfully, Different

Students in China Made to Take Exams Outdoors in Toxic Smog

I am teaching English online to kids and adults in China. This is proving to be an enlightening experience and my students are delightful. I love nothing more than finding out about a new culture and meeting new people. Funny how the differences remind us how much we are the same.

Lately, we have discussed the air pollution in China, as some of my students have been kept home from school because of it. Another one of my adult students works in waste management in Beijing and described the challenges of dealing with this problem.

Being able to communicate one-on-one with people in another country, one where the United States seems to have increasingly hostile relations, brings a deeper level of understanding. Now, I read that Americans’ feelings of good will towards Russians has dropped by 30%. It’s important to remember that we, the people of any nation, are all the same. Nothing has changed from day to the next, from one year to the next, from one administration to the next, in who we are. We all want to live a peaceful life, have a roof over our heads and take care of our families. It is the governments, the media, the corporations, the special interest groups with their own agendas, that create these widening gulfs of misunderstanding and manipulate emotions and play on fears.

Now we have new buzzwords, within the United States, polarizing groups of people, more and more. We lump people together inside a prison of words, and think we have the right to keep them there. Then, the other side fires back with its own prison of words. And before we know it, the words are so deeply embedded on our consciousness, we don’t even remember how they got there or why. The story gets repeated and embellished, always from one point of view. The other side retaliates. The words become violence, somehow justified because we no longer look at our opponents as people just like us. They are something dangerous and worthy of extermination–or at least worth of being taught a serious lesson.

Such as those “fly-over” states, spoken of with such disdain. It seems that highly educated pundits now find it okay to openly label country folk stupid. How stupid is that? Surely one of the most basic rules you learn in college when doing research is not to make sweeping generalized statements about an entire group of people? Mind you, the country folk do the same. despising the city folk for their privilege and education.

Amazing… the word stupid was banned in my family. One of the best things my parents taught me was to be very careful about using a word like that, because using it could well prove my own stupidity. Be sure of your facts. Don’t generalize. Calling people who are somehow different from you stupid (or any other negative term) only shows your own ignorance. And fear.

In fact, the whole flinging of nasty comments across borders is just plain, well… stupid. And that means it could well grow into something dangerous. For everyone.

MALEKU CHILDREN SHARE THEIR STORIES: My World Project in Costa Rica

My World Project on Facebook

“Conservemas la Naturaleza y aseguremos la Vida al Mundo.”

~ Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, teacher in the Maleku school.

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Maleku school children, their teacher, Eugenia Alvarez Elizondo, and Daniel Spreen Wilson

On July 6, 2016 I landed in Liberia, intent on staying near Lake Arenal for three months, maybe longer. It’s now September and the time has flown by. I am returning to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and then, I will probably come back. I haven’t quite had enough of this beautiful place yet.

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Arenal Volcano

During my time here, I’ve had the joy of conducting the My World Project with Maleku youth on the Reserva Indigena Maleku. There are only about six hundred Maleku left in Costa Rica. They have been rounded up and given land on which to live. Meanwhile, much of the land they used to call home has been cleared in order to create pastures and fields. Many Maleku are now farmers. The Maleku can no longer build their traditional homes, since the palms they used have become endangered. Kind of ironic. The Maleku are not the ones who caused the plants and animals to become endangered. Yet, they are the ones whose lives have been changed forever because of it. Now they must live in cement houses that do not “breathe.”

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Everywhere I go I meet people who offer to help with My World Project. And I have people contacting me who want to do it in other places around the world. So, day by day, this community is growing.

As happened in the Sahara Desert, I had no idea when I got to Arenal how I would make this project work. But I have always found if you open yourself to possibilities, they will find you. Sure enough, I met a great guy, Daniel Spreen Wilson, who founded La Reserva Forest Foundation. This great nonprofit has taken upon itself to help reforest the Maleku Indigenous Reserve, allowing native animals, such as the Mantled Howler Monkeys, sloths, reptiles, amphibians and tropical birds to once again live in their natural habitat.

Maleku 16  Maleku 18 Maleku 19

Daniel has been here for thirty-three years and speaks fluent Spanish. So I was very thankful to have his help. Together we traversed the bumpy road from Lake Arenal to the reserve. We met with the teachers in three schools. So far, we have been to the first school to do the program and we go to the others over the next week.

Maleku drawing 7

From Africa to the Americas and beyond, what are children telling us with this project? Well, they are telling us that they love their natural world. They love their lakes and rivers, mountains, forests, deserts and oceans. They love their plants and animals. They love their families and their traditions. They love peace. They are interested to share their ideas with other children around the world who feel the same.

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What they don’t want is the continued destruction of their worlds by outside forces. Not only is their natural world being destroyed but so is their spiritual world, meaning their traditional ways of life. And the drug culture that is now so prevalent in the United States is slowly but surely invading their lives as well. These are not just clichés to be switched off because we have heard them a thousand times. These children do not know the meaning of a cliché. This is the world they live in. This is what is happening to them. These are their real day-to-day struggles. These children see very clearly, without anyone having to tell them how express it, that their worlds are being destroyed.

Perhaps we should listen more to our children.

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My Guest Post for Author Christine Potter!

My Guest Post for Author Christine Potter!

I want to thank Christine for hosting me. This is my first experience writing a post in an exchange with another author and it was fun! Here is my post about how my traveling experiences inspired Book of Angels and the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, with photos and everything! The photo featured here is the seventh century Swiss castle I lived in as a child.

Do Artists have a Responsibility to Society?

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Inspiring view from my balcony, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.

It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.

As artists our struggle is to be true to our own voices, not some else’s. An artist shouldn’t feel a burden or obligation to set an example for the entire world. They shouldn’t feel that they have to reflect the beliefs or opinions of a certain segment of society. Pressure should not be put on an artist to “set a good example.” Or to change people’s political or moral views.

The first books I created were beautiful and sweet children’s books. The Rumpoles & The Barleys series, which I wrote and illustrated, will always be favorites of mine. I am blessed to know they have been a positive force in the lives of children around the world. On the other hand, I always knew I had so much more to say and I fought for years to be able to say it. With my creative nonfiction works and the publication of the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES, I feel I am finally an artist who is true to myself.

Artists create from a deep place inside. It takes courage to go to that place and to let it out. Sometimes this can be horrifying. Sometimes it can be beautiful. Sometimes it can be painful. Sometimes it can be sweet and innocent. Playful. Brutal. Violent. X-rated.

My art (and I mean my paintings and drawings and writing) is mostly fantastical worlds of escape. This is because I find the real world to be horrifying on so many levels. I don’t have answers to the world’s problems. Well, actually, the world doesn’t need answers, it is humanity that needs a makeover. I don’t think we have even come close to figuring out those answers. Or perhaps we are afraid of them…or…I just don’t know. Due to my personality, my life experiences, my spirit, I am compelled to create art that uplifts and brings a ray of light to the darkness. That said, my art can be quite dark in its reflection of my own experiences and the suffering that I see around me.

As a woman artist, once I was married and had children, I was told over and over in many different ways, all of them painful, that I should put aside my compulsion to create, for the sake of my family. That my art should no longer be important. I had a husband and children now. They should be my focus. Of course, they were my focus. But I did not understand why being a good wife and mother and being an artist wasn’t possible. I couldn’t give up creating on paper. I couldn’t give up my imagination or the stories inside of me. Not any more than I could give up breathing. This was a difficult time for me as an artist and as a woman. And it went on for many years.

At various times, I have been told by the men in my life, that they needed to guide me. That I wasn’t a real artist, I was just pretending. That I needed to stop because the amount of time I spent doing my art didn’t make sense monetarily. Once, a drawing that I had worked on at night when my family slept, was thrown in the fire the next morning because it was “worthless.” My nose was broken as a punishment when I painted a picture that did not measure up to my husband’s standard. My writing was ridiculous and why would anyone ever want to read it? I should give up. I was a bad wife and mother because my focus wasn’t completely on them. Anyway, I was far too shy and I had no ability to “sell myself.” On and on. Even when I was finally a free woman and I was seeing someone “in the business,” he told me I should leave it all to him. I didn’t have the experience or the personality to know what was best or how to present anything.

My children are grown now and I am without “entanglements.” I am traveling and writing. I embrace all my life experiences. It comes out in my work. It is coming out right now as I write this! I have remained true to my love of fantasy and now I can indulge it. Fantasy is what got me through the darkness. I love creating that darkness in my writing. And then filtering in those moments of light. I know how it feels. I lived through it. How tragic it would be if I had given up. To think that if I had listened to those voices I would never have written Key of Mystery or Book of Angels, or gone on this NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES journey.

We all live through darkness. We are all artists trying to express ourselves. Art is so powerful. It can uplift us. It can spiral us further down. A song or a poem can inspire kindness to a neighbor. Or it can lead to murder and suicide. It can incite riots. It can spark a revolution. It can bring reconciliation. I can’t judge any of that. I don’t understand enough about the forces and motivations behind it all, on a spiritual level.

For so much of my life I was bombarded with angry, resentful voices of society, telling me what I should do with my art. If I had listened to all those voices and let them guide me, I would have lost my balance and fallen too far into the darkness. With my spirit, with the way I see the world, how would I have faced each day?

How can I breathe if I can’t tell a story?

 

 

Interview about MY WORLD PROJECT

The Missing Slate, Interview with My World Project Founder Karen Hunt

For me, this is a way of life. It isn’t a “cause,” it isn’t a “movement.” I can’t put some spin on it. There aren’t any buzz words. It is how I choose to live, and I really can’t help it. It is so much a part of who I am.”

Honored to have this interview, by Constance A. Dunn, published in The Missing Slate, an international arts and literary magazine. The interview tells about My World Project and the backstory leading up to it. Here is a brief excerpt from the backstory…

“I went on a personal quest…I met a woman named Alma Woods, who was responsible for single-handedly getting the Watts Library built. And to illustrate the politics, they didn’t want to name the library after her, they wanted to name it after some big-wig politician and there was a huge outcry and they had no choice but to buckle under public pressure and name the library after her. She was a simple lady, lived in a simple house in Watts and I would go and visit her and “sit at her feet,” as it were, she was a real guru, she taught me so much! She would take me around her neighborhood and I saw Watts through her eyes. If there were kids loitering outside the liquor store she would reprimand them and they would hang their heads in guilt and listen to her. She was respected. She was fearless. I grew to love her. She encouraged me to follow my heart and not be afraid of where it led me. It was after that that I went into Central Juvenile Hall and talked to the principal, Dr. Arthur McCoy, an older version of the nutty professor and the most amazing human being, and he let me start teaching there, along with the amazing teacher in the girls’ school, Cheryl Neely.

Like a beautiful, magical web, one person has led to another in my life. Not big celebrities, or what you would call “movers and shakers,” but the salt of the earth people. The ones who really have the power because they don’t care about it. They are the ones who truly balance the good against the evil. The ones we never hear about. I know I use the word amazing a lot, but really, there is no better word for all these people.