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.

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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.

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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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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.

HOW MY TRAVELS AND WORK WITH YOUTH AROUND THE WORLD INSPIRES NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES

FANTASY LITERATURE Expanded Universe article

Inspired by my current travels to Sucre, Bolivia, where I am writing for two months

Writing is never just about sitting down in front of a computer and obsessing about characters and stories. For me, writing is powerfully connected to my life experiences. And some of the most influential experiences I’ve had have been the result of traveling to incredible destinations and having amazing adventures as a result. This led to me founding the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas around the world through art and writing. Knowing the power of words to create change, I want to give youth a chance to speak out beyond the borders of their villages and towns and connect with other youth, who might have different cultures and faiths, but who share common goals and concerns.

Please check out the MY WORLD PROJECT Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/myworldproject

SUCRE, BOLIVIA, HERE I COME

Yeah, so, off on another adventure to Sucre, Bolivia, on April 6th, to write for two months. Working on Cave of Secrets, the third book in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES. Just finished Book of Angels, the second book!!!!! So, am I a digital nomad? This is the term I hear these days. I looked it up on the good ol’ internet and, sure enough, there were all kinds of places I could pay to “join” these communities. Because the people who started the communities are trying to make money off of “digital nomads.” So that they can then call themselves “digital nomads!”

And, of course, there were courses I could take to learn how to be one. Really? Sorry, but I am living this. This is LIFE. I am happiest with one small suitcase, my laptop, my phone, and my tablet, and whatever visas and innoculations I need, to get to where I want to go.

And btw, whatever you do, don’t try to steal my tablet, I will hurt you. It has all the books I want to read downloaded on it. Don’t even have to mention my laptop with all my writing!!! More to come!!!!!

JUST BECAUSE I’M AN “ARTIST” I MUST BE FLIGHTY AND DISORGANIZED…EXCUSE ME, WHAT?

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Writing in a café in Kranj, Slovenia

Throughout my life the assumption has repeatedly been made that because I am an artist (include writer in that title), I must therefore be flighty, impractical, moody and disorganized.

Oh, and most likely a drug addict and/or alcoholic, have loose morals and most definitely, my bedroom must be a mess. The list goes on.

“Artists are ‘all over the place,’ aren’t they?”

All over what place? All over the world? Because I have traveled all over the world, but I did it with super organized planning and a dedication and determination to accomplish  important goals.

If you want to describe me as a high achiever, I’m fine with that. If you want to say, wow, you sure have an imagination that is bigger than most, that’s okay too. It you want to say I am a visionary, hey, I don’t mind. If you want to say I am a pain in the ass because I never give up, even when it seems like no one could care less about what I am creating, I will give you a high-five. And, if you want to point out that I spend days, months and years working on projects that do not seem to make me a whole lot of money, I will have to agree with you.

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One of my pieces of artwork inspired by a story I wrote, The Pool of Labrith, which I have yet to see published.

BUT, don’t dare to suggest that I am disorganized. I really take offense to that. I cannot create in chaos. I have to have a clean and orderly environment in order for me to focus.

Although, I must say, even when my kids were little, I could sit down at the table and focus despite the chaos of them running around and playing and crawling under my feet. I could get up, make the lunch, come back and enter the world of my imagination once again. It wasn’t easy, mind you, but it was out of necessity. It was an acceptable chaos, of a positive nature: my children growing before me. It was not the chaos of a disorganized mind.

And no, I do not wait for inspiration to strike. If I did, I would not have nineteen children’s books published and numerous essays and short stories. I would not have won awards, co-founded a creative writing nonprofit and now, at last realized my dream of Key of Mystery, the first book in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, being published.

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Accepting the WOMAN OF DISTINCTION AWARD from the Soroptimists

I do not have to be drunk or high. I confess to having tried marijuana a few times and it was not for me. I have never used any other drugs, no exaggeration. Never. I cannot stand being drunk, but I love a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. Yes, I was young once…. I do know how to have a good time, but I don’t need to be high for that.

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College party at St. John’s College, York, England. The artist paints herself as if she is a garden, sort of.

I am self-disciplined and I work out almost every single day. I do not indulge my feelings, I set goals and go at them with energy. And I teach boxing and kickboxing at a martial arts gym.

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Where I used to teach, I now teach at House of Champions

Of course, there are artists who have drug problems, who are messy, who are impractical. There are lazy people and driven people in every field. There are also messy plumbers who are like that, and drug-addicted doctors (unfortunately) and even impractical lawyers. You can’t automatically lump one group of people together and assume they are all a certain way.

Now, I might not be a drug addict, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have other issues. I am not good at picking the right men to marry, that is for sure. And I can get depressed about life in general. Like everyone, I have my own weaknesses that I need to overcome. Just don’t put me in a box. I most certainly will jump out.

One thing all us artists will agree on is that it is a lonely calling and requires a huge amount of self-discipline and self-motivation. You are not punching a time-clock. No one is telling you to get the job done. Creating my NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES series meant a few years of dogged writing, where no one but myself was encouraging me to do it. There is the danger of beginning to suffer from a myopic view of your art, leading to doubt and discouragement.

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Such an amazing moment, to see my book in print after so much hard work for so long.

But, if you are determined and self-disciplined, you do not rely on your feelings, good or bad. You keep on going.

Never give up, never give in. Write or die. Might sound extreme, but that is my motto, because being an artist is as much a part of me as breathing.

 

MY WORLD PROJECT IN THE SAHARA

I spent almost the entire month of December in a village called Tissardmine, in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. My mission was to complete the final draft of ‘Book of Angels,’ #2 in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, and work on the MY WORLD PROJECT with kids in the village. Both endeavors were a great success. Most importantly, the experience of working with these kids enriched my life in ways that cannot be measured in words on this page. Instead of focusing simply on myself and what I could accomplish through my writing, I was giving children who otherwise had been completely isolated an opportunity to write their words and know that what mattered the most to them–peace and the environment–would be shared across the globe.

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The Sahara is an inspiring place in which to create–for one thing, internet is illusive so you really are completely disconnected and this affords a clear mind and a unique perspective, especially when weeks are spent like this, not simply days.

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Kids at the school come from three different villages. They travel up to six miles one way, six days a week, to reach the one-room building that sits on a hill overlooking the village. Lunch is provided by the school, it is the same every day, and everyone enjoys it and no one says, hey, how about something different for once.

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When I explained to the two teachers, Habib and Hafid, what I hoped to do, they were completely onboard and welcomed me warmly. They were two of the most dedicated and caring teachers I have ever met.

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The kids were happy, polite and a joy to be around. With the help of a wonderful young woman artist from Canada named Julie who spoke fluent French (mine was quite rusty), I was able to share the art from the kids we had worked with on the Hoppa Reservation in Northern California and Amazonian Ecuador.

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Above Moretecocha kids in Amazonian Ecuador. They most loved nature, but were worried that their world was being destroyed by the oil companies. And below, the art of the Hoopa kids. They, also loved their natural world. But every single child, when asked about challenges, responded with drugs, alcohol and violence.

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In contrast, the kids in Tissardmine couldn’t really think of anything negative about their world. They drew positive pictures and shared the words that meant the most to them. Overall, the most popular word was Salam…Peace.

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Together, we created a large painting, which I will be sharing with the Hoopa children at the end of March.

My World Project Key of Mystery

In the late afternoons, I would bring out some drums and the children would run out of their homes to greet me. We would climb to the top of a dune and play the drums and draw until sunset. It is bitterly cold in the desert once the sun goes down and there is no heating and no electricity. The village is quickly quiet. The children told me that they dream of finding meteorites and dinosaur bones. There are many such fossils, but the meteorites are valuable. Every child in every country has a dream. It would be nice if, as they grew older, the dreams stayed pure and sweet and did not become nightmares.

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Next stop, after revisiting the Hoopa, will be Syrian refugee children in Slovenia. And children in schools in Los Angeles. What are their dreams? What are their fears? In Tissardmine, and the other Saharan villages, a gunman coming in and shooting up the school is an unknown. Drugs, gangs, these do not exist. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other challenges. But perhaps we can learn from our children across the globe, that, really, we are all the same. We all have dreams that we do not want to turn into nightmares. Special thanks to Leia Marasovich, Jackie Lowe, Christina West and Julie Catherine for their dedication in conducting the MY WOLD PROJECT.

In closing, here is the beautiful letter to the world from Habib and Hafid:

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AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

TWELVE OF MY FAVORITE WRITING LOCATIONS

Although I live a simple life, and in fact, as a single mother, I have often struggled to make ends meet, somehow, through sheer determination and for the love of it, I have managed to write in some of the most astounding places. The views from my windows and terraces have inspired my works. How insipid and flat would be the world of the Night Angels if I had not climbed the dunes of Merzouga or walked the streets of Istanbul?  Here are twelve of my favorites, so far…

1. LAKE BLED, SLOVENIA

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This lake, that I came to as a child, just ten years old, and then as a teenager, vowing that I would come back and live here, and low and behold, I did as an adult. My daughter is half Slovene. I lived here when it was part of communist Yugoslavia and I still consider it my second home and visit often. I have many dear friends here and it is a place I always feel welcome. What a treasure.

 

2. FEZ, MOROCCO

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This most breathtaking view of Fez has a special place in my heart. After one month in the Sahara Desert without hot water, or even a real shower ever, or proper heating (don’t get me started), my friend Lux and I escaped on the night bus to Fez, where we found the most fabulous hotel in the Medina and climbed our way to the top to sit and drink martinis and be inspired, her in her art and me in my writing.

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What’s not to love about writing in a room like this, in the heart of the Medina?

3. LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND

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This is Ouchy, near Lausanne, Switzerland, on Lake Geneva. The little pink building towards the left is where I stayed with my daughter and my niece. I was working on my childhood memoir, Into the World, and had traveled all this way to visit the 17th century castle I had lived in as a child; chateau d’Echendens, on a hill above the city. In the mornings I ran along the lake side and the day we went to visit the castle…well, it was as if I was back there again as a child, running through the streets of the village after school, being chased by the children, who wanted to fight me and my sister, because they were convinced we came from the land of “Zorro,” since it was the only American TV show, besides Perdue dans la Space (Lost in Space). My sister and I would climb over the castle wall and peer back and taunt them.

4. DJERASSI ARTISTS RETREAT, BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA, USA

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This is the view from my time at Djerassi in Northern California, where I spent one week living in a pod-like room with this amazing view, and working on Key of Mystery, book I in the Night Angels Chronicles.

5. ISTANBUL, TURKEY

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And I suppose you could say my favorite place ever, the penthouse terrace on the steep little street, just off Istiklal Cadessi, in Beyuglu, Istanbul. From here, I could watch the ships come and go on the Bosporus, the knife that slices through the East and the West, the inspiration for Into the World and the Night Angels Chronicles.

6. MARTHA’S VINEYARD, UNITED STATES

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I guess they are all favorite spots. This is Martha’s Vineyard, where I have been three times as a writer’s resident at Noepe. I think I will keep returning. There is something magical about this island in October when all the tourists are gone, the shops close for the winter and it is just the ghosts of the past.

7. LAKE ARENAL, COSTA RICA

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Where I spent one month of bliss, in Costa Rica, writing every day. First, in a house overlooking Lake Arenal, then at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, right beneath the active volcano, and last, on the coast, the sunsets held inside of me forever.

8. SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO

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Here is the view from my monkish room in the Sahara Desert, in Morocco, where I spent one month writing. It was not an easy time. But the magic is apparent. Birds were my constant companion, flying in and out of the open window.

9. SEDONA AND PHOENIX, ARIZONA, USA

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Sedona and Phoenix, where I spend quite a lot of time, visiting my son and his partner, and writing, writing! These are both views from my rooms where I write.

10. OJAI, CALIFORNIA, USA

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Closest to home, and what feels most  like home, is Ojai. I go here on many weekends just to get away and write and see a peaceful perspective. The horse always says hello to me.

11. TYRONE GUTHRIE CENTRE, IRELAND

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Here, the most brooding and mystical place, where I must return, Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in Ireland. This was my view from my bedroom window. This was and is pure magic.

12. HAMBIDGE CENTER, GEORGIA, USA

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And here, the little cabin I called my own while a resident at the Hambidge Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. My very own cabin, where I was free to dream and create.

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Most appropriate to end with the street that I walked up and down, to and from my penthouse flat in Istanbul. I would return there in a second. I think Istanbul, so far, is my favorite city, and my most city to write. I would say Ireland, so far, is my most inspiring countryside.

I say, SO FAR, because who knows what my favorite will be tomorrow?

INTERVIEW IN UK, Key of Mystery

Interview, Key of Mystery

This is a pretty cool interview, and it includes one of my recent playlists from my boxing classes.

 

Adventures in Writing

Guest post Bitten, Shifted…the not so Normal

buy Key of Mystery on Amazon

Check out my guest post about some of my traveling adventures while writing Key of Mystery.

Such as, the fantastical lake view from my window at Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, where I was lucky enough to be invited as a Fellow to work on my novel.

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The Haunting of William Gray and Ghostly Islands

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I have always loved nothing better than to find a cozy spot by the fire during stormy weather and read a good book. Preferably a book about mystery and romance, set on a wild moor, a creepy castle, a wind-swept island…you get the idea. My imagination was shaped by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, My Cousin Rachel…I read all of her books. And I confess that to this day, I still have my dog-eared copy of Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit in a place of honor, easily accessible. I even gave my son the nickname of “Harry,” thanks to the dashing rogue who steals the heart of Anne, the heroine.  And, of course, I pined away for bad-boy Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and cried my eyes out reading Jane Eyre.

So imagine my delight when I met Renee Johnson two years ago at Noepe Center, a writer’s retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. Noepe is set in an old inn, in the heart of Edgartown, where surely mariners’ ghosts and the ghosts of their long-suffering wives or seductive lovers wander at night. I have been to Noepe three times and will return again (if they aren’t fed up with me yet!). I have been to many fabulous and exotic places in the world to write and this is one of my favorites. I always go in October, when the summer crowds have faded away and an expectant silence settles on the island. I say expectant because I always feel as if the island is taking a slow, deep breath in preparation for the onslaught of the winter. Someday I would like to experience the island when the wild winds, pounding surf and relentless snow storms create a deeper magic, like that of Narnia when the White Witch was in control.

In October, the sun still may shine on one day, bright and clear, while on the next, mists role in, snaking through the tiny streets and rapping around the old buildings. When that happens, I shudder and sigh quite happily. I am in my favorite kind of place to hunker down and write.

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Renee and I have all of this in common, and more. A love of laughter and good wine and a way of bringing out the best of our imaginations in each other. When I first met Renee, in October of 2014, she had her first book, Acquisition, coming out with The Wild Rose Press. A great accomplishment and a great read! We agreed that we would meet again the following year, and sure enough we did.

The next time I saw Renee, in October of 2015, her new book, The Haunting of William Gray, was about to be released. And now, having read it, I can say that it is exactly in keeping with my memories of those wonderful stories from my past. Harry and Heathcliff, make way for William Gray! Set on an island off of South Carolina, this story has the elements essential to making me shudder and sigh with happiness; from the glittering parties, to near drownings, to old creepy mansions, not to mention a ghost, and vividly authentic voodoo. The references to historical facts ground the book in reality and make it that much more believable to the reader. With beautifully descriptive language, Renee blends the past with the present and brings it all together in a surprising and satisfying ending.

I have no doubt that Renee and I will meet again to share more adventures and to write. Where will it be? Perhaps a castle in Scotland? Who knows? I can hardly wait to see what Renee comes up with next!

You can find this book and Renee’s others at The Haunting of William Gray

And Renee’s musings here Renee Johnson Writes