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.

 

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.

Maleku drawing 2

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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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.

MY SIX ESSENTIAL TRAVELING COMPANIONS

What are my six essential traveling companions (none of them human), especially when sitting in places like the San Salvador Mon Senor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport for seven long hours?

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  1. Indiana Jones style hat and an Arabian style scarf, because you never know when creepy things might fall on your head or down your neck, not necessarily in the airport, but once you reach the jungle or the desert, or wherever, it’s a given.
  2. Leather backpack, for my computer, etc. Mine is a Frye, since 1863, and I can tell you, it will last long past me. I like to think that one of my children will inherit it, the one who takes up traveling, like me.
  3. A cozy mystery. If I hadn’t already read every single Agatha Christie book, more than once, it would be one of hers. Traveling to Central America, I had a Donna Leon mystery. I am enamored with Barbara Nadel and waiting expectantly for the next one in her Inspector Ikmen series. Before I went to Istanbul in the summer of 2014, I read every single one in the series that had so far been published.
  4. Sturdy shoulder bag. I mean, look, you have to have a sturdy shoulder bag that fits with the hat and the backpack. Mine is a Tumi and just like the backpack and the hat, it will last forever. When traveling, buy the essentials only once, let them get battered and gain their own personalities, they will be your friends through many lonely hours in out-of-the-way places.
  5. Electronics. This goes without saying. Computer, phone, tablet. I make sure to have downloaded music and movies because where I am going, Internet might be an on and off thing. Put on my earphones, close my eyes, and float away.
  6. A sentimental diversion, something that immediately takes you back to the people you love. In my case, it happens to be this little Godzilla that reminds me of my kids and my grandkids. I’ve decided to start taking photos of him in the places I go, like that travel gnome? Yeah, well, my Godzilla rocks that gnome.

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And that’s my six essentials. The simple life, one small suitcase, and my essential traveling companions and I am ready for anything!

 

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.

Moretecocha 21Moretecocha 18

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

FIGHTING FEAR WITH LIGHT

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Life is strange. Here I am in this beautiful place by the sea in Costa Rica, in a little outdoor restaurant, lights twinkling, the hypnotic sound of the waves, and I am at the same time watching on the news the carnage and suffering in Paris, and thinking next Friday I will be in Marrakech to do the MY WORLD PROJECT with kids in the desert. If I can bring some light into this world with my writing, my art, the work I do with kids, my boxing and kick boxing classes, where maybe someone comes in depressed and feeling like they can’t go on and they go out with a renewed spirit ready to fight another day, inspired to give something of their gifts to others, then I have done what I can to tip the scales towards peace and unity. This giving of gifts is the joy that brings meaning to my life. It is a battle and there is more than one way to fight. We all must fight with whatever gifts we have to shine the light and to dispell fear.

ISLANDS & LAKES & the SKY IN-BETWEEN, Part II

10387403_10156239026520360_2458839909572742388_n[1]The little Cessna plane that took me on the last leg of my journey from San Jose to Liberia, in a thunderstorm, no less.

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I was the only passenger on that bumpy ride with two jolly pilots, who laughing and joking, plunged in and out of clouds, vision obscured, rain pummeling the panes, the plane shaking like a tin can, dropping suddenly, swerving left and right. Couldn’t we simply go around the clouds, I kept thinking, well, actually screaming in my head, not out loud, thank goodness. But, apparently, it was all no big deal, we made it safely and once on the ground I became quite brave and thought wow, now that’s really living, wasn’t that an amazing experience? And the pilots just sauntered off because they do this every day.

This, after a 1:30 am start in Los Angeles, a seven hour layover on El Salvador, before my short flight to San Jose and quick change, running to that little tin contraption for the 45 minute flight to Lyberia. Pouring rain upon my arrival. Completely empty airport, in fact, it was ten o’clock at night and they were turning off all the lights. Never had that experience before.  And never so glad to see my friendly neighbor for the next month, Henry who drove me the remaining two hours, along increasingly smaller and steeper and more pot-holed roads until we finally reached my little paradise. Friends, Barbara and Lawrence’s hideaway home.

And who kept me company on this journey and on all my journeys?

10390524_10156239027345360_7216880670691149963_n[1]Here we have my staples of travel:

  1. Indiana Jones hat, because you never know when something creepy or crawly might plop down and try to embed itself in ones hair.
  2. Leather backpack–to go with leather Indiana Jones hat. Indestructible, it holds my most important possession, my computer. And my Tablet when I want to put on headphones and shut out the world.
  3. Tumi shoulder bag. Also indestructible. Has accompanied me here, there and everywhere. Forget those ugly and often gaudy and way too noticeable designer bags. Never owned one. Well, ok, except for that one understated, black Kate Spade that I have had for years and use on rare occasions when I simply have no choice but to dress up, which I am quite capable of doing if needed.
  4. Cozy mystery. This one happens to be by Donna Leon, but my favorites right now continue to be the Inpsector Ikmen series by Barbara Nadel that take place in Istanbul. I read every one of them before my visit there last summer and they were spot on with atmosphere and fascinating characters.

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  1. Oh, and who is this, hitching a ride? Godzilla. Just found him in my bag, a pleasant surprise, he was there on Martha’s Vineyard and didn’t cause any trouble so I think I will keep him on all my journeys. He seems to enjoy the adventures  and looks at the world the same way I do; with wide-eyed wonder. Others might interpret his expression as aggressive, I choose to interpret it as wide-eyed wonder.

And that’s it, and here I am, above Lake Arenal in a place without an address. Perfect! 12106868_10156239900505360_5401131365855000888_n[1] 12088498_10156240463485360_705898822650164991_n[1]