Friday, July 16, 2010
Women on the streets carrying enormous loads of items for sale on their heads. Young boys carrying heavy buckets of bread.
I went for a run on the beach and a boy started to run alongside me. He only began talking once I said something to him. He spoke little English. He came from Guinea. He wants to learn English. He sleeps under the bush where I started my run. He kindly helped me find public transportation back to my home as it was getting dark.
In my interviews with the counselors here at the Center for Victims of Torture I’ve come to learn that likely all of these individuals have been trafficked. Either voluntarily or involuntarily they left their home up-country or in a neighboring country to follow false promises of education, skills training… a better life in the city. And here they are now, exploited or homeless having run away from the person who brought them here.
Those exploited may work day and night for their trafficker handing over all money in exchange, perhaps, for a place to sleep.
Those who run, without education or skills, often end up on the streets, committing small crimes to survive, or giving sex in exchange for money, food or a place to sleep. Re-trafficking is not uncommon.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. An iceberg of poverty, war, torture, trauma… “So many of my brothers suffer” one counselor told me in an interview.
Freetown. How ironic.
Friday, June 26, 2009
From Copacabana we began our real adventure... getting into Peru. Where to begin... It took some investigating for us to figure out why, all of a sudden, bus companies were telling us we couldn't get all the way to Cusco when the day before it had been possible. Protests are the norm in Peru, but we didn't realize that we were heading into protests that were, well, a bit beyond the norm. We were told that if we took a bus to Sicuani, Peru, we would have to get out and walk through a road block, but that we would have a bus waiting on the other side for us. At that point we didn't even know what the protest was about let alone the fact that it was growing by the minute. The government is trying to privatize water in the Amazon (at least that's what we think is going on). Can't really blame people for protesting.
2 bus changes and we made it to Secuani. Got out, walked over the road block/barbed wire with protestors yelling "gringos go home, you climb Machu Picchu while we work like mulse" (or something along those lines) while holding their noses as we passed. Interesting. 30 minutes speed-walking alongside a long line of lorries lined up, stalled by the blockades. We found our bus as it was getting dark, but the driver refused to go. Too dangerous. Rock throwers. Road blocks and protests in all of the 6 districts between Secuani and Cusco. GREAT. Long story short, after hiding out on the bus trying to figure out our options the bus made a go for it. Around 11 the long line of lorrise generally gave it a go in the hopes that the rock throwers would have started to fall asleep. So the bus filled up and we took off. Made it through the first 5 districts and got stuck at the 6th. Eventually it became clear that the protests were getting worse instead of better and if we didn't try walking across the last road block to get a bus on the other side, then we might have a 6 hour walk in the opposite direction in the mornin. 2am and we went for it. A bus was on the other side. Salvation. We made it to Cusco by 5 am. Our 8 hour journey turned into a 22 hour one. Talk about a bonding experience for the 5 of us. One of my favorite moments was during our 2am sprint across the roadblock after being told not to talk and to take hats off so we didn't look like tourists... we see the bus ahead and Andrea hugs me and says "I'm so glad we're friends". Meeeee too :)
The experience was fascinating. I don't think that any of us felt threatened by the protestors... more so by the fact that the hold ups were an opportune moment for robbers, which thankfully, never found us. Thank goodness we got across when we did, as the protests have escalated since then. My cousin Emily, a few days later, ended up having to walk/jump on random transportation for over 12 hours during the night. Other roads have now been shut down. The military had to fend off protestors at the Cusco airport the day before we were able to fly out. Protestors got control of the railroad lines and shut down Machu Picchu the day after we made it there. The entire central region of Peru seems to be becoming increasingly cut off. It was fascinating to be very much in the midst of a strong populous movement.
One thing is for sure - people in South America act on their beliefs. This particular wave of protests must be getting a strong point across to the government by almost entirely cutting off access to the region. Who knows. I don't know nearly enough. Exciting. We were excited to get to Ecuador successfully as I have a feeling it may have become more and more difficult and it seemed like we were continually a day ahead of disaster.
That was, of course, after 4 great days in Cusco and a 5 day trek through the Andes to reach Machu Picchu. The trek was incredible and Machu Picchu... Breathtaking.
Quito, Ecuador has been a blast. Great food, incredible company as usual, incredible views of the expansive city, and now a night in the Marriot courtesy of Andrea's parents. Not that we've been roughing it all that much, but man it's great to have a big comfy bed!
Off to the Amazon in the morning. Loving every minute.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I ran into a protest on the main avenue. Not sure what it was about, but apparently protests are the norm. There are tons of women dressed in their traditional clothing - long braided hair and colorful blankets on their backs to carry things. Some where these little top hat things that I've never seen before. An interesting look. At one point this afternoon one of these beautiful little women ran into me and then kept bumping into me acting clueless, like she was old and lost. I did note that it was kind of weird, but didn't notice until a few moments after that my bag was open and camera gone. She was a pro. Well done little old lady. I was a little nervous about my camera breaking during this trip as every time I take a picture with the flash smoke comes out of it... I can't decide whether or not I hope that it explodes when they take their first picture. At a lose for what to do at the moment except laugh it off... because really... Andrea misses her connecting flight and is coming a day later, I've been a zombie wandering around the streets all day not allowed to check into my room yet, and my camera is already gone. It hasn't even been 24 hours! Welcome to Bolivia, where the grafiti at the airport reads "yankees go home and USAID go home"... despite it all, La Paz really is a beautiful city. Hopefully our rough start was just our way of getting the minor disasters out of our system so that the rest can all go as planned. Ha, right!
Monday, June 8, 2009
Written March 27, 2009
The Ganges sparkles with hundreds of candles floating on the water. The air is filled with the sound of bells and the music of the nightly puja ceremony. The breeze is warm and, I'm afraid, filled with a slight smokey musk coming from the cremation fires nearby. I wonder what David Whyte would write if he was sitting here...listening to, watching and breathing in the faith in this holy place.
A colorful place of chaos and total devotion. Sadhus with dreadlocks, half-clothed in orange, with red and white spiritual paint on their foreheads. Men, women and children bathing, doing laundry, drinking, worshiping the water whole-heartedly. The water, to them, is pure regardless of what anyone else says. It comes directly from God through the mountains. Small, intricate shrines line the small alleyways – the deities covered in flowers, colorful clothes and paints. People are in the water with the candles, flowers and pedals floating by as offerings to the holy river.
It really is incredible – the devotion. I think of the mosques in Cairo, but I’m still not sure that I have ever seen such a display of faith as I have seen here. Nor have I seen a body of water take such a powerful form – as though it is alive. The devotion of so many makes it feel alive… if I hold my breath, will I hear the Ganges breathe?
Although I feel this was enough of a taste for me right now, alone, I feel fortunate to have been here. A taste of India – a large gulp of the Hindu faith and the holiness of the Ganges river.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
"Running all around all around... all kinds of beautiful". You never know what you are going to get or how things will end up, but I still believe that it all happens for a reason. I attended the annual ARC gala with my mom, dad, and Teddy in late February. At the event, a young man, who was blind and autistic, played the piano absolutely beautifully - such a gift. Dan Wilson, formerly the lead singer of Semisonic, performed his song "All Kinds of Beautiful" with the entire crowd singing along. It was one of those moments that gives you the goosebumps. Time seemed to pause momentarily and I was reminded of how lucky I am. The gift of Teddy and how he has shaped my life. The gift of my parents, sister, and grandparents - people who continually amaze and impress me and who's support is endless. The gift to be able to take this time and dedicate it to myself. I used to look at 25 as an age when I should know what I'm doing and who I am going to do it with. With the support of such incredible people, I am so lucky to be 25 and feeling all of the possibilities that come out of dreaming big. All kinds of beautiful.
I thought I had to go to India, but all I had to do was drive 45 minutes north of Boulder, Colorado to get a taste of the ashram experience. At Shoshoni I observed silence for 3 days, I turned off my phone and computer and retreated into myself. I meditated for an hour at 5am every morning, I did two yoga classes and one pranayama (breathwork) class each day, and went to an evening meditation or ceremony every night. After 3 days of silence I re-entered the world of talking and extended my stay for a week. My yoga and spiritual practices grew more in one week than it had in years before. A few major breakthroughs occurred that represent the changes that I experienced there.
In the past whenever I have had the freedom to choose where to go I have almost always found a way to choose Africa (hence the title of my blog). When December 5th arrived and I had 8 months of freedom ahead of me with the world as my limit, Africa was, for the first time in my life, not on my immediate agenda. After a month of visiting and spending time with family and friends who I hadn't seen in awhile Halle met me in Minnesota for the long, snowy drive out to Colorado. My next step was a condensed version of the ski bum year I had always wanted. Beaver Creek, Vail, Alta, and back country skiing in British Columbia - my first next step was, without a doubt, the perfect one. I didn't and don't always have to go to far off places to travel somewhere new inside myself.