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IN THE SPOTLIGHT  (SCROLL DOWN TO READ OUR LATEST BLOG POSTS)

 

Tuesday
Jul292014

The Children of Angkor

story and photos by Jolandi Steven

 

Unkempt little bodies jump from stone to stone. Lithe and agile. Darting now towards, then away from the never-ending stream of tourists flowing over the raised wooden causeways of Beng Mealea. They claim the messy jumble of unrestored stones of this temple, 40 kilometres east of Angkor, on the ancient royal way, as their playground. Nearly nine centuries of heat and humidity have played havoc with the precise placement of the blue sandstone blocks. Gone is the former wealth and glory of the mighty Khmer Empire. In its place poverty reigns. 


At each consecutive temple I visit they keep buzzing around me in swarms. Irritating little mosquitoes. Sometimes noisy and persistent, other times quiet and watchful. Even if I try, I cannot seem to avoid their persistent onslaught. “Lady! Lady!” Dirty little hands push tacky souvenirs I don’t want in my direction. I am determined not to make eye contact. I don’t want to see them. “Only one dolla!” I hasten my pace, and keep my face stern. I focus on the beauty and splendour of the temple in front of me. They give up, and turn their attention to their next victim.

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Tuesday
Jul222014

Samba: From Berkeley to Brazil

by Janet Schneider

 

I love Sunday mornings.  Often I wake to the smell of coffee and know that the New York Times awaits me on the dining room table, but these enticements don’t get me out of bed. I rise to dance the samba. For no matter what the weather is in Berkeley, California for one hour, I am transported to a warm Brazilian sandy beach, a Carnaval parade line moving in unison, or a spontaneous Latin street party.  

At 11:00 in the morning I take my place in Elisita’s Afro-Brazilian dance class at the downtown Berkeley YMCA.  I rush to get my spot in the dance studio — behind and slightly left of her so I can watch Elisita’s every move. It’s in the second row so that, thankfully, someone blocks my view of the mirror. I am not fond of mirrors in general, and even less so when I wear spandex and no makeup.

A smiling Elisita Castanon-Hill. Photo by Liza Dalby.

I take off my gym shoes. My bare feet, liberated, feel the hardwood floor give as I step from side-to-side. I stretch while waiting for the music to start. I dance to escape my daily concerns and leave my worries behind. I dance rather than remain at home writing. If I arrive at class stressed or frantic, I won’t feel that way when I leave. 

Elisita takes her place in front, presses the play button, and begins to move.  I hear the drums, flutes, and tambourines and feel the Samba beat —1-2-3. Da, da, da. Ba, ba, ba.  Elisita does not have a flat stomach, small chest, or firm butt. She is, instead, a big woman whose bulging stomach rolls over her spandex waistband. She has a large lumpy behind and full limbs. But when she dances her jiggling skin transforms into a taut figure of strength, grace, and beauty. And when she smiles her entire face radiates.

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Tuesday
Jul152014

Mama Arli’s Due Date

by Anna McDonnell

 

“Na! Na! Hurry; let’s go to the market! Ayo!” Mama Arli’s raspy voice bellows below my kitchen window. 

Mama Arli is my neighbor four houses down from mine, and she is always yelling at me. She’s pregnant with her third child, though hardly showing. Arli is the name of her firstborn son, and his name replaced her own once he was born. All mothers are called by their firstborn’s name without exception.  

Her house is sturdy, also on stilts, and she is fortunate to have a deep well located just a few feet from her kitchen ladder. It is November in Indonesia and this means its coffee-picking season for those in our Sumatran village. Mama Arli and her husband aren’t home much; instead they are occupied with the daily task of harvesting beans, and then drying the beans on tarps beside their home.  


Her eyes are close together, always furrowed but betrayed by her ever-constant grin. Her hair, when I first met her, was a strange bowl cut. Now her hair is long and always pulled back, framed by blunt bangs she likely cuts herself. She wears baggy clothes and occasionally borrows her eldest son’s shoes when she doesn’t feel like looking for her own. Maybe her son had worn hers by accident; she casually explained the one time she caught me looking at her toes spilling out of her young son’s plastic sandals.  

“Na! Ayo!” She is still waiting for me. The more she calls, the louder her voice rises. 

She doesn’t simply speak words; she spits them out loudly and playfully. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was mocking me, but instead I have learned this is the way women here talk. Most are loud, boisterous, and rarely whisper unless they absolutely must, in the company of men or when their gossip is extra juicy. 

I grab my wallet and my woven basket and rush down the staircase to the patch of grass where she is standing. We link arms and begin the walk to the market a few villages away. 

“Can we stop in the next village, Na? I need to see the midwives,” Mama Arli asks, though her tone of voice indicates it’s going to happen whether or not I agree. 

This is the first I’ve heard of someone visiting the underutilized midwife clinic in the area and so I am intrigued.  Women in this region give birth on the floor of their homes, most often with the help of a female family member.

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Tuesday
Jul082014

Would You Eat Your Lunch in a Cathedral?

Musing at Scorhill Stone Circle, England by Elyn Aviva

 

We trudged up the bleak hill, brown and barren. My husband, Gary, and I were hiking with a small group in desolate, wild Dartmoor National Park to a place we’d never been, following a faint path through the moor, a track barely visible in the water-logged, peaty soil.  Our guide informed us that people can easily lose their way on the moors—experienced hikers, skilled in reading maps, disappear, their bodies found years later. 


Clearly, we were entering a dangerous place, a place “in-between” the known and unknown worlds. Specifically, we were going to Scorhill (AKA Gidleigh) Stone Circle, one of the largest and most intact stone circles in Devon: approximately 27 meters (88’) in diameter, originally composed of between 51 to 70 upright stones. Now, only 34 remain.

I saw a knee-high standing stone next to a tiny glistening pool. “Is that an entry marker for the stone circle?” I asked and pointed. Our guide said, “No, it’s just a stone.” But I felt drawn to it. I walked over to the narrow granite slab and greeted it, centering myself for a few minutes. Suddenly my eyes filled with tears, my perception shifted, and I felt myself become a pilgrim on a journey rather than an ambler on an outing. This was puzzling but perhaps not so surprising: the moor was filled with an almost palpable primordial energy. Silently, I asked permission to continue on this path. I waited for an equally silent response.

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Tuesday
Jul012014

The World of Growing Things

by B.J. Stolbov

 

When I was 11 years old, my father took my 15-year-old-sister and me on a cross-country car trip from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania to Seattle, Washington to San Diego, California, and back in 30 days. What I remember about the trip was my father saying, “Here we are at the Space Needle (or Disneyland or the Grand Canyon or wherever), you have 10 minutes, take some pictures, I’m going to the souvenir shop to buy some pennants.”  (For some reason, we got into collecting pennants that ended up on the walls of our basement.) My father drove 10,000 miles in 30 days, and I got to see the U.S.A. at 60 miles per hour. 

Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River. Photo by robin-loo via Flickr CCL

Now, that I have journeyed many miles throughout the U.S.A. and have moved to the Philippines, I would like to tell you what I have discovered about our world of growing things.

I learned the difference between a Saguaro Cactus and a Joshua Tree. (A Saguaro looks like a thorny, bristly candelabra and a Joshua Tree looks like large scrub brushes.) I learned to distinguish between a Coconut Palm and a Date Palm.  (You have to look up, but be careful; a falling coconut can kill.) I have journeyed to see a legendary Boojum Tree, which looks like a living tree that is growing upside-down! (It should be on everyone’s must-see list.)

The more I traveled and the more I observed, the more I discovered about trees. Banana trees (technically they are not a tree; they are a grass like asparagus) can be identified by a subtle difference in the leaf shapes. (I can’t tell the difference yet.) But I can tell the difference between the taste of a Lakatan (the sweetest) and a Saba (the meatiest). Did you know that a Pineapple plant is surprisingly short (less than a meter tall)?

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Tuesday
Jun242014

The Overnight Karaoke Bus From Hell

by Christina J. Holgate

In the mid-90s, I was living and working as an ESL teacher at a private school in Kanazawa, Japan,  a couple of hours by train from my relatives living in Kobe. I liked to visit them at least once a month to get to know them and stave off homesickness. The train ticket usually cost about $150. Sometimes I took the bus to save money, even though it was a much longer trip.

 

One day, our office boy, Kazu (who also worked part-time for a travel agency) told me that he could get me a free ticket to Kobe that weekend. He was booking a chartered bus which had an empty seat. The only catch, he explained, was "Overnight bus. Maybe you be tired." I said sure, that would be fine, "I can sleep on the bus." He gave me a quizzical look and said, "Ahhh...no sleep." As a foreigner, I was by then used to getting quizzical looks from the locals, so I didn't comment or think much about his hesitation. 

When the weekend came, my boss and his wife offered to drive me to the bus station. "So, Kazu got you on the overnight bus. Have you ever taken overnight bus before? You might be too tired when you get there." I said that I had taken other overnight buses and I could always fall asleep. "Hm. I guess you won't sleep," my boss said. I assumed he figured it would be too uncomfortable, so again I said nothing.

They dropped me off and said, smirking, "Okaaaay...have a nice trip. Let me know how you sleep." In retrospect, I should have wondered why they were smirking.

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