Archive for the ‘Backblogging’ Category

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Searching For Roots:: Where Does Africa Stop and the Americas Start?

April 30, 2007

So needless to say I got over myself from my bout of international break down. Funny how a good nights sleep, changing to a private hotelesque room, and some good company can change ones perspective. I went on to have an absolutely FANTASTIC week last week.

Last Thursday, the afternoon began with taking a trip to Pelourinho; the historic center of Salvador. It looks like what I imagine Cuba to look like. We saw block after block of brightly colored crumbling, yet charming old buildings and churches. As we stopped for lunch we met a woman (sweaty, swarmy, wierd, lesbianwhokeptlookingatmyfriendlikeshewasdessert) at the cafe who offered to assist us with a translation of the Portuguese menu seeing how she spoke fluent English. Then she invited herself to our table (which I must note for me was initially a little disconcerting as I am particularly suspicious of strangers while traveling) and started going on about one thing or another. That woman and the craziness that occurred as a result of meeting her deserves its own separate post, but not now.

….Anyway, the day consisted mostly of going to the Afro-Brasilia museum and then we went a Folkloric Show in the San Miguel Theatre in Pelourinho. Both of them were pretty phenomenal for plenty of reasons. The museum gave alot of history in terms of the conditions of the slave trade in Salvador with alot of artifacts and art made from some of the first Africans to arrive in Brazil. The folkloric show was a artful depiction of many different sides of Salvador, the candomble (religion for 80% of Salvadorians) ceremony, capoeria, and carnival. It was fantastic!…however it´s pretty much a touristy thing to do. So the next night we went with said mad crazy sweaty lady (o such a long story) to an authentic candomble ceremony where a woman was being initiated into the religion. Between all three of these events, it was hard not to feel as if I was in Africa. Even the candomble ceremony was in Yoruba (large ethno-linguistic group primarily in Nigeria), since 20% of Salvadorians speak Yoruba.

Most of the slaves dropped off in Brazil were from Nigeria and that rings loud and true in Salvador. It´s such a experience having just left Nigeria a few months ago, and then making the voyage to Brazil. In some ways Salvadorians are more African than the Africans. From what I have read and from what I can discern, one of the large differences between slavery here and in the States is that the Africans were allowed to maintain alot more of their culture. So while we grasp for the strands of Africa left in our black roots in the states, in Salvador they don´t need to look for it because it never left.

The crazy mad woman that we met was saying that a large portion of their visitors are African-Americans who are “looking for roots”, which is exactly what I am here for. When you are traveling around and meeting other travelers, the first thing you do is exchange travel itineraries and the reason how and why you are traveling around. When I met white folks and told them that I was going to Salvador they were always like “hmm, but why there”, I just say for historical purposes and leave it at that. When I tell Black folks that I´m going to Brazil (those who know a bit about the slave trade that is), their first response is “So are you going to Salvador?”, to which I reply of course! I came here knowing that I needed to get here, but I didn´t know exactly what I was trying to see. Nevertheless, I am even more satisfied than I anticipated.

Seeing how I was just in Africa, and then Trinidad, and now Brazil its almost as if I have taken my own little transatlantic journey of the slave trade. My professor from college always spoke about the “footprints of Africa left wherever they dropped us off”, and I now see it with my own eyes. As I´ve watched the parties in Lagos, carnival in Trinidad, and candomble and samba in Brazil there are so many parts that have an eerie familiarity. Candomble ceremonies are so strikingly close to many Black churches (particularly Pentecostal) that it was an even more enlightening experience than I expected, and Carnival even with its madness is damn near a spiritual experience itself.

Looking for Roots, but why? I´ve been wondering that to myself as I´ve been traveling lately, why as Black Americas are there so many of us leaving the country (myself included) trying to discover ourselves in another country? What is this obsession with finding a mystical origin? After being in Brazil it makes perfect sense. There are very few other places in the world where slaves were dropped off and their descendants are outnumbered by those that enslaved/oppressed/colonized…other than Brazil. The difference between Brazil and the US is that they were allowed to keep large parts of their culture so their complete identity wasn´t stripped from them. On the islands Blacks remain the majority so they were in the position to create a new identity. As American Blacks, what were we left with after slavery culture wise? Empty space. We weren´t and still aren´t full fledged card carrying American citizens (I don´t give a damn what the law is), more like the slaves who turned uninvited guest who just just wouldn´t take their asses home. So there is this void that makes us “different” but what sort of history do we have to hang that “difference” on? Hip Hop? Martin Luther King? ok back further, Nat Turner? Somehow all of that is not enough to hang our cultural pride, so we struggle to find out cultural Zen.

…so we search for the part that makes us proud, the part that says we belong, the part that validates our existence for being something other than the unwanted stepchild of a major World Power. Sadly, in that search we are rarely satisfied because some things can never be reclaimed.

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Santiago:: Is it love that I´m feeling?? Umm, no thats just gas…

March 28, 2007

So I´ve been in Santiago for a few days now and I must admit that when I first arrived here I was disappointed, sad, disgusted, and ready to bring my tail back to the states. It was difficult to leave Buenos Aires, a city that I am so in love with so much personality and come here to Santiago where the city lacks a little….. je ne sais que…. Basically in a nutshell, Santiago kind of sucks. I have searched high and low and I have yet to find the charm in this city. The people are wonderful……but I seem to find the people everywhere to be wonderful.

Though this is a city of 5 million or more people it lacks that bustling big city feel that I was expecting. Instead it always feels like you are in a dirty run down suburb of a big city. I am counting the days until I leave.

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Caracas Venezuela:: When saving $400 dollars almost gets you put in airport jail.

February 27, 2007

So on friday I set out for what I knew was going to be a sorrowful 4 flight, 4 country, 16 hour journey from Trinidad to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Let me first start off by saying that when I was buying these tickets in October I discovered an odd truth ….. it would be much easier and cheaper for me to get to BA from Kansas City, MO than from Port of Spain, Trinidad… which is located directly off the coast of Venezuela and is geographically about halfway between home and Argentina. Why do you ask? That I am still not quite certain of. Maybe there is no demand for people from Trinidad to get to South America even though they are right next to each other so airlines don´t have many routes from Trinidad to SA. Which I know can´t be entirely true because the last time I came to Carnival I came through Caracas Venezuela. At any rate, when I was buying tickets the Trinidad— BA leg was proving to be very difficult, so me and my equally creative travel agent came up with what we thought would be a trying yet workable and affordable alternative. From Trinidad I would take a 45 minute flight to Margarita Island, Venezuela where I would then take another 45 min flight to Caracas, Venezuela, where I would take a 2 hour flight to Bogota, Columbia where I would then take a 6 hour flight to BA, Argentina and voila! ……. but that would only work if everything went off without a hitch but I thought I had enough layover time in between everything in case something went wrong. Think again lady.

When I arrived in Caracas after my second flight I had 3 1/2 hours between flights. I did as my travel agent had instructed previously, collected my baggage and then looked around for the carrier of my next flight Aerolineas Argentina. Hmmmm, looking, looking…….. pacing, pacing… I saw many airlines, but no Aerolineas Argentina. So I tried asking people at various ticket counters, they all just looked at me like ¨look you non Spanish speaking freak of fucking nature there is no Aerolineas airline here and get the hell out of my country!¨, which I can´t really blame them we treat Spanish speakers no different in the US and Venezuela isn´t really our best friend right now (damn Geoge Duubuya!!) so I start to majorly sweat at this point. I have in my hand a ticket for an airline that doesn´t seem to exist. Then I saw a sign that said International somethingsomething with an arrow pointing to another building, apperantly all the international flights fly out of another building in the airport and I was in the domestic part since I flew from Margarita Island to Caracas. By now an hour has gone by……. still have plenty of time. So me and my luggage roll down the sidewalk about a half a mile to the international building. Hmmm, I see American Airlines, I see Air France, I see Continental, I see Delta Airlines…… still no Aerolineas Argentina. So I ask around and still noone seems to have a clue what the hell I´m talking about (you would think that they would speak English at Continental or American Airlines, but ummm no, not in Caracas) and it took some more hard core investigative work but I finally found the tiny tiny Aerolineas Argentina desk. Whew! With still an hour and a half to spare.

Home free? Nope not hardly. So I am checking in with the ticket guy and he gives me my boarding pass, and then writes ¨$61 USD¨ on a scrap piece of paper, rattles off something in spanish and nods me toward some man in the corner. Umm ok? So through another ticket counter person who spoke a tiny bit of English the man in the corner told me that I had to pay a departure tax of $61 US dollars. Ummm departure tax? But I am in transit…….. how could I owe a departure tax? So as I am trying to discuss this in a ass backwards psuedo Spanish way with the people atthe airline and then they write down on a piece of paper $61 USD $132 USD. Ummm did the departure tax just double in the past 20 seconds? So at this point I am trying to figure out if this is a real fee or if this is some airport bribery/take advantage of the foreigner who can´t speak the language Nigerian style type stuff. I only had an hour before my flight left and only $40 US in cash and about $10 US worth of TT (Trinidad currency) and so I decided to just go to the ATM and get out the Venezualan equivalent of $61 dollars and chalk it up as a lost so that I can make the flight. …………. Long story short, I go to 10 different ATMs in the airport, all with different banks and none of them are recognizing my debit card. O and did I mention that they couldn´t take credit cards at the airline counter? O yea thats a wonderfully fun fact. So after 30 minutes of pure frustration at the ATM I go back to the desk not sure what my next course of action will be. The best plan I could come up with would be to go to the internet cafe in the airport, look up the nearest Citibank ATM and hop in a cab and pray that it would work. But there was no time for that. ……and if at this point you are wondering why I don´t use travellers cheques… they wouldn´t have helped in this situation either because there was no where to cash them. The Friday´s in the Caracas airport wouldn´t even accept them, (nor would they swipe my credit or debit card and give me cash for it but that was a long shot anyway). So walking back to the counter the only plan I could come up with was to offer them the $40 USD that I did have and just beg, plead, and cry if necessary. My worst fear of missing this flight and then having to come out of my pocket $700 bucks was just not an option.

Well when I arrived back at the desk there were two Chliean men having the exact same problem and one of them spoke English very well. He sympathized with my stressed out face and told me to just pretend that we were all traveling together and to just stay quiet and let me do the talking. So I did. Through translation of the arguements the Chilean man (Robert) said something to me about airport jail, and then he turned to me and asked me “do you pray?” and I said yes and he replied “well I think its about time we start doing so because we are running out of options”. So I did. At a point I even tried to cry because the men seemed to get more helpful the more distressed I looked……. but I was so dehydrated that my tear ducts would not cooperate. Finally, about an hour later, after several heated discussions with the airport authority, the venezuelan tax authority and customs …… they just let us go. I think they just got tired. We only made the flight because it was delayed for an hour and half …….. good ole Caracas.

What I figured later is this, while technically I was still in transit (so in my mind I wouldn´t have had to pay a departure tax)…… since the second leg of the trip was a domestic flight (from Porlamalar Venezuela to Caracas Venezuela) they considered that ¨leaving the airport¨because I had to collect my baggage and walk over to the international side in order to check in with Aerolineas. Even though I was still technically in transit when I went through customs on Margarita Island (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way) and then checked in for my flight to Caracas it was considered ¨leaving the airport” because I went through customs….. but its not like I had a choice. Damn me and my funky flight plan.

Lesson Learned:: Dont spend a Quarter trying to save a dime. Though I didn´t end up paying, the emotional stress during those 3 hours was enough to make me look for another alternative. Other lesson? Carry more US dollars on me when travelling through SA….. people love it here.

Let me say it one more time…….. I HATE Caracas Venezuela. I knew that before, but my hate for the city, or more aptly that airport is on a whole new level now.

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Trinidad Carnival Summary

February 25, 2007

Due to the exhausting rock and roll of carnival and the fact that the neurotic Woody Allenesque houseguest that was also staying with my homegirl in Trinidad was OCD about being the computer and uploading pictures I didn´t have too much computer time. This is so unfortunate since Carnival and my experience in Trinidad was so blog worthy but I will do my best to summarize.

First off lets start off with Carnival vocabulary:

Fete–outdoor concert/party where a variety of Soca artist perform the current Soca songs of the season. Thousands of people are usually present at these parties and they usually take place in a stadium, a field, or any space that can accomadate a stage and thousands of soused Carnivalers wining and jumping and dancing. They usually start somewhere around 9 or 10pm and go until at least 4am but the closer to Carnival Monday and Tuesday the later they last… sometimes until noon the next day.

“Playing Mas”— When you play mas, it means you are a going to be one of the thousands of masqueraders on the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. When you play mas, you pick a band, and then you pick the particular section of the band that you want to be in. Each section is put out by different people so each section has different costumes. A band can be as small as a few hundred or many thousands. The band that used to be the largest is the one I played in the first time I came to Trinidad was Poison, but as of this year Poison disbanded and so each section had to split off into smaller bands or create their own.

“on the road” — refers to when you are playing mas Carnival Monday and Tuesday.  So when say “I need new shoes fa de road”, they need new shoes for playing mas in Carnival.

So basically, Carnival is a season to Trinidadians. Officially it starts right after new years, but unofficially the country starts gearing up for it in August. My carnival experiences have pretty much consisted of going to fetes and just enjoying all the splendor of the country while waiting for Carnival Monday and Tuesday to arrive.

From an outsiders prospective, Carnival is celebration of music, life, and mostly…….. women. For those of you unfamiliar with the roots of Carnival/Mardi Gras celebrations around the globe here is a short synopsis. During slavery times, these were the two days out of the year where slaves were allowed a temporary freedom of sorts. They would dress up and mimic those that claimed ownership over them while incorporating traditional African symbols and rites such as feathers, mask, music, etc. It was the two days out of the year that most lived for, and after slavery was abolished in various parts of the world Carnival celebrations everywhere took on their own life. You usually find these celebrations in parts of the world where Catholic (usually French or Spanish) settlers owned slaves as Carnival Monday and Tuesday mark the two days that precede the Wed before Lent. ………. In short Carnival is about creating as much foolishness and bacchanal as possible before Lent comes.

Remember the scene in the Ten Commandments where after Moses (aka NRA spokesman Charles Heston) comes down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets ready to show his people what God has given him……only to find that they are partying, drinking wine in excess, and are worshiping the golden ox idol they created? That´s Carnival. Maybe thats not the best example to give seeing how its supposed to be such a terrible ¨sinful¨scene, but when you look around during a fete or anytime during Carnival for that matter you can´t help but make the comparison. However, instead of men worshiping a golden ox they´ve created, the object of worship is women and more specifically the female form. The spirit of Carnival gives an anything goes, people swinging from the rooftops, good rum freely flowing, intoxicating music playing, life is so damn good I just want to make love to the Earth kind of feeling. To outsiders Carnival probably just looks like a sinful party of drunks, but only those who have never experienced it, because Carnival is the closest thing to heaven on earth that a personal could ever experience.