Glimpses of Life

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Maakiti

It’s only 10 am and the market is crowded.  Vendors line the left and right in small wooden booths and converted shipping containers.  In the center are an array of ladies with large bowls holding rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and an array of other vegetables while other vendors move throughout the market, one carrying brightly folded material on his head, another with a basket of fish in her hand.  People press against each other to move through the mass.  Voices rise as vendors shout their prices, a girl in a tatter of a dress stands quietly in her own small space waiting for her mother to finish a transaction.

These women pause their wig making to smile for the camera.

These women pause their wig making to smile for the camera.

Percy

A medicine man told my boyfriend that in order to ensure health, happiness, and abundance, he needed to buy a racer chicken and leave it at the house to be cared for.

Percy peeks in the front door to see if the coast is clear.

Percy peeks in the front door to see if the coast is clear.

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Customs in Guinea

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When traveling, it’s important to drop your ethnocentricities.  You want to be able to look at the culture you find yourself immersed in for what it is, not what it is in comparison to your home culture.  Here in Guinea, that means embracing different standards of beauty, understanding that when voices are raised, people are not necessarily angry, and not being offended by constantly being called foti, white person.

Coca Cola bears a familiar look but a different language in this cooler outside a gas station

Coca Cola bears a familiar look but a different language in this cooler outside a gas station

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Food as a Path to the Spiritual — the Diet in Guinea

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I’ve experienced a different relationship with food since arriving in Guinea.  I was blessed during my stay in the States to be extremely spoiled by good eating.  In California, much of my time was spent with health-conscious friends who also possessed a talent for cooking the often garden-fresh meals I enjoyed.  On the east coast, my family kept me well fed with home cooked favorites and restaurant meals.

Here in Guinea, the food is nourishing and freshly made, but I must confess that I don’t relish it.  I eat to nourish only, rarely for the flavor or to enjoy my meal.  This brings to mind a discussion we had towards the end of my yoga teacher training.

The teacher was leading the class in a study of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and she was speaking to us of the importance of withdrawing attachment from the material world in order to cultivate a stronger connection with the spiritual.  Moksha, freedom from attachments, is the ultimate goal of practicing yoga.  Patanjali suggests the complete severing of all attachments to achieve this goal.  In creating this separation, Patanjali speaks of the importance of drawing away from the narrative of our lives, observing the passage of emotions without allowing ourselves to be caught up in the sticky details, and to stop identifying with the many masks we wear.

Moksha

Moksha

I found myself agreeing with all of these points and fully understanding the importance of making this separation between the atman, the eternal self within, and the ego.  However, I recoiled from my teacher’s next point that we must also break attachments with the joys of life.  She said that we should not fully immerse ourselves in the joy of music, dance, or relishing of good food.  Read the rest of this entry

Hube

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“Hoo-bey” – dust (Susu)

The Dust in Africa deserves its own religion.  It billows when the wind blows and sticks like a second skin to children’s bare feet.  It clings to chicken’s feathers, goat’s fur and lamb’s wool.  When the sunlight slants in the window just right, you can see that the air is made up almost entirely of dust.  Cars that aren’t washed daily are quickly reclaimed by it, laying thick as paint over tires, hood, and windows.

A wandering mama lamb and her babies rest a moment in the shade.

A wandering mama lamb and her babies rest a moment in the shade.

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Soso

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Soso – “sue sue”

I try to spend at least an hour and a half each day on language training.  I’m focusing mostly on Soso, as I have more resources on my computer for that.  My resources for French language learning are all internet based, and as I learned in my first week, the internet here is not usable for much beyond sending email, and even that takes a looooong time.  Luckily, the French I learned prior to leaving the States has stuck, and the rest I can figure out with my background in Spanish, Latin, and English due to the root similarities of the languages.

So my sit-down and study time is devoted to Susu.  My boyfriend, with his many languages on hand, is my preferred teacher, but it’s difficult to get him to sit down for ten minutes, let alone ninety.  It’s been five years since he’s been in the country, and the home is a constant parade of long lost family and friends coming by to catch up.  That means that he’s usually to be found in the midst of a crowd animatedly telling a story about life in the States or a recent adventure we’ve had here in Guinea.

Gacim, 3 years old

Gacim, 3 years old

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La Toilét

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“Where is the bathroom?”

Donde está el bano? – Spanish

Haandey ana mindee? – Susu

où est la salle de bain? – French

Let’s talk bathrooms for a moment, shall we?  My boyfriend was kind in warning me prior to our arrival in Africa that most people don’t use toilet paper.  I had some terrifying visions in my head of what this would mean, but a girlfriend who has lived and traveled extensively in West Africa put me at ease.

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Once Upon a Time in Guinea

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Travel

The snow began to fall the day of our departure.  When I checked JFK’s website for flight info, I saw that almost all the flights leaving between the one-hour time frame as mine were canceled….except my flight!  With fingers crossed and a cell-phone text alert engaged, we piled into my aunt and uncle’s SUV with our small city of luggage.  Only 2 suitcases held personal belongings.  The rest were packed full of the donation of soccer uniforms, deflated soccer balls, as well as an accumulation of shoes, clothes, and school supplies that we’d been buying the previous months. Read the rest of this entry

Africa

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My travels will soon take me to the grand continent of Africa.  I am humbled by and grateful that this opportunity presented itself to me.  I used to dream of traveling to Africa one day, when I was graduating college and considering serving in the Peace Corp.  At the time, I couldn’t articulate what about the continent was drawing me.  The energy tugging me there today is no less mysterious, yet my path is clearly leading east.

Africa

I will begin my journey in Guinea, which translates to “woman.”  This is a country that respects the role of the divine feminine.  Much of this wisdom is expressed through music – specifically drum and dance.  I look forward to learning the traditional dances of Guinea and then incorporating that movement into my yoga classes.

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I also am excited and inspired to be learning not one, but two new languages!  I have begun to study French and Susu, which are the two predominant languages of the coastal region of Guinea to which I’ll be traveling.  I’m finding that French shares enough in common with both English and Spanish that I am picking it up quickly.

To learn French, I’ve been working the the Duolingo app on my phone.  It’s a free app with short lessons in French – utilizing reading, multiple choice, writing, and the microphone to help you learn the language.  I can download the lessons when I’m near a wifi connection, and then practice offline.  The hardest part so far is getting that nasal french accent!

I also created a notebook to begin learning Susu, which is used interchangeably with French.  The language provides it’s own challenges and opportunities in learning.  On the one hand, the verbs stay exactly the same regardless of the subject.  After months of struggling to learn the many tenses of Spanish verbs, this is refreshing!  On the other hand, the language shares no roots with either English, Spanish, or French.  That means I will be relying completely on my memory in learning new terms.  Rather than learn vocabulary one word at a time, I am learning phrases for conversation.  Because there are no apps to learn Susu, I’m creating my own book as I learn.  This is helpful as I can use my own words and illustrations to help remember the language.

Like Nicaragua, Guinea has a history of revolution and poverty.  I look forward to studying the history and culture more in-depth.  The people of Guinea love to play soccer, and I’ve been blessed to be the recipient of a large donation of soccer clothes and soccer balls!  After vacuum-packing all the items, I am searching for just the right way to transport this abundance to Africa – be that by paying for extra bags on the airline (more than $100 each!), or shipping everything by post.  (Equally expensive!)  I still have a few weeks to figure it all out, inshala (god willing), a solution will appear soon.  The donation will make many children and adults smile.  Please click here if you would like to help with the transportation costs.

I expect to directly serve the people of Guinea while I am there.  I also plan to work completing a curriculum for an upcoming yoga teacher training.  This is a project I began while in Costa Rica, and I am eager to make this offering so that I can share my own yoga journey with others and continue the “golden chain of teaching.”

I will continue to share with you this wonderful journey!  Sat Nam, may we each honor the truth within.

On Detachment and Conflict

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It’s easy to maintain a sense of detachment when you’re only passing through.  It’s also simple to have perspective and true vision when looking at the trifles that capture people’s egos and lead to conflict

When you don’t call a place home or interact with people every day, it’s simple to see the overarching harmony that we all share and are capable of.  When I first arrived to California, I was able to observe moments of tension for what they are — a distraction from our shared One Human Spirit and an opportunity for each of us to learn.  That is the gift of being a traveller.  As a gypsy, I hadn’t alighted down.  The perspective provided from that height allowed me to see how small these stumbling blocks truly are and how easy to overcome.

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But oh, how that perspective changes when you land.   Read the rest of this entry

Homeless in the US

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“What if we choose not to do the things we are supposed to do? The principal gain is a sense of an authentic act – and an authentic life. It may be a short one, but it is an authentic one, and that’s a lot better than those short lives full of boredom. The principal loss is security. Another is respect from the community. But you gain the respect of another community, the one that is worth having the respect of.”

~ Joseph Campbell

Since I made the decision two years ago to walk away from Babylon, consumerism, and society’s definition of success, I also walked away from a lot of security.  In giving up a traditional job, I also gave up a traditional home.  There were times when this decision felt very precarious to me, but I always landed in a comfortable place and had my very basic needs taken care of.

There was the beautiful home I was blessed to occupy in Granada for a time with my sister and a visiting friend, there are the small hotels and wellness centers full of beautiful artwork I’ve been lucky enough to care for and occupy, and there are the comfortable homes with loving families who have taken me in.  In each moment, I’ve counted my blessings to awake in a dry, warm, comfortable and safe place.

Never before has the decision to walk away from the security of the American Dream felt so dangerous as these past few months traveling and working in the US.   Read the rest of this entry