Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adventures in Salvador Day 4

I think Silvana has ditched me. I saw her a few hours ago with wet hair. She mentioned she was going to the beach, but when I asked her last night if these were her plans she said no.

Alone again.

Oh well. I better figure out some landmarks so I can find my way back here. Reminds me of Zanzibar in Stone Town. I knew how to get a few places by following the sea shore. No such luck here, I am inland, surrounded by buildings. I haven't been out today. I might go out later. I am not certain, but I am going to go for a bus ride to the beach tomorrow to see people jump the waves.

Well she wasn't out having fun that's for sure I found out later on. She went to the bus station to change her reservation to Rio and to buy a lock for the lockers here at the hostel. She told me about a day trip she arranged to another beach. Sounded nice. I didn't get up early enough and missed the trip, but we went for a walk that evening and I got to see the huge audience at the Mercado Square. Olodum were performing when we looked from above below. I don't know how many flights but you don't want to walk it (smile).

I don't know how people moved between the top of the hill to the bottom before. I will have to read up on this. Maybe the elevators were just slower?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Adventures in Brazil, Day 3

I was up all night again. I do not recommend doing this. It is very tiring, but I lost an article last night. I saved instead of saved as and lost it. The restore temporary files was not working when I retired at 5 a.m. Salvador time. I am going to bed today.
There is a concert down the street in one of the many plazas. I went out a bit earlier to catch Iya Iye, an all women drum troop. The troubadour in mask carried an umbrella--white of course and was doing the second line moves--you know I was in the zone--New Orleans in Salvador (smile).
It was another busy day, but this time I ate twice (smile). Missed breakfast, but the sister had mercy on me this once and gave me a couple of bananas. We walked down to the elevator which was free again--we then went to the Mercado and bought tickets for the tour bus which left almost an hour later.
Silvana whom had been running around a lot earlier than me, had a chance to finish her fish which she'd bought the afternoon before. As usual I read while she ate. Capoeira youth were performing on a stage nearby. One kid walked up a wall and flipped. It was impressive. Their style wasn't Angola, but it was good.
The bus was really cool. Silvana and I didn't sit together as we both wanted windows. I kept realizing today one a number of occasions why I travel alone, but Silvana has something I need, linguistic access.

There is a sister on now who can really blow-she is really good. If I didn't have to get dressed all over again and walk alone down the hill to the concert, I might go to see her. Just a thought.
The tour was very commercial. The first stop was to a sponsor, an ice cream shop and there was a stop at a shrine and hospital established by a nun. No one spoke more than a few words of English, but there was a brochure in English and the signs were in English and translated into other languages.
We could have skipped this though and spent more time at the Orisha Lake and Cathedral Bonfim. I almost missed the bus back there (smile). They were looking for me.

The Lake reminded me of Lake Merritt but a bit larger--it was in the 'hood so one would have to take a guy with muscles along, especially if you wanted to carry a camera. The favela started just across the street.
There was a larger than life sized nativity scene--funny how none of these Nativity scenes are a Black Nativity. There were the usual suspects plus Santa and a cow. It was cute, but the bus drove so fast, by the time I knew this was the famous lake with the black gods sculpted larger than life, I'd missed a few.
However, this is the kind of moment one needs to walk by--then it gets better. Just up the street, there are these lovely nude voluptuous black goddesses carved in metal.

We followed the sea around Salvador to areas of the town we didn't get to the day before. I saw many of the museums I want to visit tomorrow, if I get my papers written.

There is another really cool singer on now--the concert is bumping. I feel good, doing my work to this soundtrack. He has a Bob Marley kind of groove going. . . but NOT. Folks are singing along.

Back to today. So we pass the famous lighthouse, but don't stop and then we are told the tour is over and to get off. Never mind we weren't alerted when we passed our stop, the one we'd asked to be announced. My friend Pauline lives in Salvador, her husband Jacques teaches African History at one of the universities here. The plan was to call her to see if she can come have a bite with us.

We find a nice man at a newsstand who calls Pauline and then lets us wait there for her to call him. She lived nearby and when she calls she is literally across the street. I recognize her immediately. She is my friend Kaidi's mom. I've known her as long as I've known Kaidi and that is over 25 years.

It's nice to see an American when one is abroad. Travel is the great nationalizing experience.

Wow here comes a tribute to Marley--sounds just like him. Redemption Song, Sounds of Freedom--"Emancipate oneself from mental slavery.  . .  How long will they kill our prophets while we stand and look--of course everyone sings along.

This is the first song I understand (smile). The Brazilians like black American music as well. They have been playing such songs like in the states on the American Count Down shows. The singer is breaking it down. One thing about these artists is the bands they bring--really tight live ensembles. Top notch all of them.

More English. . . just a teaser. I can't follow it anymore. Must be Portuguese.

The Bomfin Church was kind of a let down, since I'd been expecting a lot (smile). Very white from the statues to the frescoes in the lobby which are in blue and white marble. Inside there are golden highlights--I am not sure if it is all gold. Outside there are babaloas who have the special leaves I'd read about which they sprinkled in special water and shake it over people's heads as they pray. I don't see any black people getting blessed, just a white couple.

At first we thought the church was closed, but I kept walking around and I saw people coming out and I went in.
I thought about Silvana and hoped she'd found the open door. There is a gift shop where one can buy books and holy water. I didn't buy anything, but it was nice seeing people so happy.

Outside there were lots of colored ribbons, wishes for blessings. I raced back to the bus and we were on our way. I'd had to throw a bit of a fit--I call it "going American" or "first world nation." What it means is I press my privilege button and expect certain treatment and will not back down.

This white couple took my seat and when I told them I wanted it back, they wouldn't move. I got a bit loud and well after the next stop they didn't sit there again.  White people don't know where to put me when I open my mouth and they cannot understand a word, but understand exactly what I want.

I am an American woman who is free. Hum, what is that?

Yes, these people were Europeans, not passing for white people. We dropped lots of them at hotels along the beach we drove along for most of the last hour.

All I could think as I saw this huge shopping mall and the stadium the Brazilian government is building for the World Cup was globalization. I hoped that Afro Brazilians got work. The corporation that built this stadium built the Staple Center in Los Angeles, which means they could import employees from wherever they like, especially with Obama sponsoring the Common Sense Immigration Bill a model of policy Brazil might be forced accept regarding international contracts.

Silvana, works for the Staple Center in LA and when she applied for the position 13 years ago she wasn't even a citizen, could barely speak English, yet her 14-15 American friends didn't get nary a position.

As we drove along the Atlantic Ocean the area looked like Oakland's Rockridge or Lakeshore, definitely not Fruitvale or San Antonio. The shops were not Brazilian culturally. One could pick up the town and sit it anywhere in the West--this is how void of identity it was.

Why is it seen as an achievement to be a mini America? It was so Yuppie. If the folks were black, the melanin was so diluted one couldn't see the ancestry easily. But culture is about more than melanin. Pigment is an identifiable element, but culture is an attitude and an obligation.

Iya lye is on now (smile).

We owe it to our ancestors to call them to mind in everything we do. If someone had poured libations before breaking ground on the developments, the look and shape might have been a bit different.

There are housing projects going up as well. Lot of them. In Addis they call them condos. In San Francisco, LA and New Orleans, even Chicago, they are called housing projects and their removal is called gentrification.

Affordable most of the time, the new housing that replaces the old is more expensive and inadequate in quantity.

Just the way a few contractors get all the bids locally, there is something happening globally. I saw it in Africa--the awful condos in Addis; the new roads in Madagascar (thanks to China), a new convention center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (thanks to China). Then there are all these highrises going up here.

Who owns the contract?

I found out today that the US is making other countries spy on their citizens via cell phone monitoring, the way the US monitors us. When Pauline told me this is why is why it is hard to get a cell phone, I was alarmed.

How can we tell other sovereign nations how to handle their security? Was I talking about Brazil? Am I still talking about Brazil?

Well my battery is critical --oh, my friend Hassaun sent me a message from Oakland. Cool (smile).
With Pauline we went to a kilo restaurant, which is in her neighborhood. There is a symphony hall, a theatre, 3-4 museums, one which has an exhibit featuring the jewelry of enslaved Africans. I didn't know enslaved Africans wore jewelry--why am I not surprised though?

Even when oppressed we still create.

I am going to bed. We took a taxi to the hostel and then I called myself walking to the concert and followed the women drummers and got lost.

I looked up and there was Silvana. I don't know if she knew I was lost, but it was nice seeing her face and the hostel just beyond.

I like this deejay. The tune before this one was Congolese. The music is really nice. My roommates are here now. I have taken over the room, the one plug has my technology plugged in and my camera. My phone is charged. Bugs are attacking. Time to renew the bug repellent and call it quits.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Adventures in Salvador, Day 2, December 29, 2013

A friend and I have been doing the historic church thing. We walked down from our hostel to a nearby church with a black saint encased in class. People were selling ribbons which believers tie on their wrists until one of their three wishes is granted.  We then moseyed along looking for this elevator—I hadn’t a clue what to expect, but when we got to the building, it was nice that there was no fee on Sunday.

As we walked through the plaza, I was reminded of Tana again—even the taxis were parked in a line along the street in front of a blue church. In Tana, there was also a blue building. On the way back to the hostel, we took another ferry, this one three levels high. Earlier, the ferry was so full there was standing room only. Our constellation was being able to reach the life jackets faster from our standing position (smile).

Elevator Lacerda first and then to the Mercado Modelo across the street. I wasn't aware until just now that the original market, a Customs House was partially destroyed in 1986 and reopened as a big tourist market place--like the outlets in Vallejo or Fairfield, California.
I can't imagine what it must have been l like to have been chained in the watery depths of the building awaiting sale. Reminds of a Katrina story—remember what happened to the enslaved oops, I mean incarcerated men and women who were left to drown in their cells?
Solar do Unhao—transfer point for sugar imports, was closed on Sunday—I love haunted stories, these murdered Africans. Maybe I'll go back Saturday to the Solar and Museu de Arte Moderna when there is a concert (Lonely Planet 445).  I haven't seen the inside of one museum yet. I want to get to Museu de Arte da Bahia (2-7 Tues-Fri., Sat-Sun 2:30-6:30) and Museu Carlos Costa Pinto (Wed-Mon 2:30-7 p.m.(Lonely Planet 446)

We took a ferry to Ilha de Itaparica (one of Baia de Todos os Santos, Brazil's largest and at one time one of its most important, bays, to see more historic churches. There are 56 islands.
The beaches were shallow, the latest faze standing on a boards and rowing standing up. Stairs ran between the sidewalk and the sandy shores where parents sat as their kids splashed in the shallow waters. Along the opposite side of the beach were small restaurants where people ate fish, pizzas or drank beer or soft drinks.
We'd rode one of the public vans to the beach, but the driver was charging us too much so we got off and walked the rest of the way with some kids who were headed our way.

Families go to the beach in Brazil on Sundays. The vibe at Praia Ponta da Areia is low key and friendly. Cars don't speed and pedestrians, even the four legged ones don't have to worry about getting run over. The cobbled streets make it hard to walk, but there are bike lanes along the sidewalk so cyclists can enjoy the seashore too.
The boom boxes were playing as mostly boys danced. Other youth sat in chairs in the ocean, while I even saw a man fishing. At the end of the walk is a pier which was closed and a shopping center with community vendors selling crafts. Silvana bought these really cute thongs with embroidered beadwork crystal in white—really elegant and unique. Of course there are historic churches, in this case

There were also cacau trees, mansions, and more upscale yet not economically out of dreaming reach houses.  We saw four women take turns posing in front of their dream house. There was also a bit of upscale graffiti along the street which was a suburbia architectural prototype found the world over—San Leandro Marina complete with sign; Berkeley Marina, Ft. Mason Center. We didn't see the huge tree at the center of the island which wraps its roots around the ruins of the Igreja Baiacu. I thought about it and then forgot to ask where it was (Lonely Planet 457).
The pastels of these edifices were really complementary to the natural landscape. Pretty houses are nice. On the way over the ferry was smaller with one level which was full to standing room only. However, on the way back we rode on a ferry which was a commuter vehicle full of cars and trucks and motorcycles and people, but not too full. Three levels high, the trip back was a nice way to unwind as the sun declined in the sky.
One of the reasons we took the ferry over was to take advantage of the lovely skyline the distance from shore provided of Salvador, Bahia. On the way back as we relaxed after a wonderful day, we toasted each other with fresh yet tepid fresh coconut water. It hit the spot. The taxi ride back to the hostel was quick.
Earlier, while I was watching my friend eat beans with salt pork and other tasty looking items while she waited for her entree, fresh fish to get prepared, I looked through her Lonely Planet Guide for other activities to do.
Just after the section Baia de Todos os Santos & Reconcavo, I read about Cachoeira & Sao Felix where I read about the Sisters of the Good Death and a museum dedicated to their story, Museu da Boa Morte and Centro Cultural Dannemann, This area is known to have a strong Condomble community, perhaps the strongest in Brazil. There are also great artisans who do African influenced woods carvings (Lonely Planet 460-61).

We are looking at renting a car and doing our own cultural tour. I have never driven in another country before, but Brazil might just be the country that breaks the trend (smile).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Africa in the Americas by Wanda Sabir

I don’t know if it is a will of iron, Ogun (smile)—or foolishness, but after catching something –viral which I refused to keep, on the plane Monday, December 23, when I flew to San Salvador, El Salvador by mistake—yes.  The booking agent booked me for San Salvador when I clearly said, Salvador, BAHIA, Brazil (smile).  I kept seeing San Salvador and thought, well perhaps this is another way of referencing Salvador, BAHIA. I didn’t know I was in the wrong country until I got to customs and the lady told me to pay $10 US for a tourism permit—I am like, why, when I have a visa? She looked at my passport and looked back at me and said, “You are not in Brazil.”

I’d wondered why I understood the language when I got off the plane, and why there were no black people or at least people who looked like me (smile). I am still not seeing many black people yet, now that I am in the right country. Folks are lighter complexioned.  It is like I got dropped into New Orleans circa early nineteenth century on someone plantation.  I know there have to be dark complexioned Brazilians in Salvador; I just haven’t seen them yet—right?
I saw a pretty black sister dancing in the Balé Folclórico da Bahia performance I went to Saturday night at Teatro Miguel Santuro. That was fun, seeing this wonderful company at home. It is a smaller ensemble—they probably trade off. The show was just an hour for $40 BRL or $20 US, $25 US if you purchased the DVD of the performance, which I did. I might go again and ask if I can take photos—

Okay, back to Monday, December 23, when I was in San Salvador to Tuesday, when I had to go get my luggage from San Francisco International Airport—Aviantas didn’t send my luggage with me. It was a turnaround trip. Spent all day in the airport with a really kind and patient agent trying to get the other agency that goofed up my ticket on the line so they could reissue a corrected ticket to me.  It took seven hours, but eventually they admitted their mistake and promised to arrange another flight.

I didn’t know that if you go to a country without a visa, if you leave the airport, you can get arrested. It’s a good thing the mistake was to San Salvador, where not only do we not need a visa, they use US currency—like Zimbabwe (smile). Small world indeed.

Of course, when the woman at the travel agency that goofed told me in November, when I got the ticket, she could beat the price and travel time that I’d researched, I should have been suspicious—5 hours to get to Brazil?! Talk about wishful thinking. When I finally arrived in Salvador, BAHIA, Saturday, December 28, 2013, at 12:48 a.m. I’d spent 4 hours in Miami and 8 hours in Brasilia and then an additional 4 hours in Salvador.

Yep. I was tired but it is totally worth it (smile). I met a really nice and famous man in the airport last night. He started his career as a photographer, now he is a famous fashion designer. He launched the career of the first AfroBrazilian model, Luana de Noailles, whose given name is
Raimunda Nonata of Sacramento, also from Salvador. She became a legend in the 1970s and 80s, 15 years before Naomi Campbell.  In Brazil she modeled for Rhodia, a powerful textile industry—where she met Carlos Dantas, my friend at the airport in Salvador. She then went to Italy and France where her name graced fashion houses, Yves Saint Laurent and Christine Dior. She married a French count and retired. 

Mr. Dantas has a business in Miami where he has lived for the past 24 or so years. He and his partner design costumes for the Miami opera and others at ABC Costume Shop. He was fun to talk too. He also makes porcheline dolls and is coming up with a clothes line using recycled materials. Lately he has been doing a lot with denium. Cosmopolitan, he was visiting his brother in Salvador and told me that he’s lived in Italy, France and Bangkok, now Miami (smile). 

I do not recommend traveling with so many stops, but hey I was excited and after a false start, I took the new itenieary without the critiquing the details—they didn’t appear until the day before in my email box.
That was no excuse; I had the iteniary account number, but I was tired of holding for the agent at the travel agency which I am intentionally not naming. The real reason why I didn’t check was becasue I was grading portfolios for the four classes I taught fall 2013. I was also trying to feel like writing my final papers. I know—I should have stayed my globetrotting self home and taken care of the bread and butter responsibilities and then well there is graduate school. . . .

But when I turned 50, 5 years ago I told myself I would not spend another New Years in the United States and well, I broke my stride last year because my grandson was born in December and I’d plans to take his sister to the inaugaration. It was an economic decision. Bree turned 10 on the flight back from DC January 2013.  She’s a great kid sister too. (Photos are from Robert’s 1 year birthday party.)

So I was overdue for the homeland – I had to go to Africa this summer, East Africa where I met Mzee Pete O’Neal and got a chance to see Mama C at home with her king. Quite remarkable paradise they have created –It is truly America in Africa. Loved it there. I miss Upesi whose guest house I stayed at this summer. She is an ancestor now.

The misquotes are eating me alive here as I write, but I don’t feel like going to get my spray, but I might have too (smile).

So anyway, I get through immigration in Brasilia where I think they are going to ask for my shot record and the address where I am staying and a lot of other information and the Brazilian immigration officers are so low key. They even smile, something the SFO guys never do.
At baggage claim, I am looking for my luggage and then find out almost an hour later it’s on another carrousel. I brought a box with toys and crayons and coloring books and other little toys for the kids. I hope to get to a favela here. I hear there is one in Salvador.  After having a packed suitcase for Dec. 23, and having another two days to try it again, you would think I would have it together Dec. 26? Well maybe if my name wasn’t Wanda Sabir or as my passport reads Wanda Ali Batin Sabir  (smile).

I am feeling rotten Thursday, the first day of Kwanzaa—Habari Gani?!  What’s the news? Sore throat, slight cough and maybe a fever (smile).

Sunrise called me after hugging me at a drugstore earlier departure day to see if I might reconsider my departure. She said I felt warm—I was like, I might have felt warm because I had on a lot of clothes (smile). I was wearing my heavy Washington D.C. coat. I wore it here to Salvador with thermals and a jogging suit. It is so hot here, at least in the 80s maybe hotter. I am drenched again as soon as I get out of the shower which at the first place I stay, has just cold water. The lounge furniture is made from plastic soft drink bottles. Really chic and stylish.

I go to the health food store after I leave the drugstore and buy homeopathic cough medicine and put some in a travel bottle to take along the way. I start taking the Wellness formula and Defense Plus and swallow liquid garlic pills by the handful. I also do granulated vitamin C and carry ginger tea and a thermal cup which I keep filled with hot liquid. I am feeling pretty good now Saturday night, maybe it’s Sunday—we are five hours ahead of California. I am also carrying oatmeal and trail mix, just in case I can’t eat the breakfast. Today I didn’t get dinner. I missed the vegetarian restaurant where one of my housemates told me they sell vegan beans and rice.

I will have to locate beans and rice tomorrow. I am hungry.

So TaSin, my younger daughter, comes to pick me up Thurday evening and guess what? When we arrive at the airport, I realize that I left my carry-on at home. TaSin drives back to my apartment to get it for me—bless her (smile). I am worried because the plane door will lock at 9 p.m. and well, for those who have traveled, TSA is not a process one can rush. I explain my situation to an agent in first class and she writes on my boarding pass “expedite,” so I go through another line which is not a line—I am the only one in it. Yes, TaSin makes it back –she calculated the journey mathematically and it took her exactly 80 minutes round trip.

She leaves at 7:20 p.m. At 8:40 she rolls up and I get the suitcase and walk back in.
In the special line I don’t have to take off my shoes. I don’t have to take my laptop out of the suitcase. I could have kept on my jacket if I were wearing one. I was like . . . why do they make the regular passengers jump through these extra hoops?

I get through security and to the gate with time to spare. I am amazed. Now that I am here in Salvador, I wish I’d left some of my clothes behind. There was heat on the flight. I flew American to Miami and then switched to TAM.  Miami airport is another story—it is like a city. I had to walk for almost an hour to the airport wing where TAM was located.  In Brasilia I had another long journey in Portuguese. Some places in the world one can manage with English, Brazil is not that place. No one speaks English, not even officials.

They smile and look as if Portuguese will come from lips that speak with one of many forked linguistic tongues. I haven’t been carrying my English Portuguese dictionary TaSin’s friend, Cassie loaned me. I will have to start doing so. Also I usually get a cell phone when I arrive in a new country. It is not easy to get a cell phone here either and the public phones take a pre-paid credit card.  I don’t know how this will work if everything is in Portuguese. I have been carrying the card with the address for where I am staying and everyone has kindly pointed me in the right direction. I get lost easily and my navigators TaSin and Brianna are not with me (smile).

I say all this to say, I am having fun despite traveling since Thursday evening. I went to bed at 5 a.m. this morning and then moved to another hostel, Laranjeiras Hostel —one of the Hosteling International group—much better facility—there are tours and Francisco speaks English. We walked my luggage up the street from HospedaSalvador in Pelrourinho district. David was nice, but the place is more for the traveler with everything a bit more together than me—it is like living with a family.

We walked my luggage to the next spot. It’s hard rolling luggage on cobble stones (smile).
The cobble stone streets remind me of Tana the capital of Madagascar.  They also remind me of Guanajuato, Mexico, Eurocentric picturesque. It isn't a French look though, but the balconies call it to mind.  Historic Salvador –Pelourinho, did not remind me of the French Quarters in New Orleans, like Haiti's Milot did when I was there a while back. But the French weren’t here, their brethren the Portuguese were. Milot in Haiti is 12 miles from the Citadel in Cap-Haïtien, built by General Henri Christophe. Loved the town and the people and the fort at the top of the mountain along a cobbled road—where Africans kicked the French out of Ayiti! Napoleon no less (smile). 

I am going on a bus tour Sunday afternoon of Salvador and on a walking tour on Monday morning. I am going to the market in the morning with a new friend—she is Peruvian and arrived today by bus from Rio by way of Los Angeles, California. She said she prayed for a bit of assistance or companionship on her way from Rio and I walk into the lobby. She is going to the historic city of Recife by bus on Monday-Tuesday.

I don’t have the rest of my stay planned out. I just know I really want to get to see the Sisters of the Good Death and to a quilombo, towns settled by escaped and free Africans. I wanted to see Palmares where Zumbi made his stand. We shall see (smile).  I have some options to explore. Brazil is expensive, but the people making the money are the capitalists. I don’t think the poorer people in the favelas who are probably making these goods are raking in the money I am paying.

After the Balé Folclórico da Bahia concert where they danced the orishas into my heart, I heard  music coming from a window above just across the street. It was a capoeirista that brought together folks from across Brazil and the world. A really nice brother from Atlanta, who’d followed Balé Folclórico across the country and the world, told me that there are two distinct capoeiria styles, Angola and Bimbra. Angola is closer to the earth or ground.  I asked some older men how to get upstairs to the demonstration and I went up where I was welcomed. Mestre Jogo De Dentro, Capoeira Mandinga, host, was sparing with capoeiristas, one was a really young child; he must have been four if that old. The child was impressive as was the head of the school or house, Mestre Jogo. He sparred with women and men, older than him and younger. The styles and ceremony involved was really impressive.

There was a large photo of Vicente Ferreira Pastinha on the wall in the studio where men and perhaps one woman played the berimbau in the Roda. “Because of his passion for art and his eloquent sayings, Mestre Pastinha, born in 1889, became known as the philosopher of Capoeira. Because of his tireless teaching despite constant struggle with local authorities, he became known as the father of Capoeira Angola” (http://capoeira.union.rpi.edu/history.php?chapter=Pastinha).  I hadn’t known the close relationship between Capoeira Angola and African liberation visible in Quilombo culture. Yes, it is all fitting together nicely (smile).

I am going on a walking tour Monday. I have an interview with the director of Balé Folclórico that evening, but that is tentative on my part. I want to attend a traditional Condomble New Year's ceremony. Haven't located one yet. Ilê Aiyê is performing Monday too at 21 hr. I am going to go to that (smile).  Don’t know quite how I am going to be able to be in multiple places at once (smile). I am also going to see if I can get an audience with Mestre Jogo De Dentro. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year! Remember, especially when things are tough that life can only get better and it is –Ashay.

Forgot to mention that I got an opportunity to finally see the film about Jackie Robinson on one of the many flights between the Bay and Bahia– what a great man. He was a man of great integrity.  He and his wife were a great team. It is rare for a film to show how a man draws strength from his woman, yet, Brian Helgeland, the director/writer of 42 allowed this to happen in the capable hands of actors: Nicole Beharie of American Violet fame—a really different film; and Chadwick Boseman (as Robinson).  If you missed it, see it with your family, especially kids.

One last thing. People always ask me why I travel to these places where I don’t know anyone. I always say the same thing, to meet my people. Well, I am Yoruba and Fulani on my mother’s side and really am meeting family here in Salvador, Bahia. So this time, I can say I am going home. I have been reading Sacred Leaves of Candomble: African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil by Robert A. Voeks.
Oh, another film I saw on another plane in route was about magic. Now You See Me (2013), A French-American film directed by Louis Leterrier with Woody Harrelson, Common, Morgan Freeman and others was really good, almost as good as the Matrix (smile). It is really good social commentary where the bad guys lose for a change!

Monday, December 09, 2013

A Review of African American Shakespeare Company's Cinderella Saturday-Sundays, 3 and 7:30 p.m., through Dec. 22, 2013 at the Burial Clay Theater at the AAACC in San Francisco

Angel Burgess, Musical Director
with L. Peter Callender, Artistic Director
Call it, lingering magic, stardust. . . .

By Wanda Sabir
Brianna Amaya Johnson, actor, Twon Marcel as Zonita,
Wilda & Wilfred Batin

The Uncle Junior Project at the Sargent Johnson Gallery
African American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco is our community's premiere showcase of classical theatre through the lens of the African American experience. Their holiday season show is an anticipated family event that did not disappoint this season in its current incarnation as a musical. Back are the step sisters in drag --AASC veterans Twon Marcel as "Zonita" and B. Chico Pudiman as "Shaniqua." The lovely protagonist, portrayed by Kimille Stingily sings just as sweetly, set off wonderfully by the brooding  Prince Charming portrayed by Dedrick Weathersby. The Page (Cal Edwin Parker) is a funny and witty contrast to his elder, the Duke (actor Dwight Dean Mahabir). I like the way he keeps the moment at hand in perspective (smile).

Typically, the story starts with a prequel, a Grandmother (Eleanor Jacobs) is teaching her granddaughters (Xiomara Larkin and Ayanna Cornelius) about gratitude and benevolence. The curtain rises on Clara McDaniel as the Evil Stepmother; she is too lovely and charming to have produced such children, but in the cosmos, I guess we don't always get a choice in such matters (smile).
The Uncle Junior Project at Sargent Johnson Gallery

In the Sargent Johnson Gallery, also on the main floor of the African American Art and Culture Complex (AAACC) where the Burial Clay Theatre is located is The Uncle Junior Project presents: Entrapment to Entertainment which looks at black history in the American circus and the notion of freak shows. The exhibition is thematically similar to the Cinderella story.

What is a freak and who says who can belong and who doesn't belong in any given society whether that is real or fictional America?

The objectification of children and adults who are physically different than those of us born with one head verses two, two legs instead of four, average height instead of seven feet and two feet tall, are just a few of the amazing images in the exhibition. The exhibit is up through January 2, 2014 in the Sargent Johnson Gallery, 762 Fulton Street in San Francisco. There is no entrance fee.

The photos of conjoined children, tiny adults as well as statuesque women, along with stories of blacks in circus history, first trapeze artists and clowns, ring masters, is an interesting play of the notion of masking and who wears what mask and why.

A lot has been seen this artistic season thematically in Bay Area theatres on W.E.B. DuBois's notion of two-ness. Cinderella certainly has to negotiate what she knows to be true of herself and what is projected onto her, including the false name. We never learn her true name. She is more than ashes in a hearth or cinders, although like Kali, she also had a metamorphosis or rebirth after the death of her father almost signaled her demise as well.

An aspect of her life I really like is depicted in the scene where the Fairy Godmother (Monica Cappuccini) tells her to remember. A younger happy Cinderella (Angelia Richardson) dances with her father, her little feet on top of his. I recall one season where Luther sang Dance with My Father as the two actors performed on stage.  I saw patrons wiping their eyes.

And when one thinks about the children shackled to an occupation where people pointed at them, laughed and made fun of their physical person--a vehicle they could not walk away from or leave behind, where did they go in their imaginations?

Cinderella (Kimille Stingily) & Prince Charming (Dedrick Weathersby)
dance at the Royal Ball 
The collaboration between the AASC Artistic Director L. Peter Callender and lyricist, Angel Burgess with composer Michael Moreno, was magical. As already mentioned each scene presents a lesson we can all reflect on and now that its been set to music, African American Shakes will probably be releasing a CD next year so we can take the lessons home with us to rehearse for the year to come--not that the music will stay the same (smile). 

Peter said it won't, but like we loved our Black Nativity at Lorraine Hansberry which Stanley F. Williams rewrote each year and recorded a few versions of; such will be African American Shakes. We will buy the CD each year . . . just because . . . how often does one see Cinderella in splendid technicolor? Only in San Francisco, only through Dec. 22, only at African American Shakespeare Company, so get your tickets and prepare to be enchanted. Visit www.African-AmericanShakes.org (415) 762-2071 ext. 6.
Cinderella (Kimille Stingily) & Prince Charming (Dedrick Weathersby)

There are free school time performances Thursday, December 12 and 19 at 10 a.m. Teacher's Night Out each performance. This one was Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. There is also a Shake-It-Up Programming where AA Shakes will come to partner schools to host workshops. The company also provides Artist-in-
Residency opportunities.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Honorable Rolihlahla Mandela July 18, 1908-Dec. 4, 2013

Matthew Willman, photo credit
Baba Mandela passed today after a lengthy illness. Though he was not without faults, he was a great man and such a decent human being who loved his people so much he literally gave his liberty for their freedom. He sacrificed his life and his life with his family for the liberation of South Africans through the African National Congress, an organization he, as a young attorney, helped found.

In Jo'burg at the Anti-Apartheid Museum I read what he wrote in his letters to his family.  His apologies to his daughters who missed him and didn't understand why he wasn't there with them.

Such a beautiful and understanding letter from a father to his children.

He was 95, my great aunt made 95 Sunday, Dec. 1.  95 is a significant length of time to be around. At 95 one truly has a bit of perspective on life. . . . One sees trends and a recursive patterns those younger might miss, even the more astute.

I was on stage when Mandela came to Oakland after his 27 years on Robben Island. I also remember getting up really early and watching him leave the prison holding Mama Winnie Mandela's hand.

That Saturday afternoon, the Oakland Coliseum was full as Vukani Mawethu, a part of the Bay Area Mass Choir sang. My friends Monica and Hayward sat in the audience with my children who spent many Wednesday nights at Finn Hall in Berkeley studying or playing or being dragged to protest marches and anti-apartheid events for South Africans.

The Hon. Ron Dellums was still in Congress, but he was there on stage too. Baba Harry Belafonte nearby. I remember thinking, My God the man is so handsome (smile).

Reuters /Landov
My kids saw me carrying a list that I checked before I purchased anything for years. It was to make sure the businesses that produced the products I purchased whether that was toothpaste or bath soap, breakfast cereal or airline tickets were not invested in South Africa. I was about to take all my money out of Security Pacific National Bank when Bank of America bought it out, and then BofA divested, just in time.

I remember learning that day on stage that Mandela had trouble standing and walking after imprisonment. I think it was neuropathy. But there he was with his queen, standing so near. I was on the first row and there he was. I was so excited. I remember reading his biography and that of Mariam Makeba, listening to the music of Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim.

Over the decade I was active in the anti-apartheid movement I met many people, some no longer with us like the late Sechaba Mokeoena, ex-pat, founder of Zulu Spear, Thamsanq (Sarafina cast) who with his wife at that time, Mujah Shakir would host South African expatriates and revolutionaries. Jikelele Dance Theater is Thamsanq's latest project;  Dumile Sadiqa Vokwana, co-founder of Amandla Poets (who is now in Capetown), with his partner at that time, the lovely vocalist Ms. Elouise Burrell, would perform often in the San Francisco Bay. We were a destination for dignitaries who were traveling worldwide trying to end this racist repressive regime in South Africa. So to perform for Bishop Desmond Tutu's visit to San Francisco at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, was not a surprise, but it was exciting to meet such a great man (smile). Julia Morgan Theatre hosted South African playwright Selaelo Maredi whom I visited in Alexandria Township in South Africa a few years ago. He is still producing powerful work, his focus on women and addressing the violence against women prevalent cross racial and economic lines.

When Apartheid ended we went to the Kaiser Auditorium for the elections held here hosted by Supervisor Keith Carson. A few people here like Gerald Lenoir, co-director, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and one of the founders of Priority African Network, were in South Africa to witness this first vote for a Democratic South Africa. They returned with flags and ballots and many many stories of the long lines filled with elders. Mama Mariam mentioned at a concert at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall that she was going home to vote for the first time at age 60-70. I remembered my excitement registering to vote when I turned eighteen and my belief then in democracy (smile).

I still believe, but the belief is a bit rusted or jaded now. 

I remember going to see the first big film Mandela and then the more recent film about the soccer match in  South Africa with Morgan Freeman channeling Madiba. There are so many parallels to team sports and community life, especially that between former enemies asked to play together. And they did, for a moment.

South Africa, post-apartheid South Africa is a place where sorrow resides. There is a lot of internalized pain and suffering there which makes it dangerous, perhaps more so than when the enemy was more clearly defined.

There is a new film not yet released about him; Mandela as militant (smile). I wonder if the parallel is that of Martin King on the Vietnam War and jobs for the unemployed with equal wages for equal work.

In New Orleans, there is an African Film Festival. One year I was there in the summer and South Africa was the featured country and a director from South Africa was in town at the screenings of his films. One film was on zenophobia.  The other on Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman or Hottentot Venus (1789-1815) , a Khoikhoi woman from Gamtoos river in what is now known as the Eastern Cape. Other famous South Africans born there are Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko and Thabo Mbeki.

Baartman was tricked into traveling to Europe where she thought she would be a maid, instead conscripted into service as a freak in a carnival show then later held in a museum on display. The Londoners and Parisians were fascinated by her large buttocks and dark skin.  

She like Ota Benga was treated worse than an animal by her European captors. Baartman was so objectified, the abuse continued after death when her dead body was mutilated--her genitalia cut off and brain dissected and pickled.  The jars were on display in the Musée del'Homme(Museum of Man) until 1974. The film covers this history and the body parts discovery in a lab and President Mandela's request to the French government that they return the 26 year old's remains, so she could have a proper burial. It took the French government eight additional years to craft legal language so that Africans could not reclaim stolen property.  Women's Day, August 9, 2002, Ms. Baartman's repatriated body was laid to rest, her soul finally resting in peace. See http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/sara-saartjie-baartman

I think it is so wonderful that her people didn't forget her once her whereabouts were published. After the screening their was a reception with the director.

Another time I was visiting home, Ashé, Community Center in New Orleans as well, there was a show and party complete with cake for Mandela's birthday. All I remember was wondering how they were going to fit 80 candles on the cake.

While he was traveling in South Africa, Robert H. King (A-3) kept getting called Madiba, (Mandela's ancestral name) his visage so strikingly like Mandela's.

In Jo'burg there is a bridge, named after Madiba, the Nelson Mandela Bridge, that at night lights up like a rainbow alternating colors. One night three of us went out for a walk. I think it was Friday night and we wanted to find some music or something to get into. We didn't find a party or club, but the bridge was a fun meditation at nearly midnight that night. We leaned over and watched the lesser fortunate prepare for a night out on the cement sofas below, the only comfort if any the somnolent night--trains shuffling into the yard to join those too poor to ride in slumber. 


Shosholoza . . .

Mandela was like our Martin King had King lived. Although, King was not imprisoned for such a lengthy time period, and King wouldn't have left Coretta (smile).

I hope his ascension is without interruption, that his sins are forgiven and that his country grows into a true free and just society, one where black people have access to the same economic and educational opportunities as the whites.