Category Archives: Uncategorized

He knows exactly where to begin

The boy on the right is a 6th grader. He arrived in Portland four years ago, straight from a refugee camp, minimal schooling, no English. Within a year or two, he was something of a summer reading champion at the local library. The boy on the left is nine. He’s only just arrived in America. The only other world he knows is that of a refugee camp. He’s learning his alphabet now. And his numbers too. And who better to teach him than another child who knows exactly where to begin.

Saturday morning never felt so warm.

#refugeeswelcome

When is the last time you felt alive? 

There’s a story behind this pile of #Cuban hot dogs. It’s kind of long. But it’s very important.

A thousand miles away, under a foreign sun, I hold my own culture up to the light. I reexamine the parts of my day that I live on #autopilot. I determine if I want to renew contracts with old habits. I can’t do that from within my own borders, borders of country and borders of being. And that’s one of the main reasons I travel.

.
When I prepared for my trip to Cuba, my friend told me to bring #snacks. Cuba doesn’t really do snacks, she told me. I laughed to myself. I’ve lived in rural Nepal. Even they had imported packages of cookies and crackers.

.
But she was right. Even once I found a grocery store, which took a good while, there were no snacks. In fact, there was hardly any food. There was, however, a pile of hot dogs, the arrangement of which fascinated me so much that I took this picture. And then felt a strong hand grab my arm, pull me to the side of the empty aisle, and point to a sign that had a camera with a line through it. No photography. I apologized. For some reason, he didn’t make me delete the photo.

.
When my host family asked what I wanted for breakfast, I answered eggs and cheese. And milk with my coffee, please. I didn’t realize how scarce those things were. Except for the coffee. There was plenty of coffee. The next morning, the neighbor cut off a slice of cheese from her small block, wrapped it, and gave it to me.

.
A week isn’t enough time to understand food scarcity, or the system that creates it, but it is enough time to force a reexamination of my own relationship to food.
In our culture of food #abundance, we demand that food be our #everything. We require it to entertain, to soothe, to pacify, to celebrate, and to numb. And the more we demand our food to be the response to all brands of emotion, the further we push it from what it is intended to do: #nourish.

.
When we have so many stores, so many products, so many sizes, when we shop in a hurry, when we buy in bulk, we don’t have time to consider the cost of each slice of cheese. When we can cut those slices as thick as we want and when we have two, maybe three, more varieties in the fridge. And one block so big we couldn’t eat it fast enough before it started growing mold.

.
So we take bites of sandwiches or salads with cheese or maybe not cheese because we’re dairy-free now because we can control what we want to cut from our shopping list and emotional eating list because there are so many dairy substitutes and anxiety substitutes to choose from.

.
And so we eat our dairy-free or pork-free or gluten-free bites hurriedly between meetings and drafts and even during phone calls but we are too busy to even remember how it tastes. Or to know when we have had enough.

.
So there I sit in Cuba, alone with every strong emotion because I don’t have a snack to pacify any of them. I remember (if I ever knew) what it’s like to eat with consciousness, for the sake of nourishment, to taste my food, and to stop when I’m full.
And I feel alive.

.

Understand that I am NOT glamorizing food scarcity. There is nothing romantic about food rationing. But I do support stepping so fully into another way of life that I am forced to reexamine my own.

Always Talk to Strangers

When I arrive in #Viñales I grab my running shoes and hit the only road out of town. A #Cuban guy in a proper kit comes #cycling straight at me. I give him a “Qué bolá?” smile and a big wave. He changes direction to head my way and escorts me down the highway like a biker for the lead runner in a #triathlon.

For the next hour we swap life stories. He grew up in poverty an hour outside of #Havana, was raised by three #strongwomen (his great grandma, gram, and mom), and studied English with unbridled passion at the University of Havana. “I spent years learning 20 words a day,” he tells me. “Now I collect #idioms. Like ‘the grass is always greener.’ How would I use that one?” I give him an example from my own life. He tells me about the courses he taught at his University. And how he became a tour guide.

Despite having never visited the #UnitedStates, or even left the island, he can name all 50 states and their capitals. He knows the names of every #American president. And the winners of the first 12 seasons of #theVoice. “Do you like Blake Shelton?,” he asks. “Blake’s alright,” I say, “but Pharrell is awesome.” Just like our conversation. So of course, I make sure it isn’t the last. A few days later, when we are both back in the capital, I see Havana through his eyes.

#alwaystalktostrangers

Puppies, rainbows, and wifi


One may conclude from my posts that traveling through #Cuba is all #puppies and #rainbows. And though even the stray pups are nice (not a single dog has even growled at me!), there are parts of traveling through Cuba that are absolutely #maddening. At the top of the list is accessing the internet

There is no such thing as free wifi, and even when you are willing to pay $3-5 for a one-hour card from ETECSA (state-owned telecom co), there isn’t always someone around to sell you one, or there’s an hour-long line to buy one, or you’re not sure you can trust the guy who says he will log you in for $3/hour but must take control of your cell phone to do so. (I had good experiences with these guys, btw.)

 

And even once you have a one-hour card, you still need to find a park or plaza or alleyway behind a state-run hotel that actually transmits the wifi signal. Just look for all the people sitting around staring down at their phones in small groups. And then hope it’s still working by the time you enter your 16-digit user ID and 16-digit access code to match. And then resume the #puppiesandrainbows messages.

 

Or just wait til you return to the land of milk and honey.

 

Zoila’s Kitchen


If I’d have saved all the money I’ve spent on traveling, and worked in the USA instead of volunteering for four collective years in Ecuador and Nepal and Guatemala and Chile and Nicaragua and Greece, I’m certain I’d have a big house with a fancy #kitchen by now. But then, I never would’ve ended up in Zoila’s #kitchen. And for that, I’d do it just the same all over again. Valle de Viñales, #Cuba

I don’t want a fancy hotel


I don’t want a fancy hotel. I want a community. I want you to take me into your kitchen and show me how you make coffee on your stove. I want to look inside your refrigerator and understand why there are no eggs or milk inside, but two old oranges and ham and salchichas and medicine. A lot of medicine. I want to know the stories of what you hang on your walls. Of your daughter’s bachelors in mathematics and her scholarship to Spain. I want to watch kids playing kid games and men playing men games. I want to learn from the woman who holds her head up and walks alone at night without fear. I want to hear all that these things communicate about a people and a homeland and a system. And I can’t do that inside of a fancy hotel. Nuevo Vedado, #Cuba.

Oh, the places I swim!

This place. 


January, 2016.

La Habana, Cuba