Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Child Acrobat Performing On An Ahmedabad Street


This is Buchi, she's eight-years-old.  Walking around the mid-sized city of Ahmedabad, I never saw child beggars or street children like the media portrays in cities like Mumbai or Delhi. So I was a little taken aback when I spotted her tiny body gliding over a tightrope on the side of a busy street.



She moved with focused grace and didn't seem disturbed by the cars, buses and bikes whizzing by but I was still relieved to see her brother hovering nearby.


My fellow travel writers and I made sure to give her money directly for her talents and she looked happy for the acknowledgement. She never spoke a word over the blaring Bollywood music but I could see that she was alert and quick-witted. We learned that families of acrobats used to roam Ahmedabad streets regularly but the practice has lost favor, which I was glad to hear. Hopefully, Buchi only performs part time, when she's not in school.



Monday, October 30, 2017

India's Spectacular Navratri Dance Festival


Billed as the longest dance festival in the world, India's Navratri Festival is filled with color, music and dance. Running nine consecutive nights to honor the goddess Shakti, I was excited to witness this joyful celebration in person. From the minute that I landed in Ahmedabad, which is noted for extensive and particularly dramatic Navratri festivities, I could feel the high energy.



The opening ceremony exploded with a red carpet, spotlights, processions, video projections and a dizzying array of dancers and music. It was truly overwhelming just to keep up with the spectacles because dancers were on the stage, twirling through aisles and prancing on the side of the stage.


I'm glad I had the chance to watch subsequent days of the festival because they were different from the opening night. The first night featured a swirl of professional dancers and singers but other nights displayed dance students and judges rating their performances.


I got to congratulate these girls after their lovely show and I had fun watching the different interpretation of the Gujarati  raas-garba dance from small villages.



The girls in this video are performing with traditional sticks called dandiya. 



In this video, these village dance students performed for judges.


I shopped for a traditional Navratri sari at the market and wore it to the opening ceremony. My outfit attracted a lot of photo requests that I wasn't expecting but it certainly made the experience even more memorable!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Faces of Gujarat, India


I discovered that everything I'd heard about India is true. It is colorful. It is chaotic. It attacks all of your senses. Landing in Ahmedabad, the capital city of Gujarat, India's westernmost state, I was swept up by the street scenes, the temples and the constant motion of tuk tuks, bikes and people. But as I explored more of the surrounding villages, I realized that the essence of everything is the Indian people. They always welcomed me with ready smiles and warm greetings.


These women were preparing chapatis, an unleavened flatbread, to offer us as we visited an ironworker's shop who handmakes all kinds of  bells.


These men live in a small village and asked that their photo be taken. They gave us a tour of their homes and offered us chai.


This woman demonstrated how to make cotton thread at the Gandhi ashram.  She guided us through the rooms and complimented me on my dress, which she mistook to be Indian (it was an African design).


These school children greeted us when we arrived in their Bhuj village. They sang for us and asked for pens, which I had plenty of to pass out. The knowing smile of the teenage girl really captured me. She watched quietly as the children scrambled around but her personality stood out clearly, just as the spirit of India stood out in all of the faces we met.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Help For Puerto Rico



Puerto Rico is part of the United States of America. The fact that I have to state that is part of the problem and shame, that accompanies this country's history. That's because Puerto Rico is not a state but a territory of the U.S., which  essentially amounts to being a colony. Chicago's own Boriqua  Congressman Luis Gutierrez, (D-ILL.) has referred to the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. as an association with "a distant and inattentive colonial master." I can think of a few other words as U.S. government response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico lags and American citizens continue to go without water, electricity and food. This goes beyond demolished buildings and ripped infrastructure, 34 people have died and that number is expected to rise if the neglect continues.

Dozens of grassroots relief efforts have sprouted to try to address Puerto Rico's relief needs. Here is a list of vetted charity organizations that will deliver resources where it is needed:

United For Puerto Rico: This is the initiative started by the First Lady of Puerto Rico and one that I personally support.

Hispanic Federation Relief Fund: Elected officials have partnered the Federation to organize a special fund.

Hispanics In Philanthropy:  This organization sends donations directly to community organizations in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Florida.

Unicef:  I also regularly support Unicef, they have created a special fund to support children in Puerto Rico.

The photo above shows a view of San Juan from El Morro Fort that I shot last year.  As you can see from the image, Puerto Rico is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The culture is beautiful. Please help the island.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Next Stop: India!


From the food, to the music, fashion and wellness, I've admired Indian culture for a long time. This week, I get to experience one of my top bucket list items by visiting Gujarat, on the Western coast of India. I'll be hosted by Gujarat Tourism and they have compiled an exciting itinerary, including witnessing  and participating in the annual Navaratri Festival, shown above. The nine day Hindu celebration is one of the most popular dance festivals in India, which celebrates the nine forms of goddess. Gujarat is also Gandhi's hometown so I'll be visiting his ashram and exploring ancient stepwells, temples and small towns. I know it will be a life-changing journey so please look out for posts and pix!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Salsa in Cali, Colombia



Although salsa music was not created in Cali, (they give full credit to Cuba) Calenos have embraced the music and dance with so much passion that the city is known as the "world capital of salsa." I quickly discovered why on my first night in Cali. Dozens of salsa clubs, some little hole in the walls, some full-fledged nightclubs like the legendary Tin Tin Deo, start throbbing with salsa music at about 10pm. Live musicians blast out the swirling rhythms and dancers crowd the floor. I was out of breathe just watching all the twirling, swaying and fast footwork. Colombian style salsa is much faster than conventional salsa and Calenos are noted for their dizzying lifts and fancy footwork. It's said that men in Cali can't get a date without knowing how to salsa so it is clearly an important skill. There are dance schools all over Cali to help out the less gifted dancers and I joined in a fast-paced class at  the Live Salsa & Tango dance school, which had me drenched in sweat and fun. I'm not even close to the finesse of local dancers but joining in at a club is an essential part of the Cali experience.

Check out this video of salsa dancers on a Monday night at El Habanero Club (note the Cuba flags)





Cali also hosts a live cabaret salsa show called Ensalsate, this video features musicians from the Petronio Alvarez Fest:



Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Help The Caribbean After Hurricane Irma



Barbuda

The reports of Hurricane Irma's destruction across the Caribbean region  has left me worried and with my stomach in knots. After watching how Hurricane Harvey pounded Texas, and how Irma continues to menace Florida, it's doubly concerning because the Caribbean doesn't get the visibility or response that the U.S. commands. The islands of the Caribbean are more than just vacation spots, they shelter a people and a culture that I know and love. After hearing from friends and researching reports, it's clear that donations are needed more than anything else to start a rebuilding process that will probably take years. The most extreme devastation happened on Barbuda, the tiny sister island to Antigua whose proud citizens and pink sand stole my heart years ago. The island has been almost completely wiped out, leaving Barbudans homeless and evacuated to Antigua. St. Thomas, Anguilla, St. Martin and parts of Cuba are also challenged with trying to recover from Irma's destruction. 

St. Thomas
The Caribbean needs immediate help to assist her people and start the process of rebuilding. I have compiled a list of reputable organizations that will supply direct aid to the people who need it. In the wake of many relief agencies being accused of fraud, I researched these at Charity Navigator and Charity Watch to measure their effectiveness. 

Here's a list of organizations that accept donations for Hurricane Relief in the Caribbean:

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Global Giving Hurricane Irma Relief Fund: This org.receives high ratings from Charity Navigator.

Community Foundation of Virgin Islands: A local charity that supplies funds directly to the U.S Virgin Islands.
U.S. Virgin Island Relief Fund: Retired NBA star and St. Croix native Tim Duncan has donated $250,000 to this charity and will match donations to the first million.

Anguilla
Unicef: This org. has very good transparency and honesty rating. It's also one of my personal charities that I support annually. Unicef has a disaster relief fund  that supports children affected by Hurricane Irma.

American University of Antigua Barbuda Relief Fund:  The University of Antigua, on Barbuda's sister island, has created a fund for emergency supplies and long-term support for hurricane survivors.

Caribbean Tourism Organization Hurricane Relief Fund:  This organization represents 27 islands and their tourism sectors. The fund supplies donations directly to the ministry of tourism of affected member islands to help with rebuilding efforts.