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.