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The Distances Traveled

IMG_4992I have everything to celebrate: a dense yet incredible year of teaching, disentangling myself from a lackluster relationship, a week of yoga in Portugal’s central valleys, a short love affair in Valencia, an art-filled weekend at the Venice Biennale, a two-month running streak of daily yoga and meditation, successfully resolving professional conflict through direct communication, the opening of my first solo show in a decade, and the beginning of my MFA in Baltimore this June. This spring, the earth of Cairo has sprung forth vivid colors through tulip and flamboyant trees and bougainvillea varietals of white, red, magenta and yellow hues — an external visual to accompany my high spirits.

Many times over the past months I have scribbled words to publish, about some delicious or unexpected moment, yet nothing made it to the computer keyboard. The urge to write about Maya Angelou today was unstoppable. I found this stunning 2014 article, Why Maya Angelou Disliked Modesty by Dawn Reiss, which includes a synopsis of an interview where Ms Angelou discussed the concepts of modesty and humility.

“Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire,’” she said. “You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”

I mourn this loss and rejoice what she has given to people on the margins, to enlivening black culture, to enriching a world for women, articulating the demons of the deep South, meanwhile authentically producing living works of art for us all to learn and know. I treasure her quote above, especially while my plate is heaped with earned success, something that the world doesn’t teach many of us to own, attribute and pay forward through self-recognition and humble awareness.

Today I honor the life of Maya Angelou, a poet, dancer, speaker, and academic who opened my world to the better understand sexual abuse through an assigned 8th grade reading, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. One cannot underestimate the power of that unanticipated moment where someone else’s story unlocks your own. Not all of life’s beauty sits on the surface, nor does happiness always emerge from a still place within. Maya Angelou’s lesson to me is to own, to share, and to celebrate this place where I stand today.

A Loop

Moving into Dance Mophatong (MIDM) at the Dance Factory in Newtown, image from myjoburg.com

Eighty hours spent with six youth in Johannesburg left me both fulfilled and burning for more. Last week I supervised a trip with students, from my school’s service club, to attend a summit with like-minded youth from the continent. Dr. Adam Habib discussed the notable and timely tertiary education issue “Fees Must Fall”; representatives from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation spoke on behalf of the famed Apartheid activist “Uncle Kathy” (who would have been there in person, except he passed away unexpectedly a few days before our summit); contemporary, professional dancers from MID rolled across the floor and hatched out of bags on stage as they conjured wrenching, emotive images of sex trafficking; Alex Crawford brought in shrapnel and told of the three car bombs that exploded in the course of one hour, while reporting from Mosul just days ago; two young refugees bravely spoke of their suffering and road to forgiveness; and activist-author Grizelda Grootboom evocatively walked us through her story of sexual exploitation, slavery and drug addiction that ended a mere five years ago.  Continue reading “A Loop”

“Going Upstairs”

“When I find myself racing upstairs, usually two steps at a time, I sometimes have the presence of mind to catch myself in mid-frenetic dash. I become conscious of being slightly out of breath, aware that my heart is racing as well as my mind, that the whole of my being in that moment is being driven by some hurried purpose which often even eludes my by the time I’m there.

“When I am able to capture this wave of energy in awareness while I am still at the bottom of the stairs, or starting on my way up, I will sometimes slow my ascent — not just one step at a time, but really slow, maybe one breath cycle per step, reminding myself that there is really no place I have to go and nothing I have to get that can’t wait another moment for the sake of being fully in this one.”
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Door to door

February has brought rain, puddles, and countless trips back and forth across this daily pathway. On a quiet Friday morning I captured some shots on my bicycle, starting from the moment I exit my apartment building onwards to the gate of my school’s open sanctuary. What you will find is a contrast of old and new, vibrancy and debris, organization and entanglement.


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An Animation

Close your eyes. Imagine a street lined with cars, haphazardly parked bumper-to-bumper. Some wheels occupy sidewalks while other cars are parked perpendicular to the curb. Litter, leaves, sand, and debris collect like snow-drifts between the wheels. Men in rubber boots haul buckets over cars, bathing tenants’ vehicles in precious Nile water. In the animated version, the water sloshes over me as I cycle up 84. I peddle through countless puddles in the cracked tarmac, hovering over my seat as I ride to minimize the muddied rim on my skirt and adjusting my hemline to hide my conspicuous legs. Continue reading “An Animation”

Slowing into 2017

Through a window on Bisaw island in the Upper Nile of Egypt

While it seems for many of us that 2017 couldn’t come quickly enough, sick and buried under blankets with a hot water bottle tucked under my arm, I barely stayed awake until 11:30. There’s nothing quite like being sick to provide the time and space for introspection.  Continue reading “Slowing into 2017”

Currents

He holds his thumb pressed to his forefinger in a loop, signaling “okay?” I can’t respond. I hold my hand to my chest, feeling the panic rise and I am acutely aware that every breath I don’t take will only heighten my state. My body is swaying from left to right in a huge arc and, as my knees keep lifting, I cannot keep my contact with the floor. Is this what an earthquake feels like? Again, Hussein tries to make eye contact and I stare back, hard, unable to move my hand from the safety of my heart. He stays with me and takes my hand and I steady. Moments later we all burst through the surface and I suck on the air intensively, regaining my ground in shallow waters. Welcome to my first moments breathing under the sea.
Continue reading “Currents”

Blue and Grey

In Cairo on a clear winter’s day at sunset, the Nile winks in the background and the subtle hues of the buildings flare alive.

  Continue reading “Blue and Grey”

Date Night

It’s not a great sign when a guy cancels just before your third date. But it’s a good thing I anticipated his possible flakiness and went grocery shopping today. I had designed a menu from a new cookbook I recently bought “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms” by Lebanese-American author Maureen Abood. In the end, spending my Friday night cooking quality food for myself is a preferred alternative to subpar  dating exercises.

One of the best parts of life in Egypt is the abundance of wonderful, fresh ingredients. A lengthy pomegranate season is a delight. Readily available rose water, ground sumac, lebnah (yogurt cheese) and reasonably priced nuts make Middle Eastern cooking a delight.


  Continue reading “Date Night”

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