I usually have mixed emotions about flying home.
When the stresses of packing, rushing to arrive at the airport on time, weighing my suitcase (and almost always having to remove something or reorganise), passing through security (if it’s not an issue with my liquids or forgetting to remove my belt, there’s just got to be something!); It’s a relief to find my seat onboard the aircraft, buckle up and…
I’m flying home…
Leaving behind a country, place, people, and connections made. Memories created.
As the plane accelerates into the air, I move further away from the travel experience I’ve made…
How do I feel about it?
On this occasion, after spending my summer in the Dominican Republic and Haiti (and squeezing in a quick trip to Puerto Rico), I was surprisingly eager to catch my flight out! The novelty of the luxury of Punta Cana wore off on the second day of staying in an all-inclusive hotel when I landed first in Dominican Republic. Now on my return, I found a hostel for a night, seeing a different side of Punta Cana I hadn’t seen from the security of the gated resort which lures holiday-makers away from the local experience.
I’m a travel-maker, not a holiday-maker.
Anxious for the local experience, which thankfully I got from the moment I left the resort and continued onto Santo Domingo. Despite this change of perspective by staying in a hostel, I had no emotional attachment to the holiday resort town (except that the friendship with my Puertoriqueña Vivi started on the dance floor of the resort discotheque!) as I did to places like Port-au-Prince, San Juan or even Santo Domingo. Perhaps this dis-attachment to the first and last stop of my trip- Punta Cana, influenced the ease in which I was able to carry my suitcase down the steps from the fourth floor of Bavaro Hostel, and leave without a single wish to stay longer.
As the British Airways craft floated high up in the sky, the seatbelt sign went off and I was able to turn on my phone and capture the sun setting in the distance. A spectacular view which captured a beautiful ending to my journey. One that saw me give freely, take whole-heartedly, love agape, live the right moment, learn from the best, explore a different path, dance to each beat, laugh out louder and create cosmic connections.
Now I start to relax…
Up in the sky… The high…
I’m going home. Back to reality. Unsure of what’s awaiting me. Hoping for a smooth landing… Avoiding the lows.
A journey I took thinking I would be helping to save a few children from hunger, but rather I was the one being saved, and my need for spirituality rekindled… This is how I found myself in Haiti!
Despite many barriers (the language!) I had a rewarding experience!
*Funding for the food program which provides a nutritious meal for children living in camps of Port-au-Prince, will end on the first week on November. Please, if you are able to help in any way please contact the centre’s co-ordinator Shanti Poudel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Together we can create ‘broad roads’…
When I met Dionisis Kostakis on my second day in Rio de Janeiro in December last year, there was little about him, if nothing at all, that indicated his unusual hobby. With beach blond hair and subtly tanned olive skin, I took him to be yet another European who had ditched the struggling economy of Europe in search of the laid back surf-life that Brazil offers thousands of expatriates.
Even when Dionisis wrote his email address for me to keep in touch after I told him about my plans of visiting Salvador to research my Afro-Brazilian ties, I doubted the depth of knowledge the Greek videographer had about African and African-diaspora religion.
It wasn’t until weeks later, while strolling down the iconic paved pedestrian path of Copacabana beach, that I would be proved wrong when I was approached by someone holding with a doll in a gold dress to my face. Thinking it was a local seller, I politely (or not so politely I can’t remember however that detail is minor) declined and proceeded to carry on walking. But it was when I heard my name called, and turned around to take a better look…
There he stood, holding a doll of a Orisha in his hand. Dionisis had been filming the Yemanja event that took place on the beach in anticipation to the New Year.
Now he had my attention!
And so it was a few days before the turn of the year that I showed up at his apartment off Avenida Atlântica geared with my note pad and pen, ready for a cultural religious lesson about Candomblé and Voudun. I can safely say, I’m yet to meet someone as passionate about African-diaspora religion and culture… And this is just his hobby!
“My interest in Haitian Voudun began when I came to Brazil. Voudun is the religion of the Fon people in Benin. It is also practised in parts of Brazil where the Fon were taken to during slavery. In Bahia the worship of the Voudun is Candomblé and in Sao Luis de Maranhao the worship of the voudun is called Tambor de Minas.
Haiti has always been looked down upon for being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, full of diseases and epidemics and political upheaval. Rumour has it that the Haitian Revolution began with a ritual for Ogun, the Orisha of metal associated with warfare, known as Gu in Fon Voudun. They are very similar deities, if not equal, and Ogun is worshipped in Haiti as a Loa/Lwa (there are two spellings).
My interest in Afro-Brazilian religions began in 2005. This was the first time I came here (Brazil)… I saw some figurines/statues in Sao Joaquim market in Salvador that caught my attention. They were images of red-skinned horned men with tridents in their hands, and red-skinned bare-breasted women in g-strings. I was told that they were sold to religious temples and to followers of “macumba”. People told me that the name for the men is exu and the women are called pomba gira.
I heard some negative comments from people from the south (of Brazil) about how Bahia is a backwards state because of macumba and the “things brought from africa, the dark continent”. I found the red statues to be quite European-looking, so I began to read about the religions and realized that there were actually two main ones; Candomblé and Umbanda.
The first stuff I read was written by non-Brazilian researchers, and they visited the religious temples that mixed both religions, so there was a mix-up which is also sometimes the case in Brazil today. Exu and pomba gira are part of the Umbanda religion that is an Afro-Brazilian religion with Bantu roots. It is part of espiritismo and began as a result of white espiritismo temples which shunned the spirit possession and worshipping of Amerindian and black spirits. The main idea behind this religion is healing, so Umbanda was formed in able to let the spirits continue their work.
The case of exu and pomba gira is the following: they are the less evolved of all spirits and perform deeds in exchange for offerings. They are the socially marginalized spirits (courtesans, thieves, prostitutes, etc). They are worshipped in Umbanda and some Candomblés, because these Candomblés were set up by people with an Umbanda background. Candomblé is the worship of the orixas (Yoruba deities), inkises (Bantu spirits), and vouduns (dahomean deities). I focus on the most dominant of all: Candomblé ketu, which is the worship of the Orishas (orixas in Portuguese, they are Yoruba deities).
The first to receive an offering in the Yoruba system is Eshu (Exu in portuguese). He was unfortunately identified by the catholic church as being the devil due to his trickster-like character. “Devilish aspects” involve a story of him devouring his mother after she had offered him all she could when he was very hungry one day, tricking people, loving to have sex, drinking booze etc. He is said to be the most human of all the Orishas. He is identified in this way in Brazil but has a more child-like appearance in Cuba, for example, where he was syncretized with two Catholic child saints: el niño de atocha and el niño de praga.
This is why I began to study this area. Because I could not see why something seen as African was actually of European influence. The exu and pomba gira characters do not have African features. Most of them are spirits of the dead that came from Europe. They were identified with Orishas Eshu (the yoruba deity) as a result of people from Umbanda initiating to Candomblé, and because they share these “devil-like” characteristics.
Similarities between Candomblé and Voudun (voodoo is seen as being a derogative spelling, originating in hollywood films depicting Voudun in Haiti as devil-worship) are; contact with ancestors, spirits, sacrifice, divination, and African-roots. Deities worshipped in both religions: Eshu (Candomblé) and Papa Legba (Voudun) are the keepers of the gates, lords of the crossroads. In Brazil Eshu is associated with the devil, in Haiti Papa Legba is an old man with a cane in his hand. Ogun/Gu, Shango (lord of thunder, both Yoruba and Fon people call him the same way. There are deities that are similar but are worshipped in different ways.”
Dionisis is currently working on his latest project that focusses on the change of look, from black to white and sometimes mestiza, of Orisha Yemonja. Something I observed quite blatantly both in Rio and even Bahia during the Yemanja festival in Salvador’s Rio Vermelho district. Yemonja is a Orisha, that in Yorubaland is a river deity and has been transformed into the owner of the ocean in Brazil… The Goddess of the sea.
The second series of ‘Drive-by shooting Haiti’ in pictures.
©Kai Lutterodt 2013
(No weapons involved)
When I joined journalist Shanti Paudel to meet a friend for lunch, little did I know that we’d be visiting the UN Nepalese Bhairab Battalion base in Port-au-Prince… The closest I will get to Nepal until I actually step foot on its soil.
Maj.Birendra greeted us as we entered the military base. He was kind enough to give me a brief understanding of why Nepalese soldiers are revered for their qualities of courage, loyalty, self-sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness; to fight with tenacity and military strength. I was familiar with the Gurkha War (1814–1816) between the Gorkha Kingdom in Nepal and the East India Company (British). The khukuri knife (display versions available for sale at the Bhairab Battalion UN base souvenir shop) is a symbol of the strength of the Nepalese soldiers who maintained the independence of their country even when India was colonised by the British.
This unofficial visit was a cultural reflection of the Nepalese people. The hospitality we were given at the Everest Mess included sampling Nepalese cuisine with Maj.Birendra and later joining lt.col.Sanukaji Thapa for chai. Sitting amongst these prominent men, I learnt about their mission in Haiti and their community development work that is on going. I was also able to share my experience of volunteering at the Sathya Sai Baba centre, speak about my country of origin- Ghana, and learn about Nepal.
I was later presented with reminder of Nepal by lt.col.Sanukaji Thapa with a picture of ‘The Top of the World’ Mount Everest, and the city of Bhaktapur. The Commander encouraged me to visit Nepal, and I responded giving my word that I would do so one day.
I left the Bhairab Battalion feeling as though I had spent an afternoon in Nepal!… The next step is to actually walk on Nepalese soil and view with my eyes some of wonders of this country. I was given a had full of brochures available in the Everest Mess. Reading them has heightened my interest in visiting the small country sandwiched between India and China. The richness of the country’s cultural diversity, multi-religious and multi-ethnicity gives this country so much texture.
“Naturally Nepal… Once isn’t enough”
-Nepal is a relatively small nation of about 25.8 million people.
-The country is home to the highest point on earth: Mount Everest (8848m)
-Nepal occupies the central part of the Himalayan arc (2,400km), the highest mountain range in the world.
-The Himalaya means ‘Abode of Snow’ in Sanskrit
–101 diverse ethnic groups coincide
–8 out of 14 highest mountains lie in Nepal
Mount Everest (8848m), Kanchenjunga (8586m), Lhotse (8516m), Makalu (8463m), Cho Oyu (8201m), Dhaulagiri (8167m), Manaslu (8163m) and Annapurna (8091m)
The UNESCO listed 4 World Heritage sites in Nepal:
Two of which are in the natural category; Sagarmatha and Chitwan National Parks
The two in the cultural category are; Kathmandu Valley with seven monumental zones, and Lumbini, the sacred birthplace of Lord Buddha.
Pokhara is home to Nepalese journalist Shanti Paudel. He was my first contact with Nepalese culture which I have experienced through his humble hospitality while volunteering at the Sathya Sai centre in Haiti.
Pokhara lies in the central region of Nepal, surrounded by incomparable mountain views. A range of tourism activities are available from participating in the lifestyle of the local people or mountain trekking to see the splendid views of the central Himalayas.
So whatever adventure you seek to find in Nepal; trekking, mountaineering, pilgrim tours, water-rafting, paragliding, bungy-jumping, jungle safari, bird-watching… It’s safe to say Nepal has it all! Perhaps the reason why once isn’t enough…
Special thanks to Shanti Paudel, lt.col.Sanukaji Thapa, Maj.Birendra and staff at the UN Nepalese Bhairab Battalion base.
For more tourism information on Nepal visit:
Nepal Tourism Board
Finally! Another vblog from the travelmaker… This time in Haiti! From the roof top of the Sathya Sai centre in Delmas, Port-au-Prince (once I find the right spot!)
Thanks for joining me on this journey!
I woke up early this morning to help the staff prepare the variety of vegetables that are part of a Haitian delicacy: Haitian Bouillon! This vegetarian adaptation is prepared every saturday and distributed to 2000 children at the various camps Sathya Sai Baba World Foundation sponsor.
A dozen or so children also show up outside the centre everyday… And I have the privilege of serving them.
Today on the menu is Haitian Bouillon!
Joachim explains the history behind this traditional soup prepared every saturday: Haitian Bouillon.
The Sathya Sai centre prepare a vegetarian version of the traditional cuisine which is distributed to 2000 children living in various camps in Port-au-Prince.
Update: Funding for the Food Program will end the first week in November 2013. Please, if you’re able to contribute in any way so the children in the camps can continue to get a hot nutritious meal, contact the centre’s co-ordinator Shanti Poudel email@example.com