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His First: Yoruba Deity Eshu (Exu) told through film

“When I met Dionisis Kostakis on my second day in Rio de Janeiro last year, there was little about him, if nothing at all, that indicated his unusual hobby…” I wrote in the blog post From Candomblé to Voudun… Eshu to Shango… These are a few of his favourite things.

Two years later, his “unusual hobby” has paid off to become a visual piece of work “O PRIMEIRO” – The First.

“O Primeiro is an attempt to show how the Yoruba Deity Eshu (Exu in Brazil) is worshipped in Candomble and Umbanda” –  Dionisis Kostakis.

Check out my first interview with the videographer here.

Share your thoughts in the comment box!

Journey through Afro-Brazilian Culture… Unspoken Barriers Photo exhibition

Journey through Afro-Brazilian Culture

Unspoken Barriers Photo exhibition unveiling

It’s exactly 2 years since I got a phone call that would change the my fate, particularly in education. When UAL admin called to tell me a “mistake” had been made – I couldn’t carry on with the second year studying BA Journalism, because I’d “failed” my first year, I thought my world would come crashing down… Continue reading

Brazil Day: at the heart of London

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London paid tribute to Brazil yesterday with a magnificent fiesta that captured the spirit the South American FIFA World Cup host country. From noon till 7pm, within the perimeters of 23,000 m² which later expanded out into the rest of the capital – Brazil came to London in Trafalgar Square! Continue reading

Dia da Consciência Negra… Remembering Zumbi dos Palmares

Patricia shines light on being a proud African-descendant Brazilian...

Patricia shines light on being a proud African-descendant Brazilian…

Dia da Consciência Negra… Black Consciousness Day, Brazil

It might seem ironic that there should be a day dedicated to black consciousness in Brazil; a country with its history steep in the trans-atlantic slavery between 1594 to 1888 (the last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery). The seed of ‘black origin’ flourishes in Brazilian society today. Its DNA evident from the very curl in the hair to the way music is assembled, dance is expressed and cuisine prepared. So why should Brazilians have to be reminded once a year to be ‘consciousness‘ of their ‘blackness’ , if it’s part their everyday life?

During my stay in Brazil earlier this year, my Carioca friend and host, Patricia Castillo educated me on the importance of Dia da Consciência Negra celebrated annually on the 20th November.

Our stroll through downtown Rio de Janeiro within close vicinity to the world-famous Sambadrome, home to Rio’s carnival, lead us to a statue dedicated to the memory of the legendary Quilombo (settlements consisting of African runaway slaves) leader, Zumbi dos Palmares (1655–1695). He is remembered as a leading figure in the black resistance to slavery in Brazil. Standing in front of her icon, Patricia told me:

“The problem in Brazil for afro-descendants is they do not know the history of their ancestors. Imagine yourself, would you be happy to know that you descend from murderers and rapists who came to Brazil? Because this is part of the history of Brazil we learn about in school… I am African-descendant and proud. I am descendant of a warrior people. They survived the hardship of being enslaved. They fought for their freedom and succeeded! A beautiful story so exciting with a happy ending.”

Patricia stands by the Homage to Zumbi statue in Rio

Patricia from Nova Iguaçu stands by the Homage to Zumbi statue in Rio

Zumbi dos Palmares was born in the northeastern state of Alagoas in 1655. Believed to be descended from the Imbangala warriors of Angola, despite being born free, he was captured aged 7 and sent to a missionary.  Attempts to purify him failed and Zumbi escaped to return to his birthplace.

Zumbi became the leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares. Despite freedom being offered by the govenor of the province of Pernambuco to runaway slaves of Palmares, Zumbi was against the agreement. It wouldn’t allow freedom of the Maroons and other Africans who remained enslaved.  Zumbi continued the flight for freedom until he was betrayed by a member of his Quilombo. On the 20th of November 1695 he was captured and beheaded. The Portuguese transported Zumbi’s head to Recife, where it was displayed in the central praça as proof that, contrary to popular legend among African slaves, Zumbi was not immortal.

Today Zumbi’s legacy lives on. Homage is paid to him throughout Brazil with his statues erected in various cities, a symbolic reminder of the country’s ongoing flight towards equality. Zumbi is considered one of the great leaders of Brazilian history. A symbol of resistance and struggle against slavery. He fought for the freedom of worship, religion and practices of African culture in Colonial Brazil. The day of his death November 20, is remembered and celebrated throughout the country as the Day of Black Consciousness, also known as The Day of Black Awareness.  It is a day on which to reflect upon the injustices of slavery, and to also celebrate the rich contributions of Brazil’s African heritage to society.

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From Candomblé to Voudun… Eshu to Shango… These are a few of his favourite things.

Orishas

Dionisis sits by a colourful painting of various Orishas

Dionisis sits by a colourful painting of various Orishas

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!

Dionisis:

Dionisis admires an Orisha doll

Dionisis admires an Orisha doll

“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.

Orisha/Orixa statutes on display

Orisha/Orixa statutes on display

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.

Editing one of his projects... An Orisha doll in a gold dress sits above his workstation

Editing one of his projects… A Orisha doll in a gold dress protects his workstation

The month of August: Paying homage to my ancestry

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This month of August, I would like to pay homage to my Tabom (Afro-Brazilian returnees to Ghana) ancestors by remembering their legacy.

It occurred to me that there are a string of significant events and coincidences that took place during the month of august that are somehow in twined with Tabom history, and as a descendant; this is directly relevant to me. Also today, the 23rd August, is the International Day for the remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on its abolition… Nothing is just a coincidence in August!

I am currently in Haiti, the first Black Republic in history. The island Hispaniola, mother to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was the first island to be discovered in the West Indies by Christopher Columbus 1492. The island would become the gateway to the New World. A turning point in World History would be marked by the Transatlantic slave trade… The beginnings of the African diaspora in the Americas.

picture credit (?)

picture credit (?)

On the 22nd of August 1791 a revolt was staged by slaves in the French colony of the island, Saint-Dominique, which would not only spark the beginnings of the Haitian Revolution, but inspire a wave of revolts throughout Latin America. The oppressed would fight the oppressor in a bid to gain freedom.

The news of the Haitian Revolution would reach the shores of Salvador Bahia and beyond. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am in Haiti on the anniversary of a significant revolt which took place 222 ago! My Tabom heritage may not exist had the slaves in Bahia not heard news of a colony of ex-slaves ruling themselves as a freed Republic!

Slave Rebellion in Brazil

Slave Rebellion in Brazil

I’m even more so convinced that it wasn’t by coincidence either that on the 24th of January this year, I was reading about a group of African muslim slaves who were conducting an important meeting, not so far from where I sat reading in Salvador, on the same date in 1835. The revolt they planned started prematurely hours later, on the 25th January 1835. This revolt would mark a significant part of Brazil’s history… And my own story

It was in the month of August that the (second) group of Afro-Brazilians arrived on the shores of Ghana (then Gold Coast) on or around the 8th August 1836. The revolt of 1835 played a key role in them being expelled or winning /buying their freedom. Needless to stay, they left the oppression Brazil in search of freedom. And they would find it in Accra and become known as known as Tabom.

Coincidently muslims celebrated Eid all over the world on this date just a few weeks ago, 8th August. It mustn’t be forgotten that the Tabom returnees were muslim. Their faith played a key role in their struggle for freedom in the Malê (reference to the African muslim slaves of Bahia, said to be of Hausa origin from Nigeria) revolt of 1835.

I would like to think that this strength of my ancestors has been passed onto me as I continue my research which took me to Brazil and now Haiti. My research has gone beyond tracing my ancestry to Brazil (which I have done; next stage is tracing the origins in Nigeria)… It is now about discovering the strengths and traits of who I am, and why I am (here).

This month also saw the celebration of my favourite Ghanaian festival Homowo. The Ga tribe of Greater Accra celebrate the end of the a plentiful harvest, paying homage to a time long ago when our ancestors experienced a great famine across the lands belonging to the Ga people. When the heavens finally opened up, they reaped their crops so plentiful, they “hooted at hunger”. This is also the start of our New Year. We say “Afi oo Afi” wishing each other a happy new year.

So with these significant events interlinked and their dates occurring in August across various countries and centuries, I think that makes this month rather special for me as a Tabom descendant!

It was also my Aunty Marian’s birthday last week- she is my talking Tabom reference book! So this is in fact a month of celebration! I’m grateful and thankful to have an aunt who I have a strong bond with. She tirelessly answers any of my questions regarding my family history and African history in general. She is proof that our history begins with speaking with our elders and recording their information. We cannot wait for until our elders pass then it becomes HiStory. It is ours- not ‘his’, first and foremost. Thank you Aunty Marian and many of my tabom  family who have contributed.

Tabom descendants... with my aunty Marian on her 70th birthday a few years ago.

Tabom descendants… with my aunty Marian on her 70th birthday a few years ago.

I’ll end with a few supporting extracts from the book (latest edition is being prepared) “Eles Voltaram (/They returned)” by Alcione Amos which she was kind enough to send me personally. It was largely due to the writings of Mrs Amos that I was able to place together the missing piece of my Tabom ancestor.

“A second group of Afro-Brazilians arrived around August 8, 1836 from Bahia. This group included about 200 men, women and children. They were identified as “liberated slaves,” and their arrival date seems to indicate that they either were expelled from Bahia in the wake of the Malê revolt of 1835, or decided to leave because of the harsh living conditions imposed on blacks after the revolt. They were well received by Ankrah, but not by the Dutch authorities…”

“The Tabon were the first to introduce the Muslim faith in the Accra area. Johann Zimmermann, a Basel Mission missionary, reported in 1851 the existence of a Muslim school in Accra. He visited the school on January 2 of that year and found out that the teacher had copies of the Koran and the New Testament in Arabic. It is very possible that this was a school run by an Afro-Brazilian returnee, although there is no way to verify the assumption. In fact another major influx of Muslims into the area would not take place until decades later in the 1870s, this time with the coming of Hausa soldiers brought in by the British…”

Enjoy the rest of this magnificent month!

 

The racist face of Brazil’s miscegenation

Such an interesting read! The motivation I need to get back into writing about my experiences in Brazil.

 

Black Women of Brazil

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Note from BW of Brazil: The question of racial identity and classification are topics dealt with frequently on this blog. Brazil’s history and reputation has long been constructed upon the idea of miscegenation, the myth of a “racial democracy” and being the largest mixed race country in the world. These ideals have long covered up a the huge socio-economic disparities between Brazilians who consider themselves to be white and those who are non-white.  While there are those who argue make accusations of militants attempting to “racialize” or “Americanize” race in Brazil, the truth is that the preference for European features and the denigration of blackness has existed for centuries in Latin America’s largest country. In today’s post, Jarid Arraes discusses the “racist face” of century’s of miscegenation that has led the majority of persons of visible African ancestry to deny that they are black people. 

by Jarid Arraes

The issue of…

View original post 937 more words

Beach, Mountain, Forest… or simply Rio de Janeiro?

iconic Rio!

iconic Rio; beach, mountain, forest!

It’s a coincidence that todays Daily Prompt is Places;

Beach, mountain, forest, or somewhere else entirely?

(Daily Prompt).

Well why have somewhere else entirely when Rio de Janeiro has all those in one city?!

I’m back in Rio where my journey in Brazil started a few months ago. On my arrival to the city, the heavens opened up and grey clouds fill the sky- a far cry from the Rio I courted a few months back. But even without the sunshine painting vibrant colours on the city, three things still stand very prominent; the Beaches, Mountains and Forests.

My journey of refection and finding myself started and Rio de Janeiro, so it’s only right that it should end here when I catch my flight back to London in 24 hours.

Here are some of my favourite places in the Marvellous City!

Lets head to the beach first! Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Barra… the list goes on! How do you choose which one to spend your days lazing in the sunshine?… Just go with the flow!

The crowds clap as the sun finally sets.. Ipanema.

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Centro- Downtown

I booked my accommodation through airbnb and stayed in Centro for a month. Neglected buildings, markets, dodgy characters, museums, parks and historical buildings are just some of the characteristics that make up Rio’s downtown.

Personally, this area was perfect for me. Excellent transport options available and close enough to everywhere I needed to get to.

Downtown has a strong city feel. Occasionally felt I could be in New York with the tall buildings, wide avenues and yellow taxis. However the faint outline of mountains in the distance let me know exactly where I was. In Rio de Janeiro!

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Santa Teresa and Lapa.

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Enjoy Rio’s energetic nightlife in Lapa! Under the famous roman-style arches you’re sure to find samba music being played- the surrounding street makes a cheap and accessible dance floor. Or find your way into one (or more) of the many clubs and bars nearby.

Lapa is also home to the world-famous Escadaria Selaron. It’s a must to have a photograph taken on the tiled stairs by the late artist Jorge Selaron. The steps lead to Santa Teresa- Rio’s boho neighbourhood.

The best way to get up the steeps hills which Santa Teresa sits on was by the bondinho tram. Sadly this means of transportation no longer exists. However there is an on going petition to have them back as they are so iconic to this part of Rio. Who knows, with the eyes of the world on Rio, the bright yellow trams might get their spotlight again!

Tijuca Forest
If you seek adventure, hiking in Tijuca is a must. For the adrenaline junkie, paragliding from the tip of Tijuca Forest might be an option for you. Otherwise, feel free to simply enjoy the breathtaking views it offers, without falling to the earth!

Cristo Redentor
Looming 700-metres into the sky on top of Corcovado Mountain lies Rio’s most classic icon; Christ the Redeemer. Cristo Redentor overlooks the Marvellous City with arms out stretched, brining together Beach, Mountain, and Forest from the views above.
Like any tourist attraction in Rio, expect large crowds! It’s a must-see for a reason.

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Italian Travel Journalist Alberto helps me concur my fears by persuading me to step nearer the edge!

Italian Travel Journalist Alberto helps me conquer my fears by persuading me to step nearer the edge!

Places (evankropp.wordpress.com)
Places: 90’s Kid (imafraidofthedark.wordpress.com)
Places, Who doesn’t like the beach? (creativemysteries.net)
The isolated college town (liquidmatthew.wordpress.com)
Peace & Love on the streets of San Francisco (juliannevictoria.com)
To The Moon! A look at my Soul Sista (shortandfeisty.wordpress.com)
Places, Faces (adityaviyer.com)
A View of The Beach by a Jersey Girl (misifusa.wordpress.com)
Daily Prompt Places (likeitiz.wordpress.com)
Something else entirely (amaturxpress.wordpress.com)
What I long for (ashortaday.wordpress.com)

 

Praia do Forte and enjoying Acaraje!

Praia do Forte. Photo by Kai Lutterodtt

Praia do Forte. Photo by Kai Lutterodt

"Help me fly" tourists flock to the beautiful beaches of Praia do Forte

“Help me fly” tourists flock to the beautiful beaches of Praia do Forte. Photo by Kai Lutterodt

The former fishing village still holds much of its rustic charm and character. If sun, sea and sand are on your wish list, away from the overwhelming bustle of Salvador, then Praia do Forte is for you!

It’s definitely worth the short trip away from the capital of Bahia, where you’ll find other tourists seeking the same thing… Peace of mind without compromising on culture.

Be sure to try traditional Bahian street food snack made from beans ‘acaraje’ or the steamed version ‘abara’. Our verdict? We loved it!

Turtles being freed into the ocean courtesy of Tamar Project is a must see! Look out for my post on Tamar and turtles coming soon!,

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Comedy of Errors… When does it stop being funny?

telephone

telephone (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Write about a time everything did. (Daily Prompt)

Considering how much I love travelling, just knowing how much can go wrong is enough to have me make some preparations before hand. But no matter how much I prepare, technology has a way of failing on me when I need it the most!

The irony that todays daily prompt is comedy of errors is enough for me to let out a little chuckle… If I don’t burst into tears… of joy (positive energy stay with me!)

What is luck if it doesn’t have a little fun by playing games every now and again? Besides I can’t have it all good. I need to have a flip side to my ‘amazing time in Brazil’ to jazz up my stories when I get home in a few days. So, where to start?…

Cut to few hours ago: Blackberry crashes on me (sounds like a tabloid heading)! I take my phone to the store to be fixed. Considering I didn’t use it besides when I had WI-FI in the house, its just bad timing as I’m due for an upgrade in a few weeks.

the jogs that ruined my phone!

the jogs that ruined my phone!

Cut to 12 hours prior: I promise never to squeeze my phone between my chest in my sports bra when use it to listen to music while jogging… I may as well have been dropped in a puddle!

Cut to 3 months ago: I block my iPhone (technically not even mine! A borrowed phone from a friend in NYC two years ago) because I forgot the password. No luck getting it fixed in Brazil.

Cut to 3 months prior: The little rascal kids in Addis Ababa memorised my iPhone password and stopped asking my permission to unlock my phone to play games on it. So I changed the password to show who’s in charge… Hmm.

Cut to 3 months ago: Friend comes to the rescue with an old phone to borrow (get the pattern?!)

Cut to 3 weeks ago: Old phone breaks down and can’t be fixed 😦 Borrow another old phone from another friend!

20130110-094344.jpgYou probably think I’m going somewhere on the theme of phones which I was, but I’d just like to add to the works that my little digital camera stops functioning on the first night I arrive in Rio 3 months ago! Exactly on the Selaron Steps in Lapa after a night of salsa and caprinhas- an odd but wonderful combination.

To cut a long story short I’m coming home with 2 faulty phones and a broken camera (more irony is that the camera store I have my insurance with went bust last month!!)

above image from blogote.combelow; recycle.co.uk

above image from blogote.com
below; recycle.co.uk

So much for technology eh?! Hey Murphy, lemme know when you’re done!

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Daily Prompt: Comedy of Errors (dailypost.wordpress.com)

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