Archive for the ‘RAvolution’Category

Seoul South Korea

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It has been five years since I went on the RAvolution, sometimes that seems hard to believe and other times that time feels very real. I went on the RAvolution in the depths of grief to find life again and something to look forward to and hope for. Sometimes I feel so different from the person who went on that journey, more settled while still less sure, more confident while understanding the value and need to be more vulnerable, less rocked by life’s swift changes and my resounding loss. I got a lot from that year – I learned to drive, ride a bike, I traveled and it very certainly saved my life, it brought me back to life. It gave me moments of pause in my pain, it brought me friends, and it brought me to places around the world.

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It has also been five years since I was last in Asia, that is of course until a few weeks again when I went to Seoul, South Korea. I loved being back in Asia, I loved the markets overflowing with people and things for sale including the bizarre face masks made with snail and collagen. I loved the dried and fresh fish in baskets by the road, and small stalls of food hot and steaming and demanding to be eaten as I walked.

 

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I loved the Bibimbap and BBQ – hot meat dipped in sauces and wrapped in lettuce. I loved the ancient palaces that seemed to go on for eternity each building leading to another and another, some meticulously painted on every inch and some stark white and wood.

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I loved the shrines and offerings in unexpected places. I loved the legends and history.

 

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I loved hiking through Namsan Park in the early morning up to the North Seoul Tower. I loved the K-pop and crowded streets and underground malls. I loved seeing the people in traditional dress taking pictures and walking around.

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I loved the way the subway made music when it arrived in the station. And the view of the mountains that surrounded the city and the way it would make me think of M*A*S*H and watching it as a kid at a friend’s house in Berkley. Life has taken me far from home and I have loved the journey.

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I had a wonderful time getting lost and wandering. I thought a lot about why I travel and why it’s such an important part of who I am.

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I travel to find myself again, and again. To reconnect. To see myself outside my life and to gain a vantage point on my life.

I travel to challenge myself – to find a way to survive in an unknown and new way. While being lost is frustrating when I make a train to a connecting train and can learn to navigate in a new place the feeling of accomplishment is so great.

 

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I travel to see life and the world with fresh and new eyes. I travel to try to understand this life and try to understand other peoples experiences in it.

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I travel because I am curious. Because I like eating different kinds of food and I want to try them in their native countries. Because I love art and history and stories and people.

I travel to gain perspective.

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I travel because there is nothing more breathtaking then walking down a street that looks like it could be familiar in my own city and turning a corner to see an epic and ancient palace that I could never have imagined.

I travel because life is fragile and fleeting and the moments I feel the most alive are when I am traveling. Because at the end of my life if what I have to look back on and replay our my experiences I will be happy to look back on my journeys.

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Traveling is certainly not for everyone but I found again in Seoul how deeply it is a part of me and how happy it makes me and how grateful I am for the places my life has taken me. I am happy to look back on my memories of Seoul and know the city has made an indelible mark on my life.

 

고맙습니다

 

Ramona

 

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31

03 2016

Marveling In Marrakesh And Feeling My Heart Beat So Fast

“You Who Enter My Door May Your Highest Hopes Be Exceeded”

This is the quote written above the door as one enters the Ali ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh, Morocco, but I would dare say the same could be true for my entire experience in Marrakesh. From the time our ever so small prop-job of a plane left Madrid it felt like I was flying to a world far away, passing over the sliver of water I never could have imagined was so narrow that divides Spain and Africa. It awed me; for a moment I thought it was a lake we were flying over. Then over golden dunes of sand and sparse earth below before landing in a city that is completely made of pink; seriously, there is an ordinance and the city of Marrakesh is almost entirely pink in color.

From my first walks down winding streets that promised and succeeded in confusing and losing me in their inner labyrinths, I knew this was going to be a place far from anything I had ever experienced. From the man who met my car outside the Medina’s (old city) walls with a cart and happily piled my luggage in and led the way through crowded souks and narrow alleys, the entire way speaking French and Arabic and pointing out “hamam, hamam, café, square, hamam” as if my mind could remember or comprehend any of the activity that was happening faster than I could even take it in. Shop keepers called to me, a man tried to sell me chickens just killed with the feathers still on, another man offered spices, and yet another jewelry. Where had I landed?

That is how Morocco welcomed me—an over stimulating trajectory into what became a time spent fully alive. And all of this on the way to my Riad. The noise, the smells of incense, spices, wood burning fires cooking food, dirt, and yes, donkeys crowded the streets as we walked along deep into the maze like confounds of the Medina. It was hectic and confusing and then we arrived at a big black gorgeous door. There was a man who was ready to receive me having somehow been called by this peculiar man with a cart. Before any business of checking into my riad I was offered tea, which I accepted happily, ready for a few moments to adjust. And then within the walls of the riad, the door closes behind me and mysteriously in a sanctuary a world away, the noisy street disappears, the smell becomes one of fresh water from the inner courtyard’s fountain, and flowers blooming, incense, and mint; so is the world inside the pink walls of a riad in the inner Medina, and I found over my time so is the way inside many walls in Morocco a secret is hidden within. Like the desert it resides in Morocco holds a million secrets, there are oases I could never dream of lingering behind a bustle of activity I could never understand.

On my first days whenever I would venture out of the safe walls into the bustle of the immediate souks and city life I would feel a strange pounding, a beating, and fluttering in my chest and stomach that felt almost palpable. To the sound of snake charmers’ music and the call of vendors for orange juice, water, dates, nuts, or the men with monkeys, I could feel the exhilarated pace of my heart. I felt like Morocco put a spell on my first days. I walked through Djemaa el-Fna, the main square, I marveled at the Koutoubia, I tried intrepidly to not get lost down the winding lanes that all lead to dead ends (I almost never succeeded but was always met with a person who happily would show me the way out for a small gift). I woke early to sunrise and the first call to prayer as a pink sky met the pink buildings of the city.

As I was in Marrakesh for a yoga retreat I did move to a lovely place outside the city in a more quiet and remote location, the blissful and truly oasis like Peacock Pavilions. We ventured into the city for visits to the Badi Palace, and Jardin Majorelle. The colors of doors and mosaics were like the fine masterpieces hanging in museums around the world. We went for a day to Essaouira along the coast and rode camels at sunset along the Atlantic Ocean.  I spent a day in a hamam and had a woman scrub more of me clean then ever before in my life.  We dined on the most delicious food – tagines, couscous, goat cheese, and tomato tarts all infused with spices to the point of delicacy. Mint tea flowed from endless streams of high pouring teapots.

But all of this is not what I took away from Morocco; all of this was lovely and it felt like gilding to a deeper place. The people were the kindest and happiest. The smiles and welcomes and cajoling presses to enter their shops all with a grace and openness. There were the calls to prayer that wafted through the air.  And there was this deep sense of being alive and being present. As we drove through the city one afternoon our young and hip driver Abdu, he couldn’t have been more than 27, with French Hip Hop playing or Modern Moroccan Rock on the radio gently turned the dial on the volume down. It was imperceptible if you weren’t paying attention but sitting right behind him I noticed, and then I noticed through the window the faint chant from the mosque I had become acquainted with. Then just as imperceptibly he turned the radio back up when the Adhan was finished. No cars stopped, no one bowed on the streets, but when we asked our driver he said, “I take notice when I hear it, I do not need to stop in my day, I just become aware.” I loved that, I loved it the entire time I was there hearing this call in the early hours of morning, through the afternoon, and again as the day closed. It made me think what if throughout our day whatever we believed or didn’t believe we took notice, what if we stopped and breathed if nothing else 5 times a day consciously and then what if it all happened together? It moved me more than I could ever say and more than I ever imagined but it did because it made me pause and think about my own days and the activity that inhabits them much of the time. Perhaps my days are not filled with donkeys and mopeds at fast speeds, there are not shop owners calling and pulling towards me but my days feel hard at times and what if I just stopped 5 times and breathed, I took notice of myself, and I said there is something I am not sure what but something larger than just me here.

I understand the world is at a hard place now; you can’t travel and not notice the warnings and the news briefs. But I also know I am not ready to stop traveling yet. There are more places to discover, people to meet, cultures to be introduced to. I have found the best way to know myself is to see myself in these different places and to take a piece of them with me. I wanted desperately to spend more time in Morocco; I am determined to go back. I wanted to learn more Arabic and refine my very rusty French. I saw in my confusion and my fast beating heart that there is so much more to learn and discover in the world. But more importantly I saw that as fast as my heart might race, I can pause in my day I don’t have to do more than that, I can take a moment and I can find myself perhaps again.

Shukran to the marvelous people of Morocco for sharing a part of your world with me.

Ramona

07

10 2012

Melting Into The Master’s Landscapes Of Spain And France

It is hard to believe it has been a week; time has moved so strangely, at times whizzing by and at times slowly yawning itself out. But in all of the moments of feeling like I have been in a time warp, it seems most apparent now that this week is drawing to a close and tomorrow I will turn my sights toward a different continent and country – oh Morocco here I come.

As my friends departed Spain last week I took leave of the bustling city of Barcelona and turned towards the slower pace and quieter feel of smaller towns. In planning the trip with this week between my friends and the yoga retreat (my two solids) I had many variations on how this week would play out; a trip to Granada and then a boat to Tangiers and a train through Morocco? A flight to another country all together? But with my work load I decided that what I needed was slow speed and nature’s healing beauty. It didn´t take long for me to put it together, not far from Barcelona by bus and train was where Dali lived and I had always wanted to see his house and where Matisse had lived. Both being artists I greatly admire I thought enough culture–I need to go and see the places that inspired the work,  see the light and landscapes for myself!

I took the bus out of Barcelona through stunning countryside of old towns with forts on small hills, flags blowing proudly in the wind and sun. Grape vineyards stretching into distances and the vines laying heavy with deep rich purple fruit. I made my way to the coast and then leaving some less attractive towns behind climbed the steep hills on narrow switch back roads as the landscape became more barren and dotted with olive trees and a lonesome pine, we then descended and at the base of these hills was one of the most stunning sights I could imagine or have seen – Cadaques is everything you have ever wanted in a relaxing dream.It is a gentle white washed town nestled at the base of hills and along a peaceful bay of the Mediterranean. It is known as the place Dali visited as a child and later built a house nearby with Gala. The town is almost all pedestrian with only a few cars and motorbikes, it reminded me of my dreams of what Greek Islands must be like – still and beautiful white walls, green and brown hills, and a brilliant aquamarine sea – okay it might be what I hope a corner of heaven is like.

I spent two blissful days soaking in sun, walking the steep streets and ducking in shops, I breathed in the air that smelled deep of pine and olive trees. The church bell would chime the hour and its half and it only mattered to show the passing of time that drifted from a reality. I walked the 1.25km to Dali´s house in Port Lligat and kyacked in the bay of Cadaques past rocks and out to a light house. The entire setting feels like a Dali art piece and I don´t mean in the surreal way, I mean you can very literally see in the land and sea where ¨Dream Caused By The Flight Of A Bee Around A Pomegranate¨ came from. The setting still breaths of Dali and some of the artist residents even take on a bizarre Dali look to them. I simply loved what I found in this small town more than I ever had an idea I might, I want to go back, and I already know in my dreams I will.

The next stop was for more Dali but not in such a stunning town. I headed inland to the city of Figueres to see the Teatre-Museu Dali in the town of his birth.  The museum was stunning, like nothing I have seen, truly a place as unique as the artist who created it. I have been a fan of Dali since 2000 when I did a play called Lobster Alice about Dali and I was infused with his crazy creativity. The idea of seeing this place for myself has always been with me. As for the town, sigh, all travel isn´t a marvel and this town certainly falls in this category. I spent less then 24 hours in this town and it was about 20 hours too long. It could have been the fever I came down with, the bones and muscles that ached, or the fact that to get water I had to walk some 20 min through the most down trodden and dejected place I have seen in a long time (and I am including Kibera in Kenya). Ok, enough! Go to the Teatre-Museu Dali for a mind blowing experience and then get out of Figueres for all it is worth.

The next day I took the first train I could across the French boarder to the small town of Collioure. Matisse said ¨There is no sky in France as blue as in Collioure¨, and indeed the town echoes of this artist in every colorful street and view. The city has been so painted that it almost feels like you have slipped into an impressionist canvas in a museum; in fact throughout the town they have small frames that capture what the painting would be. I wandered more streets, looked in shops and walked around the daily market. I hiked up to the windmill and felt like Don Quixote! I hiked on up into the hills to the fort St Elme. Then I indulged in a little French pastry as reward. Everywhere I looked I saw the inception of art and the light of what captured these masters.

I made my way back to Barcelona to close out the week and turn toward new ports. I did the necessary and mundane that take on new heights in foreign places – laundry and such. Today I went to a final Gaudi monument and walked past Casa Batllo and up to La Pedrera, what a stunning view to crown this trip! What genius, what inspiration, what lasting legacy, and what views!! I lunched at Mercat de la Boqueria.

The week alone was many things, at times lovely, at times lonely, always changing and ebbing with the tide. It gave me a lot of time to think and look. It gave me no more insight but it did give me views rich and plentiful and for now that pleases me more than anything.

Tomorrow will be an entirely new world, always a new day full of possibility.

Sending you all my warm sun kissed love,

Ra

21

09 2012

Finding Myself Full Circle In Barcelona

“I do not seek I find” Pablo Picasso

I have found in Barcelona a city I did not seek and could hardly anticipate or expect to find. I have loved my three days here with friends.I have found here a beautiful European city with a wonderful laid-back-near-the-ocean feel.

I have also found myself here in a completely other world than the last time I was in Spain. When I was invited to join these days of the trip and I realized it would put me in Spain for the third anniversary of my mother’s death it felt somehow like coming full circle. Barcelona feels nothing like Madrid and I feel nothing like I did that night I got the call. It could be me who has changed, for it is hard to have your heart break and not be different from it forever. I lost a world in that night and it has never felt like less than that on any days since then. I lost the world of youth, safety, and a feeling of sense that I can never retrieve again after such a monumental grief. I am new and I am finding a new identification with Spain on this trip.

I arrived early in the morning and I met Mara and her two friends at a small apartment we are renting in the Poblenou district of Barcelona. We are down a small pedestrian only street. We are a few festive blocks from the beach with a rooftop terrace that feels pretty close to heaven. The city was just coming to life as I drove through the streets and walked the small stone way to our old wooden door.

We went to Museu Picasso and I was swept away by his blue periods and the sea. After we walked the old and vibrant streets and passed the Catedral and then up to Esglesia De Santa Maria Del Mar. We drank Cava and ate tapas (including my brave venture to eat blood sausage) amid an old square. This is the life!

Our second day we went to La Sagrada Familia and the stained glass was like nothing I have ever seen (the entire thing was like nothing I have ever seen)! The majesty–the dedication of decades of people. The sound of the chisel as they continue to work and complete this enormous undertaking. The detail, the many views that never could be seen in one single lifetime, and the continuation of work after a century of being constructed. Awe is nothing short of what washes over you.

We continued a day of Gaudi at Parc Guell. As you climb the steep streets to the park the views are first of hills dotted with olive and palm trees and then the ocean is revealed and almost takes your breath away as it glistens in contrast on the horizon. Barcelona continues to reveal more beauty it seems in every step.

We ended the day in front of a big platter of Paella. I remembered my mother telling me of her trip here some forty years ago with her friends Val and Bloch. She said they didn’t have enough money and one of the nights they fought over the final olive before finally cutting it into thirds to share. We did lick as much of our fingers and paella plate as we could but we did not fight over any of the food.

Today we went to the beach. Ahhhhhh Barcelona, did I mention I really think I love you, well I do now. We drink homemade Sangria and eat cheese and bread on our roof top before lounging on chairs and in hammocks.

In just a few days I have found myself amid a true vacation, indulgence/enjoyment, and treat for every one of my senses.

I am finding in each day here what it means to live and enjoy my life again. Work seems a far off memory a moment of labor that one must go through to have moments like these. Moments of reverie, moments of light, moments of gratitude, and pure pleasure. I am so happy to be once again out in the world and so happy to have found my way to Barcelona and with new images of Spain in my mind.

Tomorrow my friends are off and I am departing for my week along the Costa Brava alone. I will miss their company, their warmth, and the laughter we have shared.

Beauty is in this world and one needn’t find their way to Barcelona to see it (although if you can I highly recommend it!). I hope in whatever place of your life this may find you, whether it be at a beach in Washington, at work in an office, or sitting in a park that you will see the beauty in your world as well.

Love,
Ramona

PS – Thank you my darling travel friends Mara, Maribel, and Ana for inviting me along for part of your adventure. You are all such special parts of my life.

15

09 2012

Back Out Into The World

It has been such a long time since I have left a note here. The summer has rushed by; it has sped at a rate I could hardly imagine. For me it was filled with work, more work than I ever should have agreed to do, and on many instances ever thought I would manage, but here I am. The summer is drawing to a close; I must say I am not sorry. I love the autumn, I love cool breezes at night that force me to close my windows, I love the feeling of change in the air and the relief it seems to bring me.

And in my life the end of summer is also bringing the end of work, I have finished three big jobs that overlapped, intermingled, and kept my time full the past four months. My work brought me to Atlanta for two weeks where I was able to spend some additional time with dear friends. It brought me out west for a quick time, where once again I practiced holding life in two hands, working all day and spending evenings with family and friends. And finally my work brought me to Philadelphia. I am exhausted just remembering everything I have done in recent weeks.

But for now life is slowing down and I am starting to look outward again. Life is becoming that which I want it to be and not which I find it must be. It has been hard for me returning from the RAvolution, I have wanted to be back out there in the world – returning to Cambodia, or going to see schools being built in Burma, pausing over tea with Astrid who is expecting her second child any day in Germany. But there is the reality of life, the reality that I have to work to make money for such adventures. But the time has come and all of the months of work in a few days will turn into the reward, the other side of the coin for me that which I have been working for – another trip!!

The seed was planted so many months ago; in the cold heart of winter when I was freshly back in my life in New York, and finding a routine so hard. A job I had planned on was postponed to the summer, yes it was one of the many, and I found myself back in New York with no work. I was sad (ok depressed), I was disappointed to find my life not how I imagined or desired it in the least. I found myself back in a place when all I wanted was to see the wider world. In those moments I found a website for a Yoga retreat that was happening what felt like half a lifetime and world away, in the fall in Marrakech. You might remember I called it my fantasy trip of the moment. And that was how it felt, a mere dream or fantasy.

But that seed and that dream grew within me during those dark, cold months. One day on a walk home from yoga class I called my dad and said I really want to do this but I was so scared – with no current work could I afford to commit to a trip like this in the future. Under my umbrella with the dark gray clouds and a light rain above me, my father said something that was so unlike him. My father is where I get all of my responsible nature; it was my father who held down two jobs my entire life to put me through school and taught me to work hard. On this particular day as I expressed my longing for this far off goal, my father very squarely and completely out of character for him said something simple to me, “Ra, whose advice are you asking for—mine or your moms?” It seemed silly at that moment but as I replied my umbrella fell and I could feel the answer come to me as the light ran fell on my head. “I guess my mom’s.” And my dad asked, “Well what would she say?” I didn’t have to wait to answer, “She would say go for it.” And there was my answer. I ran home and with no idea what lay between that February day and the next seven months, I signed up for a trip to Morocco on the spot!

And so here I am all those weeks and months later, getting ready to depart on the trip. It just so happened a few weeks after this exchange that one of my oldest and dearest friends sent me a note that she would be in Europe a few weeks before I had to be in Morocco and would I like to join her and her friends. I couldn’t join for the entire trip (darn that work above) but I could meet them on their last stop and what would become my first – Barcelona. I will spend 3 days with them and then a week traveling the Costa Brava and jumping into South Western France for a few nights before heading to the land of spices, souks, and exotic dream scapes.

Saying yes to my friend felt real and right, it would somehow put me back in Spain on the three year anniversary of my mother’s death. Indeed it was another part of Spain from where I got that late night call but it will be the same country. It feels oddly like coming full circle. I have not been back to Spain since then. Until now I haven’t even been able to draw myself to look at the photos I took that one day I had in Madrid before I heard of my mother’s passing. It feels odd three years later. Somehow this landmark always loomed for me, so many books and articles on grief talk of the first three years but not of the lifetime that lies beyond them. Somehow it felt as though I need only survive these three years and the pain would wash away and only now days before this trip and this marker and I realize no amount of time, no distance in space, and no change in life will ever eliminate the loss.

I am so excited to be going on this trip. I am so excited to be once again seeing the world through new eyes of a first time visitor. I am so happy to taste the exotic flavors and smell the spices (hello life list!). I am excited to hear the adhan (call to prayer) ring through the early morning air.I am even excited to be reconnected with some squat toilets, amazing how one can change!

I bring you all with me on this magic carpet ride into this exciting world. I will of course be leaving messages of my adventures and when I return will be filling this space with the images I see. I know I will have stories. And as I have been preparing I have returned to one of my favorite books THE LITTLE PRINCE. I look forward to seeing what Antoine de Saint-Exupery called “…the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world…” I plan to “…wait for a time exactly under [a] star…” and as I look at each of the stars imagining the worlds they hold, the friends, and limitless potential I will think of all of you.

Love,
Ra

Pictures 1, 2, & 4 – Madrid Spain September 2009

Picture 3 – My Mom

11

09 2012

Weekend Retreat

If I close my eyes I see the phosphorescent glow of fireflies gliding through pale blue New England nights. I see green mountains gently tumbling into fields of trees that give way to pastures of tall grass. I smell mint steeping in sun tea, and mixed berry crumbles pulled warm from hot ovens. I taste fresh produce – plums tart and deep purple to make me think of beets, fennel and dill mixing with buttermilk tang on fresh crisp greens.  I feel my deep breath centered in a still and happy place within me. All of this from one wonderful weekend on a Pilates retreat in the Catskills!

My friend and fantastic travel companion Gina invited me to join her for a weekend in Stone Ridge, NY. The promise was hikes, fresh air, Pilates classes, food made from local farms; I couldn’t say no. And how happy I am that I didn’t.

I have been home from Kenya and the bulk of the RAvolution for a year now; and what a tremulous year it has been. I found it so easy to set off on that journey and I have found it so hard to return from it. I found myself more changed than I ever expected and grasping at just what those changes mean for my life and me. I have found little to stimulate or excite me in the same way as before.  I found the easy joys that once existed elude me. I felt (and to a large part still feel) lost, unsure, and unsteady. I couldn’t tell if it was my new life or the way I was in it and I found it hard to imagine that there was the same kind of spark that once existed inside me.

That was how I said yes to this weekend, but it wasn’t how I returned from this weekend. It was simple and should not have felt as deep as it did. Only a few hours outside of the city in the Catskills I found the lightness inside me again for a weekend.

There were only 6 of us and I can say it feels like they are all new friends. We shared lovingly constructed meals – s’mores made with ginger cookies while fireflies zipped before us, popovers with honey chili butter and watermelon with vanilla salt and lemon for breakfast. We went on hikes up mountains and down to lakes, we stretched our bodies, and laid in hammocks with books splayed before us. We laughed; we talked about everything from pop culture news to deep philosophical ideas.

It was so humble; a beautiful welcoming home and refurbished barn that filled with warm people, and the stove and grill brimming with fine food was heightened. It became a few moments of seeing what I have been missing since returning from all of those far off places, happiness here in these new present moments of life.

It didn’t take long for me to find the peace I have struggled for, and to simply sit still with it, swing in gentle breezes with it, walk through nature with it. It was only a weekend but for a weekend I felt myself again, the self I like, the self I miss, and the self I could for a weekend see a way back to.

 

The retreat was the first Jessie Zalla put together this year, and she has two more this summer and a possible fall retreat. I can’t say enough about the experience, if you are lucky enough to take part I hope you will sip the fizzy grape aid slowly under the giant tree and remember that life for a moment can be perfect and unfettered.

My deepest thanks to all who were part of this fantastic weekend, especially Laura for her stunning food, Gina for introducing me to this group, and Jessie for putting together a retreat that was a delight like no other.

Wishing you all moments of simple but profound happiness to let you know they still exist.

Ra

12

07 2012

Singing For Our President In Kenya

Our home in Kenya was full of sounds – laughter, singing, the TV playing dubbed Telenovelas. But there was one song in particular we liked to sing. It doesn’t need much introduction, nor necessarily does it need translation from its original Kikuyu lyrics.

There are many versions of these videos because everyone in our house loved to sing this song, and more than that loved for me to video tape them and then watch it back on my camera. I can still hear the peels of delighted laughter from the two young girls at seeing themselves.

Singing for Mr. President from Ramona Collier on Vimeo.

I have only included two versions here, but believe me all you need to do is watch and eyes sparkle, smiles light up, and a bridge from Kenya to America is somehow standing before you.

To my songstresses many thanks for the hours of laughter and light. And to Mr. President, this one is for you….

Enjoy!

Ramona

Sing It Ladies from Ramona Collier on Vimeo.

03

08 2011

Away From Africa And Still Dreaming

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills….” These are the first lines of the Isak Dinesen’s (Karen Blixen) great book OUT OF AFRICA; and it is strange because with only a slight change it is now a sentence I can say about myself.

I spent a summer on a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. I spent a summer walking the magnificent landscape of red dirt and flat topped acacia trees. I breathed in the high altitude air so close to the equator and felt the heat of the day dissolve into cold nights. One night upon this farm in Africa I even watched the movie OUT OF AFRICA with my Kenyan family and my roommate. My French roommate and I were giddy and excited when the film began and we understood the first word spoken in dialogue “kuja hapa” – “come here” in Kiswahili. Our family on the other hand was excited moments later when they started singing a Kikuyu song, and our family started to sing along with the familiar lyrics. My roommate and I were swept away by the romantic tale and always thrilled to recognize a place or moment in the film, while our family was moved by a story based so close to their home.

OUT OF AFRICA goes on to describe life so beautifully, and it is hard to believe I lived such a life, “…The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility…in the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.” And for more than a month that is how I felt, this is where I ought to be, this is where I am, and this is where I have dreamt someday of being. It was not luxurious, I need not say that here but it was real, it was authentic, it was open and willing to share itself with me.

I saw in a country so many people fantasize about a truth and a depth beyond romantic ideals. I had conversations with cab drivers about the troubles afflicting the country I was visiting and the one I come from. I sang songs in English, Kiswahili, and my favorite deserving a post to itself, in Kikuyu for our President; I danced a lot; I ate more carbs in a month than I do in most of the rest of the year; I sadly fought and struggled with some of the heartbreaking circumstances I saw. I, in the most honest use of the word, LIVED. My last day in Nairobi I had breakfast at one of my favorite cafés with a friend and as we parted on Kenyatta Ave along Moi, I said to her “I don’t feel like I have visited Kenya, I feel like I have lived here.” And I do, I feel I was welcomed with such wide and expansive arms by a country, more than one family, and a kaleidoscope of cultures.

I came face to face with the magnificence of nature; I slept with the whooping howls of hyenas outside my tent (not to worry, when we checked into the camp they told us never to leave our tent should we hear animals past when the generators were turned off; we were also told to always find an askaris/soldier to escort us to our tent after dark). I had my first kiss from a giraffe.

I have been back from Kenya for just over a week and yet the distance that separates the life I lived there and the one I live here is more extensive than the 7,360 miles (11845km) or the ocean and continent that span the physical distance. I have found it as hard to return as I did to arrive in Kenya, but in a very different way. To experience life in the developing world is to see a world that is at once apart and yet more entwined with the daily life in the developed world. I imagined the shock I felt at missing a toilet would be met upon returning with relief at the amenities I have on a daily basis. But I have found upon being back in this life that is so comfortable, and truthfully it is COMFORTABLE, that there is something missing. Once I saw past the comforts I was living without on this farm in Kenya I started to see the endless bounties of gifts this life had to offer – people who were willing to share whatever (however small or large) they had; an openness and honest exchange of thoughts, concepts, and dreams; and a genuine world view of different cultures collaborating and trying to understand one another. It happened in the simple way the family would ask as I very poorly washed my clothes by hand, if I had a machine to do this at home, why yes I do; or it could have been the day I was invited to a dowry party and I very innocently asked the family what kind of gift one should bring…a goat? I was glad they didn’t understand the question and answered with the appropriate gift, dishes if you were wondering from Nakumatt, the Kenyan version of Wal-Mart.

To travel in the developing world is to see how much we have in the developed world, perhaps too much, I counted over 63 different kinds of cereal in the store. I have found difficulty in seeing how lucky and fortunate I am not only to visit the developing world, but more to be able to leave it just as easily. To travel through parts of the world that are still finding ways to pave their roads, this was a debate in the village I lived in; and carrying water in plastic buckets and wood to burn on their backs, makes one realize how much we have at our fingertips and do not realize. But there is also so much gained from spending time in this part of the world, passed gratitude there is a broader experience that tells stories and carries deep emotion.

Without the questions of which of the 63 cereals or equally abundant breads, dish soaps, and other goods we have so easily available there is space; there is time; and there is an unfiltered interest in connection, in people, in trying to bridge the if not physical then mental distance between the worlds. The last night I spent with my Kenyan family, I sat with the two children and the house keeper/caregiver in the front yard. We sat on the multi-colored buckets used for a myriad of chores and we delicately sucked on long blades of grass in the late afternoon amber light. We sat and talked about our time together, we lamented my departure, we sang our song about Barack Obama; and Naomi the 5 year old completely serious turned to me with a long green blade of grass between her teeth and said “I will remember your name always.” And I told her I would do the same.

I am still dreaming of the farm I lived on in Africa, of the uneven path to the house, of the trees that dotted the view from the front door, of the family that took me in as a new member, of the children in the orphanage. I am endlessly enriched for having spent time there.

I have added some pictures to all of the posts from the time I was away; if you haven’t already you can go back and take a visual tour from this remarkable journey. And if you are interested in the music that is playing in my mind whenever I think back on Kenya, here are a few songs to use as a soundtrack to the photos – 15 This Little Light Of Mine by Elizabeth Mitchell in both English and Kiswahili, 13 Africa Dream Again by Youssou N’Dour, any Bob Marley, 01 Is This Love, and my favorite the #1 song in Kenya right now kigeugeu-jaguar!

Asante Sana,

Ramona

 

25

07 2011

Safari Into The Soul

Visions that are almost like a dream but appear real before me. We had been driving all day, my butt was sore from the bumpy unpaved roads we had spent the better part of the previous 5 days riding along. It was a Monday night and we were arriving later than expected due to the traffic in Nairobi. Dusk moved fast in Kenya, the sun would start to slip into its nightly rest and within 15 minutes blackness enveloped the world. We were driving along in the last moments before darkness, the sky was a light shade of midnight but still whispering of the day that had passed, and under the first stars in the sky and a suggestion of a moon, it happened. We were driving fast and kicking up red dust and stones along the way, and then we came to a sudden stop. Out of the periphery of the road lumbered a large elegant elephant just feet in front of our van. It crossed the road paying no attention to us and the dust of the night, but to me it stopped more than the car, it stopped the moment and my breath.

I spent my last week in Kenya on a Safari. I hadn’t originally planned to take a safari on this trip but life expanded to meet me on some pretty remarkable roads. When I first came up with the idea of the RAvolution I only saw myself volunteering in Kenya and not staying longer, the idea of the quintessential “safari” in a van with an elevated roof didn’t occur to me. But from the first time I mentioned the RAvolution to my 93-year-old grandfather he kept asking, “when will you go on safari?” It felt too confusing to explain to him that I wasn’t so I would play it in to the dates in Southeast Asia or Africa. But it just so happens that my grandfather is a very wise, perhaps wiser than he even thinks, man. I have learned the literal translation of the Kiswahili word safari is in fact journey. And indeed from the stone structures of Angkor Wat, to the streets of Hanoi and Nairobi, to a small African village, I have been on a journey or a safari these past months that have brought me further than just these far flung and different shores. I have marveled at history, at landscapes, at cultures, at people; but mostly I have been on a safari deep into my heart and soul. I have discovered ways in which I continue to learn, I have studied my insecurities and ways I try to cover them; I have met new friends, and found a way to live with grief.

From the start my grandfather was right, I was going on a safari only not the kind he might have been thinking of. Then I decided in the end to take the kind of safari we are all familiar with at least from TV, magazines, books, and the imagination. To live a life that allows one to have the experiences encountered on a true African Safari is a  gift, no more a blessing that one treasures for a lifetime.

I traveled from the urban jungle of Nairobi into the vast rolling savannah grasslands of the Masai Mara along the Tanzanian and Serengeti border. I saw more animals up close than I ever imagined possible. I was very fortunate to be in the area at the start of the wildebeest migration, and to say it is a spectacle is to belittle one of the most magnificent experiences in the natural world. At first we saw a few groups of these creatures and snapped our photos from just feet away, and then we crested a hill and lying below us was a vast sea of wildebeest and zebras. Every July through October they make the harrowing journey/safari up from the Serengeti to find greener pastures in the Mara. They risk lives and many die as they cross rivers and are succumbed to alligators and lions. It is nature and life in its fullest moments and glory.

We saw a lion family eating a newly killed buffalo by morning’s early light.

 

We saw every imaginable creature; my favorites were zebras and giraffes. The intricate markings show some of the most awe inspiring and gifted creativity in the natural world. The way their basic black and white or brown spots seem to change according to the green and golden landscape that serves as their stunning backgrounds.

We got stuck in some very deep mud and were pulled out by some very nice strangers.

I danced with Masai by flickers of light and with strings of beads and necklaces hanging heavy around my neck.

I spent a day in Lake Nakuru where I woke to animals directly outside my window and feet from my bed.

I had a monkey get trapped in a car with me and I was pretty sure I might be patient one in the next OUTBREAK movie. The photos didn’t come out because the monkey bounced around jumping from seat to seat so fast, and well, I was a little freaked out. It happened twice – who could imagine!

I stared at the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro and wondered how the world could hold so much beauty.

However, I did not find it all easy and fun. Having spent more than a month with a Kenyan family, that I missed dearly this week, I found hardship amongst the entire plushness of a modified Kenyan experience. I felt frustration at many of the people I encountered who chose to experience Kenya from behind the safe windows of a van or land rover. I was perplexed by so many who come such a great distance and the extent of their experience in this confounding, charismatic, engaging, diverse, and stunning country is limited to a few parks. They snap photos of animals and people from a moving van. The only way I could compare this experience is to say it would be like visiting the US and only seeing and spending time in the comforting confounds of Disneyworld!

But enough from the soap box of Ramona. More about the tremendous power of nature and magnitude of these incredible landscapes. I started this story with the end of the trip in Amboseli National Park at sunset, and the only fitting way to finish is at the start of the trip and sunrise in Masai Mara.

We drove into the National Park our last day in the Mara as the sun had yet to rise, but its rays already started to streak the sky with promising light. We drove across the rolling hills as a giant orange sun crested the horizon and spread its warm rays across the rolling green grasses of the savannah below. The creatures started to wake and roam. The heat of the sun warmed my cheeks and I began to cry. It was the real life version of the opening song CIRCLE OF LIFE from LION KING, and some how I was living it for myself.

When the movie of the LION KING first came out I went to see it with my sister, my step father, and my mother; at the end of the opening number as the red cartoon sun rose and the music crescendo I looked over and noticed my mother was crying. I was young and I made fun of my mother’s easy movement to emotion, I didn’t understand in those moments life and what she felt. But as I drove through the real life landscape and felt the day come to life once again, I found myself like my mother moved so easily to tears. I wept silently in reverie for how much larger life is than me. How it is a more intricate and balanced existence than any human mind could begin to comprehend or explain. I wept for thinking my mother was once silly, and for now missing her so much. I wept because I knew that somehow life continues on past each of us. The sun warmed my tears. The family of lions feasted on their kill before me and the cubs played. Life woke up the same way it did on September 13th and the same way it will for years to come.

I have always been a naturalist, a wonderer of nature, a hugger of trees (very literally as a child I hugged trees); but for anyone who is not, I challenge you to go on safari, both one of the soul and into the vast wilderness of Africa and not want to protect, honor, treasure, and bow at the greatness of the natural world.

In reverie and respect,

Naturalist Ra

 

12

07 2011

Seeing June 22nd In A New Way

June 22nd has for a long time been a very special day in my life. Twenty-three years ago on this glorious day my sister was born and showered me since then with such love and joy. So first let me take this opportunity to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY NUGGET!!!!!

When I first had the idea of the RAvolution and told people close to me, I cried at the thought of these last months. I cried for what I was giving up, for what I would experience during this time, and for the life that had brought me to that moment. But when I told my sister, I had an especially hard time, partly because she is so important to me; partly because she is one of the closest living links to my mother, who we both miss so much; and mostly because I would very literally be half the world (although it feels like more) away from her on this birthday.

But when I woke up this morning, when it was still last night where she was, I felt very different than I expected, I felt fine. To be honest I feel more than fine. While I miss everyone during this time of revolving/evolving, I have more than anything felt so wonderful. I feel like this is the life I have waited too long to have. I don’t know why I was so afraid to take this plunge, other than that the plunges into the unknown are always frightening.

But to give up my apartment and travel in this way has been nothing less than a dream come true for me. As trying and challenging as it has been at times, this experience from Cambodia, to California, to Kenya has been everything I wanted and so much more. And it makes me pause to think, if this is true, how many other places in my life could this be true? Facing the frightening unknown may hold more gifts for me than staying in the secure and predictable present.

I am indeed missing my sister so much on her birthday, but I am also boundlessly appreciative for this time and place in my life. And I am so grateful to all of you who have been part of the journey and have helped me along the road. The future holds infinite possibilities once I allow myself to embrace the uncertainty of them.

Love,

Ra (fillet to you dear one)

PS – For the record my sister was nothing but supportive of me, this experience, these trips, and my life entirely.

PPS – Another thing I am so appreciative for these days is reliable electricity, after yesterday when we lost it unexpectedly for the entire day. The best part was when our “Kenya Mom” Easther came home and said, “And its Tuesday, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Thursday because we always lose electricity on Thursday, but never a Tuesday.” Well I am just thankful it is back, and that I live most of my life in a place where this sentence is not true.

22

06 2011