In our blog, you’ll find information about metaphysics and spirituality from Lazaris and Jach, excerpts from Lazaris recordings and interviews, and travelogues from Jach’s adventures around the world.
Arriving in Tokyo in the evening was a fortunate change in our plans imposed by the airline. I had made our reservations to leave SFO at 2:00 a.m. on November 2 and we were scheduled to arrive in Tokyo at 5:00 a.m. Wasn’t sure what we would do from 5:00 a.m. until we could check into our hotel, but I figured we could handle it. It was Cathay Pacific or JAL that changed the schedule and our departure was pushed forward 14 hours to 4:00 p.m. Arriving in the evening was great because we could be awake for only a few more hours and then sleep. Nice.
Immigration was so easy and baggage claim was fast. Through customs in a breeze, our driver was there with my name spelled correctly. We arrived at the New Otani Hotel and were in our room by 9:00 p.m. Peggy, Enrique’s mother, had flown in from Rome and had arrived mid-afternoon. The hotel restaurants close at 10:00. We rushed down to the restaurant for my last “western meal.” I had a juicy square hamburger with all the imaginable trimmings. $25.00. Ha! I know prices are high in huge cities. I knew prices were high in Tokyo and all of Japan. Still. It’s a bit of shock. $25.00 for a hamburger? $8.50 for a soft drink in a glass?
In Cuba I expected to find only the facades of old buildings and vintage cars. I did. In Tokyo I expected to find high prices. I did and I am continuing to find high prices.
However I didn’t expect to encounter people who are so courteous and so very kind. Gentle people who seem eager to help tourist such as us. Several times we stood looking both curiously and helplessly at our maps. Each time someone came up and quietly bowed and asked if we they could help. Some spoke English fluently with excellent pronunciation while others struggled to find the words and to pronounce them correctly. But each was patient and helpful.
I also didn’t expect to find such a clean city. No litter. None. Really. None. No graffiti (so far?) and the buildings seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. The white bricks were still white. Not darkened by auto exhaust and other air pollution. No paper in the gutters. No cigarette butts. Clean everywhere. We walked quite a bit in the Akasaka area: narrow old streets, tiny shops, many restaurants with secluded doorways, and not a speck of litter anywhere. I didn’t expect to see the streets and the buildings so clean. And then there’s the architecture . It’s wonderfully creative and inventive. Okay, I expected that.
I didn’t expect the tranquility that I felt. I mean, Tokyo is a huge city with all kinds of traffic and highways creating a crisscross maze of concrete. I expected the hectic frenzy of New York City or Bogota or even Cali, Colombia. But no. Loads of traffic but it was all moving in a quiet orderly fashion. Thousands of people, many with those white masks covering mouth and nose, but everyone walking casually and minding the walk-don’t walk signs. There was one intersection where each road was six lanes wide. The cross walks created an X in the intersection. All the lights turned red simultaneously. All traffic stopped. Silence. Suddenly streams of people from all four corners walked in all directions: straight ahead, left or right, or diagonally criss crossed through the middle of the intersection. A massive flow of humanity in confluence. It was orderly. No pushing, no shoving, no congestion, just easy flow. A dance. It was quite beautiful.
The people, the landscaping and architecture, and the tranquility . . . there is something delightful and mysterious about this city. We will be here for four days before taking the Bullet Train to Kyoto. I am eager to explore this city before going to that one. Our Asia Excursion is only 3 days old and already . . . yes, it’s going to be a magic journey.
Friday: Late morning with a walk across the street to find a breakfast place. Found a delightful restaurant called Starbucks. [s] Yeah, all the Japanese restaurant were closed until 11:00 a.m. when they opened for lunch. Starbucks for a coffee and a spinach quiche, then we walked for several hours finding a local lunch place. After lunch we went to the Imperial Palace. We anticipated a going on a tour of the palace. Not so. There are tours of the grounds but none that actually go into the palace. Disappointed we walked to the Ginza area and found the department store Food Court and were astounded. We bought fruit, cheese, crackers — dinner for Friday night.
Saturday: After a Japanese breakfast at the hotel, we went on a 4 hour tour of the city and ended up at the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. It is a beautiful garden rich in greenery and powerful in tranquility. We walked for nearly an hour, and then we made our way back to the hotel. We had dinner reservations at Tajimaya Ginza. We had Sukiyaki . . . . incredible. The food, the service, the ambiance, the entire evening was memorable — an incredible moment that lasted nearly 3 hours linearly. Forever beyond the linear.
What does tomorrow hold?
What was that amazing smell? It was seductive for sure. I made my way through the Food Court at Mitsukoshi, the department store in the Ginza area of Tokyo. It was the bread department and the scent of warm fresh bread was almost overpowering. I had never smelled such sensational smells. Amazing. Sensuous scents. The experience on this Friday afternoon was definitely enhanced by the whole of the food court. It wasn’t like food courts in the US. No Burger King or pizza place or even a noodle shop. The foods were prepared as works of art. Usually I don’t take many photos and I seldom take photos of food. This was an exception.
Enrique and I had been planning our Asia Excursion for nearly a year. Initially it was my idea and I suggested that we invite Peggy, Enrique’s mother, to join us. Over the months, what began as a cruise of Malaysia that started and ended in Singapore and included Viet Nam and Thailand grew into visiting Bali again. Of course. We’ll stay at the Komaneka at Bisma again and we will have a day tour with our favorite Balinese guide from the last time. Of course. Oh, and yes, we need to spend some time in Hong Kong. It was late in the planning that we added Japan — Tokyo and Kyoto. We sneaked it in ahead of Hong Kong and our excursion began November 2 — a few days after the San Francisco Bay Area intensive.
The workshop ended Sunday, October 30. We stayed on at the Pullman Hotel because on November 1 Lazaris would be recording an online workshop to be released before year’s end. We finalized our packing that evening and we flew from SFO to Tokyo on Wednesday, November 2, at 4:00 p.m. and we arrived Thursday evening in Tokyo. It was an 11 hour flight with a 16 hour time change, and it was also an elegant way to begin our six week excursion.
From time to time I will be posting messages here. Today it’s food. The horizons will expand but I just couldn’t help it. I had to send off these photos.
It wasn’t out of pity; it was out of admiration. It’s another long weekend in Colombia — un puente fin de semana — “a bridge weekend.”
Friday we drove to Periera, a city in “el Eje Cafetero,” the coffer growing area. It’s not a pretty city but it’s popular as a party town with a reputation. (What happens in Pereira …). With a population of about a million people, and many more tourists, it sits at edge of the middle range of the Andes Mountains. It shares the region with Armenia, Santa Rosa, Manizales, and Medellin. We are staying two blocks from the historical center, Plaza Bolivar. Friday evening, a gentle breeze rolling in from the mountains, a clear night, a night quietly bustling with locals, we walked the plaza and the adjoining streets.
Dinner around 10:30. A hotdog — perro caliente — purchased from a street vendor. Hotdog smothered in creamy slaw, melted cheese, slivered potato chips, and any number of sauces of our choosing. Big, messy, delicious. We sat on high plastic stools on the sidewalk. Eating. Watching the passebys. Lovely night. Pereira.
Saturday, we walked the same route, but oh my, it was so different. The side streets swollen with vendors and alive with throngs of Colombia tourists, a few street musicians, and here and there sad beggars and homeless people. All the stores were overflowing with shoppers. While popping in and out of stores, we managed to located two interesting restaurants and a night club that would have live music for the evening. Found a few shirts. Pereira is know for certain nefarious things, but it is also know for manufacturing clothes.
After lunch, along one of the less busy side streets, among the old men talking of politics, of the state of the world, of the state of their family, or of the past that has slipped way as that sat in the shade of buildings and of the occasional tree lining the walkway, I notice a young family: mother, father, young son. The father picked up a long needle between the toes of his left foot. With his right foot he steadied a tray of tiny colorful beads. Carefully, he guided the needle through the tiny holes and gathered up a short line of rainbow colors. Lifting his left foot high to let gravity do its work, he then moved his foot with needle still between his toes, and transferred the line of color to a tiny loom. With his right big toe, he held the loom steady and then used that same toe to move the bead in place. Tight. It was slow work. He was patient. He did all this meticulous work with his feet and toes because he had no arms.
I bought the piece in the photo. It wasn’t out of pity; it was out of admiration. The human spirit. I marvel at it. I cherish it. It deserves to be cherished. Its persistence gives me hope.When I remember the beauty and the power of the human spirit that can, at times, be undaunted by the rigors of life or in the face of manipulations by those who would attempt to take power away or those who demand to be in control, I embrace my spirit and find a renewed sense of determination. I can’t string beads with my toes, but I can be the magician that I am.
Pouring rain on a tin roof. It’s been sixty-two years, but I remember the sound and the sensation. We were visiting my grandmother in Schoolcraft, Michigan.
The house had been the family home for several generations. A historical site and a clandestine stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.
The basement with its steep stone steps was eery and frightening to me that summer. The house had a living room with plenty of mahogany wood rocking
chairs with cane wicker seats and back, and a parlor with a shining ebony grand piano and ferns on plant stands that cascaded to the hardwood floor.
We were only allowed in the parlor accompanied by our grandmother. The running water in the kitchen came from a hand pump and drained onto the Hydrangeas
just beyond the kitchen window. There was a wood burning stove in the kitchen. But a refrigerator not an Ice Box. [s] I loved that old house. I would
sit and rock in the living room and imagined the stories that were lost in the cracks of the walls and floors. In time house with its architectural
uniqueness became protected and it continued to stand intact long after my grandmother died.
My grandmother, a proud woman, had once applied to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) but was rejected. Her family had fought for the British. Even so, she was American through and through. She made lemon meringue pies for the 4th of July celebrations. No tears in her meringue.
That late June night, I was 6, my brother was 9. We shared a double bed that was so high off the floor that we had three steps to climb. A chamber pot under the bed. The room was small on the second floor. There was what appeared to be an old traveling truck on the far wall, maybe 18 inches beyond the foot of the bed. It appeared to be a truck but there was no bottom to it. With the lid open we could see the dining room below. With the lid open heat rose to the second floor. Otherwise no heat. Outside the window, the pantry below had a old tin roof.
I loved the high bed. I loved the chill of the night. That night, it began to rain and the drops played their slow percussion on the tin outside and below. The sound of a snare drum with its marching cadence. Then faster and faster and the rain poured down and the percussion roared and goosebumps rose on my arms and neck and I was in heaven.
This last Sunday night while we were in the country, I woke at 3:20 a.m. to that pounding percussion. The rain poured down on the tin roof of our country cottage. I laid there listening. Remembering. Getting lost in the memories and in the feelings and in the innocence and in the wonder . . . and I laid there being my child again. It all came back,that night. It pounded back pouring the memories into me. I welcomed my child, and we just laid there together for what seemed forever. I’ve missed him. I realize I need him now. He has something that I need now. So I welcomed him to my new world. I don’t want to leave him behind as I had once done. This time, he doesn’t want to be left behind either. It must have been 4:00 maybe later when I — when we — slipped off to sleep again. I woke at 7:00. Smiling.
Monday morning, July 20. Colombian Independence Day. Clear. Bright. Eye squinting bright. Balmy but fresh. Refreshing. Country blue sky. No clouds. The greens sizzled. Independence. Freedom is a grand thing. Freedom from is liberating and exciting. Freedom to is finally thrilling.
We had a memorable four days in the country.
It was hard to leave Bali. Many people wrote those words. Everyone felt it. It was hard. Lazaris spoke of Bali as a land “of the between of worlds.” It’s a little island that sits in the middle, in the between, of the Archipelago of Indonesia. Bali is a little world unto itself that sits between our world that is and a new world that is now destined to be. Though not literally true, metaphorically and emotionally — spiritually — it’s true. I felt it. Bali has the beauty akin to Hawaii and to many tropical islands and locations, but yet it is very different from any other place. It certainly is very different from Jakarta or Java or any of the other Indonesian Islands.
There is an animism to the land. Up at 6:15 each morning, I would wander out the terrace just to sit and welcome the day. The sun had just risen or was about to, and the trees seemed to greet me. I felt them watching me, and I watched them. I spoke to them each morning. They listened. The trees along with the incredible morning blue sky or sometimes grey sky and I made some important life decisions together. That happens in Bali.
The beauty of the land was undeniable, and like Colombia, there was ugliness as well. Lots of litter. Lots of plastic. But the ugliness was only a brief distraction, a strangely grounding or anchoring influence that surrendered each time to the imposing presence and utter grace of the beauty. The power of beauty: Beauty creates beauty; beauty is eternal. I get that now in ways that I never did before. Beauty makes us beautiful. Yes it does. Lazaris says that beauty is a demanding lover, but she offers us all that she demands of us. Yes, I get that now as well.
Steps. 200 to 250 (I didn’t count) down and down and down to a water temple — a purification temple. 300 steps at the Mother Temple and another 70+ to the Dark Temple (named that because it was built of black lava stone) that stands behind the Mother Temple. The Thousand Steps to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island (Hong Kong) — actually 247 steps (I did count [s]). Each temple: steps. Each family compound: steps. Each doorway: Steps. According to the legends, Demons and Evil Spirits cannot climb steps. I believe that. Now. At the purification temple, the 200+ steps down was easy. In the small changing room I slipped out of my clothes and into my sarong. Into the water and under the cascading waterfall, amazing. I could have stayed there all day. Laying flat against the rock with tons of water washing over my, washing away the impure and my demons, I felt so alive, so new, so ready. Dressed again and walking up those steps, it occurred to me: My demons would have looked at those steps and said, “Hell no. I’m not walking up all those steps. I’m no fool!” My demons didn’t walk up with me.
So many steps. I climbed up them. Down them. And in more meaningful ways, I took some really important, really powerful, steps in Bali. Little steps producing little changing steps. And out of it all: Big changes. So many of us walked those steps. I suspect we all took steps — more than we realize — and that we all are becoming new in our individual, unique, and personal ways. Steps of change to leave “who we are not” behind. That’s Bali.
My dragonfly and praying mantis. During our time in Bali, Lazaris asked us to collect special moments that we want to infuse with the mystery of remembering — moments that hold hints and perhaps clues to who we are becoming. We were at a beautiful pristine temple lost in the countryside. Breathtaking. It was a Vishnu Temple: water, mutable, flexible, healing, balancing, protecting, maintaining. I was standing at the edge of one of the many pools of sacred or holy water, and I looked down. There, between my feet, a beet-red dragonfly. She sat there; she didn’t move. Dragonflies are a special symbol to me. A precious moment. Later that day at the temple with the Banyan Tree and the rock that protects the Earth (can’t remember the names, it’s a Brahman Temple), as Enrique and I were walking close to the Banyan Tree looking for portals, a praying mantis dropped from the tree on to Enrique’s shoulder and then hopped to the ground at our feet. Huge. Beautiful. He sat there without moving. Enrique lowered to the ground and captured the light of that being in a photograph. The Praying Mantis is a powerful symbol connected to my Lemurian Dreamer. Another exquisite moment.
Together the two moments entwined to become one defining moment. That’s Bali.
The people. Tender. Vulnerable. Refreshingly innocent yet wise at an earlier age. So many of us wrote about the people. All true. In my experience, I saw in them more of what I want to see in me, more of what I want to experience and want to know in myself. Remembering? Yes, remembering, but it’s not about remembering the past, it’s about remembering the way life can be — the future.
Lazaris asked, “What do you want to leave in Bali?” He also asked, “What do you want to take with you from Bali?” Bali can absorb what we leave behind (our “litter,” our “plastic”), and it is exalted and gracious enough to give us what we want to take. Enrique and I left Bali on Saturday, May 30. I left some things behind. It felt good to shed them. I haven’t fully decided what I want to take with me. I am still deciding. Perhaps I am taking Bali with me. It will be alive in me as I remember — as I piece together the precious and unforgettable moments to create a marvelous mosaic. There is something timeless about it all. Eternal.
Hong Kong. It was almost 11:00 pm when we arrived at the hotel overlooking Victoria Harbor. Shangri-La Kowloon. Now we have one more night before we leave for LAX and then to Santa Barbara. We had arranged several tours: a City Tour Monday morning, a New Territory Tour Wednesday morning and a Night Markets Tour in the evening. Thursday we went to Lantau Island and up the “1000 Steps” to the Big Buddha. (247 steps. It was sunny, hot, humid, and beautiful, 247 steps was enough.)
Tuesday was a special day to explore Hong Kong with dear friends: to see Hong Kong through their eyes as they have lived here for several decades. The Hong Kong Park/Gardens, the Tea House, the Tram, dinner at the Helena May Club, and mostly the conversation with friends, it was a uniquely special day. Memorable moments everywhere.
I find Hong Kong to be a beautiful city. The architecture is renowned, but it’s the intangible beauty that I find most intriguing. I couldn’t live here. Too many people; too little space. As I’ve often said of New York City and also of Bogotá, I love the energy but only for a short time. So it is with Hong Kong. There is a vitality here that feels very right.
Beyond the obvious of Hong Kong, it feels to me like we are making a transition from the between world of Bali and from the other worldly adventure of our time there as we slip back into our personal realities. It feels like a transition that offers us the opportunity to bring with us all that we want to, or all that we can, bring back from Bali in an elegant fashion. Whether that’s true or not, I am going to create the reality that it is.
I have changed. My life has changed. Now I am about a new adventure of discovering what that all means.
Jach's Travels (in PANAMA)
His fingers moved with precision across the keypad. Four digits and the thick battered metal door popped. Opening only a few inches, he pushed the door wide. A small room, an anti-room actually. Scared concrete floor, walls, and ceiling. Decades old dust covered the beams. But a shiny elevator and a well dressed young man with a broad smile welcomed us.
“Welcome to Caliope.” The shiny door opened and we stepped in as he pushed the button. The 3 lit up. Moments later the rear door opened, and we stepped out into a chrome and glass world of a high tech restaurant. Live music. Elegantly dressed people, young and old. Bursts of laughter. “Let it Be” being sung in the distance. The name is pronounced (Collie-o-pee) — in English: Calliope, often called the first daughter of Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muse and the goddess of memory. Calliope as it said upon the menu: “The most powerful and distinguished of the nine muses from greek mythology who presides over eloquence and epic poetry” . . . the Muse with the heroic voice, the one voice. Beautiful.
What a delightful welcome to Panama City. Enrique and I, along with two friends, took advantage of a Colombian long weekend for a quick trip to Panama. We arrived Thursday evening, checked into our hotel in the old town — Casco Viejo — and went walking. Many buildings stand like ghosts of the past. Broken. Run down. Crumpled litter of the present discarded among the rotten wood and shattered bricks. All that remain are the facades covering deteriorating stone walls and hiding an overgrowth of weeds reaching through the litter for a bit of sun. Recently a project of renovation is underway and many of these ghosts are being restored and/or remodeled, and the old town is reemerging building by building. Slow. Arduous. Happening.
Friday we hired a guide, Clemente, and for seven hours we explored the city, learned of its past, and of its future. We visited the Canal and learned of its past and of its future expansion as well. Tired, we ended Friday early.
Saturday: We walked. Street by street we wandered about Casco Viejo stepping in and out of local shops and restaurants. Around 3:00, the heat and humidity having taken its toll on us, we stopped for Mojitos at an open air cafe by the sea. Sea breezes. Mojitos. Conversations in Spanish. Yes. I understood the story that Hemingway, while living in Key West, wrote only 350 words a day and then went to sit and talk at the cafe. Oh, and to drink, of course.
At 6:00 we wandered back to the hotel to rest and to get ready to explore a Panama night. Dinner from 9:00 to midnight, two clubs until 3:00, and back to the hotel. We had to ring and be met by the night clerk to gain entry. Even so, there was still music drifting across the plaza from a club in the far corner. Casco Viejo, and I image much of the city, is alive all night long.
Sunday: Lazy day and a return trip to Colombia.
Just a quick trip, and I was not overall impressed with Panama City. The old town holds some fascination, but it’s very small. The modern city is a phenomenon in growth and expansion, and the skyline is impressive. But in too many ways, for me, it’s just another big city. Perhaps two days are not enough time to get a feel for a city or at least not enough to get a feel for this city. However, this trip was an important one for me. We are no longer visiting Colombia as we have done over the past several years. Now we are living in Colombia, and we are taking short vacation trips like “normal people” do.
I am finding other evidences of normalcy: I am handling the wash and this last week, I set up the iron board and spent my early morning ironing shirts — 22 of them. (Doing the laundry and ironing are my therapy. I love doing each.) I grabbed the keys and ran some errands: pet store, grocery, bank. It all felt wonderful because it was normal. For me, it’s important to have a foundation of normal from which to leap into the mystery of being. I continue to find my ground. Now I am beginning to leap.
Jach's Travels (in IRELAND) Sept 20, 2015
“That strange object you see there in the sky is the sun. Get a picture now. You may not see it again.”
I left Colombia Monday afternoon (September 7) and with the overnight flight and a very long layover in Madrid, I arrived in Dublin Tuesday evening. Enrique and his mother flew in from Paris the next day as did my sister. My brother and his wife arrived early Thursday morning.
Thursday: By 10:00 a.m. we were on the top deck of the green line hop on hop off bus when the sun peeked through the otherwise gray sky. It was our first venture of our ten day tour of Southern Ireland. Dublin, Kilkenny, Waterford, Killarney, Ennis, and a whole lot of pubs in between: Foley's, the Hairy Lemon, the Winding Stair (57 steps in all), Brody's, Murphy's, Monk's Pub …. You get the idea.
Friday: It was our free day in Dublin, time to explore on our own. By 9:15 we were heading in our separate ways with plans to meet for lunch to share our mornings. Enrique and I headed to the National Library of Ireland to see a permanent exhibit of W. B. Yeats. It was amazing. Yeats, not only a brilliant poet, was a magician, a mapmaker, and a visionary. For example he had a powerful influence on the movement for Irish independence and upon the formulation of the newly independent country thereafter. He studied the magics of that time and lived a magician’s spirituality. Amazing. We meandered our way through the exhibit of photographs, documents, video recordings, and all the while there were recorded readings of his most renowned poems. “Easter 1916” (his struggle with the revolution that began on that day) was particularly stirring and chilling. Our morning tempered the rest of the day. Lunch at the Hairy Lemon, walking the city in the afternoon, dinner at the Winding Stair. Nightcap back at our hotel. A full day. A rich and mellow day.
Saturday to Thursday: Six days and nights and six of us in a 12-seater van. Dan was our driver/guide. We inched our way through the countryside avoiding the highways whenever we could. The Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, a magnificent garden, the Kerry Ring, the Dingle Ring, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren. Rolling hills, stone bordered pastures, lifting mountains, and countless shades of green that defied description. There may be 50 shades of gray, but there are even more shades of green. Breathtaking landscapes around each of the countless bends in the roads, roads that are more like trails. And the sun!! With a bit of weather magic we only had one rain-day and that was our stay in the van day.. Otherwise each gray morning turned bright and sunny, and the other mornings were vibrant with clear blue delight. Dan was amazed.
“It was a shocking summer,” he had said, “it rained every day. Shocking summer.” The entire week before it had rained and the forecast for our trip had also been rain. Did I say Ireland was green? With the rain, of course it is.
The beauty: So often there were no words. We would round a bend and the beauty was breathtaking. Literally. All I could do was take a deep breath so that the beauty didn't take it away. Hour after hour, I loved it. So often we would be talking about some silly detail and then we’d all fall silent as the beauty captured us and held us in its embrace. The beauty is unique. I can’t find the words other than to call it Irish Beauty. Unique, yes, but bountiful.
I think my favorite place was the Cliffs of Moher. We left Killarney at 9:00 as the night drizzle subsided and as the fog was lowering. Dan, the driver, hurried us into the van. No time to waste. We had to get to the cliffs before the fog blanketed everything. As he pulled into the parking lot he told us not to waste time in the Visiter's Center. We were to go immediately to the top and get our pictures. Then once the fog swallowed everything up we could check out the Center. We followed Dan's instructions.
The cliffs, capped in rich pasture green still glistening from morning dew, lift from the Atlantic. 700 feet of naked rock. Majestic. Fierce. Standing for thousands of years against the sea that crashes against them mercilessly. The cliffs run for more than 5 miles. Rock and sea. Raw. Powerful. Yet there is a harmony. Their clash and crash is an eternal dance, and on that morning as the sun came out and the gray sky turned dazzling blue, we got to witness that dance. We got to stand still in the harmony. Silent. Us and the wind howling. Silent. Howling. Awesome.
Why do people always want to walk or climb to the top? We had done as Dan instructed. We followed the incline and we climbed the steps going higher and higher turning to view the cliffs at different heights. At the peak there was a stone tower. 13th Century. Our goal: reach the top and then climb that tower. We and all the other tourist seemed to be on a mission. Yes, see the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “more”), and then climb that tower. Why?
Accomplishment? Completion? Not missing anything? Opportunity? I don't know. I got to the top but I didn't climb the spiral steps, but I had had the urge. Maybe putting the question stopped me. But I think it was the cliffs instead. I stood at the base of the tower and just look at the cliffs. That was enough. It was a special moment. A memorable one that I have planted in Cosmic Memory. In time I will retrieve it and unfold the gift that that moment holds for me.
Ireland was beautiful and magical. Being with my family was also beautiful, magical, and just lots of old fashioned fun. The Cliffs of Moher held the seed of Ireland for me. The other thing that stood out was the people. The sense of humor, the delight with life, the level of laughter, and the unselfish kindness shone through in so many ways. We asked a shop keeper for directions to a restaurant and he came out from behind the counter and out into the street with us and gave us detailed instructions. The sassy waitress in the pub was full of joy as she told us about her husband and kids and about how she had come to Ireland from Poland and has never looked back. Her Polish-Irish accent full of laughter and light.
The luck of the Irish. When we learned of their history and their struggle, I wondered where the “luck” was. But once I met the people, I found it. The luck is in their hearts and it shimmers in their souls.
We are home now in Colombia. Enrique’s mother went back to France before heading to Santa Barbara. My sister’s in Kansas, and brother and his wife are in Michigan. We each returned to our worlds, but Ireland will live on in our memories. For me, Ireland will be remembered in magical, beautiful and bountiful ways.
It begins with corrugated cardboard and blue tarp. A bit tattered. Maybe torn. The cardboard may be soggy or blood stained found behind a butcher shop. A lean-to shelter is built on a slope of a vacant or abandoned hillside just beyond the limits of the city.
Scraps of wood discarded at construction sites or buried in the debris of a collapsed building are added to support the deteriorating cardboard. Tarp is replaced with more tarp. Tin is added to create a better roof. A few bricks. More wood. In time walls take shape with a door opening and spaces called windows. No glass. More bricks, and the walls become more clearly defined and stronger than the cardboard and wood had been. Tarp is replaced with fabric remnants that become door and window coverings.
The walls grow taller. The tin is lifted and replaced with wood planks and then the tin is positioned higher to become the roof of a new forming second floor. Plastic squares remnants, blue, green, amber, fill the previously bare windows openings. Stairs of concrete blocks or of rusty spiral staircases found at a bankrupt building sites offer access to the upper levels. Ill fitting wood doors or slabs of warping plywood, cover the door openings. Painting these entry ways garish bold primary colors, the structures because unique. Individual.
A house. No plumbing. No running water. No electricity. No, not a house. A home.
Beside it, another home is morphed out of the cardboards and blue tarps. Two stories become three or maybe four. One home and another appears. Like a melanoma, the earth’s surface is covered by this uncontrolled growth. Expanding in every direction. No order. Chaos. Survival. The homeless build their homes.
Someone wires into the city utility pole and there is electricity. Free. Light jumps from one structure to the next and to another. The hillside shines dimly in the night. In time, bright.
No building codes, the structures pile on top of each other as they creep up the hillside. Steep narrow almost impassable walkways become the “streets.” A new city of squatters is born.
Not sure, but if the people can continue to squat for five years, the property becomes their own. The stench of raw sewerage and rotting food and stale air are almost unbearable. Yet, amid the chaos and the growing dangerous squalor, the human spirit survives. Eventually more and sometimes better building supplies are added. Windows get glass. Doors fit and get locks. Porches form.
And people sweep. They sweep those new porches. They sweep the dirt floors. Their homes may seem a shambles but they are clean. Always clean. The slums become crude barrios, rough plumbing and more sophisticated electricity become part of the neighborhood. Narrow paths are widened becoming “open roads” (rut riddled dirt roads) and in time paved streets (sort of). The squatters now own their land. A municipality acknowledges its existence and its presence. A neighborhood … small shops and store fronts emerge. A few park benches create a community gathering place. A community forms and thrives. The human spirit thrives and shines brighter even in the raw stretches for survival.
I love Colombia. In the air of lawlessness, it survives. It thrives.
Christmas season officially begins December 7 with the Festival of Lights (Festival de Las Velitas) on the Eve of the Celebration of the Immaculate Conception, but the season of the Novenas begins December 16. I am not altogether sure of what a Novena is. What I experience is that Colombian families and friends get together in the early evening to celebrate Christmas with the Telling of the Tale — the telling the Christian Story of the birth of Jesus. It is told in spoken verse and in song. Everyone knows all the chants and knows which ones to speak and which ones to sing. The storytelling ritual lasts perhaps 15 or 20 minutes.
Before the ritual a party begins with the chatter becoming more fluid and rapid, and louder. After the Novena, the party continues with appetizers, beer, wine, soft drinks, and conversational chaos. That is to say, the party continues to be oh so very Colombian. Between December 16 and Christmas, there are countless Novenas. December is really Christmas month in Colombia. While it’s a shopping month in the States, it’s a celebratory month here.
This morning I attended my first Novena of this year. It was different. It touched my heart and pleased my soul in unexpected ways. My soul was more than happy; it was enchanted. “Me encanta la Novena.”
We grabbed a taxi at 7:45 a.m. and raced across the city to the south. We met up with three of Enrique’s cousins, and a few of his cousins’ grown kids, at the headquarters of The Jera Foundation, a charitable family foundation funded primarily by the family of those cousins. The name, Jera, was chosen as it is the name of a Rune. Jera is the Rune of harvest and of reward for right actions. It’s the Rune of peace on the land and in the heart.
We boarded a small bus and we were off to the country. We moved easily along “La Quinta” (Fifth Street) a major traffic artery, heading further south. Right turn along a side street, traffic was lighter but foot traffic increased. We moved haltingly through the congestion. The streets narrowed and lifted switchbacking up the mountainside. Narrower in poorer and poorer neighborhoods, and then the paved road became an open road (gravel, dirt, ruts, potholes). We crawled along bouncing our way higher and farther from our world.
We were going to a Novena at a school that is sponsored and funded by the Jera Foundation. It’s a rural school, or better said, a rural pre-school. It is for children 3 to 5. These children are taught the normal things that kids are taught in pre-schools through the world, and they are also taught the rudimentary educational and social skills. The kids had to learn numbers, colors, shapes, for example. They were also taught some human skills: how to go to the bathroom on their own, how to wash their hands and why to do that, how to bathe, how to properly dress themselves. They are taught how to be self-sufficient.
The children’s lack of knowing is not due to parental lack of caring. It’s due to the excessive and extensive property of hundreds of displaced peasants. The ravages of war are not just dead bodies though there have been plenty of those in the past. The ravages of war include forcing people, who lived and thrived on the land, even in states of poverty, they thrived on the land, to move into towns and cities where the land — the dirt — has been replaced by concrete, and the harvesting is of garbage looking for recyclables rather than of fruits and vegetables. It’s due to mothers who have to try to find some sort of work in order to try to earn the kind of money we tend to leave on our dressers and to forget about. It’s due a woeful lack of education among the forgotten impoverished ones. The Jera Foundation is working to change that in this rural poverty ravaged community. They work with 3 to 5 year old children and their parents. These kids with their parents are the “new harvest” of Colombia’s future. They are the “new harvest” of kids reaching to climb out of poverty into Colombia’s newly forming middle class.
At age 5 the kids go to the Primary School. For the first year there, they are “in transition.” They spend the school year learning to integrate into society — the normal world. The Jera Foundation continues to monitor those kids for that year of transition. If the kids succeed, they enter First Grade.
The beauty of this program is that the Jera Foundation provides the lion’s share of the funding, but the community — those mothers and fathers — also provide funds. For example, the school is near the bottom of an endless and incredibly steep hill. The community wanted to created paved tracks to make passage easier. They asked the Jera Foundation to help. Jera provided most the money but block by block the people raised money — yard sales, bake sales, baby sitting — to pay a small portion of the cost of “their block.” The community also provided the labor.This year, the school has a security guard. Next year it won’t. The community knows that if anything is stolen, they will be stealing from themselves. The community will keep the school safe.
The 3 to 5 year old children, many of them riding the hips of their young mothers or resting their heads on the shoulders of their equally young fathers, came to watch the Novena. The Angels came in singing and dancing, a pregnant Mary with her Joseph on to the stage. The drums beat, hands clapped, the words were read, the songs were sung. The story was told as it had been told for centuries. Christmas has begun.
Another cousin arrived with four team members of the Cali Football (soccer) Team — celebrities — and with gifts for some among the crowd (a soccer ball, team hats. etc.). Then the families all made their way to their children’s respective classrooms to receive a Christmas gift along with a small box lunch and a juice drink. And the band — a youth orchestra of teenaged kids from impoverished families — played on … oboes, bassoons, violins, and all the traditional instruments of a “real orchestra.” This group is funded by different local family’s foundation.
I received such a beautiful gift this morning. To be there in that moment, to experience that moment, was amazing to me. What an incredible way to begin my Christmas season. With all the terror in the world and with all the legitimate and opportunistic stirrings of fear and warnings about our safety, to remember the beauty of gracious generosity and of open hearted innocence wrapped in the utter amazement at the wonder of life itself was an incredible gift.
Watching those little bitty kids with their huge eyes as they watched the Novena and especially as they received their gift comes rushing back as I type this now. That moment lives on. It fills my heart and all but overwhelms my soul all over again. Will I remember this morning? It would be hard to forget it.
As people dispersed, we trudged up the hill. Slow. Deliberate steps. Slower. At the top we waited for our bus to take us back to our world. A memorable morning, a memorable Christmas season … a beautiful gift worth remembering as this Year of Remembering reaches for its end.
A fun and touching ADDENDUM: The community mothers realized that they needed more help. It was so valuable to reach kids at pre-school levels, but it was also critically important to reach and to help even younger kids and to help their mothers. The Jera Foundation also recognized this need. They are expanding the school’s reach. They are beginning a program for the “pre pre-schoolers” — a program for even younger children from infancy until they are 3 years old. This program will also included helping the mothers.
What especially touches our hearts about this new program is that the mother’s recognized the need and the mothers reached out to ask for help. Not for a handout but for help in creating opportunities for their children that they never had. Many of them are illiterate having had no education at all. No one helped them learn their numbers or their colors. No one taught them shapes. It’s hard for me to even image that, but it’s the life they lived and are living. They had no opportunities, no chances, no education. But they know enough and they love enough to want more for their babies.
Another ADDENDUM: I wrote a short piece called, “Squatters” about the development of squatters’ land. This whole community where the school is … it all began with squatters and as swatters’ land. It was built with the mortar of the human spirit to survive and to thrive. It is continues to be built with the human spirit and with soul’s love. I am blown away and humbled.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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