Monday, May 18, 2009

Ethiopia: Birthplace of coffee and Rastafari

In "There Is No Me Without You," writer Melissa Fay Greene weaves Ethiopian history and culture throughout Haregewoin Teferra's personal story, the heart of the AIDS crisis, and Teferra's work to save her country's children.  Though I knew Ethiopia was the birthplace of coffee, I did not realize the Rastafari movement was based on the belief that an Ethiopian emperor was an incarnation of God.  This calls for a complete overhaul of my wardrobe for the trip.

"Born Tafari Makonnen in 1892, he had advanced through connections, marriage, and statecraft to being named ras (duke) of Harrar in 1913.  In 1930 he was crowned the 111th emperor in the succession of King Solomon and took the royal name Haile Selassie I (Might of the Trinity).  Selassie immediately authorized the writing of Ethiopia's first constitution, which established the holiness of his person and his birthright to the legendary throne of Menelik the First, the almost mythic son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel.  ... Soon after his coronation, a sect of Jamaicans began to worship him as divine; they took his earlier title Ras Tafari, for the name Rastafarianism." ~ Melissa Fay Greene

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Walking in L.A. - Sunday farmer's market finds, coffee, Soolip

I love my walkable west hollywood hood.  It's the perfect place for me to ease into life without a car.
Sundays are my favorite, when the parrot in the apartment below squawks that the sun is up and therefore I should be as well.  2 hours, 2 earplugs and a sleeping mask later, I roll out of bed and walk a few blocks to the little farmer's market on Melrose Place, picking up some fresh fruit and flowers (the only things I can afford on that stretch of street).  I walk up to Santa Monica for a Trader Joes hit (gluten-free granola! It's the little things that make celiacs happy).

My friend Katie drives up from Laguna Beach and we stroll a couple blocks to Kings Road for coffee, fruit, yogurt and a veggie burrito.  To walk it off we head west past the monstrosity of the Beverly Center and veer off toward the community garden on San Vicente. If I had time and a green thumb I'd love to think I'm the type of person they're catering to.

After ogling the garden and the gorgeous homes surrounding it, we turn on to Melrose, and stop in at Soolip, a peaceful place filled with unique gift books, journals, cards, ribbons and
 handmade wrapping papers so gorgeous I'd give it as a gift itself.  As Ann Marie wraps the gifts Katie chose for the yogis in her life, they discuss the various paths in Yoga (I never knew that Hatha encompasses all yoga with movement) while I find the one sarcastic gift - a box of thank you notes for the unconscious neighbor, hair stylist or cab driver in your life.  I join the mailing list to learn about summer classes at Soolip -- maybe this will be the year that craft gene kicks in.  

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who's your extended family?

After posting "it takes a village," I wondered if any readers have examples of living the extended family lifestyle - whether your collective is kin (the Tennessee in me comes out every now and then) or friends who have become family to you.  I'd love to hear stories and examples of how we can embrace community in our cities and towns.  

A couple of my adopted family.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It takes a village: One week to Africa

As I prepare physically to board the plane on Wednesday, packing sunscreen, contacts and camera, I am reading as much as I can to prepare mentally and spiritually for my first experience in Africa.  As I wrote last week, our focus is to tell the story of how Life in Abundance (L.I.A) provides family for street kids: structure, tutoring, caring and support for those who are alone.  As I'm reading the beautiful,  powerful "They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The true story of three Lost Boys from Sudan," I am reminded of collective cultures and different ways family look around the world.
Recalling his childhood village, Benjamin writes "In Dinka tradition, it is important for children to be together.  When it is time to eat, the children would go in a group from house to house eating together.  ... The advantage of this tradition is that you got to know all the other boys in a wide area.  It encouraged friendliness, building unity between the children's parents.  Parents always knew that if a boy wasn't home, someone would bring him home.  These were among the good things that I think of when I think of my home.  Few of the boys who were with me at that time are still surviving."

I've been reading "The Feminine Mystique" as well (I'm a multi-tasker book reader, never one at a time) and thinking on the dangers of the suburban, separated-from-the-world lifestyle that has been pitched to Americans as the greatest good for decades. In an interview with New York Magazine, Gloria Steinem remembers when "My dearest friend from India, she kept telling me to have a child there because there are all these people to help take care of the child. And I realized so much of the oppression comes from the nuclear family as opposed to the extended household."

I'm thankful for travel, to experience collective societies, my time in Kosovo, and looking forward to a brief glimpse of what life is like in Ethiopia.  What life is like for kids who lost their families to AIDS or poverty-induced illnesses, and how the collective society cares for each other.  Where L.I.A. comes in to meet the unmet needs, and becomes that extended family.  

We fly out of L.A. early Wednesday morning.  One week!

Monday, May 11, 2009

More peacocks - running free in L.A.

A couple weeks ago I had a weekend of seeing symbolism and peacocks.  As I researched the symbolism, I read that Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite authors, raised and wrote about peacocks.  Today a friend posted this L.A. Times story about peafowl running free in the L.A. neighborhood  of Victor Heights:

"But life for the birds is different in Victor Heights. 

Residents in this working-class section of L.A. west of Chinatown treat the peafowl like just another neighbor, albeit a noisy, disruptive and temperamental one. The few thousand humans who live here have grown to accept the birds' 4 a.m. squawking, their trampling of plants and flowers and their oversized eggs occasionally left on porches to hatch. 

"You come to get used to them," said Clay Bush, who moved to Victor Heights in 2000. 

At times, neighbors are acutely aware that the birds live in their midst. To avoid hitting them, drivers make sure to maneuver slowly on the area's steep hills. Children collect their feathers. And almost everyone seems to love watching their bizarre mating dance -- often performed in the middle of the street -- in which a male, feathers fully extended, sashays sideways toward his beloved."  ~ By Cara Mia DiMassa


I found a tattoo site that gives a little more symbolism:  "Sufi legend describes the creation of all living creatures from droplets of sweat from the body of the Peacock. In China, the Peacock represented divinity, rank, power and beauty. It was also reckoned that a woman could get pregnant if a Peacock glanced at her!"  (I'll avoid eye contact.) also gave me a couple of ideas for my tattoo... I like the more spare, black and white ones.  What do you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

My mom (gini) and sister (christina) at the Oregon Coast.

Mom (gini mai) and her snowman.

My first snow...bear.   I preferred animals over humans as a child.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Cheers to Africa and wedding shoes

Success!  Today's venture to the Santa Monica R.E.I. sale: a backpack, comfy slidy wash&wear pants that unzip to make shorts, and are surprisingly flattering (at least to the mountain man set).  And oh, the people that you meet -- exchanged itineraries with a couple traveling to Thailand over the selection of deet bug repellents.  

Back in town, the bride bought me my wedding shoes and then we were off to a lovely late lunch at LaLa's on Melrose (only celebrity sighting: Verne Troyer.   Yep.)  And a found bridesmaid dress at Wasteland!  Sadly, though it made me feel like a tulip circa 1982, it didn't quite go with the shoes.  

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Countdown to Africa: Two weeks

Just two weeks and one quick R.E.I. trip for bug spray away from boarding the plane that will take us from Los Angeles to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (via Detroit, Amsterdam and Khartoum Civil, Sudan). I'm thankful for the excitement and mindfulness surrounding this trip, from family, friends and strangers in the Trader Joes' checkout line. It's humbling to see pieces of a dream come together, the opportunity to see a part of life in Africa, to be a part of a documentary team, to share the stories of people and a place through words, music, and picture that come together in the magic of a film.

As we've discussed the short (short!) time we'll be on the ground, we've begun to imagine how the stories may play out. Of course, with documentary filmmaking, part of the fun is not knowing exactly what you're going to capture, what the final story will be. It's a true test of being open to the moment and giving up pre-conceived notions. In light of that, here's a skeletal outline of a story vision, the questions we'd like the film to ask.

Dereje, one of the LIA staff who works with the street kids leaves his own family every week to travel by bus over 130km to the capital, Addis Ababa, to serve these kids with no family. We hope to explore how "family" has different meanings, nuances and frames. What is life like on the streets in the slums for kids? What community do they find, both in the Life in Abundance (LIA) program and outside it, in the city? What do the kids see and hope for for their future? What are the colors in their daily life, what makes up the bright hues and the shades of grey? What is family when you've lost yours?

Keep checking here for updates and photos / stories after we land. If you'd like to help with the cost of making the film and invest in the work being done there through the awareness raised by the film, please click here to donate online. It's tax deductible, and you get your name in the "thank you" credits at the end of the film! I'm still a bit short of the funds for the plane ticket, with any extra money raised going towards a bit of salary to help with rent / food, so if you'd like your donation to go towards my ticket, scroll down to the "You Choose" option and type in: Rebecca Snavely Ethiopia documentary.

Two weeks!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Civil Rights, The Rainbow Tribe: What every woman should know about Coretta Scott King (and Josephine Baker)

Excerpted from Anna Belle's essay:

"Not many people are aware that Coretta Scott King was also a visionary when it came to Civil Rights, and unsuccessfully fought to expand the movement to include women’s and gay/lesbian rights. A little known fact is that she also tried to tap Josephine Baker to head this expanded movement. Perhaps, considering her long list of accomplishments, we should petition Congress to make the third Monday in January Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King Day.

"Coretta Scott King was already heavily involved in the budding Civil Rights movement when she met Dr. King. They are both on record as saying they fell for each other precisely because their values were so in sync with one another. She had already long been a member of the NAACP, and was subjected to an eye-opening experience with racism at Antioch College, where she pursued her B.A. in music education.


"Perhaps it was her love of music and performance that caused her to approach Josephine Baker about heading up the expanded Civil Rights movement she envisioned, and which Dr. King himself had spoken some about before his death. In addition to class issues, which Dr. King spoke about, Coretta Scott King saw that women’s rights and gay/lesbian rights were also civil rights. She wanted the Civil Rights movement to embrace those issues as well, but encountered resistance she correctly feared she could not overcome. The King family had long been friends with Baker and her unusual family, and Coretta Scott King was aware of Baker’s rather progressive views.

"Throughout the time that the Kings were fighting for civil rights, Josephine Baker had led her own public campaign to end racial hostility and racist treatment. In addition to her campaign against the Stork Club in New York, and her refusal to ever perform before segregated audiences, she was committed to living a life that modeled racial harmony. In that effort, Baker adopted 12 children of various ethnic backgrounds, she said as a way to show that people of different backgrounds could live together as brothers and sisters. She called her family “The Rainbow Tribe.” She was so well-known for her civil rights work in America at the time, that in 1963 she was the only woman to speak at the March on Washington, which she did wearing her French Resistance uniform and medal, with Martin Luther King, Jr. at her side."

Read the full essay here.