October 26, 2008

Latest blog entry

Summer, 2007 was not so long ago, but to me it seems like light years. I was in Egypt, then Mombasa, Kenya, finishing the last touches for the first edition of my book "40 Days and 1001 Nights". After two years, it was so much a part of me that I didn't know what I would do with myself once it was over.
The final paper went to the publisher, authorizing my credit card to pay for the printing from a remote island called Lamu in Kenya, where streets are barely wide enough for two people, and the only form of transport other than one's own two feet is cute little donkeys, who usually ply the streets on their own when not hauling loads on their backs. There were two barely functioning computers in the town's fanciest hotel, and they did have a fax machine, so I could fax my credit card info to the printing company in the US.
     Meanwhile, a sudden onslaught of offers for me to dance and teach came in from all over the world. Just in time to pay for the final publishing expenses. I guess I was doing something right!
     This year has been up in the air....literally. 2009 kicked off with a gig in the tiny Canadian island of Lasquity, that is powered by electric generators and reached by a rocky passenger ferry, then Panama, including a side trip to spend time with the Kuna Yala native people, who have been given their land back to live as their traditions dictate, in the islands formerly known as "San Blas" off the coast of Panama.
   My island hopping adventures were followed byan event filled visit to Miami, South Carolina, then Switzerland, where I broke my leg and was laid up for a couple of months.    
    By mid May, I was on the workshop circuit again, leg brace and all, in Santiago, Chile, followed by Buenos Aires, South Africa, Zanzibar, Kenya, Spain, Switzerland, Egypt, Monterrey, Mexico, Athens, Georgia, Seattle, Victoria, BC, Trieste, Italy, Poland, Colombia, and now Indonesia. Sometimes, including time changes I have been en route for three or four days at a time. Okay it is tiring, and at times I found myself on the verge of burnout, but it is amazing. A gift I could never have expected a few short years ago. Soon, I will be off to Hong Kong and a dance tour of China, then Thailand, Malaysia, and points beyond.
      Back to the present moment. I arrived in Indonesia, after four flights from Seattle, and three flights just before that from Colombia. Christine Yaven, who is in my book with her two white dogs now has a studio called "Bellydance Jakarta", and she organized a Teachers Training Spa Retreat, in the rainforest of Java. The classes I taught started at 8am, which was a challenge for all of us bellydancing night owls. It left time for us to enjoy our twice daily spa treatments; Manicures, massages, facials, body wraps, etc. and get ready for the evening events; Indonesian dance lesson, video party and dance party.
    Dancers and teachers came from the hinterlands of China, Malaysia, Singapore, Khazakstan, and Norway, as well as Indonesia. What a treat! The only drawback was the 5:30 am waterfall hike in which I was attacked by three leeches. I am still itching from those slimy creatures.
   The people of Indonesia are so hospitable that when I decided to go to the arts city of Yogyakarta, there were three people waiting to greet me at the train station, a friend of Christines friend, her boyfriend, and brother and they have been showing me to the palaces and introducing me to artists of all genres since I arrived.
       Next week, I head to Hong Kong, the place that inspired me to start traveling in the first place, so many years ago (2001) and made me fall in love with Asia. We will be holding the 15th annual Orientalia dance  festival, which was in Miami for many years, and in Buenos Aires one year as well. This time it is a benefit for the Indonesian migrant laborers, who are often ruthlessly exploited when sent to work outside their country. In addition to the wonderful dancers of Hong Kong, dancers are flying in from Indonesia (Christine of Bellydance Jakarta), Estelle from Shanghai, and more. Thanks to the famed Miami Bellydance photographer, Denise Marino, who encouraged dancers from Miami to join the festival, Roshanna, Alexandra and Samay will also be performing and teaching. I can't wait!
     Okay, you may be wondering what ever happened to my book, which housed the ideals of intercultural understanding and releasing fears and predudices about Muslim cultures.
     While Estelle from Shanghai was visiting me in Seattle to take my week long workshop, we went on a little Washington state road trip. Road trips are one of those quintessentially American things to do, and share with foreign friends. They always make me fall in love with America once again! I'd been mulling over the idea of a "Back Roads America" book tour, but hadn't had the time to get started. I was too busy being a globetrotting bellydance teacher.
     While showing Estelle how to eat tacos in a trailer in Yakima, drinking colorful milkshakes at a drive in that held over from the 1950's in a cowboy town of Cle Elum, and drinking locally made wine by the fireplace in a lodge part way up Mount Ranier, I realized that the back roads were calling. I have to stay grounded long enough to drive to the little towns and encourage people to understand my book and share the wide slice of life I experienced while writing "40 Days and 1001 Nights".
     I have set aside May, 2009 until the beginning of September, 2009 to dedicate to the back roads. If you know anyone, or any book store, cafe, school, community center, town hall, etc. in any neck of the woods that would like a film showing, book signing, dance performance, etc. that can help sell books (and make sure people read them), please send me an e mail with suggestions, and contact info.
Here is the general ittinerary:
May; Along the northern US, from Seattle to New York
June; Along the East Coast, from New England to northern Florida
July, South East US
August, South Western US
     I've already scheduled a test run in Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, BC in January, plus South Florida in March, and Wisconsin in April. 
    Another way you can help is to contact your local public library and suggest that they carry my book. They can go online at www.40daysand1001nights.com to get it.
    How is the book doing? Well...A back roads trip is in order for America, but I can say that it is doing well overseas. Foreign rights have been sold to India, where it has gotten good reviews in newspapers around India, and Russia, where it is being translated as I write this. There are negotiations in the works for other countries as well. It is carried in stores in Singapore and Zanzibar, and gets ordered online quite a bit after each overseas visit I make. "40 Days and 1001 Nights" was written for Americans, with love, and if I say so myself, it is a really good read. I hope 2009 turns the tide towards Americans reading my stories of daily life in the Muslim world.
     For those of you who have already read my book, many have asked what happened to my neighbor from Zanzibar, Taariq Ali, who struggled with heroin addiction, a common affliction of young men in Zanzibar, and surprisingly in many countries that we think are too pious for modern day problems, such as Iran and Pakistan, the coast of Kenya, Tanzania, and more. I see it as a near epidemic in some areas, afflicting young men in a weak moment- being too young and impressionable to realize the dangers.
     The amazing news is that the young man I call Taariq in the book has stayed clean since April, 2006. Overcoming addiction takes intensive soul searching and the opportunity for treatment. As there was no help available in his own country, he went to Mombasa, Kenya just as they developed the MEWA Drug addiction center to include after care. 
     Now, he is back in Zanzibar, determined to help other young men overcome addiction. He was brought with a delegation to Detroit for two weeks by the Detroit Recovery Project, who have formed a partnership to start a recovery program in Zanzibar. When Taariq told me he was sent to the American embassy in Dar Es Salaam to be interviewed for his visa, it was in the middle of my week long workshop in Seattle. Several dancers were staying in my house in the little burb of Redmond, Wa.; of many faiths, from Buddhist, to Christian, Hindu, non denominational, and New Age. We sat and had a prayer circle for Taariq to do well on his interview and to receive his visa. We focused our energies, each with our faith in the way we best know how to embrace it. Soon, we received the good news, that he was accepted. I don't know if our little prayer helped nudge the universe, or if it was what they call in Arabic "Maktub" (It is written). A virtually unattainable dream for a young African man to get a visa for the US...To be drug free when all hope might have been lost, and to cast his energy in hopes of helping others along the rocky road to recovery. It will be a long road for both Taariq and for the young men of Zanzibar, but there is hope. If there is hope for the most disenfranchised of Africa- the heroin addicts, then I believe that hope can spread. There is no darkness too dark that the light of hope cannot illuminate. I sincerely wish for light and success for Taariq and the men of Zanzibar, and for Africa. Everything starts with a thought, and a dream. If you dare to dream, dreams can and do come true.