December 30, 2008

Blog entry

Happy New Year!
Amidst the worlds financial crisis, global warming, and the like, my heart still feels that 2009 will be a blessed year. I am sincerely looking forward to our new president, Obama and am happy that I will be in the US on January 20, when he takes office. I also look forward to my "Back Roads America" dance and book tours. The trial run will be January 16-18 in Eugene, Oregon. I will be setting up workshops and booksignings, filmshowings, etc. all across America, in towns both big and small to share the "40 Days and 1001 Nights" project deep into the heart of America and share my experiences living among Muslim people. Of course, if you would like me to do something in your town, let me know. 
I just returned (last night) from Zanzibar, the magical little island of sultry music and tropical rains, tiny stone streets and old men selling Omani coffee to passersby who always stop to sip and share the latest news.
We recorded a new cd, arranged by Zanzibar's most popular musician, Matona, and played by musicians from Ikhwani Safaa, the oldest band in Africa. Entitled "Made in Zanzibar", it will be ready in February. The cover models are kids that were my neighbors during the writing of the book in 2006. They are in my film, and now you will see them on the cd. Very cute!
The young man I called Taariq, in the book 40 Days and 1001 Nights is on his third year of recovery from heroin addiction, and worked as my assistant on the project. He is doing well, conducting classes on addiction recovery, assisting addicts on finding places to detox, and he started Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Last October, he was flown to Detroit by the Detroit Recovery Project as part of a task force to tackle the widesperad drug problem in Zanzibar.
I stayed in an old palace, with a tea house on top overlooking Zanzibar. Most of the time, we were in rehearsals with the band. It was a really challenging project for them as "Made in Zanzibar" is a mixture of Arabic music, Zanzibari taarab, and classical songs; Scheherezade, Carmen, Pachabels Canon, Bolero, and Dance Bachanalle from Samson and Delilah. They had never heard western classical music, and played by ear using Arabic instruments and Arabic scales. Very interesting and experimental indeed!
On my way from teaching workshops in Asia, I spent six days in Oman. What an amazingly beautiful place! My friend and former student, Anubis Nirvana lives there and along with her husband, Anup, and son Athilio, they took me on lots of road trips.
Anubis has a dance studio, from which she teaches bellydance, salsa and Bollywood dances. She called the press to tell them that I was in town and there was a big writeup in the English language magazine "Hi", as well as "Y" with photos of both of us.
Asia was also amazing. Three of Miami's top dancers; Samay, Alexandra, and Roshana, as well as photographer Denise Marino came to Hong Kong for the Orientalia Festival. Then most of us continued on to Shanghai, for sightseeing and more dancing. Kaeshi Chai of Bellyqueen met us in Shanghai and took me with her on the most over the top, luxurious workshop tour of the hinterlands of China; Zhenzhou, Changsha, and Chonqing. We were treated like rock stars. At the airports, there were camera crews and entourages of people holding banners with our names. The shows had everything from fireworks to soap bubbles, and we were treated to grand meals with dozens of exotic dishes laid out on lazy susans. The bellydance is booming in China. Every little town has its bellydance schools, and each one has its press people, business managers, etc. The new generation of Chinese do everything in a big way!
Leaving China, on my way to Thailand to teach a workshop and visit dear friends, my plans were derailed. Mobs of protesters closed the airports demanding a new government. Their ploy was successful and the government was forced to step down. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a Chinese border town called Shenzhen, waiting to see if the airport would open. It wasn't exactly torture. Shenzhen is a shopping mecca, and known for massages and beauty treatments, so I shopped, got a makeover, but missed my show and workshops in Thailand.
It is amazing how widespread the love of bellydance is becoming. Several women who were flying to Thailand from the Phillippines changed their schedule and flew to Malaysia instead. That is where I taught the next week, and we had a wonderful, sold out workshop, plus a Moroccan dinner and film showing of the "40 Days and 1001 Nights" documentary...Then I headed out to Oman, which you can read about above.