Mozambique: Maputo

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My trip from New York to Mozambique back in July consisted of a 15-hour overnight flight to Johannesburg, a six-hour layover, and another hour-long flight to Maputo. Suffice it to say I was non-functional upon arrival. I got to the hotel on Saturday evening, was sound asleep in bed by 8pm, woke up late the next morning, had a leisurely breakfast, and only then re-emerged into the world of the living to figure out what this new city and country was all about. 

It turns out that Sundays in Maputo are exceedingly pleasant. The city was really quiet and calm, and many of the wide boulevards were empty of both people and cars. 

I had mapped out some hastily-compiled recommendations from the internet, and I set out on a walking tour to see as many of them as I could. Continue reading

Hello, I must be going

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It feels like a long time since I’ve written anything substantial here. I feel a little unmoored in general these days. I’ve been away so much of the past year, in places with climates and cultures so different from New York’s, that it’s sometimes hard to remember what season or month I’m in. I tried to Skype my sister in Portland the other day and even though I had been home for a week, I still calculated the time difference as ten hours instead of just three. Good thing it wasn’t the other way around or I would have called her in the middle of the night.

I love traveling and I once thought I could do it nonstop, but I have to admit that this last trip has taken a toll. I spent five weeks abroad in two countries, took ten different flights and hopped between more than fifteen locations. I switched hotels countless times and the longest stretch I ever stayed put anywhere was six nights. Every routine I held near and dear was shaken up to the point of non-existence. 

It’s good to be back, though getting back into the swing of things has felt a little rocky at times. 

I am way behind on what I’ve meant to post here, mostly impressions from various trips I’ve taken, including Detroit, Mozambique, and Kenya. I’ve also been wanting to commit to (digital) paper some vignettes about experiences abroad that I’ve had not only since the start of this blog but since the start of my life, or at least the parts of it I can remember.

So I’ll try to carve out time to write, not only because the feeling of playing catch-up irritates me but also because writing is one of those beloved routines I gave up while abroad whose lack I felt deeply. It really centers me somehow, even when I’m writing about frivolous things or in an inarticulate mood. 

So, see you here again soon, invisible internet buddies!

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On the way to the Mombasa airport you pass through a thoroughfare of flags from all nations. It occurred to me on this drive a few weeks ago, that it might be cool to figure out how many countries there are in my biggest gap, alphabetically, between countries that I have visited. I then decided that it would be neat to commit to visiting, some time in the next five years, the country that would cut that gap in half.

And though this was the most arbitrary and silly of activities, I felt the hand of destiny at work, because it turned out that my biggest gap – 13 countries – is between the Netherlands and the Philippines, and that Oman is smack in the middle of the two, alphabetically speaking if not geographically.

Well, my last stop in Mombasa before heading to the airport had been Fort Jesus, where I learned all about the Omani influence on Mombasa and the region in general. As I walked through intricately carved Omani doors and looked at Omani pottery and jewelry in the display cases, it reaffirmed my desire to visit Oman, which first landed on my radar two or three years ago when I began seeing it (and Malta!) all over Instagram. The photos look straight out of “The Thousand and One Nights.”

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At around the same time, I was realizing that my exposure to the Middle East was minimal (one country, Israel) and that it is a region well worth exploring, not only for its fascinating history and breathtaking landscapes but also for its contemporary culture. 

Anyway, I now feel certain that the universe is calling me to Oman. Only time will tell if I’ll listen…

[Photos: Ian Sewell, bhart9070]

Senegal: the Casamance

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In March, I traveled to the Casamance region of Senegal for work. I didn’t realize until I was making the plans that I had actually been to the Casamance before, as Kolda is technically in the Haute Casamance. But the area of Senegal that is reputed to be the most verdant and beautiful is the Basse Casamance, the western section on and close to the ocean. And this is where I would be heading for work. I was pleased, to say the least. Some pictures…

Continue reading

Egúngún, right here in NYC

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As may have been clear when I wrote about it in February, I was in serious awe and admiration of the egúngún masquerade that I saw during the Vodoun festival in Benin. I really didn’t know much about the tradition before visiting; I had mostly just seen photos that blew my mind and convinced me to visit. Since then, I’ve been reading up on it, and the subject grows more and more fascinating with every word. It also grows more and more confusing in certain ways, due to nuances in the cultures, religions, and ceremonial practices of close but not entirely similar peoples who share the egúngún tradition, like the Fon in Benin and the Yoruba in Nigeria.  So, I will quote liberally from authoritative texts rather than try to explain things in my own very unauthoritative words.

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Last weekend I was excited to visit the Brooklyn Museum for their exhibit of an egúngún costume made some time between 1920 and 1948 in Nigeria by a family called Lekewọgbẹ. The museum describes the exhibit as:

“the life story of a twentieth-century Yorùbá masquerade dance costume (egúngún), from its origins in Ògbómọ̀ṣọ́, Nigeria, to its current home in Brooklyn. Composed of over three hundred textiles from Africa, Europe, and Asia, this egúngún swirls into motion during festivals honoring departed ancestors. Centuries old, egúngún is still practiced in Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, and in the Yorùbá diaspora.”

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Also according to the Brooklyn Museum, egúngún is a Yoruba word that can refer to three distinct but related things: “all Yoruba masquerades, a specific masking society and related festivities, and the particular masks used in those events.” Egúngún masquerades go back hundreds of years to the sixteenth century.

“Most often appearing at annual festivals that honor immortal ancestors, egúngún also emerge on special occasions or at moments of need. The masks are vessels for communal ancestral spirits and, as such, are active only when occupied by those forces or ny maskers embodying those spirits. Men who perform egúngún remain human while temporarily taking on a spiritual dimension as they physically manifest unseeable ancestral forces. As dancers must conceal their human form to achieve this, they also wear gloves and long socks; a mesh panel at the front permits them to see during performance. …

During festivals, the masked egúngún travels from the shrine or grove to the streets and public centers, accompanied by drummers, singers, ritual specialists, and crowds of followers. These festivals reunite ancestors with the living, who assure the success of their community by lavishing praise and ceremony on the returned relatives. Spreading breezes of blessing in return as it whirls and dances, the egúngún allows the ancestors to participate in the present.”

My interest was piqued when I read that the egúngún tradition is alive and well in the Yoruba diaspora, including Brooklyn. A quick Internet search led me to the realization that the annual Isese Festival featuring an egúngún masquerade is just around the corner on Sunday, June 2. It starts at 11:00am at Locks of Nu Natural Hair Salon, 2000 Fulton Street. The procession will then make its way through the streets of Bed-Stuy. It is firmly on my calendar and I can’t wait to go. If you’re in the NYC area, I encourage you to come, too!

Here’s the invite from their site:

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