About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Disappearing act

You might have been wondering where I have been for the last week. I realize it has been a while. Truth be told, I have been living more intimately. I have been getting out of bed earlier. Enjoying the early morning light from the kitchen table instead of dreaming about it from within my warm nest of blankets and pillows. I have been immersed in books about the Dominican Republic, and the two novels that I read in the last week (Russian Winter and One Day) generally while sipping cups of exceptionally good tea. I started running again one golden evening early in the week, and have been loving the happy soreness of muscles that had been feeling unchallenged lately. I also started back to my yoga again, which was pure heaven (how I ever forget the bliss I feel when I do yoga, I do not know) and started taking more walks, enjoying the warm winter, the clear blue sky behind the tangled network of bare tree limbs.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that myself and four others from the US have won a trip to the Dominican Republic with Green & Black's organic chocolate company, to spend two weeks helping an organic cocoa-farming community build a gravity-fed water system for drinking water, and learning about organic cocoa growing (you can read our weekly updates on preparations for the trip here). I am very excited about the trip, but it also means that I have a lot to get done in the next few weeks before I leave. I had to have a medical checkup, I need to get a slew of vaccinations that I am trying to figure out how to pay for (who knew that a series of 3 Rabies vaccinations costs over 800 dollars?) and I had to go to San Francisco this week to have extra pages added to my passport because I was running out of blank pages.

Getting ready for a trip to a rural area of the Dominican Republic is a lot of work. On Wednesday I took the train down to San Francisco, watching the river and agricultural landscape slide past the window, reminding me in ways of many train trips across the Italian landscape that I took in my late teens and early twenties. I stayed with a new friend in the city -- a woman who inspires me with her courage and willingness to take risks in life....a woman who follows her gut instincts even if everyone else around her is wondering what she is thinking. Rana did three years of medical school before realizing it really was not for her. She followed that with a law degree, which, she realizes in retrospect, was probably not really for her either. These days she is making kombucha. She owns her own business, and recently opened her own kombucha factory. I'm telling you, the woman is courage central. Her company, House Kombucha, is growing steadily, and her tea can be found all over the Bay area. I ended my day by having dinner at Tin, a Vietnamese restaurant, with Rana and a friend of hers, David, an elementary school English teacher who also happens to own 28 acres of land about an hour from Sacramento. We enjoyed one of those meals where you know you are sipping tasty broth, but the conversation is so intense and stimulating that you finish your meal wondering what you just ate. Rana and I meandered back to her apartment and stayed up late munching on toasted seaweed collected on the Atlantic coast and sharp cheddar, and discussing the importance of distinguishing between the large scale organic farming that is being pursued by corporate entities to increase their profit margin and small-scale organic growers who are growing a diversity of crops on their land, when it comes to forming an opinion of the organic food movement. Her furry cat "America" kept us company.

I woke up and showered at 5.45am on Thursday, and was out on the streets of San Francisco at 7am, walking to the passport agency two hours before it officially opened to be sure I was at the front of the line. There is something refreshing and exciting about exploring the city streets that early in the morning. Light is only just starting to lean down the maze of streets at an angle. Everything is still new, possibilities limitless. I met a number of fellow travelers as they joined me in the line. A fellow in his sixties who has sailed around most of the world, with amazing stories of Central and South America, the Azores, northern Africa and New Zealand. A young guy in his twenties who came from a wine-growing family in Napa, and was headed to New Zealand where he had been hired by a small scale winery for a year. A woman in her seventies who told me that she had waited her whole life to travel, insisting on making sure that all three of her children got through their education debt-free first (they did), but who has now been to fifty countries (she spent a month in India, and is headed to Africa next). I discovered that the passport line is one of the most interesting lines I have ever stood in. An endless source of amazing stories and life-experiences.

After submitting my paperwork, I had five hours to kill before I had to come back and line up again to collect my passport. I headed back to Yerba Buena park where I found a group of elderly Asian women doing synchronized fan dancing, and another group doing Tai Chi. Others were stretching and walking around the park. It was a group that vanished as the sun rose higher, and I felt like I was catching a tiny glimpse of life in another part of the world transplanted into the middle of San Francisco.

Yerba Buena Park is all long stretched out tables of water that is overflowing, sliding over stone, falling down steps of stone, following gravity, gurgling, gushing, sparkling under the rising sun. I climbed stairs to the top of the park and settled on a bench, looking out over the grass and trees, some of which had already started blossoming pink suggestions of springtime. Across the street an old church opened its doors, its bells clanging. Birds of all kinds floated contentedly, some dove under the surface of the pool of water in front of me, washing themselves, letting water roll back over their feathers. Splashing and playing in the sunshine. Preparing for the day. I sat, enjoying details of morning, and wrote in my journal. Eventually I meandered into Samovar, my favourite tea lounge, located at the top of the park, settled into some cushions, and ordered myself a freshly brewed masala chai with the strong flavour of ginger that almost tasted like gingerbread in it. It is served in a curved stoneware cup that fits perfectly between cupped palms. I curled up in my little corner, sipped my tea, and wrote and wrote. Samovar has glass walls, so as I wrote I watched the activities of the morning progressing outside, the birds, done with their water games, flying back and forth, going about their business.

At noon I wandered back out into the day, down to the lower level of the park, and settled on the grass along with at least one hundred other people who had drifted in as the sun got warmer. Birds hopped around us gathering food. I started reading one of my books about Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, by Michele Wucker. At lunch time, Rana, done with her deliveries for the day, turned up, and we walked to the pier to get lunch at the farmer's market. We sat on a bench by the water and ate, the smell of the ocean raw and pungent, the sounds of thousands of people enjoying their break from work all around us.

After collecting my passport, I caught BART back to Berkeley. There is something awesome about public transportation. The mix of all sorts of people. The fact that everyone there at some level recognizes that the purpose of transportation is to get us where we need to go. There is none of the pretentiousness or separateness that comes from driving cars that are more status symbols than functional means of getting around. I emerged back into the sunlight in Berkeley, met my mother, and we wandered off to a coffee house for some hot cocoa and a chat before our drive back up to Sacramento.

Yesterday I was back to sending faxes off to Raleigh, the company that is leading our exhibition to the Dominican Republic, and attempting to figure out how to get the seven vaccinations that I am required to have for this trip. Not a fan of needles, the last one I had was in 2000, when I took a class that went to Costa Rica. And since the budget cuts in California, the state service of doing them for the public at an affordable price has been eliminated. I also returned calls, and half-heartedly attempted to start wading through the sea of emails that had been piling up in my in box over the two days that I had been away.

Another thing I have been working on is trying to find opportunities to volunteer. I walked over to the Middle School around the corner from my house, and spoke to the Vice-Principal about working with some of the kids on a project about organic chocolate. I am waiting to hear back from him. I also contacted a local farm that takes children and youth out on the farmland to give them the opportunity to learn where their food comes from, and how to grow it. Hopefully in the next week I will start getting more involved with them as well.

Last night a friend and I attended a devotional gathering with nine others in the home of another friend. We read quotes and shared readings that were uplifting, and discussed ideas and thoughts about balance in our lives, and how reciting uplifting quotes or prayers to ourselves gives us the courage and strength that we sometimes lack in moments of shakiness or uncertainty. After devotions a friend and I headed out for Thai food, and a long chat filled with lots of laughter. My friend introduced me to the world of second-hand records. My parents owned a record player when I was a child, but although we still own the records, we have had nothing to play them on in years. We wandered up and down the rows pulling out records and telling stories, followed by the resident feline, an intensely green-eyed, white and grey furred creature that drooled, and reminded me of Frankie, a very old and sweet Siamese cat that some dear friends of mine back on PEI used to have who would drool when he got too happy (ie. when you stroked him).

I am finishing writing this Saturday morning. I can see blue skies through the blinds, and more sunshine. I am thinking about the day ahead. The run/walk I am going to take. The phone calls I intend to make. The dinner I have been invited to at the home of yet another new friend. It is going to be a great weekend. I can feel it already.


  1. Very poetic and atmospheric in the details, Ariana; I felt like I was watching the bird with you.