Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Insights on the Garifuna Culture in Belize

Its been a long time since Ive written. I was so blown away by every thing in Asia that I just had to absorb it and not write about it but, the last almost three months now of traveling have been truly amazing. I learned so much in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and I surely need to catch up this blog with all of those tales, but I will have to do that a little later.

For now, I want to write about Belize and the Garifuna culture.I just spent two weeks in Belize in Belize City, Caye Caulker, Dangriga and Punta Gorda diving and studying the Garifuna culture.

The Garifunau people lived on the northern coast of South America. They settled there after recovering from shipwrecked slave ships from Africa. The Garifuna expanded into St. Vincent Island in the Carribean. The Spanish, French and English all wanted to colonize Carribean islands including St. Vincents, an area rich in spices and resources. The Garifunau are tough and were able to fight off the Spanish and French but surrendered to the British. The British made all of the Garifuna move from St. Vincents to Roatan Island in Honduras in terrible conditions and many died. After around 20 years in Roatan, the Honduras army ordered the women and children to leave and they brutally massacred the rest of the men. Anyone who escaped moved to Belize and formed several Garifuna communities. Some also now live in Guatemala in Livingston and some still live on the Carribean coast of Honduras and Nicaragua.

I stayed at Vals in Dangriga the center of Garifuna culture and music. I took this opportunity to take a drum class from the Dangriga drum school with some local kids. It was really fun, and I recommend it to anyone who goes to Dangriga. I learned the punta and the paranda rhythms. The punta is the music more internationally known thanks to Andy Palacio, a garifunau man from Belize who popularized the music in the last few years.

Because the Garifunau are a mix of two different ethnic groups, they men killed all of the men from a local tribe to marry all of thier women, Garifuna is the only language that has words reserved only for women and others just for men.

Once the Garifunau arrived in Belize they were given a curfew by the British and the local creoles. They had a bad reputation as baby killers and canibals even know they werent. They were told they must not practice thier rituals and must blend into the culture. Instead they continued to live thier lives in private, contining thier ceremonies to celebate and keep in touch with thier ancestors and making cassava bread and keeping thier own language. Today very little is left, but Andy Palacio and his punta rock music have made the youth proud of thier black garifuna roots and thier is a rivival of the culture and music going on today. There is an effort by local mothers and a newly created National Garifuna Council to try to preserve the culture as much as possible and teach the language in schools. The language was excluded from the school curiculum until recently. Many efforts are being made to preserve the culture including a Garifuna Museum, programs to teach kids the culture and dance. Each year Belize celebrates a national holiday called Garifuna Settlement Day on Nov. 17 where the whole country celebrates with a week long festival of Garifuna music and song. I wish I could see that...I will have to plan a future trip around that. It is truly amazing that any of the culture still exists today. Now more Garifuna live in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York than in Belize. The entire country of Belize only has 300,000 people. The Garifuna makes up maybe only 50,000 or less of Belize. There are estimates that over 250,000 now live in the U.S. Nicaragua has supposedly lost most of its Garifuna language. A Belizan Garifanau traveled there and could no longer speak with his ethnic group and they no longer retain some of the same ritual.

Belize is such a melting pot of cultures. Besides the Garifunau, Belize is home to Maya, Menonites, yes like German Amish and many Asian people. Belize City seems to be a stop over point for people to work before accessing U.S. visas.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Photos from Bira Beach Indonesia

These guys scared me at first. They approached me with a shot gun from a small boat when I was walking down a deserted beach! My heart was beating a million times a minute, but then I realized I had met them earlier in the morning but they had a different outfit and I didn't see thier camouflage boat. After realizing they just wanted to show me around, I got on the boat and had a day trip with them to a near by island and met the head of the local Muslim Village. Then they introduced me to the principal of the local school. What an amazing random day with the Indonesian Navy! There is more to say but I'll have to tell you in person.

Here a few new friends from the beach.

These kids said "Excuse me Mrs. can I practice my English?"So they came up on my porch for a while just to chat!

Toraga Houses

Here is a photo of some traditional houses in Sulawesi, Indonsia.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In Sulawesi

I traveled to Gili Tragawan off the coast of Lombok (Indonesia) last week. It was a fabulously relaxing place. A small village on an island about 45 minutes off the coast by fishing boat. It's a chain of three islands Gili Tragawan, the largest, Gili Meno (middle) and Gili Air (the smallest and closest island). I met more people from all over the world than I've met in my whole life. I talked to people from Germany, France, Holland, Austrailia, England and Belgium over the past few days, I've actually be practicing alot of old rusty French from high school. Didn't really expect to use that on this trip!

Yesterday I was waiting for quite a while in the Materham airport in Lombok and met a new friend from Jakarta, a business man who was trying to get to his wife in Yojyakarta who was in labor. He was so stressed out about getting to her then the flight was delayed for 5 hours and then he was going to miss his connection. He was so worried about his wife. He said, "She is small, I worry about her giving birth. She is not big like you. She is very little and cute." Too funny and cute.

I missed my connection along with many others in Surabya and the airline put us up in a hotel. It was actually the nicest one I've stayed in with aircon what a treat. We needed to get up 5 hours later to get on another flight. Journalists were at the aiport doing a story on the airline company Lion Air because I guess they are notorious for being late. Opps, way to pick the best airline.

Today I'm in Makassar Sulawesi and it is a HUGE city and rather overwhelming. It started to rain in the afternoon so I studied my Bahasa Indonesian in a restaurant. Later I took I walk and it started pouring and a nice store keeper asked me to sit down in her shop. I ended up staying for two hours talking and practicing Indonesian and teaching her teenage kids English. Their English was a lot better than my Indonesian. Saya belajar bahasa Indonesia= I'm studing Bahasa Indonesia.

Tonight I'm contemplating taking a cross town taxi to meet up with some "couchsurfers" from They are supposedly cooking together at a guy's house across town. I have an address. Do I dare to just hop into a taxi and cross town at night. I would really rather not, but maybe I can find some one to go with me.

My time in Indonesia is going pretty fast, there is so much to do and so many places to see.

I've been sick a few times but nothing too bad, but I really have to be careful with food. I am conservative but they tend to cook things and save it to serve another day and I don't think they reheat it enough and it is to my demise. Now I have a cold. I guess I'm getting introduced to alot of new bugs.

Tomorrow or maybe the next day I am taking a bus to Rantepao 8 hours north to study the culture of the Torajan people. They have very unique burial customs and have many ceremonies and festivals that go on through out the year associated with the burials. Yes I know very weird that I want to see a burial ritual, but it sounds incredibly interesting and extravagant. I may take a trek to visit these indigenous tribes.

I'm currently staying at the New Legend Hostel in Makassar.

Ok, I need to get going back out in the rain and go back to my hotel before it gets too dark. Hugs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Feeling Very American Learning to Dance

The last few days have been truly amazing. I've been brought to tears with emotion (for good reasons) on several occasions.

I'm learning so much every day and loving every minute of it.

Indonesian culture, specifically Balinese culture is very interesting. They have many many rituals. Each day they prepare offerings to the gods for everything they are thankful for and they repeat this three times a day. The offerings are in places they want to honor or places they want to have good luck. So you see many outside a business on the front door of a hotel, outside the market, or on the counter near the cash drawer. They say a prayer and spread the incense around in the air. This ritual consumes much of their day. The offerings always have rice - because they must do the ritual every time they eat, a little banana, a cracker, a flower and sometimes other things, that brings us to dogs. The photo above is outside of the market temple in Ubud. Since there are so many vendors in the market the offerings pile up.

Dogs are not sacred but you can not bring in any kind of other dogs on the island because they want to keep the dogs indigenous to the island and free of rabies. These dogs eat all of the offerings and garbage through out the city. They also eat anything else and are full of scabs and just nasty and full of disease. It is sort of their role to clean up all of the offerings. 3.4 million people making offerings, three times a day.. that is a lot of stray nasty dogs. They are all black and white and all over the streets. I really hope I don't get bit by one. I almost did when I was biking.

I've been reading this book titled Modern Bali, it is a collection of short stories that were written in the newspaper here over the course of several years. It includes all types of short stories about life Bali, rituals, outside influences and it's connection to the other islands and I've learned alot from it.

A few days ago I took a silversmith course with an Irish-American girl who has been living in London long enough she sounds British. We got along well and ended up tagging around together for a few days. It was really cool and I made two necklaces.

I also signed up for a private Balinese dance class. This was really funny because I had not seen Balinese dancing so I didn't know what I was getting into. I really wished I had someone else with me taking this class because I was laughing the whole time because the movements were so strange especially the eye and hip movements that I just was hysterical. I should have watched the dance, but it surely made it more fun. The class was at the dancers house so I was able to learn alot more about family life ad ask alot of questions. Later in the evening I went to see a "Legong" performance. There are so many different types of dance here - Legong, Kekak Fire Dance and others all so very interesting and I've never seen any thing like it. Most are elaborate stories that dancers act out with intricate costumes and masks. Check out the video and laugh at me trying to learn to do the same thing.

The next day I took a cooking class and made some really yummy food. We went to the market to learn about the food then came back to a restaurant to cook with the chef. His name was Kutut. We learned the "basic spice" and 5 other recipes, some I think I can actually repeat. Whoa!

In Bali there are only four names. Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Kutut. They mean 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, and they are named for the order in which they are born. Many people obviously have nicknames by their profession or other things. So it's funny when someone says Kutut - and 5 people turn around!

This crazy mask is for you Denise!

Yesterday toured the island in a van with Made, the driver and two unexpected new friends. A 70ish year old pipe smoking man from Denmark who lives on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra and his friend/lover/servant/hmm? a Sumatran woman who had never been to Bali. Anyways they were hilarious people to travel around with and I was able to see Bali through the eyes of a Indonesian woman from another island and she could translate for me. We went to Lake Batur - a lake next to a volcano that blew its top around 1963, a fabulous rice field - oh my it brought me to tears, an organic fruit farm and an indigenous village. I'm really glad I was traveling with Sari - from Sumatra, because she allowed be to walk into the kitchen of an indigenous woman's home and learn about her cooking. (I'm not sure if the naming thing is different on muslim islands,) Bali is Hindu, the rest are mainly Muslim and have different traditions. She said she was tired and hot and has been cooking for everyone in the village, at least 30 people, for many years.

The last video is of the place I have been staying for the past 4 nights.

I am now off to Kuta to try to find some surf!

Darnit. So I'm learning video takes a long time even when you have them the right size! After writing all of that, the video is still not working or its uploading ridiculously slow. If I get a room that has internet, I will let it take an hour to upload since I've already been here for quite a while.... So I think I might be doing more photos and less video! Stay tuned I want to make it work!
Big hugs

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Getting Ready & The Arrival

Almost out the door

Well I'm just about ready to go. This trip as has been something I've been dreaming about for as long as I can remember. Everyone I know has heard be talk about it and now it's about to happen.

I was able to get approval on a leave of absence from my job for 6 months, maybe more if I'm lucky. Thank you Denise, Eric and Elena. I love you and I can't tell you how much I appreciate this opportunity to pursue my dream.


I've read and researched the places I'm traveling to, enough to have a feel for the place and a general sense of what I'm getting into but for the most part everthing will be on the fly. I'm looked into many different organizations on, the intreaging and useful site which I will be trying out.


Well I've been stuck with vacines to the hilt. I've bought trip insurance to evacuate my self from most any place in the world and have two different types of malaria pills - who would have known there are different types of mosquitos/mosquito borne diseases in Asia and Central America. But - strangely enough South America and Asia have the same kind. Hmmm. I also did a few pre-check ups with the dentist and doc and I think I'm healthy at this point.


I've have sufficiently scared my mom and dad to death, my sister just thinks I'm wierd and must be from different parents, but generally most people I talk to think I'm a total nut. Thank you to the friends and loved ones don't think I'm a total nut and have encouraged me to pursue this.

Why I am I doing this and why am I going at it alone?

All I can say is I just need to. It's inside me, I've tried to suppress it an settle my hide down, get in some long term relationships and try to sit still in one place but the desire bubbles up with a vengence a few times a year. There is more to say but I'll leave it to that for now.

What do I want to get out of it?

I want to learn about community rituals. I want to learn new dances and art forms by taking classes and meeting artists and talking to locals. I want to feel and create connections with the global world by volunteering at a variety of organizations, by initiating conversations and by sharing the video and photos I take. I'm seeking to find my place in the world and gain a greater sense of independence and so so many other things.....

How long has it been in the making?
I wanted to go just after I finished my undergraduate degree, but I didn't. I started working like a rational human being. I started to love it and filled my desire to create community by putting on community art and music events. After about 3 years on the job, the desire to take a big trip came on strong again, but I felt I like I would have to quit working and I didn't feel I had enough experience to justify the idea in my brain. After some pondering I started taking classes at CLU towards a masters degree. I finished this as fast as I could and as frugally as I could so that I could still put pennies away for this trip. Ahh.. after completing the degree in a little under two years and saving for about a year after completing the degree - that pesky resssion hit. The City's budget hit the fan. Saving the city some money by taking a leave of absence became a win-win way to make my dream a reality. After much contemplation and many conversations with my supervisor and department head and teaching a generous co-worker to take on my responsibilities I was able to get out the door. It became my time to go AND come back to a job.

On Tuesday, May 19th after dropping of my absentee ballot for the special election I left for the airport.

In order to get to Indonesia I flew from Los Angeles to Tokeyo, then to Bangkok for an fabulously comfy airport chair snoose from 11 pm to 8 am in the airport then I flew to Denpasar, Indonesia.

Wondering about swine? Well each aiport did thier own version of a quaranteen. Tokeyo sent 6 people on the plane fully dressed in protective clothing, googles, masks, a gown and gloves and took all of our temperatures. It was a Bowing 747 so it took quite a while! Fortunatly I didn't have a fever even though I was sweating whatever was going to happen to the people they red tagged.

I had arranged a driver to pick me up at the airport and can't tell you how happy I was when I saw my name on his little sign and heard him say Robeeeen Robeeeen! Is it you? I said yes! And we walked to his minivan. I started to hop in, until I realized I was getting in the drivers seat. Novice mistake. So they drive on the other of the car and the road. I'm so glad I'm not driving because even with my "push bike" I can't seem to stay on the right side of the road.

I got into town at about 5 pm on May 21st and am staying at Narasoma for 85,000 rupees or $8.50 per night. I'm renting a bike for two days for a total of $3.50. This place is already heaven and I've only been here a few hours. I biked around for about an hour and then picked a place to get a bite to eat and two Indonesian beers (Bitangs) at a little restaurant near my homestay. I was totally exhaust and giddy as I had my first dinner to start my trip.

I think I'm going to stay in Ubud for a few more days and try some balinese dance classes and maybe another type of art class but I haven't been able to sit still yet. I've been biking all over trying to get a feel for the place first. There is sooooo much art and culture here it is ridiculous. On the drive into Ubud from the aiport, I think I saw over 20o intricate furniture makers, (the spaces sort of looked like an even wilder version of Stonesworks Studios/Art City - fabulous and funky and intriging), there were over a thousand wood and stone sculptors of various types and 1000s of painters from all over the world. I just met this expat from Detroit who owns a funky studio called the Art Zoo. He clued me into a few people I should ask to do some videos.

Lot's of English is spoken here so far so I'm having a pretty easy time of it so far. Things will definitely get a little tougher as I go to Java and Sumatra, 2 of the 13000 other islands that make up the Indonesian archipeligo.

Ubud has small paths through the hills where there are home stays, guesthouses and art and yoga studios strewn about. They aren't quite sidewalks but there are really neat and the one I walked on today has some rice fields near by.

So I'm still getting the hang of the video. I've taken alot so far, but I really don't know what I'm doing and I'm surprised if this actually posts to the site. Hopefully you can see it okay. We'll call this one the Indonesian Xylophone. These fellows were taking a class in a town square! - Ok, it looks like it's not working. I need to take the video in smaller size. So stay tuned until I learn.

I love and miss you guys and I'll write again soon.