Sunday, July 10, 2016

Black Lives Matter

It has been a while since I wrote my last blog post, but today it felt warranted. I never used to consider myself to be a political person. To be honest, I have had very little faith in the political process since I can remember caring about it in the slightest. Watching politicians on TV made my stomach hurt; they felt dishonest, sleazy, and power hungry. And if I’m being completely truthful I still have very little faith in our political system. I believed in Bernie Sanders because he was unlike any politician I had ever seen—no slime, no manipulation, no slipperiness. But unfortunately, this is exactly why he was unable to survive.

Regardless of what I believe about the (dys)functionality of our political system, I do believe that with enough support, politically mobilized citizens have the capacity to effect change, as has been seen over time with emancipation, the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panther movement, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, etc... Politicians I’m not so sure about, but people, I believe in.

Quick overview: systemic racism is a real problem in our country. Black men are incarcerated for much lesser crimes and are sentenced to much longer terms than white men. 1/3 of black men will spend time behind bars during their lifetime. Driving while black is a legitimate reason to pull someone over in the eyes of many police. Systems of educational tracking pigeonhole minority students into remedial classes so that they are unable to gain the same education as their peers, which denies them access to the same opportunities that privileged white children get like going to college in preparation to get a good job and have a successful life. White privilege is real, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it.

My knowledge of these things and my utter disgust with the events of the past several days (and, to be more accurate, events over the course of all of the U.S. history), implored me to participate in a Black Lives Matter peace walk near Prospect Park in Kansas City, Kansas last night. This was something that was in my power to do, and any excuse I could have come up with to not go—my own fear, my unwillingness to do the harder thing, etc.—would have been just that, an excuse.

I arrived a little after 9 PM, just as the sun was setting over Kansas City, expansive, billowy cotton candy clouds hovering over half of the skyline, separating the darker space of the sky from the lighter. I pulled up to the church where everyone was meeting and walked up to the group just as they were getting ready to leave. There were about 40 or so people in our group, while the other group that was probably twice as big set off in the opposite direction. People held up signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter!” with Black Power fists for the “a” in black and the “i” in lives. We walked, and someone with a megaphone in the front of the group began a series of call and response chants: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it? Shut it down! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!

When we first began this walk, I felt very out of place. There were quite a few other white people in the group, but like me, they walked in silence. I think all of us felt unsure of what form our participation should take in this situation. Walking was enough, right? Our voices weren’t necessary, right? I continued to walk silently for several blocks, until something in me shifted and I decided that no… this was not enough. My voice was needed. I tentatively started to chant along, my voice cracking a little: No justice, no peace. No racist police. Black lives matter. 

The further we walked, the louder my voice grew until I literally found myself shouting at the top of my lungs. As we continued to walk and chant, people drove by in their cars and honked at us in solidarity, sticking their fists out of windows to form the Black Power symbol. We continued to chant, Out of your cars and into the streets! And spectators did get out of their cars, some of them even joining us. Several people stopped to take photographs, putting their emergency lights on to park in the middle of the street and snap pictures on smart phones.

Our march led us to a KCPD police station, with all of us gathering on the steps to continue chanting and, eventually, stopping to share stories individually. One man relayed that his house was broken into earlier in the day and that after calling the police to report the burglary, he was put on hold for 15 minutes before being told that they were simply too busy and couldn’t get to him right now. Another woman shared that she was a single mother, trying to raise two children on her own. When she had asked her 11-year-old son if he wanted to come with her to this peace march, he responded that he felt safer at home. An eleven-year-old boy said this. An eleven-year-old black boy feels scared to leave his home to participate in a peaceful protest with his mother because he fears for his life in a country that should be protecting him. As people went around the group telling stories, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt more connected to these people than separate. I felt no fear, only love. And sadness. For what our country has done to create hateful, fear-based relationships that can really only be dismantled by meaningful, face-to-face connections. I see lots of shades here tonight, someone called out over the group. And I want you to know that I see you, I appreciate that you are here, and this is the answer.

We stood together in solidarity and faced the police monitoring our peaceful protest, shouting, Hands up! Don’t shoot! By the time we got back to the church, our bodies were tired- our feet hurt and we had blisters, we were exhausted and thirsty- but our eyes were bright and alive. Out of a society that strives to instill hate and fear and uncertainty and displacement, we created trust and love and solidarity and truth. We created respect. And this is what all of us MUST do. This is not a choice, this is our obligation to each other as human beings. 

This is what democracy looks like.

The beginning of the march.
Hands up; Don't shoot.

We will not forget. We will be heard. We want justice.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Honeymoon in Belize Pt. 2: San Ignacio, Placencia, and Hopkins

Hello again! Are we ready for part two of this two-part honeymoon series? Let’s begin with our travels to St. Ignacio, where Garrett and I stayed for three nights at a place called Black Rock Lodge. Black Rock is an eco-lodge set deep in the Belizean jungle that serves as a haven for travelers looking for both adventure and a home base to come back to and relax. To get to Black Rock we took a bus from Flores, Guatemala to the border where we went through immigration and got an SUV to take us up the winding, sometimes treacherous dirt road up to the lodge. We passed coffee and banana plantations, copse of teak and mahogany trees, and orange groves along the way.

When we arrived we were greeted by friendly, smiling staff members who thrust cold glasses of pineapple juice into our hands as we gazed around at our new surroundings, taking in the lush greenery, hummingbirds flitting to and from birds of paradise, and the brightly colored, larger-than-life leaves. We took it easy that afternoon, admiring the new views from our cabin's hammock and going for a refreshing dip in the mineral pool before dinner.

More swan figurines!
"Don't bother me, I'm in a very important meeting."

I call this one "Artsy Scrunchy"

Our beautiful room. Everything at Black Rock is run on sustainable energy-- they take care to compost materials from the kitchen to use for crop fertilization, filter out waste water through a natural filtration system for reuse, run the entire lodge on renewable energy, and grow all of their own fruits and vegetables organically. They harvest several varieties of mango trees, banana and plantain trees, an orchard of orange and lime trees, a grove of coconut palms, as well as tamarind, breadfruit, jackfruit, passionfruit, and avocado trees.
That night we had our first family style dinner at Black Rock. Every night you are assigned a different table so you have a change to mingle with all the guests. I was a little skeptical of this aspect of staying here at first—I'm not a huge fan of forced conversation-- but this ended up being one of my favorite parts of our stay here. On this first night, we sat with two guests name Kim and Lisa, both of whom are from LA and who had come to Belize as a kind of "gals getaway." Both are middle aged, fit, and spunky and let's just say they could both definitely hold their liquor, as they waved over beers and bottles of wine throughout the meal. I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed eating with them, hearing Kim's stories of working with kids in inner-city schools as a guidance counselor in LA and Lisa's tales working as a flight attendant for Southwest.

After dinner, Garrett and I went on a night hike where we saw a tarantula, a red-eyed tree frog, a scorpion, and several toads and centipedes. We walked along the property to the tune of crickets, frogs, and other nocturnal creatures and I noticed more stars in the jet-black sky than I think I've ever been aware existed.

Scorpion! You can't tell by the picture but this thing was like six inches long. Our guide used a black light to spot it since it has some kind of chemical in its exoskeleton that reflects black light
If Donald Trump was a toad, this is what he'd look like.

The next morning we got up early to go bird watching. When we arrived in the dining area there were already a few guests waiting, sipping coffee and eating fresh, steaming chocolate muffins the kitchen staff had just put out on a tray. Our guide for this excursion was an enthusiastic, bright-eyed man named Jorge who has wooden gauge earrings and wears his long hair in braids with a feather stuck through the back. Extremely knowledgeable about Belizean wildlife, Jorge trekked out in front of us with his Swarovski monocular, stopping at varying points to excitedly wave us over and point out different hummingbirds, a blue-crowned motmot, a melodious blackbird, and an emerald toucanet, which we spotted hanging out on a branch with a cicada in its mouth waiting for us to leave so he could take breakfast back to his babies.

More papaya trees!
Emerald toucanet! Jorge let us take a picture through the lens of his monocular to get a clearer shot

Our fearless leader pointing out some cool stuff

For the rest of the day we took advantage of things to do around the lodge—going on a very sweaty hike with a couple of new friends we met at breakfast and tubing down the river (I did not get the free beer you win if you stick the first rapid-- Garrett did). 

You can't tell from this picture but this is the sweatiest I've ever been
Views from the top of the hike. To our left was Guatemala and to our right was Belize. 
Check it out: doing yoga in the jungle 


The next day we went to the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves. We were pretty excited about this trip as it's known as being one of the main things you have to do in San Ignacio-- and it didn't disappoint. We left with a group from Black Rock and our guide, Juan Carlos at around 7 AM. As we drove back down the winding road, Juan Carlos pointed out different kinds of flora, stopping at an orange grove to pick a fresh snack to share. He asked us about our travels—what we’d seen and done so far, so Garrett and I started to tell him about our visit to Tikal. “You know they are shooting a documentary there?” he asked. “Yes!" I explained that we'd found out someone famous was there but didn't know who... Juan Carlos: “Yeah it's… what’s his name… he was in that movie with the funny guy… Jim somebobody—Mor…. Free…” “MORGAN FREEMAN?!” I cried in disbelief. “Yeah!” said Juan Carlos.

And this is where I totally lost it. Ashley—one of our new friends from San Francisco— and I were screaming and I started bragging about how I'd tell my grandkids I once saw Morgan Freeman in Guatemala... And if they don't know who Morgan Freeman is, you can be SURE I will educate them. Anyway, it was very exciting and gave me a great "SUCK IT" opportunity to Garrett for my nearly always accurate facial recognition.

Now, let's get back to the ATM cave, shall we? This cave is located near San Ignacio and is notable not only because it’s an archeological wonder, but also worthy for its anthropological significance. Once inside the cave we waded through mineral pools to get to the main sections of the cave—sometimes only being able to fit our necks through tight crevices between rocks in order to do so. Once we entered into the main openings of the cave, we were afforded some amazing views of sparkling calcium carbonate stalactites and differently colored walls sparkling with deposits of magnesium, sulfur, and iron. We also saw plenty of ceramic pots, stoneware, and even skeletal remains of Mayans who were likely sacrificed here in an effort to appease rain gods and bring crop fertility to the region.

For ancient Mayans, caves were spiritual places-- the deeper one went into a cave, the closer to the Gods one became. Mayans would take hallucinogens, go on trips through these caves,  practice rituals, and make sacrifices or practice bloodletting; broken shards of obsidian can still be found here that were used for these purposes.

We walked through the caves and our guide pointed out large sections of the rock that Mayans had carved out to look like different figures in order to scare away intruders. At one point he had us turn off our headlamps as he shone a light on a rock; the face of a witch appeared on the opposite wall. At another point, he shone a light on a rock that resembled a giant creature, sort of like a t-rex, and moved his hand in circles to make the jaws appear to be chomping up and down. He called out eerie, howler monkey-like sounds that echoed through the cave and we all tried to imagine the feeling of seeing by torchlight a giant figure clamp its jaws up and down in an otherwise pitch-black, lifeless place in combination with hearing those sounds, and all while on hallucinogens... It was a pretty unique experience. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the cave to share since in 2012, a tourist dropped his camera on a skull over a thousand years old (whoopsy!) and cameras are no longer allowed.

The next morning we said goodbye to this serene and environmentally sound place and were on our way to Placencia to round off our trip with some more beaching and tropical dranks. We got into Placencia around 12:30 PM, threw on our swimsuits, and headed out to drink in the sweet, salty Caribbean breeze and bask in the sun.

The next couple of days were pretty close to paradise, with the two of us wandering the beaches of Placencia that we had pretty much to ourselves (it’s the low season in Belize so there are few tourists around), sipping rum drinks while watching sea birds soar effortlessly overhead, listening to the wind whisper through the palm fronds and digging our toes a little deeper into the warm sand.

Like I said, this guy really does not know how to relax
Mmmm... A delicious pineapple colada and my favorite Belizean drink: the panty rippah (coconut rum and pineapple juice)
Lobster fritters and ceviche, all of which cost us around 15 BZE ($7.50).
We discovered a great breakfast place called "Friends" (owned by a Canadian man and his family) which had freshly baked cinnamon rolls on Wednesdays and Fridays (we were there on Wednesday) and delicious lobster omelet specials for 10 BZ ($5) while we were there. 
We browsed the real estate a little and came across this intriguing ad. I don't know about you but when I think about "romantic life in the tropics" the first thing that comes to mind is a moving truck. 
We also discovered a delicious homemade ice cream stand while we were there and tried the mango and rum raisin. Super creamy and tasty.
cool thing

Kind of a blurry shot but we looked particularly nice and felt particularly happy in this picture.
Garrett's schmancy rum drink came with a maraschino cherry and I was envious so he went to the bar and got one for me. So glad I married that guy. 
Lookit mom! :D

Look again!

Holy mother of breakfast.
I know you're thinking "Ok Leah but that is literally just a picture of an omelet and toast." No. This is not just a picture of an omelet and toast. This toast was the most amazing wheat toast I've ever had-- perfectly toasted, buttery, crispy and soft (like the fry jack)... It blew my mind so here is a picture of it mainly for the purposes of me getting to ogle it once again.

The final stop on our trip was to Hopkins, a village in the Southeast of Belize with a strong Garifuna drumming culture. Garifuna culture has its roots in African and South Indian traditions and we were very excited about our stay at a drumming center called Lebeha that offers Garifuna drumming lessons, live music and dancing. I think we were meant to stay here on our last night to make us less reluctant to return to the States, because that is exactly what happened. This was by far the most "budget-friendly" place we stayed with rooms at $15 a night, and let me tell you: there was a reason the rooms were that cheap. There were cracks in the wood panels that allowed fun creatures like cockroaches to come in and scuttle over all of our things, the bed springs on the mattress dug into our spines, the outdoor shower was basically a small stall held up by wooden stilts, and the drain was an open hole that led to the ground below (we figured this out, appropriately, by dropping our only bar of soap down it). Anyway, Dorothy, the owner was very sweet and we enjoyed talking with her, so that made our stay here more bearable.

We made friends with this dog who was seriously IN LOVE with Garrett

look at it!
See Garrett, you are clearly meant to be a dog owner ;) 

Look, I can do yoga on the beach

Yayy honeymoon!
Awww #marriage
Last but not least, here are some random pictures from Garrett's phone that I didn't know where to put but wanted to include:
First lobster meal Garrett and I had in Caye Caulker-- this was a whole cooked lobster in a banana butter sauce= amazing
Another great picture of us looking super cool in our snorkeling gear
Margarita face

Pretty kitty in Placencia 
beach snack

A plus of Lebeha is there is cool artwork on the cabins

My trusty hat. This thing was pretty sad looking by the end of the trip but it served its purpose well
Ok, that's it! Thank you for reading and sharing in Garrett's and my honeymoon adventures. We had a great trip and will not soon be forgetting the many beautiful, challenging, delicious, and sometimes gross memories we made and the wonderful people we met along the way. :) Love to you all!