Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Gates of the Heart Were Flung Open and Love Poured Forth: Honoring the Ancestors in Costa Rica

L-R Kaleema (my daughter), Rev. Qiyamah and Stephanie Berry (my friend and Kaleema's godmother)

While it has only been three months since my incredible journey to Costa Rica it feels like a lifetime ago. Some days it feels like a dream because it was so incredible and almost surreal. I now have some pictures to prove that it was all that!

In the process we met an incredible brother from the States, James Doberman, broadway actor and singer who is now a world class photographer. You can be the judge from the pictures. You can also go to his website to view his gallery of pictures taken around the world (google his name since I have lost his web address).

Back to our pictures - So my daughter Kaleema, my friend Stephanie Berry and I all dressed in white and went out on photo shoots with James. I was not prepared for what occured. It was literally enchanting and magical!
Blessed Be! Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

The Gates of the Were Heart Flung Open and Love Poured Forth!
by Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

It started as a simple invitation from my daughter Kaleema to visit her in San Jose, Costa Rica where she was interning at the Interamerican Human Rights Court through Northeastern University where she was a law student. Momentarily, I reviewed all the reasons why it was not practical for me to go. Fate had already set into motion a $400 travel voucher from American Airlines which allowed me to pay only $135 out of pocket. The Universe was saying Y-E-S-S-S to me and I was stepping out on my tenuous but growing faith. I had just endured a grueling year of non-stop classes after having sold my home and packed up my cat and everything that my little Prius car could hold and headed off to Chicago, IL. to complete seminary.
Once I fully embraced the invitation I almost immediately knew it wasn’t just about my presence but that my friend of 35 years, Stephanie Berry, also my daughter’s godmother should come so that we could do the writing she had been encouraging me to do – to write about the ups and downs of our lives, including the movement years that we shared in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s. We were two young black women coming of age in marriages during that time, and we had grown to be strong and had weathered some hard times and had known and still know some hard times. Steph said yes and the adventure began.

From the moment that my daughter’s invitation was offered, the gates of my heart were flung wide open and my demons and angels surfaced to show me the reality of my soul and God poured forth love and compassion as I stepped pass the whispers telling me that I couldn’t afford it and that it wasn’t a good time. You know, all the stuff that we tell ourselves when we are on the brink of true greatness and moving out of mediocrity.

Diva Personalities
Kaleema was ready to create having an adventure because of the legal work she is doing with the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights which is requiring so much left brained work as is the case in law school. Stephanie Berry, a celebrated, creative, talented and energetic actress/activist was ready to move her life to the next level and claim her power. And then there was me - moving into a new phase in my life after spending all of 2007 taking over 13 classes back to back in order to finish this marathon in academia. So now that I had finished what next? I thought South Africa? Who knows!

San Jose
I arrived in San Jose on January 28, 2008, a day later than my original itinerary. Chicago was experiencing a heat wave with temperatures in the 60s when I departed. When I finally arrived in Fort Worth, TX their record high was in the 80s. That same week both destinations reversed their heat waves, sending folks scurrying for their coats and boots with freezing temperatures. The reality of global warming is more real for those traveling across country directly experiencing and hearing the puzzled comments from fellow travelers and residents about the unpredictable and strange weather patterns.

I spent the first week indoors writing and telling myself that I came to write and not to be a tourist. That was one truth. The other truth is that I was scared to go out by myself among people that I could not communicate with. I had spent six months in Ghana by myself and so how was this so different? This was a new fear, unable to communicate and to possibly be thought of as the “other.” Meanwhile, my daughter was planning her escape out of Dodge (San Jose). She has a knack for event planning and finding great accommodations in our price range. I thought we would wait for Steph who was arriving the following week. However, my daughter was eager to get to the ocean. Thus, we traveled to Puerto Viejos, four and a half hours away. It is an area located on the Caribbean Ocean that mostly derives its income from tourism. We stayed in a little retreat center, Tierra de Suenos (Place of Dreams) that was so beautiful and peaceful that it is difficult to describe. It was just what the doctor ordered. We stayed until the following week although Kaleema should have returned to work much earlier.

Return Trip to Playa Chiquita and Puerto Viejo
Once Steph arrived in San Jose were wasted little time getting outselves to Puerto Viejo. The three of us arrived and it seemed like nothing had changed. The ocean welcomed us with it rushing waves sending us greetings and letting us know we that we were missed. It felt so good to see familiar faces in the little town that had managed to survive our absence and now greeted us as we had never been away. Everything was just as we left it. Cars bustling down the streets, street vendors selling fruit and jewelry. Wannabe surfers carrying surf boards with dreams of riding the next big wave and sporting white boy dred locks. Bicyles are the favored mode of transportation for the hoards of tourists and many residents seen pedaling into town from the outskirts along the dusty road. During the day some of the vendors located on the main road wash down some of the dust with water hoses.

Our first day I eagerly laid out the necklaces that I had bought each of us. Along with the necklaces I had selected beads for necklace making. I included a box of crayons, scissors, markers, construction paper and even postcards depicting Costa Rica. I arranged these gifts on the counter and eagerly anticipated the girls fussing over them. They did and it was like Christmas every day. Our days began with, “Daily Word,” a spiritual reading to plant seeds for the day in my minds. As the unofficial chaplain I took my job seriously to foster a sense of the Divine among us. All this was followed by exercise and a small breakfast provided by staff. When we returned on this second trip we had a bungalow with a refrigerator that we stocked with a few essentials. We did arts and crafts and jewelry making. We had decided early on that each of us would have a day that we were responsible for planning. Thus, each day was different and yet reflected an emphasis on things we each wanted to do. We threw a party while we were there and treated ourselves with gifts, dinner and engaged our creative muses.

Kaleema and Steph went next door to the Yoga Center and participated in classes. They described what it was like to look out into the lush tropical forest that was immediately in front of them as they moved through varied but familiar yoga poses. I stuck with my tried and true cardio kick boxing. The point is that we did the things we needed to do to rejuvenate body, mind and spirit. We had some incredible experiences, eating at the little outdoor stand, Vida Sana where we had my favorite dish, gallo pinto and plantenos (rice, beans and plantains). We went into town on a daily basis to the Chili Rojo Restaurant which was Kaleema's favorite eating place. Chili Rojo is directly across the street from the ocean and when cars were not parked there we had a direct view of the ocean's majestic waves and its almost hypnotic sound that reminded me of times on the beach when holding a huge conch up to ones ear and hearing the roar of the ocean. That sound was almost at arms length calling seductively to us. The sunsets were to die for.

Photo Shot

We commissioned James Doberman, a professional photograher and a brother from the states. We dressed totally in white and then went on photo shoots. At one point we were at the ocean and frolicking in the water and flirting with the camera when Steph began to sing an African chant. I almost wanted to weep it was so beautiful and so right for the moment. More than once we stopped and gave thanks for the opportunity to be present in the land of our people and for the beauty around us. We did something similar at one of the waterfalls near San Jose that we went to. My daughter cut off her friendship bracelet that she has worn since the eighth grade (she is 31 now) and then tossed it into the water to be carried over a waterfall as we said some words with her standing barefoot in the cold mountainous waters.

The three of us are about ritual without really naming it as such. Sometimes it was very intentional and structured. Other times it was spontaneous and just right for that moment. Sometimes one has to simply go with the Spirit and move when the Spirit says move. Our friend and photographer, King James, appeared to be sorely in need of some loving and delightful non-sexual energy. So after our party waned and our other guests left, with incense burning and soothing music in the background we did a good old fashioned foot washing for King James. If you can picture a brother with short twists, designer glasses, walking around with his lap top and a hunting knife tucked into his waist sitting with me washing his feet and pronouncing and naming the healing energies of the ancestors you might have a glimpse into that ritual. That night he was even packing a small revolver and a full sized pellet rifle in a gun case slung across his shoulder. He travels with his dog "Bones" although he bought all four of his hyper and undisciplined dogs that we had to send packing that night since they were creating so much chaos. At any moment King James upon request can burst forth with a medley of show tunes and tap dancing that soothes his wilderness soul almost as much as the nearby rainforests he frequents. The foot washing allowed the giving and receiving of loving energy in a non-sexual exchange in both a symbolic and physical healing and transformation. It also demonstrates the power of humility and stewardship. I sensed that it was important for me to do the footwashing as part of my initiation into ministry. I needed to heal the energy that was preventing me from being in a healthy loving relationship. In that moment King James represented all the Black men in the Universe that needed a moment out from life to just be in a safe place and know that they are loved and that they are the children of God regardless to what others say and do. And I needed to remember that about them. I am so thankful to Steph for suggesting this ritual which is still practiced in many faith communities and among sister circles during crone ceremonies and special events. One minister on New Year’s Eve that I recall, washes the feet of all her congregation members.

I also met a Euro American botanist that teaches at the University of Wisconsin and also teaches cocoa farmers how to maximize their production and profits. He owns a small farm house and has been going back and forth between the States and Costa Rica for 30 years. I was exposed to a group of African Americans that are creating a life for themselves in new and different locations outside the States. What an amazing trip.

Costa Rica was a wonderful healing experience that addressed the healing of body, mind and spirit. Using our various areas of expertise we explored some writing possibilities. On the very last day and less than an hour and a half back in San Jose Steph walked us through breathing and movement exercises, including writing exercises to help us get in touch with our bodies and our inner thoughts. As I write these words I am wearing a necklace that I made while I was in Costa Rica. I have made four other necklaces since then, something that I have not done for many years since I used to make prayer beads. The trip has left a permanent impression on me. I am so thankful for the respite I received in the midst of my busy and sometimes chaotic life. I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with my daughter and friend. I feel like we experienced something that strengthened our bonds and tied us together in a way not previously known.

We are planning to return in August, 2008. This time I will be conducting research on violence against Afro Costa Rican women in and around Limon and Puerto Viejo. Limon is the location where the majority of Afro Costa Rican's are located. I look forward to this return visit though on a more somber note to find out how serious the issue is among Afro Costa Rican's and to working on my Spanish. In a future post I will share what I have learned about domestic violence in general.
Blessings! Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman