These photos are from a 10 day journey I made to Guinée where I chaperoned for and participated in an Aquinas College cultural exchange trip.
In between Senegal, Sierra Leon, Liberia and Mali, Guinée is a country the size of Oregon on the west coast of Africa and is in the top ten of the world’s “poorest.” The people live their daily lives without running water, stable electricity, garbage service, basic health care, and there is no highway. If you can imagine…there is an estimated 5 million people in the capital city of Conakry that live in these conditions.
A woman from the Peace Corps who we coordinated with named Hilary Braseth has been trying to set up a garbage/recycling program in Dalaba, a town in the interior of Guinée where she lives and works. She says that any kind of policy is so difficult to implement in Guinée. This is a place without any kind of public records and without a census system.
The purpose of our trip was to learn about Guinée through dance, drum, and song classes, and to give a cultural exchange concert. Our host Sarah Lee Parker coordinates camps to Guinée and made our trip possible through her business One World Drum and Dance based in Seattle. Sarah Lee is an amazing host and organizer who does real justice work for the people of Guinée. She structures her camps so that tuition can provide year round housing, food, and health care for the family, musicians, and dancers who host the participants–a sustainable system hard to come by anywhere in the world let alone in Guinée!
Sarah Lee arranged for us to stay at the Mansare home, a compound 45 minutes outside of the capital city of Conakry. With us was the entire Mansare family plus a “house band” of drummers and dancers who go by Bandanjou, a troupe name in honor of Guinée’s iconic huge trees that are the civic centers of villages.
I took flute lessons for a week with Mamady Mansare, who is head of the household and compound where we stayed. He is in a long line of African tambin (flute) players dating back to the 13th century! My lessons were all done by rote and I found a deep satisfaction learning the melodies, breaks, and improv of the repertoire. The process gave me a lot of confidence in my musicianship as it combined my training as a composer, performer, and improviser in a new way. I also did some serious stepping up of my poly-rhythmic chops in the drum classes and learned to shake out of my North American body as I opened up some major shoulder and pelvis movement.
You will see in these pictures the incredible richness, work ethic, hospitality, and beauty of the Guinean people. Back in Michigan now…I’m still thinking about the heat, the high impact dancing, the food, the non-stop singing, the in-house seamstresses who sewed us all African style outfits on a treadle sewing machine; the sharing of Muslim and Christian prayers side by side at some of our meals; the neighborhood baby naming ceremony; the super squished van rides, the countryside, and of course the fruit!
We spent the weekend with my parents and their friends llama trekking through Idaho’s public land. 6 people, 7 llamas, 2 dogs, and 2 dutch ovens!
We camped at a lake around 8100 feet. Bristlecone pines and lupine guarded the whole area.
For the food, I cooked jalapeno corn bread and my dad’s friend Ken cooked lasagne with veggies from his garden. It included some elk sausage from an animal that was killed with a muzzle loader gun and also packed out on steep Idaho slopes at night with lamas!
We just returned from a two week composing residency in Stehekin, Washington, a town at the end of 55 mile Lake Chelan in the North Cascade National Park. A park ranger named Mark Sherer invited us to come reside at his place, write/play music, and enjoy the Cascades.
Stehekin is a Native American word that translates both to “the way through” and to “end of the road.” This town has 80 year round residents, of which Mark has been for 20 years. It has no phone lines, no grocery store, no church, no bar, and only limited internet access via satellite. You have to bring your car on a barge and once you get there the 25 mph road terminates after 11 miles. We were grateful to Mark for letting us borrow his 1980 Toyota Corolla to get around.
It was an incredibly productive time: writing music in the morning, practicing in the afternoon, cooking our gourmet goodies at night. We also took a few days off here and there to backpack in the wilderness.
We intentionally decided to go WITHOUT A PHONE OR COMPUTER for the whole two weeks!
Andy finished two pieces that he had previously started and wrote a new one about the Black Warrior mine in the National Park. I wrote music everyday experimenting with many different styles. We also wrote one piece together entirely composed from ear out on the backpacking trail.
Our second to last night, Mark hosted a potluck/house concert for us. We performed all original stuff from our repertoire including the premiers of the new pieces. People from the valley showed up with their home baked whole wheat pitas, chips and salsa, “The Garden” peas and goat cheese, Trader Joe’s red pepper dip, boxes of Franzia wine and Deschutes Inversion IPA. It was a lovely evening of folks who inhabit this valley year round, an amazing feat in and of itself.
This town is a hippie-health-nature-lovers paradise—surrounded by clean air and water, each cabin with its own garden, people who like sea kelp, Braggs, and nutritional yeast at the table; Dr. Bronner’s in the shower, and composting worm bins in the basement.
The trick of Stehekin though would be to live there in the winter—with wood for heat, groceries that arrive only by boat, mail only every three days, it takes some serious skill and stamina to live there year round.
We slept in a tent outside of Mark’s cabin on the drainage of an alluvial fan, an area that can and actually does flood from all the glacial rivers. One of the guests at the potluck said “yeah, last night when I heard what sounded like a freight train coming down the mountain, I knew.” The little boulder river less than a half mile from us had a flash flood come tearing through it after a hard rainfall. Luckily our drainage did not flood!
We hiked 60 miles and biked 50 during our stay…feeling like the land was working us great by the end. We made it to Cottonwood camp on foot and to an amazing glacial cirque called Horseshoe Basin. Also to the threshold of the 8100 feet McGregor Peak…not quite to the top, but to the notch to the left of it where we saw endless glaciers and peaks.
We shared the residency with a visual artist from Japan who lives in Cincinnati named Shinji Turner-Yamamoto. He collected material for an upcoming opening for Grand Rapid’s Art Prize. It turns out he loves to cook as much as we do. We swapped homemade spaghetti for gnocchi night. Umeboshi pasta lunch for a farewell blueberry pie with local berries the size of my thumb. It was a great time!
We’ve stayed a week now in the Almagro/Abasto neighborhood of Buenos Aires which was originally the city center for wholesale fruits and vegetables. The tango house where we are staying called La Maleva is a few blocks from the Abasto Shopping mall, which is the neighborhood where Carlos Gardel grew up. This area is also home to the the largest Jewish population in the city, think of New York’s lower east side here. Note the picture of the Kosher McDonalds, the only one that exists outside of Israel.
Our staple foods have been empanadas and pasta. There is an amazing pasta shop a few blocks from our place called Revelli Celia E M De that make a beautiful repertoire of all fresh pastas. We’ve been cooking a different pasta dish every night from linguine with cream sauce and spinach, baked gnocchi with cremini-roma-tomato sauce topped with broiled Port Salut, to a simple spinach spaghetti with garlic and olive oil.
The best emapanadas we had were at Cümen Cümen. Check it out if you come to Buenos Aires; they have 22 different empanadas. Our favorite was the Roquefort, nut, and celery. The restaurant food here is also amazing! We’ve had milaneses at El Club de la Milanesa in Palermo, Fish at Solo Pescado in Abasto, and the best steak and pasta dinner ever at Il Vero Arturito.
Our sleep cycle has slowly adjusted here to an appropriate cultural routine. The milongas pick up around midnight, and “going out” here means staying up till 4 or 5am, as one of the women at our milonga table asked another around 1am, “so, are you going out tonight?”
We’ve walked everywhere around town and have been enjoying the city on foot. Its in the 50s and 60s, which for here is winter. People are all bundled up in scarves and down jackets with some of the women in their full length furs!
Andy and I spent the last week riding bikes to wineries in Maipú, a subregion of Mendoza, Argentina. In the neighborhood where we stayed called Coquimbito, many of the wineries are over 100 years old and still have 60-80 year old vines. The wine tourism though has only developed in the past 5 years, making it an interesting study in new and old wine culture.
We biked around 10 miles a day with the scenery ranging from beautiful views of the Andes and fall colored vineyards to urban riding next to lots of trucks and countless dusty vintage cars sputtering through town. All of the wines we tried were good quality. We found vibrant Malbec, balanced Cabernet Sauvignon and region specialties such as Bonarda and Torrontés. We tasted 47 wines at 6 different wineries- La Rarual, Cavagnaro, Carinae, Tempus Alba, Mevi, and Di Tomasso- not even a dent in the 600 some vineyards in Mendoza! We were surprised the most by the malbecs which were all more fruit forward than any we have tried in the U.S.