The Ancestral Memory 2017 Summer Book List

Friday, June 2, 2017




It's been a while since the Papyr.us Book Club I launched with my friend Assata has been active. Even though we really enjoyed hosting the gathering, our schedules didn't seem to be cooperating so we suspended things. Since the last Papyr.us meet-up, I've carried on my bibliophile ways but as good as that solitary reading has been, I've missed how energising it is to engage with others over works of literature. Such ciphers are powerful. They nurture community, creativity and of course conversation. Thus, I have been contemplating how to bring about Papyr.us again in a way that would be appealing and enriching to those who want to be a part of it. Eagerly, I'm looking forward to hearing any suggestions you may have for this book club that I dream will be a global literary lifestyle community. So leave your comments below this post. In the meantime, here is a list of books that I'll be reading this summer. Don't be surprised if a few of them make it to the Papyr.us list. (There are already quite a few selections not on this list that I'm excited to  review and discuss). Here's  to many happy hot days spent reading! 

Photograph of me: Kyle Walcott

Back To Basics

Saturday, May 27, 2017







A pared down look for days when I may not feel for the exuberance of a printed maxi dress or layers of patterns. Under spoken white and black accented ever so slightly by brass jewellery and red lips.


  Photographed by Sammy Sampson; Edited by me

Travel Diary: The Teotihuacán Pyramids, México

Friday, May 19, 2017










The ancient civilisations of the Americas have long enthralled me. Coloured by the traditions of the Olmecs, Aztecs, Toltec, Mayan and several other groups, Mexico occupies a prominent place in my fascination. One of the most influential of these (and second oldest after the Olmecs)  is the Teotihuacán civilisation. At the height of its existence, the Teotihucán boasted the largest city in the ancient Americas, with a population of estimately, 125,000.  The huge populace also meant that the city of Teotihuacán, established around 100 BC, was probably the world's 5th or 6th largest city in its era. An hour or so outside of Mexico City, the remains of this metropolis stand proudly. 

Archaeological findings combined with records made by the Aztec, who settled the area after its initial demise, have brought to light the city's role in the ancient world.  It was both a spiritual mecca and an urban enclave comprised of magnificent pyramids, surrounding temples, multifamily residences and other complexes. The city was founded as a religious centre and perhaps because of this it blossomed. During its eight to nine hundred  years of existence, people from across the ancient Americas journeyed there in pilgrimage, presenting offerings to the priests and gods. Archaeologists have found turquoise brought from further north (regions that now comprise the  southwestern United States), jade from Guatemala and lapis lazuli from Chile for example. Whether for religious or socioeconomic factors, several ethnic groups settled in Teotihuacán, making it a cosmopolitan city. 

 This significance resonated with the Aztecs who rose to power centuries later. The Aztecs asserted shared ancestral lineage with the original inhabitants of  Teotihuacán and claimed the area  as their base. They embraced, modified and celebrated Teotihuacán customs, helping to preserve its precious history. Today, the city has UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site. 

It's my suggestion that if you visit Mexico City, you devote some time to Teotihuacán Pyramids and Site. It's worth the travel time and possible scores of tourists. Here are some  tips for visiting. 


Transportation
The journey to Teotihuacán from Mexico City via the toll highway is about an hour long but it could take longer if there is heavy traffic. There are a few options for reaching the pyramids: 

*Metro/public transportation- at a price of $5.35 US per round trip ticket ($2.67 US for one way) this is the least expensive option but it is also the most arduous.  The buses to Teotihuacán leave every 20 minutes from Terminal Autobuses del Norte. Usually, I don't mind exploring a city by public transportation. This time though, I was just not up to it. Also, my friend was visiting Mexico for the first time so I figured immersing her into the intensity of Mexican Metro travel would not have been the most gentle introduction.

*Tour Bus- Hotels and even hostels tend to offer transportation to the pyramids as a part of guided tour packages. The cost may range between $30 & $40 US. The tour buses are convenient because they plan the itenenary for you but herein lies a tradeoff. Going with a tour group means that you will be confined by a schedule as opposed to taking in the site at your pace. 


*Uber - Generally, Uber in Mexico is quite cheap. My friend and I shared an Uber, which cost $25.75. Of course the cost will vary depending on the distance, whether you're travelling with someone else and the availability of  drivers/cars that day but Uber is a great option.  We also had a super sweet driver named Michel who stayed with us, served as our escort and drove us back to the city. We were tremendously grateful. I'm certain that if we had actually hired a private driver it would have cost us much more.


*Taxi - I can't remember how much the estimate for a taxi was. However, I do remember being told that it would cost significantly more than an Uber. The travel sites/blogs that I've visited confirmed this. I'll update this information when I have an approximate amount.

 Making Your Way In and Around
The entrance cost is  $5US per person. Admission is free for Mexican residents on Sundays so keep this in mind since it would result in more traffic on those days (and holidays). I don't know if there is a lower charge for children and senior citizens. There is a small charge for parking cars on the premises. This would be worth it if you have a driver with you  especially since the park is pretty big. 

As soon as you enter, you will probably be greeted by tour guides trying to persuade you to hire them. I do believe that they are quite knowledgeable and their services are available in English so it would be useful to accompanied by one of them during your visit but if you choose not to, you will probably still enjoy the experience. In fact, you will have the benefit of a guide's knowledge without the constraints of an organised tour.

Take some water and snacks  with you because as I mentioned before the archaeological zone is extensive and you will quite likely spend at least two hours taking it all in. In addition to the water and sandwich I took with me, I also bought some mango right outside the premises. I didn't see any food for sale in the area of the pyramids but I have been told that there is are a few restaurants located near to the park. 

The trek up the pyramids is slightly challenging but anyone in at least decent shape should be able to make it. I managed the hike in sandals (and a dress!) but sneakers or shoes with some grip would be ideal.


Shopping
There will be people around the pyramids selling blankets and knick knacks such as flutes resembling indigenous artifacts. These weren't quite to my taste  though.  They seemed a bit tacky. I wanted  special, handmade goods. Also, be aware that the vendors in this area can be very persistent. Don't make eye contact and politely say "No gracias!" if you're not interested in purchasing. Fortunately, there are two more spots for shopping in the archaeological zone  apart from immediately at the pyramids. 

The first of these is a museum shop. The shop primarily carries jewellery, replicas of  artifacts made from jade, turquoise, obsidian and other semi precious stones. Additionally, they sell tequila, woven textiles and tshirts.  Even though I didn't purchase any thing there, I considered buying some tequila for my father but 30 USD per bottle seemed a bit steep. Perhaps on another trip. Then I may acquire some of the sculpted jade pieces too.

The third spot for finding some souvenirs is at the designated vending stalls area at the exit. There is a wider assortment of goods: Otomi pillow cases, ponchos, ceramic skulls and leather huaraches for example. I most liked the selection here as well as being able to haggle prices with the vendors. 


N.B. The currency conversion rate is  now Mexican 18.71 pesos to 1 US dollar.


Hopefully, this post is helpful to you if you're considering a trip to Mexico  City. Let me know if you have any questions about visiting Teotihuacán?



Just to Get Away

Thursday, May 11, 2017



The wish to live near the ocean or in the bush has been tugging at my heart strings more and more. Sitting before the sea as the sun stakes its claim in the sky or lying in a hammock reading and drinking a cup of tea as breeze whistles through the tropical foliage...meditating as rain patters unto the eager ground and eating juicy fruits reaped from the surrounding land. Lately, I've been acquainting and reacquainting myself with some of my islands' quiet little spaces...Villages with idyllic Amerindian, French and Spanish names. Passing through these niches that shun many of the trappings of urbanisation remind me that life can move at a slower, more gentle rhythm. How would it be to experience such days as a norm? For days to be governed by the sea or forest? For thoughts to be quieted by nature. I intend to find out.

Photography Credit: Kyeon Constantine 

Village Dispatch: Trinidad & Tobago w/ Ayanna

Sunday, April 30, 2017






Ancestral Memory: What led you to acting?
Ayanna Cezanne:  You can say I've been acting all my life. I come from a family that is performance bound. We've always had very large get together's with cousins, aunties, uncles and my grandparents where there was always a song, a dance and a performance. Apart from the natural environment of having such a lively, large performance based family, I also have a very clear memory of Form 4 GCSE class in London. I was going to Maria Fideles in Euston. We had a very active drama club. Six months prior, I had come to the UK with my mum. I had  found it very unsettling in the U.K. The initial college I attended was Coloma Convent and I felt pretty displaced and alone. I was one of very few black children so I transferred to Maria Fideles. I immediately found my tribe. Although still a convent, it was a bit of an urban school compared to the previous one, which was a very strict all girls convent. There were many flagrant characters there and I fit in with them immediately and drama club was real. Drama club was where it began.  When I came back to Trinidad, I went to Holy Name Convent. We had dance clubs and different performances in which I was involved. Fast forward down the road, I would say that 2011 was my real decision making year to try to take acting seriously, hone in on some talents and formalise some skills. I kinda went brave and decided that this is what I wanted to do.




AM: What exciting things are happening in the Trinidad & Tobago film industry?
Ayanna: In my perspective, there has been a lot of growth and there have been definite opportunities for film makers and actors to have somewhat of a forum to get a chance to actually hone in on some of the areas they want to develop or have access to that in the past due to funding, lack of resources and other constraints, they weren't able to. These things (obstacles) started to lessen, especially with  the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival and a few of the bodies that came into being - some of which I have been told served some type of a purpose but in my opinion did not see through with the mission they were probably set out to accomplish - but nevertheless, they have provided outlets for us to explore, network and take our craft to the next level. What you can see is that  there is an avenue for film makers, actors and technical people. There is a lot still to be done and a lot still to blossom. There are some truths that need to be spoken and I'm not sure we're ready to have those kinds of honest discussions as yet but you can't poopoo the whole party. There has been growth and there have been amazing people coming out of that growth. We do have to focus on the positives.



AM: What are your hopes for the local arts ecosystem?
Ayanna: On the whole, I want to see and possibly experience some real growth within the head space of Trinidadians as far the way we see ourselves and challenge ourselves to be a lot more than what we are presented with. I have seen representations of things that have been the same for the last 30 to 50 years. You would  think  there would have been far more progress in a lot of areas. There is  a stagnation and myopic view that's a mindset of  people in the society. I hope that people continue to forge forward, putting on film festivals, workshops, making opportunities available and developing craft. There needs to be more development of our human capital. I think that's what it comes down to. But people have to be open to that.We need to mature our audiences as well. I'm hopeful. I hope that there are more people wanting to up the ante, regardless of their role in the industry.



AM: To what do you accredit being an unconventional mother?
Ayanna: My mum was an unconventional mother. My grandmother was an unconventional mother. My great grandmother was an unconventional mother. It in meh blood! (Laughs). I've had some other very strong female around me: my aunt Anna, my aunt Nina, my aunt Julianne, my mum. Single parent but very purposed in her youth. Leaving her little San Fernando home. She had a very unconventional upbringing too. She was involved in the 1970 Revolution with my grandfather. She was kicked out of school at 14 because she marched. At the time, she attended Naparima Girls', a prestigious school in the South and that was just not going to be heard of so she left school at 14 and did not go back. She forged a life for herself. Then Ayanna came along and life continued. I think that because of that I made certain decisions after finding out that I would be having a baby. There were so many definitives for me about how I intended to mother. I intended to be informed. I intended to be very purposed. I intended to learn the most positive ways (that I would have known at the time) in which to bring a child up. I really wanted to explore raising a child without hitting a child. Everything about this role I was taking on was about trying to be a better version of myself.



AM: What are four things you would tell your younger self?
Ayanna: Hmmm...."It ain't that serious Ayanna. It's really not that serious. Let go of things that are not serving you and I don't mean airs and graces. It's  ok to not be ok. You're going to figure it out. Once you're willing to do the work, you're going to figure it out. Do exactly what it is you think you want to do. It's a wicked kind of existence when you march to another drum.


AM: You exude such youthfulness and vitality. What keeps you young and vibrant?
Well, thank you for those compliments. I'm going to be so frank about this. Thank my granny and great granny for some good a$$ genes. I think that's where it begins with some good genes. Apart from that, I've always looked younger than I am. As a teenager I was the youngest looking one...a slow developer. That had its disadvantages *( Laughs) but as you grow older, it is an advantage. You see, the things you didn't like (before) become the things you love. I also believe that music is a huge part of youthfulness. I've been really blessed to know so many genres of music and old music. There's nothing quite like the timeless classics in all genres. There's something about that: the storytelling as well as being able to connect with feelings and emotions, to sing and to get it out. Music really takes you and transports you to different places. Also, having a spirited daughter at 22 has been an added benefit-she has been the icing on the cake. She has definitely kept me young. I don't hold on to age at all. In fact, I don't even conceive of it anymore. I intend to be feeling and looking great at 60, 70, 80, whatever time I turn back into dust and move on to some other plane. Regimen wise, I don't actually have a strict regimen. However, in the last few months I've gone through a spell of learning more about my body, my triggers, mindfulness and trying to centre myself more. I've had to and I've had a very good friend on the journey with me who has helped me maintain balance and remaining centred. I've introduced yoga and I do drop it like hot bread and then pick it back up again so don't sit there and think that I have all my ish together. I fall off and on the bandwagon but there has been a certain consistency of late through understanding how stress manifests itself. Self care is more important to me now. You can't get me to do anything on a Sunday unless I absolutely want to. I read or relax, do webinars, tutorials, play music, dance, maybe put on a bikini and feel sexy. It's my day. Also, I've started to use fewer chemically based products. It's bloody expensive but important. Meditation is key now, I try to do that daily. I don't ever want to say the word regimented but I do try to practise this more because it feels good when I do. That's it really. To live good and I love alot! I love alot!




AM: Where on our islands do you go to be revitalised?
Ayanna: To be honest, I don't really have a favourite place that I go . I love to be near music. I can be a really happy camper in the middle of a party where the right music is being played. That can be my getaway. I would be in my own world, singing and dancing, not caring about anything but the music and me. As far as a physical place though, I like the ocean a lot. Also, I treasure that quiet time at home being alone in my thoughts....Practising the joy of keeping my own company. So my home can actually be my go to space. It might mean being in the outdoor part of my home. I can feel the breeze and spot the ocean. Home is probably the best space for me.






Sundays Like This

Sunday, April 16, 2017





Having a job that often takes me away on the weekends has helped me appreciate the languorous pleasure of Sundays spent sleeping in late...well, Saturdays too for that matter. Unfurling from soft sheets to the sounds of nature instead of jumping to the jarring toll of an alarming clock is a welcomed respite. I take my cool time to greet the world. Un-bothered by the hours going by, I read, daydream or watch a movie-usually, spoiling myself with all three. I sip a cup of soothing tea and listen to my heart's musings. I used to feel a tinge of guilt at this self indulgence but many morns pulled from hotel beds to work before 6 am and having to then immediately turn on the 'ready to chat' switch have been an effective cure. I've come to embrace my need for solitude. Those who truly know me, know that as conversational as I can be, my tolerance for socialising and chatter is actually quite low.  As such, I view Sundays' quiet, easy awakenings as a sacred opportunity to care for my mind and spirit. In the haven of my home bedroom (since that's where I linger), I can recharge from the over stimulation of this society. Although I hope that even if I'm married with children, I will still claim such moments,  they will probably not be as frequent as now. (My friends with young one's to tend to remind me of this, intentionally or not). So for as long and as often as I can, I  will indulge in Sundays like this. 

Please share how you spend your Sundays. Do you pass them lazily or do you find yourself out and about before the sun is high in the sky?

Photography: Sammy Sampson 

Holding A Medi - A Guide to Meditation Pt 1

Saturday, March 18, 2017




At the time, it was hard to believe. The notion that sitting silently and just focusing on my breath for say...30 mins...could significantly improve my mood much less grant me an enduring peace. However, after battling depression for several years, I decided that I had nothing to lose by giving the suspiciously simple exercise a go. I sat on the floor and followed my friend's instructions: folded my knees, sat upright, closed my eyes and attempted to quiet my mind. At first it seemed difficult and I felt both annoyed and frustrated at not being able to gain control of my thoughts, which came as relentlessly as water rushing over a dam. I silently berated myself for my incessant mental chatter. That was just it though, I was trying and judging and forcing something to happen. As I stopped trying to control my thoughts and allowed them to pass without judgement, they ebbed and serenity washed over me. It was the first time in I could not recall how long ago that I felt such a profound peace. After the 30 minutes had passed and I opened my eyes, the feeling was still with me. Three hours later it was still with me. It was as though I was immune to worry, fear, anger,impatience and other manifestations of negative thought. They would come but they would not move past an imperceptible filter. I decided that I would meditate the next day and see if the outcome would be the same. It was! The next day too... and the day after that...Before long, I was meditating twice a day, at times for an hour at once. The strange exercise I had been reluctant to try was now something that I eagerly looked forward to doing. This was not as a result of some addiction but because I felt the markedly positive differences that the practice imparted. Things occurred with increased harmony and ease in every area of my life. Doors opened. Barriers were removed. Paths were made clear and miracles abounded. I felt clarity, discernment and  connection to the Creator. I realised that meditation is a tremendously powerful spiritual practice.

For ten years now,I have been an avid believer in know-er of the transformative power of meditation. Having experienced its benefits, I'm happy to see that more and more people are doing so too. Much to my delight, many schools around the world are incorporating meditation into their curricula.  It's also being introduced to work places by some open minded employers. Granted, there is still skepticism - which I think is often promoted to steer people away from something that could benefit not just themselves but the world at large. Nonetheless, I see many indications that meditation is being embraced. Despite all my praise, you may still be tempted to roll your eyes.  I am sure  though that if you were to practise meditation  even for just a few weeks, you would see the reasons for my enthusiasm. In case you have been interested in meditation before or my claims have piqued your curiousity for the first time,  I am happy to share what I've gathered from my experience with it so far.


Beginning with this post, I'll be sharing some tips on silent meditation. In the future, I'll extend the series to cover other forms of meditation. I hope that this guide will be helpful to you as you give meditation a chance to help you. For starters, let's dispel a few common fallacies.



 How To Meditate Silently- Dispelling the Myths

1) Meditation is not just for Hindus or Buddhists 
2) The objective of meditation is not to turn a person against his or her religion.
3) Meditation is not devil worship or "New Age" mumbo jumbo.
4)Meditation is not a cup out for those who don't want to take initiative in accomplishing things in life.
5)Meditation is not meant to be a sedative to escape dealing with life's challenges.
6)Meditation is not just for people who believe in God.
7)Meditation is still effective even when done for a short amount of time.
8) Sitting in silence with your eyes closed and limbs folded isn't the only way to meditate. There are myriad ways to do so. From taking a stroll, to washing wares, from taking a shower to eating, much of what we do can be meditation.
9)Meditation is not just for people who do yoga or are into Eastern spiritual practices.
10)Meditation does not require perfect thoughts or perfect attention...just for us to be present.

Photography Credit:Sammy Sampson 



Travel Diary: Ghana; Market Adventures Pt. 1

Friday, March 3, 2017







When I think of shopping in West Africa, markets immediately come to mind - boisterous, colourful chaotic places where a person can find  a dizzying assortment of goods. During my recent visit,  the markets in Accra matched this profile (to varying degrees of intensity). The Accra Arts Centre is on the mild end with Makola and  Kaneshie  being on the more intense end of the spectrum. With that said, if you are new to African markets, I suggest easing your way in gently...Well, as gently as possible.

You may want to first visit the Accra Arts Centre, which caters primarily to tourists. There you can practise your bargaining/negotiating skills, obtain a feel for the local market etiquette and gather many souvenirs for yourself and others. The Arts Centre is aptly named considering that it houses a plethora of arts, crafts/ hand made goods. As you peruse the stalls, you will find piles of fabric including Ghana’s iconic kente cloth, sculptures, masks, beads galore, drums, brass wares - both modern and antique and many other items. I could be wrong but from my observation,  compared to the other venues, the Arts Centre has the best selection of arts and crafts in Accra. (I don’t think I took enough photographs  to give you a good idea of what the place is like. Hopefully, next time I can make up for that.)

As I mentioned previously, relative to places like Makola and Kaneshie, the atmosphere at the Arts Centre is mildly tempered. The vendors are generally polite and professional, happy to offer their best service but not in an overly aggressive manner. You may even experience that if a vendor you’re visiting doesn’t have an item you would like, he/she may run off to find a neighbour who has it. I witnessed this several times and each time I found the sense of community refreshing. Of course, each person was intent on making  sales but I had the impression that the overarching belief was that the success of one was the success of all. Most vendors also seemed pleased to have someone from another part of the African Diaspora patronise their businesses. Several of them confided in me that they felt a special connection to their AfroCaribbean and African American guests. In such a positive environment, it was no surprise that I ended up befriending a few of the vendors.

Another pleasant aspect of the Accra Arts Centre is that there are several coconut vendors on the premises. Whenever you feel drained by shopping or by the heat, you can rejuvenate yourself with fresh coconut water. However, should you want something besides coconut to eat or drink, there is a small restaurant/ cafe at the market’s entrance. Although I only purchased some coffee and a pastry from them, one of my new friends, Emmanuel informed me that they also serve local Ghanaian dishes and that on certain nights, they have live music or a dj.  

Oooh! One more cool thing to note about the Arts Centre Market is that it’s located walking distance from the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. For those who may not know, Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana's first Prime Minister and a PanAfrican hero. The mausoleum is the site where he was laid to rest. It may be a good idea to stop at the Mausoleum first to pay your respects before your hands are filled from shopping. Another option though is that you can stop by the market to note prices, take a break at the mausoleum and return to the market after. That way, you will not be impulsively buying and thus you will limit the possibility of buyer’s remorse or paying too much for an item.


This post was focused on the Arts Centre Market but I do intend to do separate posts on some other Ghanaian markets in the future. Below are some suggestions should you plan to visit. Please feel free to ask me questions regarding anything I did not cover.


Tips and Things to Note

*Negotiate prices with vendors. Offer to pay ⅓ of the price announced  and work from there.

*You will quite likely be charged more (the ubiquitous tourist fee) if it’s apparent that you aren’t a local.

*Do not show interest in an item if you aren’t prepared to pay for it.

*Browse around the market and compare prices before purchasing anything.

*Should you find an item you like at one vendor but not in a colour you would like for eg., and you find the same item in the desired colour elsewhere but for a higher price, politely explain that you saw it for less at a different stall. The vendor may be willing to reduce the price. There is no quarantee of course but it doesn’t hurt to politely try.

*Although the vendors at Accra’s markets aren’t as aggressive as those in Marrakech for eg. (my opinion), be prepared for some persistence or a bit of pushiness on a slow business day. With that said, don’t be pressured into buying anything you aren’t comfortable buying.

*Most vendors speak English fluently since it is commonly spoken in Accra (Ghana’s capital). This differs in remote areas, such as the villages to the North. However, you may even find some vendors at Kaneshie or  Makola market who don’t speak formal English fluently, but maybe Ghanaian pidgin, which is a deeply colloquial dialect of English. I would be impressed if you understood or could speak pidgin.

*Most vendors accept US dollars, English pounds and Euros. However, I think that using  Ghanaian cedis is better  because you may not receive the best rate if you use foreign currency. Plus, I suspect that the person selling you may be less inclined to inflate the price. I could be wrong though.

*Last but not least, use your manners. As in most places in the world, saying thank you carries you far. The English words for this is fine but the vendors love when you practise a Ghanaian language and the most widely spoken is Twi. So, start with Meda w’ase or Medasi (meh-dah-see) - Twi for thank you.

Photography Credit: Photos of me by Kwame Prosper
All other photos by me.