Ayahuasca in the Amazon: spiralling vortex and singing serpents

Created with flickr slideshow.

I spent 16 days at Ayahusca Perú, a centre located in the Western edge of the Amazons, a geography that spans through, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Colombia and Brasil. Ayahuasca is a traditional indigenous medicinal psychotropic drink brewed from the thick bark-like vine of the ayahuasca plant and the leaves of the chacruna plants. Well the version I drank and prepared was. I was told by the caretakers of the centre that the vine makes you ‘dizzy’ and the leaf gives you ‘visions’. You can read all about the active ingredients DMT and Harmaline online to know how it actually affects your brain. And though I read a lot of literature (see reading list at end) before and during this journey it still felt completely unique and unexpected. I may be open-minded enough to find my way to the amazons to experience ayahuasca and have my own philosophy of the larger picture and meaning of the universe and our place in it, but I also maintain a healthy scepticism, a western-educated rational brain and a constant need to define and explain things logically. All of which I could easily do with this experience, yet would make for much less interesting reading material than if I just admitted that it was the most tangible experience of an alternate and magical world that I have ever experienced. Any comparison to recreational drugs seems superficial and disconnected, experiencing the effects of ayahuasca was directly connected to the ceremony and the curanderos or healers, as well as the intense level of detoxing and fasting that accompanied the experience.

Before I tell you about the actual ceremonies some context. Ayahuasca is considered a medicine that is administered by curanderos through ritual ceremonies that include icaros or mystic chanting, tobacco smoked through a ritual pipe, palo santo smoke (a type of scented wood) and Agua de Florida, a kind of perfumed flower water. The curanderos are the pilots, ayahuasca is the vehicle and you are the passenger. I cannot really imagine separating these three integral parts. Before arriving at the centre I was told to begin detoxing by reducing salt, sugar, eliminating fat and meat from my diet and no sex. During my stay I ate very simply, fruit for breakfast, boiled rice with some basic veggies for lunch and dinner, no salt or any condiments. Ceremonies were held every other day and on those days lunch at noon was a simple vegetable broth with some bits in it, no salt of course, and no food til the next morning, so you basically fasted every other day. I did quickly lose some weight! Was impressed how fast I dropped and then how my body shifted my metabolism to slow down from its usual faster speed. The simple diet and fasting alone gives you a certain lucidity. I was staying in a cabin that was a bit removed from the rest of the centre. Though there was a capacity of up to 17 guests, there was only one other person, a French Canadian woman who mostly like me, kept to herself in her cabin. Over the course of 16 days I completed 7 ceremonies, drinking ayahuasca 6 times. All of the ceremonies were at the centre except one, where I ventured out to visit a local curandero to have a different and more local experience. More on that later...

The centre was located on a large island bordered on one side by a huge lagoon and on another by a river. Inhabitants on the island were limited, as there was no electricity and two months out of the year the island was covered in about a metre of water, so all constructions on the island were elevated. This was located a short distance from the city of Pucallpa in eastern Perú near the border with Brasil. I flew to Pucallpa where they picked me up in a mototaxi and drove me to a boat which went across the lagoon to the centre. This is the most diverse region of the Amazon, as the jungle meets the foothills of the Andes mountains. Ten acres of jungle here have the same variety of trees as all of Europe. An acre of land has the same amount of variety of ants as all of Britain. The jungle is teeming with iguanas, lizards, chameleons, monkeys, sloth bears, huge amounts of colourful birds, majestic birds of prey, crocodiles, abundant fish, dolphins, piranhas and that's just what I saw…

On the ceremonies themselves… Each ceremony was completely different. There was the caretaker of the centre always present, and two lovely curanderos who were part of the Shipibo tribe. They had Shipibo names but I was introduced via their Spanish names Antonio and Alejandrina. Antonio is 92 years old and Alejandrina, his wife, is 80. They seemed quite old and frail, yet had a real spark to them when they spoke. Their accents sounded a bit Portuguese to me, I have no idea if this is because we were close to the border of Brasil. There was a special ceremonial room that was circular, and we began around 21:30 to 22:00 and were usually done by 2am. The entire ceremony was held in the dark, and you lay down with your head towards the middle of the room. Antonio would whisper incantations into the agua florida and the ayahuasca, which the caretaker would then bring over, bless you with the water, anoint your forehead, wrists, nape of your neck, and top of your feet with ayahuasca cream, and then give you a small very old ceremonial Inca clay cup to drink the ayahuasca from. I was told that Antonio’s chants sent you ‘travelling’ and Alejandrina’s chants brought you 'down'. I can’t totally attest if this was true, though I can definitely say that there singing affected the experience and there was the sensation of being taken through a vortex through the song and the effects of the drink, and also of returning and becoming aware of your surroundings when the chants paused or ended.

On the first day you drink a small amount of a green grassy tasting extract of the plant Piñón Colorado, and a large pitcher of warm water which activates the purging. Depending on your levels of toxicity affects how much you will purge. I was told young people who arrive full of toxins from drug use purge quite a lot. I was quite content feeling totally fine and then suddenly threw it all up. But it wasn’t at all painful, more like an immediate reflex. Luckily the cabin had an outhouse as the purge really cleans you out through and through. You feel pretty lucid after and I wondered why we don't get to do that more often! Especially with the lifestyles we live in the big cities I’ve spent my life in, I think it's a healthy kick start.

My first ceremony was mild, I felt dizzy and I fell asleep. I didn't realise the ceremony was over, until the caretaker called my name and told me so. He had told me that they take it easy the first session. I did awaken later in the night and was extremely dizzy, but fell asleep again until morning. The second and third session were absolutely intense. I had extremely lucid visions which felt like a cross between reality and a dream state. I was aware I was in a trance like state, but was completely involved in the world I was seeing. Every once in a while you zone back into reality and could if you wanted go out to the bathrooms, but I never did, I was quite happy to lay there and zone back out again. DMT is found in our Pineal Gland and is released when we dream, so you can imagine what a spike in this does to your brain.  Unlike dreams you remain aware you are in a vision state during ayahuasca, and can actively make choices, change scenarios and receive and give information. One of the things I had been told about was the animal archetypes that come during ayahuasca like jaguar, birds of prey and serpents. These were intense and very real. I saw the ayahuasca vines as serpents inside of me, not frightening at all, I could see the way the serpents moved as electrical impulses and they travelled throughout my entire body, something many sometimes one giant one. Sometimes coming down through my head and sometimes in through my stomach. I also saw the two curanderos as large anacondas each singing their icaros behind me… Sometimes they chanted in unison, sometimes two different chants which weaved together like a pattern, sometimes one then the other. I spoke with my deceased relatives, some I never met, and saw situations from my life in a total other context and light. I saw myself transform into a black jaguar which at times I embodied, fully feline and strong, and a times was me, but sat above me protecting me as I lay there. I flew out over the ceremonial hut and went travelling around the world, where I saw different times and cultures and places, anchored into the eyes of a person... Most of all I saw an incredible network of interconnected systems of energy that made up the 99% of the reality around us that is not material. This alone was fantastic, a sense of total connectedness and a feeling of deep understanding. Visually it resembled the kaleidoscopic patterns we may see when we shut our eyes, or the traditional Shipibo pattern-making which are all influenced by ayahuasca.

At the end of one of the ceremonies when I felt myself return to reality and the icaros ended I was so happy… I sat up and thanked the curanderos whom we called maestros. Alejandrina said to me: "we haven't taken the ayahuasca out yet" I didn't understand what she meant… They starting singing and I sat with my eyes closed feeling quite content and suddenly it felt like the plant just leapt out of me, I vomited into a bucket, I could see it as a vine exiting my body...

My fourth ceremony was rough. I felt quite sick and often vomited. One of the things I did realise is that when you visit anything negative in your mind, a memory, an event or situation, you feel a twist on your gut and you usually get sick. It is as if you expel the negativity of that out of your body in a physical way. The medicinal belief is that 80% of illnesses in the human body are psychological and can be cured through ayahuasca. The curandero puts a hand on you and tells you what you need healed. But there are times they may lay hands on you and recommend you go to the hospital, sometimes stating the illness before its been diagnosed. As I didn't go for healing I went for the experience I cannot attest personally, but I did speak with a local man who ran a small shop of artisanal handicrafts who told me how he was on his deathbed and was healed by a local curandero. He mentioned his sister-in-law was unwell and was going to visit the curandero across the lagoon so I left the centre one evening, got on a canoe across to a small village, and ended up in a curanderos house who was of the Campa tribe. The village had electric and shops though rudimentary. Behind the house was an open wooden thatched roof structure, and about 10 locals who had come for a cure to various ailments. We positioned ourselves jigsaw laying along the wood floor which had corse blankets on them. When everyone was settled the curandero gave everyone a shot glass of ayahuasca, which they drank in a single gulp. I tried but the bitter taste was difficult and did it in two. He offered a two other young men a second drink as well as myself. One lad took another, one refused, and I decided to go for it. He didn’t sing icaros like the other curanderos. He sort of did a whispered whistle and was mostly quiet. The trip was strong, I felt very out of it, in and out of touch of the physical world. I saw the curandero as a large bird that was hopping around the space going to each person and blowing smoke on them. I was content to be laying there, on the edge of a village in the amazons, surrounded by locals and having a real intense journey.

The next morning we went back to the island with the sister-in-law and her husband. She told me she felt nothing, it had been her first time. In an elated state I walked with them through marshland and low jungle to a canoe where two lads were sleeping waiting for us. I sat at the bow and watched as we slowly emerged from a jungle river into the lagoon as the sun came up. The world seemed so alive, water, plants, air, animals and people all part of this intricate system, a fabric of energy that underlines everything and connects everything and for the first time seemed tangible and visible and comprehensible to me… That one moment I will really carry with me and revisit...

My final ceremony at the centre I didn’t drink ayahuasca, I told the caretaker I was quite happy with the experience and would only listen. Taking part of ceremonies and healing through song is also part of the culture.  I’m really glad I did too because I wondered what the ceremony would feel like, was taking a psychotropic drink enough?  This was my closing ritual where they place the ‘arcana’ or shield to protect you, as post-ayahuasca you are clear and clean and thus vulnerable. The ceremony was short, and as they sang and came to me with smoke and agua florida I definitely felt like they were operating on my inner being. I was happy to know that I could genuinely feel the effects of the curanderos even without the ayahuasca to convince myself of their crucial role in the process…

The magic of the jungle became real and tangible. I couldn’t say that's a world I'd want to be in more, but I am happy to have experienced it. There is so much more I am leaving out, but this is the beginning of my story. The experience was really challenging and also enlightening, but all great leaps require effort. I don't think I could even recommend this to everyone, I’m still processing my own experience and I can imagine it being incredibly difficult for some. Perhaps I would recommend it for its purpose, to heal, both physically and emotionally. Or to give someone a deeper perspective on life.

But that is of course if that's what you’re seeking…

Reading List:

Claudio Naranjo - Ayahuasca: la enredadera del rio celestial
César Calvo - Las Tres Mitades de Ino Moxo: y otros brujos de la amazonia
Carlos Castaneda - Las Enseñanzas de Don Juan
Jeremy Narby: Intelligence in Nature 
Guillermo Arévalo Valera - Las Plantas Medicinales y sus Beneficias Para la Salud.
Charles Darwin - The Expressions of Emotion in Man and Animal
Joseph Ledoux - The Emotional Brain
Hermes Trismegistus - Kybalion


Journey is the destination...


As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy 


Washington Heights in London

Been pushed into a deep well of nostalgia this past week for my formidable years growing up in Washington Heights, up on the tail end of the rodent-shaped island Manhattan, not only uptown but uphill, the city on a slant from North to South.

Two topical launches have hit London celebrating my old hood, Linda Mannheim's Above Sugar Hill, a series of short stories based in the neighbourhood, cutting across time, race, gender and class... something in itself distinctly American. The second is In The Heights, premiering in London for the first time, a musical that takes on the stories of struggle and survival in the ga-heh/toe.

For the first time since moving to London I sat and wondered what it would be like if I had never left the Heights.... I wasn't even living there when I left NY anyway, having ended up in Loisaida, another colourful place featured in the musical Rent.

Washington Heights was an incredible place, full of solid pre-war buildings with sunken living rooms, big parks, river views, hills, nestled comfortably between the FDR and the West Side Highway, with two bolts sticking out of its neck like Frankenstein, GWB (George Washington Bridge) on one side and Alexander Hamilton bridge right across the other. This meant this perpetual buzzing of traffic all around the area, non stop 24 hours a day, windows always covered in fine brake dust... And inside the Heights a cocoon of people mixing together, Boricua's & Quisqueyana's (The native names of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic), Hasidic jews, left over Irish who hadn't yet moved up to the Bronx, and random other NYers like us the Chilean family taking refuge from Queens.

I remember being really proud because Dr. Ruth, the TV pop sex therapist lived in the hood! The area was rough no doubt but you knew which streets to go to and which not to. I really remember it as one giant playground, running along the river, cutting class and drinking 40's in the playground of Bennett park, the giant games of manhunt in Fort Tryon park, walking around with an MC jacket and a knife I would never really use. All part of the NY trade I guess...

I highly recommend both the book and the musical, I found both totally entertaining, especially for a London audience... of course, I'm a willing subject. What Mannheim achieves is to honour the other in her stories, the child, the mother, the awkward teen, the outcast. It's a relief for the main characters to not be populated by the standard fare. The language, the politics and the social struggle all made me feel serious empathy and reminded me of my own long road walked. The stories made me remember my first girlfriend who lived above me on the 5th floor with her coke-head father, sharing a bunk bed in a 1-bedroom, who said 'ated' instead of 'eaten', and thought going to the movie theater where your feet stuck to the floor was a step up from her usual dates to the park... This is the joy of reading Above Sugar Hill, the retelling of the stories that don't often get told, the desperation to 'get out' but the attachments that keep us where we are. If I didn't like Influx Press enough after reading Marshland, I'm now feeling pretty much represented in their choices of books to publish.

In The Heights, touched upon some of the same positive points as well. In full American razzmatazz force the cast sing, jump and sweat across the floor and in front of your face. Their energy is visceral, powerful, contagious and at times cheesy, but hell its an American musical, just go with it. I will fully admit I came into the Southwark Playhouse with pretty low expectations but instead left elated and proud of seeing my old hood on stage to a British public. Of course there are flaws in trying to be something you're not, recreating the Heights would be impossible, but I really didn't care, I still think they did a stellar job. Except for the soy milk prop in the bodega (deli), okay that made me chuckle! Course I was the insider often laughing by myself at things they said and no one really got. The Abuelita character reminded me of an old Cuban woman who lived in an apartment by the lobby entrance to my building. She never let go of missing Cuba, she feared the area and the other Latinos, always worried she would get clobbered in the head while walking the streets. And after 50 years of living in the Heights, never assimilating and never learning English she died as she feared but in that way can only happen in the Big City: the ceiling above her bed fell on her in her sleep and crushed her to death... Another story lost in the echo of a million voices in the urban jungle....

So get a full dose of some real New York grit in your teeth. Read the book and see the show, you'll be in for a treat, and then lets grab a pint and I'll tell you where the best pizza in the hood really is... If its still there.


Letter to NYC about London

Part of a writing exercise workshop, thinking back 9 years ago to when I first moved to London and writing back to a friend in NYC about my thoughts and observations about the change:

Dear Sara:

So here I am after the whirlwind of NYC for so many years, landed in a place that is somehow so similar yet polar opposite. The pace of life here is so much slower, and takes some getting used to. But slowing down feels good. I can hear myself and somehow be more the me than I was able to be before. What frustrated me about New York was everyone was always in your face all the time and I felt a lack of emotional space. Here everyone is so guarded and inside themselves. I think it must be the weather! 

The grey skies wrap you like a blanket and you feel comfortable and quiet, calming your emotions. Getting around these streets is so intense! Ive always prided myself of being an avid traveller, but my first week alone I got lost at least 10 x. There is no compass grid system to work with, you swear youre going North and suddenly its South! And with a white sky you cannot see the sun for direction. I realise now how rigid the grid system is, almost violent to our nature as organic beings. The medieval footprint here means you have to meander slowly to get anywhere, instead of pushing though a system of squares and rectangles, there are much more triangles and circles (in this case roundabouts). 

I also realise the who I am has changed by sheer context! There are few Latinos, some Americans, almost no real New Yorkers, and I have become much more an exotic of species, shorter and darker by comparison, with too sharp a tongue and too fast a pace. Need to exorcise the New York demon out of me…

One of my favourite things about London is how local it is. A big city that really is a collection of villages, people love and respect the local in a beautiful way. There is pride in the history and stories and Londoners are happy to share it with foreigners and immigrants, so I feel I am able to settle in and become one of many. Its funny only the English from outside of London tend to ask me where I am from, Londoners take it for granted that everyone is from somewhere and may instead ask what I do, or chat about the weather. Actually talking about the weather seems crucial as an ice-breaker. And you’ll never guess, everyone complains its rainy!! How funny is that? I guess it’s a social bonding method to moan and agree about the weather. Note to self, tone down the cheery attitude… 

Okay running out of space, love you and more soon! 



Artist Walk with Cooltan and Artangel

Developing a new project commissioned by Artangel and in conjunction with Cooltan.

Artangel projects are given shape by a particular place and time. They can involve journeys to unfamiliar locations, from underground hangars to abandoned libraries. Or sometimes they can offer unfamiliar experiences in more familiar environments – a terraced house, a department store or daytime television.

CoolTan Arts believes mental well-being is enhanced by the power of creativity. It’s a charity run by and for adults with mental distress. Cooltan aim to promote positive mental health/well being, bringing about a change in how participants perceive themselves, enabling people to gain greater focus and to re-establish their relationship with society. Cooltan aim to offer life long learning and enable people to achieve qualification and accreditation status in the coming year. They achieve this through quality arts education with professional outcomes such as public exhibitions, and social enterprise principles.

The project in made in collaboration with the commission of Saskia Olde Wolbers yet to be announced so will not expand on that yet.

But for my project I share this description:

This project will be a narrated walk that uses as a source of inspiration the Victorian row house situated at 87 Hackford Road where Vincent Van Gogh resided in 1873 whilst in London. It will explore letters written by Van Gogh about his experience here in London and also consider what it would have been like to see this city through his eyes, allegedly suffering from epilepsy, bi-polar disorder and delusions.

The project will explore walking around the area, passing Van Gogh’s former residence and invite people on to a new journey of discovery. This will be a one-to-one performance, in which one audience members walks on a narrated journey, which they can hear over headphones.

Guided by the product of the Cooltan workshops, the audience is encouraged to delve into an alternate reality of the city, and follow a course through our own chosen route where they will encounter the peoples, stories, rumours, and whispers that inhabit the architecture that surrounds us.

I will work together with participants on the narrative through interactive workshops that explore our own stories in connection to Van Gogh’s. As we learn about him we can learn about ourselves and share this in a special public walk.

The participant on this narrated walking tour examines their surroundings by creating interior visualisations based on their movement through the space. The world they create is influenced by the sounds and smells that come from the environment as well as introduced by what we develop.

Is they city what it seems? What happens when we stop taking it for granted and put ourselves in the vulnerable position of using our imagination publicly…

21st Century Folk Culture

A great new online initiative by the Museum of British Folklore.

There first entry looks at the Saddleworth Rushcart festival:

Saddleworth Morris Men are a group of traditional folk dancers from the north of England. Saddleworth is a valley in the Pennine hills between Manchester and Leeds, and each of the six villages in the valley has its own unique dance. Like other Morris dances from the north-west of England, they are performed in Lancashire clogs, shoes with leather uppers, wooden soles and shod with iron. The Saddleworth dances are noisy, complex and not done by any other dance groups anywhere. The team, or 'side' as it is known, are also famous for their spectacular hats, stacked high with fresh flowers.

Rushcarts are an old tradition in the region, but died out in the early 20th Century. In 1975, the Saddleworth men again built a cart, and one has been built each August since. The wooden cart, ladened with 3 tonnes of carefully cut fresh rushes stacked 5 metres high, decorated with banners and with one lucky dancer sitting on the top, is pulled around the villages by over a hundred dancers from all over England, preceded by a large band. The rushes are taken to the church and afterwards there is wrestling, gurning (face pulling), song and dance.

Photo by Bob France


Measuring the state of global peace

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), based in Sydney and New York, focuses on measuring peace with quantitative metrics to better understand the factors contribute to political stability and economic development.

Check out the full PDF here:

Link to full PDF of Global Peace Index 2013

Or click image to see the snapshot:


Notes on a Brief Tour to Australia and New Zealand

Just finished production managing Circolombia’s tour of the show Urban in Australia’s Sydney and Adelaide and New Zealand’s largest city Auckland.  I wouldn't have ever visited these countries as a tourist for it’s distance too far, the cost too high, and what I assumed to be the cultural experience too low. But my actual visits have made me see otherwise (except for the cost bit!). Both Oz & Nz are unique and interesting places which run across magnificent stretches of planet earth...

Though I have to admit what has struck me the most is the ability of England, Europe's most densely populated country, to bud into a variety of commonwealth nations. As I walked around Australia and New Zealand I couldn't help but wonder how could convicts, missionaries and farmers expand so much? Then one day I saw a group of white children on a school outing in Adelaide and thought to myself: ‘ah, that’s exactly how they took over these lands… reproduction’. This added with an imported complex social system backed by Guns, Germs & Steel and of course cruel colonial practices...

So what about the indigenous people? In Australia I saw the beautiful Aboriginal flag flown next to the Australian flag more often than I saw the newer Maori flag flown next to the Kiwi flag. Yet I barely saw any Aborigine people coexisting in the cities I worked in, and the few I saw seemed marginalised and destitute.  Nevertheless Oz seemed to have adopted Aboriginal symbols and patterns as a sort of local folkloric motif seen on anything from public benches to souvenirs  One river pathway in Parramatta en route to the theatre where I was working did retell the story of the Stolen Generation when Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and put in ‘civilising schools’ to become more ‘white’. What I was told by a local was that what is missing from the story is the systemic killing of the adult males and raping of the females to mix the race. And this was going on until recently as you can see in the brilliant film Sapphires about a female Aboriginal soul group in the 60's that tours to Vietnam entertaining US troupes during the war. During this same era a 1967 referendum finally recognised the Aboriginal community as citizens of the Australia and should be noted was overwhelmingly voted in.

In New Zealand racial integration seemed much more apparent and was to me a rather welcome relief. Upon arriving for the Auckland Arts Festival, all the visiting artists were taken to a marae (sacred area) for a Pōwhiri  (welcoming ceremony) where I got to have my first hongi greeting (kinda Maori kiss :). It was a generous gesture of cultural identity and a real tourist attraction. The AAF programming included various Maori works including the festival hit Hui where a new local friend performed and a live Ta Moko, or traditional Maori tattooing, event where tattoo artists worked on their clients and took questions about the process and the meaning from spectators.

Perhaps this larger representation of Maori’s in the cultural scene of Nz comes from a combination of the Maori people as a strong warriors not easily defeated and the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed between the British colonists and the Maori chiefs in 1840, creating an early constitution from which to organise the country. Many white New Zealanders spoke with pride of Maori traditions in some ways seeing them as their own as New Zealanders even if they were not Maori themselves. After all Maori’s were immigrants too, arriving by waka (canoe) from Polynesia, a few hundred years before the Europeans and to an already inhabited island. Yet a parallel was drawn to me by a Maori between them and African-Americans, where a lack of education opportunities, funding, history of inequality and racism has created huge domestic disadvantages for them. I noticed when filling out some official forms that the first racial option was ‘white european', in the US you'd find 'caucasian' and in the UK 'white', though I suppose it makes sense as their roots are much closer to Europe. In Latin America I cannot remember ever filling out a race form, but I was happy while abroad to check 'other' and fill in Latino! 

Aussies actually struck me as very close in idiosyncrasy to Americans except that they lived in a very British system. I say that in terms of social organisation: the road signs and street arrangement felt very British with both Aussies and Kiwi’s in right-hand drive automobiles on the left hand side of the road. I only remember jay-walking being awkward in Germany until I found myself being the only one doing it in Adelaide. The laws seemed very rigid and the people rather compliant. Oz has that expansiveness of the US, the country is huge, the roads and cars are big, the streets are wide and everything just seemed very clean and in its proper place. Even Parramatta where I was based was considered ‘working class’ and by comparison to either the US or Britain was relatively clean and nice. Australia seemed to gleam with new construction and people spending $50 notes as if they were coins. The impression I was left with was the real land of milk & honey, when I compared my weekly pay rate with local crews they made more than double! Time to jump ship I thought! I suppose this is ideal for an economic immigrant whose sole purpose is to produce income, which seems to be one of the drives of globalisation, yet so is cultural output and its legacies. A festival producer told me the best way to make a profit for the company was to export work to Europe where there were funds to buy shows and public to buy tickets. Australia felt like California all over, but with the naïve optimism of the 1950’s. What I was definitely left with was wanting to explore more of the amazing continent: beautiful beaches, tree covered cliffs and valleys, endless outback with an untapped wild spiritual core...

New Zealand was much more relaxed, the people incredibly friendly and the nature spectacular as probably everyone already knows from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But in person its even more stunning and I didn’t even make it to the South Island. While in New Zealand I felt I was on the cusp of the future; a sliver of land that almost begins the calendar year on planet earth. But more importantly than that works towards cultural integration, not only between Maori and whites but also all the demographics that inhabit the country; Auckland seemed just as diverse as London to me. And the most fascinating fact shared by a geothermal scientist I met was that Nz produces 75% of its electricity from renewable sources!  This had a profound effect on me, for it changed something that I felt every time I flick a switch: guilt. I am so aware that any use of the grid is bad for the environment that each time I use energy it haunts my animal brain. This was so ingrained in my subconscious that it was only until I was in Nz that I realised the impact this has on eco-aware individuals when you power up the electric kettle and know that almost ¾ of that power is renewable not consumable. Now THIS is the future, when there is no such thing as waste but re-cycle and we finally learn to live in symbiosis with our great host planet earth...

I hope to live long enough to see the changes that may help me believe this day can happen...

Leaving Nz made me feel it is possible....

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