When I was a kid I had three goals/dreams. Please know that to many I am aware these are going to be silly. As a matter of fact, when I’ve told friends of mine these dreams they’ve laughed at me. Especially regarding point three, but I maintain that to a girl who was born in NYC in a hospital in Queens and then spent 11 years on the streets of Brooklyn, a dangerous 1980s Brooklyn, they were all ways for me to get out. To explore a much larger and richer world than what was in my reach in Brooklyn. Most importantly, they are all still extremely relevant to my current state of adulthood. Those three goals/dreams were:
1. I wanted to live with Native Americans. Of course my version was overly romanticized and Kevin Costner’s film “Dances With Wolves” in 1990 at my ripe age of 9 didn’t help, but I longed to live in a teepee, hunt buffalo, dance around fires, and learn the Native American way. I should also add that as a child my father, who was a truck driver, would bring me back moccasins and beaded suede small purses from his travels adding fuel to his overactive daughter’s imagination.
2. I wanted to travel with a pack of Gypsies. Yes, yes, this is sort of similar to the above, except I was for sure going to learn how to dance like a Gypsy and travel in a wagon going from one area to another. Hands down. I didn’t care that Gypsies have a bad sterotype not one bit. I wanted a long skirt and some bells and the whole nine yards.
3. I wanted to get hit by a car. Now, this one is the silliest. Especially since a car hit me at the age of 29 and it sucked. I lost feeling in my arm after for a few months and I was so shocked that I didn’t know what was going on. Needless to say, this goal (because it was more a goal than a dream) was crossed off the list for good that day.
The reason as a child I thought it would be so much fun was because of my friend Hector. Hector was my neighbor and he got hit by three different cars and survived all accidents. I thought he was amazing and swore I wanted to experience the same thing. I can’t even quite explain why. Maybe it was because Hector seemed so cool. He was the older boy in our group and while I never had a crush on Hector, he was a rebel and we all know how rebels can turn the smartest person into a follower.
The reason I share these goals/dreams with you is because last week, Tuesday to be exact, I had an experience that sort of connected the dots. It made a few Fridays before, actually Friday, October 19th make sense.
See Friday, October 19th, I visited four paper-making studios with my friend and house mate, Rina. Rina is the English guide for many foreigners interested in Echizen Washi and the Echizen Washi Village. I love Rina. She’s been kind and extremely warm hearted toward me, the crazy girl who left NYC heartbroken and in shambles. (That sounds worse than it actually was, but it’s true, I left NYC shattered in more ways than I knew/thought. Being in this small village surrounded by mountains and cold weather has allowed me to learn silence and appreciate the roots of Sara Stroman like never before.)
Along the road to visiting paper makers, we visited the largest papermaking studio in Echizen. I should mention that this was the day after the Fall festival at the shrine for the ancestors at the entrance of the village. That night was fun and included a bonfire where the elders in the village danced around it in costume. I was roped into dancing around the fire as well and I did, but only once because I had no idea what the dance was and ended up doing a half-assed chicken dance, which I don’t think was proper.
The woman elder who got me to dance is a well know paper maker in the village and at the largest studio we visited. I had met her once and could not communicate with her due to my lack of Japanese and her lack of English, but she liked me immediately. She kept giving me thumbs up during the dance.
When we got to the studio we met her by the fiber checking station and she started to talk about the festival with Rina translating between us. Before I knew it, she started to sing the song that was being sung the night before as we danced around the bonfire. In a matter of minutes I began to sob- choking, hysterical crying sobs. She kept singing and I kept apologizing between sobs because I didn’t know what had come over me. I just couldn’t stop crying.
Her voice was beautiful and her songs were the songs that are sung during the festival for the Paper Goddess in May. They tell the story of how the Paper Goddess came to pick this village and why there is a Shrine for her and why the village is grateful for her existence and support. Incredibly humbling stuff let me tell you.
Maybe that’s what I felt, humbled? I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that all I could think of was being a six-year old girl asking my Dad about Native Americans in America and where they lived. I remembered that small suede beaded purse that my dad bought for me on one of his trips that I wore around my shoulders proudly everywhere. It was almost as if I felt very connected to my Native American dream.
Please, I know that I’m in Japan and not in North America and that Aki is Japanese and not a Native American, but when I hear and look at her I feel so strongly to that dream of mine.
The day she asked me if I was homesick and I said no. She gave me a hug just before I left and told Rina that I’m an emotional person. (Ha Ha! She has no idea!) I mostly felt tired and emotionally unstable at that point. I was coming to terms with the fact that I would be in this village for two months and had a long way to go to find comfort and peace, but excited that I was living my dream or rather moving in the direction of living my dream.
Last Tuesday, when we walked to the entrance for the Studio, Kozo or Gambi were being boiled in a room to the side. I couldn’t help but breathe in the scent of the plants. They smelled my maize, the corn mix we use to make tortillas. (I would die for a tortilla with butter melted, refried beans, and some crema and queso right now!) I didn’t quite understand why I was reminded of maize at that point and time, but I did as soon as I looked upon Aki-san in the following five minutes and heard her sing.
That day as I listened to Aki sing, I didn’t sob, instead I acknowledged the tears in my eyes and recorded her singing. I inhaled every bit of my abuela that was flooding my ears and soul in that moment. It was an amazing moment. I felt full and a bit stronger.
What I realized last Tuesday as I heard her sing again is that she reminds me of my maternal grandmother. My abuela looked of Mayan Indian heritage (because she was). Something about Aki’s face reminds me of my abuela’s complexion and skin coloring.
I haven’t seen my grandmother since the day she died in 1992, but I remember sitting on her lap as a child watching Spanish novelas. I remember her small pancakes for breakfast and her cheating while we played Chinese checkers at the table. I remember her cheeks and her humming and the way she called me Sara with that Spanish roll of the r. I remember her mostly when I make tamales with my mother for Christmas each year. (A tradition since I was five years old when her, my mom and I would make them together (I mostly ate the ingredients then and still now.) just before the big day and I will not be part of this year as I’m miles away from home.)
My abuela doesn’t come to me as often as my paternal grandmother (grandmere). (My paternal grandmother has been a beacon of light and support almost every day since 2009. She appears to show me I’m on the right path at the oddest moments, but always the most appreciated moments. ) In fact, the last time my abuela’s spirit came to me was in a dream in 2008 when she told me that I had to go to Honduras for vacation. It had been 20 years since my first trip and so I gladly booked my ticket and went.
This all comes full circle because I believe that Gypsies and Native Americans are more connected to the soul of the Earth and spirituality than most people in our modern world. The people who live in this small village are also much more connected to the spiritual world than I was when I put my suitcases down and said I’m here to learn papermaking. I believe that both of my childhood dreams were a form of looking for a closer spiritual connection than I knew then, but need now.
As much as I wanted to travel with a pack of Gypsies as a child, I am a traveling gypsy right now and will be for another few weeks, until January 7th when I return State side. My companions for this trip are the spirits of my Mayan ancestors, that are going deep into a culture that may not be Native Americanesque, but connects me to my Native American love and dream and asks of me to follow and listen to my heart and keep living the dreams, with watching out for cars along the way.
I invite you to watch Aki-san sing in the video below. It isn’t the greatest video and there is a bit of noise in the background, but that is unimportant. Her voice and her passion for the Goddess and her skill is captivating.