Friday, October 1, 2010

Omega Institute - 2010

The journeys of life are amazing, as this past year is most definite in my own life. This past weekend was the candle on the very awesome cupcake of this past year as it seemed to hug all the experiences I’ve blogged about so far, grab my doubts in for a squeeze, and plant a big fat kiss of encouragement to grab life by the ovaries and sail forth.

When I applied for Omega ( in Spring 2010, I thought it would be a cool experience. In the midst of my final semester of undergrad, I forgot all about it. After I came back from Feminist Boot Camp, I saw an email that I was granted a full scholarship to attend. Sweet! I get to hang out with Amy Richards again, see Zainab Salbi who changed my life 3 years ago ( and check out Ani DiFranco finally!

It wasn’t until the Tuesday before I was to leave that I digested fully the website. I couldn’t contain the excitement and stayed up way too late completely amped to be a part of this. If I knew beforehand the women I was going to meet and the amazing work they do, I don’t think I would have slept all week.

The greatest experiences of life are not only the direct experience, but also of the periphery experiences that come along for the ride. The universe was chock full of messages throughout all experiences so first, the conference details.

The congregation of women speakers was amazing. Friday night’s lineup began with Carla Goldstein who heads the Women’s Institute at Omega and Lateefa Simon who I instantly LOVED. The way she spoke was reminiscent of spoken words artists I love. She had the great task of introducing all of the speakers throughout the weekend and I adored the enthusiasm she had for these women.
Elizabeth Lesser spoke and I finally put a face to the person who cofounded Omega. It’s trippy that a person who lead an energy healing the next day to send love to Eve Ensler and who is so connected with amazing people across this Earth presents to down to earth, but isn’t that the way its supposed to be?
Then Lateefa introduced Leymah Gbowee. This was my second big moment of the Universe reiterating my right path (the first will be explained in a bit). Back-story – at Old Dominion University, a class on Motherhood and Rhetoric gave classmate Patrina the opportunity to share the story of her home, Liberia. Specifically she shared with us the work of the Market Women and Leymah Gbowee. Now I got to see this powerful woman and hear her words. Of the many great tings she said were “We need to redeem our time…you need to take it because the men will not give it.” She talked about how empowerment is spoken but never what that means – " empower, you have to give up some of your power. That is why patriarchy has such a stronghold because the men do not want to give up the power." I could hear her say the word Patriarchy all night, in her accent it was incredibly beautiful, not only in her tongue but in feeling the power she speaks of that patriarchy doesn’t want to give up but she is forcing it to. Without taking your own empowerment against patriarchal strongholds, it is like “taking a mouth of water, it turns to saliva and you swallow it.” Such poetry!
Simply put, she said, “Visions that change the world are trapped in a normal girl.” “Never lose sight that where you are is a privileged place. Never forget you represent yourself and never forget you represent a group of women.” And lastly, “It’s never about you.”

Interspersed with this first day of greatness were the universal messages that were coming loud and clear. Backtracking to Port Authority in New York City where we caught the shuttle to Rhinebeck. Luckily the universe was looking out for me because I originally told the cab driver from LaGuardia that I was going to Penn Station. I also told him I didn’t want to spend more than $20 on a cab. He was a really awesome person from Turkey and we had a delightful conversation about Turkish tea and he clued me in on a great Turkish restaurant in Va. Beach. Who knew? As we approached Times Square he asked which gate and that’s when I realized I told him the wrong place I was going to. I could be wrong but it seemed like he stopped the meter because the almost 40 minute cab ride only cost me a just over $20.

So I’m waiting at Port Authority and this lady comes up to ask if I was going to Omega. We chatted and she was such a cool spirit. After this venture she was going to work at an ashram in Virginia. When we got to Omega and were getting our room assignments, she was getting her room the same time as me…go figure it was the same room! We shared much in common and as she smoked too, we would sneak off to the only place allowed to smoke…a far off tent past the parking lot WAY away from the main campus. This was only the beginning of the universe.

(My cabin in the morning light)
Saturday began our choice in movement classes before the say of speakers. I chose Tai Chi and there’s nothing like feeling how out of shape one is when you are tuning into yourself. The beautiful tree pose and grounding one’s self felt so amazing. Tai Chi is so lovely in its beautiful simplicity but make no mistake it can leave you achy. Off to another amazing vegetarian meal and then the main hall.
I wish I could have an alarm with Lateefa Simon. Her vibrancy in the morning is just the positive spirit that coffee doesn’t really reach to.

We heard the words of Annie McKee. Her words on leadership were spot on.
* You cannot be brave until you’re really scared
* You cannot lead until you know what it means to be powerless
* We operate on false assumptions about what it means to be a great leader
* Things are changing constantly so everything is new, can’t be shut down.
* The minute you become victim you cease to be a leader.
The last two especially resonate and remind me to stop the inner voices that constantly shut me down. Even when the daily routine gets me down, it is new so I need to get off my rear and step it up.

The moment I looked forward to arrived with the speaker, Zainab Salbi. I had known her story from her great book, Between Two Worlds. When I met her at American University, I was struck that after her stellar words and obvious exhaustion from a long day, she engaged each and every person at her book signing. The look in her eye as she signed your book and thanked you personally was one of such quiet strength and depth. I had forgotten that she was such a big fan of Rumi and because of her words three years prior I was introduced to Rumi’s amazingness. She shared the stories of the women she came across in her work with Women for Women International and what still strikes me is that it isn’t charity the women wanted but dignity and integrity. With the great need to lead assistance to women whose voice is taken by the patriarchal structure, this is crucial to remember. With dignity we can aid, not give charity. Zainab Salbi shared how these women gave her the courage to tell her own story and reminded us that it takes courage to show our vulnerability. “A strong heart is not heart a with armor and a sword. A strong heart is one that can dance and that can be happy. Only when you have the joy and heart can you venture into darkness and with happiness can you dissolve.”
The power of her words resonated all throughout the weekend as I will share in a wee bit.

Pat Mitchell, after speaking great words and sharing amazing stories had a dialogue with Jensine Larsen who started World Pulse magazine. Her online Pulse Nation gives voice to global women who want to speak out about what is happening in their country. Many women traverse hard terrain and long hours to venture into an internet café to tell their stories. Oftentimes this is detrimental to their safety.
What stops us in our privileged America to not take action and tell the stories of ourselves and our sisters?

More yummys from the dining hall, I was quickly falling in love with quinoa. Finally I ran into Amy Richards! So great to see her after the Feminist Boot Camp.

The afternoon workshop was a hard decision. I chose the writing workshop as it kept popping into my head. That should have been the clue that the Universe was trying to steer me that way.
The leader of the workshop spoke of how we need to turn off the inner voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough. We have stories that need to be told and we are now going to do it in a 20 minute free write. I wrote down the ideas in my head about my own personal journey but nothing I really wanted to share. When we broke into groups of three, I let the other two ladies read their work.
The first woman to read was the moment I was waiting for. I knew that my mother would show up at one point in the conference. I had been struggling with her passing but not sure exactly why; I just knew it was a little more than the normal mourning process. This woman read her story about the last breaths of her mother and the peaceful journey she had at the end of her life. She had stepped out to catch a break and at that moment was when her mother decided to venture onto the other side. When she came back into the room the nurse told her to hold her chin as she arranged her body before rigor mortis set in. They sat with her body to help ease the spirit to the other side. I realize this was what I missed from my own mother’s passing. My emotions were locked in my throat and when she was done reading the two of us that listened sat stunned. When it was my turn to say something, all I could do was say thank you and start crying. I highly dislike crying in public, especially in front of people I don’t know. I reached such healing with her words, it was indescribable. Thank you universe.

Before dinner, there was a reception in the beautiful library. The main reason for the reception was to highlight the scholarships that are awarded. This year, they were able to award 140 scholarships, $1000 per recipient. A few recipients spoke about what it meant to them to be able to attend. A girl that had ridden with us on the bus spoke. Coming from Haiti, she became emotional as she spoke about how she was able to live the life her mother could not. She knew she made her mother, whose voice wasn’t able to reach out, proud to be a college student and attending Omega showed her the right path she is on. She would have been completely unable to experience so much without the scholarship.
Another woman spoke up about being a Hutu woman. Earlier in the writing workshop we were graced with her story – how her father was killed when she was 7 and what her home in Rwanda was like. It wasn’t until this reception that she spoke about the courage Zainab Salbi gave her. Zainab spoke about not wanting to talk about being the daughter of Saddam Hussein’s pilot. She didn’t want her face to be replaced by his and how the women she came across gave her the courage to tell her story. This woman also didn’t want to speak out about being Hutu, but after hearing Zainab she had the courage to do so. So powerful…

The first year they did this reception, they raised $10,000. Last year they raised $15,000. We found out Sunday morning that this evening’s reception raised $35,000 – all of which goes to fund scholarships for the Women and Power conference. Beautiful!!!

So with heightened emotions, Saturday ended with Poet Elizabeth Alexander and Ani DiFranco.
Elizabeth Alexander was the fourth female poet to read at the presidential inauguration, “Praise Song for the Day.” The other works she shared were reminiscent of poets I got to know through Women’s Studies and her honesty in her work was similar to the frank honesty of Lucille Clifton, who was one of her mentors. The thread of great poets continues to live through the words and the influences of those that walk among us.
My first Ani DiFranco performance was stellar. Why have I not fallen in love with her work before? I felt so lucky to be in such an intimate setting with songs mixed in a Q&A format. There is a song on her upcoming album that is my new anthem, I was too engrossed to take down notes but it speaks of the power of the feminine and is a great F*U to the patriarchal establishment. So I realize that speaks about many of Ani’s work but this song in particular is up there with Alix Olson’s Subtle Sister, in my opinion.

If this day wasn’t enough, there was still another day. (And the periphery experiences that parallel the power of the speakers).

Sunday began with a lakeside personal vigil. Originally I was going to kayak but they were locked up so I sat and watched the water. Mists were rising up in the chilly air. It is in silence that we realize the times few and far between that we experience the beauty of nature and the serenity it gives. The fish jumping, the birds beginning their day, the moon setting and the sun rising, absolute tranquility.

Another yummy vegetarian breakfast and off to hear more speakers.
Lateefa’s energy started us off right and then we were blessed with Gail Collins. Her stories of amazing historical women showed us that it’s the women who didn’t do what was expected, who didn’t live within the boxes framed for them, but had courage to see a problem and fix it against many odds. Well behaved women rarely make history, correct?

I admit I was a little restless so I ventured. I conversed with one staffer whose life journey knocked him down and his solace became the Omega space. I ended up getting a tarot reading from another of the seasonal staff. (How cool to venture to Omega to work for a season). This was his fourth season working. When I’m moved to get a reading I do so to check in; this reading really reinforced that things were groovy on my path and how I am putting to rest the self-sabotage that has been the Bain of my existence.

I came back to the main hall in time to see Jennifer Buffet who started the Novo Foundation. I’ve heard a lot of the work they’ve done and seen immense support coming from this organization. Her personal story was stellar in that it doesn’t matter who you are, many women are born with a lack of voice. (For those that know me, the finding of my voice has been the saving of my life).
Jennifer Buffet called her experience a living gender experiment. She had the “wounded belief that opportunity wasn’t for her.” She “stopped participating in her delusion and trying to run love like love existed outside of her.” She also reminded us that “self-care is never a selfish act, it’s good stewardship of the only gift we have.” It’s fantastic to see someone whose work is far reaching but whose story is so similar to many of us.

Suddenly, this amazing journey was done. It was time to get one more quick bite of yumminess in the dining hall and get on the bus. Life charged back into my existence with the delay of my plane and horrible weather but at midnight I made it back.

Writing these words gets me back to the vibrant feeling within that I obtained at Omega. I knew one of my greatest challenges would be to maintain this feeling to keep at bay the doubts and stress that keeps me from reaching towards what is beautiful. I now know that there is a place in this world that I can return to recharge this beautiful vibrancy and I can’t wait to share stories of others who have made the venture to this wee bit of paradise in the mountains of New York.

Thank you to the donors who made this journey and all of my previous journeys possible. Philanthropy is not only the right thing to do, it has the ability to transform. The altering gift goes beyond the monetary value and has perpetual outcomes. It is the ripple in the pond that creates lasting effects.
And thank you to the women who came before me to create their stories.
I am one very blessed person.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 7 – Last Day

We tried to get our last bagel…but the line was out the door. So we found another shop but after the best bagels in town was largely disappointed. We found ourselves at another hostel for our self-defense workshop. The instructor was a slight man whose philosophy on self-defense was great. The first defense is confidence and awareness. He walked us through scenarios and when he put his acting cap on it was intense! His role as perpetrators was so real. We wanted to learn how to physically defend ourselves so our last lesson was how to knee someone. EMPOWERMENT!!! Until you actually go through the process of grabbing someone behind the neck and pulling them into your knee that is kicking, you cannot feel the physical power you carry within yourself – no matter how tiny the person is. A last round robin circle, photo ops, exchanging info and then Feminist Summer Camp 2010 was over.
Unfortunately I had to deal with some fraudulent charges so I had to excuse myself to deal with the bank.
One last Virginia girls adventure…we made our way back to the hostel to change and venture to Empire State. Walking around Rockefeller Center was tourist mecca…

Our last meal was at Le Pain Quotidien. Yum!
Although the hibiscus tea was ick, the food was amazing, the dessert was scrumptious and the coffee was to die for. The little touches like warmed milk and your personal coffee pot was cute. Katie had to meet some other girls so we parted at the subway so Amy and I could get our things at the hostel. We got on the express train…and passed the stop. We had a cushion of time but it was slowly diminishing. We found the right train, hauled to the hostel, hurriedly gathered our things and rushed out the door to catch a cab at Central Park West. We jumped in with joy…an after a couple blocks got stuck in traffic. Panic started rushing in as we slowly maneuvered our way through traffic and got on the highway to LaGuardia. 7 was our deadline time of being there and we managed to get there at 7:03. Through the check in, security, and FINALLY on our way to the gate. Almost there and I hear my name…Christina who I worked with at ODU was sitting at our gate! Small world! She was returning from a conference herself. Too funny…
Our pilot had superman on the wings of the plane and we arrived 25 minutes early.
Amy’s phone had died so she waited for her ride (which ended up being an ordeal for her) and Cassie pulled up in her vehicle.
My luggage gained too much weight apparently on the trip…at least that’s what it felt like to me.
In the car…and on my way home. Happiness!!!
I'm so thankful for the donors who made this amazing trip possible, for the support of the best women's studies department, family and friends who encouraged and supported, the fellow students that made this week fabulous, and a great partner who not only put up with my challenging dog but with whose encouragement and support I couldn't have done this.
I am one lucky gal...
Day 6 – Internship day

I have officially given birth to cankles. The past two days I’ve seen my feet become sausages and it’s not pretty. Especially when they gave mini births to many blisters. Flip flops and NYC do not get along. Neither do non-supportive sandals and swanky Converse.

We once again ventured to the same bagel shop for the amazing bagels. Sarah and I had our internship together at an organization that deals with domestic violence. Since the location is sensitive, it wasn’t written in our listing of organizations and all we had at that time was the idea that it was near Wall Street. Exhaustion trumped my preparation. Once we go directions, we successfully maneuvered the subway on our own. Victory! The subway was graced with the music that reminded me of my beloved Honduran brothers in New Orleans. Bypassing some beautiful architecture, we made it. We were in fact a half hour early. Once we got in and met with the director of volunteers, we met the corporate organization that was also doing their Impact Day. They had just had their huge annual fundraiser so the staff was pretty weary but once the corporate firm was given their task, the fantastic director Emily came and spoke with us. She was truly interested in what we experienced and, as a doula herself, was interested in our reproductive justice day. She set us up with the amazing Leah who is in charge of the Butterfly Boutique. They had revamped a closet into a boutique shop where women can get clothes for their children and themselves. It was such a cute space! Sarah and I took boxes of donated clothes, separated them by season and restocked the empty boutique. While simple, the task was hugely satisfying. Leah is a one woman power behind the donations and giving the women and their children a beautiful place to what could be a demeaning task – accepting donated good to simply clothe one’s self. Emily and Leah were both thankful for the work we did although I didn’t get to make as much of a dent as I wanted. The work they do is so amazing and necessary and I was so thankful for been given the opportunity to help out. Anytime I am in NYC I will be back to help in whatever way I can. Their parting gifts touched my spirit in so many ways. That is the heart to heart connection that bypasses everything. True, honest warmth from within emanate from these women and I was honored to be there. I was also happy to spend the day with Sarah who is a freshman. Interestingly, she is the youngest and I am the oldest student at the camp. I cannot wait to see the wonderful work she will be accomplishing back at UTEP!
As we wandered after our internship, we found ourselves in front of the Stock Exchange. We saw that there were cameras at the Federal Building and wandered over to see what was going on. There was a group surrounding a woman speaker so we tagged along to see what was up. Unknowingly, it was the end of a walking tour…how so New York to tag along!! Ha Ha.

We made our way back to the hostel and I had a rare moment of vegging in the room, much to the thanks of my feet. After a couple chats on the phone the fellow campers reconvened and we got to hear each other’s tales of interning. Some good, some not so good. Amy, Katie and I decided to venture and after finding that the Casa Frida Kahlo was just the name of the building, we decided to find where John Lennon was shot. As we walked around the area we came across 2 New York women that showed us that it was the next building over from where we stood. They let us know that the Dakota was named such because when it was built most people lived on the other side of town so the owners said they may as well be out in the Dakotas. They suggested hopping across the street to Central Park to Strawberry Fields. A few pictures later, we went into the park and found the beautiful mosaic in his honor. Beautiful.
We walked around Central Park, debated taking the carriage ride until we found out how much it was, the ladies were gracious in camping it up for the camera, found the French film being shown in the park, saw the gondola ride and made our way out the other side. Hungry, we looked to find cheap eats. Then we realized we were on Madison Ave, Park Ave and 5th Avenue. We didn’t think cheap eats were going to be found here. There were 2 older couples dressed very elegantly enjoying an after dinner walk together. They said their goodbyes and we then witnessed one elegant couple chase down the bus that was approaching. I loved it!!
We found a deli and had more yummy NY pizza and fab dessert. We were going to stop by a jazz club that was outside the subway stop near the hostel but alas, it was Friday night and they had a $30 cover. Welcome to NYC.
A shower, chat on the phone, and we attempted passing out…which proved challenging due to the international students chatting loudly on the balcony outside our window until the wee hours. Welcome to hostel living.

Day 5 – Feminist Art…

This is the day I was anticipating most…and it did not fail to infuse powerful inspiration.

Since we didn’t have to be in Brooklyn until 11, the Virginia girls were going to FedEx to retrieve my phone. Found a cab…then he told us he didn’t know how to get to the Bronx. (We were on the Upper West Side which is across the river from the Bronx). We walked…couldn’t find an empty cab, talked to some MTA people, found out were originally at the right place on the upper West Side, then said fuhgetaboutit when time was creeping away. So…we asked another MTA person where to find bagels and found the mecca of bagel goodness.
I now understand what a good bagel is. Everything bagel with veggie cream cheese…HEAVEN!!! We ate on the bench in the middle of Broadway and relished in heavenly goodness.
Off to Brooklyn…the subway is getting easier to maneuver and found our location…much like a choose your own adventure, we came up to the address and found a building to call up. Luckily someone was walking out so we jumped through the open door. Since we had directions to Powderkeg on the third floor, we started climbing stairs. On the third floor was an unmarked door and we were unsure if this was right at all. We knocked..hoping for the best…and happily..we were in the right place. Being the first ones, we got to relax in this awesome space. Powderkeg is a writing center that rented this space in which several books have been produced. It is reminiscent of theater space with eclectic chairs. Katie chose the old fashioned wheel chair which was the scene of later accidents as there isn’t a graceful way to enter and exit the chair.
Once everyone gathered…we met with the Guerrilla Girls. WOW!!!
It was so great to meet a few of the Guerrilla Girls and hear first had their amazing grassroots work. Their approach is fresh and their history shows how in tune they are with the world around. We started our activity spouting off what feminist topics need to be addressed. After picking out top 4 topics and breaking into groups, we worked on a video piece addressing our topics. In 20 minutes, there were 4 videos that were stellar. Once they are compiled I will post the link to them all. It’s powerful to see what was able to be done with a hand held video camera or by using the video option on our own personal digital cameras. I am in awe of the collective.

We then met with Arts Effect.
I can’t say enough about the work being created here. First, these two ladies quit their non-profit work to follow their dream. Another real life example of following your dreams. The stories they shared about the middle school girls and their experiences were powerful. So many of us experienced people like the Boob Inspector whose job as a middle school boy was to fondle the newly emerging breasts of the girls. The juxtaposition of hating this violation and feeling adolescent acceptance is one of the many struggles for girls in this age group. When the girls get together in this space, they are able to talk about their experiences and gain the knowledge that they aren’t the only ones going through this. Through theater arts, they create change both within and externally. They revamped a hip hop song to represent feminist power…the link which I will post when I receive it. It is super powerful and to know that it is the collective voice of middle school girls was emotional. We were led through an Arts Effect activity and journaled for a few minutes about a memory of when we first noticed injustice or something that led us to feminism. We broke out in groups and created a theater piece around the one or two sentences that resonated through our writing. Interestingly, our group of 5 had 3 people write about their fathers. We had to incorporate the lines that resonated in our freewrite. In short, our group’s scene was a girl and her father, Tommy Hilfiger. It was after a whole day of the girl and her mother getting everything ready for the party and Daddy T was criticizing the daughter for reading her book and not having combed her hair for the party that was about to start. This triggered her reaction when he was vicious about the fact that she was reading Smut Manifesta and the daughter raged at him. His only reaction was to look down at his empty drink and ask her to get him another beer.
The other 4 presentations were immensely powerful and brought up so much emotion within. I treasure the space that allowed this beautiful work to come through the collective groups and to have witnessed how the ideas came together. I am thankful for Angi’s powerful performance on the window ledge, the strength in 4 words still drawing emotion from the depths of my spirit.
With this full morning of inspiration, we ventured to Streb.
This is a new way of movement and there were rumors of trapeze. Amy Richards did do the trapeze for her birthday but there were other things on our agenda. This space also holds a tightrope workshop taught by Phillipe Petit who is known for walking the tightrope between the World Trade Center buildings. Once we learned pop action and how to fall from a standing position full body face down, we split into groups. First, my group, 5 at a time, stood on top of the rafter that usually holds lighting in theater spaces. In the air, we did 90 degree pops and jumping formations. A few of us wanted to go higher which we did. When you are high in the air and the skinny platform you are on is moving from the 5 people jumping together at once, it is pretty scary.
We switched spaces and learned to jump on the trampoline launch. After a running start, we took one jump and landed on the mat. Then we took a jump and landed on the mat in a full crouch face down position. How amazing…
Our final acrobatic adventure was for groups of 5 to hang from the rafter as it was lifted to see who could hold on the longest. There is something surreal about holding onto a metal framework and feel it lifted until your feet are no longer on the ground. Lack of upper body strength made my journey short but most of felt the affects for days after.
6:00 and our day as a collective was done. We had yet to eat the famed NY pizza so we found a place and happily was not disappointed. Chicken bacon ranch pizza is a must try for pizza lovers. We searched for a gelato place and weren’t disappointed. Knowing I still had yet to conquer my phone debacle, I started planning my way to the Bronx. Lizzy joined me and I was so grateful. We had an hour before FedEx closed. Unknowingly, we jumped on the express train and passed the stop needed. Now we had 30 minutes. We jumped off the subway and decided to catch a cab. Thankfully we did since we would have had to maneuver through an industrial section and with 5 minutes to spare, I ran into FedEx. With phone in hand, I did the victory whoop exiting the building. We took the subway to where Lizzy was staying and I made my way back to the hostel. After finally getting to hear Cassie’s voice, I went to bed exhausted but happy.