The air is hot and dry as I walk through the airport doors. I feel sweat drops on my lower back as I haul my backpack over my shoulder and make my way through a crowd of taxi drivers. As I wait for an Uber, I anxiously try to learn Arabic script in order to read the license plates. Cairo is exhausting, it’s masculine, loud, fast. Women in hijabs and burkas passed me by, they could have easily gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for their eyes, watchful and attentive, sometimes warm, wrinkled eyes as indicators of a hidden smile. Cairo is a megacity, with a metropolitan population of over 20 million people, but as we walked through el'arafa (City of the Dead) everything was still, the Necropolis was the quiet counterpart to a bustling downtown. While staying in a hostel in the city center, the noise became a buzzing in my ear, I would fall asleep with the frantic sound of car honks and I’d wake up with the calls to prayer. When I wondered the streets past midnight I saw the streets flooded with life, the summer heat becomes tolerable and people are eager for contact. I walked through a maze of markets that never seemed to end. Cairo is an organized madness, logical chaos.
I woke up before you this morning. The night before we clumsily built our tent in the darkness, the waterfall rumbled loudly and we couldn’t see past the few feet our camping headlights illuminated. I wanted to set up camp closer to the beginning of the trail, I was afraid of the impending darkness after dusk, but you said “let’s keep going a bit further” and you encouraged me to go forth, you talked me past scary climbs and slippery rocks, you were there the whole time, you carried my weight, you held my hand, you’ve always been brave bordering on reckless. I woke up before you this morning. I stared at you sleep, cocooned inside your sleeping bag, hair greasy and mouth slightly open. I slipped out of the tent quietly. We were surrounded by walls of rock, we were so alone with the exception of the giant cactus that stood guard, tall and ancient. It was cold under the shade so I made my way across the stream to a patch of sand already blessed with the warmth of the morning sunlight. I grabbed our gas stove and boiled water from the stream, I slipped off my clothes and with a canteen cup I bathe. I woke up before you this morning. When you arose, you found me naked on a blanket. We exchanged few words, you sparked the stove and took a bath. I looked at you stretch, much like I had done for over 7 years, you felt me photographing you but you ignored the camera, much like you had done for over 7 years. We made love, we ate, we packed up our tent. I woke up before you this morning.
It was winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but in Santiago, snow is a rare sighting. I flew into a snow dusted city. The Andes stood out, beautifully dipped in white. I was dropped off at an apartment I had rented, these old buildings were not built to insulate heat, it was cold and all I had was an electric heater which I quickly plugged into the wall and waited until it warmed my bedroom.
What: " Cuba - Decades Apart"
Cuba photographed in 2016 by Camila Bernal and in 1997 by John Kennard
Where: Pearl Street Gallery
100 Pearl Street
Chelsea, MA 02150
When: Opening reception will be on February 25th from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m
Details: This event is free / open to the public and handicap accessible.
RSVP, driving / mbta info and alternative gallery hours at:
The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro died on Friday November 25th 2016 at 90 years-old. It only seems appropriate to reflect on the complex and perplexing experience that is Cuba today. During my trip to Cuba in August, I spoke to locals who had opposing views, there was the idealistic older generation of Castro loyalists and the young and disillusioned who remember José Martí poems as pretty and unrealistic children's stories. I was there for the celebration of his 90th birthday on August 13th, where across the country celebrations were held. I visited museums, carefully curated and shrine-like, that elevated Fidel Castro as a sort of demigod. I stayed in casa's particulares where families offered the same rationed breakfast every day; 1 egg, small bits of ham, small basket of bread, coffee and a fruit salad. I walked through streets of dilapidated buildings where people refused to move out of, beautiful and rustic, falling apart just like the communist dream. There were tourists who ate expensive seafood dinners and comfortably had access to internet from their hotel terraces, in contrast to the local Cuban's who ate cheap ham sandwiches everyday and huddled in parks where for short periods of time could connect to spotty signals. Anthony DePalma from the New York times accurately sums up the legacy left by Castro in his recent article:
Cuba has a great track record in terms of free access to quality education for everyone and has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, as of 2015 Cuba's adult literacy rate was 99.7% according to the world development indicators. This is evident when talking to Cubans, anyone from a waiter to a buildings security guard can hold an intellectual conversation. But there's no market to absorb the educated and skilled labor force in Cuba, leading people to take any jobs to make ends meat and resulting in increasing levels of poverty and inequality. The health care system is exemplary which has resulted in extremely low child mortality rates (4 per 1,000 lives births in 2015 compared to 5.6 per 1,000 live births in the U.S. in 2015) and access to reproductive services for women. With it's multiplicity of ethnicities, Cuba has attained a level of racial equality that is not comparable in any other country with a history of slavery (albeit still existent). These social strides have so much value but have been overshadowed by the oppressive conditions of the state and lack economic development. In the 90's Cuban entered what is called "período especial en tiempos de paz" a euphemism for the economic crisis that occurred when the Soviet Union fell. Levels of malnutrition increased as the state decreased rations to reflect the lowering of the minimum calorie intake per person, cars stopped running without access to fuel, and agricultural production came to a near halt. There have been mentions of another periodo special, Raul Castro has been preparing Cuba to deal with the effects Venezuela's economic crisis.
Cuba, with it's complicated history and it's existing contradictions has it's charm. Children run and play in the streets, not absorbed by technology and always eager to kick a ball late into the night. Couples sit on the malecon and drink rum from small juice boxes, they talk and watch people walk by for hours. The people are always willing to talk, eager to share their experiences and yearning to hear of ours outside of the island. They celebrate their Afro-Caribbean culture through dance and music and the liveliness is contagious and all-consuming. At times it felt like there was no world outside of Cuba, just hot and hazy tropical days where time seemed to have stopped.
Cuba was confusing, complex, you fall in love one moment and get your heart broken the next, it's beautiful, tragically romantic, absolutely unique. Below are photographs I took while roaming Cuba this past August.
Images above were taken with my 35mm Nikon FM10 at Artichoke Dairy Farm in Rowley, MA and at Appleton Farm in Ipswich, MA.
My relationship with the world constantly changes. I try to live conscious of my ability and capacity to create, consume, waste, kill, and destroy. This is not only in relation to animals, land and food, but also human rights, labor laws, equity and equality, all the complex and mind boggling dynamics within a consumerist society.
I'm not strictly vegetarian or vegan, I can probably identify more as a "flexitarian" on moral grounds, but again it ebbs and flows. I don't eat meat in restaurants but from time to time I make an exception if I'm going to a farm to table restaurant that serves local and ethically sourced food. I usually don't drink cow's milk but switch off from almond to hemp to rice to not rely solely on almond milk. Cheese on the other hand is one of my weaknesses since it goes well with some of my other weaknesses like pasta, but Field's Roast sells Chao slices which are coconut based and taste great in grilled cheese sandwiches. At home, we make a 2 hours drive out to western Massachusetts every 4 months to buy beef from Hager Bros Farm; a small family run farm, who have a herd of 25 Hereford cattle for beef. And we don't buy the popular cuts, we'll try cow's heart and liver or tongue.
During the summer months we are members of Stone Soup Farm's CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and pick up farm shares on a weekly basis with seasonal fruits and vegetables. This past summer we planted and grew our own vegetables in our garden, we harvested cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, egg plant, and herbs. And we recently started our own compost which we're hoping to use to fertilize next summer's vegetable patch.
It's not easy, but if I wanted to be comfortable, if that was my priority, I'd say f*** it and eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I want, to the best of my ability, live within the world not above it, I want to respect life and death. I also understand that my ability to decide and pursue this, comes with a sense of privilege, I understand that I work with people living in food deserts who don't have the capacity to access fresh food. But I think a little effort goes a long way specially for those who have choices. Jedediah Purdy sums it up pretty well on this article on The Atlantic by saying:
"we live with the rest of the world, and it can be a big pain in the ass, or even hurt or kill us, but it is also the only possible site and source of all the joys we can have."