Sri Lanka Veddas

Travel affords me so many amazing opportunities. Living in Philadelphia, there is probably very little chance that I will ever be able to meet a man with long flowing jet black hair, wearing nothing but a loin cloth, living in the midst of a dense jungle and moving silently through the trees with a bow and arrow and ax slung over one shoulder.

Vedda Man of Sri Lanka

The trip to Dabana, took us from modern roads, walking through a dense, verdant jungle squatting aside low hanging branches and insects to finally come upon a clearing and a dirt path calling us further into exploration. We had traveled back in time to see the few remaining aboriginal settlers of Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India.

One of the last remaining Veddas of Sri Lanka

The Veddas as they are known, are reported to have come to Sri Lanka about 1600 BC and our visit was a rich and deeper cultural experience into this land of past and present. The clearing we were on opened to a few mud huts with thatched roofs which served as a type of a museum, providing a look into village life. Painted on the sides of two of the buildings were primitive stick people. One with a triangle seemed to symbolize a female and the other, just the plain form of a circle and lines for the males, a small letter m seemed to represent an animal. The origin of story telling for this group!

Hail to the Chief

Our guide took us further back on the path to meet the few remaining natives. In the 1970’s, the government census showed only 6,000 remaining Veddas left. As per the unspoken requirement, we were taken to first make the acquaintance of the chief, Uruwarige Wannila Aththo. Our shoes came off at the door and then the appropriate bowing to this older, gray haired man sitting crossed legged with only a loin cloth. It was a bit of a surreal experience because in the midst of this primitive existence, photographs of this leader meeting various dignitaries lined the walls. The chief sat down crossed legged and said nothing as we, confused and a bit hesitant to the protocol, took our seats on the perimeter inside the hut. We were very happy when 5 men in suits entered to break the awkward silence. The visit turned into a birthday party for one of the gentlemen complete with cake and candles, missing was the usual chorus of “Happy Birthday” though! The man who was the subject of the celebration told us that he held the chief in such high esteem as a wise sage and he wanted his blessing on this new year of life. We politely declined eating the cake being offered ( a good friend’s sage advice is to travel with the locals but eat with the tourists to avoid those pesty stomach issues).

Chief Must Accept Visitor
first

Birthday Blessing

We bowed our way out of the hut, leaving the greetings to the next set of visitors. Six native men in various degrees of dress escorted us out. Women were not permitted to be seen while outsiders were there so I have no idea the number of women who would be able to give birth to new baby Veddas, continuing this tribe.

Finding the Prey with a Bow and Arrow

Vedda Hunter Taking In Life

For thousands of years, the Veddas have been hunters and gathers. Their lifestyle has depended upon the natural world of the jungle, all that grows and all that moves there. A few years ago though, the government put into effect regulations against the hunting of certain animals. So this may be when survival and the modern world impeded upon this ancient way of life. Not knowing the language, we were somehow able to understand that in exchange for a bit of money, we would be treated to ritual dances, fire building and the skills involved in hunting with a bow and arrow. We were suddenly thrust back into the ways of the present and the influence of the “pay off”! However, as visitors observing these cultural rituals, we found it a validation to the calling of leaving the beaten path to discover the somewhat obscure. Making our way through a dense jungle brought us face to face with a tribe having a BC date of origin and a population that seems to be on the verge of extinction. Yes, we paid a small amount of money but our glimpse into the past was well worth it and who knows for how long this opportunity may exist for those who visit Sri Lanka.

Hunting Tools of the Vedda

Vedda Men

If you like this story, would you consider sharing this…spreading stories and connecting people across continents and cultures. Thanks and all the best! Francie

Sri Lanka Fishing Village at Negombo

Steadfast Eyes

Pico Iyer said, ” It’s almost as if travel is giving you the raw material, but stillness gives you the meaning of what you’ve experienced.” I find his words to be so true. Pouring over photographs, reliving experiences in my mind and formulating the many profound lessons that travel affords happens deeply in the stillness of return. In my last post, I wrote about the famous stilt fisherman of Sri Lanka. They are a beautiful study in balance and patience amidst a serene setting but life isn’t always about calmness with beautiful light. Life can be loud, chaotic and messy too. I find the fishermen of Sri Lanka a metaphor for life.

Fisherman Preparing For The Day

Negombo is the second largest open air fishing village and market in Sri Lanka. Before leaving, I researched and read a review on Trip Advisor: “Get a good pair of boots!” This proved to be invaluable because we were sloshing around smelly, let me repeat that…very smelly fish and their body parts strewn all over. A lot of sloshing through blood mixed with ocean water, seeing fish thrown across tables, salted, laid out in the sun to dry, dissecting and discarding were going on simultaneously with loud bargaining and negotiating on prices.

Work of the Hands

Slice and Dice

Baskets Filled With The Day’s Catch

Every part of this experience was both an attack on and an enlivening of all the senses. Needless to say, we were the only non Sri Lankan fisherpeople there but it was an experience that I would not have wanted to miss. It provided another glimpse into the everyday (all except Sunday) life of those whose existence depends upon the sea.

The Day’s Catch

Woman Turning Fish Every Two Hours

The reality was that yes it was loud, chaotic and messy. Livelihoods have to be forged from that and in the middle of that. To me, one story cannot be told without the other. These are not beautiful photographs. These are raw photographs. Some days we feel balanced and breathe in deeply. While on those other days, take some advice, get a good pair of boots for when things get knee deep, move with the experience and hope for a shower and a fresh start.

Returning Home


Preparing for the Next Day

Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

The Morning’s Call

Alone With Nature

It would be a wonderful meeting of the minds if the famous stilt fishermen of Sri Lanka came together with yoga instructors! They could both share wise insights into the art of balance, patience and cultivating stillness. Along the south shore line of this island off the coast of India, between Unawatuna and Welligama are wooden crosses dotting out into the ocean. After World War II, people were in need and the spaces available to fish along the shore line became very crowded. The fishermen of Sri Lanka then created a solution that is unique to this country. They took a wooden cross bar called a petta and used twine to tie this to a vertical bar and anchored it into the ocean’s floor. During sunrise and into the early morning, they can be seen climbing onto the stands and practicing an amazing balancing act for hours, holding onto the pole with one hand and reaching out to fish with the other. They carry everything they need in their turbans and attach a plastic bag to the ritpanna (stilt) for the catch of the day, spotted herring or small mackerals. We were fortunate to spend three days with them, photographing with beautiful light enhancing the mood and the moment.

Balancing Act

Daily Work

These tanned Sri Lankan men sit attentive to the movements above and below the waves as the hours pass by. I could learn so much from them! Take little and be in the moment! Now I am off to practice my “Tree Pose”!

Morning Ritual

I want to express my sincere thanks to Prebuddha Jaysinghe of Sri Lanka Holidays for helping me organize our trip in every way. Prebudda answered every question quickly and thoroughly and offered so many suggestions with a photographic perspective in mind. Anyone wishing to go to Sri Lanka, you would have the very best if you contacted Prebudda at prebudda@srilankaholidays.net Also, make sure you ask for Ravi as your guide. We had great fun with him as he showed us the beautiful sites of his country! Just let them know Francie recommended them!

Chants, Lamentations and Veneration

From darkness into light…from monochrome into vibrant color… from winter into spring, an emerging opening and flow rather than a fighting. There is a gentle stirring of one’s spirit with words like hope, light and resurrection because they emerge from a dying. Intertwined within this are rituals and traditions which ground us, give meaning and create bonds of friendships and identity.

Good Friday Service

In the Greek Orthodox religion, the Easter season is one of the most profound and holiest times of the year so I decided to experience and get a glimpse into the rituals and symbolism of the Good Friday service. First, when I walked into the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Elkins Park, PA, the 6th oldest Greek Orthodox community in the US, established in 1901, I was struck by the hospitality and warmth of the women who welcomed me. I was a stranger and they wanted to make sure I felt comfortable, giving up a front row seat for me, explaining what would be happening. This hospitality was as beautiful as the gold Byzantine icons surrounding me. There was a sacred richness mixed with that Greek love for life and I was totally caught up in it! A key for me was when I couldn’t tell which child belonged to which mother…all the women there were their mothers, hugging, kissing and tugging on clothes and fixing hair. I need more Greek friends!

A Mother and Her Son

In the front of the church was a richly decorated and elaborately carved canopy called a Kouvouklion which represents the tomb of Jesus. The women had spent over 3 hours that morning decorating it with spring flowers of white, red and purple. The ceremony began with readings from the bible, ethereal chanting from the cantors and incense flowing freely to remind everyone that their prayers flow freely to God. Then, gathering around the image of Christ on the cross, the men reached up to take away the nails while young girls (representing the women at the feet of the cross) held the white cloth waiting to receive the wooden representation of Jesus in death. It was then taken behind one of the three doors separating the nave from the sanctuary and referred to as the Iconostosis. An elaborately decorated tapestry with the image of Christ prepared for burial, referred to as the Epitafio, was then brought out and carried around the church as all present bow in veneration.

It Is Done

Venerating the Body of Christ

Woman bowed in prayer

Prayer by the Kouvouklion

After it was placed on the Kouvouklion, people young and old then began to line up with gestures symbolizing a deep and abiding faith. The sign of the cross was made followed by bowing to kiss either the feet or hands of the icon. The priest stated the generally, one does not kiss the face of the icon. Once again, the sign of the cross was made and then many people got down on their hands and knees and crawled through the bottom of the Kouvouklion to symbolize their willingness to enter unto death with Christ.

Man approaching the Kouvouklion

Entering into the death of Christ

Man Joining With Christ

Someone is Always There

Light in Darkness

These rituals become the pathway to enter into a mystery of God and visibly show a faith and belief. Even though there are many paths, an abiding commonality is that there is hope in the face of fear, that there is life in the face of death and that love holds us, heals us and carries us forth to ignite the world with kindness. I am so glad that I stepped into this new experience and am so grateful to all the women who so graciously gathered around me and made me feel at home and to Fontina Moller who first taught me the meaning of Opa, I held you in my heart as I walked through your church. Now on to Easter!

A Day of Bridges and Connections

Yesterday, I received a message from Facebook reminding me that on this day last year, I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. March 25th seems to be a day of bridging and making connections because yesterday I attended the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show and was able to cross worlds and cultures… Tibetan prayer flags, trains and planes, new friends from Morocco and becoming more acquainted with all that exists so close to home.

Russell Hannon

The celebrity travel speakers were Adam Richman, Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg, Russell Hannon and Angel Castellanos. “99 Ways to Cut Your Travel Costs – Without Skimping” was where I started off of course! Russell Hannon of breakthetravelbarrier.com suggested using the following on line resources: airfarewatchdog.com, farecompare.com, yapta.com to find less expensive fares. Airlines have started to set up bidding for upgrades now. Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic hold a bidding session at the gate using cell phones. Things are a changing!
Tingo.com for hotels and autoslash.com for car rentals will constantly search for better fares after you book and alert you when they find lower fares for the identical itinerary with an option to cancel your existing reservation and rebook at the lower fare at no extra charge. Hopper crunches historical data specific to a flight you want and show you the best price you can get now, whether it is likely to drop, when and by how much. One should try to avoid ATM fees and the Charles Schwab Investor Plus checking account is a no-fee account with a minimum 1 penny balance. The account includes unlimited free ATM cash withdrawls and reimburses you any ATM charges by third part backs. Gasbuddy.com is a GPS integrated app that shows all the nearby gas stations with prices by fuel grade and directions. I walked away from this talk with Russell’s book and started downloading new and helpful apps right then and there.

Johnny Jet spoke about how to travel like a movie star without movie star money. His website holds so many tips and tricks and he was so informative. He suggested taking bags of Hershey Kisses and giving them to those who check you in as well as the flight attendants. Don’t we all love getting surprises!? He suggested signing up for the following newsletters (besides his ): Pointsguy, Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Tour Gettysburg

After armed with so much useful information to feed my obsession for travel, I was off to travel the aisles of the convention center. Three local areas I must get to are the Hudson Valley Region of New York, Gettysburg and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands

Exotic and Distant Lands


I have new best friends, Sharon and her husband, Ishmael who I spoke with at length for a possible photo tour through the exotic and amazing land of Morocco. (If interested, let me know!).

Travel for Impact is a unique and powerful new enterprise which arranges trips to Botswana that provide opportunities for the visitor to work side by side with locals on community initiatives and the women sell their art and crafts to further these initiatives. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful black and white beaded bracelet!

Botswana Travel

Going off to new lands to experience new adventures may sometimes be overwhelming. Tours By Locals.com has 1977 hand vetted guides in over 158 countries to help you customize your experience with 24/7 customer support.

As a plug for an excellent travel agent who can also set up the experience you are looking for, may I suggest to those who live in and around Philadelphia, Debbie Ryan of Springhouse Travel. She can provide a full service travel and leisure experience and is totally dedicated to providing excellent customer service!

If you are looking for a very unique experience in Europe may I also suggest, Untours.com .Untours pioneered apartment-based independent travel and has provided unique cultural vacation packages since 1975. They support the work and mission of the Untours Foundation, which funds green projects that fight poverty around the world.Use their vast knowledge base to design your own trip or allow one of their expert Culturists to give you a hand.

Throughout the day, there were presentations on classical Indian Dance, South Pacific Island dance, Bahamas and Botswana movement and music. From information, to new discoveries and immersion into global beats, the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show had it all.

South Pacific Beauty

Manimekalai Thiyagarajan

Now I am off to see Rick Steves at the Keswick Theatre. The Montgomery County Libraries are the sponsors and Rick’s topic is: “Broadening Your Global Perspective Through Travel” … a topic I totally embrace!

A Montage of Myanmar

A Montage Through Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

While walking through fields, traveling the streets and boating down lakes and rivers, I fell into the easy harmony of the day. Myanmar is a feast for the senses. I was alive to all that was around me. The light and the beauty became a part of me while photographing and in Myanmar, both are exquisite. Temples, markets, traditional crafts passed down from generation to generation are the sites to become immersed in. Everywhere I wandered, I was welcomed into homes and hearts. There is nothing better than laughing right out loud with a person who was a total stranger the day before. Shared memories gratefully tucked away that continually stoke that flame of wanderlust!

A School in Myanmar Bringing People From Around the World Together

As travel photographers, we try to capture the spirit of a place and usually end up falling in love with that spirit. Total strangers invite us in, share their lives and the beauty of their culture with us. They honor us and hopefully, our images will in turn honor our hosts. David Heath, a very gifted artist and photographer, allowed his spirit to merge with that of Myanmar. Its people, stories and culture, strength and landscape wove its enchantment into David’s heart and brought him back over 16 times. As the UK Daily Mail related, “Immersing himself into the rhythm and culture of villages that had never before been visited by a Westerner, the intrepid explorer managed to create a breathtaking photo series which acts as a tribute to the land clinging to its traditional ways, whilst aiming to embrace the new modern world.”

This photo series became a beautiful, leather bound book entitled, “Burma, An Enchanted Spirit,” The book notably includes a handwritten endorsement by renowned 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy: “Truly an enchanting book – the pictures reflect the beauty and diversity of Burma faithfully.” A percentage of sales from each book sold are used to fund the building and development of schools in the city of Yangon. The Inwa School is the first of these. The Inwa School of Performing Arts is a new cultural high school in Mandalay that prepares young artists to perform Myanmar classical dance and music to professional standards. It provides continuity for excellence in classical arts and extends their reach to world audiences. The school connects master teachers with students in their teens who aspire to careers onstage. The Inwa School operates The Mintha Theater, where students and professional artists present spectacular dance repertoires nightly in central Mandalay. The Mintha Theater is a social enterprise that maintains quality and authenticity of the arts in a contemporary setting while preparing students for live stage careers. Proceeds from the theater benefit the school.

Inwa School, Mintha Theater, Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The goals of the school are the following:
To provide opportunities for talented low-income students to train as arts professionals in the authentic traditions.
To create employment opportunities for teachers able to provide the rigorous training required for high caliber arts performance.
To develop an intensive course of study in Myanmar performance, dance, singing, music, and storytelling from classical sources.

Being able to travel to the Inwa School with David was definitely another highlight of my trip to Myanmar. As a teacher, I loved getting to know the very talented students and teachers and as a photographer, I loved the opportunity to witness their daily practice session. In one afternoon, I saw that beautiful continuity of cultural traditions across generations. While I was filming, I asked one student what the school meant to her and immediately tears welled up in her eyes as she related, “The school is most important in my life.”
“I want to become a dancer for myself and my parents and dance to well known works.”
“I want to be happy with the arts and my appearance.” In order to honor her privacy as she so openly shared from the depths of her heart, I did not include her name or that video footage but wanted to share in words one of the most powerful experiences for me. The Inwa School, its dedicated teachers and students are truly a part of a unique, beautiful transformation which is exactly education’s highest calling.

The New York Times Travel Show 2017

People started to line up a bit after 9. When the New York Times Travel Show opened to the public at 10am last Saturday, a very long, snaking line entered through the gates and the world opened up. Adventure, solo, family, LBGTQ, river or Caribbean cruises, seaplane adventures, learn a language and charge your devices with a solar panel…so many aisles to explore with insights galore. The New York Times Travel Show brings together those who are definitely in the know and those who want to know everything about travel. It is the largest consumer travel and trade show in North America with over 500 exhibitors representing 150 countries and over 23 focused conferences covering the latest products, services, destination information and trends from travel industry experts and I covet my press pass!

Taste of the World

Let me begin with one of the most experienced travel professionals I know, Pauline Frommer. According to Frommer, the best websites for airfares are: Momondo.com and SkyScanner.net. The cheapest days of the week to fly are Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday. In order to receive savings, timing can be everything! Pauline gave the following advice: book on a weekend, book 57 days before travel for domestic tickets, 176 days before going off to Europe, 77 days before traveling to the Caribbean, 160 days before travel to Asia/The Pacific, book 144 days before travel to the Middle East and Asia and 90 days before travel to Central and South America. All will provide varying savings. She urged the audience to rethink loyalty and look into other airlines which are now offering discount fares such as Norwegian, WOW, XL, Thomas Cook, Eurowings and AirAsia. If you are a solo traveler, connecting with “Women Welcome Women” and Global Greeters Network which are sites where one can connect to someone who loves their city so much they have volunteered to provide a free tour will provide a “safety net” for those alone. It is a wonderful way to connect with locals. As far as cruises go, excursion savings can be found at Cruising Excursions.com, Shore Trips.com and Viator. Frommer also suggested that if one wanted to view the Northern Lights, this would be the year to do it since the lights are caused by storms on the sun and they go in 10 year cycles and this is the last year in this go round. Book now, they are breathtaking!

Indonesian Art

See Europe Virtually

In Seminar Room 3, there was not one available seat or space. People stood on both sides of the room and sat on the floor all to hear Matt Kepnes, the author of “How to Travel the World on $50. a Day.” His talk was entitled, “Easy Ways to Save Big Money When You Travel” and I have to say he did not disappoint! He cautioned people about using random ATM’s and not exchanging money at the airport and to buy in the local currency since the US dollar is surging. The sites Matt uses to search for cheap flights are: Secret Flying,, The Flight Deal, Holiday Pirates, Momondo, Skyscanner . Hostels now offer private rooms and private baths and if he isn’t staying in one, Matt will often stop by one to ask for recommendations of cheap but delicious local restaurants. Travel Massive, Bla Bla Car, are all ways to connect with the locals and get insights and recommendations off the beaten path that may be just as fun but a bit less expensive.

Indonesian Coffee Tour

Iskra Ukranian Dance Ensemble

There was a “Get Fit Zone”, a “Wellness Travel Pavilion” and “The Best of Life Stage.” You could meditate, learn bodybuilding, and hear an introduction to Ayurveda: Ancient solutions for increased energy and vitality.

Henna Painting

Being out on the road photographing for hours on end, I was thrilled with my purchase of two solar charges by Dawan Global. The Element is water resistant, shockproof, and dustproof. It is designed to take a beating in any terrain or environment. With its lightweight design the Element can be taken anywhere with ease, clipped onto a backpack, belt, or purse, and is just 7 oz. It stores enough solar energy to completely charge a cell phone 2 times. Because one is good but two is better, I also bought the Solis which can completely power a cell phone 4x, an IPad 2x, or even a small laptop on a full charge. It can completely charge a phone in just 90 minutes using the high speed output… and as I was walking away from the booth with my new finds, Bob Marley’s lyrics came to mind, “No worries, be happy!” Mark your calendars for January 2018! I am off to make my vision board!!!

Travel List

Women’s March On Washington

On Friday, we heard the words, “American carnage ends now”. I am not sure if that means that our new president has decided to pay the bill for the environmental cleanup for an abandoned 6 acre warehouse/factory in South Carolina that he owns but yesterday, all I saw everywhere I looked was truly what I think makes “America Great”! Around the world, from Antarctica to Greece, there were 673 Women’s Marches. As ABC news reported: “The marches spanned all 50 U.S. states, several U.S. territories and at least 60 countries across all seven continents”. One woman in Hawaii, being so upset after the election, decided to do something to make a positive difference and send another message to the world. Teresa Shook made mention of a hypothetical march on FB and by morning had some 10,000 responses. “When they go low, we go high!” The power of social media! In Washington alone, it was estimated that a half million people were in attendance. They just kept coming and coming!

The bus we took from Philadelphia had only 2 empty seats. We then went to the metro where a stop along the line had to be closed due to the great number of people, and this was only 8 in the morning. The energy of birthing something positive and unifying was palpable. There was a very calm, respectful excitement as people moved to their destination. When we left the Metro, we were greeted by an 90 year old woman in a wheel chair who was cheering us on! (I want what she is having!). Then as we walked into the march area, there was a teenage boy sitting up on a hill, silently holding a sign, letting us know he loved us. Some signs people held up were definitely negative, but I have to say that they were in the minority. Most signs were uplifting and inspirational…signs with the words: peace, dignity, respect, human rights. Ideas calling forth actions. “Keep building walls and we will keep building bridges.” Signs with quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Women and men, children of every race and creed walking together in the strength of peace and unity. There were so many heartfelt moments I carried home with me…watching members of the National Guard high fiving everyone and thanking all who walked by them. At the end of the march, we began the two mile walk back to the bus, people came out of their homes to offer total strangers walking by water and food. A Christian church had just let out and the pastor was standing in the street inviting people in to use the bathroom and have something to drink. We started the day off being greeted with kindness and ended the day, embraced by generosity and caring.

Mean words, calling people names, disrespecting women’s bodies, putting up walls to separate from the world, these to me seem like the divisive paths to carnage. It is amazing the difference a day can make!

Early Morning, Ready to Begin

Women and Men Beginning The March

Silent but Powerful Message

Messages with Meaning

Justice for All

One Word Says So Much.

High Five and Thanks

Respect and Dignity

Young Girls and Women Alike

The Masses

A Few In The Crowd!

South Carolina Is In The House

The Message Summed Up

A Half A Million Strong

It Is All About The Journey

The New York Times advertises their trips as, “Journeys for the Curious Mind.” Robert Frost encouraged us to take the road less traveled and Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us that, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There is something that fascinates me about people on a journey and I am drawn to photograph them…people living their daily lives, putting one foot in front of the other to discover the unknown or return to a place of knowing. I have a deep curiosity about where a person is headed to and why. New understandings unfold through the accompaniment either in silent observation or animated interaction. Is the person walking fast or slow, bent over or standing tall, smiling or deep in thought? So much can be learned about the other and leads to a connection of “you AND me”.

On The Journey

A Smile For The Journey Off the Beaten Path

Balancing and heavy burdens on the journey.

Many people piled into a truck sitting on top of produce.

The Journey is better when shared with a friend.

Women walking around the fields looking for beans

Trusting in the wind and the currents.

Tender Moments Along The Journey

A Burmese Mother and Her Child on the Journey

Making the journey so much easier with love and laughter.

Gentle parental protection

Such tenderness in this moment as a grandson washes his grandmother who no longer has fingers to do this herself.

This young girl took her water buffalo on a journey for a cooling bath.

I also try to check in and explore the internal territory of my journey and was very focused on this with the beginning of the new year. What path am I on and is it the best for me at this moment in time? Am I creating touching moments for those on the same journey and am I taking the time to just stop and say, “Thank you” for so often being on the receiving end of welcome, touching kindness and generosity. May I just take this opportunity to extend my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to those who have walked beside me for a bit or for the long haul! You have and continue to add much sweetness to my journey and I wish you all a journey of wonder, undiscovered paths with the curiosity to explore and times to just sit and enjoy the view.

From my heart to yours.

Buddhist Monks in Myanmar

Myanmar has recently broken free from an intensely repressive military regime. While there are many growing pains, there is much hope. As with many countries struggling with issues regarding refugees and immigrants, there are some who profess strong opposition to inclusion, holding tightly to the concept of borders and singularity rather than seeing us all as interconnected and occupying only one planet. There exists in Myanmar a longstanding anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiment. Prashanth Parameswaran stated in “The Diplomat” that, “there’s a real challenge here that’s symptomatic of a country in which the question of national identity has always been fraught, complex and unresolved.” Almost 90% of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist, most practicing Theravada Buddhism. Their practice follows the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration and right mindfulness. Amidst all the complexities, the Buddhist monks that I saw, were a gentle and quiet reminder to simply be mindful of what I say and what I do and to ask myself if my words and actions are healing and uplifting. I am not sure if I believe in karma, but I thought that even if I start out with only two out of eight, it is nice way to live life!

Lofty Thoughts and Dreams

Lofty Thoughts and Dreams

Sitting In The Heart of Greatness

Sitting In The Heart of Greatness

Lost in Prayer

Lost in Prayer

Eyes That Capture A Heart

Eyes That Capture A Heart

Monks Walking and Talking Together

Friends Together

Monks Enjoying Favorite Drinks

Monks Enjoying Favorite Drinks

Tired Buddhist Monk

Oh So Tired

Daily Life

Daily Chores

Viewing the results of an earthquake.

Buddhist Monks Keeping Watch

Buddhist Monks Keeping Watch

The Long Neck Women of Burma

Dreams definitely do come true. In reality, maybe not as often as we would like! There is always a fine line between “magical thinking” and hope. However, this moment in my life had the quality of blessing for me.
Many photographers I know would say that growing up they would spend hours pouring over the pages of National Geographic. We were living vicariously through the compelling photographs of far off lands and people and tucking away the images into our dreams. I would see photographs of the Long Neck Women and think they were so beautifully exotic and meeting them seemed so far out of the realm of possiblity. Time passed, travel across continents became much easier and (some) borders opened up. I was off! I cannot even begin to explain the gratitude I felt when I got off the boat with cameras around my neck and climbed up onto a dock and was welcomed by these beautiful and exotic girls and women. I had so often seen the photographs, but now I was in them! Just writing those words brings forth a wellspring of emotion for me.

Dreams Do Come True

Dreams Do Come True

National Geographic (where it all began for me!) has created an informative and interesting video on these Padaung Long Neck Women and since the focus here is to connect the past with the present, I thought it would be the perfect link to add.
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=The+Long+Neck+Women+of+Myanmar&ru=%2fsearch%3fq%3dThe%2bLong%2bNeck%2bWomen%2bof%2bMyanmar%26form%3dPRUSEN%26mkt%3den-us%26httpsmsn%3d1%26refig%3d7d3a577ed7aa4226a185364a79604262%26pq%3dthe%2blong%2bneck%2bwomen%2bof%2bmyanmar%26sc%3d1-30%26sp%3d-1%26qs%3dn%26sk%3d%26cvid%3d7d3a577ed7aa4226a185364a79604262&view=detail&mmscn=vwrc&mid=8706ABA9757C2ACD64148706ABA9757C2ACD6414&rvsmid=8706ABA9757C2ACD64148706ABA9757C2ACD6414&fsscr=0&FORM=VDFSRV

Creating and Living in Beauty

Creating and Living in Beauty

Young Woman Weaving

Young Woman Weaving

Long Neck Woman Weaving at Inle Lake

Long Neck Woman Weaving at Inle Lake

Sunset and a Moment of Quiet

Sunset and a Moment of Quiet

Portrait of a Long Neck Woman, Myanmar

Portrait of a Long Neck Woman, Myanmar

Portrait Through the Brass Coils

Portrait Through the Brass Coils

May something that you think is so out of reach move into the realm of possibility for you!

Reflections from Inle Lake, Myanmar

“As above, so below…” This is the name of a 2014 horror film and also the name of a song on the debut album of the Tom Tom Club. In actuality though, the quote has it origin in the ancient writings of the Hermetic Principles, studied by philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders throughout history. The next line in the quote is, “As within, so without.” Without going off on an esoteric monologue, suffice to say that these powerful but simplistic words speak to a unifying and dynamic energy connecting all. The sky and the heavens are reflected on earth. The way one is feeling and thinking radiates outward with rippling effects able to lift up or tear down.

At Inle Lake, Myanmar, I was mesmerized by the brilliant patterns and impressionistic reflections on the lake. Light, color, design, vibrancy, “As above, so below” …”, it all danced together so beautifully and I felt totally alive to be brought into this oneness.

Flower Boat, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Flower Boat, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Reflections on Inle Lake

Reflections of Home, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Reflections of Home, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Reflections of Home

Reflections of Home

Lotus Reflections

Lotus Reflections

The Colors of Sunrise

The Colors of Sunrise

Swirls of Blue

Swirls of Blue

Dancing Colors

Dancing Colors

Lessons From Myanmar

Life on the Water

Life on the Water

Home on The Lake

Home on The Lake

A very common site to see while in Burma are people smoking both long and short truncated cigars called cheroots. Rudyard Kippling mentioned them in his famous, “Road to Mandalay” as he described his Burma girl:
“An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin white cheroot, an’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s feet.”

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

The color of cheroots can vary from green to black and are made with a mix of tobacco leaves and pieces of bark. The smoker may enjoy a distinctive sweet taste when honey, star anise, tamarind and jaggery are added into the tobacco mix. (Being from Philadelphia, I had no idea what jaggery is but discovered that it comes from the sap of palm trees and is mixed with sugar cane juice. We just have the Liberty Bell, not many palm trees!). Cheroot filters are made from small corn husks and it is all rolled together in thanal-phet leaves with sticky rice acting as the sealant. In the midst of stilted villages, floating gardens, fishermen balancing on one foot and small havens where cultural traditions are still carried on, the Inle Lake region is a must see for any traveler wishing to get caught up in the magic of Burma. We saw girls sitting crossed legged, hands moving at lightening fast speed as they separated the spices and rolled the leaves of these subtle fragrant cheroots, following in the footsteps of generations before them.

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Having A Good Laugh!

Having A Good Laugh!

Love That Smile!

Love That Smile!

Twinkling Eyes

Twinkling Eyes

Reflecting and Relaxing

Reflecting and Relaxing

Here Comes Another Smile!

Here Comes Another Smile!

Often, older, older women whose faces have been deeply etched by the forces of nature are photographed puffing on cheroots with smoke snaking around their serious faces. We are so drawn to the wizened crone characteristic and the stories that lie beneath those many lines and wrinkles. Actually, there are 98 photographs of these women on Google Images (I counted!) So many photographs are both striking and compelling but I noticed that there were only 8 where the women were smiling. If this is an enjoyable past time, I wondered why such an absence. I will probably never know the many back stories to those photographs but I would like to share my experience with these women. Let me begin with a quote. An 18th century German composer, Robert Schumann stated, “The artist’s vocation is to send light into the human heart.” David Heath and Win Kyaw Zan are two men I hold in high esteem as true artists. I was so fortunate to have their mentorship throughout my recent trip to Myanmar. There is such an obvious brotherhood between David and Win. It has been forged during their 16 adventures together, documenting life and traditions hidden away from the Western world for so very long. I was thrilled they brought me “into the fold” and made me feel like family… but then that is what I saw them do time and time again with many others, which brings me to the main point of today’s post. Sitting in thatched huts or out in fields, we too were drawn to photograph these brown skinned, weathered and wise women enjoying a good smoke! We could have photographed with a long lens, never making our presence known while in a way stealing something from them and or we could respectfully enter into the intimacy of their world and not miss out on an amazing opportunity. David and Win went for the latter. Outgoing and fun loving, the camera went down while their smiles, introductions, compliments and jokes brought about quick friendships. We all lingered and laughed and loved every minute! The Burmese women easily allowed us to photograph them. They showed us the pensive look, but now they also flashed those wonderful smiles that were definitely contagious! The “strangerness” melted away into that “light being sent into the human heart” and we were family, connecting continents, cultures and hearts. I was so fortunate to travel with two masterful photographers. They encourage and challenge me to truly be mindful of the artist’s calling. May we all discover that vocation and pass it on now…it is so needed and our children are watching.

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery, India

Buddhist Monks and the Mandala of Impermanence from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The Sacred Arts Tour is traveling throughout the US this year and it was very powerful experience to take in. Buddhist Monks came to Bucks County Community College for one week to share their art and wisdom.

Chanting with bells, cymbals ringing out and the steady rhythm of the drum beat served to consecrate the space and call forth the forces of Peace and Wellbeing. A puja table was set up by the window. Puja comes from Sanskrit and means reverence and homage. Items of offerings and devotion were placed on the table in front of a picture of the Dalai Lama. Bowls of water symbolized hospitality. Flowers symbolized samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Candles served to stir a desire for enlightenment while incense purified the air and symbolized that the teachings may flow out to all the world. Apples were placed on the table reminding all of our interconnectedness and the impermanence of life with the hope of cultivating gratitude throughout each day.

A blue square board was laid on the ground and the monks took out rulers, compasses and pens to design the sacred sand mandala that would occupy their total concentration over the next 5 days. This is incredibly exacting and can take up to three hours. Pots of millions of grains of brilliantly colored sand were laid out beside chakpurs which are narrow funnel tubes that when scraped together will cause sufficient vibration for the grains to trickle out. Being used together, they represent the union of wisdom and compassion.

The term mandala is an ancient sanskrit word meaning, “World in Harmony”. This ideal, multi- dimensional world where colors, lines and forms all have meaning, each is significant to fostering a heightened awareness of compassion. An intention for blessings is set as each grain is dropped into the design.

By day, monks sat crossed legged, huddled over the rasping sound of the chakpurs for hours. ( My knees and back would have been screaming out after the first 5 minutes!) White face masks prevented both breath or a stray cough from upsetting the meticulous design. Slowly, a lotus emerged in the very center of the sand mandala. Working outwards, white, yellow, red, green and blue petals took shape to represent faith, effort, memory, meditation and wisdom. Deities, walls, doorways, flames all slowly emerged throughout the week.

Just as the week began, it ended with a formal consecration session with the sounds of deep, masculine chanting. The ending was signaled by a simple ringing of a bell. Slowly, brushes began to move over the mandala. The colorful grains were swept into a mound of gray. Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. As a photographer who tries to capture moments so they will live forever, it was so hard for me to see this beautiful work simply be destroyed knowing how much went into it. I think I have a lot to learn! They believe that suffering stems from trying to hold on to that which is impermanent and it is only through understanding and moving with impermanence that great changes can emerge. The end of life is usually accompanied by a burial, a return to the earth. The grains were placed into an urn and carried to the river. There they were poured out with the belief that the blessings placed in each grain would now flow out to the earth. So much to take away from this one moment in time. “Thanks to impermanence,everything is possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh