Invited into the Light of Diwali

“When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.” (Joseph Campbell)

Sharing the Light

It all began with the strike of a match in the midst of total darkness. People were waiting anxiously and the excitement was building for that one moment…that moment of “ahhhhhhhhh” when one could breathe out the stress of the past and open to the sheer wonder of the present…the freeing that comes with a new year.

Standing In The Glow

I was thrilled to be asked to photograph Diwali, the Hindu festival of Lights this past Thursday night. It is celebrated every year here in the northern hemisphere between late October and early November, depending upon when the 15th day of the Hindu month, Kartik falls. The festivities go on for typically 4 or 5 days with each day rooted in its own legends and myths and serving to illuminate one’s spirit with the brilliance of joy. At the center of each legend is the victory of good over evil, wisdom over ignorance, light over darkness and hope over despair.

Living With Light Through The Years

Holding Onto The Light

Aartis or devotional hymns are sung eulogizing Goddess Lakshmi with sweets and fruits offered to her. Homes and businesses are illuminated and new clothes are worn as a sign of respect and thanks to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.

Passing the Torch from Parent to Child

Families, young and old all gathered around outside the Bharatiya Temple At 7:30, the night sky was totally lit up with brilliant colors surging high into the air, released from their pent up containers. Fireworks ignite that spirit of wonder no matter how many times we see them! According to one belief, the loud explosive sound is the way to let the gods know of the people’s thanks and joy from the earth.

Diwali Festival of Light

While the fireworks were going off overhead, people were passing around sparklers, sharing that dancing, popping light from family to family. It was all such a spirited celebration. Everyone was smiling, hugging and sending along well wishes. This was the first time I had the privilege of attending a Diwali festival and the brilliant joy that each spark gave off was totally enveloping. I loved photographing on this night, even though the exposure and color were challenging, it led to interesting blur, lighting so blown out and brilliant that I just went with it to capture the mood and the essence.

Light and Movement

As Joseph Campbell said,”…then comes the new life and all that is needed.” It is believed that, “Diwali is an opportunity to cultivate and connect with eternal bliss.” On Thursday night, I did!

Synchronistic Ways of the Universe

Sri Lankan Woman in Tea Fields

Last week I celebrated my birthday. Rather than count new wrinkles and gray hairs, I try to give thanks for the tremendous friends and opportunities I have in my life. The past 12 months turned out to be an amazing year of travel. I photographed in Burma during the fall and summer. Roads I traveled took me to meet tribes that have never seen Westerners before. These people were hidden away high up in mountains with no hospitals or doctors. They have been relying on the ancient wisdom passed down through generations cultivating the healing power of nature’s gifts and it must have been working because they took us to meet the elders who were in their 80’s and 90’s! In Sri Lanka, I was taken to a truly verdant forest that was heavy with rain. Here the Shamans grow and study the power and secrets in plants, herbs and trees. I was led into a hut with a dirt floor and a table. A young woman proceeded to use the power of touch and specially made oils to sooth my tired muscles. There wasn’t one knot left and like an American, I wanted to buy the oils but they were just made for that moment in time. Here, I also had the most delicious tea made from leaves that had just been picked that morning. There was a very powerful sense of respect and living in harmony with the earth.

I then returned home and was hit hard with the flu and pneumonia that the doctors thought I contracted on my flight. This is where the universe weaves in new paths and curiosities and sometimes uses difficult situations to get interesting messages across. Antibiotics gave me thrush and then the medicine to deal with the thrush was terrible on my stomach. I was getting worse, not better. So, I took myself off the medicine and a friend started me with the natural medicine of essential oils. Here I was again, learning and healing from the gifts of nature from a bed and not a hut! It was a year of many, many connections…connections with ancient tribes, wisdom and the energies of the earth. The words, “Respect”, “Harmony” and “Communion” all come to mind. I never had a year like this. In all of the years of travel, I have never gotten sick! Why now? One of my loves for travel photography stems from a deep calling, a vocation to tell stories and create bridges and here I find myself called to learn everything I can about the power of these healing oils from wonderful and wise modern day shamans who wear diamond studded t-shirts that say, “There’s an oil for that!” I am so grateful that I live in a country with access to incredible medical facilities and hopefully, our government will continue to provide low cost access to health care for all but now, I have been led to a new path, off the beaten road for the most part and am learning about ways to enhance my health care. Life just keeps getting more and more expansive and interesting. “Roots and Wings” – travel the world and dance with the earth. Now I carry canons, tripods and vials of lemon, lavender and frankincense! Now I have so many more love stories to tell and I am thrilled to be sharing and selling these natural medicines! Doterra is the company I am working with because of their commitment to the environment, growing plants indigenously, replanting and paying the farmers very fair wages, establishing educational, nutritional and loan programs enriching the lives of many. The company uses strict scientific testing procedures to ensure the highest quality and potency. So along with stories and photographs of travels, I hope you will not mind if I also share the stories of a bit of the amazing biodiversity that surrounds us. My other website is now:
http://mydoterra.com/francesschwabenland Please stop by and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. If you would like to hear more, just let me know. I get so excited about sharing and I promise I won’t talk too long!!!

A Simple Glimpse into the Kayaw and Kayan Tribes of Myanmar (video)

We were able to spend a brief time with these fascinating people and I had the video camera rolling! The traditions and cultures are fading as the modern world is encroaching upon these indigenous people. It would be our hope to raise enough funds to be able to go and live among the people and create a documentary which would capture how daily life is interwoven with tradition before the elders pass on.

A Glimpse: A Day Spent With The Kayaw and Kayan Tribes of Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The Kayah Tribe and My Journey of Ascension

It was another day I seriously thought about taking stock out in dramamine while I regretted the fact that I didn’t at least bring more. Again, we went in search of tribes hidden away high up in the mountains of Myanmar. Over the past two years with the military rule giving way to democracy, the government has been trying to build roads to connect all of it’s people. The one road in and out was very narrow as it snaked along the side of the mountain. Rather than a very long drop, it remained a scenic vista thanks to the skill of our driver.

Village View

When we were about 20 minutes away from our destination, we stopped at a small village for a man to jump in the van with us. He was our “Wayfinder”. He was going to accompany us and introduce us to the tribe at our final destination. As far as we knew from Clement our guide, no Westerners had ever journeyed here before and we had the distinct honor of being the first. Be still my heart!

Our first sign of village life was looking up to see three beautiful girls high up in the hills working with the planted crops. As we approached, they didn’t stop but continued putting hand to the earth. They were in the moment and so were we!

Women In The Mountains

Hand To The Earth

When we arrived at the village of Daw Ri Dar, without asking, we were again taken to the elders. Imagine 4 total strangers, unlike anyone you have ever seen coming right into your home with cameras all around their necks…this is exactly what we did. A shaky wooden ladder led up into what many would consider to be an impoverished hut but I found the criss-cross design of the reeds on the walls expressive of a wonderful artistry and attention to detail. The hut was basically open. There were no doors to lock or windows to close. There was no reason to keep anyone out, all were and are welcomed in. The first women we met was a huddled over 98 year old woman. She was sitting looking out on her world. When she saw us, she folded her hands in the prayer of welcome. I was the only woman in the group and the first Western woman she had seen. We did not know each other’s language, but she tenderly stroked my face while I held her hands in mine. She was very animated with us and her family all gathered around enhancing the sincere hospitality we felt. Presence was their true gift. It was difficult for me to take our leave because I just wanted to stay with her, to somehow keep her with me longer knowing that we may never see each other again. Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey, an Hawaiian anthropologist and the first female National Geographic fellow eloquently said that, “Every time an elder dies, a library burns down”.

The Blessing of Welcome

Moment of Laughter

Engaged

Family Portrait

We then were introduced to a centenarian whose eyes were very tired and red. One of the other photographers I was with had eye drops to ease the soreness. It was quite something to watch her totally trust him as he put the drops into her eyes. She had never been through this experience before and yet she was totally open as she was blinking away. Her granddaughter wanted them also! She suffered from a goiter but had been unable to get any kind of medical attention.

In many cultures and religions, one goes to the elder before a journey, in illness or a special occasion to receive their blessing. We were then told that one by one, each of us would receive her blessing. We walked up to this our elder with our wrist extended. She then said a blessing of protection and good health over us and tied a cotton thread around our wrist. The white thread serves as protection from misfortune and evil and to ensure the blessing stays with the person. In a small wooden hut, a profound moment of grace and a bit of healing.

Looking Into The Face of Wisdom

Look Into My Eyes

Grandmother and Granddaughter

Traditional Dress

Throughout the day, there were several other older women wearing the black and blue dress adorned with shells, beads, coins and ear lobes elongated from the weight of the traditional silver earrings. This may be the last generation to carry on this tradition of beauty and identity. While they all wore the head wrap, it seems that T-shirts are making their appearance on the younger woman. These elders we met are the true wisdom keepers of ancient ways.

Traditional Ways

On The Path from Tradition to New Ways

Modern Day Mother With Child

The ascension metaphor became my touchstone. For me, it is so much easier staying at sea level. My knees don’t take to climbing very well but yet, in the rising, I saw sights few others have seen. I learned about the magic of presence, an openness to new experiences, meeting someone who looks differently with curiosity, interest and welcome rather than fear. I learned that somehow a common language can be found even it it is just in touch or a blessing. I saw what trust truly looks like and when I looked deeply into an elders’ eyes I saw an acceptance of life with all its joys and sorrows. I saw the knowing of the bonds with tradition from generations passed. This day and its people who crossed my path truly elevated my body, mind and spirit. My hope is that my photographs in some small way serve to provide a testament to these female elders of the Kayah tribe.

The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden is an iconic living museum, a major educational institution, and a renowned plant research and conservation organization. Founded in 1891 and now a National Historic Landmark, it is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world and the largest in any city in the United States. It is distinguished by the beauty of its diverse landscape and extensive collections and gardens supporting over one million living plants. In the heart of the Bronx, it is truly an oasis.

Opening To Life and Magic

Dale Chihuly is an American artist who has mastered the translucent and transparent qualities of ice, water, glass and neon, to create works of art that transform the everyday experience. He is globally renowned for his ambitious site specific installations in public spaces as well as exhibitions presented in museums and gardens worldwide. From April 22nd through October 29th, CHIHULY, an exhibition at the NYBG spotlights this artist’s bold innovations. The Garden’s dramatic vistas become living canvases for work created specifically for NYBG and it showcases signature organic shapes and brilliant colors.

Sapphire Star

The Garden is also a major educational institution, teaching more than 300,000 people annually – among them, school children, teachers, and Bronx families – about plant science, ecology and healthful eating through its hands-on, curriculum based programing. Inspired by the works in the CHIHULY exhibit, children in grades K-12 from all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut entered poems into the NYBG Poetry Contest that was developed in partnership with Poetry Society of America. The winning poems are displayed alongside Chihuly’s sculptures.

Sparkle Rock


The spikes sparkle in the way of the sun
The spikes sparkle on the logs
The logs are in the way of the water
The water is calm
The rocks might wobble
Ducks come in and quack
Let’s all shout – water!

Author: Ryan Corey, 1st grade, Setauket Elementary School

Float Boat

Beautiful Coexistence

Blue Herons

Sol del Citron

This past Tuesday, the sun was far behind clouds, the rain did some misting and some pouring…but light has so many moods and textures that it presents to a photographer. On this day, the colors were deep and rich. The exhibit is infused with a magical energy, showcasing the dynamic and poetic interplay of art, light, form and reflection. After sunset, the atmosphere takes on a heightened drama and luminous quality of Chihuly’s colors and forms when it is lit under the evening sky. There is also an evening jazz summer concert series. For the first time, Grand Hyatt New York, Metro North, and the New York Botanical Garden are partnering to provide visitors with a seamless trip to the Garden. This exclusive package offers a discounted rate if you use the code NYBG at the time of booking at the Grand Hyatt, admission to the Garden, shopping and dining discounts at NYBG and round trip tickets on Metro North. The end of summer is drawing near but walking through a beautiful garden in any type of weather, during any season enlivens the senses and calms the soul. AHHHHHHHHHHH!

Mystical Magical Colors

Dancing Interplay

The Kayan Tribe of Myanmar

When I think about photographing the Kayaw, Kayan and Kayah tribes of Myanmar, an hour glass comes to mind. The constantly flowing sand reminding me of the passage of time and once gone, it cannot be regained. Setting out on the second day, in each village we visited we were taken right to the elders and usually the elder women. These are the ones embracing traditions of the past while the Western world starts to slowly enter in with new ways of life. It was obvious that those who accompanied us into the village were so proud of them. The women were in their 80’s and older so it was a true honor to be able spend time with, laugh with, learn from and photograph these wise women whose hearts are rooted in the past and whose eyes look out on the future.

Clement’s Auntie

Clement, our guide extraordinaire, took us to visit his Auntie in the village of Hwa Ri Ka Ku. Her lineage is that of the Kayan tribe. As soon as we pulled up, Daw Mu Nan came right out to greet us. Clement’s huge hug enveloped this tiny woman and I was so happy I had the video running. I was able to capture her giggling with us and later when Clement started to sing, he coaxed her into dancing. I love family reunions!!! To me this moment was priceless! I focused on taking still portrait photographs to hopefully capture a bit of her spirit as she looked out and took everything in and then video to capture her explanation of wearing the brass coils, her heritage and her enjoyment of rice wine! (video to come later). The sands of time are passing and every time I hold my camera up to my eye, I realize the importance of the calling and how very fortunate I am!

Clement’s Auntie, Kayan Tribe

Clement’s Auntie

We then went to the Daw Klainlin village. The women here do not wear the brass but wear shells, beads and coins. They also wear threads made from cotton with a type of liquor around their knees.

Woman At Work

This woman is a member of the Kayan Kagan tribe. We were able to photograph her after working all day and then she transformed herself into the traditional dress. I love seeing her different expressions! The adornments only compliment the beauty within!

Laughing With Us

“Oh You Are So Bad!”

The Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

Kayaw Tribe in the Mountains

It was definitely a two dramamine day! We left the beautiful comfort of the Loikow Lodge and ran into the arms of misting rain, a very sturdy van and Clement, our brilliant guide. The goal for the day: photograph the Kayaw tribe in the very remote village of Ya A Pra. It was approximately a 2 – 3 hour drive, with hair pin turn after hair pin turn high up into the mountains. I think I got in an entire rosary on the way up since looking down was not good for my heart!

Dress of the Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

It wasn’t until approximately 2012 that foreigners were finally able to gain access to some of the ethnic groups of Myanmar, previously closed off by the military regime. Still, few outsiders have made their way here. Needless to say that we were the only moving vehicle for most of the trip. On a very muddy road (path) feeling isolated looking out on a washed gray color blanketing the landscape, we all suddenly became attentive to a beautiful burst of bright pink as we came around a corner. Pulled over to the side of the road was a motorcycle driver with a Kayaw woman as his passenger. The driver had his pink plastic rain cover but not his passenger and the skies were threatening a downpour. Clement came to the rescue and we all got out, made our translated introductions and welcomed her into the van. I was so taken with the alchemy of beauty, brightness, ruggedness and guts that radiated from our new guest…my kind of woman! She was as quick to show us her machete as her jewelry!

Traditional Dress

Beautifully dressed, Kayaw women have elongated earlobes with metal cylinders and adorning beads. Metal coils decorate both the neck and the legs and are worn in life and into death. Old Indian and British silver coins hang from the neck behind large silver and aluminum half discs. In the Kayaw culture, these represent the beauty of the shining moon. They were and are usually given by a groom to his bride to tell her, “You are as beautiful as the shiny moon.” Mothers also pass these down to daughters to tell them, “You are my beauty, as beautiful as the shiny moon.” It is a fascinating study that diverse cultures throughout the world have associated the moon with the feminine. Carl Jung’s collective unconsciousness is alive and well.

Adornments

When we finally arrived at Ya A Pra, sad to say, there were only 3 people around. The others were all off in the fields tending to rice, millet, beans, corn, pumpkin, cucumber and mustard even though it was pouring rain. With limited time to now photograph and get back down the mountain before darkness enveloped the road, we stayed with the 3 rather than going into the fields. Even though I pride myself on exercising regularly, my appreciation goes out to the three men I was so fortunate enough to be with for all their supportive words and arms as we slogged our way straight up a muddy mountain side…the zen mantra was one step at a time! At the top, we were rewarded with a man sitting weaving baskets in his hut. I was so grateful for his gracious welcome and total acceptance of us. Strangers walked in on his world unannounced and he promptly gave us shelter from the storm. It was humbling and quite the lesson on hospitality. There was very little in his hut except for a basic cooking area. Weaving was his creative contribution to his community. Life was simple, basic and connected. Clement explained to us that one of the customs of the Kayaw people is to make coffins for each person while they are alive. Death was prepared for and accepted. When we took our leave from this gentlemen we looked up to see a mother taking care of her baby. Three people we met on this day…the beautiful strong woman, a gentle man weaving away through the day and a mother loving her child…the people, the archetypes that transcend time and my world is so much richer for it!

Basket Weaver

Mother and Child

Also, my sincere thanks go out to Swe Yi, the co-owner of the Loikaw Lodge. With her husband, Jens, they not only created such a beautiful and environmentally friendly Lodge, but they are experts on the many Burmese tribes in the area. Swe Yi was so kind to help me find out the answer to the meaning behind the silver half moon jewelry. Jens is the author of “Marked For Life” which is a fascinating in depth look at the Chin Women and their facial tattoos.

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.

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