Looking for some diversion, watch these two videos.

The first video is a “First Kiss” project where an amateur filmmaker, Tatia Pilieva, asks twenty strangers to kiss each other for the first time…in front of cameras! Strangers kissing is old hat–when someone has liquid courage things can and do happen. For this video, however, I think the askward moment comes because they’re asked to do it specifically for the camera. I have a feeling, though, that more than one pairing went off, grabbed a drink, and got to know each other better.


The next video is by Funny or Die. President Obama sits for a sketch interview with Zach Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns.” The president gets in some zingers as well as some information about the ACA. Two for one!: Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis: President Barack Obama




Last Saturday was a day for new adventure. Ever since I moved into the city, I’ve made it my mission to try things outside (or slightly outside) of my usual happenings. Over the years, I’ve stuck to one type of entertainment in the DMV area and that is salsa dancing, itself a new discovery for me 10 years ago.

I spent perhaps two hours Saturday afternoon getting lost in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, a piece of land I didn’t know existed beforehand. I had only to put the word “parks” in my phone’s GPS and a host of red icons appeared on screen.

It was a crisp though overcast fall afternoon. I traipsed along paths upon paths encountering water fountains and moss-covered stones and foliage having already transitioned from summer luster to autumn browns. At one point there was a couple in the distance who looked to be getting their engagement photos taken. They posed in coordinated outfits along a low stone wall with Rock Creek Park as their backdrop. It was perfect.

[All photos in this set belong to me.]

Later that evening, I discovered a world previously unknown to me–skateboarding in Cuba. A friend invited me to a fundraiser held by an organization named Cuba Skate. Skateboarding as a hobby and as a sport is on the rise in the Caribbean’s largest island, and the event’s purpose was to raise money for skateboards and gear that is to be sent to Cuba. In the warehouse where the event took place, painted skateboards lived on the walls. They–the boards–were up for auction, the proceeds going toward the Cuba Skate cause.

Documentary clip, which played in a smaller room at the fundraiser

The crowd was a different sort, but they brought with them a new energy. It could have been the booze or the lighting or the evening’s purpose or the music the deejay played that infused the environment with cheer and good times. Toward the end of the night, he began playing a lot of ’90s hip hop hits, which had the crowd–white, black, Latino, Asian, younger Millenials and older Millenials alike–singing (and screaming) the lyrics as though the songs had just been released the week before. I count myself among the ones jamming to “Hypnotize” and “Jump Around” and “I Wanna Sex You Up.” By that time much of the wall space was bare. Those who won their bids had long since collected their skateboards and gone on their merry ways.

[I do not reserve the rights of the following series of painted skateboards. The artists who painted the skateboards reserve all rights.]

I didn’t tumble into bed until two-thirty in the morning.

The Risks of Immigrating

My parents immigrated to the U.S. at different points in the 1970s. They were born and raised in West Africa, and their parents–my mother’s father and my father’s mother–sent them to this country to further their educations. They didn’t meet here, my parents; they had already begun dating in their late teens in their capital city. After they crossed the Atlantic, they picked up where they left off. The pairing resumed in Los Angeles and traveled across the country to Providence, where I was born. Their immigration was not unlike a lot of Africans–parents sending their children to the United States or England for university.

There are, of course, plenty of Africans (and Eastern Europeans and South Asians and East Asians) who make the flight in search of better after surviving war and devastation in their homelands. Looking for better economic stability leads them to part with family and embark on foreign travel to a land with different norms.

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[Photo credit: José Hernández-Claire]

The exhibition I visited at the Embassy of France tells of immigration that is unlike those of my parents. Photographs in black and white taken by José Hernández-Claire were on display recounting the tales of attempted, surreptitious crossings over the border from Mexico into the U.S. Pictures of border patrol agents searching found immigrants, small groups of workers waiting beneath trees for coyotes (men who are paid to smuggle the migrants into the country), migrants asleep on jagged rocks near a train track are but a few visual representations of the perilous attempts to enter the country. Recurring thoughts I had while taking in the images were: Did these people know what awaited them? and What happened once they were sent back to Mexico? Did they try again?

There was one photo that I kept coming back to–a forgotten Polaroid of a man and woman, obviously boyfriend and girlfriend by the way they sat close. The picture was in the dirt, and I wondered which half of the pair had lost the memento meant to be a comforting presence during the crossing. I also pondered the circumstances that would propel someone to pay a smuggler simply to get them to the so-called promised land. How very different this was from my parents’ and aunts’ and uncles’ own migration here. The similarity, though, after the circumstances and risks have been stripped away, is that search for better. That’s what Hernández-Claire’s photographs represent.

hernandez claire photo1
[Photo credit: José Hernández-Claire]

Whether there are objections (who am I kidding? There are objections) to the manner in which migrants from Mexico (or Guatemala or Honduras or…) enter the U.S., one must remember that a mere hundred years ago there were other migrants embarking on a dangerous path to prosperity that Italy or Ireland or Poland or… didn’t afford them.