Lea Salonga singing Via Dolorosa

This week i am obsessing about Broadway star Lea Salonga. As Easter approaches, her rendition of Via Dolorosa, backed by the West Point Cadet Choir,  is touching and powerful.

Happy Easter and be blessed !

 

 

 

 

 

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The Chicken Pie that Saved my Life

In July of 1996 I was living and working  in Colombo, Sri Lanka. At that time it was a beautiful island torn by a horrific civil war that had lasted for more than a decade. Terror and despair were commonplace, yet island spirit prevailed and everyone went about their day

Each day after work, I would take the train home at the same time, always sitting in the 4th carriage because it was the most convenient one to exit  at my destination. On the way to the train station I would always have to pass a huge mall, Majestic City, it was called. Normally I would not stop at the mall as I would be always in a hurry to get home before dark.

On this day, July 24th 1996 (which was a few weeks before my wedding), I was as usual hurrying to catch my train. In the mall, there was this decadent pastry shop which sold the best chicken pies. I was hungry that evening and  as i passed the smell of fresh baked treats was too much to resist. As I walked down the street towards the train station I had a sudden urge to eat one of these delicious chicken pies that they sold. I was tired and had been on a meaningless diet because of my wedding, I felt I deserved a treat.

The station was in sight, I saw my train pull in and saw my usual commuting partners all rushing to get a good spot. Should I join the crowd and run to get the train or shall I go into the pastry shop and eat the chicken pie I was dreaming of?

I remember even stopping on the road to decide as I looked at the train. i shrugged, after all, the next train would be in 25 minutes i thought. The chicken pie won and I decided to catch the next train.

I savored every bite of the soft chicken, carrots and peas in a silky smooth Bechamel sauce wrapped in warm flaky puff pastry and enjoyed this moment of pure bliss.

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Back on the street, I made it in time for the next train and settled in my seat, now feeling full and satisfied and sleepily getting jostled by the gentle sway of the train.

A few moments later our train stopped in the middle of nowhere it seemed- with  the ocean to one side and a field to the other. The train conductor looked stressed. He asked passengers to hurriedly jump out of the side of the train that had doors open   (without a platform this was quite a jump) then crawl under the train and get to the other side. No one seemed to question this. We all thought it was engine trouble and it was a real adventure to first jump from a train which is quite a height and then worse yet, creep under a train! Someone helped me down. This was all done in haste, no time to think. I was already thinking of the  funny story I would recall to others of this bizarre situation.

A few moments later standing in a crowd waiting to find out what’s going on, we were told that the previous train, yes my train that I take every day, had a terrorist bomb on board that exploded. The crowd went silent. Some immediately panicked as rumors floated that every train thereafter had bombs on board. The crowd very rapidly started running away from the train we had just jumped off , including me.

I was sickened to learn  that it was the first few carriages that had exploded.Yes i would have been in the fourth carriage. 64 innocent commuters were killed instantly and another 356 severely  injured. It was one of the worst train bomb disasters that had ever happened in the country. I knew some people that died who were my travel buddies, we used to laugh and play cards trying to pass the time. Chaos ensued all around me, we were only 3.5 km from the disaster zone.

It took me four hours to get home because of road closures  and the many ambulances that went by. I was exhausted, relieved, in shock, sad and got home to hug my mother who was panicking when  she had not heard from me. It was an age before cell phones.

It was a devastating day for me, and a harrowing one for my fiancé and my mom who knew I would be on that train. I felt so guilty for being alive when so many had died. “Why was I ok?” I questioned.

I still cannot get over the feeling of what if… other than for divine intervention ,I do not know what made me stop for a chicken pie on that fateful day  (apart from my gluttony!) but I am very glad I did.

One crumpled compartment of the train

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(Google Images)

5 “Must Do’s” in Puerto Rico

As Summer vacation months are coming up , consider Puerto Rico as a destination.  No Visa needed if you are an US Citizen . A few hours flight and you are in paradise where friendly faces, spicy food , warm sandy beaches, culture and history await you.

Do, rent a car and drive around exploring. People are helpful and happy to help along the way. You will come upon beautiful and quiet beaches away from the touristy crowds.

PR has a great hospitality industry and most hotels in San Juan Old San Juan Condadao or Isla Verde areas are excellent  and safe choices. This is one place  where staying at the Ritz Carlton is affordable.

Must Do # 1 

 Castillo San Felipe del Morro  and Castillo de San Cristobal

A commanding 16th Century Spanish  fort that faces the Ocean with stunning views.One of the oldest structures in the Americas standing and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Must Do # 2

Luquillo Kiosks   Luquillo public beach is full of street food kiosks, loud music and good times. go kiosk hopping and try what each vendor is offering.

Must Do # 3 

Rain Forest El Yunque  29,000 sq. feet of lush green rain forest, discover mysterious flowers, stunning waterfall and views and exotic bird species.Ideal place for photography.

Must do # 4 

Culebra or Flameco Beach –  considered one of the worlds most beautiful beaches – do not leave Puerto Rico without a visit to one of these pristine stunning beaches, , white sand and aquamarine, clear water. A ferry from the town Fajardo will get  you there.

Must Do # 5 

Eat Street Food and walk around Old San Juan

Be unhealthy for a week, enjoy deep-fried treats of numerous varieties , each more scrumptious that the next. wash it down with a fresh Pina Colada invented in Puerto Rico.

 

 

There is also a bioluminescent bay that is fascinating  , snorkeling, bike tourism zip lining, diving, hiking , and so much more to discover if you only give it a chance.

the people are always smiling through their difficulties, happy-go-lucky, helpful and kind.

 

 

 

Old San Juan Town SquareIMG_6783

Views from El Morro FortIMG_6749 IMG_0826

Stunning sunsetsIMG_6932

Luquillo Beach IMG_6889

Arepas

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Iglesia Del San Jose in Old San Juan – Early 16th Century architecture

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Walk the streets of Old San Juan

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San Juan Starbucks

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The famous Mofongo

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Puerto Rican SoupIMG_6663

Menu’s that will delight you

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The baggage I left behind.

I had written this piece some time ago for a friend’s blog and I am sharing it here today, in the hopes that someone will be encouraged by my story.

The baggage I left behind

I am certain there are others like me, which is why I share my story.  Most close friends, relatives, and in-laws cannot relate to my experience and are quick to make easy judgments. You see, I have a biological father who is just that. To me, a father means protector, nurturer, spoiler, provider, but this was not the case for me. We had none of that. In fact my father had no close relationships with anyone in his life, not even his own parents or siblings.

I never knew of any close friends he had. When he met my mother he saw in her a warm loving person who would meet his every need and wait on him. Children were just a nuisance who messed things up, and he never really cared about us and resented my sister and I. However hard I try, I have no memories of him being a father except for two. When I was 7 years old, he fed me a piece of chicken and said it was delicious crab, and at 10 years old we sat together on an old orange sofa and watched a cricket match together.

He was a selfish miser; there were no trips, no vacations, no restaurants, no cards, no gifts or treats.  Birthdays were always a miserable time because we always heard arguing with our mom; he did  not want to spend the money on a party. Most often my maternal grandparents would step in to give us extras and buy clothes and have us do extracurricular activities.

When we got sick he was fearful he would catch something, so most often a grandparent or friend would drive us to the doctors. When my sister had complications from her pregnancy, he refused to take her to the hospital saying it would cost too much in gas money.

To the outside world he was different. He was a popular news anchor and radio personality, the life of the party.  He had fans and even fan mail and even a Wikipedia page! On the side, he was a charismatic born again preacher in the church and loved by all. He would love to show us off as his possessions and pretend he had the perfect family life that the church desired. In public, he smiled and even patted us on the heads. No one believes a preacher can have an imperfect life right?At home he was irritable, hated when we laughed or played music and was always in a bad mood.

By 16 I was angry, angry at how miserable my mom was; she spent her life fighting for our rights. I also met my future husband at this time and my father did not care that I started dating, he cared about what the church would say. I meanwhile found my voice and used it. He hated that I rebelled. I got hit many times by him; once for not bringing him a glass of water.  Here’s a vivid memory I have, when I took my mother’s side in an argument, he slammed my head between a door and a wall and kept trying to close the door on my neck and I assume was trying to do real harm. I never raised my hand to him.

I was strong and I survived it all. I could not wait to get out of the house. I used it like a bed and breakfast, escaping to my friends’ houses who had seemingly loving fathers that I was jealous of. I am a free spirit and I mostly healed myself with humor and the wonderful friends I had.

By the time I married I had no relationship with him and my parents were on the brink of divorce. He never walked me down the aisle but was present at the wedding because he was all about appearances and left early as he said he had an early morning call at work . He could not stand that I was marrying outside his faith and was ashamed of what others would say. My husband and I sponsored our whole beautiful wedding by the beach.

By the time I was in my thirties I had shelved the past and after 23 years of marriage, my parents finally divorced. It was a relief to us. Because of his local celebrity status, the courts painted my mom the villain and she got no settlement which he was thrilled about I am sure. But it was peace of mind to me– it was finally over.

When my children were born, new emotions showed up .They should know their grandfather, I thought to myself; he surely must be given a chance to redeem himself.

So after almost 7 years, I arranged a meeting. Instead of the grand moment I was hoping for, I felt like I was a character in a humorous skit. He kissed me on both cheeks (I felt nothing) and patted my kids on the head like puppies. It was cordial, we ate a meal together, I hardly talked. In a surprise move, he gave me the equivalent of $10 to buy gifts for the kids. He smiled like nothing had happened and promised to keep in touch but never did.I felt sick inside all the while. I had tried and failed, but I never had high hopes anyway. This man has no idea how to be a father or grandfather. He is missing out on a beautiful family

Today we are estranged .I don’t know where he is or what he is doing. I have no emotion toward him and wish him no ill. People cannot understand and say “but he is your father”. To me, father is not him. Father, is Steve Martin in the movie father of the bride, father, is Barack Obama cuddling his girls, father, is Mufasa in the Lion King!

I am at peace, knowing I have no grudge toward him.  I have forgiven him and blame his family background, his genetic makeup, or whatever excuse I can come up with because I need to move on happily in my own life which I have done.

Dwelling on things that will never change is pointless. I have no grudge and no hatred towards this person who gave me life. I don’t ever want my childhood experience to affect how I act, and live my life now, as a mother and a wife. I see my own husband with our children and I am glad my children know a different type of loving, protective, providing father.

Unfortunate things happen to good innocent  people all the time. It should not define how you live your life in the future and I know to put it in it’s place.

So although I will never know what “daddy’s little girl” will ever mean, I choose joy not regret.  I choose laughter not tears, and I choose to leave my old bags behind and pack a new bag that hopefully will be happy baggage.