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Black Water

PART ONE

“We hear the mourning of the cry of Mother Earth. We hear her echoes. And we answer.” ~

The Cry of Mother Earth: Call to the First Ecosocialist International

It poured rain in Harlem the day and night before my sister-comrades and I prepared to take flight from JFK airport on American Airlines flight 979 departing at 11:11 a.m. for Caracas, Venezuela, to make our way to the First Ecosocialist International.

The tea tree and patchouli oils I dropped into my big straw African hat before I left Harlem kept me calm, alert, and awake. We hardly got any sleep the night before as we packed food and small gifts for the families we would be staying with in the Afro-indigenous maroon villages located in Veroes.

Our plane was late for our Miami layover and we rushed to our plane for Caracas. The whole vibe changed. I heard very little English being spoken anymore. We were getting closer. We spotted a few of our comrades coming from other places on the plane and delightfully greeted them. About 100 delegates from 19 different countries and 12 indigenous nations to gather in the land of the “Knowers, Seed Protectors, and Seed Sowers.”

I’ve never seen such beautiful views from the sky and was moved to fly over the Caribbean islands. Islands that inspire our revolutionary, maroon, self-determined hearts. As I walked to the back of the plane I felt like everybody paid attention to the black and white keffiyeh wrapped around my head. People were really polite, especially the older woman sharing a row with me.

Coffee was on my mind. And a good cigar. I imagined smoking one in the villages where the Knowers would gather. I thought about what it would be like to bathe in the cool and refreshing river water our brother wrote us about in a final email communique before we left. Everyone awaited our arrival. The communities were excited to receive and host us. This was being planned for quite a while. I played beats in my headphones and memorized lyrics. I would be attending/contributing as a revolutionary Hip Hop artist representing the continuation of the legacy created by the original Black Arts Movement of the 60’s founded by Baba Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and all the freedom fighters, and our many other ancestors from long before and after in the struggle for liberation, like the great revolutionary baritone saxophonist Fred Ho.

We were off the grid for about 7 days. I had lentils, brown rice pasta, and canned tuna one of my sisters gave me to bring to the family that would be hosting me. And, I also brought a pack of Kush incense I bought at the bodega near my apartment in Brooklyn. Gratefulness whirled within me. As one of our revolutionary elders wrote, “We are going to have a memorable time for sure!!! We bring peace, enlightenment, empowerment, and joy to a planet that is so in need.

We stayed in the rural villages of Palmarejo, Agua Negra, and Taria in the Veroes Municipality. We were welcomed in the homes and hearts of our Maroon Teachers, those who make up the network of small farmers of Yaracuy, part of the “Cumbe Adentro” Seed-Saving Council, and those who were part of the network of Afro-Venezuelan organizations.

We arrived at the Simon Bolivar International Airport and from there taken to Cumbe de Veroes as delegates of the First Ecosocialist International. It was proposed that the convocation of the First Ecosocialist International be distributed into five Spirals of Dialog, which correspond to 5 elements: “AETHER – The Spirit of Mother Earth; WATER – The Milk of Mother Earth; FIRE – The Energy of Mother Earth; AIR – The Voice of Mother Earth; and EARTH – The Body of Mother Earth.”

As the plane descended I looked out the window at the land and houses on the mountains. It was beautiful. We were happy to see our brother comrades waiting for us. We all hugged and greeted each other. Our passports and forms were checked. We took group photos in front of a statue of Chavez accompanied by Venezuelan flags and more photos of Bolivar. We were welcomed into a big conference room in a separate part of the airport and waited for others to arrive. Yellow rice with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cilantro were brought to us. We ate and conversed in anticipation and curiosity. Our next journey was a five-hour bus ride to the villages we would be staying in. We introduced ourselves, took more photos, and after everyone was finished eating it was time for us to take the ride to this unique land where we would fight for Mother Earth as one, from all parts of the world, and all walks of life, where afro indigenous people have always been fighting. Our bus came, we all got in and during a long traffic jam we introduced ourselves, what we represent, and why we were here. After the last person spoke, traffic started moving.

PART TWO

It’s raining. We were told by a revolutionary woman from Caracas, also one of our guides, that the rain was a blessing from Chavez and Simon Bolivar. This woman would later become my roommate and revolutionary mother. She said each raindrop were the children of Bolivar and Chavez who will continue the fight they so graciously and tirelessly strived to win. They carry the legacy and are the freedom fighters of the land and people, have always been, and will always be. She said that, Venezuela is a piece of the body of Mother Earth, that we all represent other pieces of the world, and that we were here to bring them all together. That when miraculous gatherings like this happened, the rain was a sign. A great one. It was dark now. Mother Earth knows. This is a war that needs to be fought. We were traveling with the vanguard of the Venezuelan revolution, right where we belong. Traffic was terrible. We were standing still again, not moving an inch. Patience. We finally started moving, then stopped briefly to pick someone up. Although I found this ride a bit difficult and felt extremely tired, the situation was impressive and I was humbled, blessed, and happy to be where I was. I didn’t come for easy. I came to participate in strategizing change. We found out that a bus caught on fire in front of us and blew up. This was the reason for the traffic jam. I had an intriguing conversation with one of my brother comrades about the culture, the people, the towns we would be residing in, what foods they cooked in the villages, etc. “Lots of plantains,” he said, “Things made of plantains, and yucca.” I thought to myself, “I love plantains and I love yucca.” And of course arepas! These were the beautiful staples, combined with fresh veggies grown on the conucos. There were some things that were just left unknown and it had to be respected and admired. I had no more questions.

The ride to Santa Clara was very difficult, even the people from there said that. We had finally arrived at 3:00 a.m. It was a 5 hour ride that took us triple the time. I was so deliriously tired that I fell asleep and awakened to the singing of a beautiful song welcoming us. Even the mayor was there to sing to us. The feeling was unexplainable when my feet touched the ground. People embraced us and some were being reunited and reacquainted. Some of our comrades have been coming here for years. We stepped onto another bigger bus to take us to the families who would be hosting us. I was the last to get off the bus along with our guide, my revolutionary mother, and translator. I could understand almost everything spoken to me but needed lots of practice speaking Spanish.

Marissa and Andres were our hosts. We would be staying in Agua Negra. Marissa greeted us and showed us to our rooms. We were very lucky to have our own spaces because I found out later that others did not. The home was very humble, cute and clean. There was no running water and the toilet did not flush so we would be bathing with a smaller plastic bucket with water from bigger buckets of collected water, and pouring water in the toilet to make it flush. I found myself being very grateful and humbled by my life experiences to be able to easily adapt. I took my first cleansing and it was marvelous and refreshing. Marissa made us a special tea that eases the nerves and is good for the stomach called Malohijero. It was soothing and comforting. She made this tea for us every night of our stay. I passed out with a slight headache and woke up the next day with it.

PART THREE

It’s 6:00 a.m. and it’s time to prepare for a 6:30 a.m. breakfast and our first day of work and strategy. We had to think of one element, whichever we chose at the gathering the day before. We all waited in a long line to announce what element we had chosen and introduced ourselves and what movements we represented. I chose Aether, the spirit of Mother Earth. I would go to my circle with the others who chose the element of Aether. Aether included the power of Hip Hop. The power of Hip Hop as a force and voice of Mother Earth. Hip Hop raised me, shaped me, and made me the artist I am today so I was moved by this. For our first day of work in our respective elements. We set up in the village of Palmarejo, a 15-minute bus ride from Agua Negra, where I was staying. The bus would come for us early in the morning after breakfast. We would split up in groups but were near each other and could visit other groups if we so desired to listen or contribute. It was intense, deep, and enlightening. Each morning my family would make us coffee and arepas. I fell in love with the coffee and arepas. I didn’t need or miss anything from home. It was the best coffee I had ever had. Sometimes the arepas were filled with freshly picked root vegetables, black beans, white beans and eggplant, or sweet plantains. I would get ready each morning by cleansing myself, and talking to and taking photos of people in the village that came by, while conversing with my revolutionary mother and our family. Sometimes one or two people would come by, and sometimes we had many visitors. Conversations about agriculture, revolution, Chavez, travels, and plans that were being constructed to fight oppression and protect the land and water would take place. Everybody who walked by greeted you with buenos dias or buen provecho if you were eating food. I’ve never experienced such love, community, and revolutionary spirit. This was every day with hugs, kisses, and greetings always ending in mi amor. The souls of these maroon communities were an example of the simplicity that exists in revolution, the love, the effort, and the consistency in self-determination and resistance. Everyone took care of each other and they all took care of us. Every day I was full, not just with food, but with love and appreciation. Every day was another day closer to freedom as I experienced what self-sufficiency was made of.

We would meet in each other’s villages from morning till night to build a plan to save Mother Earth. A plan to reverse the destructive process of capitalism and return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity – to live in peace and end war; take our Native languages back; to protect and free women and children; to define what ecosocialism really is; and put it into action and practice. Creating it together was only the beginning. Translators were needed and that itself took a lot of time. We all had to agree with the words being used, the meanings, and how to include everyone’s proposals. It was exhausting, hard work for the translator and for the person speaking. You had to give the translator time to process the meanings of things and relay it back to everyone. The person speaking had to take this into account and would have to stop in between to give the translator time, which means the speaker could lose their train of thought and couldn’t necessarily flow the way they would normally. It took lots of patience and thought. The translator had to make sense of things, activate their memory, and relay back and forth between languages, in between questions and concerns, whatever had to be explained sometimes again and again in different ways until things were clear. For the first few days, it was hard for our group to agree on any of the proposals. Again and again, we had to remind each other that we were in Aether, which was the Spirit of Mother Earth. We had to bring back our focus and get to the root of how we would implement the Spirit into the plan. What was the Spirit of Mother Earth? Spiritual identity, ancestral knowledge as a mirror of the past, transcultural art, collective construction of knowledge, decolonization, historical memory, inclusive art, rights of Mother Earth, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggles, the power of Hip Hop…

We argued, we debated, and finally, we made it to the root. Maps and spirals were drawn into the dirt with a stick to illustrate our ideas. This is how we began to build our proposals. On the 3rd day, we finally began to agree on the proposals, the way they were written, and what it represented for all oppressed peoples around the world. The way it started to flow was amazing and gave us hope and energy. For days we worked from sunrise till sunset, till after the mosquitos would come out. I was warned about the mosquitos. My sisters brought oils for me and I definitely utilized them. I carried them in my bag that I kept draped over my shoulder, along with other supplies that were necessary. My long skirts helped a great deal. I was barely bitten the entire time I was there. Some of my comrades were not so lucky. During the day while we built the plan, it was at just the right times that our hosts would pass around fresh sugarcane, coffee, tea, oranges, and sweets made of plantains. It was so refreshing. Big trucks full of cane would pass by daily. I thought of how much we use cane sugar in the states to sweeten our products.

We would break for lunch and gather at a home nearby. We ate, drank, conversed, and took photos. The food was always so magnificent. There was something spiritual about it. It was always just enough, never too much, never lacking, and always soul fulfilling. Weeks before we arrived, many totuma were collected and hollowed out so that we could eat and drink from them. Many were specially engraved and carved for the gathering before the delegates arrived so that there would be no disposable plastic plates/utensils/etc.

I loved eating and drinking from a totuma. Deep into the night, we enjoyed food, tea, coffee, and conversations, during “cultural nights” where people from the villages performed their native dances and songs. The music and movement was so much fun and had so much history and legacy. The kids taught us their dances and laughed as we tried to learn. It was endearing. Many stories were told. I performed each night, as well as some of my comrades, and was admired, respected, and loved, especially with the kids. Everyone addressed me as Nefertiti. Everyone loved Hip Hop. It was quite a feeling to be received so well. I was told by my family hosting me that I could come back any time. I definitely will. “Cultural night” would go late until the last of us stood outside talking, laughing, and continuing to jam. Every night I would go home with my revolutionary mother and Marissa would be up to greet us and make us tea. We never arrived too late because Marissa wouldn’t sleep until we returned.

Another very relevant thing to mention is the militia we encountered there. The 4th military ward Chavez created before he died. The militia “for the people.” The day after arriving I went to a sancocho, a big gathering with a soup, like a potluck or stone soup. The militia arrived shortly after and I immediately asked my revolutionary mother what was wrong and why they were there. She laughed a little and said, “The military are invited wherever we go. They eat with us and they watch out for us. They are for the people and for Mother Earth and respect what we are here doing. Come let’s talk to them now.” I was really surprised and a little standoffish. I come from “the empire” as they call it, where police and military are on the other side of things. I come from the empire where police shoot you and walk freely. Our dear sister elder and former Black Panther who was with us was also very surprised and we had a conversation about how different this really was. We were still like “hmm,” but as the days and nights passed, we began to communicate with them. My mother introduced me as a revolutionary hip hop artist from the United States. They were so young. They all greeted me one by one, shook my hand, and smiled. They wanted me to flow for them and I did and from then on they gave me huge smiles and waved, talked to me, and walked places with us so we wouldn’t be alone. I would make it my business to walk over to greet them. There was about 1 woman to every 10 men in the military and I met one in the group that would always accompany us. I wondered about how life was for women in the military. Some things I was able to ask but most of the time was spent working on the plan of action.

On the 4th day, we would present and read aloud our plans and proposals from each elemental group. One person would be chosen to read and one person to translate. Later that night, a big Trueke was scheduled to take place, where everyone from the villages and those visiting would bring our goods to be traded with other goods for things we wanted and needed. This must have been the hottest day yet. The readings went on for the entire day. It was on this day that a few of our elders became ill from the heat. We looked out for them and made sure to pay extra attention. The presentation went on much longer than anticipated so the Trueke did not start for hours later than it was supposed to. Some points and proposals were addressed and some were mentioned that we did not include. This plan was living and breathing. Many of us had a lot of similar proposals, which was a great thing, but there was one thing I proposed specifically that wasn’t mentioned by anyone else: the proposal of women’s self-defense and weaponry training for the protection and freedom of all women worldwide. This concept would continue to develop in my life and practice and I would move on to envisioning a movement of women who fight for peace, freedom, and protection for all oppressed women, called The WomXn’s Freedom Collective Party.

Earlier that day, I accompanied my revolutionary mother to the hospital because she wasn’t feeling well. We were picked up in a small truck and drove about 15 minutes. The hospital was extremely clean and it was free. Cleaner than any hospitals I ever visited in the United States. I was told that I could be seen free of charge if ever needed, though I wasn’t from there. That really spoke to me. On the main wall of the hospital, hung the chain of command, which consisted of Jesus, Bolivar, Chavez, Maduro, and Leon, in that order. My revolutionary mother was okay, so we went back to our village.

Awhile after the sun went down, we went to our family’s house to take a bath and refresh before engaging in Trueke. The Trueke and “cultural night” was to be held in our village that night. About halfway there we stopped to gaze at the amazing Venezuelan sky and moon. It was breathtaking and we stood there for a while and took it all in. She was dealing with the death of her own mother, then not too long after, the death of her best friend’s mother, who was also a mother to her. I thought of my own mother. We walked back refreshed and ready to enjoy the night. When we arrived, there were many tables set up where the “cultural night” was happening filled with vegetables, handmade crafts, books, music, and more. It was so amazing to see everyone trading without money and showing others what they got. Everyone was so happy and excited. Performances were held afterward late into the night. It was our last night here before traveling back to Caracas to present our plan to the state, which would be held in a press conference there.

PART FOUR

Three of our revolutionary brothers wanted to record a song before we left. We presented the idea to my revolutionary mother and another amazing woman who was one of the matriarchs of Agua Negra. We had a half hour. We walked to where they had their set up and we vibed to an instrumental. The beat played, “Sometimes I feeeeeeeeeeel like a motherless child…” These brothers were kind, sweet, and talented and it was great connecting in person in Venezuela after being Facebook friends with two of them for many years. We completed our vocals and it was magic. I returned to my family’s home and said goodnight to everyone. I was delighted that we got to do that on our last night and so were our brothers. I knew it was the start of more collaborations to come and the beginning of a deeper connection. The song was named, “El Grito De La Madre Tierra.”

We woke up the next morning for breakfast. The buses were outside waiting to take us to Caracas. We ate arepas, drank coffee, and went back and forth to others’ houses saying goodbye. The entire village was outside and everyone that came from the other two villages, and we were all crying saying goodbye to our families. Our families were crying too. We hugged and promised to come again. As the bus drove away our families stood and watched.

Our trip back to Caracas was smooth and took about 5 hours. We were all whirling from all that had transpired. It was sad to leave. We arrived at our living quarters in Caracas. It was very different than the villages we stayed in. We were gated inside a huge building with many rooms that had bunk beds. There was a curfew. The food consisted of cheese sandwiches on white bread, a piece of fruit, and arepas, and it was true that it lacked in the love that the food made by our families in the villages prepared for us had. There was definitely an institutional feel to everything, but we were together and we were safe.

The real food shortages were in the city. When I told people I would be going to Venezuela, there was concern about violence and the shortage of food. In the small villages we stayed in, we ate from our family’s small farms, cultivated with love, like everything given to us by the hands of the beautiful people that prepared and cooked food for us. The city was busy. There was a lot of life going on. Everywhere I looked there was revolutionary art. There were no advertisements here like I was used to at home. Each night we would jam in the main living area or right outside. I finally got that cigar. The brother that gave me one is the same brother that buried my hair next to a tree outside our living quarters after my sister cut it for me. We were all musicians, writers, poets, and artists in some form. I felt really light. We met some really great photographers, revolutionaries, artists, musicians, freedom fighters, and water protectors. We did some exploring in the city, were interviewed, and ate at a really great place that had delicious food. There were dancers and signs of hip hop everywhere. I would never forget this beautiful land and the beautiful people in it.

Several of us began our way back together to Miami to then travel our own ways. I would be landing in Miami in about 20-minutes with a 3-hour layover, and then going back to Harlem with the two sisters I left with. I began to process everything. This experience changed my life and soul forever. The trip created a special bond with my new family and comrades in Venezuela.

As soon as I stepped off the plane the advertisements assaulted me. They were everywhere. It was aggressive. We made it back to Harlem, showered, talked for a bit, then went to sleep. Our sister left to travel back home at around 3:00 a.m. I hung out with my other sister for a while and we laughed, ate, and talked about everything that had just happened. I returned home to Brooklyn later that day to begin my reflections and ground myself.

PART FIVE

Since the convocation, the first commitment was made in the “Route of Struggle” of the Plan of Action, and it was carried out in November 2018 in Bolivia: The First International Gathering of Sowers and Guardians of Water.
In April of 2019, I attended The Mesopotamian Water Forum, organized by the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, which took place in Iraq. Waiting to have us back: A national gathering of the Watershed Schools who Sow Water (Escuelas de Cuenca que Siembran Agua), in the east of Venezuela is planned for July 2019. A regional gathering in Niagara Falls for April 2020, and Chile in April 2020, and then later with the maroon communities of Veroes, where the International was founded. Every October 31 – November 3 are dedicated to fulfilling the Plan of Action. These follow up plans speak to the prefigurative power of the Ecosocialist International to “reweave Pangaea.”

“The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life or lead it to extinction. We must choose.” ~ The Plan of Action

 

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