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I spent a day with ‘The Cyprian Josson Gospel Singers.’

I followed them as they travelled from Chartres to a beautiful old church in Orrouer, France.

The church was set in the middle of fields of corn and wheat; and French villagers drove in to come to the concert.

The Cyprian Josson Gospel Singers performed during the 10th anniversary of the Gospel & Negro Spiritual Festival of Chartres.



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From Paris, I take the train to Chartres. The train is like a time machine. The moment I get out of the station, I step back in time to the Middle Ages.

Cyprian Josson and his wife Martine come to pick me up. Soon the car wobbles slowly on the cobblestone-paved street. I feel like I have landed in a different universe. We get out of the car and start walking through ancient paths.


Chartres is old and magical in a very different way from Paris. I can’t figure out why Chartres feels so differently.

Maybe it’s the time period.

“It’s a charming medieval village,” said Leslie, an American friend of Cyprian, who has been living in Chartres for the past 21 years. ”The cathedral [of Chartres] was built on an old druid site that has strong vibrations for women.”

Maybe it’s the cathedral and its grotto underneath that makes this town so unique.


The cathedral rises like a link between the earth and the sky. Through times, it was a place of pilgrimage in France, where Christians came to see the Black Virgin, a statue made by Druids before the birth of Jesus.  The energy current _ in the Druidic cave below _  is said to awaken a person to the spiritual life in her.

Now I understand why during my visit of the cathedral I saw a woman walking around with her hands raised as if to feel and be in tune with the energy of the place.

I admit there is a good feeling in that church; it is quiet and dark and cool. At one point, I decide to sit down in a corner and meditate.


La cathédrale de Chartres has a famous labyrinth, etched in its stone floor. I have been wanting to walk it for years.

There are chairs all over it for Sunday mass.

I learn that once a year, usually on June 21st, they remove the chairs so that people can walk the labyrinth. I make a mental note of the date.

I will be back in Chartres the weekend of June 25th to attend the Gospel Festival of Chartres, Cyprian is organizing.

Maybe I will walk the labyrinth too.



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I’m Kabuika.

Although I have a typical Luba name, it is considered unusual in some parts of the world. My name is always an ice breaker when I meet new people.

Such was the case when I ran into Yves, a French man, standing outside of the cathedral in Chartres, France.

I pulled out my iPad and filmed our meeting. Here is a loose translation of our conversation in the video:

Yves: “What’s your name? Meredith?”

Me: “Kabuika”

Yves: “Kabuika? What a name! What a name!
… And what do you do in Chicago?”

Me: “I am an independent journalist. Here in France, I’m filming, interviewing, photographing tons of people. Then I put all the stories on my blog. And people get to follow what I’m doing.”

“That’s incredible!”

Me: “I will put you on YouTube.”



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My adventures in Chartres, France continue.

My friend Cyprian Josson and I visit la Cathédrale de Chartres.

By the beautiful biblical statues, we meet a man who decides to sing to me, “La Vie en Rose.”

The portrait of France: romance and beret.


“I came here when I was 19,” Leslie Xuereb Amiel said. “I thought I would be here for a couple of months and now I’m here for 30 years.”

Leslie is from New York City. She came to Paris to study art and art history for a few months. She fell in love with a viola player, traveled with him, stayed, painted and ended up moving to Chartres, France. Since she is American, a friend took me to see Leslie in her studio.



Everywhere I looked, I saw bright colors. Her studio was cool and colorful, a sharp contrast from the intense sun outside.

“I create this imaginary world as a kind of a refuge for myself, because I’m not very happy with the world [outside] as it is,” Leslie said. “[My art] has helped me run away from the real world.”


The art studio is certainly a haven. It feels good to be in it. Leslie has painted stain glass on her windows to create that feeling. The stain glass protects from the outside world and at the same time makes the studio very lively. She hopes that her happy art brightens others too, ”If I can give a bit of energy to others, that will be great.”


Leslie has been painting women with flowers as big as the women. Her art portrays “the joy of simple things, of flowers, of the sun, of the earth … the interactions between [them].”

Her paintings show women bouncing up to be part of the trees, the moon, and the air.

“All your characters are women,” I pointed out to her.

“Yeah, mostly. There are some angels here and there.” She replied. “Every now and then there is a guy; he’s more like an accessory,” she burst out laughing. “It says a lot about me.”

Leslie now has 3 children and her whole life is in Europe.

“How could you possibly imagine that when you go abroad to study, you’re going to stay for your life?” exclaimed the artist, who has been in France for almost 30 years. “I think when you make a decision, you absolutely don’t know where it will lead to.”

Her decision to come to France led Leslie to a life centered around her art.

“I don’t own a house… I rent an apartment, but I am buying a studio, [because] I need to own a place to create in.”


“It’s kind of a bit backward,” she added with a shrug. “Besides the children, everything personal goes into my brushes and paints. I don’t own jewelries. This is it!” She said spreading her hands out to show her studio.

From her life in France, Leslie realized the most important thing is ” to keep on the path of creation all the way, no matter what happens. The ultimate goal is to flourish.”

{More on Leslie}



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During my visit in Chartres, I go to see the only African food store in town, “Exo La Difference”. As I walk in the door, a wave of heat surrounds me. The small fan in a corner is not doing much.

“Charly, it’s hot in here.” a customer says.
“It’s the heat of Africa,” Store owner Charly Musoso replies as if to say that is good for your health.

Sure enough, after a few minutes of sipping cold ginger beer from Jamaica, we all get used to the heat and enjoy the African ambiance. It is Friday afternoon and customers are streaming in.


When people come Chez Charly Musoso, they come for the atmosphere. Tall and heavy set, Charly lifts up cans of beers and restocks the refrigerator all while chatting cheerfully with customers of different nationalities: Congolese, Senegalese, Moroccan, Malian, Indian and so forth. Various African languages can be heard.

“This kwanga, how much?” A customer asks in Lingala, a national language of Congo.
“”2.80 Euros as usual,” Charly replies in the same language.

The only way you know you’re still in France is because the French Open is showing on the television set and the Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal is playing an hour away from Chartres in Paris.

“For me, this is not just a store,” says Charly, who opened his business more than 10 years ago. “It’s really a cultural center.”

He greets a customer from Madagascar, with whom he often discusses the politics of his client’s country. Charly’s name is on everyone’s lips. It is as if people who walk in are here to visit a friend. The warm hospitality in Charly’s store is what brings the clientele back again and again.

“It’s the way you feel welcome here,” A young woman from Cote d’Ivoire said. “You feel you are here with a brother.”


Charly is helping a customer find a fish. He opens one of the four freezers placed in the middle of the store and digs through freshly frozen fish and salty ones. The other freezers are full of chicken and African and Caribbean vegetables.


The exotic merchandise chez Charly is the other attraction. Kwanga wrapped in banana leaves _ a sort of tough dough made out of cassava flour _ can be found in cartons next to walls of palm oil and sardines. Close by are piles of powder milk cans that remind me of home. It was my favorite drink when I was a little girl. I almost buy one on impulse.

More customers arrive, coming to shop for rice, fish, and yam and also chat with friends before heading home for supper. I reluctantly leave this African hub, but there is more to see in Chartres.