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In a cyber café in a banlieue of Paris, an immigrant man got inside a telephone booth, called Africa and started yelling non-stop.

With my iPad, I captured some of his rant. No one else in the room seemed to mind it.

When the man came out afterward, he was calm and smiling as if nothing was the matter. I don’t know what he said nor the language he spoke in (maybe Wolof?), but I recognize an angry tone when I hear one.


This morning I crossed the threshold of my life. 

I woke up, got dressed, packed and left my old life behind. 
The moment I stepped outside, everthing was different. 
I felt light. The sun was airy, piercing through the clouds of rain.  
Even the fare on the bus was different.

“It’s 1.80 Euros, right?”
“No, 1.90 Euros now.”
My fingers fished through my European coins.
I had enough, enough to go anywhere I wanted and beyond.

I traveled solely on my faith today,
All the way to Paris Gare du Nord.

Guideposts and signs sent me messages along the way  
Play your life.
Write your book in 3 months
Toilettes: 0.70 Euro

An arrow pointed to the Eurostar
The chunnel as Americans nicknamed it.
I smiled and got in the waiting line.


In front of the ticket office, the automatic glass doors closed in front of my nose.
In vain, I waved shyly 
The door did not budge, not detecting me in its radar.
Was I invisible?

Then I moved my entire body, backpack, hips and all 
Engaging my whole being, the glass wall slid away and the path was mine to take.
I had shown determination 
And so Sésame opened.

I jumped over the doorstep, presenting myself to the universe
whole and in complete trust 

“A ticket to the next departing TGV, please,” I say to the young man at the counter.
“That would be the Eurostar, madame, at 10:30 a.m.”
London will do just fine, thank you.
I hand him the credit card that appeared in my hand like magic
Still new and wrapped in fluffy clouds from the sky above.

Would that be first class, madame?
For you see, while the old woman would have gone for economy
The new me went for self-respect and comfort.

Having passed through doors of emotional garbage, 
I intend to enjoy this life of mine.



by admin

roger pastor 2

My cousin Kabeya is a pastor in France.

He comes home one day, walks heavily up the stairs and states, “the life of a pastor is something else, I can tell you that.”

It is a life of schedule, he tells me, a very tight schedule. There is the Sunday service for which he needs to prepare a sermon. Wednesday is the prayer meeting and Friday, the bible study group. The choir rehearses in all the rest of the weekdays. And Saturday, the last free day, is filled with youth meetings and the Christian library hours.

And that’s without counting the emergencies, deaths, weddings and accidents, which constitute my cousin’s pastoral service.

“I have been called at 3 a.m.,” he tells me.

It was a couple, who had been quarreling. They said: “You prayed for our marriage, now come and pray for our divorce.”

So my cousin the pastor got up from bed and went to the couple’s house, not to pray for their divorce, but rather to reconcile them.

roger pastor

Even when my cousin is simply a guest at a wedding, he ends up working.

He recounts the time when sitting in the church pew, the pastor, overwhelmed, suddenly left. There was so much arguing between the two families that the girl’s family did not want the wedding anymore. When they decided to go ahead with the wedding, they called my cousin from the pew to officiate the wedding.

Kabeya has married many people. The band at the wedding gets paid. The newlyweds get gifts. And he gets nothing. He often works without any renumeration.

“You work without getting paid,” He confesses. “And tomorrow, if these same people insult you, you can’t chase them away. You must continue to love them.”

Kabeya has lived for years with such daily obligations and responsabilities. His life is based upon the church.

“You come home with your church, talking and thinking about it nonstop,” he says. ”With such a schedule, you don’t see your children grow.”

His oldest son recently got married.

During my stay in France, I have watched Kabeya pour his energy into every person who seeks his counsel.

Although my cousin is now a bishop (which I understand it to be a sort of supervisor for pastors), he continues to work hard.

I have heard him on the phone in the middle of the night teaching, encouraging people, and praying with them. I have heard him at 1 a.m. and even at 3 a.m. Then he gets up at 4:30 a.m. for his morning prayers.

I often wonder if my cousin ever sleeps.

To recharge his energy, he reads inspirational books, listens to preachers on television and in his car radio, and goes to conferences to keep updated.

Kabeya’s church is called Centre du Plein Evangile, his ministry is Centre de Réussite. He wants to create a financial cooperative that will be a formidable tool for everyone. He often travels between France and Canada to preach and build his ministry.


The exodus began on June 24th when public schools in France closed for the summer vacations. Immediately, parents packed their children and boats to head out for the sea or to Spain.

“Would you like to sign up for the children movie and picnic?” The librarian asks a parent.

“No, we won’t be there.” she replies.

As I browse through books at the local public library, I hear the same scenario over and over again with the librarian asking and the parents announcing they’re going out of town.

Maybe it’s just French parents who are leaving Paris.

I take the train to Paris today. It’s a sunny day. I want to hang out by La Seine. There are a few artistic péniches there; maybe I will find some artists and interview them.

In front of la Péniche Anako, the poster of events shows a busy month of daily concerts. Anako is a floating cultural center, complete with an auditorium. I ask the barman about meeting some artists.

“They’re all leaving,” he said. “We’re leaving too.”

Their last concert is on Sunday and they’re leaving Tuesday.

“Try la Péniche Antipode, two boats down,” he adds. “Maybe they’ll be staying for the summer.”

At the designated barge, musicians are busy loading up la Péniche Antipode with musical instruments and sound system to gear up for tonight’s pop concert. Music is already blasting through the speakers. On the deck, I hold on to the railing as the barge waves because a tourist shuttle boat speeds by.

I approach the young man smoking near the bar; he has short blond hair, except for one dread lock dangling on the back of his head. He explains that they will be travelling on their boat, staying one month in a banlieue of Paris up north, then the next month, at another town. So no, they won’t be in Paris this summer.

I leave thinking that next time I want to do a story series on Paris, I will have to do it during the year when all Parisians are in town.

They say in the Summer, Paris is left to tourists.



by admin

I recently experienced the weirdest thing: Herd Mentality.

It was at a concert in Paris. At first, people were standing in the courtaud; some were sitting along the walls. But as the band was late to start, a woman standing at the very front, decided to sit down on the floor. Since she was at the front, people took it as a cue and sat down too. As more spectators streamed in and saw the front-row people on the floor, they also sat down.

Sitting down became the status quo and I was  suddenly the only one standing up front. By the time the concert began, I became the anomaly and was asked to sit down as you can see in the video.

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Maybe it’s a cultural thing in France, the étiquette: to sit down during a concert might be a way to show respect for the band. Who knows? But how can you sit down while listening to the Yemen Blues’s absolutely amazing, electrifying music?

You must dance to that!

It took several trials for the band leader to raise the crowd up on its feet.

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“What you saw here at the concert is quite a métaphore for France,” said the young woman who had been sitting next to me. “It is glacé at first, but then people get more relaxed.”

Charlie, not her real name, introduced herself as being Italian, although she was actually born in Paris, of an Italian father.

Maybe by saying she is Italian, Charlie is trying to say “I am not closed in; I am willing to meet you and get to know you beyond the ‘bonjour monsieur/madame’.”

“In Italy, it’s not like this,” she added. “Paris has lost its people character and has become more mainstream, more uniform.”

As Paris’s cost of living increases and artists are no longer able to live comfortably in the city, so are affected the social ties of the city of lights. Young professionals like Charlie can no longer afford to spend 60 EUROs to hang out at a bar.

“So we never go out anymore,” Charlie said. She and her friends go to a store, buy their drinks and then hang out at a friend’s appartment.

Charlie, who is a beautiful brunette, 34 years old and single says there is very little chance for her to meet Mr. Right in such an environment.

Despite the social imperfections, I still find Paris charming. The one thing I have a hard time with is the herd mentality.

I am too American for that.

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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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bernie andree and moi

I have been getting a steady stream of reactions from the French people when they learn that I am American.

During Passover in April, I got invited to a seder. The three young people criticized Americans for refusing to import a particular famous French cheese (I don’t remember which one). They were hurt. I could see the refusal bruised their national pride. But personally, I wouldn’t touch a cheese that is moldy and green with possibly worms wiggling out of it.

In Chartres, France, a couple stopped and wondered why I was photographing their neighbor’s house.

“We don’t have windows like this in Chicago,” I explained; their medievial city fascinates me.

“Yes, but you have Strauss-Kahn,” the man replied.

The man was not mean or anything; he simply spoke the first image that came up to his mind when I mentioned the United States.

So when I decided to follow my friend Cyprian and his band, The Cyprian Josson Gospel Singers, to the heart of rural France for their concert, I was a bit apprehensive.

Even before the concert started, a man stopped me in front of the church.


“Are you the lady from Chicago?” he asked in English.

“Yes,” I replied hesitantly.

“I love America,” said the man passionately.

Meet Bernard aka “Bernie.” The 75-year-old American aficionado used to work as a barber in an American base in France in the 60s. He says, “Americans are cool.”

Bernie loves the American mentality. On the base, higher officers said hello to him on the streets, while French officers would not have acknowledged that he existed.

When the American troops left France in 1966, Bernie was devastated. He would have followed them, but he had a wife and two small children. To this day Bernie says, this was the best period of his life.

“America is his life,” chipped in his wife, Andrée, who joined us.

Thirty years after his American-base experience, Bernie and his wife flew to the United States and visited Washington, D.C. and New York City. They are eager to go back.

“I don’t speak English,” Bernie said. “I speak American.”



by admin


Thursday sunsets are the perfect cure for any day’ s blues. Not feeling well, I try not to glance at my to-do list, I have barely touched it all day.

At dusk, I surrender: my body needs to rest.

On the balcony, my legs leisurely dangling on the ledge, I sit back and enjoy the view. I am gifted with a sunset.

I suddenly understand Claude Monet’s persistence in painting the very same haystack throughout the seasons. The spring lights simply transformed the hay from the winter. I feel the same way about my sunsets.



Sunsets, I realize, are never the same twice. As I photograph it, I keep discovering new shapes and colors on the celestial canvas.

There are so many varieties within this Thursday sunset, let alone previous sunsets and future ones.


Infinite bliss and beauty.

I relax and enjoy the last hues of colors, feeling blessed to witness it all.



by admin

Yemen Blues

Watch VIDEO of the Music Festival in Paris

Last night, a friend invited me to a concert at the Museum of Jewish Art. She ended up not showing up. And I got to discover Paris.

The band, Yemen Blues, was electrifying. Based in Tel Aviv and New York, the group perform Blues, Folk and Funk, singing in different languages, including Hebrew and Arabic. The song that simply blew me away was in Créole (you can hear a portion of it in the video above).

At the concert, I met a young French woman of Italian origin. After Yemen Blues, she showed me other musical scenes in the city. I found out this was a special night. It was La fête de la musique in Paris, one of the most popular musical events that has occured every year on June 21st for the last 2 decades. The event has become so popular that it is now happening all over cities in Europe.

As we walked on the streets, cafés were packed. There were bands playing everywhere! On George Pompidou plaza, we saw a group of Taiko drummers, competing for attention right next to a marching band. On the other side of the plaza, an Afro-Caribbean group was curled up in a tight circle, singing a cappella.

Even in alleys, there was music. I passed by an Asian band that was finishing up its performance by the side of la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. The band had ardent fans who jumped and waved as I filmed. Further up next to the sculpture pond, a rock band was blasting away.

This street music festival was set to go on until 5 a.m. Never mind that the next day was a workday in Paris! By 11 pm, my new friend bid me goodbye to catch some sleep and I continued wandering through the city. A poem I once read on the métro came to my mind:

“I have often dreamt of writing a book on Paris that is like an aimless long walk where you find nothing of what you’re looking for, but lots of things you were not even aware of.” _ Julien Green

That poem embodied the night of musical Paris.

In the streets, I mingled with a joyous crowd of people of all ages. Several young men were holding bottles of beer as they walked and chatted with friends.

Some people were even shopping while listening to music. Stores were still open, quite an exception to their usual 6 p.m.-closing time. At the door of a store, a young man greeted me by reciting a Fable of LaFontaine.

“Oh! You are the most beautiful of the guests in these woods.”

I laughed and headed home. Time to sleep. It was close to 1 a.m.



by admin

How to Name a Child (Photo from www.flickr.com By elladog)

How to Name a Child (Photo from www.flickr.com By elladog)

In France, I discovered that the process of naming a child can be a cultural adventure.

Claudine Brillant and her husband live in a small village outside of Chartres. They decided to find a name for their child by pulling out a calendar. French calendars list names of Catholic saints and their commemorative dates.

Starting with the month of January, Claudine ran her finger down the days, looking for a name. She got to Sainte Sandrine; she looked at her husband, who shook his head. With a name like Sandrine, kids at school might tease her and call her Sardine. They finally settled on the name Sophie from Sainte Sophie found on May 25.

In Tours, central France, a young couple went cruising through old cemeteries to look for not-so-common names for their unborn child.  They had a baby a few weeks ago and named her, Adelaïde.

In my family we don’t bother being creative with our name search; we honor an ancestor by naming the child after him. It keeps things simple.

“There is a mistake here. My Mom is not that old!” exclaimed my nephew, who is browsing through our family tree on my iPad.

I looked over his shoulder and checked to see.

“That’s not your Mom; it’s your great-aunt,” I replied.

The two women have the same name, Mulanga, but were born 20 years apart. Mind you, these are first names. Family names do  not exist traditionally in Luba culture.

In my family, name repetition is rampant. My grandmother Mbuyi already has 7 descendants named after her; I have so many cousins named Mbuyi, including my oldest sister.

But you don’t have to follow the Luba tradition to find a name for a child.  If you  open old literature books, you might find interesting names like the Gaulish name, Wouivre, which means snake or a river that snakes through the landscape.