Uprooted and Relocated: Expat File#17

My guest for the Expat Files today is author, copywriter and blogger for hire: June Whittle. At age eleven, June was uprooted from tropical Jamaica to England to live with her parents whom she had not seen since she was four years old. Here is her story.

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Tiger-swallowtail on tropical blossoms

The day started normally like any other. Sunshine beamed down on us. My sisters and I played happily under the large overhanging mango tree. We hunted butterflies to catch and store, in our bottles before releasing them to fly off into freedom.

I loved living in the countryside. We lived humbly. Although we didn’t have much material wealth, we had an abundance of love between us. Our simple lifestyle in Kitson Town, St. Catherine was similar to the butterflies. Free, easy, carefree, happy and fun. Not that I know how butterflies feel. But I imagine they’re happy and have fun flying, taking rest breaks perching on the array of beautiful flowers of their choice.

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Housing Complex, St Catherine, Jamaica

Later that afternoon, an elderly lady walked up the path towards our wooden house. Smiling, she introduced herself as our grandmother, my dad’s mom. I had never seen her before, but my grandmother who we lived with, sometimes spoke about her. She hugged each of us. However, she gave me a lingering hug.

kitson-town-jamaica

Local area where I grew up

She went into the house with Sis, my grandmother. My sisters and I carried on playing in the yard. Shortly afterwards they called me to come inside. The decision they made that sunny afternoon changed the course of my life forever.

Sis told me to pack my grip (suitcase) because I was moving to Spanish Town to live with my new grandmother (called Granny). Shocked and unhappy, I packed my clothes fighting back tears. Shortly afterwards, I waved goodbye to the close family I had known all my life. I walked off hesitantly with a woman I had never met before. Disbelief ripped through my whole being and pain tugged at my heart.

How could an 11-year-old girl rebel against decisions adults make? I did as I was told. So, I moved to a new school and a whole new area. A few months later, I began to settle down into my new lifestyle.

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Nevertheless, two years later, another bombshell dropped. Granny told me she was going to the UK and, instead of sending me back to St Catherine’s, I was traveling with her.

I waved goodbye to my familiar family. Three weeks later, I stepped off the boat onto the cold shores of Southampton, England. My mom and dad who left me in Jamaica when I was four came to meet us. And, my little sister who I never met before welcomed me to the cold, damp, grey country. The dreary day matched my mood.

While my dad was driving us to London, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. Cars didn’t beep their horns like they did in Jamaica. The houses were joined up and they didn’t have verandas. Plus, for the first time I saw snow.

Soon, I adapted in my new life, new school, new friends and new family in Fulham, London. However, I missed Jamaica, my sisters, friends, Sis and the sunshine. My little sister didn’t help the homesick feeling. She was amazed by my strong Jamaican Patois accent and believed it was her job to teach me to speak the Queen’s English. She corrected my every word. Within six months, I had lost most of my then lifelong accent.

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Me starting my new school in the UK

Life at school, Hurlingham Comprehensive, and in the UK was challenging. I encountered a lot of racism. At school, the girls teased me because I was different from them. I was extremely timid and didn’t have many friends. They mistook my shyness for aloofness.

So, I truanted a lot from school. After mom dropped me off in the mornings, I caught the bus back home. But, one day she came home early and caught me. I was grounded and wasn’t allowed to see anyone outside of school. Anyway, after that incident, I stopped taking unauthorized time off and carried on with my studies. When I finished school at 16, I worked at a few jobs for different companies.

Me in Amsterdam

Me in Amsterdam in the 80’s

I saw my grandmother Sis again. She visited the UK once before she died in 1989. It was blessing to see her and spend quality time with her. She was a strong woman all the way and taught me a lot about the values of life.

My other grandmother, Granny, developed dementia in her 60s and had to go into a home. It broke my heart because she didn’t recognize me the last time I saw her. Sadly, she died in the care home.

Although I felt like I came to the UK by force, as I grew up, I knew it was the best decision my family made for me. I had a wonderful relationship with my mum, dad, grandmother and little sister. And, eventually my two sisters also came to the UK to live.

On reflection, changes in life are not always welcomed. Nevertheless, sometimes that is our destiny, even though we may not be aware of it at the time. If I hadn’t come to the UK, I wouldn’t have had my three beautiful daughters and grandchildren. They are my world.

Like so many expat children (TCKs**) June experienced culture shock, but she also was uprooted from family twice: once from her parents and then from the grandmother who had raised her as a young child and her sisters;  on top of that she had to deal with racism. She also writes about difficult  times, in relationships as a young adult in her book:  Deep Within my Soul: Finding Hope After Abuse           (**TCK is the acronym for “Third Culture Kids” – raised in different cultures, they may end up living in their own “third culture” as an expat.)

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June Whittle

June would be glad to answer any questions you have. Please leave your comments below.

You can also connect with her at the following Links: Miraculous Ladies; Divine Copywriter ; https://www.facebook.com/MiraculousLadies?ref=hl

Living History Interview – Far East Prisoners of War – by Hilary Custance Green

I’ve been following Hilary Custance Green as she extensively researched and wrote this book.  I have read other books by her and am especially excited to read this one.My own father was shot down twice in the jungles of Burma and might have known these men had he been captured.  (He even looks like Hilary’s father on the book cover – mustache and all!) My mother had no word from him for months and then he staggered out, starving and was hospitalized for some time after.

The source for this post is from writer Sally Cronin: Sunday Living History Interview – Far East Prisoners of War – Hilary Custance Green

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My guest today is author Hilary Custance Green and she will be sharing the story her father’s imprisonment by the Japanese during World War II and the letters that were written to her mother …(and other wives… click above for the full article).

 

A Cherished Object (my contribution to the Cherished Blogfest )

My most prized possession is a painting. When I was a baby we lived in Thessaloniki, Greece and my mother bought a lovely watercolour depicting the harbour. That painting hung in my parents’ bedroom all the years I was growing up and well beyond. I used to stare at it and imagine being there – it seemed like a magical place. ct_Image

One day our parents showed us some old black and white photos of our time there. Standard family pictures of the day: my parents so young, me  in my first year (unrecognizable to myself) and then as a toddler playing at the beach with my older sister.   Mother commented,  “That water was so blue.”

Then another old photo of the waterfront, “Look!” I said, “It’s the same harbour with that round tower!”
“It is a famous building,” she told me, “Called The White Tower.”

It was built, probably in the early 1500’s by the Ottomans and was once part of the old city walls. When Greece regained control of the town it was restored and became a symbol of the city.  I vowed to go there someday. As a young adult I asked if I could have that little 2 x 3-inch photograph.  I framed it and set it on my piano. 

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The ancient White Tower and promenade

After my father passed away, Mother wanted one of us to go on a cruise of the Mediterranean with her and I jumped at the chance because one of the ports of calls was Thessaloniki. She was approaching eighty and I was middle aged and I ‘d never been on a cruise. We started in Athens and saw the Acropolis, we went to Rhodes, Ephesus and Istanbul. All marvelous and memorable places I will never forget. The highlight for us, however as you might imagine, was Thessaloniki. We sailed into the harbour and there was the White Tower on the left; to my great delight the scene looked just like the artist’s depiction decades earlier. The painting I knew and loved so well. We toured the city and visited the wonderful Archaeological Museum, but the magical moment for me was just the two of us walking around the tower, touching the stones.

The White Tower, Thesalonika harbor

The White Tower, Thessalonika harbor

Visiting my mother ten years later, I noticed the watercolour on the floor, the glass cracked and the frame broken.  “Would you like me to fix it for you?”  “No,” she said, “You take it, to remember our trip.” She was about to move into assisted living and had to down-size. I had the frame matted in blue to pick up the blue water. The painting now hangs over my piano next to the little black and white photograph where I can look at it everyday. It has become a family heirloom and when my little granddaughter is old enough I will tell her its story and someday she can hang it in her own home.

Thanks to (very popular blogger and talented writer) Damyanti for the invitation to share this memory.  How about you  – do you have a cherished object?

Thailand Dairies, Expat File#15

James King was born in Bristol, England; he lived in South Africa for 15 years and then semi-retired to Thailand in 2008. He lives in Chiang Mai having built a house (two actually) I think he is there to stay.  4-james-king-1424318595-medium

He began his blog, Jamoroki,  and also pursues his love of art and photography. James has written three witty and informative volumes on Thailand that I have excerpted from below. He is currently working on a novel.

from Volume 1 – 15 Weeks 

Between Jun and Sep 2008 I stayed for fifteen weeks on the tropical island of Phuket and it was while based there that I formed my first impressions of Thailand. I made the hour long hop by plane on the occasional business trip to Bangkok and worked remotely on my business in Cape Town, in daily Skype contact. During this period I began to learn a little of what it would be like to live in Thailand permanently. I diarised my activities, observations and some of the more amusing incidents which took place during my 15 week sojourn.

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The flight time to Kuala Lumpur via Johannesburg is approximately twelve hours and we landed on cue at six am local time. My body clock was telling me ‘It is one am.’ but my head was telling me, ‘I know, but I must ignore you and move straight into our new time zone.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Look, it will be tough for a few days but we have to do it.’ ‘OK, if you say so Boss.’ ……… Kuala Lumpur is the best airport I have ever seen. Now hear this – I’m through immigration and customs in five minutes! Throw in a smiling customs official. ‘Enjoy your stay in Malaysia sir.’ Is this real? A trifling wait for baggage because of a technical problem which was announced believe it or not.

Phuket

Kata Beach, Phuket (JK)

I planned to make a base in the south of Phuket in Kata Beach.  Kata is a medium sized and very beautiful sandy crescent bay lined with palms and a backdrop of forested hills.  Fortunately it was low season; I don’t know why because apart from more rain in June, July and August it’s great holiday weather, so it’s very quiet and I could easily work and play without any hassle.I rented a one bedroom semi-detached villa. There are 28 in the complex which is set in a delightful tropical garden with a very pleasant landscaped swimming pool right outside my door. The facilities are good, not five star, but more than adequate for my purposes. WIFI internet connection; a little kitchenette, TV, desktop and I was, well, fine and dandy.

Kata Lucky Villas

Kata Lucky Villas

I took a few hours out of the day and drove on my rented scooter bike over the hills through the little villages and tropical forest where elephants were stripping vegetation on the roadside. I found a quiet little restaurant under the coconut palms on the beach at Naiharn and tucked into a delicious lunch of Papaya salad (Som Tum), Fried noodles with chicken (Pad Thai) and a plate of fresh fruit plus a bottle of water (Nam). It was far more than I could eat so a friendly stray dog invited himself to help me out. The bin (bill) came to 120 baht, paradise was free but the dog buggered off without paying!

 

from Volume 2 – Driving Thailand               

“It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born….”   W. Somerset Maugham, (1874 – 1965)

Thailand is split into four distinct regions; North (bordering Myanmar and Laos), North-East (bordering Laos and Cambodia), Central and South (bordering Malaysia). Then you have the myriad islands in the Gulf of Thailand and off the West coast in the Andaman Sea. I have attempted to illuminate differences in the history, environment, dialect, attitude and culture in the regions I have lived in or visited.

In order to get the best aspects and feel for Thailand you must drive and walk. I suppose the same could be said about most countries. Unless you are in a hurry, avoid flying as you won’t learn anything cramped up in a plane for two hours. Drive the long distances and walk round the villages and towns. I have driven pretty well through every region, from the borders of Cambodia to Laos and Myanmar, except the deep South. Join me on my road journey through Thailand and I will do my best to give you a glimpse of my beautiful adopted home.

The Rice Nursery

Pulling seedlings and preparing for transplanting

A very good friend of mine; English actor and entertainer Martin Palmer, who has lived in Thailand for 25 years, once told me to stop trying to understand Thai people. When I asked why? He said “Because you never will. I gave up 20 years ago, realised I had to change my thinking radically and have been happy ever since”.

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Misty morning and a yellow hue pervades the valley north of Chiang Mai

Thailand is unfathomable, baffling, inexplicable, magical, perplexing, puzzling, veiled, enigmatic and secretive; in a word ‘mysterious’. If you stay for any length of time in Thailand there will be many times when temptation hooks you up to the internet in search of the cheapest air ticket to anywhere. You will feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall and then fall into the trap of making incomparable comparisons with your country of origin as you become bewildered by the aesthetic discord, pretence and hypocrisy. Everything seems to be broken or is about to break and whenever a workman fixes something it ends up worse than before. You will hear that people are electrocuted in showers ….because most electrical installations are not earthed and the ‘electrician’ (I use that word loosely) is perfectly content to connect several old bits of wire with tape to make up the required length. You wonder why and then you find out that he has saved the customer twenty baht in materials and charged him an extra fifty baht in labour! You are desperately trying to understand a new culture, new customs and a new ‘sign’ language.

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Thanks to James for his beautiful photos and letting us glimpse his Thailand Dairies. To read more visit his blog, Jamoroki. He will let you download Volumes I and II free!  (Volume 3– “Thailand in Perspective” explores the Thai culture, “de-bunks a few myths,” and delves into a “myriad of contradictions…and ancient traditions.”) I’ve never been to Thailand, but it is on my bucket-list.  Please leave your comments or questions below.

Putting Down Roots: Expat File # 14

Madeleine Lenagh has lived in the Netherlands most of her adult life. A writer and photographer, I’m delighted to welcome her as a guest on the Expat Files. ““““““

What would it be like to live in Portugal? (Photo by ML)

I never consciously decided I was going to spend the rest of my life in the Netherlands. Even after having lived here for 20 years, somewhere in the 90’s I found myself toying with the idea of moving back to the States. During visits to the UK or Portugal I would wonder what it would be like to live there.

Madeleine Lenagh

Madeleine Lenagh

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And, after visiting New Zealand in 2009,  I came back convinced that the South Island would be a great place to grow old.  My son frowned,  “You wouldn’t see your grandchildren grow up.”   I sighed; he was right.

Coming from a nation torn apart by internal strife, in the early 1970’s, the Netherlands was about the sanest place I had ever seen. Protesting students were not tear-gassed into oblivion or shot to death. Their demonstrations actually resulted in university reforms. City streets were safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Everyone had access to proper medical care and there were no signs of poverty. I wanted to stay for a while and see for myself how this worked.

“Staying for a while” stretched out, on and on. In my autobiographical book, Passage of the Stork: Delivering the Soul, I describe settling down, raising a family, becoming active in local politics, and building a career in urban development and project management.51MWG-YPTdL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_

With chameleon-like versatility I learned to speak fluent Dutch and recognize the subtle rules of social engagement. I tried to curb my American tendency to talk about myself. Sometimes I succeeded. However, my ease at speaking in public and acknowledging my achievements, did not always trigger admiration among my new friends. It was often frowned upon, I was seen as an arrogant American.

And, above all, I was incapable of learning how to ride a bicycle properly. After wobbling along with a toddler in the front basket and grocery-bags in back, almost getting hit by a truck was the final straw. The Dutch may have been born on a bicycle, I certainly wasn’t!

Learning to ride a bicycle ( photo credit Kuno Grommers)

Learning to ride a bicycle ( photo credit Kuno Grommers)

As the years went by, I grew and changed. I gave up trying to become as Dutch as possible and simply tried to be as authentically myself as possible. But what does that mean, authentically myself? And where do I really belong? Am I simply a chameleon, blending into wherever I happen to be?

One of the important themes in my book is this process of understanding who I am at the core of things. Understanding why some people view me differently than I perceive myself. Another important theme is about developing a sense of belonging somewhere, putting down roots

 One thing became clear to me. I had grown up in the woods of rural New England and had spent much of my childhood on or near the sea. I’m not an urban person.

 “She will always love the sea.” quote from Passage of the Stork: Delivering the Soul. (Photo ML )

“She will always love the sea.” quote from Passage of the Stork: Delivering the Soul. (Photo ML )

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So, after 30 years in the charming but very urban towns of Haarlem and Utrecht, I moved out to the Dutch countryside. It was still a compromise; neatly tended fields are a far cry from the wild remote places I love, but the vistas are beautiful and my garden is filled with birds and other wildlife.

Sunrise from my house (Photo ML)

Sunrise from my house (Photo ML)

““

I left my work in project management and opened a practice for life-coaching and counseling. From my clients I learned that feeling displaced can also happen to people who have lived in the same town their entire lives. It’s a sense of not feeling at home in the life you’re leading. Many people make their life choices based on what others expect of them. They are not doing that which makes them happy. The ensuing sense of displacement can lead to restlessness, addictive patterns, and/or depression.

I started doing the things that make me happy: photography, writing, traveling. I stopped dreaming of a better life in a different country. I started paying careful attention to my natural surroundings. Like a great tree, I learned to put down roots.

A great tree (Photo by ML)

A great tree (Photo by ML)

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A lot of expats become chameleons – to blend in to their surroundings – and later wonder about their identities, but Madeleine notes it can be a common experience regardless of where you have lived. Can you relate? Do you have any comments or questions about her life, her book or anything at all?

The Coconut Latitudes –Expat File #13

Rita Gardner and I met online – we saw each other’s interviews on two of my favorite blogs (Jamoroki and The Displaced Nation ) and found that we had some things in common: we both grew up as expats in Latin America and we are both writers who dabble in photography. Ironically, the man who “introduced” us, James King, lives in Thailand and it turned out that Rita and I live about 30 minutes from each other – so we made a date for lunch and found that we are kindred spirits.

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Book exchange! Cinda, left with Rita’s book; Rita on right with mine.

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Rita grew up on her family’s coconut farm in the Dominican Republic. Her spell-binding memoir The Coconut Latitudes is about childhood in paradise, a journey into unexpected misery, and a twisted path to redemption and truth. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Introduction

Before I am born, my father, for reasons shrouded in mystery, abruptly leaves a successful engineering career in the United States. He buys two hundred and fifty acres of remote beachfront land on Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic. This small, Spanish-speaking nation occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola and is ruled by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. Trade winds blow year-round all the way from the deserts in Africa, combing through palm groves and shaping the trunks into inverted commas. The island is also in the main path of hurricanes that storm through the Atlantic and Caribbean from June through November. In 1946, when I am six weeks old and my sister Berta is four, my father moves us into this instability. Our family lands—with a pile of suitcases, a box of books, and bright Fiesta dinnerware—years before there will be electric power or actual roads to Miches, the closest village. My father hires a crew to plant ten thousand coconut seedlings and names the property Cocoloco Plantation. My father frequently says we are a damn happy family; we’ve arrived in paradise, and are the luckiest people in the world.

Miches

Chapter 1: Miches

It’s a sticky summer day when we first bounce over the mountain in a ratty jeep driven by an old man with brown leather skin. The windshield is cracked and dust covers everything. Our suitcases are piled on top, strapped down by frayed ropes. We’re not tied down by anything at all. We heave left and right as the jeep straddles the track that’s barely a road. I’m used to these raggedy roads in the Dominican Republic. In the smelly backseat, Mama wedges in between my sister Berta and me, trying to hold on to us as we lurch up yet another switchback. Berta turns white, leans out the window, and throws up. The vehicle stops and I get sick too. Daddy tries to distract us by showing us a waterfall off in the distance… We pile in again and rumble onward. When we crest the mountain, we stop where the air is cool. There’s nothing left in our stomachs. Daddy climbs a rocky ledge. He waves his arms, motioning us to join him.

The hillsides spill all the way down to the bluest water I’ve ever seen, a bay of shimmering light so bright it makes me blink. Daddy smiles. “See—there’s Miches town.” He gestures toward the inner curve of the bay to a scattering of small buildings crouched along a rocky shoreline with a few streets … I squint at a long snaky river at the edge of town and then, to the right of it, a long sweep of sandy beach that stretches out like a sliver of new moon. The shore is lined with green fringe, and a smaller patch of a light color stands out like a ragged square of carpet. Daddy waves his arm toward the pale green at the far end of the bay.

“There,” he says as tears roll down his face. “That’s Cocoloco Plantation.”

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Cinda: It occurs to me that Cocoloco would have served as an apt title as well. Although I love The Coconut Latitudes – it made me want to read more.

Rita:  Funny you would mention that – for the longest time (years, in fact), I had chosen “Cocoloco” as a title. My only concern is that is a name of a tropical drink, and I didn’t want that context. One day I just thought of “The Coconut Latitudes.”

“While our tropical surroundings were indeed idyllic, we were in the constant path of hurricanes, under the grip of a brutal dictator, and beset by alcoholism and family tragedy.”

 

 

Cinda: Your memoir details a reality far from the envisioned Eden, the terrible cost of keeping secrets, and the transformative power of love and truth.   What advice would you give someone about writing a memoir –especially a painful one?

Rita: Don’t think about or worry about others. Pretend no one else exists. Just write for you. Say anything, say it all. Later, you can come back to it objectively; see the plot, the narrative arc and structure. But for the first draft, just sit yourself down, see what comes out, and keep going until you’re out of words. You’ll be surprised at the twists and turns your writing will take. It sometimes directs itself.

Samana Beach near Miches

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Rita M. Gardner was home-schooled as a child, she began writing, reading and painting at an early age. She has published essays, articles, poems, and photographs have appeared in literary journals, travel magazines and newspapers.  The Coconut Latitudes was just published this fall and is already being well received. I wrote a review for Goodreads and Amazon because I am so impressed with her writing skills and the honesty in this book. Here is my excerpted review:

A haunting memoir I wanted to read because it is about a girl who had grown up in Latin America like myself. But this is more than an interesting story about an expat; it chronicles a difficult upbringing (a la Mosquito Coast or Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.)….The young Gardner daughters are isolated not only from the parent’s culture and extended family, but forced to keep secrets from their Dominican friends when one family member disappears. There is no one they can turn to when their alcoholic father keeps them up late at night with angry rantings and irrational demands. Even their mother is unable to protect them or nurture them. This heartbreaking memoir may shock you at times, but the writing is straight-forward and compelling. You will root for her survival and be staggered at what a young girl manages to do.

 One of my favorite authors, Julia Alvarez, (who wrote In the Time of Butterfiles) says this about “The Coconut Latitudes”: Another fine writer who moves beyond borders into the wide open spaces of the heart.” And calls Rita an honorary Dominicana.

From Publisher’s Weekly’s select review: “Gardner has written a rich, haunting book that vividly captures her childhood and makes everyday turmoil vital through precise and honest prose.”

Rita will be happy to respond to any questions or comments you leave below. Check out her website at www.ritamgardner.com;  see more reviews and buy the book here: Amazon– the coconut-latitudes.

 

 

OUT OF CUBA: The ExPat Files (#12)

Leyder Chapman is a Cuban exile who came to the US to make music and formed a popular band called Dos Four. The story of how he got here is astonishing: he played on Cuba’s national basketball team and defected in the airport in Los Angeles.

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Leyder with his family in California

Here is Leyder’s story.

LC: I was born in Holguin, in eastern Cuba. My father was a mechanic and my mother was a baker.

CM: What was it like growing up?

LC: It was hard because of the crash of the Cuban economy (Período Especial) in the late 1980’s with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. My parents moved to Havana in hopes of a better life, but we were sometimes homeless and hungry, even sleeping in the park.  My uncle had a small house which he gave to us when he left with the Mariela* boatlift : it was just one room for 4 people and no bath – we used a public restroom.

(* CM’s note: You may remember the mass emigration of Cubans allowed by the Carter administration as a humanitarian gesture at this time.)

 

Leyder's home growing up in Havana.

Leyder’s home growing up in Havana.

CM: Período Especial – it sounds like a prosperous time instead of a depression! How long did it last? What about the social programs?

LC: For over a decade; through my teen years. Health care was free, but medicines etc. were scarce; school was free, however there were not many books and or equipment. My parents worked hard, but opportunities were very limited.

CM: Did you sing in Cuba?
LC: Yeah I was a singer at school, played percussion and danced in a troupe.  I’ve been singing and composing since I was a little kid. This is my true passion.

CM: So how did you become a basketball player?

LC: A long story! I really wanted to be a baseball player, but I wasn’t able to join organized sport in my youth. High schools are different in Cuba than in the United States – they are specialized. For example, you might get sent to Vladimir Lenin Science School if you were very smart; there was also a sports school and military academy. I was sent to Military School in the morning and I hated it! In the afternoons we had to work on the (collective) farms. When I was 16, I made the decision to get into the sports school. I was always athletic and I approached a coach and discussed track and field, but he wanted me on the basketball team – so I learned to play basketball!

bball.insurancejournal.com www.wikihow.com

 

 

 

 

 

CM: So you planned sports school, but basketball was serendipitous? And yet you ended up on the Cuban National Basketball team? Amazing!
LC: That’s right I started playing basketball when I was 16. Following process, I graduated with a degree as an athletic trainer and made my way up in the national rankings until I made the team. What surprises  people is that athletes are not paid in Cuba and entrepreneurship was not legal.

CM: Cuban National Basketball team is unpaid?  And you mean you could not start your own business?
LC: No (he grins): they gave us shoes and uniforms and we used to sell them for the money.  You could not (even)  have a shoe shine business on the street without special permission. I got into some trouble over that on my first trip – I will tell you about (it) .

CM:  OK and when was the first time you left Cuba?

LC:  (The) first time left I was 18 and the team went to Mexico. It was fun. Traveling was the biggest perk of any job. I remember drinking coca cola for the first time (that) was a big deal to us. All of us decided to bring Cuban cigars to sell and then buy stuff to surprise our families in Cuba with the money… but I was the one caught in a random check of my bag. I was punished and was not allowed to play. Over the next year, I realized I wanted the freedom to pursue a life of my own choosing. {I loved the idea of a band.} I decided I would get reinstated on the team and then… I would defect the first chance I got.

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CM: Wow we haven’t even got to your music yet, but tell us the story of how you defected in LAX.  And did you tell your parents before you left?

LC:  Yes, I had a chance to say goodbye. I didn’t know when or if I would be able to see my family or country again. Dad was supportive, but my mother scared. In 2001, we were bound for the Goodwill Games in Australia with a layover in Los Angeles; a friend and I decided we would run at the first opportunity.
Just as we passed through customs, we saw someone going through a door to the street outside. {This was only a week or two before 9/11 before security tightened.} We looked at each other and just started running, through the door and (then we) hid in the parking garage.

CM : So you didn’t approach immigration?  Did you already speak English?

LC:  No, neither one of us spoke English. We hailed a taxi, but couldn’t tell him where to take us. We didn’t go to immigration for a day or two – when our money ran out – but they didn’t know what to do with us, because they could not figure out how we got into the country!  So I waited one year to receive amnesty.

CM : You were brave! Where did you stay and how did you survive?

LC:  I called the only person I knew in the States – in Oakland – and he let us stay with him for awhile. I found work as a busboy and finally could pursue my dream – of being a singer.  Once I learned English I could also work as a personal trainer in gyms – I have a certification in that from Cuba.
I made a tape of my music and someone at the YMCA helped me get jobs teaching Latin dance as well.  Musicians began contacting me, I guess because of that tape. Latin music became very popular here so I was able to form Dos Four.

  Leyder has since shared the stage with well-known Latino performers  (Fito Reinoso and Gente D’ Zona to name just two) and toured Miami, Seattle, New Mexico, New York, and Los Angeles. In addition, Dos Four has toured abroad in Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona. That’s quite an accomplishment for the boy who once slept in the park in Havana!  Let’s watch Leyder’s latest video with Rosanir Brazil.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFRrDMxCP3Q#t=160

“He hears the music inside his head, composes the lyrics with his heart and feels the rhythm in every move of his body.”

CM: Where does  the band name come from… 2-4?  Your music is modern with a unique Cuban flavor (with it’s African influence).

LC: Dos Four is a play on my age– 24 – when I sought asylum in the United States.  The sound is a fusion of reggaeton, salsa, merengue, and rap with the rhythms of Cuba and the Caribbean.

Leyder singing and dancing in Oakland, with his daughter in his arms.

Leyder singing and dancing in Oakland, with his daughter in his arms.

I recently went to a DOS FOUR performance at Yoshi’s – a famous music venue in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I loved the lyrics and the Cuban rhythms, but was swept up with Leyder’s dancing and the high energy of all the performers. (The beautiful and talented Yismari Ramos T. is one of his backup singers and a professional dancer from Cuba.) The whole room was on their feet dancing!  Dos Four also played recently at the Veteran’s Memorial Building in Oakland, CA.  Join me in wishing Leyder Chapman continued success in his musical career.

 

Here is a link to the website where you can buy his CD’s (also available on iTunes) and sample his videos. The Dos Four band is available for hire.

http://www.dosfourlcrecords.com/photo-gallery.html

Please leave questions and comments for Leyder below.