Requested by: Lovine Gopez
Request: "Come home with four pictures from Barcelona, representative of four different REAL individuals that you have met. Find out who these people are, what makes them live, what fuels them, what makes them believe. Post these pics on your LJ and share w/ us what its like to meet real people."
Lovine, you are such a lovely genius-boy. This was just one of the most thoughtful and meaningful good deeds asked of me.
I did not take pictures of all the people I met (I kept forgetting about my handycam's still function). But I did get videos! Now you have to come home to Manila and watch them. Or I maybe I'll even try to draw pictures. Let's see. I'm sorry! I hope my words will suffice for now.
Mustafa and Candice
One day during the Festival, I was walking through the camprounds when someone called after me. It was a young man, around his mid-twenties. He appeared to be either African or Arabian: tall and slim, with olive-colored skin, a long nose, deep-set eyes, and the most fantastic dreadlocks I'd ever seen. He was seated at a small plastic table outside one of the tents, eating a bowl of cereal.
"Where did you get that?" he asked me in a thick French accent, pointing his spoon at the copper wire bracelet I was wearing. When I said that I made it, his face lit up and he motioned for me to sit down.
"Good! I like to meet artists!"
He introduced himself as Mustafa. We chatted for a while about the usual topics-- what do you do? where are you from? what do you think about the festival? and other typical questions that are asked when you meet a person for the first time. In hindsight, I realize that my first conversation with Mustafa was a little lopsided. I remember answering more questions than asking. It must be a trick that non-English speakers when they find themselves at the disadvantaged end of a bilingual conversation: ask a lot of questions so you don't have to talk so much!
Still, I got a few answers out of him. Like me, Mustafa had come to the festival without the backing of any real organization. He had just heard about it somewhere (he couldn't even recall where) and thought it would be a good experience so he registered. He said that he was very interested in "these ideas of development."
I asked why he was having breakfast at the campground, rather than at the Festival site.
He raised an eyebrow at me. "Because their food is crap of course!" (Ah, a Frenchman indeed). He then made me taste of his very special orange-flavored French honey. I did. It was good.
Before we parted, I mentioned that I might be travelling to France after the Festival. "If you happen pass through Toulouse then visit me." He gave me his address. "Or you just write me a letter. I don't like e-mail."
The next time I saw Mustafa was two days later, at the closing ceremonies of the Festival. The emcee (some Spanish female celebrity) was just about to read the 10 Resolutions of the World Youth Festival, when there was a commotion in front of the stage. There was a flurry of navy-blue security guard uniforms, and then suddenly, emerging from the scuffle, there was a picket sign. "I am not Toyota, Coca-cola, or Nestle!" it read, in crudely scribbled marker on cardboard. As the sign ascended to stage, so followed the person attached to it.
I instantly recognized the dreadlocks.
Raising his picket sign high in the air, the protestor (as it had become apparent that he was) took the microphone from the flustered emcee. He started to speak in French. Through the filter of our translation devices, we listened to him express disgust with the organizers of the Festival for accepting sponsorships from multinational corporations. How can Festival talk about development and equality, while taking money from corporations whose business values contradict these ideas? As long the organizers continued to associate with these multinationals, he would never attend another World Youth Festival. The audience erupted into applause as Mustafa flashed his picket sign once more and retreated from the stage. Apparently many of the participants agreed with his views but were not as bold to speak up.
One week after leaving Barcelona, Ties and I decide to stop by Toulose and take a chance on getting to know this interesting Mustafa character a little better. The first time we stopped by Mustafa's house, he was not around. But finally we were able to catch him, and he was quite surprised to see us. Still, he welcomed us warmly and even invited us to stay at his apartment, which he shared with his girlfriend Candice. We accepted the invitation.
Mustafa and Candice were both modern dancers, living together in a small apartment near the center of Toulouse. We learned that Mustafa was of Algerian descent, but had grown up in France. He taught hip-hop dance to teenagers for a living. His girlfriend Candice (whom he had met four years earlier at circus schooll in Marseilles) was also a hip hop dancer, from Provence. She's one of the warmest people I've ever met-- with sunkissed cheeks, long brown hair, and bright, smiling eyes.
We spent the next three days at the home of Mustafa and Candice. It was in disarray at the time, since they were in the middle of moving out. They had recently decided to leave the city and join a commune in the Pyrenees-- a long time plan of theirs. They showed us a picture of the Mongolian-style tent-house that they were currently building at the commune. They both believed that they could be happier, more at peace, if they lived closer to nature.
They were obviously not city people, but I still envied their cozy little apartment. It was actually not an apartment, but an extra room that they were renting out of an old rich woman's house. It was just so lived-in and alive, what with all their belongings literally spilling off of shelves and strewn all over the place. There were just boxes and boxes full of arty junk, comic books, compact discs (they had a fabulous music collection of hip-hop, brazilian, world music, jazz, and reggae), cooking utensils, bicycle parts, and clothes. You could tell that there were many memories in that place.
My favorite part of the house was the garden outside, where Mustafa and Candice had set up their dining area. It was a small space, bordered on one side by the apartment, on another side by an ivy-covered stone wall (the only thing between them and the neighbors), and on another side by perpetually-drying laundry on a clothesline. At the center of the space was a little round rot-iron table, painted white and surrounded by various mismatched stools and chairs. Little colored lights were strung overhead.
It was at this table, over many cups of tea, that we got to hear some of the couple's stories. Mustafa was an especially candid person, eager to show the world what he was all about. He told us about his strained relationship with his mother. It was a familiar story. His mother, an immigrant from Algeria, could not understand the way of life he had chosen for himself. For her, life was all about getting more money, a better job, a bigger house, more things. But Mustafa wanted the exact opposite--he believed that having and owning less, even as little as you can, was the purest way of living. His mother could not understand this. He would visit her sometimes, but as soon she started egging him about getting a "real job", then he'd split. "I don't care if she's my mother! I will do what I want to do," he said.
Candice was not as expressive about her beliefs, but her aura still had a strenghth perhaps gentler than Mustafa's. In that sense, she balanced him out quite well. I noticed that whenever Mustafa spoke, she would watch and listen intently, even though I'm sure she'd heard the same stories a thousand times before.
Candice had a special way of expressing herself. She would always use sounds or miming gestures to emphasize what she was talking about. For example, once she was trying to tell us about the Mongolian tent that she and Mustafa were building. It was like playing charades. She would say: "Oh, first we (hammering motion), and then we did some (lifting-heavy-things action), and at the end of the day we (sweeping and polishing action), and (insert whistle) voila! All done!" Maybe it was because of the language barrier between us, or maybe it was because she was a dancer!
She was fond of telling stories from her childhood. When I commented that she spoke fairly good English, she said, "Ah, this is because I had a crush on my English teacher!", sighing and batting her eyelashes for emphasis. When we were eating dinner one time, she told us about a little trick her mother used to do when she found her tongue burned by too-hot food. "I would open my mouth like this (opens mouth), and then my mother would blow air inside to cool the food. All better!"
more to follow...