For Sharing Your Home…

Mary Stoeker
Becky and John Williams
Mae and Edon Gaspard
Joyce and Nelton Gaspard
Gwen Aucoin
Kristi Cornell
Susi Mills
Gina Forsyth
Michelle Gibbons
John Critchfield & Jessica Holleman
Yael Yanich
Thomas Elliott and Lizz Randall
Serra Seawitch-Posey and Ben Posey
Mindy Hiley
Fancyland
Sheryl and Dave Foster
Diane Hill
Even Taylor
Phoebe and Lyndsey O’Neil

THANK. YOU.

Every. One. of you warm, giving and absolutely lovely people who opened your home to me.  New and old.  Family, friends, friends of friends, once strangers.  Almost nine months ago, I set out on an adventure….without knowing exactly how my days/nights would shape-up.  This time of connecting with family, meeting new friends, and rekindling old friendships has enriched my life beyond measure…a gift I cannot quantify.  And I want you all to know that your support of providing places for me to sleep, write, play music, relax, learn, BE…has been HUGE.  I am one lucky human being.  The hiking maps, lunch dates, conversations, songs shared, kayaking trips, porch parties…the small town advice, introductions, keys left under door mats, precious pets, family suppers….the open refrigerators, happy-hours, hugs, coffee-at-need, lavender harvest, jam-making…the storage space, neighborhood walks, thrift store breaks, ferry rides….the great ideas, babies, laughter, barn wood, shower soap, clean sheets….and on. and on.

Seriously folks…you ROCK.  My appreciation is big and hearty.  Thank you for making it easy for a wandering, curious soul to find happiness, home and peace in so many places.

Tomorrow I have an address again.  And I want you to know…my home is yours, too.

With Honor,

Lisa Foster

Time to spread dat Cayenne.

File Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, Po Boys, Dirty Rice, Boudin, Cornbread, Collard Greens, Tarts, Pralines, Grits, Sweet Tea.  There’s a lot of flavor down south, ya’ll.  The preparation and sharing of these unique recipes is a way to stay connected to the past and each other.  Food brings people together and all too often becomes our common denominator.  I’ve seen it within my own family and consistently in my friend & work communities.  People get excited to prepare food dishes that root back to their origin.  And others get excited to eat it.

During my travels for the past few months, I’ve had my eye on small mobile food businesses.  In the form of trucks, trailers, push carts, bicycles! and stands at farmers markets…people are diligently working to prepare fresh foods for their communities.  For some, these businesses seem to be a way to creatively pursue a passion, bringing the food they enjoy to others, while making a living.  Beginning a small business is a huge endeavor, but it gives people a vehicle to express their vision and build relationships they see as valuable.  Sometimes mobile, sometimes not…many of these small-business chefs get to choose their food sources, where (relating to who) they serve, and their hours of operation. You could say many of these food businesses are bringing the ‘mom or pop’ style back around.  I’ve been especially inspired and thrilled by

Rose ‘Slam’ Johnson of Hot Bike!

food visionaries, Adam & Krista Bork of Food Shark (Marfa, TX), Rose Johnson of Hot Bike (San Francisco, CA) and Marla Kristicevich of Freetown Fries (Lafayette, LA).  These inspiring-funky folk are bursting with resourcefulness and creativity.  Their visions are unique and clever.  They are small business owners, they have a passion for fresh foods, and they care about their environment & communities.  They are doing something different.  The train is so tempting…that I can feel myself ready to jump aboard.

With a 5 year background working as a cooperative member of the nation’s largest worker-owned Co-Op (Rainbow Grocery Cooperative), I’m planning on taking some of the skills I’ve learned and utilizing them in a new way.  I’ll start these dreams small…and grow them small.  The spicy hardworking friendly roots of the Cajun spirit is calling…and I’m thinking it’s time we spread dat red pepper.  If you build it, they will come, right?  We need more cayenne round here, don’t cha think?

So I’ve been gearing up for my return back to the Bay Area…Oakland, in particular.  Historically, Northern California is a place that many Creole folks (and less Cajun folks) from Louisiana migrated to from the 40’s into the 70’s.  In Mark DeWitt’s book titled, Cajun and Zydeco Dance Music in Northern California, he discusses this area as being a hub for Creole/Cajun cultures to exist given the Civil Rights movement as well as in response to California’s thriving counter-culture.  On a much different level, I can relate to this historical migration.  It’s true…the Bay Area is a place where all types of diversity are more-often-than-not celebrated and I’m blessed to call it my home.

Getting this food-adventure out of the clouds (of my mind) and onto the street may very well be the most challenging piece, but I was reminded of how inspiring community collaboration can be the other day while attending a fundraising brunch at Crossroads/Phat Beets Produce in North Oakland.  Crossroads and Phat Beets Community Kitchen Cafe is a project made up of a collective of people coming together to create a local, community-focused cafe that offers delicious food, rentable commercial kitchen space, and incubator programs for new small businesses!  These folks of various backgrounds are making beautiful things happen in their community.  Coming together as individuals to create larger resources, this project is a fabulous example of how communities can work together to get ideas off the ground.

The ideas are churning, the food is simmering, and I think we might need to organize a fais do do to get this thing on the ground!  Til’ soon….

Prayers of a Traiteur

When my brother was 8 years old, he suffered from warts on his feet.  My mother had taken him to a doctor who tried to cure his condition using various techniques and ointments.  With each treatment, his feet would clear up…but it was only a matter of time before the warts would return, sometimes worse than before.  After exhausting what seemed to be every option, my mom was given the name of a woman who healed people’s ailments through prayer.  This woman lived out in the country, nearby our home in Opelousas, Louisiana.  Out of frustration for my brother’s condition, and with nothing to loose, she took him to see this healer.  When they arrived, he was taken into a private candle-lit room. There, my brother laid on a table while a series of prayers were said over his feet.  The very next day, the warts began to turn light black. A week later, they were completely gone…and never came back.

There is a feeling of mystery in the story when my mother tells it…like it was some sort of miracle.  Both my mother and brother describe the awe they felt when the warts left his feet and never returned.  It wasn’t until years later, when reading more deeply about Cajun history, that I came across the french term traiteur.  A traiteur, or ‘treater’ in English, is a community healer.  Traiteurs heal a variety of ailments through repeating specific french prayers that have been passed down for centuries.  The treatments from a traiteur are a common and valuable form of healing in many rural Cajun communities.   When I landed in Louisiana this spring, I sought to speak with a traiteur because I wanted to learn more.  This is how I came to meet Mrs. Judy Gaspard of Forked Island, Louisiana.

Judy Gaspard is a 5th generation traiteur.  Traiteurs are seen by some as faith healers, people who channel the energy of God.  Judy explains, “it is not us that does the treating…we’re just the go-between…God does the healing.”  Most traiteurs see their work as a gift from God and do not accept payment for their services.  In the past, they would also not accept a thank you, in fear the treatment would not work.*  This past April I had a chance to sit with Judy and ask her some questions about her role as a treater.

                                                                How long have you been a practicing traiteur?  I’ve been doing this for about 35-36 years.  I got it from my dad. I’m the 5th generation that treats.  My dad, grandpa, great grandpa, and great great grandpa were all traiteurs.

Is there a particular story around how you were chosen to carry on this practice/tradition of healing?  A man has to give over his treatments to a younger woman and a woman has to give over her treatments to a younger man…unless you are ready to stop treating, then you can give it to anyone.  We were 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls.  One day my dad came to me and wanted to ask me a question.  I immediately thought, ‘O Lord, what did I do…?’.  (chuckles) He said “I’d like you to take over my treating…I’m not going to stop treating but I can hand it down to a younger woman.”  I said, ‘Daddy, why me?’  He told me out of all his children he could see it in me.  He saw how I liked to help people.  It was true…I was always trying to help help somebody.  Today too…if I can help anybody, I’m going to do it.  And that’s how it got started.

How long does it take for the treatments to start working?  (If it’s a phone meeting), some people tell me right after they hang up.  They say within 5 minutes, the sunstroke is gone…the hurting is gone…the earaches are gone…the toothaches, gone.  Some of them will say it takes about 5-10 minutes.  I also treat for warts and a lot of them will fall off right away and other times, it’ll take 2-3 days.  It varies.  I go by what people tell me.

Can you treat animals, too?  Yes, a traiteur can treat animals.  My dad has saved race horses.  My husband’s uncle, Mr. Orville Ryder, raised race horses–and one day a horse was racing and it fell.  The people there told him to shoot the horse, to put it down…told him the horse will never race again.  My husband overheard and said, ‘No, don’t kill your horse. Call my father-in-law.’  So he called my dad and my dad went out there and treated that horse.  It was within an hour of treating it, that the horse was up and around.  And he continued on to win a lot of races.  Another thing…you can also treat for bad weather, not just people and animals.  If you hear thunder and lightening in the distance…before it reaches your home, you can say the prayer for that treatment.  And you’ll see how the storm rolls further and further away.  My little grandson used to call me everytime the weather turned bad.  He’d say ‘Maw maw, can you treat the bad weather please?’…he’d call me everytime.

How often do you get people seeking your prayers?  Sometimes during the day I’ll get 4 or 5 people calling…and at night, too…they‘ll call.  Occasionally people will call me the next morning saying that their grandbaby cried all night long…but they didn’t want to call and wake me up.  I tell the people that I can go back to sleep.  Don’t let someone suffer if we can help them.  Call me.  I don’t care if it’s one o’clock in the morning….don’t let this child or adult suffer if there is any hope that we can help them.

When, and to whom, will you choose to pass on these healing prayers?  I will feel it.  I think whenever I find the right person, I’m gonna feel it.  I’m not going to give it to anybody until I find that this person is going to do good with it.

Judy described that most people who know about traiteurs and the healing they do, live in rural Louisiana.  Though over time, she has gotten phone calls from people living in other states.  People hear about her through word of mouth.  It’s a common myth that the prayers do not work if the traiteur lives far away from the person needing healing, or if there is an ocean or water separating them.  This is not true, says Judy.  The prayers work…regardless of the distance between the traiteur and person they are treating.  This afternoon, Judy told me multiple stories of people she treats and this particular story stuck with me:

My talk with Judy led me to further question how medical systems in this country saturate our lives and influence how we approach modalities of healing.  During this time when many folks in America do not have access to health care, I can’t help but think about the positive effects that various healers have on our communities (traiteurs being one example).  They bring an alternative, offering different ways of healing that may otherwise be unattainable.  And economically, they serve people in ways that are often more sustainable.  While the benefits of science and western medicine continue to amaze, I think it is equally important to uphold and support practices of healing that are rooted in past traditions, whether they be spiritual, earth-based or both.  In my opinion, it would be tragic to see these traditions fade.  When I asked Judy how she perceives the future of the traiteur, here is what she had to say:

These prayers are part of an oral tradition that has withstood centuries.  Without tradition, these prayers would have died…and without faith, perhaps they never would worked in the first place.  I’m curious to hear the stories of others who have been healed by a traiteur. Do you have any to share?

And as an added tid-bit, the video below is my favorite of all the stories Judy shared with me that day (definitely worth a watch):

All Together Now.

Some of the most inspiring moments happen in the midst of music collaboration. Going back to review some of my film clips, I have come upon some music moments that continue to inspire me.  That’s one beauty of old-time music…the tunes are shared, passed down and known.  Because of this common language, a group of strangers are often able to meet and start playing together right away.  Here are some of my favorite jam clips I’ve taken in the last few months. And for the record, it is difficult to keep a camera totally *still* while listening to Cajun music! Enjoy.

Balfa Camp Sunday Group Jam, 2012

Savoy Music Center Sunday Jam, April 2012

Balfa Camp Jam with Christine Balfa.

Courtbouillon: Jam with Wilson Savoy, Wayne Toups and Steve Riley

Meat-eaters: Where does your food come from?

My great uncle walked directly into the water carrying with him the bucket he uses to collect crawfish from his nets.  It seemed as though he didn’t think twice about stepping into this stagnant swampy water, filled with all sorts of creatures that emit poison as a defense.  At first I sat on shore, feeling somewhat awe-struck.  As a kid, I’ve seen water moccasins drop from tree branches into the water…and I know alligators sometimes show up around these parts.  I thought to myself…’wow, he’s got trust’.  He looked back and chuckled, encouraging me to step in if I wanted to.  Snakes and alligators filled my mind…then my adventurous spirit decided to overcome fear and just go for it.  I moved into the water, gaining confidence with each step, and followed him on his route.  I eat crawfish, I thought, so I want to participate in the process of gettin’ em!  After this morning, I learned that the experience itself requires more than hard work and trust…my uncle’s routine of checking his crawfish nets was a myriad of beautiful things coming together.  Gathering this food to eat was also about honoring tradition, being in nature, and connecting with ancestors. Thinking back to that day, I wonder what it would be like to only eat meat that I expended the energy to catch or kill.  Given the place I live and the lifestyle I lead, it is very unlikely this will become my reality…but I feel grateful to have been exposed to the practice.  Experiencing where meat comes from and what it takes to get it, led to my curiosity of what it would be like if every consumer had this opportunity.

A meaningful piece of Cajun culture and tradition involves hunting and fishing, as well as the food-preparation that goes with sourcing your own meat. The forests and swamps of South Louisiana are teeming with wildlife…and because of it, many families are able to
supplement their diet with various game-meats.  Being a sporadic meat-eater, I love the idea of being able to honor your food source through capturing an animal that hasn’t spent its lifetime squished in a cage, eating processed foods that are most likely pumped with hormones it didn’t choose to ingest on its own.  Hunting is something that has remained a constant within many Cajun families, including my own.  Largely because of this tradition, we are able to continue eating dishes that root back to our Cajun ancestors.  We are a people that have grown up on duck, pheasant, deer, fish, wild boar, geese, frog, crawfish, shrimp and many other types of meat.  Our spicy, flavorful dishes reflect this culture of hunting and fishing.  Food gathering and its preparation brings family and friends together.

My grandparents generation had a diet that originated primarily off the land.  It was a time when people had more time than money.  They used their bodies to harvest vegetables and they learned how to hunt animals from their elders.  It was a time when hunting wasn’t seen as privilege…it was a way of life.  Times have changed.  These days and in some places, hunting is largely a privilege.  Most people do not have access to the land, time, or skill-set it takes to hunt their own meat.   And from years of this land/food disconnection, it seems as though many people would rather buy their food, than expend the emotional and physical energy it takes to hunt for it.  I wonder sometimes if the meat industry would change if more people needed/chose to hunt in order to provide meat for themselves and their families?  Would people respect the brown flavorful chunks in their taco a little more?  Or perhaps less people would choose (or be able to) actually eat meat?   What would it look like for people to see ‘meat’ as a living animal they had to kill and/or prepare to consume?

Hands down, some of the scariest issues facing our world/country seem to be in the packaging culture of food…genetically-modified animals, genetically-modified animal feed, and the use of hormones.  In a nutshell:  Monsanto and big-agriculture business.  It’s frightening to read about the realities and think about the consequences.  When I learn about the crawfish industry in China and how some restaurants in Louisiana choose to buy this crawfish because it’s cheaper…it creates another whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.  How is it cheaper to buy food that comes from 8,000 miles away?  What does it mean for the livelihood of small Louisiana fishermen when we buy millions of pounds of crawfish from China and have it shipped over on boats?  Is demand larger than supply?  How might our choices as consumers support our local communities and ease the environmental impacts that are created by eating food caught thousands of miles away?  How we choose to consume, affects the market.  What kind of food do you want to eat?  Where do you want your food to come from?  I ask these questions with an understanding that race, population, geographical region, accessibility, resources, land, systems of support…are all important factors.  It’s complicated.  So much so, entire books are written that talk about these various issues.

There are a billion ways to hunt with a million different hats.  It is not my purpose to idealistically paint of a picture of the heroic hunter without honoring how one might approach the task.  I’d like to think most people hunt for food, but I know that is not always the case.  A large part of my personal support for hunting comes within the notion that the person hunting is doing so with integrity.  Gun or not, it’s my hope that respect and honor is given back to the animal when people choose to kill and eat meat.  For many Cajuns, hunting threads back to tradition.  It’s a practice that is tied to the dishes we grew up on, the food-source that brings family together.  My aunt, who has been an avid hunter for years has this to say:

Whether it is walking the fields with my family as they hunt for pheasant, or riding in a boat to help collect crawfish out of the bayous, I always return with a deep feeling of hope that this way-of-life can be sustained.  When I think of hunting, I think of a human-being spending time in a natural habitat.  Not only is this person experiencing some kind of mental quietness from being in this beautiful outdoor space, but they carry with them the added purpose of attaining food for themselves and their family to eat.  Nourishment and valuable relationships come from this food.  I believe it is equally a privilege and a right to be able to continue these practices.

It’s a discussion, really.  I can only hope that others choose to have these discussions as well.  Inside the food we eat, there are valuable connections being made…so valuable that I fear we’ll notice them when and if they’re ever gone.

The Back Door.

ImageI’ve been playing outside…and now it’s time to get back in the damn house (or at least on the porch) and build up my Cajun repertoire! I’ve been practicing The Back Door, La Porte en Arriere, written by Cajun legend, DL Menard.  A challenge to sing for anyone learning Cajun…this song is fast and full of tongue twisters.  But I’m loving the challenge.  And already looking forward to Black Pot Camp and Festival this year.  It’s been inspiring to be involved with a musical community working to keep tradition alive…and one that is also branching out to create unique styles of Cajun-influenced music.  Some of the bands on my playlist these days are:  BonSoir CatinThe Magnolia Sisters, Jesse Lege Joel Savoy and the Cajun Country Revival Band, The Red Stick Ramblers, The Pine Leaf Boys, Les Bassettes, and Courtboullion.

I spent the summer guiding 4-7 day trips down the Green River in Utah.  These desert canyons are magnificently beautiful and awe-inspiring.  I feel extremely lucky to have had this working opportunity.  And while I have taken a break from my work on this project, I do have plans with continuing to explore and express my passion for Cajun culture and storytelling.  It seems to be a project that is ongoing, collaborative and shape-shifting.  For now, I’m committed to reviewing my footage, posting updates on the intricacies that I witness and sharing the stories that I see as incredibly valuable to keep our culture thriving.  I’m excited for the challenge.  Stay posted.

Over. And over again.


Stuffed with questions.  Overloaded.  When I catch my cuff in a philosophical thought-demanding whirlwind, I remind myself to feel.  Beautifully-informed thoughts are ones graced with feelings.  I want these to be my gems…the ones that inspire and stay with me.  Sensitivity is such a precious thing.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

The process of pining through questions is somewhat like learning how to play a song that was written years ago.  I pick one out and sit with it.  Listen to it.  Over and over again.  Try to pronounce the words.  Listen again.  Over and over.  I sing together with the motions my hands make on the guitar.  It feels like science.  The rhythm, chord transitions, and voice fluctuations.  A language I’m learning to sing.  Carrying out traditions.  These spaces where feelings are expressed.  They need(ed) to be.  Sometimes things get tough.  Carrying on isn’t easy…but it’s important.  I hope I never loose sight of where this song came from.

The more I practice traditional music, the more I uncover its complexities.  And at the same time, some of what used to seem so far away…is now in my view.  This song I play over and over again stays in my pocket if I give it time.  Like the lucky rock you’ve been given to hold.  This song I have studied.  If I’m lucky, repetition becomes a stronghold from which to paint. A colorful canvas that waits for us.

Eventually death arrives.  But songs live on.  How we play them.  These songs we feel.

Over.

And over again.