A Story Told

“To be a person is to have a story to tell.” —Isak Dinesen

Opalanga Opalanga Pugh was an ordinary person with an extraordinary life, much of which she created and directed herself. Born in Denver, Colorado, in 1952, when people of color struggled against discrimination and limitations on their life choices, by 1972 she’d renamed herself after her Nigerian ancestors and begun her mission of storytelling.

Over six feet tall, chocolate brown, she carried herself like an empress. The gap between her front teeth, something that orthodontists would have wanted to correct, became a point of pride. In Africa the gap was associated with truth tellers.

That she was, but she couched the truth in stories, complemented by music and movement—from native peoples, from American culture, wherever a tale spoke to her. I once saw her speak to a group of some 75 women, mostly white and older. By the end of her presentation she was leading a line of all of us up and down the halls, around the rooms, in a joyous, joint celebration.

She said, “Who I am as a storyteller is one who is committed to the healing, the empowerment, and celebration of the human spirit. . .a Keeper of the Culture, a bridge-mother.” Known as a “griot,” a term and its variations used in West Africa for “storyteller,” she told her stories in ways that all peoples could understand and relate to.

She wasn’t with us long enough. She passed away in 2010 after a lengthy struggle, surrounded by close friends and family who had formed a network of support, provided day and night. Now those people have published, “When a Griot Dies,” a small book about her life, her journey, her spirit. Proceeds from its sale ($22 a copy) support the Opalanga Legacy Project, scholarships for all sorts of artists, keepers of the culture who honor her values.

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”—Muriel Rukeyser

For information on Opalanga, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/opalanga
For information on “When a Griot Dies” or the Opalanga Legacy Project, contact Black Swan Books, opalangabooks@gmail.com ~ 303-366-4836

Tea for Two. . .or One

tea cup I love tea in china teacups. It captures all kinds of cultural and historic overtones—the ladies of Jane Austen’s era exchanging tidbits of gossip along with spoons of sugar, the velvet-covered steel of women’s influence in days gone by, distinctive and very feminine patterns of flowers and swoops and gold tracings.

I’m not sure why. Certainly my family background didn’t lend itself to gentility. On both sides my ancestors were workers, tillers of the soil, hammerers of nails, sellers of dry goods. Whether they even had time to slurp a refined saucer (yes, tea used to be drunk from a saucer, especially if hot), I doubt.

Tea in a china cup is different from a mug of tea or a glass of iced tea. It encourages lingering over, especially with friends. Confidences to be shared, trusts to be built. If I’m alone, it signals relaxation and thoughtfulness, qualities I’ve learned to value as I matured.

I’m guessing if we could get political leaders to sit down over a cuppa, our talks about disarmament and the economy would progress much faster. How can someone think angry thoughts while sipping the fragrant yet simple taste of tea.

So put on the kettle, find your favorite type of drink, put your feet up, and savor. Tea anyone?