Greece - Personas
The night before my plane took off for Greece, I had a one night stand that didn't go over so well. Prior to my trip, I had unlocked what it meant to have sex. Due to my religious stand point, I was a virgin until I got married at the age of twenty-one. Both my husband and I were pretty novice to sex so there was a lot we didn't know.
However, as my marriage was coming to an end, I remember declaring, "I just want to fall in love over and over again." And it was true. I wanted to experience infatuation at it's finest. My ex-husband was the first man I had been allowed to date. Previous to that, I knew nothing about dating or sex. It was all brand new. I had slept with one person and it was fairly one sided. There was so little I knew and understood about my needs, wants and desires. Most of all, there was so much I didn't understand about my body. Being an artist, who's work literally is there body, this would become a pivotal key in my success later on.
Once my divorce papers were filed, I began exploring the world. As great and wonderful as these stories are, I'll refrain from adding them to this series. What that year comes down to, is that I learned a great deal about my body and myself. I did have the chance to fall in love over and over again. It was absolutely wonderful. But in time, it became absolutely meaningless. I loved the feeling of being in a bar, looking across the room, locking eyes with someone and then the rest being history. But in time, as all fun things do, it lost it's magical luster. Every time I fell "in love", it resulted in a minor, quick heartbreak. Or worse, I'd break someone else's heart. Eventually, it became a meaningless game. But all the same, I felt safe. I was in control, I was in power, and nobody was close enough to me to truly break my heart. It was all superficial and fun and games.
But the night before heading to Greece, I realized I didn't want that anymore. I wanted depth and meaning in my life again. I wanted to stop cheating myself out of intimacy and I wanted to be real with myself again. So I sabotaged the one-night stand. It was an awkward and uncomfortable night and resulted with the poor guy leaving out my backdoor.
After I laid in my bed feeling a little uncomfortable, but also oddly satisfied that I got to sleep alone. I was ready to ease up on all the fun and start being real with myself again. I had dug myself so deep into my persona of being Alicia Cirque, the sensual cirque burlesque artist that I had pretty much lost Alyssa Liu. I was consumed in my dark sensual side. I liked the power and control I had of being the object of one's fantasy. The seductive temptress that men idolized but could never really have. But I had almost completely lost that little missionary girl. The one who actually cared about other people and wanted to see a happy and whole world. I missed her and I wanted a piece of her back. Maybe not all of her, but all the good things: the compassion, the innocence, the kindness, the intellect, the selflessness. And I wanted to keep the good things that Alicia brought to: the confidence, the boldness, the fun, the dark mysterious sensuality. But both personas were so vastly different. I literally was losing sight of who I was because I couldn't combine the two together.
So the next day, I got on the plane and took off for Greece. I didn't know how, but I felt assured that I would return somehow combining both personas into one and thus, becoming who I was always meant to be.
Greece - Changing
It took time, but eventually, I was able to transform my entire life. I dyed by hair blue and purple and my burlesque career began taking off. I started performing around the city as Alicia Cirque, sensual cirque extraordinaire. People in Santa Monica and Hollywood came to know me as a bendy, stripping, flying aerialist. I began training relentlessly and picked up as many shows as I possibly could. Legally, I changed my name back to my original maiden name. Luckily, though, everyone was already calling me Alicia, which made my slip into a new world where no one knew me easy.
However, friends and family back home started seeing what I was doing. I began receiving a number of text messages telling me how I was falling down a dark and dangerous path. At first, I took these messages as hurtful things. I was finally becoming a healthy and happy person. More than that, I was becoming an empowered confident woman who could stand on her own two feet by herself. I felt better than I had ever felt! And yet, I was receiving so much criticism for just being me. I could have sunk back into my victimized state and gone back to being the submissive religious girl. But I was finally happy and I finally knew how to stand up for myself.
So I said fuck that and decided to live.
Through my burlesque connections, I landed a job as the co-star of the long time running magic show Magicopolis. I had four shows every weekend in a magic theater. It was a two man show so I had a full script and had to learn how to do magic. Between that show and burlesque, I was becoming a part-time performer. I had also landed a job as a part-time assistant to a small family foundation. It gave me a chance to use my business skills. More than that, I was starting to make my dreams happen while also beginning to provide comfortably for myself. I was finally learning to stand on my own two feet while becoming the woman I wanted to be and creating the life I wanted to live.
In between my magic shows, I would go down to the beach to workout. It was at this beach where I began to meet some of my soon to be best friends who taught me how to be strong and confident on my own. Eventually, I made a friend who agreed to be my roommate. We were lucky enough to find a house in Bel Air that suited all our needs, especially my needs for having a giant mastiff puppy that was growing bigger and bigger every day. It took a lot of time and work, but eventually, I had become everything I wanted to be on my own.
But I still felt a little crazy.
One day, I was sitting in the office at my specialty foundation. I was a little bored and bummed that I didn't have the energy to train. I felt that sitting at a desk was slowing down my training and goals to be in the circus. I was also sleeping around a lot and having the time of my life, but running from my problems. I looked at the blue in my hair and realized it was time to start maturing. I remembered the book Eat. Pray. Love. and how her world travels helped her face herself and overcome her problems. I decided it was finally time for me to take my trip.
So I booked a ticket for Greece.
Greece - Alone
Months after the launder mat experience, I walked around my tiny studio apartment alone. My husband had left. I wasn't sure of how it happen, but it did. I was now alone with my giant mastiff puppy. I was only twenty-three and at the very beginning of my performance career.
I was scared. I didn't know how I was going to pay rent. More than that, I was scared of my husband having a bad day and coming for me. He obviously knew where I lived and it wasn't hard to break into the apartment (I had done it several times when I had forgotten my keys). And even more than that, I was scared of returning home to my family. I didn't realize it at the time, but my main motivation for getting married (aside from loving my husband) was to get away from my family. Going back would only return me to a terrible mental state. I had to find a way to make life happen for myself and I had no clue how. The trauma I was facing seemed overwhelming. Everything I had been through had programmed me to be terrified of that very moment. Yet I had no choice but to face it.
Then my eyes landed on the book I had just finished reading.
She had left. Her marriage had ended and she was alone and heartbroken. So she left to find herself. In that moment, I knew what I needed to do. I had to find a way to leave the country and find myself. I had to find peace and realize that I was a whole a complete person. I would find my way to a tropical island and achieve peace, alone. I would stop being a victim or a helpless girl that needed a man to provide for her and I would create my life to be everything I had ever dreamed it to be. I didn't know how, but I knew it would happen.
Going through lots of phases, and hair colors, trying to "find myself".
Greece - The Launder Mat
"Do you feel like you've jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire?" my mother asked me as she looked at me with condescending eyes. I felt sick to my stomach.
No. No, there was no way I had done it again. I absolutely refused to be one of those girls that had a bad relationship with her father, ended up in a cycle of abusive relationships and eventually found herself in a strip club. No. I was not that girl. I was the girl that had been a loyal daughter. I had done both my religious duty and cultural duty by getting good grades and following the rules. And I was a good wife too. I listened to my husband. I let him talk for hours about the intricacy and tortures of his mind. I went to church and had read the Bible front to back twice. I was a good daughter and a good wife. I was not on my way to becoming a stripper and I was not stuck in a cycle of abusive relationships. I loved my husband with every fiber in my soul.
But when my mother said goodbye and I was left alone with my husband the question begged itself to be asked. Did he love me too? I remembered our wedding day. I held two pages written in cursive about my undying love for him. I would be a good Christian wife. And what did he have for me?
"Oh, sorry. I didn't think we were doing vows."
My stomach sank. A few weeks after talking with my mother, my husband and I went to the launder mat. Our laundry had been stolen out of the local launder mat and we had lost about a fifth of our clothes. So we were determined to wait it out at this new launder mat. We had a good few hours ahead of us before we'd be heading back home. He pulled out his journal, ready to write more about his tortured mind, and I pulled out my book, ready to understand more about mine.
Eat. Pray. Love. I had watched the movie when I was younger and more religious. Back then, I had hated it. But it was easy to hate as a young, narrow-minded, religious girl. Years later, I had stumble on the book. And years after that, I began reading it. The first time I had encountered her story, I was in high school and had experienced nothing. But the second time, I was in a toxic marriage. It just so happened that the day I was sitting in the launder mat with my husband, I read a short section about how this lady was so in love with this man who was toxic for her. And she for him. He was just like her father and her mother had chosen the route to stay with her husband. But Elizabeth had wanted more. She didn't want simple complacency. She didn't want to accept a man that made her crazy inside and silent on the outside. She wanted a true and real connection with a man she loved. And that was when she realized she needed to say goodbye.
I looked up at my husband. We had fire, that was certain. But we had too much fire. Just like my parents. My dad constantly yelled while my mother was the submissive good wife. Was that what I was doing? Most definitely. Was I really willing to go through another twenty years of that?
In fact, I didn't think I would last another twenty years. Probably would have to just end myself halfway through. I couldn't continue my life being unhappy. I looked at my book again. Elizabeth had traveled to Italy, Indonesia and Bali to find herself. I would need to do the same. I was going to get a divorce and leave the country. I had to find a way to save myself.
Uganda - After Note
If you read through my entire Uganda series, thank you. I had to edit and cut out a lot of past material as it was written three years ago when I was still very religious and very married. Feels like a lifetime ago and definitely seems like a different person wrote it.
That said, I'm releasing a new series about my divorce and how it took me to Greece. I learned so much about myself during that time and what it meant to be a strong confident person. Previous to my journey, I struggled with a lot of abuse. I allowed myself to be mistreated and torn down, mostly by the men in my life. But I also had women convincing me that being a noble wife or daughter meant that I had to endure this kind of treatment. Luckily, though, I had other people in my life teaching me to stand up for myself and love myself. This made a world of a difference and helped me change my life.
I decided to write this next blog series to explain what it took for me to stop being a victim and start building the life I wanted for myself and becoming the woman I was always destined to be. The beautiful country of Greece also played a huge role in helping me get there. Spending days at a pool side in Santorini and training in pole with world champions helped to escape life for a moment so I could become silent and hear myself think, made a world of a difference. I was able to finalize and recreate myself so that when I returned to LA, I was solidified in myself.
I hope this series can be a place of encouragement for anyone struggling to redefine themselves and build themselves into the person they always wanted to be.
Uganda: Day 12 - The Connect
After a marvelous experience on the other side of the world, we returned to the Entebee airport ready to go home. As we sat in the tiny sitting area, waiting for our plane to arrive, we met a very interesting man. He had traveled to over fifty countries and was on his way back home to Ireland. We swapped stories and got to know each other. When he asked us where we were from, we said Los Angeles. He proceeded to ask if we were near Hollywood and we explain how we were there weekly.
Shocked, he laughed and said, "You're from Hollywood yet your visiting Uganda. That's huge difference!"
He's right of course. How can you even begin to compare the slow country life with the fast-paced city of entertainment? You really can't. For the past few weeks. I've been writing about both Hollywood and Uganda. Interestingly enough, I've meet a number of people who have a similar heart as mine for both. What I've come to find is that God made the world a whole lot smaller than we sometimes. There are some people in the world who have been designed with a heart ready to help and a talent ready to share.
This life is too short to waste. In my journey to change the world, meet people of all cultures and develop my craft, I've learned several things:
1. Travel Far. Too limit yourself to one place is to miss the miraculous wonders, experiences and people out there Take advantage of every mission trip, vacation and cultural experience you can find. Learn as much as you can and take the steps necessary to see the world.
2. Take Risks. You'll never know if you never try. You can spend your life wondering forever, or you can just go for it. The scariest things may change your life. It won’t be a success, but if you’re willing to try for the experience and the learning process, it will always be worth it.
3. Love Deeply and Freely. To love every person you come across is a beautiful thing. You never know what stories or knowledge is hiding behind a person's eyes until you take the time to reach out to them. Forgive and move on. True happiness comes from the liberation of being free. To allow old scars to bring you down or hold you back only prevents you from discovering all you can be.
At the end of the day, Uganda and Hollywood are the perfect combination. Where else can you find a heart and passion stronger than that of a starving artist or a grandmother who has led her babies through war? Both are fighting for something. I hope this Uganda series has reminded you of the great suffering that does happen daily around the world. I hope you take the initiative to make change and never take for granted the joy that comes daily with simply being alive. Seek out that greatest joy inside of you and watch what can happen as you do.
Uganda: Day 11 - Doorsteps
One night, we drove for thirty minutes down a bumpy road. Either side of the road was pitch black and we could hear bats screeching throughout the night. The car's windshield had a massive crack running through it and one of the car doors didn't open. It was the most durable car I had ever been in. Eventually, we entered a town and drove past the shops to a little side street. A huge electric fence rested on one side guarding one of the largest Ugandan hospitals. On the other side was a row of houses. That is where we found Pastor Tim's house.
Maybe a day or two after that, we had the morning to ourselves. We strolled down to Gilbert's house to see if he would take us around town. When we got there, we found him and his grandfather hammering away at the ground. They were building a latrine. That's a fancy way of saying bathroom. Keep in mind, an African bathroom is a tiny room outside with a 2" by 4" hole in the ground. But it's deep.
Once Gilbert's grandfather saw us, he showed us all that he had worked to built. Their home was two tiny rooms. No floor. They had built it from the ground up. Their land stretched pretty far and they had planted all sorts of fruit trees and vegetables. He led us all the way down to the end of his land. At the end, we came to a little stream that floods when it rains. That stream is connected to the Nile River.
Two very different homes, but both holding two very great families.
Uganda: Day 10 - True Friendship
The first day we arrived at Moma's and Dad's home, I noticed a barrier between us and them. We were clearly the guests of honor, but there was something lonely about that. They held us in such high regard as if we were royalty not meant to see a day of hard labor. But, of course, Seb and I have humble backgrounds. We don't hold ourselves in that regard at all. The last thing I wanted was for these people to. My heart's desire was for these people to see that we were just like them. And in that, I wanted us to develop a fellowship, an opportunity to truly know each other's hearts. I knew that if the barrier was still up by the time we left, I would have failed in my own personal mission.
One thing I've learned from travel is that you can have everything planned perfectly, but at any moment the entire thing can fall apart. The best you can do is be prepared for anything to happen. And that's the reason Seb and I found ourselves in the living room on a Wednesday morning when Auntie Rachael walked in crying.
For the privacy of my friend, I won't go into details. But it was in this moment when I understood why our plans had fallen apart. We were here for these people. To become their friends, to let them vent and to be a comfort. At the end of the day, it didn't matter what we said or where we said it. The most important thing was that we were there.
When we had started out the mission trip, our host family would pass us in the hallways, smile and focus on setting the table and preparing food for us. They would sit on stools and eat with their hands outside while we sat on the couches in the living room with all our fancy utensils. But overtime, Sebastian and I broke our way into the kitchen and learned how to make chapattis. Then we would eat with the children outside. Slowly but surely the barrier began to fade.
One night we sat in the living room with Pastor Fred. The electricity was out again. All we had for light was our gas lantern. It was there that Pastor Fred said how he couldn't believe that we chose to live with the natives instead of in a hotel. (This option had been offered to us earlier and we had declined). He explained how they were nervous because it was dangerous for us to stay with the natives. But even more, he was shocked that we would chose to give up our personal comforts to live with them. Yet he said that was the number one thing he would tell his friends and family about.
When you live with people, you can cry with them, pray for them and laugh with them. I can guarantee that is something they will never forget. And that's why it was such a precious moment for Auntie Rachael to finally pour her heart out to us.
She had walked in to serve us eggs and tomatoes (my favorite) like any morning. However, by this point, we had talked together, worked in the kitchen together, and had many jokes together. So, when she came in, she began to talk to us. Her heart was heavy and we could hear the hurt and pain in her voice. She shared her burdens with us and began to cry. When I stood up and hugged her as she cried, I knew a bond had been formed between us that would last a lifetime.
Uganda: Day 9 - The Devil Inside
A couple days after we got back from Africa, I had a conversation with a friend about the new Harry Potter movie. We were getting ready to see it and I asked her if it was good. Of course, she said yes and went on to talk about how the movie is about the underground witch community. Without thinking, I said, "Oh yeah, we dealt with some of that in Africa. It'll be interesting to see another perspective to it."
As soon as the comment left my mouth I realized how ridiculous I must of sounded. I had just correlated my life to one of the most fantastic pieces of FICTIONAL literature. The inner Alyssa shrunk up inside in complete embarrassment. Did I really just make a comment about dealing with witches to my dear American friend? Yes. Yes, I did.
But, as embarrassed as I was, I had been telling the truth. While in Africa, we did deal with witchcraft. And, unfortunately, it wasn't the Harry Potter kind of witchcraft either. No, what we were dealing with was something much worse, much more dangerous and much more real.
I grew up in a half Christian half Atheist/Agonist/Buddhist/Hindu home (the second religion changed often). So things of the spiritual nature where common and often at war in my house. Luckily, my mom gave me a great Spiritually 101 lesson when I was young so nothing was too shocking.
It was the second Saturday and we had a huge children's party planned (probably not the setting you were expecting for this kind of scenario). We had over one hundred kids at this party. The tiny church was literally packed out. Sebastian and I walked through a sea of brown little faces. The kids were clapping, cheering, and looking at us in awe and disbelief as we moved our way to the front of the room. We spent the day watching performances, giving gifts, and eating food with a lot of children (which my dad had given us money to help pay for, thank you Dad).
At the end of the party, Pastor Alex was wrapping things up. Before we knew it, he started preaching. Let me tell you, when African pastors preach, it is no joke. If you fall asleep in American services (I've been guilty of that), go to an African service. There's more adrenaline there than at a concert.
As he's preaching and he calls for an alter call. About twenty people of all ages and sizes come up to accept the Lord. When Pastor Alex started praying, I noticed one young lady put a hand to her head. She was 19, a little heavy set, very sweet and a bit shy, but I didn't know this at the time. All I knew was that one second she was putting her head on her head and the next she was falling over on top of a little girl. I remember locking eyes with this tiny girl holding her present as this young woman fell on top of her. I didn't know what to do because the next second, the young lady rolled on top of the little girl and rolled supernaturally fast (hands above head) right up to my and Sebastian's feet. She rolled away and all four of the pastors ran swiftly to her.
She tried to run away and clawed at them like there was no tomorrow, but in a matter of time, all four pastors had pinned her to the ground. She started screamed and crying at the top of her lungs as she fought to get away as hard as she could. The pastors fought to keep this one girl pinned to the ground as they started yelling and praying in her face. Pastor Alex continued preaching.
I don't know how long it lasted, but it felt like a good thirty minutes. FOUR pastors to wrestle down one screaming girl.
It still gives me chills to think about it and I can't help but find myself near tears. Eventually, the demon left. The girl sat up in shock. She was crying and looked a little embarrassed. She started dusting herself off and sat in a corner recollecting herself and trying to fix her hair. She looked a mess, but the truth was a chronic headache she had had for years was gone. We went up and introduced ourselves and left shortly after that.
As we drove back, I asked Pastor Fred about it. He shared with me that satanic worship was very common in the area. There was actually a shrine right down the street from where we were staying. It was common for people to literally sell their souls to the devil. He proceeded to tell me about the "night dancers". As romantic as their title sounds, they're actually quiet horrifying. Night dancers are people who have allowed themselves to become demon possessed. At night, they go out and eat the carcasses of human bodies. According to Pastor Fred, they are common in his neighborhood and by the church (both were walking distance from where we were staying). Apparently, that area and some others are places that you don't want to be walking in at night, for obvious reasons.
And that was only one of the many different kinds of demon possessed results. Other people become violent. Some don't get demon possessed but used voodoo to ruin others. If you get on a hit list like that, there's literally no way to protect yourself. A lawyer was ruined because someone used voodoo on him. He lost his mind and began saying awful things about his family tearing them apart.
That night I didn't sleep much. I was fascinated by the "night dancer" concept and decided it was definitely going in my upcoming novel, Nankunda. Naturally the author in me was fascinated. Yet the person in me was stunned. I stayed up listening to a screeching bat that must have been on the roof and thought about how many night dancers might be out there that night. Luckily, my faithful protector and husband was lying in bed right next to me, not sleeping also. I think the event had struck a chord in both of us differently, but just as hard.
African Alter Call. At the end the young lady falls and starts screaming. After that Sebastian and I were shocked and stopped recording.
If you took a random person off the streets of America and asked them if they thought they were rich, the majority would say no. Being rich in America means being Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. But in Africa, if you are white, you are considered rich.
I found this to be an interesting concept. Before I got married, I spent nearly a year jumping from house to house struggling to get by. I had gone through several cars. One was a lemon, two were borrowed, and one I was in a car accident in. It was totaled. Trying to keep food around was difficult. Keeping a roof over my head was even harder. I had jobs but was constantly jumping from one to the next. I had just graduated college and was going through one of the greatest self seeking journeys of my life.
The cause of my vagabond year was caused by one of two things. First, I was too stubborn to conform to the mundane American life of work, sleep, and repeat. Also, I was struggling with complex PTSD which is no fun. But the number one reason was because I saw something greater. I saw a life where people were invested in each other. Where it mattered if your neighbor was doing ok. Where everyday was an adventure, not just passing minutes until shifts were over.
My point in all of this is that I'm not rich. I've fined dined in China but I've also gone to bed hungry. Today, Sebastian and I do well with our tiny studio apartment. Our cupboards are always full of food and our cars are always running. We're not rich, but we definitely have enough.
When we were in Africa, the point was quickly made that muzungos meant money. Often we were asked to help pay for school fees. Sometimes we were asked to send back gifts, like phones. It wasn't too excessive but it got me thinking. Africa wants to be more like America with their big fancy phones. They assume we all have more money than we need. Americas, on the other hand, want to be more like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet with their luxurious cars and big houses.
Every situation is different, but I think it is possible that we have become so consumed by materialism that we've lost sight of what is important. Don't get me wrong, the starving child on the street needs food. Period. But where's the line? When do we know we don't need anything more?
Being a missionary to a number of countries, I've fallen into a pattern of how I minister to people. Some missionaries bring healing and prophecies. Others build houses and churches. I bring myself and all the love I have inside of me. The best thing Seb and I did while in Uganda was that we lived with people. We slept when they slept, we ate when they ate, and we lived like how they lived. The ability to love is a gift each person is given at birth. How we use it is up to each of us individually. We can let our desire to buy things drown out our a capability to love or we can love to the point where we forget that we even have needs and wants.
When it comes down to it, even the staving child doesn't really need money for food. They need a parent. I write this blog as a challenge to Africans, Americans, and everyone really. Keep what you need to get by and let go of everything else. To the Americans, a new phone only gives you access to login into facebook where self esteem drops. But time off your phone to spend with those you love brings so much more joy. And to the Africans, muzungos bringing money won't fix a thing. Our live isn't as glamorous at it seems. Spending time with those you love is priceless no matter where you live. If you already have that, don't get a phone to take away from it. Work hard enough to eat everyday, then spend the night laughing with your family. It's much more fulfilling, I promise. And for those with the excess money, use to give to those who need a hand to get back on their feet. But be sure to teach them how to get back on their feet first!