Cuban maiden voyage documentary to debut at Tampa film fest

Zuzy Martin Lynch shares my hunger for the Cuban narrative. She is a first generation American who grew up in Jersey and, after Obama announced the reestablishment of relations with Cuba in December 2014, finally made it to the Cuba for the first time to dig deep into her roots. She documented her “journey to understand the past, present, and future of that magical island just 90 miles [from Miami]” through the lens of interviews with Cubans of all walks in her new film, Craving Cuba. Tomorrow, March 31, Craving Cuba will make its world debut at the tenth annual Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa. It is one of three films competing in the Cuban Sidebar Competition.
The Forbidden Coast and Havana Motor Club are the other two films competing in the Cuban Sidebar Competition. They will make their Tampa premiere at GIFF on Friday.

Tampa Bay Group Inspires and Celebrates Women

Congregants of the International Women’s Group of Pinellas (IWGP) gather around two tables pushed together in a Thai restaurant off Largo’s East Bay Blvd in February. It is their second monthly meeting in 2016. Sara Im, the group’s co-founder, leads the conversation from the middle.

Every month there are new members and so introductions are always the first cycle of the monthly roundtable discussion. IWGP co-founder Sara Im leads. “The first thing we’re going to do today is go around the table, and everybody will say,” she pauses to think, “who they are, what country they’re from, and how long they’ve lived in the area.” The topic of the second rotation is more flexible. One by one the women dish on family, work, origin stories, love and so on. Conversation never runs dry.

Sara started IWGP in 2013 to offer support to immigrant women in the Tampa Bay area. She got the idea after making friends with Lucy, the only other international woman in their women’s bible study group. Shared experience fostered an immediate bond. “We kind of gravitated to each other,” Im said.

Like Sara, Lucy’s first language is not English, so Sara invited her to a local English conversation class. The social protocol in a language conversation class facilitates structured interaction but does little to foster meaningful relationships. Lucy, an immigrant housewife, felt a sense of loneliness and confinement in her daily life. She craved the intimate socialization and English discussion that a formal conversation class could not provide. In a show of support and appreciation, Sara utilized her leadership skills and to start a social group for international women living locally.

English practice is a pillar of IWGP. Members are immigrants and non-native English speakers. Regular conversation groups facilitate the growth of complex language skills that extend beyond simple, daily use. With these language skills, the women are better equipped to acclimate to life in the U.S.

Above all, friendship is the foundation of this group. Conversations at IWGP meetings are far richer than the medium through which they are conducted. The underlying communication is genuine care and fellowship. “Everybody wants to be loved, wants to be supported,” said Im.

At their next gathering on Saturday March 12, members of the IWGP will gather at the Baha’I Center at Clearwater to celebrate International Women’s Day, a commemorative day taking place worldwide annually on March 8. A workshop at the event will address human trafficking and Syrian refugees in the Tampa Bay metro area. Women of all backgrounds and faiths are invited to join.

International Women’s Day marks the triumphs and accomplishments of women across the globe throughout time. The event will “acknowledge and remember all women from around the world,” said Sara.

Celebrations of International Women’s Day take place all over the world, yet celebrations in the United States are few and far between. Jaleh Fathi Siyan, a longtime member of IWGP who started hosting the International Women’s Day event in Clearwater three years ago, says that when she moved to the U.S. from Brazil she was surprised to learn that many people do not know about International Women’s Day. In response to this she began hosting a gathering to mark the day.

The network of support engendered from women’s mobilization fosters an environment in which women can share, grow and succeed. IWGP member Liz Madray says, “Women coming together, they don’t have that “Good Old Boys Club” where they are afraid. They feel free, there’s no ceiling. They have that sisterhood bond. They say, ‘yeah, you go girl!'”

“When women get together they find out about their potential,” said Siyan. In addition to attending IWGP meetings, Siyan hosts a monthly women’s group designed to promote fellowship, awareness and self-improvement. “When the conversation comes up they (women) find out, ‘oh I can do this or that.'” From inspiration comes motivation and, as Siyan points out, “we don’t want things to stay in the same place, we want things to move.”

Shared experience brings the women together, yet no one woman is like the other. They discuss their diverse viewpoints and experiences are discussed with respect. At last month’s IWGP roundtable, new member Graciela shared, “I believe that when we meet new people and expose ourselves to the unfamiliar we learn best.”

On Community

January 17, 2016
Life in a waterfront community is something special. Today we experienced a sunset at Howard Beach Park.
Howard Sunset

Around 5:40pm

Birdy Sunset


Yesterday we watched the sunrise, sittin’ on the dock of the Bay.

Marina Sunrise

Safety Harbor Marina, sun breaks at 7:23am

We sunned ourselves on the white sand of Clearwater Beach in the afternoon. It was sunny and in the 70s. I got a tan. It’s January. The locals are urging one another to “stay warm” during tomorrow’s 50 degree cold front. It’s snowing in Virginia and rigid in New York. *cue Handel’s Messiah*
Last Sunday I had a most epic thrift store adventure. Gone are the days of $30 thrift shop tees. Hello, $5 Banana Republic! Living room set for $75? Yes please.
On Tuesday I enjoyed clam chowder for under $3. Two lovely men in tropical shirts gave Brenden and me all kinds of information on the area. (See my review of Mid Peninsula Seafood here.)
We’ve taken an apartment in Safety Harbor, an intimate water town atop the St. Pete peninsula. Every Friday they have an ordeal called Third Friday, wherein all 200 people who live here gather on Main Street. The street is blocked off so vendors can peddle their wares. I’ve been to many a generic street fair where fried corn, street meat, cell phones, karate lessons, knicknacks, handmade jewelry and just plain junk are peddled. This is not that.
Third Friday Sign


Every vendor is local and unique. Two guys behind a hot fryer deliver Disco Donuts topped with cinnamon, powdered or rainbow sugar. A lady who hates the heat and goes north every summer sells jewelry made from spoons. Two young people give information to prospective Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers.
As you’ve noticed, the tone and purpose of this blog has taken a different direction. Dear nieces and nephews, you are the primary reason I write this blog. I want it to be interesting to you. Listening to me list off stuff I’ve done probably gets old, which is part of the reason I stopped writing. The other reason was of course Cody’s death. It is time to move forward.
I’m making some changes. Instead of just telling you what I’ve done and where I’ve been, I want to show you by sharing stories of the communities I explore. Soon I will be adding profiles of people who, in my opinion, make their community special. Make what you will of that word, community. Whether I’m writing you from VA or NY or FL or ZZ, I am always in a community.
What a packed word, community…
Everyone has a different definition of community. I’ve enjoyed living in a community, but to be a part of community is to belong. To me community means interconnectivity. Cohabitation. Contribution. To belong to a community is to add to its richness. To support it’s success. Here on a Friday night, between the coffee makers and dog treat bakers on a ten-block Main Street that terminates at a Marina on a Third Friday evening, I feel confident that I am closer to the dream of belonging to a community than ever before.
But don’t you even think my adventures are over. Honey, I’ve only just begun…

Making friends with the Noosa lady. Noosa is the best yogurt, by the way.