By Dariela Aquique
HAVANA TIMES — Some years ago I was putting together a book of poems, the first part of which I dedicated to my friends.
One day at a coffee shop in my town, I needed ten cents to pay for an herb tea, and a friend gave me them; she has always been wise, generously proportioned, plump you might say, and always laughing. That was when I wrote:
When relief is imminent
you tell a story with a moral
the most ambiguous reason in philosophy
a book a hundred years old
the laughter of a child with happiness syndrome
Today I am going to interview this amazing person, Nadia Lozada Jerez, writer and storyteller, who works in the Provincial Book Center of Santiago de Cuba, but is known among her friends and acquaintances as a scholar and practitioner of various mystical and religious currents. We are going to talk about her passion for books and her interest in Asian cultures.
HT: With a BA in Literature and Spanish, you could have opted for teaching or some other work, but you preferred a direct connection with books, why?
NL: There’s always a book that marks the life of the individual; from the book that accompanied you from childhood; from your youth or perhaps even the last book you read that enlightened you and gave you answers to questions you’d been asking all your life. In my case it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Basch, I identified enormously with the character. The book didn’t say anything about the author, nothing. It was very simple, I was captivated and since I had borrowed it I copied the entire book in long hand and about a year ago someone gave me a hard copy so now I have the two of them.
HT: You created a literary circle which always invites a guest speaker to talk to the children and get them to talk about the books they’ve read. Can you tell us about that?
NL: The project is a response to the objectives of the national program of reading for pleasure. I was asked to set up a circle where I would tell stories; they chose a book store for rare and used books; I saw I’d have to invite people to come and talk about their experiences with books so the children would realize there are no old books, that every book is a source of inexhaustible riches, that no book is without value, and they need to cherish them and learn that you can get as much enjoyment out of reading as going to the beach, camping, to a party. That reading induces positive states of mind that we all really need.
I didn’t know I was going to present the project to the work group but then the boss turned up and said, hey you have to send out information on your project, what’s it called? And that’s when I thought of Oros Viejos (Old Treasures) a book I love very much, that I always give to friends and to children as a tribute to its author Herminio Almendro.
HT: You spend much of your time telling stories; you’re one of the best storytellers in the city and the country, your presence at international biennials, the awards you’ve received, and your nominations for the National Storytelling Prize, all speaks for itself, why the interest in telling and narrating stories?
NL: Well some people have no time or talent for reading so sometimes you recommend something, read this or that but they don’t do it. But if you tell people a story, perhaps they’ll get the message, take it as a piece of advice, a lesson, and without being aware of it they get interested, but I don’t moralize, I avoid making any judgement on the matter; I give them something that can maybe help them so telling stories is more fun and enjoyable for those around me. It’s as if they are reading through me; that’s why I tell stories, and it’s a way of helping others.
HT: In the Mama Inés literary cafe where you meet every Thursday afternoon, did you manage to link your literary promotion work and your gift of storytelling, was it accidental or planned?
NL: That was another task assigned to me (as the bosses say), Ha, ha, ha, ha. When you are entrusted with something regardless of what they tell you, you try to do it your own way, you use your initiative and I decided the space was conducive to promoting people dedicated to storytelling and do it well and are not well known apart from in a small circle. I didn’t want the space to be just mine as a storyteller, I’m the host, but my guests always have the leading parts.
HT: We Cubans, regardless of our religious tendencies, tend to be fairly pragmatic. We are excited, desperate, and anxious, and we live for the day, especially so for people from Santiago. How did you get interested in religions, sects or Eastern mystical currents?
NL: I was raised in a Catholic family, with grandparents who took me to church as a child and tried to instill in me the same religious faith, but I confess I never felt any sense of having found communion with God, at least not through that religion. I was never devoted to any saint, I do not like the worship of images, I never saw or felt the presence of angels.
Catholicism and Protestant Christianity are all extremely dogmatic, they always impose patterns of conduct and Afro-Cuban religions as well; adding in the later case that they sacrifice animals for their offerings and I reject the violence, the bloodshed.
Moreover, the history of the Catholic Church with its dark chapters on the Crusades and the Inquisition, do not inspire much confidence. The eastern movements on the other hand transmit serenity, calm, balance and I’m not aware of them practicing any kind of human or animal sacrifice. Also the esoteric is much more palpable.
HT: Reiki is a Japanese form of natural healing. But it is actually a pseudo-scientific practice. However, its practitioners call it “universal life energy that in an atmosphere of mystery gives you the power of meditation and spiritual healing.” Tell us about your experience.
NL: Look, Reiki is wonderful, people just can’t imagine how powerful it can be and how much change it can bring to your life. I discovered it from a book I read by chance and I became interested, but it took seven long years before some Reiki masters arrived, they were Spanish women. I got initiated and this gave me the opportunity to see people better, see them heal physically, spiritually and mentally.
Reiki can also provide healing using the energy of the body for problems of all kinds from illness to financial and psychological problems and when you help someone, it fills people with such joy, you just can’t imagine, you experience such a sublime state of things, you feel love when you receive the energy of gratitude in response to what you have given to others.
HT: The Rosicrucian philosophy comes from a number of fraternities they say had their origin in freemasonry and western wisdom. Although very different from the eastern movements, many of their precepts are the same. I know you were also linked to this cosmology. Tell us something about that.
NL:It was during the same quest. I looked into everything suggested by mystery; perhaps even in a quest for power, I won’t deny it. But I didn’t spend much time struggling with the Rosicrucian order, I thought it would last longer, I had great expectations but it didn’t measure up. I am not saying the old Rosicrucian mystical order was good or bad, but I didn’t feel comfortable with its members and I just took my distance, they didn’t help me grow and I went to another space, that was my experience .
HT: Astrology, Feng Shui, yoga, the mysteries of the zodiac and now Buddhism, you’ve been interested in all of them and you’ve studied and practiced them. Was it intellectual curiosity or a spiritual quest?
NL: It’s always been a spiritual quest. I like peace, everything that is serene delights me and these eastern traditions bring you to that state, I reject everything that can upset me, creating neurosis. I think this constant search is to get away from the madding crowd, the gossip of the workplace, the struggle for power in the administration and the labor union of which you’re a part. What will the CDR think, the neighbors, the numerous family you’re forced to live with at times because of housing problems.
You know the power struggles in any of these areas are terrible and if you find the same thing in any of these sects or societies to which you go in search of peace of mind, then you leave, that’s what happened to me with the Rosicrucians. In the eastern spiritual currents I have found peace. You have to look everywhere, in books, in people, in things. If you look for something, you’ll find it.
HT: You are very tolerant and always laughing. Is that due to all these interests?
NL: I don’t think so, I was always happy as a child, I was a little girl that sang and danced and was plump and capable of wearing a tutu to ballet dance and I enjoyed it immensely. Ha, ha, ha. Thank God or the Universe for making me like that. It’s important if you’ve had a happy childhood and I was lucky, I lived a childhood where children could choose their own toys. I offer a blessing every day in the world to joy, you have to work at being happy and achieve it but without preconceived self-help books.
To be tolerant is something you learn, the same as walking or talking; it was maybe the relationship I observed with alcohol; I was connected for a time to a circle of friends who drank heavily. People who drink have very low energy levels and try to boost their energy by drinking without realizing how self-destructive it is.
I was one of them, I was searching and walked away happily in time; I found other ways of charging myself up with healthy positive energy. Later I recognized it was an illness; now I help them through the AAA (I’m a friend of Alcoholics Anonymous). And that’s how I go about, seeking relief.
And that’s how my interview ended with Nadia, the friend who inspired the poem which for good reason ends:
and tomorrow I await
your prodigious reading of souls
your syndrome of laughter and its mysteries
your ten cents
in the end
your generously proportioned relief.