Why Did I Go See John of God?

For The Huffington Post. March 2017. 

I don’t have any life-threatening illnesses, depression or anything that is holding me from living my best life. Still, I felt drawn to go see John of God, a spiritual medium in a small town in Brazil, who has said to have cured millions of people.

I first heard about John of God almost a decade ago, when I dutifully watched The Oprah Winfrey Show every weekday. Oprah stood next to John of God, while he skillfully made a cut under the breast of a woman, without any anesthesia. The woman did not even flutter, with barely a trickle of blood staining her shirt. I did not know what to make out of it. Was this a magic trick or a miracle? I had to go find out for myself.

The minute I decided to go to Brazil, everything planned perfectly with very little effort from my side. Scheduled meetings got cancelled leaving my calendar open; a friend gave me a Buddy Pass and I flew from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro in first class during peak season (it was Carnival time). I stayed at my friend’s newly renovated apartment at no cost, and learned about tour guides, Cecilia and Debbie, who offered to arrange for my visit at less than a week notice.

PHOTO BY AMANDA-VILLA LOBOS
Casa guides Cecilia Zigher and Debbie Akamine

The days leading up to my visit, I started having very vivid dreams. They mainly involved a close friend, who was accompanying me to meet John of God. In my dreams, I was showing her beautiful places, giving her advice on her work and making her laugh. I also felt there was a presence in my room. This did not make me scared, rather peaceful, yet confused.

I had read a few blogs about how to prepare for a visit to the Casa Dom Inacio De Loyola and watched online videos posted by other journalists, but the pieces were still not adding up in my head. So, I tried to keep an open mind about everything and ready to receive whatever comes. My guides, Cecilia and Debbie advised me to do the same. They said to write down my wishes so I can present them to the entity (spirit) that John of God channels when we meet him.

On Wednesday morning, I arrived at the Casa dressed in all white and with some nervousness. What will I feel? What if he says I need a surgery? What if he asks me to stay at the Casa? The questions came up as I stood in the audience and John of God scanned the room looking for volunteers for physical surgery. I felt like that kid in the classroom who hasn’t done her homework and was secretly praying, “Don’t pick me!”

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel anything watching the surgeries being performed in person. While other spectators were stunned, marveled, perhaps even freaking out, to me it felt very normal to see John of God shoving a scissor up someone’s nose and twisting it with great force, scraping eye balls with a kitchen knife, or cutting open skin without surgical tools, while the fellas felt nothing.

PHOTO BY AMANDA-VILLA LOBOS
Over 2,000 people gathered at the Casa to see John of God

I joined hundreds of people from all over the world in the line of ‘first timers’ to go meet John of God in entity that morning. I had already spoken to his personal translator Heather Cumming about my wishes, that she would present to him on my behalf. As Heather spoke to Medium John (as he prefers to be called) in Portuguese, I held his hand and stared into his eyes. Undoubtedly, there was a strong presence. Heather told me “He says he will take care of you. Go sit in his current.” An usher led me to a seat on the bench which was already packed with people, some in trans-like meditative state. I wondered how long was I supposed to sit here?

I sat with my eyes closed, listening to melodious hymns playing in the background, praying for my family, friends and my life. I felt a rush of love, gratitude and happiness overcome my emotions. I couldn’t control how joyful I was feeling. I just wanted to get up and go hug everyone! I sat in the current room for 2 hours, falling in and out of concentration, and sometimes fell asleep. It was as if I was on an airplane, buckled into my seat for takeoff. Even though I wanted to get up and go, there was no way I could.

In the afternoon, Medium John sent me to the current room again, and I sat for another 2 hours. This time, it was more difficult to focus, but the collective energy of the people and the spirits in the room offered a peaceful space where it was easier to stay than to leave.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted and hungry. I had terrible headaches. “This is normal,” Debbie consoled me. “It means the spirits are working on you.” My friend was experiencing the same fatigue. She had never meditated in her life before today and sat in the current room for 6 hours. She felt a flow of emotions that she didn’t know she had, pour out in tears, and was feeling much lighter, she told me over dinner.

PHOTO BY AMANDA-VILLA LOBOS
Me with Medium John at his office in Abadiânia

The next day, Medium John agreed to give me a one-on-one interview (watch the video). We sat in his office at the Casa where he held my hand and gestured me to ask anything. I have done dozens of TV shows, impromptu speeches, and spoken in front of thousands of strangers, but speaking to Medium John made me very nervous. He had such a strong presence around him. I could tell he was no ordinary being. I had my questions written down beforehand, but couldn’t remember them. He answered them rapidly, as if he already knew what I was going to ask. I wish I had prepared more things to say, I thought to myself, as the interview went by so quickly (or so it felt).

Perhaps my purpose of going there was to help my friend, or to share this message with the world, I don’t exactly know. But after 3 days, when I left Abadiânia, I felt more balanced then when I had first arrived. I was feeling positive, grounded, giving, loving and in control of my emotions. Though I had some wishes for my personal and profession life, I now had strong belief in a higher being orchestrating the right path for me.

While it has been challenging to hold that same level of calmness in day-to-day life, I still feel connected to the energy of the Casa and know that my own spiritual angels are taking care of me.

PHOTO BY AMANDA-VILLA LOBOS
Heather Cumming, author of ‘John of God – The Brazilian Healer who’s touched the lives of millions

Read more about my visit to John of God on my blog, Go Eat Give.

Best Travel Technology of 2017 (Part 2)

For The Huffington Post. March 2017. 

Looking for the latest laptops, cameras, or gadgets that will make travel easier and more exciting? Here are some of the best technical innovations of the year….

CANON POWERSHOT

This hi-tech 20.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, 3x Optical Zoom, DIGIC 7 image processor, and built-in Bluetooth camera comes in an ultra-slim design that fits in a pocket. Take superior-quality photos even in low light, capture sharp details, and minimize blurs with one touch.

AXON 7 MINI

Frequent travelers will love the elegant design of the AXON smartphone that is equipped with dual SIM cards, 16 MP rear/ 8MP front camera, and 4K video recording capabilities, on an Android OS. The quick charge battery lasts all day, so you can enjoy an entire day of talking, listening to music, and capturing your vacation experiences.

MICRO DRONE 3.0

Micro Drone 3.0 is the first small scale drone that is easy to fly, costs less and doesn’t sacrifice on functionality. It uses intelligent motion sensors which allow it to hover and fly in perfectly straight lines, without deviating from its fixed axis. It’s small, smart and streams Live HD footage to iOS or Android smartphones.

EARIN

Ditch the wires and enormous headphones. Earin is as light as 2 earbuds and produces amazing quality sound that last for up to 3 hours on one charge. The fashionable Scandinavian designed earbuds are perfect for a morning run or a noisy bus ride.

SPROCKET

HP’s portable printer fits in the palm of the hand and connects via Bluetooth to print 2×3 inch images using no ink. It is super quiet, fast and can be used in remote areas where you may not have access to much. Try it on a volunteer vacation and hand out selfies to your new friends!

LENOVO LAPTOP

The Yoga 900 13.3” touch screen laptop comes with 8GB memory, 356GB solid state drive and Inter Core i7 processor. The computer functions as a tablet, laptop or viewing screen and delivers up to 10 hours of battery life. Weighing only 2.84 lbs. and measuring 0.6” thin, the laptop is perfect to read, watch movies and draft emails during long flights.

HOMING PIN

Never lose a bag, phone, laptop or wallet with Homing Pin’s loops and stickers that have a unique number on them. The company can track all reported devices and recover them for you through the airlines. For a small charge, they will even deliver it to you anywhere in the world.

DART-C

DART-C is The World’s Smallest Laptop Charger® that is up to four times smaller and lighter than chargers found on the market today. DART-C supports the newest USB Type-C laptops including Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro, Lenovo ThinkPad 13, ASUS ZenBook 3 and Dell XPS 13.

G-RO

This smart carry on works as your virtual office, with portable power chargers, and a hard-shell laptop pocket. Though small enough to go under the seat of an airplane, it has enough room to store clothes, electronics, water bottle and essentials for a weekend. The all-terrain wheels also make the bag easier to balance over any kind of terrain.

AIR SCALE

This compact scale can weigh your bags, as well as serve as a battery bank. Its dual functionality makes it ideal for frequent travelers and eliminates the need to carry two gadgets.

SOUND GRENADE

This 1-oz ultra-compact siren may save your life while traveling. It emits a 120-decibel alarm that can be heard up to 300 feet away. The crime and animal repellent signal will sound for 30 minutes unless the pin is returned to the device. It is TSA friendly and safer than carrying sprays.

 

 

Best Travel Products of 2017 (Part 1)

For The Huffington Post. March 2017. 

Are you a frequent traveler, travel blogger or enjoy having the latest gadgets in travel? Then you need to take a look at this list and check out some of the most innovative products of the year.

SAMSONITE STRYDE

Shaped like a square, Stryde offers multiple pockets for organization and a longer handle allowing better maneuverability. It is easy to spot on the conveyer and comes in 3 sizes.

BEST TRAVEL JEANS IN THE WORLD

As the name suggests, this pair of jeans is designed for travel. It is made of stretchable and breathable cotton, has hidden pockets to hide change, and loops for headphones. Comes in 4 colors and available for him and her.

TECHAWAY ROLL

Organize charging cords with this lightweight and durable tri-fold bag. The zipped compartments and mesh windows makes chargers easy to reach when on the go.

MY AIR MASK

Carry a personal air mask that maintains humidity in the respiratory system and reduces exposure to airborne illnesses. The colorful patterns avoid making you look like a hospital patient and help with jet lag. Each pack includes 3 replaceable filters and a zip lock case.

ROTHY’S

The 3-D knitted super-cute shoes are made from 100% recycled plastic water bottles and come in a variety of designs. They are lightweight, seamless, comfortable and match with everything. Rothy’s are also completely machine washable.

JEMMA BAG

Crafted from light and durable materials, this stylish soft Italian nylon tote features a ventilated compartment for stowing shoes, and interior pockets for daily essentials including a laptop and water bottle. It also comes with an additional cosmetic case and laundry bag.

ABLY

With Ably’s odor-proof, stain-proof and environmentally friendly garments, you can wear the same shirt for 2 weeks and not know it. Pack less, feel fresh and look good!

AROMAFLAGE

Aromaflage is probably the only product that repels mosquitoes that cause Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever, and smells good too! Notes of silken vanilla, warm cedar wood, and exotic orange fragrant each bottle keeping you safe and fresh.

PERSONAL TRAVEL HUMIDIFIER

Frequent travelers can breathe easier and get a good night’s sleep by using this ultra-portable humidifier. It only uses a glass of water and power supply, and runs for 10 hours at a time. Breath better at the hotel, office, or use it on the go.

UN-SNEAKER

Bruce Katz, the original co-founder of Rockport shoes has created a pair that is nice enough to wear to a business meeting, to dinner at a fashionable restaurant. They are the most comfortable pair of shoes you will ever own.

MIA MELON JACKET

This trendy jacket is weatherproof, windproof and so lightweight, it takes up no room in a carry-on. With a sleek design, Everglades jacket goes from morning to night, and is ideal for traveling.

LINT FLIP

Smaller than the size of a smart phone, this compact lint roller fits into a purse and is perfect for on the go. It is as effective as a regular lint roller, with a bonus of a cover that keeps sticky sheets intact and separate.

KNOMO

With built in RFID blocking technology, this luxurious hand bag keeps your phone, credit cards and passport safe during travel. It can also fit a 14-inch laptop and be used as a cross body bag. What’s more the bag can be traced using the KNOMO ID portal.

ZIPTUCK™

Made of reusable FDA-Grade EVA material, air tight and dishwasher safe, these are the best storage bags available in the market. They are safe for packing snacks, medicine, cosmetics or anything else you need to stow during travel or at home, and great, sustainable alternative to a snap lock bag.

JOEY JACKET

The kangaroo themed jacket is an alternate to carrying a “man purse” because you can fit everything you need in different conceptualized compartments. The jacket is smart, yet functional, and you will never forget your keys again.

COLE HAAN

These innovative and stylish sunglasses are must have for travel. They are made with premium lightweight and flex-like materials with cushioned temple tips. A grooved design on the temple mimics the sole design of StudiØGrand footwear. UV protected and available in smoke and beige colors.

TOAD&CO

These lightweight and durable pull-on pants are not just great for hiking, they combine Insect Shield Technology and drawcord hems to keep bugs off you. There is also a built-in zipper pocket for storing essentials like money and phone. Perfect for a jungle safari and camping trips.

How To Eat Like a King at Thirty Thousand Feet

For The Huffington Post. February 2016.

On a Wednesday afternoon, Gotham Bar and Grill is bustling with executives, vacationers and retired folks. There is a wait to get a table for lunch at this 30-year old legendary Greenwich Village restaurant. I savor every bite as I dig into my rainbow beet salad with toasted hazelnuts and creamy goat cheese, a towering yellowfin tuna tartare, and a decadent Gotham chocolate cake. Everything on the menu is fresh, artful and delicious! With Chef, Alfred Portale steering the kitchen, the restaurant has gone on to win prestigious New York Times 5-star reviews, Michelin ratings, and James Beard Awards.

Now picture yourself eating the same way 30,000 feet in air.

Yes, it is possible! Singapore Airlines has created an International Culinary Panel to create globally inspired menus that are served on international flights. Panelists include a collection of the world’s top chefs and culinary experts, including Alfred Portale from New York (chef at Gotham Bar and Grill), Carlo Cracco from Milan (judge on MasterChef Italia), Georges Blanc from Vonna, France (recipient of Gault and Millau’s highest rating to date – Chef of the Year), Sanjeev Kapoor from Mumbai (host of the longest running cooking show in Asia), Yoshihiro Murata from Kyoto (owner of restaurants with 7 Michelin star), among others.

Now, you can eat some of the same dishes celebrity chefs offer at their restaurants at your seat. The food is cooked using the same ingredients and in the same way that the chefs prepare in their home countries. Portion sizes are small and presentation is spectacular. The dishes are also tested in simulated pressurized cabins to check how the flavors and aromas hold up at high altitudes.

Just the way you select your seats when booking your flights, you can select and pre-order meals created by the chefs of your choice through the airline’s Book the Cook program. In the mood for Kapoor’s Shahi Thali – a platter of Indian basmati rice, roti, chutneys and entrée of the day, or Murata’s Kyo-Kaiseki, a journey through a Japanese imperial court banquet of Heian, temple meals during Kamakura, the feasts of samurais during Muromachi, and the tea ceremonies of Higashiyama? All paired with fine sake, wines and champagnes served by trained air sommeliers. Who says airline food is boring?

Dietary restrictions are not a problem. You can pre-order Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Only Seafood or Kosher meal 24 hours before departure as well.

PHOTO FROM SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Such princely pleasures must come with a First-Class price tag, you would think. The new Premium Economy cabin is a hybrid between business and coach, offering affordable fares in lieu of wider seats, larger entertainment screens, noise-cancellation headphones, personal care kits, a free flow of Champagne and the ability to pre-order meals up to 24 hours before flight departure.

If you feel like splurging, book yourself a private Suite – an individual cabin with sliding door, window blinds, a real bed, chaise lounge, and finer dining options. Caviar, lobster thermidor and fresh tiramisu served on Wedgwood bone china brought to you in your own personal cabin – now that’s a traveling gourmand!

Check out pictures of airline food taken by everyday passengers and eat well on your next flight.

Here’s Why Your Next Cruise Should Be on an Expedition Ship

For The Huffington Post. February 2017. 

I call myself a restless traveler – one that always likes be on the move. I like to wander and get lost, not necessarily be bused around the main attractions. I prefer to taste the local cuisine, even if it means getting out of my dietary comfort zone. I like to observe local life from the streets, rather than spending hours at a museum. For me, travel is an exploration that takes you outside the classroom into the real world. It is a way to learn new things, meet new people, and broaden your horizons.

Expedition cruising is a travel trend that is gaining popularity, as it is becoming more accessible and affordable. While Galapagos Islands, Arctic and Antarctica lead as sought after destinations, places that are difficult to get to otherwise, such as Greenland, Pacific Islands and Eastern Europe are also attracting small cruise ships. Turns out there is an entire market segment that prefers discovering lesser known places in the comfort of small groups, while foregoing floating amusement parks that is largely associated with cruise travel.

Recently, I traveled to Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country that only recently opened its doors to tourism. During the 11-day Silversea Andaman Sea Expedition, 75 passengers and 100 crew members sailed through big cities and uninhabited islands in Thailand, India and Myanmar.

Inaccessible Destinations

The number one reason cruisers pick small ships is because they can get into places large ship are unable to. Expedition ships are generally able to navigate narrow passages, shallow rivers, and small ports, thereby offering guests a chance to experience best views, remote beaches, snorkeling and diving spots.

PHOTO BY SUCHETA RAWAL

During our expedition through the Andaman Sea, we were often transported by zodiacs to uninhabited islands where there was only us. North Cinque Island in India, once a rainforest that was recently destroyed by tsunami, offered birdwatching, walking and swimming opportunities.

It was surreal to sail the murky brown waters of the Irrawaddy river, passing by nomadic fishermen on traditional wooden boats and seeing dozens of golden domes emerge from the skyline of Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. Large ships would certainly not be allowed to dock right in the heart of the city, but our ship stayed in downtown for three days.

PHOTO BY SUCHETA RAWAL

Myanmar has 1,200 miles of coastline and an expansive coral reef in Mergui Archipelago, which is fun to discover. At Lampi Island’s marine national park, we saw some of the tallest and densest mangrove forests in the world, and then had a day-long picnic on picturesque Shark Island prepared by the staff. I truly felt like an explorer snorkeling in the shallow turquoise waters of the Andaman with nothing but a thick jungle canopy behind me!

Educational Tours

Our ship had a team of expedition leaders staying onboard throughout the sail who held lectures for guests to learn about the destinations we were about to visit. The leaders came from all over the world and brought with them knowledge of sea life, wildlife and nature. There were briefings on how fish camouflage, how insects and birds migrate, what causes earthquakes and volcanos, the current state of the Andaman tribes, geopolitics of the Ming dynasty, and much more. There would also be a recap of the destination visited with photos and perspectives observed by the tour leader earlier that day.

PHOTO BY SUCHETA RAWAL

Cultural Activities

The cruise ship paired by with local tour operators to not only tour main attractions, but create tailor-made experiences. In Port Blair, India, we visited the Zonal Anthological Museum which traced the life of the tribal people that inhabited a group of 36 islands for the past sixty-thousand years. Also, we had an exclusive guest lecture about the nomadic tribes and watched a live dance performance, followed by traditional Indian snacks and chai. We then traveled by ferry to deserted Ross Island, once known as Paris of the East, and watched a sound and light show that reflected on the island’s dark history.

In Myanmar, we toured giant Buddha statues, ancient temples and gold embellished pagodas with Burmese guides telling us about the impressive Buddhist history and Mon architecture, while explaining the subtleties of religious etiquettes. Our group was taken for a special evening to the majestic Karaweik Palace shaped in a royal barge, for a memorable evening where we tasted hundreds of local dishes and watched Burmese music and dance performances.

PHOTO BY SUCHETA RAWAL

There were also tours of local markets, trishaw rides and walks along villages and visits to an orphanage and monastery. It was nice to see the everyday local life of how Burmese people lived in houses on stilts, traveled to work by crowded ferry, shopped at open air vegetable markets, and snacked on boiled quail eggs, sliced pineapple, and dried fish heads.

PHOTO BY SUCHETA RAWAL

Luxury Without the Frills 

Like most expedition ships, Silver Discoverer is a rather small and old Italian yacht-style ship, yet comfortable for those wanting to combine adventure with luxury. The staterooms were spaciously equipped with a queen bed, sofa, mini bar and dressing area. Each one had its own private butler who promptly attends to every need of the guests. Butlers brought drinks and snacks, laundered clothes, special ordered meals, and maintained the rooms.

Most nights, a solo pianist entertained us. Other than that, there were enough movies and books to keep busy. Note, don’t expect large theaters with Broadway style productions on expedition ships.

All Inclusivity

Some cruise lines offer very low fares to attract customers but then tag on additional charges for practically everything, making the trip cost thousands of dollars. All meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, gratuities, snacks, room service, as well as laundry and Wi-Fi in select room categories were included on Silversea. Shore exertions were complimentary and often, choices offered.

PHOTO BY SUCHETA RAWAL

Silversea also offers customized programs with multilingual guides, small group tours, private car services, and volunteering opportunities. The family-run Italy based company has a fleet of 9 small luxury ships traveling to some of the most remote regions of the world.

Kids Books And Conversation Starters That Will Teach Them to Be Good, Respect the Environment, and Embrace Diversity

For The Huffington Post. February 2017. 

Reading along with kids can be a lot of fun. It gives you a chance to bond with your kids, just one-on-one, without interruptions from the outside world. I wrote Beato Goes To series of children’s picture books keeping in mind that parents need conversation starters to help them share stories about their own childhood, their beliefs and interests. My goal was also to discuss important life lessons, such as eating healthy, respecting adults, being truthful, taking care of the environment, and accepting differences among cultures. And what better way to explore the world than through a traveling cat!

With these helpful tips, you can make your story time sessions educational and enjoyable for the both of you. I can guarantee your kids will be asking for Beato Goes To at every bedtime!

Encourage Dialogue Between Parents and Child 

Tell them stories from your own experiences. If you are reading Beato Goes To Greenland then tell your young ones about the time when and where you first saw the northern lights and how did you feel when you first saw this magical phenomenon. When reading Beato Goes To Israel, some questions to answer are – What are some of your favorite fruits? Do you have any childhood memories eating them? And discussion ideas for Beato Goes To Indonesia could be about the time you went scuba diving, flew a kite, or hiked a volcano? Tell your little one all about it!

Study New Words

Your kids will find a lot of new words in Beato Goes To books. This is a great opportunity for them to expand their vocabulary, sentence construction and writing skills. Ask them to make a note of the words they don’t understand and look them up in a dictionary/ thesaurus. There are also some foreign words in the books that help kids with exposing their tongues to new languages. It is really fun to say Kangerlussuaq (“Big Fjord” in Kalaallisut language) really fast!

Expand Interest to Other Topics

All of Beato Goes To books showcase many aspects of life, including geography, nature, animals, people, culture, religion, music, dance, food, environment, birds and more. You may notice your kid gravitating towards one topic more than another. This is a good opportunity to expose them to a wide variety of things, and encourage new learning. For example, if your kid shows more interest in whales and underwater creatures, take them to the aquarium or get them a book on marine life, and discuss what Beato saw in the book.

BEATO GOES TO INDONESIA

Engage With the Greater Community 

Chances are, you have people from different nationalities in your neighborhood, school, place of worship, etc. By learning about where those people originate from, your kids would have deeper knowledge of their cultural beliefs and open to participating in unfamiliar events. For example, many Jewish Community Centers hold book festivals, movie screenings and kids events.

Make Your Family Travel Bucket List 

Perhaps one of Beato Goes To books will inspire your kids, and you, to travel more. You are probably thinking, international travel can be very expensive and we cannot afford to go on vacation more than once a year, or every two years. Then you can work together as a family to save for your vacation, research everything about the destination, and live the experience leading up to the day. For example, you can make monthly goals to – earn extra cash by babysitting or cutting grass, go try an Indonesian restaurant, take a free yoga class, watch an Indonesian (English subtitled) movie, collect coins or currency, learn a few words in Bhasa (the national language), make your on Batik painting, or do puzzles to learn about the scenery, make your own chocolates, then make a craft book about everything you did. This way, you will already be prepared and super excited when it comes time to travel to Indonesia!

Make Time For Self Learning

The augmented reality app (coming March 2017 to iTunes and Google Play) designed to work with Beato Goes To books is a great learning tool that combines reading and modern technology. Using a smart phone or iPad, kids will be able to make the books come alive, with motion, light and audio. There will be interactive pages to keep kids’ attention on the book with built in activities, such as counting, color matching, and more.

WWW.BEATOGOESTO.COM

Do you have other ideas on how to enrich the reading experience for parents and kids that you would like to share with other parents? Leave a comment below…

Published on The Huffington Post. February 2017.