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Shakira, a Smart Sensuality Activist, Takes Me Back to Colombia, Where My Life Journey Really Began 

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute hangs out with Smart Sensuality women who care deeply about global issues. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.

I can imagine many women being insulted and taking issue with Jeffrey Sachs’s introduction to Shakira last fall, as she prepared to address five presidents of Latin America.

Quoting Wyclef Jean’s line from “Hips Don’t Lie”, Sachs said about Shakira: “She makes a man want to speak Spanish”.

Un lugar paradisiaco: Santa Marta Colombia

via Flickr’s CayisnShakira’s Colombia was my own introduction to the rest of the world, my stepping into a place of incredible beauty and the shattered dreams of poverty and political violence. Colombia seduced me completely: mind, body and soul.

Last week’s New York Times magazine captures the essence of Shakira’s social activist agenda in an in-depth feature Shakira Makes Education Her Mission.

Reading the article caused me to reflect on my first trip out of the US, a journey that took me to Colombia and my introduction to a 1970s police state where rifle-carrying soldiers boarded my bus every five miles or so, as we rolled in and out of three towns and cities: Santa Marta, Barranquilla and Cartagena.

I experienced Shakira’s sensuality in Colombia, at a time when my own inner self was unfolding more freely in those turbulent Seventies. My sensual life had already changed in New York, where Jewish refugee women and Caribbean stock clerks couldn’t keep their hands off me in my job at Saks Fifth Avenue.

In Minnesota, the most wonderful, neighborly people still didn’t touch each other warmly. But in New York, people didn’t ask me if they could touch me.

Forget men. The simplest conversation with my staff at Saks Fifth Avenue involved physical contact, including my face. Trying to be stern at times, they would just pinch my cheeks or blow me a kiss.

I tell you privately, that I thrived with all those hugs, once I stopped recoiling from touch. Before then, I feared a hand in motion.

Shakira - Hips Don’t Lie Live

Shakira wasn’t upset or insulted with Jeffrey Sach’s introduction at Columbia University, referencing her female physicality in a directly personal way. There are many versions of feminists in the world, and references to our sensuality don’t universally offend us.

As a Smart Sensuality woman, Shakira’s brain and sensual self are fused into a forceful, external personality and confident intellect committed to solving the challenges of global poverty and underdevelopment. She is most visible as an activist in a loosely woven confederation of artists and activists called Latin America in Solidarity Action (the Spanish acronym is ALAS, or “wings”).

In an essay written when Shakira Mebarak Ripoll was 22, author Gabriel García Márquez, now her good friend and collaborator in ALAS, says that the Barranquilla-born, global pop star’s persona is built on a “will of granite’ but also an “innocent sensuality that she seems to have invented herself.”

Personally, I adore Márquez. Have you read “Love in the Time of Cholera”?

Shakira Meets With Latin American Presidents

I remember being astonished at the incredible differences between the Haves and the Have Nots, when I arrived in Colombia.  (Read my Slow Boat to Economic Heaven: Grim Reality Polaroid Days) I was also deeply affected by the spirit and generosity of ordinary people, who didn’t speak my language. Correct that — I didn’t speak their language.

Delayed by extreme thunderstorms in Miami and an emergency landing with two engines on fire in Jamaica (I do not lead a dull existence), I cleared customs in Barranquilla at 1am, after soldiers gathered to review my suitcase of books on political revolution in Colombia (what was I thinking!).

Here I was in Shakira’s Colombia, alone and speaking not a word of Spanish, looking into the crystal-clear 3am night sky, barging up the Magdalena River to Santa Marta.

via Flickr’s virginiazIt never occurred to me to be afraid or that something bad would happen to me, in the midst of these peasants and working class people. They quickly adopted me, taking very good care of me, pulling me here and pushing me there — our physicality driving communications where a common language failed.

Shakira’s Colombia was a goodwill ambassador to me, as the sexy, pop powerhouse is a sensual Latin American emissary to the rest of the world.

Shakira was the youngest celebrity ever appointed as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Her focus on the problems of childhood poverty has led her to build schools of her own in Colombia (read Shakira Makes Education Her Mission.

At the same time, Shakira is a Smart Sensuality globalist, a woman wanting to replicate her success in creating schools in her own country onto a global platform.

Inspired by her work with ALAS, Shakira shares the sensibility that propels her forward in her mind-dizzying lifestyle of global music sensation and activist.

“I belong to a generation that is learning new ways to get involved in these issues. We are not a passive generation, we’re very proactive,” Shakira said.

“We want to see all those brutal contrasts in our world disappear, we want to see poverty eliminated because we believe it is possible.”

Shakira appeals for Bangladesh

We are fascinated with Shakira because she’s a Smart Sensuality woman integrating her physical sexuality and sensuality with her brainpower. I feature her as a brilliant example of another woman who understands that operating on all six cyclinders requires her to integrate fully her sensuality into her power.

Without her sensuality, Shakira is ineffective, or at least less so.

Modern women — especially Modern American women think that they must bury the sensual side of themselves, in order to be taken seriously. Shakira knows better, and so do I, now that I have come to grips with this female duality that haunts some women and not others.

America’s Calvinist culture has not been kind to us American women in this regard.

Like Shakira, Jolie, Madonna, Bruni and Michelle (Obama) — we must seize the totality of our influential power, and that includes our soft, sexy, emotional side.

Singing the broken-hearted, disappointed-in-love lyrics that have dominated women’s psyches for centuries, does not diminish Shakira’s activist agenda and influence.

Shakira - Illegal (featuring Carlos Santana)

Redefining and reinvigorating activism on female terms is not easy.

Like Angelina Jolie or Madonna, Shakira has many critics, often other women. I am always amazed how the challenges of activism lie not only between women like Shakira and the dominant power structures we hope to influence.

Activists invest massive amounts of time and energy criticizing and trying to impede each other’s work and agendas. Passion is not always pragmatic. An empty glass is preferable to one half full.

Shakira’s association with Jeffrey Sachs, like Jolie’s, is controversial.

At the end of the day, the challenges of global poverty are not academic, analytical propositions. They are about people, the children and grandchildren of those same impoverished people, who carried me upstream safely on Colombia’s Magdelena River in the middle of the night.

The problems facing these countries are endless and relentless, and I saw them first-hand.

When the barge finally docked in Santa Marta, Colombia, the hotel van was waiting for me — just Anne, the solitary traveler fleeing from New York and her philandering, control-freak inquisitor of a husband.

I was exhausted but also intoxicated with the sensations and experiences of my day. Bumping along on the dirt road towards Santa Marta, I saw myself as both journeywoman and interloper in Colombia. Yes, I sought refuge in the simplicity of the existence, making me a dilettante in the eyes of some.

via Flickr’s astryculaMost certainly I romanced the South American hardship as ‘simple virtue’, knowing that I would return to New York in a week. My bag of political revolution books would be put to good use, writing a paper for school. I requested a typewriter in my room overlooking the sea in Cartagena, never dreaming that I would meet up with a 1950s, non-electrical mini-monster.

When I arrived at the small hotel in Santa Marta, a woman was there to greet me, opening the van door with one hand, while holding a candle in the other.

My only thought was bed — not even a shower first. I wanted to sleep for a very long time. My host began apologizing before I got my foot on the ground.

After seismic thunderstorms and two engines on fire, I was immune to another adventure. What possibly could be wrong now.


via Flickr’s Pacho Contreras“Men will be men,” she explained in English. One had gotten drunk and backed his truck into the power supply. There was no electricity in the hotel but the repair service would come in the morning. I didn’t care.

My Santa Marta hotel was small and plain; Santa Marta was virgin territory in those years. My room was on the second floor, an easy climb by candlelight. Opening the door, I saw a simple bed, definitely not one not dressed in 400-count sheets.

“Will you be okay?” my concerned new friend asked me.

“Absolutely,” I answered and meant it. “This place is very beautiful, just what I need. Don’t worry about the electricity. I am fine.”

Gesturing to the large pitcher of water, she continued: “I put mostly ice in the pitcher, trying to keep the water cold. But you are so late, it’s probably warm now.”

I wanted to assure her that I was not some American fairy princess. For me, this bed was temporary and probably very good for my back.

My body language told her to go, so that I could lie down on this hard, simple bed in Shakira’s police state country, where countless people have died in the civil revolution that never ends. I was so optimist then, believing that we would change the world, and I would lead it in my off hours from a budding corporate career.

Consider the stupidity of entering Colombia with a bag of books on political revolution and you get some insights into my innocent mindset. It was not a country destined for great change, except to feed the American cocaine habit with ever larger supplies of white powder.

As Shakira reminds us decades later: “In the developing world, people who are born poor will die poor.”

Santa Marta, Colombia. Bahia. Tarde

via Flickr’s Dairo CorreaI hate it when daybreak comes, and I’m not yet asleep. My willful personality is useless against the morning sun rising. Presumably, I build some bunker over my head — I’m very inventive in making temporary cocoons to ward off daylight, until I’m ready to face reality once more.

As I recall waking up in Colombia, I slept the second-latest morning of my life in Santa Marta. The prize goes to Venice, where I awoke at noon and honestly was concerned that I was seriously dead, or at least in another world.

Reflecting now, Colombia was one more stop on my own journey to becoming a Smart Sensuality woman, the slowly-percolating, simmering stew that has been my life. Thankfully, we have women like Shakira, who have moved much more swiftly than I have, seizing an opportunity to challenge and change the reality of daily existence in Latin America and the rest of the world.

días de enero

via Flickr’s virginiazIt’s my commitment that Shakira will not carry on alone, but with the company of women like myself and hopefully you, too — the Cultural Creative late bloomers or Modern reclaimers of an earlier Cultural Creative time in our lives.

I have my own vision of this blossoming Smart Sensuality movement. When Carla Bruni criticizes the pope bluntly about no condoms in Africa and his concern or lack of it for human life, times are percolating again. It’s been a long drought here in Obama country.

For certain, men led activism the last time around. I’m hoping, praying that women will participate this time, with our specialty in cleaning up messes. Smart Sensuality Shakira is doing a stupendous job of recruiting “the good guys” to her cause. We all have something to learn from her.

Shakira & Her Good Guys: Carlos Slim Helú and Howard Buffet

Carlos Slim Helú, Shakira and Howard Buffett promoting ALASYou all know that I’m man’s best friend, next to his dog, but I think that women can and must come to the activist table in 2009. And its my belief that we MUST bring our sensuality, as well as our brains, with us this time.

The growth of “civilization” is about far more than rational intellect and capitalism. Love, Anne

NOTE: We have an outstanding response to my followup article to this one, generated by the tremendous support of Shakira fans. Read: Shakira & Howard Buffett: Attached at the Hip Philanthropy Bedfellows

Reader Comments (4)

I loved too much reading this, thanks a lot!

Shakira the best!

Love her music, love Her!

June 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPablo

"We are fascinated with Shakira because she’s a Smart Sensuality woman integrating her physical sexuality and sensuality with her brainpower. I feature her as a brilliant example of another woman who understands that operating on all six cyclinders requires her to integrate fully her sensuality into her power.

Without her sensuality, Shakira is ineffective, or at least less so."

She didnt use her sexuality in music until she crossed over. She was already the biggest star in Latin America as an alternative/rock singer-songwriter before the crossover and well respected. The sexy songs she did in 2006/2007 were through pressure from the record company.

June 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentervilla

'The sexy songs she did in 2006/2007 were through pressure from the record company.'
Nothing could be further from the truth! Shaki controls all her productions and all the songs are her choices. And the sexy songs.. (Which?? probably only Beautyful liar but that song is not a shakira song), or more precisely the 'light' song are simply easy song (like obladioblada or yellow submarine by the Beatles) but also a good reference to the SIX MEMOS FOR THE NEXT MILLENIUM
i.e the legendary lessons written by Italo Calvino.

June 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOjala

Mebarak is doing exactly what I schooled her to be like--she didn't give up on her dream--now she is floating along like the wind. She is searching for her true identity in this life, that is the road I set her on, and for the most of it, she has done well even when I'm not around to help her. I have been taking care of myself and various medical issues--no one really knows her true identity--I cherish the memories she left me before I left on my seperate road in life. We have started communicating once more and hope to collaborate on several issues of importance to us.
We are the future of civilized society--ancient principles being converged and adopted into a prehistoric timeline--tell her that education is the key and she should keep on working with her children. Philantropist for her cause--someday I may tell her the truth about her world--my memories of the places that I've been are out of this world. This society is constantly being watched by those that really care about evolution and global overcrouding. There existist a master plan for the global economy, the global eductional peramiters, and the vast strain of reproduction on the planets ecological mechnisms (we can only sustain 20 billion people on this dying planet at maximum level--we are at 7 billion right now). My organization is constantly dealing with the facts and issues coming forth everyday but there is a master plan.
Isabella is part of that master plan and will be helped to prosper because of a favor of a favor to a friend. She is special to everyone including me. I wish I could grace her company once more--you see, I have much to teach her--she can be so muck more if she only knew the true identity of the universe. I can only tell her what she needs to hear because the complete issues would confuse her and may change her feelings about those people around her.
I'm her true friend and soul mate. We had great times together before she had her relationship with her current boyfriend, well, if you would call what she has a relationship. Loneliness is hard to deal with especially when you have everything and can do anything. You can't cure matters of the heart (that's the truth huh, Isabella).

Love always,


July 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercisco

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