Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Callie Silver and Stephanie Block

When actress and activist Angie Ruiz is not rubbing elbows with the likes of Richard Gere, she opts to explore the Egyptian pyramids and to volunteer in East Africa. An officer, a gentleman, and King Tut? Why not!

Angie makes it a point to imprint the world with her footsteps far beyond Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Nicknamed “Wandering Star” by her parents at a tender age, this rising star and California native has
a passport as impressive as her filmography. Look for her in far-flung airports as well as in upcoming films Bee Season and Surf School.

What struck Tango Diva about Angie as she chatted with us unhurriedly on the phone from her West Hollywood home was her Visionary impulse in her not to yell “Cut!” the minute she finished her volunteer work in the village of Tengeru in Tanzania and call it a wrap. Her time on the battlefront of Africa’s AIDS epidemic on a Cross-Cultural Solutions (CSS) program inspired her to learn a new role: that of founder of two organizations created to further help the friendly and welcoming rural Tanzanian people, four out of every ten of whom will likely die from AIDS.

It was pivotal and perhaps premonitory that CCS placed her with the NGO called
WAMATA, which are all acronym-speak for the dedicated foot soldiers intent on saving
the people of Africa from AIDS as much as from apathy. As a volunteer with WAMATA—the Tengeru
ground team organizing home visits, food delivery, AIDS education, and literacy
programs in this village—Angie sat with sick children and helped other volunteers
with the English words so prevalent on AIDS awareness and prevention pamphlets. She
attended meetings with other area NGO’s to learn about Africa’s AIDS epidemic in
Technicolor—with the sights, sounds, and realities that don’t make it to a theater
near you.

What might be even worse than the physical symptoms of this killer disease is the ostracism that the infected villagers suffer. Angie learned that due to a total lack of education about the disease, the locals shun the sick. Which is why it is imperative for volunteers like Angie to bridge the gap and tend to the young and old who are permanently quarantined in the back rooms of shacks. No one else will.

In other words, yes, there are to-die-for photographs of lovely Angie in designer gowns on the red carpet—but how many of Hollywood’s young stars find that red bland in comparison to the vivid reds of Masai robes?

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Act 2, Scene 2. Angie Answers Diva Visionary Questions!

What was the best decision you made in your life?

To experience things for myself. In my early twenties, for example, I
backpacked alone throughout Southeast Asia: Thailand, Taiwan, the
Philippines…. Boracay Island was what Bali must have been forty years
ago, with no paved roads. It was vacant and wonderful. I also ignored
the message of fear that our American media spreads by venturing to Jordan
and Egypt. One day, my blue jeans–clad self was surrounded by a crowd of
Egyptian teenagers ten people thick telling me that they loved America.
It was the opposite of what I expected to hear.

What is your most memorable travel moment?

A group of friends and I once road-tripped from San Francisco to Whistler, Canada,
driving along the coast of Washington. Although it was raining and we had to trade
drivers frequently, I still think of that trip with fondness.

What was the worst travel experience you had?

Ignorance bothers me. Once, in Costa Rica, a Texan tourist was berating a Costa Rican
for not understanding that he wanted a Coca-Cola from a can, not a bottle. In my
view, the visitor should make the effort to communicate in whatever the local
dialect is. To this day, recalling that episode makes my blood boil.

What have you learned about yourself through traveling?

I feel liberated when all my possessions fit into one backpack. Upon
returning to Los Angeles last year around Christmastime, I suffered from
reverse culture shock. It was quite a letdown. In Africa, people greet
each other warmly. The women hold each other’s hands and make physical
contact. In Los Angeles, it takes a calamity to motivate people to feel.

If you could choose your ultimate travel companion, living or dead,
real or imaginary, who would it be?

My soul mate Mark is a wonderful, open person who sees the world without
judging, lives in the moment, and makes new experiences fun.

What moment in your life did you feel the most alive?

On a boat in the crystal clear waters of Boracay in the Philippines. It began to
rain and I felt like I was in the presence of God.

If money and time were no object, where on earth would you go?

I would do a month long trek through Nepal; I still may do this. This December I plan to return to Tengero, a destitute
village without running water and electricity in Tanzania, to continue raising
awareness through my grassroots organizations. I began this work to ensure that the
community could benefit from educational efforts all year round. Last year, as a volunteer with WAMATA, I witnessed the shocking misconceptions that many people had regarding how HIV is contracted. While in Tanzania, I
teamed up with an environmental anthropologist and a school headmistress to launch
two non-profit organizations, WAMATA Education and Kitumusote (which means, “we have
discovered” in Swahili). Since our target audience is illiterate, the educational skits we perform all start with the drum.

Who is your hero?

It changes every day! Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my cool aunt who
traveled often. She influenced my current lifestyle. I also have so much admiration
for all of the volunteers doing Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief work. Right now,
my heroes are all the amazing people volunteering for the Red Cross and Humane
Society.

Name a place in the world that you know a lot about and would make a
great resource for our Divas. Tell us about it.

My advice for those women travelers going to Kenya and/or Tanzania would
be to attempt to gain a sense of what life is really like for people in
that environment, not to take the fancy, guided tour. Of course I have
also traveled that way, but I strongly endorse proceeding simply. Do take
the dala dala (equivalent to an old minivan), for example. You’ll be
packed in with lots of other people, but you’ll be comfortable.

And finally a word from our Featured Diva, you in your own words- give
us a stirring, Diva-worthy battle cry for women everywhere to hear!

Don’t mind your makeup; make your mind up!

* * * *

Note to Divas: We’ll be promoting the website Angie is creating for her
organizations in East Africa as soon as it’s up and running—tune in soon! In the
meantime, keep checking www.angie-ruiz.com for updates and more information about Angie’s travels, her philanthropic endeavors, and her movie Surf School which will be released in the summer of 2006.

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