From Cuba to
Decatur, Georgia
“I was lucky to be born Tersi Bendiburg’s sister.  As a child I thought of her as my own Scheherezade.”
Carmen Agra Deedy,
Storyteller and Author
“When you described things about the characters and where they lived, I imagined that I was part of the story.”
Middle School Student
“Stories nourished my fragile roots, allowing them to grow deep and strong in the red Georgia clay.”
Tersi Bendiburg
“The ability to make words come alive is a special gift.  Tersi has that gift.  Her stories speak to everyone and each person takes away something that delights them.”
Jo Zarzeka,
Media Specialist
Tersi’s first
captive audience
Telling With My Heart & Soul
          On Tersi Agra Bendiburg’s seventh birthday in Havana, Cuba, she received quite a present, a baby sister whose name was Carmen.  Tersi remembers looking for the stork, but she could not see him from her godparents’ house.
          In preschool, Tersi was punished by being forced to kneel on beans in the corner, where she would make faces at the teacher when she turned away.  Tersi insists she really was a good little girl, but she just liked to talk.  That is why she tells stories now.
          Tersi went to a little school near her house where everyone wore uniforms.  This was the setting for her story “O Susanna.”  At that school, the girls knew about the rumors, but “the boys didn’t because, they never knew anything.”
          Tersi had vivid memories from her childhood in post-revolution Cuba.  She remembers soldiers walking through her house, taking inventory of everything her family owned.  A year later, when they were to leave the country with nothing --not even her parents' wedding rings, the soldiers returned to re-inventory all the contents of the house.  She also remembers her father hiding a young man in their home  (who had been shot by soldiers) until he could be passed along safely.  
          At age, ten, Tersi’s family moved to Mexico City where they stayed with a distant relative while her parents applied for political asylum in the United States.  That Christmas was the first time Carmen, age 3, had ever seen Christmas lights because religious celebrations had been halted after the revolution in Cuba.
          It was a wonderland.  On the Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, Tersi wrote to the kings to let them know Tersi and her family were no longer in Cuba, but were, instead, in Mexico City so they would know where to bring presents.  Her parents were so worried that Tersi had written a letter and they had no money to buy her a present.  It was then that she spoke with a relative from Decatur, Georgia who told Tersi that the kings had left presents for her and Carmen in Decatur, and that in the future she should direct her letters to Santa Claus because the kings said the coffee in America was too weak for men from the east and the icy streets were too much of a challenge for the camels.  Sure enough, when they arrived in Decatur, both girls had presents waiting for them.
          In Decatur, the Agra family was sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Decatur.  They never needed welfare since they had a little furnished apartment and Mr. Agra began work almost immediately.  Tersi attended Oakhurst Elementary where she had the famous spinach incident, and many other adventures.
          That first Halloween in the United States Tersi ran home with a pillowcase full of candy.  She dumped it out and said, “You just say trick-or-treat and they give you candy!”  
          “What a country!”  Her father exclaimed.
Tersi loved her new country, and discovered the excitement of the change of seasons.  Her first fall leaves still exist, pressed between wax papers and stored in a little box.  She loved going to church and learning the English words to melodies she had sung for years.
          Although there was the stress of starting over, and although she loves her Cuban culture, she grew to love her adopted country.  She says she may be at the very edge of a quilt, and many others have been there before, but she is a part of a quilt with a lovely sense of ordered pattern.  Yes, there are some who are corrupt, even in government, but sees this place as a miracle that people from so many places have come together and made this American experiment that works.  You can come with nothing, work hard, and have a pretty good life: not just accumulate material things, but also have the freedom to be an atheist or to worship God.  Relative peace and order exist here, and Tersi insists that free air smells different.
          Years later, Tersi’s sister, Carmen, now a professional author and storyteller, encouraged Tersi to do the same.  Tersi had told Carmen stories all through her childhood, sometimes using homemade puppets.  Carmen kept pushing, and finally Tersi attended a workshop.  
          At first, Tersi told stories free in public libraries.  If they liked the program, all she asked was a letter of recommendation.  From this came offers to tell in schools and she began to freelance.  A woman from Southern Polytechnic University hired her to do a program for college students, and her opportunities grew by word-of-mouth.  One day five people from Young Audiences surprised her by showing up at one of her school programs and offered to place her on their roster.  Since that time, in the mid ‘90’s, Tersi has performed with Young Audiences in schools all over Georgia, and as a freelance artist throughout the United States.
Mami and Papi with Tersi
Edison School - O Susana
Tersi with little sister, Carmen