Let’s talk money!

linhas de mocambiqueI am known for being a jet setter for reasons that are only partially attributable to me. Frankly, all of my recent voyages (for the last 5 years) can be 90% attributable to my profession. When at 19, I signed up for a career I didn’t really understand, I certainly didn’t realize the impact my career choice would have on many aspects of my life. My last thought was how it would affect my finances. I mean, I was excited about stable income, since I was a hustling nanny trying to live in New York City. So, now, it’s almost a decade later, and reality is settling in. What the Facebook pictures don’t say is that I am a glorified postal worker. I get to scan the world while doing, largely, menial tasks. But, when I walk out of my office to find myself looking at the sunset on the Indian Ocean, I’m reminded that this is what my 19 year-old self signed up for. The travel adventure!

But this isn’t about silver linings. And I can’t eat adventure. Let’s talk money.

People really don’t realize how financially stressful it is to live a constantly oscillating life abroad. Let me explain: When you have no idea where you’re going to live 2 years from now, it certainly makes keeping a budget difficult. I can’t talk to financial planners, because they want me to budget my groceries and stick to that level forever. They treat travel as a luxury, instead of a source of income. They want me to keep a log of my spending habits, but I struggle to keep track of the currencies and exchange rates. How much is South African Rand in dollars today? And the Indian rupee last year this time? They don’t understand what it means to have to travel to another country to get cheaper groceries – do I add in the cost of 2 tanks of gas and tolls to my grocery bills? My situation is abnormal, but not unusual. Just ask my military friends – they get it! Anyway, my world is one of feast and famine.

I am recognizing the patterns of my travel transitions. I arrive in a new country. I spend 6 months going places, buying things, traveling with new friends, and paying for it all on my credit card. Mind you, I have no clue what this funny money is really worth and I’m working like a dog during the week. I tell myself I have to enjoy this. I, You, WE only live once! Who knows when I’ll be back here again? And, did I mention, I’m working like a dog during the week? Let’s call this a 6-month feast of fantasy. At some point, I wake up and realize that I’m over my head in credit card debt and that something has to give. Usually, I find some finance clean up book (think Suze Orman, The Budgetnista, Personal Finance for Dummies, I could go on…), steal some tips, get a plan together, work all 7 cylinders for about 1 year to get my act and my credit together. Great, so now there’s 6 months left in this country of my career’s choosing and I want to take full advantage. So, I hit the bucketlist – hard! I depart for the continental United States with what seems like a reasonable amount of debt for a woman of my age and station in life.

But now I’m back in America, where my job forces me to NOT work for a month. LOVELY! Finally, one Congressional mandate I believe in. I’m not used to living on my mom’s couch for 30 days straight, so I travel for about half of it. (Add up the cost of these plane tickets and “I’m back in Amurikah” spending sprees). I end up back in Washington for light work before I leave for the next destination. In Washington, I’m paying for expenses I’ve forgotten exist. Yoga classes? Gym membership? Cellphone bill? I’m not even sure how to use these services, but its nice to have the option again, so why not? Can you hear the happiness of my credit card companies growing? Oh! I forgot to mention that I took a pay cut for coming back to the U.S. of A., even for this brief respite. So, I’m spending like a princess, but my salary is that of an entry-level trainee at McDonald’s. This goes on for about 6 months or so. I tell myself that when I go to my next country, I’ll be able to catch up.

I get to the next new & exciting place. Trailing behind me are all the debts I’ve wracked up from leaving the last amazing city and floating my broke, overspending ass in DC for 6 months, and I still want to spend the next 6 months going places, buying things, traveling with new friends, and paying for it all on my credit card. You see this vicious cycle growing out of control? Well, I sure as hell do! And I’ve decided to stop this shit. Really!

How exactly? Basically, by going into my 7-cylinder year clean up sooner in the cycle. Why wait a whole 6 months before I realize that CapitalOne is milking me like a cow? And, by realizing that spending money is something I do, but I have to do more purposefully and carefully.

One thing that always worked for me when I was in college is the reminder that money is just a form of currency. It’s meant to move. It doesn’t grow unless it’s given and received. Life isn’t about hoarding – cash, experiences, or possessions. So, every time I needed my income to grow, I did something counterintuitive. I took it upon myself to give. I gave to charity, to the guy on the street I normally walked right past, to the kids raising money for their basketball team. Sometimes it was just a dollar. Other times more. But, it reminded me that not having money was never my problem. Having it and spending purposefully, instead, has been a life long struggle.

On this, my latest trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I decided not to wait for a whole 6 months or even a New Year to resolve to make a change. It’s time for me to go back to giving, rather than spending. And when it’s not purposeful or meaningful, it’s time for me to go on a fiscal fast. Oddly enough, most people don’t know what my fasts look like. And that’s part of why I’m sharing this lesser known part of my journey.

I don’t take travel out of my budget, because for me it’s not a luxury, it’s a fact of life. But, that’s my reality. In times like these, I’ve turned off my cable all together. I only put $20 of gas in my car and made myself make it work each week – to/from work only. I bought only fresh vegetables from the local market, rather than going to the overpriced supermarket with lots of variety, but imported packaged prices. And as I say it now, I know some people are saying, “what kind of fast is that?” The point here is that my fast is my fast. I have to do what works for me, not the cookie cutter budget from a book for people who lead a more predictable life than mine. Being a nomad is how I make my daily bread, but it’s up to me to decide how I slice it and if I can afford to butter it.

“So what’s the point of this long rant?” you may ask. Well, it’s 2 fold:

1 – I’ve found myself in many conversations lately where money was a topic. Particularly in Mozambique, people count your money for you. They ask what brand you’re wearing. They would rather travel to South Africa for an afternoon to shop for food than to spend the night on the same trip and see a nature park. It’s all about letting people see what you have, not about enjoying 1) what you have, 2) who you are, or 3) what your money can afford you. In this space (and even my hometown in New Joizey) being humble doesn’t translate. And no matter how honest I am, people always I assume I have money – lots of it. Let’s be honest. Since I’ve become a career woman, I’ve become part of the working middle class, who – once you actually count their incoming/outgoing cash flow – is actually cash poor. BUT my profession provides the basics in fabulous fashion. Read: Don’t be fooled. If you walk into my house, none of this shit is mine!

A lot of people’s self worth is tied to how much money they have and how much money others think they have. We are all victims and perpetrators. But, this is my latest attempt to shake myself free. This is my attempt to remove the veil that social media and distant allure perpetuate. Remember? My McDonald’s sized paychecks are provided by the employer that let’s me be a glorified postal worker in cities you’ve never heard of. It’s as simple as that.

Financial freedom is an individual road that we can all travel. Mine has taken me to two countries on the edge of the Indian Ocean, but yours may take you just down the street. Both are valid. Either way, walk your own path and be honest in that truth. Cash rich, debt free, and all the ebbs and flows between.

2—I haven’t been giving like I should. I haven’t been giving, in any real sense of the word. I’ve been spending. And it’s time to make a change. I thought about doing this in 2014, but somehow my own wants got in the way. But 2015 is a different time and yet another opportunity to be better than I’ve ever been. Each month I will give $25 to a different charity in honor of or in support of people/causes that have touched me. Let’s be clear, I’m declaring this publicly not show off (or even inspire, frankly), but to hold myself accountable to a group of peers and family members whose opinion of me I value. Sometimes declarations said in silence are all too easily forgotten. A la 2014. So listed below are the 12 charities that will receive a donation from me next year.

1- Whitman-Walker Clinic, DC

2- Community Foodbank of New Jersey

3-Livro Aberto, Children’s Literacy in Mozambique

4-Newark Arts Council

5-The City School, Boston

6-The Susan G. Komen Foundation

7-Deepalaya Foundation

8-The Newark Museum

9-Harlem Children’s Zone

10-Children’s Aid Society

11-American Civil Liberties Union

12-Common Good City Farm

In 2015, I’ll be sure to send you a monthly update reminding you of the month’s chosen charity AND the connection I have with its cause.

Here’s to keeping me honest (Maybe that’s something else I can attribute to my profession) and showing the reality behind the passport stamps. May my journey be one you grow context from and one you see as a source of ideas. And may my every day as a public servant jet-setter continue to be as fun and exciting as the 19-year-old in me had hoped it would be.

Here’s to toasting up Martinelli’s instead of Moet… for at least another year.

They ask me how I know…

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.30.57 PMComing from a woman who is two weeks away from being married, it may come as a surprise that I’m thinking a lot about my exes, i.e. ex-boyfriends, ex-friends, ex-“dudes I used to mess with.” I always teased my fiancé that no matter how many skeletons I had in my closet, there’d never be a need to think twice about where the bodies were buried. Trust, they were always a continent or two away! But as the wedding approaches, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of the exes who have cropped back up, who have asked to come to the wedding, who are going to be in the country, who might be around after the honeymoon, who we’ll probably hang out with more than once, and who I never – in a million years – thought I’d welcome as friends into the ‘happily ever after’ phase of my life.

Really, this isn’t about them so much as it is about me. The woman who entertained them then isn’t the same woman who appreciates them now. I expected to carry animosities forever. I expected to be embarrassed by the idea of my husband meeting living reminders of experiences I haven’t always been that proud of. Yet, the years and experiences that lay in between have shown me that now I must be smarter, must be more practical, and must be in love!

I actually asked my fiancé if more than one skeleton could walk his way into our wedding party and break bread at our – very exclusive – celebration. And what’s more shocking than the fact that I even parted my lips to ask, is that he actually said “Yea, whatever.” That may not seem like much. But for a guy who actually doesn’t like guys that much, this is about the best I could have hoped for. And for a guy who I still torture to this day about how many “popcorn hoes” he exposed me to in the beginning of our courting, this is big. Moreover, for a girl who took a very long time to find her way into a mutually supportive, trusting, and communicative relationship, this is huge for me.

For some, thoughts of an ex bring the wedding jitters. For me, thoughts of an ex (or two… or three…) make me more and more excited about being a wife to the man I chose and who chose me.  All I can say is thanks to all the dudes of yesteryear and good luck in this lifetime. For those who I’ll see soon, my interest in their lives is genuine. It’s lovely to know that we’ve grown up in parallel, if not together. And for those who I’ll never see again, I wish them neither ill will nor well wishes. If this relationship has taught me nothing else it’s to save all my energies, positive and negative, for the present. Being here, fully here, has made all the difference.

I’ve heard it said that some people are only with you for a phase. I’m not exactly sure what it means when people pop up in random phases and happen to be in Africa when you least expect it, but I’d like to think that it means that friendships evolve with time, I can’t trust my 18-year-old self for my entire lifetime, and I’m ready for this next phase of life, called forever ever!

 

Cult Movie Classics

I am not what you might call a “movie person.” The thought of a theatre experience reminds me of paying goo gobs of cash to sit in a cushy seat probably infested with bodily fluids from strangers. Needless to say, I’m not often moved by the images on the big screen, unless there are a lot of things blowing up. Yet Netflix has been my homeboy for some years now, shipping cult classics and obscure foreign titles to wherever in the world I may be. In honor of the 28 year anniversary of one of my absolute faves, “She’s Gotta Have It,” here’s my top ten list of must-see movies that you probably haven’t seen (or at least not in a long time):

1.

Gomorrah is a 2008 film from Italy, based on a Robert Saviano book. This is not your typical mafia movie. In every form and fashion, it’s better.  It weaves five individual stories of people trying to make their own connections with the Casalesi clan, a crime syndicate within the Camorra.

2.  Borders Frontieres is a 2002 film from France/ Algeria that focuses on African clandestine immigration to southern Europe. Comedic and tragic, the film charts the journey of seven people traveling from Senegal through Algeria and onward to Spain.

3. Woody Allen’s 1977 classic Annie Hall is the pre and post-mortem tale of a relationship between two seemingly incompatible people, who once fell in love. It’s romantic and whimsical, and also shows scenes of back when NYC was gritty.

images-44. First of all, “Dilwale Dulhania le Jeyenge” stars my absolute fave Bollywood actress, Kajol and, second, it involves a young woman traveling on her own. What’s not to love (maybe SRK’s hair cut)?

This is the story of two kids who, against their own wishes, fall in love while taking the Eurorail. Both are non-resident Indians, raised in Britain, and both are struggling to meet their parents’ expectations for adulthood. But, when the first meet, neither knows this about the other… and hence, the comedic elements of this 1995 romantic comedy.

5.

In the 2003 drama, 21 Grams, an accident brings together three people who couldn’t be more unrelated or disconnected. The words love, faith, guilt and revenge all crop up, a lot. The movie stars Benicio del Torro, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and is directed by the Mexico City native Alejandro González Iñárritu.

6. Mexico’s 2008 Sleep Dealer has to be one of the most engaging sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. (Sci-fi is not my genre of choice.) The plot is not as blatantly transparent in its allusion to specific political events as South Africa’s District 9, but it definitely made me think – how far away are we from this being a reality? The long and short of it is that technology has developed such that people’s bodies can be in one place and through the use of a physical attachment, they can use robotics to operate machinery and perform tasks that are actually located in another place. The dynamics of immigration being the same, this dynamic interestingly means that there is migrant work with no workers, but at what cost?

7.

Leon is probably one of the most gangster movies I’ve ever watched and enjoyed. A hitman teams up with a little girl, and they start whooping ass! Natalie Portman + Jean Reno / circa 1994 = You’ll have to just watch it.

8. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, made me appreciate that Hitchcock isn’t only about scare and gore. In this mid-century tale, an American family travel to Morocco, only to get caught up in a murder mystery, an assassination attempt, and a kidnapping. There’s drama and travel, mixed in with politics and music. Apparently there are two versions of the film, from 1934 and 1956, and I don’t remember which version I saw.  So, have your pick!

9. Dirty Pretty Things is based in modern-day UK, and tells the story of a clandestine African immigrant who is a trained doctor by profession and a Turkish woman whose visa to the UK allows her to stay, but not work. Both are tied by mutual interest and genuine affection, and they are only brought closer together when Senay considers harvesting an organ on the black market in order to get a fake passport to travel to the U.S.A.

10.

The Gods Must be Crazy is to South Africa what Coming to America is to the United States. Released in 1980, it is said to be the most commercially successful film from South Africa (but maybe that’s changed since the release of District 9). The movie is set in the desert of Botswana, where Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) lives with his tribesmen. None of them are conscious of the world outside of or different from the desert they know, until Xi stumbles upon a Coca Cola bottle.

Out of curiosity, how many of you have actually seen any of these?

 

Bostonian meets Bedouin

JenniferJennifer Barefoot Smith is a world traveler who hails from the great city of Boston. She is a teacher  and college counselor who prides herself on making her students college-ready and world savvy. Jennifer spends her vacations traveling to far flung corners of the world – often alone. Her adventures are many and her experiences diverse. Her goal for this year is to bring her country count up to 70.  Whether she is traveling or at home, she enjoys taking pictures, talking (in various languages), dancing, cooking, and eating. The Howard University alum doesn’t shy away from the road less traveled. And somehow she always manages to return safely and with a smile!

I always enjoy traveling in predominantly Muslim areas: North Africa, Turkey, East Africa, and, this week, the Middle East, Jordan specifically. Generally, the atmosphere is family oriented, bright and richly colored, and inviting. As a woman, I always feel respected and safe—protected almost. As someone who travels frequently, and sometimes alone, this is refreshing and allows me to relax in a slightly different way. While every country is different, of course, there is something in being purposefully respectful and knowing that I will be respected in turn by choosing to be modest. It is also nice to feel that women are appreciated, as a group and as individuals, for more than just their bodies. Call me crazy, but I think that is one of the things that feminism has been arguing for and yet I find Westerners often have a problem with Muslim women covering and with respecting the norms when in majority Muslim countries. Two of my previous trips to Islamic countries have been through European tour groups where the majority of the tourists on the trip wore modest clothing (at least knee-length pants and shirts that were not revealing, i.e. sans décolletage), but there was always someone who insisted on wearing clothing that I would argue was not appropriate for walking around in public other than at a beach, let alone in a Muslim country in the middle of Ramadan. I felt offended. And their constant questions to the guide as to why he couldn’t just have some water or why women had to cover up really bothered me. They could not fathom that someone might be freely choosing to do these things, just as some Christians choose to go to church and others choose not to.

This brings me to why this trip was so great. I was able to travel in the Islamic world with others, enjoying the knowledge that no one in my party would be offensive or disrespectful. Sometimes I think I like to travel alone just to avoid having to babysit someone. This week, however, I traveled with a like-minded friend from college; traveling with friends who know how to travel makes life so much easier. What made this trip even better was that another friend, who works in tourism in Jordan, arranged my itinerary and connected me with her Jordanian friends at each point of my trip. Having personal connections in a new place always makes the experience that much better, and having personal connections in a country as hospitable as Jordan, meant that we got the best treatment ever. (Big up Janine, yuh have Jordan pon lock!) Jordan, like many of the other Muslim majority countries I have visited, subscribes to a brand of hospitality that is unknown in the U.S. I had more tea in the last week than I have had all year, and I do drink tea regularly. Anywhere you go, any store you enter, you are offered, nay, required, to partake in several cups of tea. Everyone checked in with us every day to make sure that we were still doing well and to let us know that if we needed anything they were X amount of minutes away from our next destination and they could be there if we called. Let’s just say I felt taken care of.

As a travel location, Jordan was one of the good ones. Amazing historic sites from several different periods and cultures abound. There are Roman ruins at Jerash, Castles of all types left over from the Crusades and other eras, Holy Land sites in Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Lot’s Cave, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and of course the Jordan River itself. If it were permitted and I wanted to get my feet wet, I literally could have waded across to the Promised Land. It goes without saying that the Dead Sea is relaxing and an experience without parallel on the planet. But it also forms a unique border, the boundary between the Muslim/Arab world and present day Palestine. The West Bank is across the sea, a constant reminder of the political conundrums that occur when a colonial power does what it wants with pieces of land it controls without regard for the people within that land and the future ramifications those actions will have for its inhabitants, and in this case, the world. At the Red Sea, where the snorkeling/diving is lovely and the vibe is very nice, I kept trying to figure out where Egypt and Israel were in the skyline across the water from me, but everyone had the same answer as they pointed to the lights across the way—Eilat. Eventually I surmised that this was a way of not recognizing Israel without stepping on any toes. By only referring to the neighboring land by the name of the city with whom they shared a shoreline, rather than the state whose existence is in conflict with their beliefs, they did not have to come right out and say that the land next to them was being illegally occupied. They also did not usually refer to it as Palestine either. In fact, guides, drivers, and other people we encountered referred to the cities across the border rather than the larger political entity. At the Dead Sea, I was looking at Jericho, full stop. As a country that is immensely affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with millions of Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan for several decades, I am surprised it did not come up more often, but I am sure if I stayed longer than a week in the areas most affected by the conflict, it would become more apparent. When I came home, someone said to me, “Jordan, aren’t they in the middle of everything?” And yes, they really are. There is conflict occurring around them on every side except for their southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia; in addition to the decades of Palestinian refugees who have sought safety within their borders they have been receiving refugees from Syria too.

But for me the best part of Jordan had nothing to do with it being a welcoming Arab country or the site of ancient Biblical events. For me Jordan’s greatness was in the desert. The night stars, the rocky cliffs, the moon, the peacefulness, and the timelessness of it all. Petra is breathtaking and unique—a funky architectural mix of columns, cylindrical shapes, caves and amphitheaters. Nestled in a valley of equally funky rock formations rising out of the ground, these colorfully changing, soft sandstone walls and craggy formations look simultaneously smooth and like God dripped melted wax in erratic designs that solidified into odd chunks that we behold, here and there today. Nature and wilderness abound with numerous wadis, nature reserves, and springs. We stayed at Feynan Eco Lodge where everything is run by solar power, or candles, and you can hike, star gaze, or be a Bedouin goat herder for a day. We viewed Saturn and its rings in a high-powered telescope calibrated for us by a Bedouin, who then showed us where to watch Scorpio rise over the mountains and stayed up watching shooting stars while he and another friend made us tea on a fire powered by the compacted resin refuse from pressed olive oil. We were lucky that our visit coincided with a yearly meteor shower, but I have a feeling that shooting stars are not an anomaly in this landscape. And thanks to Janine, we slept in the desert, not at one of the many camps that dot Wadi Rum, but just in the middle of nowhere next to her Bedouin friend’s jeep, on a carpet, with some Bedouin mattresses and sleeping bags under the stars, with some great food, and of course, more tea.

Jennifer’s photos from Jordan:

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Rosie on life and love…

Rosie & meIn honor of my grandmother, who turned 80 this week, I’ve decided to do what I said I would start doing years ago – write the stories of the women I hail from. She let me do this interview many years back and trusted me to do something productive with it. I could call her a guest blogger now, except that she may not know exactly what a blog is and I didn’t tell her I’d be posting her words here.

I couldn’t wait one more year, one more month, one more day to give her story a home. It’s only right to use this as an opportunity to acknowledge that something great happened when she was born. When history books would have you believe that women of her time weren’t working, that sharecroppers were a cut above slaves, that Black people didn’t have much or know better, my grandmother (and, frankly, many of the women in my family) simply wasn’t living her life to fit those statistics. She defied every stereotype I’d ever been told to expect for a Black woman born in Alabama in 1934. And she didn’t do it by fighting. She did it by living fully and unapologetically.  I love her dearly, am thankful for her eighty years on this earth, and hope that this is just one of many more birthdays to come. Most of all, I hope she isn’t pissed at me for posting this. 

 

My name is Rosie. I was born May 1, 1934 in Pike County, Alabama. My mother’s name is Carrie Williams-Macon. My father’s name was Sam Simmons. My mother’s mother was Rosie Carter Starks. Her father’s name was George Carter. My father’s mother was…I can’t remember her name cause I never knew her really, but her last name was Simmons, Grandma Simmons.

I’m the second oldest of my mother’s children, which was ten. Five boys and five girls. It’s six of us alive now: four girls, two boys. I’m the baby of my father’s children, which far as I know was two boys and three girls…far as I know. And the three girls is alive. All I know is my mother and my aunts and uncles [on my father’s side] was all friends. I don’t know how [my parents] met or what brought on – if it was a love affair or whatever. I don’t know about how that happened.

We lived on a farm and I was born at my grandparent’s house. My Grandma and Grandpop. I used to walk to school at an early age. I guess 5 or 6 years old. We used to walk like three miles to school and I remember we had big farms and a lot of chickens. My one aunt, my grandmother’s baby daughter, we was raised together, so we were more like sisters than niece and aunt. And my grandmother used to raise chicken and turkeys. My grandfather raised hogs and cows. Farm – all kinds of stuff on the farm – cotton, peanuts, corn, stuff like that. They was sharecropping. No, they didn’t own it. We used to help out on the farm. Me and my aunt used to plow the plow. We was about nine years, yea.

With my grandfather, just one year, we helped him plant the crop. And we had a goat named Wild Bill. We had a lot of goats. We had a crazy goat too. He was wild! He was black. And we had a dog named Blackie, which was one of the children. He would play with us like a child. He would play house, and we had this big front porch and it had about 7 steps come up on the front porch and we would tell him we was gon’ play house, and say, “When we get on the porch, now we in the house. And you can’t come in the house with us.” We’d run up there and he’d come to the house, girl, and stop. He was a great protector. One of my cousins from Pittsburgh came and he wouldn’t let her in the yard. We had a fence ‘round the yard and she was standing on the outside of the fence hollering and fighting with her pocketbook and he was just standing there by the fence. And he just dropped the handle and sat there and waited. She was out there screaming and hollering and he wouldn’t let her in. We had to go get her.

My grandma used to come up here when my uncle and aunt was alive. My grandfather was working in the field and, well, I was still living in the house when my great grandmother died. Yea, we was still living there and my grandma was up there when she had a stroke and died.

My great grandmother, her name was Annie Warren and that was my grandmother, Rosie Starks’ mother and she was born in Alabama too. She had a stroke one Saturday. My grandmother had came up here to stay with my aunt, cause she was having a baby. She had little kids so she would come up and stay with the kids while my aunt would go to the hospital. My grandfather was in the field, as usual, and my great grandmother had washed and ironed the clothes. And I loved to read. I used to read all the time. I guess that’s why ya’ll got that. You could catch me reading at the house any minute. Everybody else would be outside; I would be in the house reading. She came out on the porch and she said to me, “Gal, you better put them clothes up.” And I said, “Ok Nana, ok, ok, ok.” And she was sitting there, and she was eating a piece of neck bone and she wouldn’t let go. She just started peeing. My grandfather had came home for dinner and he didn’t go back to the field right away. He said, “Im gon’ wait till after the mailman come.” And I started calling him, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy something’s wrong with Nana! She peeing on herself! She peeing!” But she wouldn’t let go. She was eating that meat. They say when you having a stroke or heart attack, whatever you doing, you just keep doing that.

So my brother came by and he went to town to get the doctor, cause my great grandmother had raised those children. Those white kids. That was her doctor. She raised him from a baby and his father told him to always take care of her. So, my brother went and got him. We had got her in the bed and he came and he marked an X under the bottom of her feet. He said, if she survived to the next day, she would be alright. But she didn’t.

My grandmother and my uncle came. They got somebody to stay with the kids while my aunt was in the hospital. I could hear my grandmother crying. It was in the morning, I guess two or three o’ clock in the morning, when they got there. I could hear her talking ‘bout, “I don’t have no mother now. My mother is gone.” She was coming in the door and me being sleep and young, she just sounded so far away.

Well, we moved to the city limit and that’s when my grandfather couldn’t farm anymore, because he found out he had high blood pressure. And he was sick cause he had to get rid of his mules. Then he started doing his garden and he grew a garden – all kinds of vegetables. He took them into town and sold them to the white folks. After that we moved up into the city into this house. We had a house and it was sitting right in back of a juke joint and it was a nice house. I went to school there. And that’s where when I left, yea, when I left from town, that’s where we had been living in the city. I came up here [to New Jersey] in 1952. I came up here, and up here is where I met your grandfather. And we had 4 childrens: one boy, three girls. I think it’s 9 grandchildren. My brother went back to Alabama and got my grandma and my grandfather. He lived a couple years, he lived till September 1954 and my grandma died, I think, it was 18 years ago.

Yea, 1991 she died. And that was my Mama. She raised the four of us: my oldest brother, James, myself, my brother Arnold, my sister Johnnie. We really was raised by her along with her daughter Gloria and we were like sisters and brothers instead of aunts and nieces and nephews. We was like sisters and brothers. I haven’t been home since 1952. I really don’t have no close relatives down there, because right after I came up here, my brother went back and got my Grandma and Grandpop. And all my sisters and brothers were up here.

What year we moved here? I don’t even know what year we moved here [to this house], if you want to know the truth. 1982? 81, 82? Something like that. I know it was in May, cause that was my birthday present [from your grandfather], when I moved, the first of May.

Oh God, well, I wish I would have let [your grandfather] stay with the girl he was with. (laughs) Well, we was living on East Kenny St. and he was living on Scott St. , which was the next street over. This girl she used to [date], she was living directly in front of him. Her name was Mary Anne, I’ll never forget that. We went to school together. She would be talking about him and all this stuff. I sure do wish I would have left him with her. Everybody thought that he liked my Aunt Gloria, but it wasn’t him – it was his friend Sam that liked Aunt Gloria. So, it just went from that to the prom. He took me to the prom. We had to go get his cousin’s car, to get Uncle Sam’s car, but we went.

I left high school in ’54, but I got my GED. I went back and got my GED.

Danny was born November 24, 1954, the night before Thanksgiving. I was living on Hillside Avenue and I was walking around there. I said, “Oh, I need to wash my hair.” Now let me tell you how stupid – how my mind worked back in that time. I thought, “But if I wash my hair, I might start having pains and I’m not going to feel like straightening it.” Now wasn’t that kind of smart? So I said “ok, I’m not gonna wash it.” I heard your grandfather coming up the stairs. He had got off from work early. I got down on the side of the bed and I just started having pains. And he said to this guy, his name was Al Richardson, “Al, can I borrow your car to take her to the hospital? I think she in labor.” Al said, “I was here! She ain’t tell me nothing! I coulda took her to the hospital!” I got to the hospital about 6 o’clock in the afternoon and that boy was born 9:45 at night. We was in this big ward at the city hospital, and they was up there talking bout the soap operas.

As The World Turns, Search For Tomorrow, Guiding Light, Valiant Lady, And what’s that one come on in the afternoon? One Life to Live, General Hospital, All my Children. All of them was on back then, back in that time. They been around for fifty something years. One lady from Guiding Light died a couple weeks ago, she was about 90 years old, one of the actors. And, he was born. We had Thanksgiving dinner there. We had turkey and dressing and cranberry juice.

And a lot of [women] stayed home and the husbands worked. If they wasn’t on the farms and stuff, they stayed home. You know, it’s not a long time, but it has been a long time where the women really go out into the world now and work and everything. But back in that time, if they wasn’t farming and having children, the ladies stayed home and cooked and cleaned and washed and ironed and scrubbed floors, stuff like that. Yea, kept the house clean.

Well, I had a million new jobs. Not a million. I used to work where they developed pictures on Broad Street. Really, it used to be a lot of happenings down on Broad Street, chile. And a couple times, I went and cleaned a lady’s house for my grandmother. I think the next job I got was in the dry cleaners. I stayed there for years. I was getting paid 65 cents an hour, but bus fare was like 5 cents and we lived on East Kenney. I used to go to Target on Clinton Avenue in front of the Horizon building over there. That’s where I used to work.

Then in 1960, I was working on South Orange. On South Orange Avenue, right there on the corner of Church Street, when you go up the hill. That was the cleaners where that flower shop is. That was the dry cleaners. I worked for Western Electric in Kearney for thirteen years. Then I did twelve years AT&T in Clark. I retired with 25 years’ service from AT&T and 3 years’ service from Tyco, so really it was 28 years that I worked. I started to work at Western Electric and I went out there on a dare. I went out there saying, “I know I’m not going to get this job.” But the ad had been in the paper for a long time. I had never worked in a factory before. And out of about 8 people, 2 of us passed the test. Every time they got slow, we got laid off. Every time. I think I lost about 5 or 6 years out of that 13 of layoffs. Then, finally, they closed in 1984. I left on my birthday. Your mom sent me flowers on my birthday and I left that day and – the Union paid for us – I went to school up in North Newark at the secretary school. I got a job key punching. I could key punch, girl! I go to work key punching! That’s when they started the computers. We used to go down to Essex County and work the computers. I could type pretty good. I used to do 45-50 words, no errors. And I’m ready to go back to work now, cause I’m tired of staying home. I been retired for 8 years.

The love of my life, besides my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, is church. I enjoy going to church. I get my relief, all my pressure, my everything, when I go to church. When I first came up here, I started going to the Holiness Church. My mother used to live on South 11th. Then I left from there and I stayed out of church for a long time. But I always made sure your Mama and them went to Sunday school. I would get up and take them to church for Sunday school, go back, and pick them up. Then after that, I joined Genesis. From Genesis to First Zion Hill. So, I really wasn’t in a lot of churches.

I get such a relief from the Word of God and I’m learning more of the Bible, understanding more. It’s a lot in there to understand and when you read scriptures you can go back and if you read it five times, you get five different meanings out of that one scripture. So, I’m learning that and how to have my quiet moments. It just gives me peace of mind. I have joy. And I really love the youth choir we got over there now. I enjoy them. I only invite people to my church on 3rd Sunday, when the youth is singing. I told Reverend “First Zion Hill wasn’t short of water.” And he said “What?” People in the pulpit crying, all the kids crying! I turned around and looked and everybody in the sanctuary crying. He fell out laughing. He say, “You know we didn’t rehearse that song that way, don’t you? God, just came on in.” So, I enjoy that. I enjoy the children.

I was in the Holiness Church, but I was baptized in a Baptist Church in Alabama at the age of 9 in the river. They didn’t have pools in the church. We went down to the big river and was baptized in the river. Yep, I think the name of the river was White Water, I’m not sure. I told Reverend, “I’m going to be baptized again.” Nine years old, I ain’t know what I was doing. Yea, I want to be dipped.

You know, I’m like this – Everybody have their own belief. It’s not but one God, I don’t care what kind of religion or what name you come up with or whatever. It’s only one God and we can call him Jehovah, Allah, whatever we want to. And, as long as they are reading the Bible or the Quran or whatever it is and they try to live to the best of their abilities, that’s it. I don’t damn nobody’s religion, but I don’t want them to say they’re one thing and not believe in it and do something else. If you Muslim, do what you supposed to do. Baptists? We all sin. We all have to ask God to forgive us, cause we was born in sin. So, we not sin-free. We have to come and ask God, Allah, or whoever to forgive us for our sins, each and every day. Not when we in trouble. Then, we try and get a prayer through. We think He supposed to be a microwave God and He gon’ pop it out right like that. You gotta go through trials and tribulations. That’s when you use your faith.

 

My Best Friend’s Wedding

IMG_0367In my line of work, I miss out on lot. Often the people I care about the most are the people I see the least. Their moments of triumph are posts I “like” on Facebook. Their good days are shared over Skype. Usually, I’m able to take the good with the bad. I recognize that in doing what I love (and what I think I’m good at), I’m either on or I’m off. There is very little in between. When I am not home, I’m very much not home. I’m plane rides and calling cards and time zones away. But when I’m home, I’m very available. And I’m very committed to the little things. Yet, today – of all days – I’m not home. And I’m missing a very big thing. I can’t help but be sad about it. Today is my best friend’s wedding and I’m not there.

It would be different if I were jumping up at Carnival in Trinidad or riding in jeeps deep in a Kenyan safari. But, I’m just at my house, sitting in my dining room, reading Pearl Cleage’s ‘Things I Should Have Told my Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs.’ Essentially, I’m just waiting for a new day. If I were out having fun maybe this event would pass with little commentary. Or if I felt like where I am is where I should be, then maybe it would soften the blow. But, alas, this is the situation and we’re oceans apart. That is the unfortunate reality.

So, next week I’ll be ready to write the happy blog post I actually intended to write when I started writing today. The one where I celebrate all the things I love about my Pumpkin. Where I tell all about how in high school I raked her over the coals for some dumb thing I can’t even remember now and how we spent months not talking. I’m not sure how we made up, but she probably initiated it. I probably didn’t say sorry, even though the whole thing was probably my fault. I was young and dumb then. I’ll talk about how she was the only reason I seriously considered going to UNC Chapel Hill. Yet I couldn’t be enticed to suppress the big city girl in my heart. I’ll say all the happy, joyous, praiseful things I should have said to her face when I last saw her in D.C. as soon as I come to grips with the reality that I’m missing out on the biggest day of my best friend’s life and what I’m doing now is definitely not worth missing that.

This is the ugly underbelly of life as I know it.

I should be in North Carolina right now. Of that, I am certain.

Africa Light

When most people think of Africa, images of vivid wars or lively markets frequently come to mind.  The diversities of the 54 countries (not including 2 disputed countries and 8 European territories) that comprise the continent and its islets are hard to describe in sum. Generalizations and stereotypes are easy to come by, yet nuances are difficult to translate. Somehow a vast expanse becomes one great monolith, for sheer lack of better words.

Suffice it to say that this short time living in southern Africa has left me with filtered impressions.  As yet, I’m unsure if my thoughts are muted by having been here before, or having been to the continent before, or having been to places that remind me of the continent many times before. Maybe my thoughts are tainted by the lack of full belonging to the many communities I’m forced to straddle in this space. And then again, it could also be that the fog of jet lag hasn’t yet lifted.  Nevertheless, my time here has been something like the images below: Lively and ambiguous. Playful and mundane. Black and white.

afrique noir image image image