Shortguide to Sifting through Advice

Advice you probably don't need -

Advice you probably don’t need –

As of late, I have been the victim of unsolicited career advice. At first I was flattered by the abundance, because frankly it means someone cares enough about me to think about my future. Then, I became overwhelmed by all the possibilities that came my way by hearing all these inspiring words of wisdom. Finally I became paralyzed, because much of this advice is contradictory and seems totally irrelevant to my current ambitions or track record thus far. So, what to do?

Just as I was coming out of my advice coma, a long lost cousin contacted me to learn more about a career in international relations. I had been wracking my brain about what to tell her when we finally connect, because I’m still reeling from my week of mismatched mentorship. At least my advice will be solicited, which absolves me of only half of my problems. What about the rest of my advice? How relevant will it be for her when she starts her career? Why would she ever trust me and why would my advice be particularly useful? These are the questions that passed through my mind until I remembered that these are her problems, not mine. She asked me for advice. She will need to put on her big girl boots and sift out the good, the bad and the useful for herself and simply know that my intentions were good.

In thinking through this cycle of advice, mentorship, professional development, supervising, managing and being a cog in a wheel for the next 35 years, here are a few things that I would offer (unsolicited) to help strike a healthy balance between listening and unlistening to the bits of ‘knowledge’ that will come your way, no matter what field you specialize in. Consider this a short guide to sifting through career advice.

Broke Life –

1 – Money advice rarely ever changes. Career advice and money advice aren’t the same thing. – In my field, there are particular positions that are coveted for the political cache they yield. You hear that people come out with powerful networks and transform into semi-Gods. Ok, fair enough. But, these positions are often low paid, high powered, and stressful. Your spouse will probably hate you. The credit card companies will love you. Your gas guzzling car will enjoy being fed every 3 days for your 1 hour commute to & fro. But, your co-workers will know your name! There is a price to pay for power and I consider it very steep. So, you’ll need to decide for yourself what drives you. If you want to be the talk of the office, maybe it’s worth it. If not, you’ll want to think long and hard about what’s important to you, because you may be taking a pay cut to chase someone else’s dream.

2 – Thinking of your day job as your second stream of income is transformative. – There are some people who enjoy going to their offices because the work is fulfilling and they are passionate about the organization. I know very few of these people who live with this reality every day. There are days when you’re going to want to stab someone with a pencil, no matter what office you work in. But, sometimes it’s important to realize that your day job allows you to have expensive hobbies or lucrative independent businesses or priceless experiences that you can only float with your day job money. For me, that’s been going to school. For others, it can be jewelry making, art collecting, import/export, teaching, photography, and a whole slew of other opportunities. Sometimes it just takes remembering that you’re not a slave to your day job; in fact, your day job allows you to be free in other areas of your life. So, switch around job #1 and job #2 in your head and it can change your whole mindset.

Back in my Day

Back in my Day

3 – The industry you’re in likely changes every 10-15 years. So, know which generation of professional you’re talking to and balance well.  – Like I said, this has been a rough few weeks because very successful individuals in my field have been inclined to share with me what they think is best for me. Yet, I’ve found much of their advice to be dated, because when they entered the field the rules were different. Does this mean that I throw out all their well-intentioned advice? Well, of course not. Some nuggets of it are worth listening to simply because these people are at the top and, right now, I have to know the lens they’re using to define success when they view me. Why? Their minority point of view, since it’s at the top of the hierarchy, still rules the game. Their views prevail when it comes to promotions and hiring. So, while I don’t agree with everything they may believe, I need to know WHAT they believe so I can play to my strengths and moderate expectations when dealing with these career power brokers.

Get Like Me

4 – When most people say ‘success,’ you should hear ‘be like me.’ – When offering unsolicited advice to a colleague over sangrias recently, it dawned on me that the reference for ‘success’ is rarely ever Oprah or Warren Buffet. In those terms, people mean ‘rich.’ Or when people say Gwen Stefani or Jay-Z, they mean ‘famous.’ You have to read between the lines to know if their vocabulary really defines ‘success,’ because what I’ve found is that most people are just talking about themselves. Sometimes that’s great, esp. if you’re talking to a mentor whose excellence you want to emulate. The greatness is that most people are just telling you how they would have lived their lives or made professional choices differently if they had the chance to do it again; you can avoid their missteps. Other times, you will have to agree to hear, but not to listen because some of the circumstances of your advisor’s life or interests just don’t apply to you or yours.

5 – Everything people say about others is true (to some degree). – My workplace is an institution built on talking shit about co-workers. Workplace gossip isn’t new, but I was shocked to the degree that it was codified and perpetuated in my industry. People believe that hearing how others have worked with a person will help them decide to bring that colleague onto a new team. While this can be altruistic, it also sucks because there are probably 2-3 dozen who like you (good), thousands who don’t know you (neutral), and about 3-10 dozen who have personal or professional misgivings about you (bad). The nice people in the latter category just don’t say anything, but there’s a small minority who will rip you a new one at the first opportunity. You probably don’t even know that they hate your guts, but your future boss now does! But, understand that smack talking works 2 ways. It’s highly likely that if they don’t like you, you don’t like them – so your time will come.

Workplace Gossip – jazminehurteportfolio

The true revelation is that pretty much everything you hear about colleagues is true to some extent. The question is just how relevant is Jack Smith’s dreaded experience with Jane Doe in Honduras on a marine life conservation project to my projected experience partnering with Jane on a microcredit project in the Mali three years from now. It’s anyone’s guess! If Jane and I work well together, it isn’t to say that Jack was lying. It is to say that we have different angles & needs from Jane as a colleague. And Jane is not one dimensional. The reality is that Jane might not have liked marine life, she may have been going through a bad break up, she probably doesn’t speak Spanish and it’s highly likely that she thinks Jack was a total douche bag. And all of that, too, could be true… so what now?

In giving and receiving advice in your work place keep these thoughts in mind (or don’t), so that you can hear the wisdom through all the noise!

Giving Birth to my Vision Board

IMG_2545The first time I ever heard about a vision board, I was in a restaurant in Melville, Johannesburg with my friend Michelle. We were talking about all of the things we wanted for our businesses and our plans for the coming year. She had been working on an online consignment shop concept for many years but hadn’t yet brought it to market. And me, well, I have a million little hustles going at any one time and often no sleep and no quality time with my husband to show for it. She mentioned all the things she has on her vision board and how they’ve helped her focus. I immediately laughed at her and thought she was a quack. Dinner continued and developed into a night of NYC inspired debauchery and life went on…

Fast forward to last month. I was in the US and Europe traveling for a while to recharge my battery and reconnect with family. During these long plane rides and alone time while everyone is at work, I usually have time to refresh my goals. I get inspired by remembering all the things and people who made me.



So, I started reading blogs by the FLY Coach and Christine Kane on visualizing success and they brought me back to that table in Melville a few months ago. My quack of a friend didn’t really explain herself very well when she dropped the vision board reference in passing. After doing my own reading, I totally saw the logic. For years I have had annual lists of projected accomplishments. In short, they were glorified to-do lists. They required minimal revision throughout the year and usually 90% of the list was completed by year’s end. Success! But, recently I’ve drifted away from the validation of accomplishments and focused on the long-term. You can’t really put, “Be a better person” on a to do list and be empowered to go out and achieve it. This vision board, though, really fills in the gaps.

The logic here is that you use images of what makes you happy, fulfilled, accomplished and loved to create a board to remind you to go after that vision of your future. Not everyone’s idea of “be rich,” for example, look alike. So, you’re tasked to be specific: create a collage of pictures that match how you want to feel and that look exactly like what you want for yourself. Interesting things emerge.

I found that things I expected to have on my vision board weren’t what eventually made the cut.  In fact, I was looking for someone rolling around in a pile of money, but that picture never came up in my stack of Latina, Bona, Real Simple and House & Leisure mags. I also expected to have something about travel, airplanes or globe-trotting crop up. Ditto – there isn’t so much as a beach image with a mai tai or a paper plane heading towards palm trees.

P1070335Looking at my board with fresh eyes this morning, there are a few things that even I am shocked by. First, I used glue. I hear that many people like to use push pins or something that isn’t as permanent. Rather than having to scrap the whole board or paste over it, they like to switch out images as they no longer become relevant. Maybe it was just a beginner’s boo boo, but I also think maybe the glue shows both how committed I am to these concepts and how much I think each piece is integral to all the others. Second, there are 6 children on my board. We agreed on 5! But somehow on the family side of my board there’s an extra body. I intended to add the very last one to the work side of my board, but the kid with the Kindle ended up with the other babies. Good thing we’re ok with adopting.

Third, the work side of my board is racially mixed; the family side of my board isn’t. I suppose that’s just my reality, but it’s very telling. Proximity doesn’t mean integration and rather than fighting that, I’m happy to embrace the fact that I will produce healthy, intelligent Black children raised in a loving, successful, two parent household. So few kids have this in the world and I’m committed to this vision for my own. Fourth, all the images of a de-cluttered home were supposed to be paired with the words for the cities where I want to buy new property. Instead they’re in a section between work and family that’s labeled “Sleep.” The images are actually of a bed and pillows. Subliminal much? Last, when it comes to work, my vision board doesn’t include anything about my PhD, my day job, or even my multiple side businesses. It focuses on being a writer. All in all, I knocked my own socks off with this vision board. I’ve drilled down to the most important and most essential images that reflect what I want to be my future. I’m a believer and I’ve just begun to use it this morning!

I’m not sure what vision board sharing etiquette is, but I’m beginning to think that it’s supposed to be a sacred secret. My friends who have them refer to them vaguely in Facebook posts, but never really tell us what they’re after. I think you’re supposed to keep it in a place where you see it everyday, but I’m not sure what that means for your family who have to walk past your future every single day of their lives. I don’t quite know if you can share it after you’re no longer using it or if that jinxes it somehow. I’m still new to this. But, I’m proud of what I’ve compiled and I had to share the journey with people who would appreciate it. Maybe now, I sound like a quack too or maybe you’ve had one for years and this is letting you revisit what you already know. But, if you’re also green on vision boards, I hope you’ll give it a try. I found that my vision for my future doesn’t match the words I use in my daily life. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as I have some way to stay grounded and remind myself of what success, love, and ‘a life in full’ really mean to me. My vision board’s got my back!



I have been horrible. Not writing. Not dropping knowledge. Not sending you sweet little nothings on this beautiful blog of mine. But, have no fear. I haven’t forgotten about you, I’ve just been on the road to Greece, South Africa, USA, Frankfurt and back to my beloved Mozambique. So, let me try a different medium to share my life between the clouds and above the noise.

Live Music (If you only open one video, let this one be it!):

Follow Kitchenmess on twitter (@Kitchen_Mess)

Live Music:

Beach Life:

Sunset Zen:

The Southern Atlantic ocean in winter:

Performance outside Durban:

Enjoy the sights and sounds from around the world. Global people, you inspire!

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The life and times… since my last post.

I have to apologize for having been away so long. Let me explain. My computer has been in a state of chronic disrepair and most weekends it decides to revolt whenever I even consider using it for longer than 30 minutes. I think it reads my mind like the kids in Village of the Damned, a horrible film that I watched on crappy cable television one day when my computer didn’t work. Anywho, there’s also this pesky recurring problem of work eating my real life, which makes late night blogging nearly impossible. At this point, my maid spends more hours in my house than I do and it’s sad. Last, I’ve been preparing to come back to the U.S. in full force. This means, I’ve etched out a travel itinerary and started telling friends to prepare for my imminent arrival. And, I’ve been working on my new pet project – clothing design – in full force. The hope is that when I come back to ‘Murica, I can shop it around, get some feedback, and be inspired for new wears. Aside from the former, I can say… all good things… but that’s no excuse not to write.

I had a friend and colleague in town from India for about 2 weeks. As the hubs and I say, “we fell in love in a hopeless place,” and she reminded us of every little detail. More so than anything else, she brought some much-needed familiarity and Indian cultural references back into our lives. So, we took her out to eat king prawns and she taught us how to make chole bhature at home – it took all of 30 minutes to make!  It went a little something like this:

IMG_2328  IMG_2331 IMG_2333 IMG_2334 IMG_2336 IMG_2337

Shortly thereafter, I considered writing to you all about how awesome our Indo-African meal turned out, but then my computer revolted and I slipped into a food coma.

Over the weekend, I went to the Zouk festival in Maputo where I saw Kassav live and made it a point to dance like a fool to “zouk la se sel medikaman nou ni ,” because I didn’t know any of the other songs. Then I embarked on a series of South African travels, which landed me in Durban during the xenophobic riots (which I didn’t see at all) and Nelspruit just after the Mozambique – South Africa border re-opened. Let’s say, I was freaked out more by the reports than by anything else. I honestly didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in South Africa while I was there. Most of the violence took place in what seem to be townships and the protests against xenophobia seemed to be in the city center. I saw some of the latter, but it seemed peaceful and heavily policed. There certainly were lots of South Africans apologizing for the actions of the few. They kept asking if I was ok and saying things like “we’re not all like this” and “this gives South Africa a bad name.” I can imagine it’s how my fellow Black Americans feel now with the cop killings and the protests & riots thereafter. It’s a combo of ashamed and fed up, and not always at the people the media would make out to be ‘the bad guy.’ The parallels are abundant and the acts equally as senseless.

Back to South Africa – the people in Nelspruit depend on Mozambican clients to make their living, so they were all too happy to accommodate our needs. In fact, they wanted to show us that their town was safe and welcoming, so we could encourage more of our friends and family to return to the South African side (to spend some hard-earned Meticais). My primary need when traveling is food. So, this happened at Zest:


I eventually came back to Maputo with work pressures at an all time high and nothing but thoughts of vacation on the brain. But, you know, it sucks to always consider that you’re not fully happy where you are. I felt that I’d been running away from Maputo every single weekend just to make it to vacation in the U.S. in July. That’s no way to live. So, when the hubs decided he’d have friends over for a lunch, I went all in. When a Mozambican says they’re inviting people for “lunch,” and those people are under the age of 40 years old, assume that those people will arrive at your house around American supper time. If they happen to arrive earlier, they will likely start drinking beer and liming, but they will not consume food. So, by midnight this is what my house looked like:

IMG_20150509_234730 IMG_20150509_234411

Do  you see that? That’s what fun looks like! There was even a selfie extender stick involved, which spells success as far as I am concerned. Shortly after this picture was taken, I walked my exhausted self up the stairs to my bedroom and went to sleep. Yes, I left these lovely young people in my house to play their drinking games and fill the space with laughter and good cheer. Their vibes, followed by my disappearing act, took some of the edge off of the week ahead.

This very week was filled with plans for seeing my mom and my niece in ‘Murica, as well as the possibility to help out family friends – one who recently divorced and another who recently graduated from college. So many changes, so many opportunities. Oh, and while cleaning out my closet, I found these:


If you don’t know what these are, you better ask somebody!

No, really, you should, because a simple google search won’t help very much. First, Frank T is a classic spanish rap artist. By classic, I mean horrendous. The title of this album was so bad that we had to buy it for fear that we’d miss out on this train wreck (“Los pajaros no pueden vivir en el agua porque no son peces” – seriously?!). My friend Kelly and I bought it in FNAC when we lived in Spain 15 years ago and every few years we send it back to one another to remind each other of our crazy times. I miss my girl from Oklahoma and as a sign of our never-ending friendship, she will get this crappy cd in the mail once again! Oh and to the left, what’s that? Again, I have no idea, but it was something free that I got at Guerlain 2 years ago when I bought a horribly overpriced lipstick that I’ve only worn once. Anyways, this golden flecked situation is called L’Or and I plan to use it sometime in the next month. I have no place classy to wear it and I don’t know how to use it properly. So, be prepared for a story as I make up my own excuse to wear expensive, probably useless, make-up that I haven’t used in 2 years. It’ll be fun!

Anyways, my work week ended with a networking lunch at Zambi’s that concluded with 3 spoons and this dessert:


In case you’re wondering that’s raspberry swirl, amarula ice cream, chocolate biscotti and a dark chocolate cake. Yup… pretty much a foodgasm on a plate and you should be jealous.

I ended the week with a sunset at a Maputo mainstay that I had not yet visited: the Naval Club.


Who knows what the next weeks will bring, aside from the Azgo festival and Bushfire in Swazi? Hope to write more soon and to have new adventures to share!

Miracles and Maybes in southern Africa

DSCF2492Last week was one of loss. A coworker lost her unborn child. One of my staff members, lost his 8-year-old daughter (after having lost 2 daughters some years before). And a colleague lost her life and was laid to rest on Tuesday. I reached out to a woman who has been a priceless resource for my archival work and she recounted that she, too, had lost someone – her father.  As a distant bystander to it all, these past few days have taken a lot out of me, so I can only imagine the loss of those more immediate.

India was full of near tragedies. Almost collisions were saved in the nick of time by a ‘Sai Ba Ba’ or a ‘Hail Mary.’ Lives lost had some kind of meaning – disease or illness or some sick twisted bastards brought together by male bonding turned on its head. Senseless death is something I understood from Newark, not from New Delhi. Some idiot with a gun can steal you away in an instant. A misfit with a death wish can definitely take you with him or her whenever they so choose. But, even that kind of death still has an explanation that you can sleep with at night. Wrong place, wrong time, but there is surely someone to blame. Those deaths leave a cause in their wake – something to fight for, or better yet, something to fight against.

Random death, however, with no explanation or sense of understanding, is not something I’ve ever known until I arrived here.

On my very first visit to Maputo, I was greeted by what would soon (-er than they thought) become my family. Drunk on laughter and cheap South African wine, we awoke jet lagged the next day to hear that a cousin – who had been present just the night before – had woken this morning only to lose her life just hours later. In a battle with what exactly? No one seems to know. Just in her third decade of life and with only so much as a stomach ache to show as a preamble to death, she was snuffed out and there was no one to blame. There was no autopsy to understand. There were no inquiries to explain. We never found a smoking gun. She was gone in an instant and everyone seem to accept it without question. The requisite week long death ceremonies began at once.

I had forgotten that sense of emptiness and fatigue. But it all came back with a vengeance.

What can you say to someone who lost an 8-year-old to a choking accident? Do you blame the maid who wasn’t watching? Or the mom who decided to leave for the market and thought she could trust the maid for just a few short hours? (Can you ever really trust the maid?) Do you blame the object itself and risk blaming the kid in the process?

There is no cause to rally behind except, perhaps teaching the Heimlich in grade schools. But, then again, most school-going 5 year olds here don’t recognize even one letter from the alphabet, so that’s an idiotic ambition. You get no peace no matter which way you manipulate your well-intentioned mind and your dear creative heart.

Here in Mozambique, I find people who are deeply religious and deeply reckless. There is the sense that you can go at any time and it will be when you least expect it, and probably for reasons you least deserve. You can be taken for reasons that have nothing to do with your will to live or your exposure to nefarious elements or your contribution to society. Mozambicans aren’t likely to die from some senseless act of preventable gun violence, like their African neighbors to the South. Actually, with the proliferation of free ARTs, Mozambicans are more likely to thrive with HIV than to die of AIDS than ever before in the nation’s history.  So, when death does come it comes like a thief in the night, into the homes of people who until that moment thought they were too poor to steal from.

In a place with no police protection; where ambulances are only available from private clinics and, even then, it’s a taxi for a gurney not a life saving vehicle; where power cuts plague the country, but the government is negotiating to export electricity to South Africa; where Julius Nyerere Road looks like the pock-marked face of a hormonal 14 year old boy with acne, rosacea and eczema topped off with sunburn… people pray.

They pray for everything and nothing, at the same time.

This is a place where luck, steeped in religion, lives supreme. Every day that one wakes up alive, is a day worth celebrating to the tilt. Those that drink until the wee hours of the morning in celebration, also tend to wake up at the crack of dawn to pray. They find their solace in believing that a God somewhere has spared them. These people have a faith unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not about knowing God, or even loving God – really. It’s about begging for an other worldly protection, since it sure as hell isn’t going to come from the living.

I’ve heard people ask if God has forsaken Africa. For their sakes (maybe our sakes?), I have to hope not, but my own observation leaves me pondering.  Until I came here I didn’t fully understand the question.

Of all the quick saves. All the split second decisions. All the life saving measures that I’ve seen spare human life its final phase. I’ve never seen it happen here – not ever. Not once have I heard someone say, “You won’t believe what happened…” end with a positive outcome. Every car accident I almost saw happen, happened. Every coma wasn’t followed by an other-worldly recovery. In my humble experience, miracles don’t exist for Mozambicans.

Why not here? Why not now? Why not these people?

There have been so many maybes in our whirlwind of goodbyes.
Now I understand the question.


Descanse em paz nossa Rabeca e Teresa

Dear Husband,

I’m new to this. I don’t know the rules. And maybe things we said before we got married were all bullshit. But, this thing isn’t easy. At least, it hasn’t been for me.

Trying to form an identity with someone isn’t something I know how to do, but I hope you see I’m trying. But you have to imagine how hard that is for me. You eat meat. You don’t like people who yell. You watch lots of BET. Can’t you see how different we are?

Culture is something that I’ve grappled with my whole life – What is a sense of belonging? What are the traditions we carry to stay connected? Am I part of a Diaspora now? This, we, aren’t an academic exercise, though. Right? I can’t figure us out in a transnational paradigm of contemporary globalization. Or perhaps I can…

But that doesn’t make me understand things like why the towels never make it back on to the racks after you take a shower. Or why I’m the only one who seems to SEE the food rotting in our fridge. You know when something is fermenting in our kitchen, right? I mean, when I married you your nose was working fine. Has it broken since then?

And some of this is just about space. How to share it. When to invade it. Who has a right to it. And I think we both need a gender neutral “cave.” Me? Because I’m an introvert, I do my best thinking alone and being around lots of people (even you, my love) can be draining. You? Because you’re a dude and you want to do dude things that I frankly don’t want to see. You could also do all the running you wanted in there, esp. while watching youtube videos and world star hip hop clips. I mean, this could work.

Does this sound like I’m pushing you away? I hope not.

I’m just trying to figure out strategies to make it a lifetime. We made it longer than Kim and the guy before Kanye, so I guess that counts for something. But, doesn’t forever seem like a really long time to you?

I’ll be old and wrinkly. Things will sag. You might want that cave then. So, it’s now or never baby.

No, seriously.

Like I said, I’m new to this. And I’m willing to make mistakes. But one thing you’ll never be able to say is that I didn’t try. I’m trying every day in ways you don’t even see. I’m trying to be a reliable part of this team. I’m trying to be an independent person who can rely on another person for help, regularly.

I am not from your rib. I was a whole person before I met you. I wasn’t incomplete before us. You rely on me to be whole. You expect me to be more than a fragment of a person without you. You expect me to represent you and us and me all at the same time, even when I’m not with you. You expect great things from me, with little more than a hug and a few pep talks along the way. You realize that you didn’t make me who I am, but that you are valuable part of everything I’ll be. You don’t see yourself as in contradiction with my ambitions. And you can’t see a future for either one of us without the other. You believe in us. I believe in your faith.

Sometimes I need you more than I admit. You don’t yet read my mind, but when you do… because someday you will… you’ll understand how embarrassed I feel to ask. You’re laughing right now. (I know this because, I just read your mind.) But you shouldn’t. You know that only compounds the original embarrassment. I’m weird.

Now you’re stuck and I guess you’ve got to come up with some strategies of your own. So, like they used to do back in the day, I’m going to have to ask you a few questions to see if you’re on team us:

  • Do you like me? – YES or NO
  • Can you agree to a cave? – YES or NO (if no, explanation required)
  • Do you promise to love me when I’m old and naggier? – YES or NO
  • Can you try to laugh at me less? (I’m sensitive!) – YES or NO
  • Can you remember who I was when you met me? – YES or NO
  • Can you agree to forgive me, in advance, for stupid things I’ll do through the rest our lives together? – YES or NO
  • Will you sign my friend contract? – YES or NO
  • Do you still like me? – YES or NO

If you can’t agree to all of the above, I think we’re days shy of being able to apply for annulment.

Think it over. No pressure.

With love,