Sign Spotting

Often while I’m on the road, I find interesting signs and ads that make me go hmmm… Here are some (in no particular order) that kept me entertained!

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.

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 they 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?

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.

My day in the District…

Some would say that I have a tendency to D.C. bash.  Some might be right. But, today I’m going to try to offer a fair and balanced view of our nation’s capitol. Here’s a day in the life, as told by my iphone3 photographs. #vintagetelecom

First, I tried to catch the train. D.C. has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to the metro. They’ll threaten your life if you drink your morning latte on your morning metro commute AND they always have those handy, dandy signs that tell you just when the next train is coming. Imagine my surprise when I reached the platform and found this: 
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I waited for a few minutes with the mob of people on the platform. Turns out that they were doing construction on the Virginia bound platform and trains in both directions were sharing the same track. Luckily, within just a few minutes the train came and the board changed. Mass confusion ensued:

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En route to Dupont Circle, which is on the infamous red line, I had the pleasure of taking a shuttle bus to try to get around Metro Center. Why around? Because, wmata decided to close its busiest station all weekend…IMG_0725

I eventually got off at Dupont Circle and had the pleasure of knowing that if I wanted to buy a pack of Newports at this gas station, I could actually take out $9 whole dollars to make the purchase. Who needs even numbers anyway? IMG_0711

I ate – guacamole – and drank – Diet Coke – at Lauriol Plaza. And honestly, I wish my iphone3 took better pics in the dark, because there were some fashionable folks coming in the door. And everyone knows that I don’t dole out fashion kudos easily. Alas, on the walk back to the train, I stumbled past an institution that I’d heard about in books and on cnn. Who knew that the German Marshall Fund was just blocks away from Dupont Circle? This is one of the perks of living in the epicenter of political power. You learn something new every day!IMG_0709

Since today was quite nice, I figured I’d roam around the city some more and soak in the sun. D.C.’s weather has been having serious mood swings lately. Just think, the temperature today was in the low 50s. Just Monday we had a snow day!
And the streets looked like this:
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Anyways, the snow is behind us, so there’s no better D.C. haunt on a Sunday than the flea market at Eastern Market! Today, I discovered that a Huffington Post Poll named this flea market the 2nd best in the world. I still can’t find the poll to determine which is first or first best or best – however you’d say that. This sign vaguely reminded me of that time that I was in the IGIA Airport and they had a sign that named the airport the 2nd best airline in blah blah blah… you should re-read the post to recollect. (This isn’t the HuffPo poll that this market is mentioned in as 2nd, but here is a recent HuffPo review of world flea markets, in case anybody is interested: http://huff.to/1fiDyXb) IMG_0713

I loved to see that vendors I love still have booths and are still doing well. I dropped by the BAMI booth and it was nice to see a friendly face. Though I didn’t buy any new soaps today, I’m now kinda regretting that decision. I also saw a few home decor must haves at Olde Good Things, but I’m often shocked by their sticker prices – especially at the Manhattan store – so I didn’t dare browse too seriously. Anyway, I did nab a whole gaggle of scented diffusers from CandlesbyGeeda.com! I was the lucky buyer-beneficiary of a scented oil that smells like man. Yes, people, man! I’m so excited I could do a dance. IMG_0715

I found two new booths that will become my new regulars. Well, maybe they’re just new to me, which isn’t saying much. But, I loooveeeddddd the goodies I bought from Was Paper. I’m going to tell you what I got, but please hold your horses. Don’t be copy cats and try to have a safari fridge theme in your house too. Get horses or elephant’s butts (yes, she has those too!) or anything else other than my beloved rhino. Consider this a warning…

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was paper

And just as I mustered the will power to walk past this sign and not give in…

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… i found Mirasa! The lovely woman at the booth was already packing up, but she didn’t seem in the least bit perturbed when I started digging through the bib box. I noticed her accent and was so enamored when she said she was from Bombay (only Bombay people call Mumbai Bombay. That’s an insider tip!). I LOVE Bombay! Turns out she came to the U.S. to study at F.I.T. and found her husband. I can relate, since I went to India to work and found my fiance. I told her that I got engaged in front of the Gateway of India in her hometown of Mumbai AND I went to college in NYC too! #smallworld

Honestly, after weeks of feeling disconnected and misunderstood in D.C., this conversation was a light in my lonely heart. It was lovely to find someone who also understood the craziness of the Delhi I left behind – its positives and its negatives. It was really cool to connect with a perfect stranger and to feel so familiar with her personality and her designs.

Bombay has a booming design scene for fashion, housewares, art and more. In fact, since I haven’t been to Helsinki yet, I’d argue that it’s one of the best places to find innovative contemporary design. Alas, underneath a string of baby bibs and onesies, I found that Delhi wasn’t so far away and D.C. might not be so bad after all.

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I pressed on and tried to avoid the rest of the tempting vendors…

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I navigated my way back to the metro…

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I made it back on to the train and decided to stop at Chinatown for a peak around…

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…but it was reaching the doggie’s walking time, so I headed back to the far, far, away land that is Northern Virginia. I left D.C. behind somewhere in the wmata space after Foggy Bottom, before Rosslyn and underneath the Potomac river.

THE END.

From LA to L.A. in 30 days

From this blog you might get the impression that I am a world traveler. This is only partially true. I am often on planes traveling to obscure corners of the world and griping about the lack of vegetarian food along way. But, the map of my travels would show that I’ve done the bulk of my globe trotting around the Atlantic Ocean. In reality, there are huge swaths of my own country that I haven’t seen. Every election year, I’m dumbfounded by just what’s going on in the middle of the country. I completed Buzzfeed’s ‘What city should you actually live in’ poll and I got Portland. I had to google where Portland was. Sad, but true.

I’ll have you know, though, that I do not take lightly gaps in my travel portfolio. So, I spent the last month visiting friends and family in the United States. Only the United States. No going a’foreign for me! In that four weeks, I covered from sea to shining sea, literally. Most of these cities I had been to before, but that’s beside the point. Making the deliberate choice to stay within the confines of the 48 contiguous was huge for me. And since it had been years since I’d traveled to some of these destinations, it was like discovering them all over again.  You’ll remember my last trip to New Orleans was over two years ago. And though I’m a frequent visitor in New York City, I fail to blog-scrutinize it as if it were a ‘destination.’  Well gone are the days when I undervalue all things domestic. I’m going to hit you with the highlights of my month of American couchsurfing.

Newark (2014)Destination 1: Newark, NJ, Last visit: October 2012, Highlight: Family time! Down side: Chris Christie’s political career imploded. Sights worth seeing: Newark Museum

 

Destination 2: New York City, NY, Last visit: October 2012, Highlight: Having post-birthday celebrations with CharlieDown side: Didn’t get to make it to Harlem. Sights worth seeing: The Whitney

IMG_0091Destination 3: Washington, DCLast visit: October 2012, Highlight: Brunch! Down side: Most of my friends who like to party have moved. Sights worth seeing: Rock Creek Park

 

 

Destination 4: New Orleans, LALast visit: July 2011, Highlight: Reunion with Alyson & Chlovah! Down side: It was friggin’ freezing. Sights worth seeing: Antique Bookstores

DSCF3001Destination 5: Los Angeles, CALast visit: December 2008, Highlight: A day at Matador beach in Malibu with Leah! Down side: I’m convinced that most people in L.A. are delusional. Sights worth seeing: Cirque de Soleil

 

Destination 6: Arlington, VA, Last visit: October 2012, Highlight: I have my own apartment and my dog is here too! Down side: I live with my co-workers. Think: bad episode of “Real World – Federal Employees” Sights worth seeing: Pentagon Row

This American Life…

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When life hands me lemons – I’m known for making damn good mojitos! So, I’m confident that my re-Americanization process will get progressively easier with time. Unfortunately, though, if you’ve been around me for the past few weeks, you know that I’m still muddling through and highly likely to make a fool of myself along the way. But, such is this girl’s American life. What can you do but admit that being Carmen Sandiego is not as easy or as glamourous as it seems? Below is a list of the top 5 issues I’m coping with since being back in America:

Homeless#5 – I’m homeless: Some people don’t realize that my moving a lot really means that I have no home. I am like a college student on summer vacation. All my mail goes to my mama’s house, so everybody thinks I still “live” there. But, let me debunk that myth. I sleep in my old room. Too bad for me, my mother isn’t one of those nurturer-for-life types. “My room” is actually a library/ guest bedroom now. She converted it when I moved to D.C. I think she spoke some vile rumor into existence when she said, “you’re an adult now” and charged full speed ahead with her conversion plans. To make matters worse, I have no car. My dog and my brother’s dog are not aware that they are, in fact, cousins. Sigh. I’m thankful to have a roof over my head, because I have friends who are forced to stay in hotels for months. But, sheesh, I sure do want a home!

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#4 – It’s cold outside! I haven’t experienced a real winter in two whole American years. I came back and had to grab an old tattered coat that hasn’t been cleaned since the first Obama presidency. Not only am I homeless, but I look it too.

#3 – Food is ‘authentic.’ Yes, authentic tasting food is a real thing. I forgot that. In India, ‘good food’ is usually well intentioned fusion, pan-Asian food or homemade Indian. The two Delhi exceptions are Culinaire for Thai and Diva at the Italian Cultural Centre. Everything outside of that tends to be just shoulder shrug quality or deathly expensive. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my Haitian fried red snapper, my Chinese pan-fried dumplings, and Senegalese Thiéboudienne. My tastebuds sing America!

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#2 – Things make sense. I often tell people about the pedestrian crosswalks (a.k.a zebra crossings) near my job would actually end either in a ditch 3 feet deep or a median 3 feet high. These public works efforts were really just death traps. You’ll now understand why I’m typically very suspicious of anything that’s intended to be helpful. I know it’s backward. Since I’ve been back in the U.S., however, I have let my guard down. The little white walking man comes up when it’s safe to walk. The red hand pops up when it’s not. I appreciate putting my brain on autopilot and letting my legs do all the work.

Black is Beautiful Tee#1 – I see BLACK PEOPLENow this is complicated. Complicated, yet refreshing. Let me explain. I went to India expecting to blend in. Somewhere in those 50 shades of brown, I thought I would be safely absorbed. Instead, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was reminded, early and often, that I am Black! Not brown, not African, not Indian – Black. So, I got used to being one of a handful. There were just a few of us “Black people” in town and we were thick as thieves. Can you imagine being a minority within a minority? Ohhh chile’! Sometimes I just wanted to curl up on the couch with a tall glass of purple drank and watch “Cornbread, Earl & Me,” followed by a matinee of “Juice.” Now, those days are long gone. I’m walking down the mean streets of urban America and I’m surrounded by a sea of young, gifted Blacks – many of whom are sipping from tall bottles of Fiji water! I sure am proud to be just another face in this crowd.

Ohhhhh America…thanks for the warm welcome!