Modest Fashion for the Soul

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Muslimah on We Heart It

This is officially the first year that I haven’t been able to fast for the month of Ramadan and it’s been a hard learned lesson in both humility and faith. In being denied participation in the one genuine act of Islamic practice that I’m committed to wholeheartedly, I found myself reminiscing about the days when it was much easier to be Muslim in this world. Easier because extremism wasn’t so pervasive, because stereotypes were less biting, and because – frankly – people couldn’t tell a Muslim from a Persian from a Sikh and, so, there was a certain peace in being able to be ignored by default. But now, things have changed, and not for the better for anyone. It feels scarier to be a Muslim now more than ever and I’m sure it also feels scarier to not be.

While everyone all over the world is worried about terrorists in Orlando and in Dhaka and in Istanbul there are other movements coming from the Islamic world’s women that should be taken just as seriously. The #modestfashion movement is something I stumbled on while trying to get my Ramadanian dose of Muslimah love via the internet. And love I found…

When most people think of Muslim women, they think of hijabs (head scarf) and burqa/burkahs (and I won’t even start on a niqab). The debate around these two articles of clothing seem to be the majority of what you might find on Muslim women – period. But, Islam is the world’s second largest religion and is estimated to have about 1.7 billion believers. Trust me, they don’t all dress the same, much less share the same beliefs about religion or religiouswear. As #blackandMuslim will tell you, most people have stereotypes in their heads of Muslims that subscribe to the belief that all Muslims look like they are Arabs or Middle Easterners. But actually Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and there are even videos about the growing population in places like Chiapas, Mexico. Needless to say, there are variations in faith, practice, and aesthetic.

Most people believe that Muslim women are wearing the equivalent of a brown paper bag. There are no curves, there is very little femininity in the idea of a burqa/burkah. Yet, there are many brands that are bringing color and joy to clothing that bears less skin. For women who actually observe covering, there are subtle differences in how much hair is shown, how much ankle is shown, how much of the face is seen that can typically help you identify which country she might hail from. Many, like me, don’t cover at all. In any case, there’s a whole body of fashion that goes forgotten, like abayas and fabulous shoes, that are both standard fare and fashion statement. Rather than debate about how much of a woman’s body is shown as an indication of her liberties or lack there of, there are many women who are owning the decision to wear what they choose and owning the choice to wear more.

Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a variation of women all over the world, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have been uniting around the idea of being covered. There’s something appealing about gravitating away from the fatshaming  that’s so common in the London Tube and all around us, and embracing our capacity to be beautiful, mysterious, appealing, and amazing with a less (skin) is more aesthetic to match our attitude. Rather than continue to sing the praises of a movement you may not have seen, I’ll show you what it looks like and maybe, you too, will find a reason to get on board with embracing the freedom of femme that comes with bearing less skin. All of you with maxi dresses in your closets are halfway there already…

The (hijabi) American fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. at the moment (woo hoo and she’s from the great state of New Jersey!) through her brand LouElla , which focuses on being covered AND fashionable. The idea is that you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy not showing every inch of skin you own… Not that there’s a problem with showing all that skin… but hey, it’s not everybody’s thing.

For more ideas: London just had a Modest Fashion Show in Feb & so did Istanbul. The fabrics, the textures, man… I’m having a #fashiongasm over here. And if hijabs aren’t your thing, imagine yourself in the rest of the outfit. Use a lil’ imagination people!

 

 

 

African Window Shopping

12322536_10102163250390672_4913808849918494200_oFor as long as I’ve heard of Luanda I’ve known that the town is pricey. It has religiously been on the top ten list of the most expensive cities in the world and when I happen to spot Angolans in Brasil, South Africa or Mozambique they stick out like a very sore, expensive thumb. They tend to be flashy and fashion conscious elsewhere, but how can that be when they warn that Luanda’s shop prices are appalling?

If you don’t know much about Africa or southern Africa or Angola, you should get acquainted. The country sits on the southwest coast of Africa, just south of both Congos and north of Namibia *Windhoek.* It was once colonized by the Portuguese and Luanda was the epicenter of economic life. Colonization took a strong hold here and, for me, its remnants are more visible here than in other ex-Portuguese colonies. The Portuguese fought hard to keep Angola within the crown because there were so many expats living there and so much money made from exports and natural resources. Independence came in 1975 after a multifaceted resistance movement that started as early as 1956. After independence, a civil war broke out between nascent political parties and it lasted until 2002. Over half a million people lost their lives and about 1 million were said to be displaced (both internally and internationally). The country shares porous borders and cultural ties with its neighbors, with many people having relatives that live in both Congos & speak French or in Namibia & speak English. Tribulations in bordering countries have reverberations in Angola.

How did the capitol get so expensive? Angola is an oil rich state. Much of the nation’s conflicts and economy revolve around an oil rich region named Cabinda. It is disputed territory, but the Angolans have held fast to their claim. Oil is the backbone of Angola’s economy and, with its protectionist policies & hefty bureaucracy, much of the nation’s wealth has remained in country.  The colonial legacies of Namibia (forcibly annexed to South Africa) have resulted in either family ties or none at all to its neighbors to the south, so they’re not dumping their cash into the @home store in Cape Town as much as I had suspected. Angolans tend to keep within the Portuguese speaking world and often head to Lisbon for all things they idealize.

Oddly enough, Portuguese neo-colonialism has resulted in the demand for Portuguese imports and the oil market has powered the ability of many people in Luanda to willingly pay the high costs of transportation, fees, taxes and mark ups involved in getting goods from Europe.

Anywho, Luanda is notorious for being a shopping nightmare. I was told to bring my food with me and only plan to purchase perishables in town. I was warned to be prepared and to pack well, because I’d be giving up a limb and a progeny to replace basic clothing items forgotten in my haste.

I’m happy to report that it’s not so bad to shop in Luanda, but there are a few catches. First, there is a lot of poverty. I don’t want to paint the picture that this town looks like the Abu Dhabi of Africa. There are many people who struggle for the basics and I would be remiss to omit them. Second, the exchange rate, foreign currency exchange, and oil prices have all fluctuated ridiculously over this past year. It has resulted in the USD to Kwanza exchange being officially 135 Kwanza to 1 USD, but the street rate can go as high as double that.  Based on exchange alone, prices have dropped about 50% for those paid in dollars. Third, Luanda is full of stores. I mean FULL. There are boutiques everywhere. There are new malls popping up. There is an abundance and variety of options, if you’re actually looking and think you can afford it. So, I went on the prowl.

I shopped craft fairs:

I shopped designer boutiques:

I shopped mid range shops:

 

And I reached out to independent designers:

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We all know this is not the end of my exploratory shopping project, but the initial visit was indeed promising. Artisan crafts are much higher priced than what can be found in neighboring countries, but since Luanda believes itself to be very Afro-Europolitan  there are actually few craft shops to choose from anyway. I’d say hitch a layover to Johannesburg airport and shop duty free instead. There’s more variety and quality there than in Luanda.

The clothing boutiques vary. I absolutely fell in love with a dress priced at 36,000 Kwanza or about $265 USD. While the dress was cute and it actually fit, it was made in China by a brand called Hesperus. Google it and see if you find a single thing on this brand that doesn’t entail a creepy wholesale website that asks you for your SSN before you check out.  #supersideeye

 

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The price was too high for my blood, so it stayed in the store as a result. But, it haunts me!

Last, the high end stores range from exactly the same outrageous US price to slightly less. My personal fave was the Dolce & Gabbana collection at Boutique Anisabel, though I couldn’t afford even a belt on the discount rack.

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The Du Carmo store turned out to be a big hit and just affordable enough to make my heart skip a beat. I almost considered getting my niece a couture frock and my husband some Orlebar Brown polos until I remembered that neither one of them is currently in Luanda and I’m extremely selfish. Back to the ladies’ section:

All in all, the shopping expedition was interesting and insightful. From brand names to Chinese no names, it is true that Angolan stores have interesting European styles and, in a pinch, a lovely young lady could theoretically hop to an unknown shop and pick up a much needed outfit or accessory for a special occasion. The prices certainly aren’t cheap, but they are accessible for a splurge. This visit has certainly debunked the myth that it’s impossible to shop in Luanda.

It is certainly possible, but it should be done with caution!

The week(s) from Hell!

IMG-20141024-00067These past few weeks have been so bad that it’s taken me a week to recover and even begin to start writing about it. After coming back from a grueling 2 week trip to the U.S., I head back to Southern Africa for what I hope will be a relaxed reintroduction to the joys of home. But, alas, the queen of doing too much did just that… too much and the wheels fell off…almost literally.

IMG_1302I arrive back from the U.S. on a Sunday and I, the dum-dum pop that I am, decide to go to work on Monday. This results in a drowsy, sick, achy, painful, grumptastic first day back at the office. I confirm that I do, in fact, have some kind of illness that requires antibiotics and I commence a course of the dream drug that is cipro. I’m feeling particularly bad for my co-workers who are excited to see me back, but are eagerly met with my stank face.

I decide that I am definitely going to Johannesburg for a seminar on Friday, which means that I actually need to leave on Thursday. Just 4 days after my 22 hour flight ordeal. Nothing but pure genius is at work here, when I convince a friend to come with me on Thursday to drive to Nelspruit after work and then wake up at 4am the next morning to drive the rest of the way to Jozi. Sure enough, I convince this poor sucker and what he doesn’t realize is that he has just joined my week(s) from hell. We end up leaving town early, because Mozambique’s national election results are coming out and we decide to clear out-of-town as soon as humanly possible. We’re on the road from Maputo to Matola for about an hour stuck in the slowest moving traffic since Driving Miss Daisy. Aside from the one time that I turn off the headlights (by mistake) on a winding pitch black road, we finally get some clear road and head to Nelspruit to a cute little hotel that’s a hospitality training school. All seems well that night when we’re greeted by really lovely people at the hotel, but the next day is when everything heads south.

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The next morning we head out at 4am, with my friend driving my old jalopy, and we actually make it to the seminar on time. I have a great day reading and writing and feeling like my life has some meaning!

And then we head to Sandton mall. I do some shopping, get my hair done, and buy new tires for the Jalopy. All seems right with the world…

IMG_1355…until I start to feel like something isn’t right. And by 7pm I’m back in the Jozi hotel feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. I end up crashing that night with paracetamol and ibuprofen cocktail in quantities that the CDC would not recommend. Mind you I’m still on this antibiotic thing that’s apparently not curing sh*t!

I wake up the next day for a long overdue meeting that turns out to be quite productive. I’m hopped up on so much drugs it’s amazing that I even understand what’s being said. My meeting ends, friend and I hit the road back to Maputo. It’s only 11:30am and we’re thinking we’ll get back before dark. Not so, friends. Not so…

IMG_1353We’re on the road for about 20 minutes when the car stops accelerating on the highway. So, I’m pretty convinced that my friend who is driving my car, must have done something stupid to cause this. But, his face is in genuine shock. We switch seats and, yea baby, this car is f*cked up. We plug in the nearest coordinates for a mechanic and head straight there. Luckily, it’s only 2 blocks away from my friend’s place and I know the neighborhood. We get there, the mechanic tries a bunch of things only to find that after 2 hours, 1 hour after the shop was supposed to be closed, he can’t figure out.

I call my friend – my poor, poor friend – who bails me out every time I need something in South Africa and she lets us regroup from her apt. My friend who drove with me decides to hitch a bus back to Maputo.

By this time, my OTC drug cocktail is being consumed at paces that cause liver damage, so I call my doctor who tells me to go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital to rule out bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis?! When someone thinks you have bacterial meningitis, even when you’re sure there’s no way in hell you have it, you go to the hospital. QUICKLY!

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We go and wait in the lobby, pretty uneventfully. Until this happens…. which is also pretty uneventful until you watch the face of the man seated on the right get progressively more annoyed and disgusted. ROFLMAO

IMG_1327IMG_1325IMG_1322IMG_1321IMG_1331I end up getting blood drawn and waiting in the hospital for an hour, catching up with my friend – my poor, poor friend. And I’m sent home with a new cocktail of drugs that includes new antibiotics and no more answers on a diagnosis.

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We decide that I’ll stay in my poor, poor friend’s apt til Monday. My husband takes a bus down from Maputo. My poor, poor friend takes me to a pharmacy where I get my drugs in a locked shower caddy.

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And once again, I’m one big happy imposition.

Come Monday, hubby and I are at the mechanic bright and early. They say they need to order a part that won’t come until Wednesday earliest. So, we pack up and take the bus back to Moz to wait it out. I’m pretty f*cking sick at this point and I decide I’m taking the week off, because if I don’t I just may pass out or growl at someone.

IMG-20141104-00085The mechanic says we can come back on Saturday because all is well and they’ve fixed the car. We actually go on Monday, because there was no way to get there before the shop closed on Saturday. So we actually waste our long weekend for Veteran’s day inside our house doing all sorts of nothing. But we’re super excited to get this car back on the road, so we take the bus back down to Jozi. Get to the bus station at 4am and wait until the mechanic shop opens at 8am. We take a quick test drive because traffic is way too packed to really get up to any speed or go for long distances. So, we’re sufficiently satisfied with the results, pay the people at the shop and get on the road for some shopping before heading back to Moz.

In addition to spending about $300 on groceries, we get some much-needed retail therapy and by 3pm we’re on the road back to Moz. (I can’t help but laugh at the fact that in South Africa, the non-Christian customers & staff are welcome to have a crap a$$ New Year!)

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We’re happy. We’re smiling. We’re singing. And then… the car stops accelerating on the highway. We’re 2 hours outside of Jozi, which is also 3-4 hours outside of the nearest real city, and the car is finished. We pull over. Give it a rest and realize that we can go 30 kms/hr (and no faster). So we get the hell off the side of this road, put the hazards on, and drive to the nearest gas station outside of Belfast.  A really interesting duo of Boer dudes arrive to look at the car and they can’t figure out what’s going on, but it’s not engine or anything that they can actually see. It’s 8pm and we’re desperate. They say, go to the dealer. “Your car will get you there, but really, really slowly.”

IMG-20141101-00075What’s normally a 45 minute drive, actually takes 3 hours. By 11pm, we’re parked at a Mercure hotel to spend the night in Nelspruit. Luckily, hubby realized that there’s no way we could keep $300 worth of frozen meat in the hotel fridge, so his awesome friends drive 3 hours from Moz to meet us in Nelspruit to take the food back. Hubby also goes back, because he’s got to work the next day.

The next morning I get up and drive the jalopy to the dealership, where they tell me that no one can look at the car until 5 hours later. And that… I shouldn’t wait. Luckily, I have some more friends in Nelspruit who are on their way back to Maputo, so I hitch a ride with them back to town.  Fast forward, I’m back in  Maputo – working like a rabid dog – without a car and still kinda sick, and I’m on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I have to remember that no matter how bad things have been, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never had to ride in  one of these…

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and I’ve never been seen wearing these pants…

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I head back to my doctor who proceeds to tell me that they think I have (or maybe had) mononucleosis, but can’t confirm. (WTH?!) And now, I’m on “watch” for a disease they don’t even know if I have. The worst part is that I can’t get an excuse from the doctor to NOT show up at work the next day.

After a week of chasing the mechanic, they say that they need to get a part from Japan and the estimated bill will be about $2000. Mind you, we spent about $1000 at the shop in Jozi. I complain to the place in Jozi and they tell me to bring the car back… to Jozi. I live 6 hours away and my car is broken down in the middle. I decide these people are f*cktards (which means that this week I’m in the process of writing a formal complain to the South African Consumer Complaints Commission). Anyways, so the bills are mounting, work’s still sucking, and my health is mysteriously evasive.

During all this mayhem, I get an email saying that a piece I worked on a year ago was accepted for publishing. Awesome! I’m thinking… maybe things are on the upswing. But, I’m weird like that so I only tell a few people, because I don’t believe this is really going to come to fruition. And guess what? It fell through within a matter of days. The publication (which shall remain nameless) comes up with some crazy deadline that makes no sense to get signed documents scanned and returned to them. Of course, the deadline comes and goes. They rescind their offer for publication and I’m now convinced that they got scared away because of some references in my piece, which have only recently become more nationally relevant. Whatever…

IMG-20141104-00084So, it turns out that 2 weeks later, I’m having what I call a “curtailment” day, which is one where I decide that I should just high tail it out of this place. Pack up all my stuff, find a new job in NYC – which is where I ultimately want to land anyway – and be the free-spirited, artsy academic that I know I’m supposed to be. But I’m carless, so how exactly would I get to the airport?

Then my husband’s family comes over for family dinner and I have to think… what’s it all worth?

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Every good turn…

“Finally in the plane. after a very intense last day! Will be back soon…keep in touch. Lots of love, r” read her 4am text, as if I knew she was leaving at all.  Last I heard, she’d gotten her visa extended, and I was pretty sure she’d be sticking around, at least through the summer. But, clearly, if she’s “in the plane” she’s either headed back to Réunion or France proper. She’s definitely NOT staying in Delhi (Indian translation: she has left Delhi itself). We hadn’t any chance to say goodbye, and I wonder why she didn’t force the issue of having tea before she left.

I thought that throughout the course of the day the mental kerfuffle caused by waking up to the departure of one of my very first friends here in Delhi would slowly abate. But, as I furiously pushed grammatically correct papers back to Washington, sometime around 10am I got a call from Syeda. “I don’t think I can come up there right now, because I’m still at my desk. I’ve been here since 3 in the morning and I’m still not done checking out,” she said, with her usual nervous laughter. Sometimes I wanted to shake her or defend her when she used that “I laugh to keep from crying” tone. But, she, one of my very best friends here in Delhi, was going back home and vowed only to return for jewelry shopping.  And what use is making that trip when I know her ring size, her favorite jeweler, and her over the top South Asian preferences?

Yea, she’s never coming back.

And so, Thursday was a day of formidable goodbyes and reconciliation with the migrations of Delhi. Making friends is hard here, because most people don’t intend to stay. Like in DC, or any nation’s capital I suppose, the population that is not native is nomadic. In reality, that means that my Thursday was the equivalent of a big bag of balls. And I kept thinking, “I knew I should have just gone to Baghdad!”

Then I remembered the email that I red flagged from the day before. “The keys to D1/9 are ready for pick up.” FUCK!

It was 4:59pm. I had to get the keys to the new lady’s house from an office that closed at 5:30pm. I had to get her groceries. Go to the airport at 12am. Pick her up. Take her home. Make sure her keys worked. Get her 3 bags to the top of a third floor walk up. Show her how to turn on the air conditioners. [I forgot to show her the water distiller.] And go home. Go to sleep. Wake up. Pick her up for work. Take her to her office. Go to mine. And push more paper. All I could think was, ‘if she’s lame – this will be the worst 24 hours ever.’

They say when one door closes, two windows open. Thus far, this week has been a one for one scenario. Maybe my other two are on back order? The new lady was pretty cool – and it doesn’t hurt to make a friend in the health unit. Around my mom’s age. Southern, with lots of time in New Orleans and Texas. A talker, but not in an obnoxious way. Her first time abroad – second career. And curious.

So, it was my turn to be somebody’s first friend. I spent all Saturday dragging her from self-soothing shopping site to self-soothing shopping site. I’m sure she has a horrible impression of my spending habits, but a great understanding of where to go for those who consider suicide when Delhi is enuf. We went to all of Syeda’s old haunts: the jeweler in Le Meridien, the sari shop in Sarojini Nagar Market, the DLF Emporio – which now has a Christian Louboutin (fast forward to 3:15) store!, and Smokehouse Grill for dinner. And after I dropped the new lady off at home, I remembered that an old college chum had arrived in town too.

I’m not sure how, but I dragged him out of his flat clear across town, and we made it to a farm house party only 10 minutes from my house – though it felt a world away. An interesting collage of expats, diplomats, lesbians, (closet) gays, locals, nomads, Africans, Europeans, beer and sheeshah made for quite the evening.

And aside from all the happy thoughts swarming in my head about how I wasn’t in Delhi alone after all, all my selfish ass could think about was, “these two newbies are sooo lucky they found me, or else their time here in Delhi would suck big balls.” C’mon, on your first day in Delhi you go to the DLF Emporio and the jeweler in Le Meridien?? It took me months to find this stuff! Or this farm house pool party near Mehrauli?? That was my first time going, and this guy I haven’t seen in 6 years just plops down in Delhi for 12 hours and gets a super awesome invite to come with?  Dude, my life is awesome! And they reaped the benefits of the mushroom cloud of awesomeness that surrounds narcissistic ole’ me.

But every good turn deserves another. And my two bygone besties really showed me around town as much as they could too. After all, R. had shown me Boheme in Hauz Khas, after we met at a Belgian diplomat’s house party that we’d both crashed. And Syeda really pushed me, professionally and personally, to go out on a limb for myself. And I felt like I owed it to them to make sure that this new duo had the best time possible. After all, we’re in Delhi, and sh!t doesn’t just happen – life here can be sh!t. But, there are times, like last night, when I look up in the sky and I can actually see the stars through the smog and it’s a pretty awe-inspiring moment.

And this is all against the backdrop of having been here when my grandfather was laid to rest back home. I didn’t make the funeral this week. And I really haven’t talked about it – perhaps because I fully intend to act like it’s not really the case until I have a breakdown. (Don’t judge me.)

But, all the coming and going really had me thinking about how our days are always numbered. Not because we have to worry about passing on, but because life is too exciting to sit still and wait for experiences to come. People like me chase the next moment, and that means learning to be ok with saying ‘see you later,’ when you know it’s really ‘goodbye.’

Perhaps that’s the same flexibility it takes to convert a 4am g’bye text message into tour guide inspiration. It’s the leading by example aspect of just enjoying every day and watching others around you reflect the same or choose another circle where their miseries have an audience. It’s the out-of-wedlock child born of 2 principles: being who you are and paying it forward.  While I have very specific plans to pay forward my grandfather’s legacy, this whole Delhi bit is a high-speed revolving door that I will just have to get used to.

Watch my red bottoms spin!

Beauty Tips for the Trav’lin Woman

I have traveled to 5 continents over the last 10 years and with each trip I learned a little something new about beauty. Where there is beauty there is fashion, where there is fashion there is haute couture. And no matter where in the world you may be, there are many (not) ‘it girls.’ We have all met them. In their own context, within their own country, they think that wearing a combination of caked on makeup, kohl and threads from a 90s music video solidify their position as the hottest thing since fresh baked Krispy Kreme donuts.  Suffice it to say, the misses are many. But among them are a few quintessential hits. Often as overpriced as watermelon at Whole Foods, the hits seem to cost a fortune. That’s what credit cards are for (right, Suze Orman?). Without bemoaning the issue, I’ll simply say that there are 5 beauty lessons for a normal budget that I have learned in my travels. They haven’t failed me yet.

5 – Baby powder ($2-4): This one I first learned in high school, so biggups to Massachusetts suburbs! At the tender age of teens, I learned that I am the notoriously sweaty girl. Back, boobs, pits, if it has a name – it’s sweating. So, at every school dance I was the girl who walked around with paper towels and stood right near the fan. Or (literally, I did this – multiple times) I was liable to wipe my whole face on a guy’s tshirt in the middle of a song. The sweaty face thing I have found to be unavoidable, though some people find blotting sheets ($5) very useful. But, baby powder was awesome with every place else. Don’t lay it on too thick, or else you’ll look like Casper. An even layer on all the important places will do. I’m not sure if it simply blocks your pores or takes your sweat glands out to dinner and a movie, but my powder wing man hasn’t failed me yet.

4 – Eyebrow shavers ($3-5): A colleague and I were in Pakistan talking about the woes of the femmestache. I shared how, originally, I didn’t think mine was that noticeable, but whenever I wore dark lipstick my 5 o’clock femmestache would reappear. And then there were the nice ladies (read: bastards) at the eyebrow threading shop who always asked if I wanted to have my upper lip done too. One day I was too weak to resist and I agreed to what turned out to be the worst idea ever. I felt like someone was pulling the skin off my face one millimeter at a time. So, I tried waxing. Less pain, I thought. Sure, less pain. But as it turns out my upper lip looked 2 shades lighter than the rest of my face and I had bumps and red irritation for a week. This colleague gave the “pishaw!” to all my woes and told me a beauty secret I’ve only told 2 other people in life: Go to your drug store, by a pack of eyebrow razors and use them – liberally – on your upper lip, while in the comfort of your own home! The hair doesn’t grow back thicker, you’ll never cut yourself, you won’t get bumps and you can finally tell those eyebrow ladies to suck it!

3 – Black eye makeup ($2-20): If you’ve ever been to Dubai you know that a woman can be covered from head to toe and still be the most gorgeous creature on the planet.  It seems that Emirati women, like most Muslim and Middle Eastern women, go all out on the eye makeup. Most don’t bother with Wet & Wild colors.  They delve straight into the smoky eye. I was traumatized by a few raccoon eyes in my NJ days and I was a bit skeptical about stealing the kohl look for myself. But, I tried wearing it to carnival in Salvador da Bahia back in 2008 and my eye makeup and I have never parted since. Anybody who knows me knows that no matter how ‘nude’ my look, I feel naked without mascara and black liner. Some situations don’t require using both, but no matter what – eye definition never hurt nobody. Actually, it makes most women’s facial features POP. Not that you asked…but I’m personally not a fan of liquid liner. Any pencil will do. And my favorite mascaras are Cover Girl’s Lash Blast and MAC’s Haute & Naughty Lash Mascara.

2 – Choose your Shoes ($20-$250): I have bought shoes all over the world, and hands down my favorite place to go shoe shopping is in Sao Paulo, Brazil (New York is second and Geneva, Switzerland is a far off third). They are affordable. They are fun. And they are always avant garde. Enough about the shoe shopping capital of my world. The point here is that if you have a good pair of shoes, you have an outfit.  Most of us ladies go from day to evening unexpectedly. But that doesn’t mean our wallets can justify buying a completely new outfit on our lunch break. Who woulda thunk that tonight would be the night that el Hunk-o who works upstairs would call and ask if you want to grab drinks after work? Or that your boss would volunteer you for an offsite speaking event? Well, choose your shoes wisely ladies and don’t be afraid to pack an extra pair (I usually wear flats and keep the real foot candy in my bag). As we speak, I have three pairs of shoes at my desk at work. Sneakers – in case I’m ready to work out or need to Usain Bolt out of the building because of a sudden emergency (yes, I’m changing shoes!).  A pair of black suede pointed toe pumps, because even though they hurt like hell they go with everything.  And a pair of comfortable brown peep toe stilettos, cuz’ you never know when you have to go to an outside meeting with male colleagues. They always walk too damn fast, but expect you to keep up and still be at eye level. Needless to say, having these stock shoes in the office mean that I can come to work wearing flip flops or stripper boots — depending on my mood — and I’m prepared for whatever the day brings. It’s cheaper to change shoes on a whim than to have to buy a wardrobe every time the schedule changes. And, invest the time in finding a good cobbler. It is much easier to maintain a pair of shoes you love than to replace them every time they are nicked.

1- Act your age, not your shoe size (PRICELESS): Perhaps this one is universal, but episodes of Mob Wives would have me believe that Long Island may have missed the memo.  Wear age appropriate clothing! And by age, I don’t just mean the years you have spent on this earth – I also mean the spirit of your body type. When I was 13, I couldn’t wear Mandee’s clothes. Why? Because, I had the body type of an 18 year old, not that of the tween those threads were made for. So, I had to suck it up and move on to other brands that weren’t so offensive to the eye.  That said, there is a lot of variety in the ‘age appropriate’ category, and that’s where you get to wear your common sense on your sleeve, literally.  Knowing  what looks good and feels good on your body requires lots of honest introspection. You better do it girl, because the fashion 5-0 are out there and they’ll write you a ticket and NEVER tell you about your violation. You can’t always trust other people to give you good feedback, so do your homework and wear things that flatter the body you do have – not the body you wish you had. Wear (your clothes) maturely!

…de Moët et les hommes…

Great things have come from France. For example, we have Pierre L’Enfant, who died in time to let Benjamin Banneker take the lead on Washington, DC. This is the same L’Enfant who was fired from the planning of Paterson, NJ (not good enough for Paterson, but perfect for the nation’s capital? err?). We also have my personal favorite, French fries. Apparently they actually started in Belgium, but the French win the gold ribbon for taking credit and running with it this long. And last, but not least, Parisians gave us Christian Louboutin. I’m a huge fan of any man who can tickle me pink, while I paint the town red. He truly is the elixir whenever I’m poutin.  So, with so much admiration from afar, why is it that we just can’t seem to get along?

Well, I decided to go to Paris to get to the bottom of this Atlantic Ocean east coast, west coast rivalry. I consulted all the experts – the taxi drivers and hoteliers, the Christians and the Muslims, the academics and the free lancers. And I came up with just a short list.

 Americans hate because:

  • There’s no way to make English sound sexy.  Not an Aussie or a Brit, a New Zealander or an American can purse their lips to make the mundane sound as if you’re just repeating the words “Zsa Zsa Gabor” with varied tone and inflection. I personally am not a huge fan of the French language, but I will say that whatever they say sounds important, pressing and sensual.  I’m sure the taxi guy was just telling me to fly a kite, but it’s cool – just keep talking Frenchie.
  • The French protest because they want to work less. Americans protest because they want to work more. (Read: The French come off as lucky, whiny ingrates.) Dare I say, the French approach is downright against American values.  It’s one thing to camp out on a well trafficked bridge or in a homeless camp because you can’t work—but the French take to the streets, because their secure government jobs make them show up to work… and expect that they produce… something… anything.  There is a lot of jealousy raging here. What government employee doesn’t want to take to the streets on a work day to demand more benefits? The French are ballsy. We talk about it, they be about it. Ain’t that ‘bout a [je ne sais quoi]?

French hate because:

  • The French language stopped being politically relevant about the time the Princesses Nubiennes album dropped.  (Read: Before the turn of the only century that counts – this one!)  In diplomacy, English reigns supreme. In second grade classrooms the world over, the new second language is Spanish. The French are proud of their culture enough to take this as a personal slight. Oh well… having to close your nose, talk through your teeth and spit on your peers – is nobody’s idea of fun. At least they have the majority of Africa and some Caribbean islands still hot on their heels.
  • The jury is still out on whether or not quality of life is better between the two countries. So, barring a clear French victory, that’s a U.S. win by default. While the mid – late 20th century Black emigration of greats like Nina Simone and James Baldwin counts for something, it’s hard to find any one in Paris who thinks that life in the 21st century is better there than in any major American city – say, New York or Los Angeles.  Some doubt that in the U.S. the French Elle article “Black Fashion Power,” would ever have been printed. This gives cause to re-examine French superiority.  It could have happened in the U.S., but the very thought that it might not have… keeps the French hating on the greener grass of Black American pastures.

With that said, it’s hard to see what the beef’s about. Perhaps, we’re just both chicken- coo cooing about cultural vulnerabilities that have evolved over time to become whatever our imaginations will allow. Paris has an allure that looms larger than the Eiffel Tower. (And as it turns out, when I finally saw it up close – I was not all that impressed.)  As my grandma so eloquently put it, “Paris is like Newark.” She really said that – and while it still makes 99.999% of no sense whatsoever to me, that remaining smidge holds true.

When I broke bread with other ninjas in Paris and swapped stories, I think we both gained some insight into the experience of the other half…The homeless and the rude, the pushy and the unfriendly, the smiles of no substance – they are what major cities are made of; and the personalities of major cities are what national imaginations are made of. But once you break it all down, we’re more similar than we think and that’s probably why we hate so hard from a far. Opposites attract, not kinda similarly passive aggressive personalities.

I’m pretty sure that by the end of dinner on Place du Docteur Félix Lobligeois, we all left with a mutual understanding of each others’ experiences and an even more grounded appreciation of our own countries.  Just the thought of living in Paris had me mumbling “that sh*t cray” into my Moët.