Being your Black friend…

Being your Black friend sometimes feels good, but many times it’s awkward. I could go into the depths of awkwardness, but there are so many other more coherent blog options for you to wiki  or google (as a verb). So, today is my day to talk about all the things I simply don’t get about you, my non-Black friends. Today, you are the diversity in the room (how liberating it is for me to give up that seat once in awhile) and you get to educate me on things that make me awkward chuckle in dinner parties. Ok, here are a few things I’d like to be educated on… hit it…

 

1 – What is a keratin treatment? – It sounds like a high priced, less abrasive perm, but (who am I kidding?) I have no idea what that is, who uses it and why. Don’t get me started on split ends. P.S. I have dreadlocks.

2 – Why do darker skinned people call themselves Black? – Maybe I don’t get it, because I don’t call myself “Black” to describe skin color. I do it to describe ethnic origin. So, when I hear my Indian friends call themselves and each other Black, I’m like… “let’s unpack that” (before I get offended).

3 – What is so funny about SNL pre-Trump? I could barely manage a gentle chuckle, but this show is supposed to be iconic and hilarious. I just don’t see it. Only “he lookalike a man” and “Mary Katherine Gallagher” can get a mediocre rise out of me. And I can recognize the first one was pretty racist.

4 – Does it hurt to be skinny (not just thin, I mean skinny)? Since very rare is the occasion that I see women of my hue who I’d define as “Skinny,” maybe I’m biased to think that this kind of thin isn’t really our domain. Even boney Black girls have a curve or two. Meat and muscle are cushions in life. Looks painful to sit… just wondering…

5 – Do you actually like milk? Word has it that many people of color don’t tolerate cow’s milk very well. And since I’m one of those people, I’ve always wondered what it must be like to really eat Oreos with milk without regretting it for the next 5 hours. Since my body gives me cause to be averse, I’ll never know if I actually don’t like it… really. So, I’m curious.

That concludes this edition of $h!t I don’t get.

Thanks in advance for the cultural education & ignorance eradication.

 

 

Eating all over the World!

I have spent the last year traveling and eating in rapid succession. My hips aren’t lying about how much I’ve been enjoying this year’s culinary experience, so I figured it was worth sharing this with you all. Here are just a few snaps from recent trips that have been particularly enjoyable, so be prepared to drool…

Epicurean Experiences in Swaziland at the restaurant at Mantenga Lodge.

Italian Eateries are particularly decadent:

German delicacies were diverse and delicious:

Traditional Ethiopian food and Italian food in Ethiopia were unforgettable:

And the icing on the cake is a melange of flavors in Mozambique:

Eat your heart out!

Indian Ocean Boatlife!

Ok, so I actually thought I might die on the speedboat ride to Portuguese island and Inhaca, but we made it to both islands safely and they were absolutely gorgeous. I hung out with good friends, ate good food, and learned that starfish come in all shapes, sizes and colors! Since words wouldn’t describe both the fun and the fear, let’s let the flix do the talking.

Photos are the author’s own. Please request permission to reproduce elsewhere.

People who can’t stay with me.

The recent blog post “people who can’t travel with me” from Ciao Chicago had me dying of laughter and also shedding baby travel tears because it was so true. How often have I not been able to articulate my lack of willingness to travel with certain people or groups for one of those very reasons? I felt guilty or perhaps just plain naive about the shortcomings of some travel companions and I kept my mouth shut while they ruined my trip. Oh… well, no more guilt is the new black. This got me thinking about other travel experiences I’ve had that require a list of ground rules. So, let’s talk about houseguests.

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5. No shirt, no shoes, no service.  Well, not exactly, but you can’t just walk around my house bearing all sorts of skin that makes no sense for our actual relationship or your actual attributes. Case: We recently had a houseguest who proceeded to iron his clothing bare-chested in a common room every time he wanted to go out. So, this means man boob first thing in the morning and before heading out at night, multiple times over his stay, all over my house. I’m like, you’re too comfortable, dude. Oh and in a similar vein, know when to cover your feet, depending on how they look and smell. Again, let’s not find out that we’re really not friends during an overshare experience. Shoes (that aren’t tracking mud or dirt through the house) are acceptable and socks will do when shoes don’t. Again, I’m all for “make yourself comfortable” hospitality, but depending on how close we are (or aren’t) and some basics on aesthetic, one guest’s comfort is another host’s cringe.

4. Food etiquette. First things first, there’s no pork in my house. No joke, f’real though. I’ll throw that isht out. Don’t get me started on how much it grosses me out, but seriously, ahhh don’t do it. But, beyond pork, I think it only makes sense to organize the food situation upfront, esp. if guests don’t have a car. Case: We recently had houseguests who waxed poetic about going to the supermarket to get food early on in their stay, but never actually went. This is fine because I actually know how difficult it is to get to the supermarket and I planned accordingly for their food situation by buying lots of food, b/c they’re tourists – they don’t know that they don’t know anything. However, this led to some awkward moments when they showed up from a day trip starving, without transportation, were too scared to ask to eat something in the kitchen, but wanted to hitch hike to a restaurant at midnight that I had to politely inform them was actually closed. Mind you, I had all this food in the house that I clearly bought for them (I don’t eat chicken!) and they’re trying to be below the Mason Dixon-style polite, which is at cross purposes with the human need to eat. It was ridiculous. Listen, if I don’t want you to eat food in my house, trust me, you won’t be invited to my house. Would it be nice if you contributed to the food purchase or went to the market to get things you’d like to eat or told me your food plans beforehand? Yes, but being weird about eating and not eating leads to awkward silences three times a day, for the entire length of one’s stay.  I need guests that knock that right out at the beginning, eat out or in or cook or whatever, but every meal shouldn’t feel like a hostage negotiation.

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3. Shadow. I’ve been this guest, so I know how to easy it is to become. I’ve had this guest, so I know how annoying it can become. This situation occurs when a host thinks you’ve come to visit their city, but a guest thinks they’ve come to visit the host – things get weird. In the interest of full disclosure: I like my personal space and I’m easily suffocated.  I vet my companion lists with scrutiny for each activity presented and if I don’t say ‘the more the merrier,’ it’s not something to be inferred. I’ve had guests who take the ‘I’ll just do whatever you normally do‘ approach and since I don’t normally have a human shadow as I walk around my house in a robe, this methodology quickly falls apart. There is way too much pressure to make my boring daily life touristy and/or entertaining. And again, there are times when the guest really isn’t invited, but there’s a song and dance about leaving them behind so they can go see the sites (which they don’t really want to see alone or they don’t know how to get to) and they look like a sick puppy as you drive away to personal-space-freedom-land. Sigh. Being invited into my home doesn’t inherently mean being invited into every aspect of my life. Just sayin…

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2. Germophobe scaredy cat. Don’t act like you’ve never seen a roach before. You have. Don’t act like you’ve never killed one before. You have. Don’t act all brand new in my house. I’ve never lived in any place that’s actually clean and has undeniably, safe, potable drinking water. So get over yourself.  While I’m always profusely embarrassed & grossed out when something undesirable creeps in, I can’t help but feel like a grown adult human being should be able to take this in stride. Case: Mozambique is generally clean hygiene wise, but the sewer systems are pretty basic and close to residential areas. Trash pick up isn’t regular. And for some reason, which I’ll blame on the location of our house near a hilly, wooded area, there are huge cockroaches that end up in our house despite having a maid 4 days a week and putting down bait. Mah dude, I’ma need you to just kill it and move on. Why? Because you came to visit me in Southern Africa… or North India… or DC… or NYC… and you know what those places all have in common? They’re on earth, a planet which humans share with roaches, spiders, mice, frogs, lizards, and other things that are small and slimy or gross.  If you want to visit some place that’s spick and span, maybe try some city I’ve never lived in. Or try a town that’s been sterilized just for your visit. Even Disney had a kid get eaten by an alligator… you can’t control ALL the elements. If a cockroach freaks you out, you probably shouldn’t leave your house – ever – and you definitely shouldn’t come to mine.

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1. My dog lives here. I have a dog. He’s crazy and loud, but he’s mine. I can’t un-own him for visitors’ sake. But, I think some people underestimate their dislike for pets and rather than just say that they’d rather stay in a hotel, they try to control my dog – in his own house. I used to pander to that, but I’m over it. He’s going to jump on you when you walk in the house. He will definitely bark at you. He may try to sit in your lap. Why? Well, because he’s a dog. Poorly trained and all, he still lives here and you don’t. So, we have to get real. If you’re not into pets, then you don’t have to interact with him, but I’m not going to guarantee that he won’t interact with you. Repeat: He’s an animal. Second repeat: He lives here. At this point, folks who don’t like dogs or my dog are totally respected by me to the fullest. I was once one of you. I get it. But, at the same time, you probably shouldn’t stay with me, for obvious reasons.

The end.

Eat Your Heart Out!

 

IMG_1323One of the highlights of traveling home is, and has always been, gorging on grub, as my travels took me to, through, and around restaurants I loved. So, here’s a brief culinary summary of my 2 week visit home. Hope you all enjoy – visually – my gastronomical exploits…

It all started on the South African Airways plane. My veggie food was pretty yummy, but these mini Tangueray bottles took the entire ride over the top. I have to say that gin & tonic on a plane pairs well with the entire ride.

Then in the great state of New Jersey, an amazing medley of home cooked meals, American processed treats, awesome restaurants and food gluttony occurred. I’m sure, for those of you who live in the U.S. full time, Chips Ahoy cookies with M&Ms in them is nothing to write home about. But, when you live in Africa… I think you get the point. In short, as per below, you can see that I partook in South African wine, Mexican Fish Tacos and beer (only right to honor what should be a world holiday – Cinco de Mayo) at 2 different establishments (the Above Restaurant in South Orange and Red Cadillac in Union), and the best pizza in the whole damn state! There were also (unphotographed) home cooked meals of fried fish, cornbread, collard greens and sweet potato pie made by my grandma, and spaghetti and salmon made my mom. The thought of them will keep me homesick for months.

 

Then, the travels went north(ish) to New York City – the city so bad they named it twice. I popped into the city for a dinner that consisted solely of Key Lime Pie from Bubba Gump Shrimp, but then I had a morning meet up with a professor and mentor that I love dearly. We ended up heading over to the City Kitchen in Midtown, where I had a pancake breakfast at Whitman’s (sadly with Kraft syrup instead of God’s gift to breakfast – Grade A Maple) and fought off the impulse to try every variety of donut produced by Dough. It was tough to resist hibiscus donuts, but my thighs thanked me. And, I had a home cooked Jewish breakfast of bagels with lox and egg frittata with family friends, as well as a boozy brunch at yet another Mexican restaurant, Agave (unphotographed).

Last but not least I headed south to our nation’s capital. With so much political stankness in the air, it was great to find something apolitical to enjoy in the DMV.

I had lunch with a friend at Founding Farmers near Farragut West, where we proceeded to spend $22 a glass on King Estate Pinot Noir from Oregon, which the Vivino app says costs about $24.80 per bottle.  Yea, total rip off. But the food was decent and the restaurant is well located… its greatest highlight.

There was an entire ice cream experiment at Cold Stone Creamery, which ended with my stomach and my tongue rejoicing in perfect harmony. And  I had yet another delicious order of fish tacos at District Taco in Dunn Loring – yummy. Oh, a regular trip fave, was Ginger Salmon at a Vietnamese restaurant in Pentagon City, Saigon Saigon. My stomach is growling just thinking about all these yummy reunions, as well as two trips to Red Lobster with friends (unphotographed) and frequent visits to Starbucks for coffee drinks with non-dairy milk – oh, so rare here on the continent.

All told, while I love the food, what I miss most about being home is the people. These delish meals were a backdrop to meet ups, family gatherings, mentoring and catch up sessions that were long overdue. In just 2 weeks, I ate fish tacos at three different places and not a single loved one judged me for it. That’s what foodie reunions are all about!

 

The power of enough…

IMG_2660Thanksgiving this year was a particularly joyous occasion. It was a holiday filled with way too much food, new friends turned adopted family, and lots of reflection. We prepped, we preened, we prepared and we were preceded to roll out all the stops for a bustling house filled with soul food and cheer. One nagging little thought that reared its little head over and over again was the subtle, but persistent, idea that something was missing.

In all of the abundance of the occasion, it’s hard to believe that something could possibly be missing. After all, we had each other and a barrel of laughs. But, there were a series of absences. There was no flour. There was no working guest bathroom. The lights went out, so we were without electricity for a time. There were “oops, I think I forgot”s and “darn it, I should have brought”s, closely followed by “can we run out and get?”s tapering off with “next time [he/she/it] should come”s. There were phones on vibrate and instatweetbook updates to stay connected with all those who were absent, even with so many people present. And even I found myself thinking, in a sea full of “yes”s, it’s amazing how easily we cling to one measly little “no.” With a basket full of blessings, it’s shocking how fast we critique the clasp that doesn’t keep all the goodness securely tucked in.

Let’s face it, this was my first time hosting Thanksgiving. In my attempt to re-create a holiday from an imagined place of perfection, I tried to transfer a caricature to a completely foreign space, with uncommon ingredients, and unseasonably warm weather. It wasn’t going to be perfect and perhaps I shouldn’t have been striving for it. What I got was a meme that was worth a few chuckles and lots of good memories in the making.

I found myself acting like my maternal grandmother. Apologizing for things that made no sense, acting nervous when my in-laws arrived, pretending to ration out food only to hand out aluminum foil and tupperware with zest. I was antsy and nervous. In the hopes that everyone else was okay and distracted, I pined for my favored pastime of laying across the foot my grandmother’s bed at the end of my first Thanksgiving meal. Why? Because, eating is a tiresome game. And that’s pretty much my role each year – to be a stellar eater.

This year marked a change to my role in this whole play on tradition and traveling calamity, however. I stopped being a taker, the one with empty and idle hands. The one who drops in for a meal and runs away when her plate is empty. The helicopter family member. This year reigned in the era of my being a giver.

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To my mind, a giver always notices what’s missing, because there are many needs and so many needy. There could never possibly be enough to go around, no matter how many supermarkets we go to, how many bags of chicken we defrost and how many invitations we send to friends and family – present and future – there’s a thrust to do more.

While I can’t help but wish Tareeq were here and I’m sure my paternal grandma can’t help but wish Janie were too, for those seated at our tables of giving on Thursday being present was, in fact, enough. Communing, communicating, being thankful and appreciative – in our own individual ways – is a team sport and I found all present to be well equipped.

For me that was a powerful lesson.

IMG_2980What I’ve learned from all of this is simply that while it may always feel that something is missing, I’m thankful that in my circle of family and friends there really was enough. Much like Ekhart Tolle‘s lessons in the ‘Power of Now,’ it just takes a moment of self-reflection to remember that we’re doing our best and we’re doing okay. I could harken back to a time when things were different, dare I say better, but in the moment of saying grace before we ate and in the moments before the last guests left, we had enough… of everything. That’s a luxurious statement to make and an extravagant luxury to experience in these days & times.

So even if just for that alone, I give thanks and anticipate fully the thanks of giving [more than] enough for many years to come.

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Anton Kannemeyer, E is for Exhibition (Stevenson Gallery – Johannesburg, 2015)

 

Things I am going to go ham *sammich* on when I get home!

People say that when you travel, you miss the weirdest things – JIF peanut butter, Kleenex travel packs, and seat belts in cars. I have got to concur fully, but I’m privileged to have the vast majority of America’s creature comforts, including working seat belts in my car. Nevertheless, there is always something worth missing about home and I’ve just built up enough homesickness to explode. Without further ado here is the list of things I miss most from home. I bet you can’t guess the order of importance!

I love you written on the sidewalk in chalk --- Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Sidewalks – So underrated and so essential to quality of life, sidewalks not only keep people from walking (where? you guessed it) in the middle of the road, but they also reduce my likelihood of striking an innocent person while driving to the supermarket. Phew! I can appreciate that and I can’t wait to take that daily burden off my plate. I also plan to take long walks on top of said side walks and to cross the street using cross walks (or as South Africans say ”zebra crossings”) that lead to new side walks. I have never missed cement so much in my life!

Tap water – I can’t wait to put my whole head under the faucet in my sink and drink without fear of cholera. Oh you hoity toity suburbanites will say, oh but there’s lead and there are pharmaceuticals and unfiltered fecal matter in tap water. Eff you nay sayers! If I could show you the green water that runs near my house and the trash infested sewer system that dumps right into the Maputo bay where fishermen eagerly catch seafood to later serve to unsuspecting tourists… then you’d understand that the grass (and the water) is, in fact, greener on my side of the world.

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Ethiopian food – Culinary variety is something I’d taken for granted until I moved to India and couldn’t find anything for under $50 a plate that was served sans turmeric. Now, I’m in the heart of southern Africa, where food is fresh but deliciously predictable. Mediterranean is supposed to be a variation on Portuguese fare, but it all tastes the same – full of olive oil, garlic, onion and tomato and hot sauce, if you’re feeling adventurous. Eff that! I am going to eat so much injera I burst and anything made without garlic and onions will be the dish for recurring breakfasts and I may overrate restaurants on zomato.com as a result of my palate’s pure enthusiasm for stimulation.

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Thieboudienne – benstew.wordpress.com

Haitian *Poisson frit, black rice, and green plantain* AND Senegalese *thieboudienne* food – Anyone who knows me knows that my post colonial studies have taught me a very important lesson. African people colonized by the French make the best fish dishes on earth. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s true and I dare anyone to contest this fact with proof on a plate. Let me say that I’m not particularly fond of French food. I find it even more underwhelming than Portuguese food, but you can bet that I’ve never tried a Martinican, Haitian, Malian, Senegalese, Ivorian …I could go on… fish based dish that I didn’t like (i don’t eat other animals so I limit my praise to this narrow sliver of the culinary world). So, I plan to eat these dishes up like cookie monster before childhood obesity campaigns gave him veggies. Caution: I may need a bib.

Bookstores with chairs and a cafe – I go to South Africa and all I can think is… I wish I could sit down right here and read this book over an over priced coffee with soy milk and then put the book back before the store closes. In Mozambique, I think… I wish there was a bookstore with interesting books for leisure reading – a bestseller not by Paulo Coelho or Mia Couto would be nice. This means I order from amazon and sit at my dining room table, wishing I was in B&N at Union Square. I’m going to get hella cozy on the floor when I reach home and the only thing I’m paying for are the extra shots of espresso!

Mom’s Organic Market – They say that every cloud has its silver lining and of my 3 years stuck in DC this (among Bikram yoga, a size 4 waist, being close to my bestie Elyse, and lots of free entry to the VIP section of clubs) tops the list of positives. Mom’s beats Yes! Organic market, though Yes! has some vegan cookies that I can’t find anywhere else. I skip Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, because the prices and the self-righteous customers make me look bad. Mom’s is like a home away from home and I love discovering new things that won’t poison my body with toxins. Oh, and they give away free samples!

Shitty Day (and Night) Time Television – I am going to O.D. on Mob Wives, every Housewife series on Bravo except NJ, True Detective, Game of Thrones, Jerry Springer, Maury, anything on O! and TLC, House Hunters, Homeland, Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop, Empire, Power, season 6-8 of Madmen, and pretty much anything that doesn’t have a Kardashian in it!

62-KeyLimePie_1-menusKey Lime pie at Bubba Gump Shrimp – Graham Cracker crust. Period.

Face time with my Fam & Friends – I am eternally grateful to the makers of Skype, Vonage, facebook, gchat, and cellphones, but there’s nothing quite like a hug. I can’t wait to have my family and friends close enough to see their faces when I piss them off. It’s a really precious thing to know that no matter how close or how far apart we are, we can always be ourselves – face to face. No hiding behind screens or spotty phone lines. I can’t wait to poke my niece’s singular dimple and sleep in my mom’s bed! Priceless!

Ate breve U.S.A!