A B C s…

abc-award-1Be forewarned. This is cheesy. And it’s about 3 years old.  I stole this from a blogger [“The Curvy Spine”] who recently liked a post I did & is a fellow Jersey girl… and apparently, she got tagged by another blogger [“Nissi Knows”]… and I have nothing better to do on a weekend night, but relive my teenage years when Yahoo! chat rooms dominated my life and, on occasion, I’d get an email questionnaire that made me reflect about adulthood to come. Told you this would be cheesy!

The deal is that I’ve got to go through the alphabet talking about myself and biggin’ up other bloggers. This is, I can do…

If your blog is placed here, consider yourself awarded the ABC award. You can accept by copying the theme and passing this practice on.

Africa, my new continent of residence.

Bossip.com is my secret online tabloid vice. Maybe not so secret…

Canada is the first destination to which I took my eldest Godson for his annual birthday trip. It was my way of forcing him to get a passport and get on a plane.

Delhi is where I met my husband.

Elephants have been my favorite animal for a very long time.

Frankfurt is the city that my husband and I last visited together.

Geneva is the one place my grandma ever wanted to visit. We went over Christmas/New Years 2005-2006. I vowed never to take a winter vacation to a cold weather destination ever again.

Harlem is the only place in America where I would ever want to raise children. So much for that pipe dream now. Thanks, gentrification!

Isaacman is the author of the book I’m reading right now.

James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers and one of my historical muses.

Kinani means dance in Shangana & it’s come up as a possible baby name.

London is the only city I’ve wanted to live in that I haven’t yet lived in. Live long… it could happen.

Maboneng is my favorite neighborhood in Johannesburg and, hopefully, it’ll be home in 2017.

New York City is the only place on earth I feel at home, at peace, and inspired – at the same time.

Olympus is the brand of voice recorders I just bought. I bought 3 at one time and I’m so proud of myself for it. Who needs to rip the house apart trying to find the one voice recorder I have 10 minutes before I’ve scheduled an interview? Well, not this girl. Not anymore!

Photography has been in my family for generations. If I actually publish the travel photo book I’ve had in my head for the past few years, I would officially make the third generation of photographers on my dad’s side.

Quran is the religious holy book of Muslims (like yours truly). I have only read it once and I’m long overdue for a re-read.

Reading is my favorite activity, which is shared by fellow blogger Kinna: http://kinnareads.com

Strawberry shortcakes are my traditional birthday cakes. My mom has ensured that every birthday that we share together, there is a strawberry shortcake to celebrate the new year. American style too, none of that British with a biscuit fakery.

The Bitchin’ Dietitian is a blog i follow regularly, though I have to admit I’m a couch potato who has reconnected with my affinity for butter and salt. But, I do love to read it as if I have self-discipline and/or access to ingredients!

University of the Witwatersrand is where I’m studying to get a PhD. Proud Witsie over here!

Violence eradication is the purpose of this blog that I follow: http://understandingviolence.org 

Wife. The newest of my many hats. Dare I say, the title is starting to grow on me.

Xenophobia is a term that I’d never heard of until about a year ago. I’ve learned a lot more about it this past year traversing South east Africa.

Yebo! means yes in Zulu.

Zanzibar is the latest trip plan I’ve made to come together with my ‘Mixed Masala Marriage’ crew. We came started earlier this year in Dubai because we’re all in intercultural marriages and trying to find balance. Next year, Zanzibar!

The End.

Bostonian meets Bedouin

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer’s photos from Jordan:

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Rosie on life and love…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oh, Delhi you slay me!

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Well the time has come to leave India; all I can say is, “Oh, Delhi you slay me.” I’m not sure what it is about India, but it is surely a special place. While I racked my brain about what to write it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to fully explain my feelings on all the events of this “vacation.” It is often said that the journey is equally important as the destination. So, lets begin with the journey from Indira Gandhi International airport. We were pulled over in our taxi by a motorcycle cop with no siren and no tickets, and eventually let go without any penalty. All the while I’m thinking, “this is a pure waste of time.” Apparently this is the case with many things here. So before I continue here’s my disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for any confusion as a result of the lack of order in this publication. It is an accurate reflection of this trip.

Indian culture is the product of several religions, languages, and power shifts over centuries. And there’s finally English colonization. As a historian, I would love to say this explains the huge socio-economic gap that exists here, but I truly don’t know. The poverty I’ve seen here exponentially outshines the best “Feed the Children” infomercial. There are literally people who sleep on the ground feet away from Lamborghinis and Bentleys.  I assume this is why everything here has a price. Free parking is under the control of self-proclaimed ‘attendants,’ who will flatten your tires if you don’t pay 10 rupees (2 cents). At every historical sight there was some guy wanting his cut. The City Palace in Jaipur boasts a bathroom guy, parking fellow, and even a perfect spot for picture men who double as guides. My sister says that’s why it takes so long to get things done, because there are so many people who need a piece of the action. I’m not sure what it is, but when every job is done with primitive technology what can you expect? Five guys painted lines on the street, which are clearly just a suggestion to the worst drivers in the world (congratulations New Yorkers). Not everything about India and Delhi is bad, but it just takes a bit of patience to see past it.

While here I had the pleasure of dining with a diplomat and his wife in a home that had more servants than I have immediate family members. Any who at this dinner it was clear that Delhi was like an onion and I would only understand it if I peeled back the layers. Similar to eating the street food here, I would have to be a native or extremely bold to try it. Let’s assume I was the latter.

So with my backpack, father and horn happy driver I hit the streets. Vasant Vihar (my area of residence) was littered with small embassies. Most only having one guard in a small booth, which surprised me. In a walk through old Delhi there were tombs that remained from the beginning of Delhi’s existence. It came as a shock that these beautiful structures were only accessible by walking through a maze of side streets and tight back alleys that played host to butchers, barbershops, bakeries, and even a goat with a coat (see above). There were no short cuts taken in the rewiring of streetlights to provide energy to this prehistoric part of town either. Survival is contingent upon family unity. While family does not always constitute shared blood, the love is no different.

So I leave India with my sense of family bonds renewed and my appreciation for the simple things exponentially multiplied. I’ve seen enough palaces and forts to last a lifetime with pictures to prove it. I’ve seen the world’s biggest clock and the world’s biggest silver jar (seriously). My nights have consisted of movies and television shows about old English people with my dear sister and father. My days were filled with walks around Vasant Vihar taking pictures of all the Embassies I could find. I’ve seen a woman balancing 5 pots on her head and dancing to the music of her seemingly mentally ill sons. My vacation has shown me crazy men who beg for money exist all around the globe. With all that said I wouldn’t move India to the top of my vacation list, but I am grateful for the new friends made and time well spent.

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This week’s guest blogger is Ameer Allen. Born and raised in Newark, NJ, he is a twenty-three year old Lincoln University grad, history buff, and diehard Cowboys fan.

(He’s also my hilariously funny big little brother.)

 

 

Forget me Not

Nicole Young is currently a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is studying Education Policy. When she is not reading a million pages a night for class, her hobbies include loud laughing, eating, and pretending to be the star of her own music video/broadway musical. 

“Don’t forget me” was scrawled in a particularly high school girl style, with flourishes and a smiley face, underneath a framed picture in my cousin’s room. The picture was of my little cousin holding another high school girl, presumably the one who wrote the note, on her back – piggy-back style. Both of them were grinning madly and you could almost hear the giggles through the picture. It was adorable and one of many in a carefully crafted collage. And as I sat on the edge of my cousin’s bed, talking to her about silly things as she did her hair in the bathroom mirror, it really touched me. The three words struck me in such a deep way that I paused and lost my train of thought. “What were you saying?” she asked. I grabbed for something and began again, all the time thinking about the little graduation collage.

What struck me the most was that the phrase, “Don’t forget me” is one I think about almost daily. I don’t want my friends or family to forget me as they go about living their lives. I don’t want ex-boyfriends to forget those special things, those uniquely us things, that we shared. I don’t want the world to forget me when I die. I don’t want my living to have been just another flash in the pan. I want my being here to have meant something and I know I’m not alone. Everyday I watch people make fools of themselves on reality TV or social media all in an attempt for their 15 minutes of fame. Anthropologists and pop culture junkies talk more and more about the unique accessibility the Internet has afforded our generation. And while they discuss the ability of one idea or event or name to quickly saturate every single media market in a matter of seconds and how that has forever changed the human race, for good or evil, no one ever talks about WHY people want those 15 minutes. Maybe everyone’s in on that part but me. Maybe inherent in the phrase “15 minutes of fame” is a perceived opportunity for immortality, but the idea is pretty novel to me.

Believing that no one else loves the way we do or feels sorrow’s depths the way we have, is an inherently human flaw. And as we chide the less talented for their tawdry hopes of gaining celebrity through being a contestant on “Flavor of Love” or even the next “Love and Hip Hop: ATL,” we, the more intelligent, driven people of the human race plot our own 15 minutes. We call it policy, or a contribution, or art, but at the end of the day our attempts to change our stars and make the world a better place are just a cry out against the fleeting nature of life. We don’t want to be forgotten. And this 17 year old girl, writing a note to her friend at graduation, summed up the feeling perfectly in 3 words. It’s amazing how young the awareness of loss begins and how hard we fight from the beginning of recognition to prevent it. We don’t want to lose that piggyback ride or the laughs that followed. We never want to forget that sunset. We hope that even when we’re gone, there will be someone left to remember or something left to remind them that we were here. And what happens in our eternal struggle to make our mark, is that in a particularly human way, we forget that our friends don’t want to be forgotten either. We neglect to tell them that we think of them and that they matter to us.

So there’s loss, the permanent kind, the type that is so final that it leaves us breathless. And then there is quasi loss: the gradual falling away that happens as you get a little older. The kind where something triggers a hilarious, warm memory and you want to talk to the one person who would remember and you realize that you’re not really friends anymore. Sure, you like each other’s statuses and peruse each other’s instagram photos, but you don’t TALK. You can’t remember the last time you spoke and more importantly, you don’t even know if they remember. Somehow it’s even worse. To know that you could reach out to that person if you just had their number and even if you do have there number, if you could get past that first awkward, “So what have you been UP to for the past…9 years.” But you don’t do it. And the moment passes and you’re left a little lonelier, wishing you were your 16 year old self, if only because that version of you would have been able to talk to them.

So then I’m right back to this girl’s three words and the question her message poses. What if you never get your 15 minutes? How do you make them not forget you? After a million years, how do you let them know you haven’t forgotten them? How do you fight the quasi loss that’s bound to come? I’m really no sage about these types of things, but I think you just tell them.

I think you brave the brief moment of discomfort (and the nervousness about rejection) and remind them that their life matters to someone that they don’t see every day. You message them and say that even though middle school was ages ago, you think of them every time Titanic comes on TV or let them know that your Sunday brunch ritual, no matter how long past, was one of the highlights of your 20s. Shoot them a text that conveys ‘yes, you are thought of and often.’ You don’t have to have those awkward phone conversations if you don’t want to and you can continue to skulk on each other’s Facebook pages afterward. But why wouldn’t you want them to know that you remember?

Because truthfully, aren’t we are all hoping that in the busyness of living, they don’t forget us?

On Recognizing the “Devine.”

Tanya Everett is an actor and writer in New York City. Her latest endeavors have included staged readings of her one-act play, A Virgin Christmas, with David Zayas (Dexter). This fall, she will be starring in “Munched,” which will partner with W.O.R.T.H., a nonprofit organization that helps formerly incarcerated women to begin anew. Her website will soon be live for viewing: http://www.tanyaeverett.com

 

Last night, I boarded a Chinatown bus at 8:54 pm in New York City. It had just begun to rain, and the city streets were slick and iridescent. I headed to Lucky Star, only because the bus ratings are marginally less offensive. I settled myself in for an evening of work, but found that the bus seemed to be coming apart at the hinges, and I’d be better off taking a nap. When I awoke, we were already bouncing into South Station. We arrived just before 12:45, so I bounded off the bus, hoping to get to the Red Line before the last train.

After midnight, South Station is tied up like a virgin before her wedding night, so I knew getting home would be more difficult than catching the G train in Brooklyn on a bad day. Downstairs in the station, I asked the guard if the last train had left. His monosyllabic “Yep,” was unconvincing. I figured I’d try my luck and test the waters, so I trotted over to the station. I was let in by another guard to the main terminal and, with another gentleman in tow, bounded down off to the Redline entrance. I asked the MTA employee and her colleague, and they insisted that the last train to Ashmont was coming. I bought a ticket and I headed towards my train.

At the bottom of the stairs was a lone woman. She asked me “Is there a train coming tonight?” I said, “There should be.” She insisted on checking, so she rode back up the escalator, and received the same answer I had received just minutes before. She then proceeded to hoist her suitcase back down to the platform for a second round of waiting, this time more patiently and less nervously.

With nothing left to do but take a watch and wait approach, we struck up a conversation. We had gone to neighboring high schools. She was in town from Oakland for her mother’s 80th birthday; I, for my grandmother’s 75th. We both dance and write plays. Both of our families are the clingy types that insist that when we visit we spend every waking moment in their presence, kissing babies and washing dishes. I secretly hoped she’d have some insight as how to CHANGE that predicament, but we were too similar for that to be a realistic expectation. Her mother is Jamaican and set in her ways. My grandmother is of Ukranian and Polish descent, hence as stubborn as the day is long. It seemed like no coincidence that she and I met on that platform in that moment. Perhaps we both needed the good vibes of someone similar, but different, to remind us that we were on the right track – and I don’t just mean in the T station.

I saw a light in her eyes that shone from faith, perseverance, and experience. She mentioned more than once how much she enjoyed my energy. When the train finally arrived, a man in a Red Sox cap mustered the nerve to interrupt our vigorous chatting. He stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Excuse me, miss, I don’t mean to bother you, but I was just tellin’ him, you have star-quality.” From the looks of ‘him,’ they didn’t even know each other. But I was pleased by the content of this interruption, so I asked his name. “It’s Devine.” “Huh? I’m sorry, can you say that again?” asked like a bumbling fool, unworthy of his compliment. “Devine. It’s spelled with an ‘E’ though.” He went on to tell me that I had something that caught his eye and that he told a complete stranger about it.  It may have just been a pick up, but for me in that moment, I had the sense that this second encounter with this second stranger was also no fluke. It could have been a lack of sleep, but finding a new friend from the other side of the country and meeting a Bostonian with the name of a demi-God felt like exactly what I needed in that moment.

Admittedly, I have a tendency to attract all kinds of people, celebrities and homeless vagrants alike. My roommate thinks it’s hysterical, because I make a new acquaintance daily – even the kind some people don’t want to meet in a lifetime. I believe it all stems from my grandmother. See, Linda (my grandmother) turned seventy-five that night, while I was chatting it up on the train platform. Oddly enough, she has spent my entire lifetime paving the way for me to have choice encounters just like these. She’s the one to speak to strangers on the subway at one in the morning. She’s the courageous, go-getter that never stops, despite limited means. She has always been ferocious and fearless. She is an avid believer that you can accomplish anything with a “glass half full” outlook on life.

Sometimes it is hard to keep her outlook handy in my own life. Lately, I’ve been struggling to find my voice as an artist, to create value in my work. And the weight of these burdens can sometimes undermine my grandma given optimism. What’s worse is that I find myself struggling against what is simply the natural order of things, begging winter to be spring (faster), asking lean years to become fat years (sooner), demanding that life slow down now so that I can catch up and grow at my own pace.

I have been known to ask for too much, but I have also been known to deliver great things. My own flare on grandma’s wisdom is that when preparedness meets timing, and a little bit of grace, all things are possible. But we wouldn’t be human if, every now and again, we failed to recognize that we are perfect in our imperfections. We forget that the very things that seem like character flaws are our most interesting characteristics. As an actor and a writer, I constantly mine for unique character traits. I’ve come to celebrate the triumph of the hero over her toughest opponent: herself.

As I rushed towards home that night, I was reminded that all the world’s a stage and it’s about time that I applied some of this leeway I give to my scripted protagonists to lil ole’ me, the girl that makes besties with late night commuters. The conversations on that platform reminded me that my inherited positivity is what attracts people, and that my own darkness is what makes me human. I was reminded to enjoy the discoveries along the journey, not just the destination. And there’s something simply perfect about celebrating my own divinity in the wee hours, at the crack of dawn, on the day the earth welcomed the source of my greatest gifts. Don’t think my grandma doesn’t make me repay the favor. Did I mention that August is her birthday MONTH??