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 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!

 

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!

5 things people never told me about Maputo…

Teardrop, Matola, Mozambique (2014)When people talk about Mozambique, they often say positive things like “The people are really friendly,” and “The seafood is really great.” Both are true, but they only take you so far. When you stick around for longer than a holiday weekend, reality starts to set in and this ole’ girl called Maputo starts to show her crow’s feet. She’s not an impressive city in comparison to neighboring Joburg, but she has charm and class. And the people are friendly, but with a healthy dose of sass and wit. Let’s just say that there are a lot of things I had to discover on my own. Here are the top 5 things that nobody ever told me about Maputo:

10402678_10101267023870802_5432848354976959553_n5- The seafood is good, but it gets boring. Most Mozambican meals boast 4 main ingredients: oil, onion, tomato and salt. Put it on meat. Put it on fish. Marinate it all day. It’s going to taste like a slight variation on the same thing every time. And most of the vegetable sides are potato, chima, and/or salad with white lettuce. I love the flavors (even when they are doused in MSG powder), but after having such culinary variety in the U.S. and India my tongue is bored.

4- Mozambican women are BAD! So…I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this and not get my “heterosexual card” pulled, but really these women are effortlessly pretty. They are all well proportioned. Most work out actively. They have kids and still look good in bathing suits. They actually have lovely skin and awesome cheekbones. And, well, it’s all-natural (ish). People don’t believe in the botox or the injections, though they do have an affinity for new weaves/wigs every weekend. But what’s a little fake hair when your butt is real? Fair trade.

3- Nobody actually gets in the water. The drive along the Marginal every day really reminds why the hell I put myself through the torture of 9 hour workdays. But, nobody tells you that you can’t actually get in the water. It’s just decoration. It contains lots of gross matter that no one should have on their bodies, because it only recently came out of someone else’s body. The Indian Ocean looks so tempting you just might be tricked into wanting to dip a toe in on a romantic stroll on a hot summer’s day, but that would be a fool’s errand. Look, but don’t touch!

2-Maputo is everywhere you want to be. The city is only a three-hour drive to Swaziland and South Africa. Sure the roads are kinda unmarked and poorly lit, but those are no match for people with an adventurous spirit in need of widely spoken English interaction and South African supermarket products. I always thought it was the scarcity of consumer goods that drove people over the border, but it’s more than that. The grass isn’t always greener, but it’s definitely more orderly. And South African magazines like Bona and True Love are my new favorite addiction.

 

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1-Mozambicans are the biggest haters on earth. This is a real photo, from a real wall, on a real street in Maputo. No lie! I have never in my life met people who celebrate with suspicion, instinctively. Tell someone that you graduated from college or that you got a new job! It is not met with unfettered happiness and congratulations. It is met with a slow and deliberate questioning of just how you did it. Somebody must have helped you. You could have paid somebody a bribe. The very last thing that will come to people’s minds is that they should be happy for and with you. Actually, it’s as if most people don’t even think ‘positivity’ is an acceptable reaction. I chalk it up to the country’s socialist history, where having more than the next person made you the brunt of suspicion, not the example of accomplishment. The sentiment lingers on well into the present and today I wouldn’t call it socialism. I just call it hate.

Well, you’ll have to come and see for yourself all the good and bad things Maputo has in store, including the exclusive beaches and resorts throughout the rest of the country. There you can get in the water and the women are still drop dead gorgeous. It hasn’t been determined if the hater quotient is still a national phenomenon or a localized epidemic. Be suspicious ya’ll, be very suspicious.

Last Meal

I often say my farewells through food and this departure is no different. So, here’s a collection of all the stuff I’ve been trying to stuff in my mouth before America is a place of my past. Feast your eyes on my guilty pleasures.

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Pretzel bread!

Starbucks suckkaaaassssss!

Starbucks suckkaaaassssss!

Haitian Food – Poisson Frit, Black Rice and Green Plantain!

Pho Food Truck!

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Gourmet sour patch kids!

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My Birthday tradition – Strawberry Shortcake!

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French Patisserie!

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Sharp Cheddar with no additives from Mom’s Organic Market!

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Nutribullet green juice chased by red wine! (In that order)

Salmon Wrap!

Salmon Wrap!

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Hood spots!

This American Life…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohhhhh America…thanks for the warm welcome!