Things I used to LOVE.

My husband always jokes that Americans use the word ‘love’ too loosely. And he’s right. We use the word ‘love’ when we really mean ‘like’ a whole lot and we use ‘like’ a whole lot when we really mean ‘um, ‘uh’ or ‘so.’ And we use those three sounds instead of just taking a break to breathe and think about what we really want to say. So, this got me to thinking (in a very round about way) about the times I used ‘love’ in the past, only to find out with time that it was just a misnomer. The list got me chuckling in my UGG slippers, which I categorically love. Here goes nothing, in no particular order:

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alanis.com/news/kaaboo-festival

Alanis Morissette’s music – Isn’t ironic? I was a middle schooler once. This means I had poor taste in lots of things, not just music, but especially music. I LOVED “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic.” I distinctly recall waiting for them to play on The Box on those late nights that I was allowed to stay up during school vacations. I was definitely an 80s baby with 90s earlobes, so yea… I loved her sound!

Corn Pops – Apparently, they’ve been in the news lately for much more than their subtly sweet crunchy goodness, but for a very long time this was my jam. Between these and Crispix, Kellog’s had the monopoly on my breakfast cereal selection for years. Now, I know better than to think that those hints of morning sweetness are harmless. Back in the day, though, I loved these kitchen staples.

Drawing – While most kids in elementary school were winning sports trophies, I was winning poster and essay contests. Obviously, the love of writing has persisted, but most people are unaware of my artistic streak.  Through the 6th grade, I regularly won local competitions for my art work. When I went to high school, I took advanced fine arts courses and sent a portfolio with my college admissions applications, hoping to continue my work in a new venue. It was in high school that I learned the most about form, but it was also there that I met the end of my interest in drawing. I’ve since picked photography as my poison, but my mom’s basement tells the tales of my passion to draw.

Bikram Yoga – This used to be my sh*t! Back in 2010-11, I was regularly found sweating from the back of every joint, tendon and skin fold I possessed. And I absolutely loved it. Most people thought it was an irrational fad. Popular in theory, but unreasonably hot in reality, Bikram Yoga was 90 minutes of fat burning ‘me’ time that really got my body in shape, my mind in focus and my immune system in recovery.  Though it’s been over five years since I’ve done it, it’s still my exercise of choice – in my mind. (This was sexual harassment pre-scandal. I don’t condone what Bikram himself, btw)

Craig David –  I lived in Spain when he was popular and this guy right here was a teeny bopper heart-throb throughout Western Europe. I liked his music, but I loveeeddd him. Before there was Idris Elba, he was the first Black Brit to steal my heart. The same way I loved Soul for Real before him and Andre 3000 after him, I saw our future together.  So strong was my affection that I went out on 2 dates with a young Spaniard who favored Craig David, despite the fact that this young man wouldn’t even admit to being Black (uhhh….). Oh, the things we do for love!

In my defense, when I said I loved these people and things, I wasn’t lying. I meant it at the time. Genuine commitment and undying affection was what I pledged in my youth, but somehow with time ‘um’…’uh’… these passions faded. Now that I’ve had some breathing room, I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be able to revisit these touchstones and rediscover myself in these ‘likes’ of yesteryear.

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (28)

Welcome to the 28th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

As anyone who knows me knows, there’s nothing like music from mi Espana amada to bring back good memories of good times. Hopefully, this will help ease you into your morning and give you some smooth jazzy flamenco from Chambao to go with your morning coffee.

Viva Espana!

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (21)

Welcome to the 21st installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Less a song and more of an experience, this week’s selection is an excerpt from one of my favorite movies: Los Tarantos (Spain, 1963). This excerpt of the famous and talented Carmen Amaya, is just a snippet of the flamenco and gitano culture the film richly displays. She brings to life a rich subculture that has also married Arab, Spanish and Romani people. Amaya was born in Barcelona, but traveled the world including to Argentina and New York with her family and her dance company.

Travel is the giving tree!

Outside of my hometown, I consider myself to have “lived” in very few cities. Soon to join New York City, New Delhi, and Zaragoza is Maputo, Mozambique, which makes for four continents over the course of 15 years!  Unlike Raven Simone, I actually know the difference between a country and a continent, so I’d say that’s kinda a big deal. I’m quickly coming upon my one year anniversary in this southern African town and it’s got me reminiscing on the biggest lessons I’ve learned since embarking on a life of travel and subdued mayhem. People often ask me for tips and tools for life lived abroad. Usually I’m stumped by the combo of negatives and positives, much like the “Giving Tree,” but for this occasion I’m going to share the top ten lessons I’ve learned from living on the road…

ID card from the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

 10- Race is a figment of many people’s imaginations, but it’s real.  – I’ve been stared at like I have 3 heads in India. I’ve been called “Negrita” in a loving way, really. I can speak 4 languages, but I still have very few close friends that are of a different race. There is no such thing as post-racial. No matter where you go, people codify color in ways that will make your head spin. One isn’t worse or better, it’s just the stories people tell themselves to understand where they fit in a social order that you may not yet understand. You can’t wig out every time someone does something “racist”  or else you will be the subject of multiple international incidents. I’ve learned that understanding people’s thinking isn’t the same as accepting it. Understanding is something you can achieve with time & travel.

 

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Li Kitchen Dim Sum, Johannesburg

9-  Life is better lived when you can eat everything you’re offered. – Just friday, I was browsing the menu of a hot spot in Maputo and noticed ‘hamburger de espada.’ I asked what ‘espada’ was and I was told it was a fish. “You know, it’s mainly for the vegetarians,” the waitress said with a straight face. As a person who has traveled the world with food restrictions, I can tell you that I feel like I’ve been restricted from taking full advantage of the cultural connection food offers. I’ve been handed chicken and told “but it’s not meat.” When I turn down the dish, then I feel bad and undoubtedly I’ve just offended my host. It sucks. If you can eat everything that comes your way, you’ll be the better for it.

 

Ingozi, Durban (2015)

Ingozi, Durban (2015)

8-  Being bilingual is a gift. Being multilingual is best kept a secret. – I learned my first second language when I was 15 and I always used my powers for good. I always helped the Spanish speakers who looked stranded on the subway tracks staring at the English map. But then once Portuguese and Hindi started to muck up my brain waves, I’ve become very strategic about when to reveal my tongues. Seriously, it just makes my head hurt to switch between languages, and I’m always second guessing if I said the right thing in the right language. It stopped being cool the time I went to the nail salon and could actually understand all the languages being spoken by the workers – and they weren’t saying anything worth listening to. And just last week Thursday I went to a Zumba class and knew the words to all the songs. It was pretty cool at first, then I started to trip over my own feet while trying to translate “Chori chori..hum gori se pyar karenge.” Seriously, I almost long for the days when it was ok to just listen to people talk and not know what their words mean.

 

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“Hood spot” Newark, NJ

7- Money doesn’t make the world go ’round, but you’ll never make it around the world with no money. I’ve never said that I travel on a shoestring budget. Rather, I’d say that my travel style is modest – I like guest houses and family owned B&Bs. I think my approach comes from the reality that I don’t have the luxury of treating travel as a luxury. It’s a part of my life – much like brushing my teeth twice a day and checking emails, it’s so integrated that it’s hard to consider life without it. That said, many people blame their inability to travel on money and that’s just a thinly veiled lie. Travel is not about how much money you have. It is instead about how you choose to spend it. Some people will blow all their cash on souvenirs to show others that they’ve been traveling. Some people will eat through $300 on an exotic meal and great wine. Some people will not go anywhere because they value spending their money on things rather than experiences. Either way, money isn’t what matters in life, but travel is about finding a way to be comfortable in uncomfortable settings. That doesn’t come for free. It really does hinge on a cash flow that suits your travel needs and the currency of friendship, which can help you save your tour guide money and explore the joys of couchsurfing.

 

Siren, Swazi. 2014

Siren, Swazi. 2014

6- Art is life. No one remembers a city because it looked intelligent. You remember cities when they strike you visually. Barcelona and Chicago have a special place in my heart for their artsy architecture. Bangkok’s street graffiti juxtaposed with traditional Thai residential neighborhoods left an impression on me. I fell in love with every street corner in New Orleans’ Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods, because of how delicately history and art were interwoven. Art tells all – the cultural struggles that exist or don’t. Even the absence of art can leave an outsider with very strong impressions about how little a people value or can access this mode of communication and expression. Beyond the galleries and sculptures, a city’s art scene (or lack there of) says a lot about what is important to the city’s inhabitants.

 

Tibet 50, Dharmsala, India 2013

Tibet 50, Dharmsala, India 2013

5- You always have it better than someone else, you just may not yet have met that someone. Many cities I’ve visited have had their flashy sides of town and their gritty underbellies. Usually people in both sides have a rivalry based in their lack of mutual understanding, nevertheless this tension can really be palpable to a traveler. What comes with more time and travel to different places is this sense that the rivalries in that one small place are just distractions from bigger issues. In Dubai, I was disgusted by the labor camps and the practices to help build this town of glitz in the middle of an inhospitable desert.  But then I thought, well having seen some slums in Delhi, I can imagine why someone would choose to be the lowest in the Dubai hierarchy, rather than somewhere in the murky middle in Delhi. Even when it seems like life in a particular place is unfair and unjust, there is always another place where people have it far worse. Sometimes it’s best to focus on the positive affirmation of what’s going well where you are in that moment, rather than focusing on the negative rivalries that seem more present and palpable.

 

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Shimla

4- It’s best not to compare traumas. Piggybacking off #5, I can’t tell you much I value people who can understand history and not compare traumas. People have asked me if I think slavery was worse than the holocaust. I’ve been asked in Portuguese colonization was worse in Cape Verde or Mozambique. I actually dropped my Spanish history class in 1999, because my instructor said in class that “Spanish colonialism was better than all other kinds of colonialism, because at least the colonizers mixed with the locals.”  Whatever makes people sleep better at night is their own business, but I would caution against statements like these that pit one place/time period’s inhumane treatment against another atrocity of a different hue. Can we just all agree that none of us really know (and we should quit before someone ends up saying something hella racist)?

 

Miudos, Maputo, 2014

Miudos, Maputo, 2014

3- Friendships come (and go), but they ARE the journey. Much like seasons, friendships have their moment. Good ones are cyclical and they are consistent despite the changes. Others, not so much. Each is important in its moment, no matter whether the lesson is learned from a negative or positive experience. I’ve traveled around the world, often staying with people who I knew, but didn’t really know very well until I shared a night under the same roof with them. Some connections were brief. Others dwindled, but I do feel that the friends I’ve met and made in many towns all over the world were really the reason why I have certain travel memories in the first place. I’ve been to carnival in Bahia and I can’t separate that from having met Urania. My first trip to Jamaica was spent at Teelie and Leslie’s place in Gordon Town. Were it not for them, I suppose maybe I wouldn’t have grown this lust for travel and the assurance that no matter where I am I’ll make the friends I need to make in order to enjoy that space to the fullest.

 

IMG-20131026-000162- Social media is the best thing that’s happened to me since birth. I got my first cell phone while living in Spain. I was 15 and it was a necessity. Our school had a computer room with 2 computers with internet and 50 students had to take turns sending emails and chatting with friends between classes. I remember thinking then that one day we wouldn’t have to ration our time spent staying connected. So, long gone are the days before Skype and Twitter and Instagram. Perhaps, now, there is the opposite challenge – it’s harder to unplug while traveling these days. I doubt I could have stayed as far away for as long as I have if I didn’t have the modes of modern communication to feel that I’m not as far away as it might seem on a map. 

 

dc aids walk31- Being a critical thinker is priceless. Being judgmental is useless.  From the likes of #4, #5 and #10, I hope you can tell that I learned to form my own opinions from a variety of experiences. Being an analytical thinker is the only way you can travel, absorb, and benefit from the experience. However, India in particular taught me that it is okay to strive to respect behaviors and practices you don’t fully understand and, even from what you do understand, you don’t like.  Being overly judgmental runs the risk of having others be offended and shut you out, then you’ll never even have the opportunity to be exposed enough to learn more.  Respecting isn’t the same as accepting, it’s being tolerant. I’ve learned that I don’t always have to have an opinion about something or someone, sometimes the curiosity to continue to explore is good enough – especially in a foreign setting. I’ve become a big advocate for learning and respecting, with no strings attached. 

Sign Spotting

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

Down the Rabbit Hole…

DSCF2095The more I read about tragedies in the U.S. and the more I travel the world, the more I think about leaving it all behind. There have to be places in the world that don’t tolerate atrocities like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin’s deaths. There must be other places where Kametra Barbour gets more than an apology, where the national news (ahem CNN) would actually carry the story of Renisha McBride’s killer being sentenced correctly, and where Lavena Johnson’s death is investigated by the government, military, and people in whose name she volunteered her life to serve and protect.  I’ll never know if life is actually better elsewhere. No traveler ever can. My citizenship always gives me the gift of a speedy exit and the privilege of choosing when to see the grit and guts of local life. But, if I had to imagine 5 cities in the world where I – an educated Black woman with a small savings, a penchant for making travel my business, and a genuine appreciation for people of all hues – would be willing to give life a new go, I’d start here…

P10509735 – JohannesburgApartheid wasn’t that long ago and South Africa is by no means perfect, but from the POV of an Af-Am woman who needs a vibrant city with opportunities galore, Jo’burg offers a lot: universities that are world renowned, a banking system that makes sense, competitive job options, and lot of Africans who know how to have a good time. The Rainbow nation rarely sleeps in this town.

* Watch scenes from SABC’s new show Sticks & Stones.

* Shop Thula Sindi

* Arts on the Cheap at WAM

IMG_04254 – Sao Paulo

I love this city! Absolutely, positively love it to pieces. Much like Jo’burg it’s a huge city with lots to offer. And, again, much like Jo’burg it has it’s racial down sides. Looking around, you might not realize that you’re in (arguably) the world’s Blackest country outside of Africa. That said though, Sampa (as it is affectionately called) is home to every walk of life that Brazil calls native. Great sushi and German food abound. Italian designs and African hairdressers everywhere. Buses filled with all shades of the spectrum. If only they could do away with that horrible accent…

* Shop Oscar Freire

* Study & get lost at USP‘s campus

* See Carnaval pix!

london town

3 – London – I’ve always said that after one has lived and loved NYC, there’s no place else to live but London. That statement still haunts me to this day. The weather and the pound make London a difficult place to call home, but aside from those two very important factors I’d be on the first thing smoking to Brixton! Just being able to go to the Tate Modern every day just might be worth those bloody cold winters. Maybe…

* I could watch Notting Hill in Notting Hill, during Notting Hill Carnival!

* Brixton is awesome.

* I could watch BBC News every day on my TV, without cable!

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2 – Barcelona – I often have to stop myself from daydreaming about living near Las Ramblas and spending summers on La Mar Bella beach, for fear that I’ll just hop on a plane and never return. Talk about good food, nice people, arts beyond compare and falling in love with a city. I could start over, over, and over again in Barcelona and never get tired of the adventure.

* The Miro Foundation.

Caixa Forum exhibits.

Barca would be my hometeam!

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1 – Toronto – One of the most peaceful melting pots in North America, Toronto would have to be the most likely place for me to cast away. They speak English (in addition to 139 other languages and dialects). It’s just a few hours flight from home. And they have Uber! I’d have to say it’s the most live-able and like-able city on this list. Maybe it’s just a matter of time…

* Immigration made easy. Checklist here.

* T dot has got lots of shopping options on Yonge Street.

*Never a dull moment when Rob Ford is around…

 

 

If you need help deciding where your rabbit hole should lead you, check out this Buzzfeed Quiz
‘What City Should You Actually Live In.’ I got Barcelona!

Tourist Fatigue

I am tired. I am tired of hotel lobbies. I am tired of wake up calls from hotel lobbies. I am tired of people offering to take my bags to and from hotel lobbies. I am tired of guidebooks on the front desks of hotel lobbies. I am tired of the insinuation that I should see something outside of the hotel lobby. I am tired of being a tourist.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Please don’t confuse my fatigue for blame against this lovely town or country. I remember having this same feeling when I lived in Spain. Around month seven I was pretty sure that I had seen every Catholic church in the entire north east. And I was also sure that if I saw one more rendition of Mary and baby Jesus, I would jump off the rock of Gibraltar. These days it’s not the Holy Trinity that makes me want to drown in the Indian Sea. It’s forts and palaces.

But, I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I arrived in Hyderabad and decided that I didn’t want to see anything. I didn’t leave the hotel all week, actually. My friends chided me for not being more motivated. They wanted to take me out, but chose the inopportune time of 4pm during an Indian summer. So, we all quickly undecided and postponed for cooler times to come – neveruary.

I don’t know how to break the rut of tourist fatigue. I don’t think there’s a way, exactly, except to just give in and be exhausted. Forgive yourself just this one time. Know that the city won’t collapse around you just because you didn’t see the Mecca Masjid. You’re not a bad person because you came to town and didn’t see the Golconda Fort or the Falaknuma Palace. Being a tourist is supposed to be enjoyable. When it stops being fun, you should stop yourself from faking like it is. Here are the top five things I do when I have stopped being a tourist. Maybe you frequent fliers will recognize this in yourselves and prevent the guilt from hitting you like a ton of Fodor’s guides. Just open up a Lonely Planet book on the plane ride back, read about it, and say you did it.

This is how I know it’s bad…

1- I swing by the grocery store on my way to the hotel.  Straight from the airport, I have the car drop by a grocery store along the way, so I don’t have to ever leave the hotel once I check in. I don’t pretend like I want to try the newest restaurants reviewed by Food & Wine magazine. I really just want to eat cereal out of the mugs they left in the room for self-brewed coffee. I don’t kid myself.

2 – Download free episodes from itunes. A girl can’t live on BBC World News and CBeebies alone. I load up on all the free episodes that itunes is giving away. If they’re giving, I’m taking. And I watch with reckless abandon.

3- Always keep the door on DO NOT DISTURB. Always. Do you hear me? Always…except when they catch me in the hallway and ask if I’ve run out of potable drinking water. Then, and only then, do I consider taking off the prohibitive sign. But even then, I think long and hard.

4- Tip well. When I’m not planning to spend much time in the hotel, then screw ’em. I’m not making that much trouble anyway. I’m out being a tourist! But, when I plan to stay camped out in my hotel room, wrapped in the hotel bath robe, using up all the shower gel and asking for boutique pillows at odd times of night – I tip well. We’re going to be seeing an awful lot of each other. And I don’t want them to steal my stuff or spit in my food.

5. Carry lots of books. I know I sound like a dinosaur for saying that I read books at all, but some of us actually enjoy paper. You people with thick corneas can perhaps handle all that backlight. I digress. On this last trip, I brought one self help book, one book of short stories, one novel, and two autobiographies. Two books, I had already read before I arrived, but I needed to write an article about them while on the road – done by day three of week one. In that same one week, I read two of the other books and kinda gave up on the last one. I’ll get to “Dreams of my Father” one day, but on this trip it too was fatigue enhancing.

My traveling friend, don’t be bullied into being the good tourist. You don’t owe any city the effort needed to get over your malaise. It can certainly be inconveniently timed, but being tired on the road isn’t an indication that you must fight through it. Just like when you’re at home, sometimes fatigue is a good indication that you should rest and be still. 

May the power of the do not disturb sign be with you.