It’s been a long time, I shouldn’ta left you.

The last familiar face I saw before I boarded my United flight to Delhi 6 months ago was my mother’s. We had been through this routine before, of coming and going, for a decade or so now. And see, she and I, we are like Skittles – Colorful hard shells around soft, oozy insides. Except hard shells on people are made of nothing sweet. So what could have, maybe should have, been a more emotional encounter actually was a much more mundane scene than most. I’m sure there was a hug; perhaps an exchange of grumbles about my extra baggage and a very tearless farewell, but otherwise this was an uneventful scene. I’ve learned that two tough, bitterly proud cookies don’t always look well upon the mutual exposure of soft, mushy things. And, with all the love we have for each other – the optics were the equivalent of a straight faced, Kanye shoulder shrug about what would be two (more) years of nothing but space and opportunity.

It has been a speedy 6 months between then and now, but much has happened. I have set foot in 5 countries since then. I have read books about the quarter life crisis that’s been eating at me for about 2 years. I’ve started paying back bills incurred as a result of (unsuccessfully) buying my way out of said crisis. I’ve read. I’ve prayed. I’ve traveled. I’ve loved. I’ve lost. I’ve laughed at myself. I’ve worked OT that I haven’t gotten paid for. And I’m here. Writing. And what, in tarnations, has been going on outside of me? *Pin drop* [Problem identified] I have been in a self-generated bubble that burst upon arrival in Germany and unfortunately soft, cushy, gooey stuff has spilled all over my life since.

I was pretty sure that I was going to die of a stomach bug before I arrived. So, my priorities weren’t such that I wrapped my head around what this reunion might mean. I was excited for the trip, but I wasn’t anxious about seeing my family again. I wasn’t really elated the way I think I should have been. I was just glad to not have to ride in a tuk tuk or eat daal for a week. I arrived in one piece, without the assistance of an adult diaper, and there was Germany – in all her splendor.

You’ve got to be a jackass or an amphibian (no offense to amphibians) to not find something to love about Munich. For you brainy types, there is the Technical Museum. For you ‘barefoot in the grass’ types, there’s the English Garden. There are churches for the godly, castles for the primadonnas, sidewalks for the fit, and clean air for the living. What more could you possibly ask for? Me, personally, I asked for BMW tours, a good tapas bar, men over 5 foot 7, shoe stores that carry my size, safe drinking water from the tap, a facial, and Black people (every cake needs a cherry on top). And, oh man, did this vacation deliver? Or did it deliver?

What it also delivered were 4 of my closest family members. Three women who have been thick as thieves since they had their own quarter life crises, and my big little brother who just graduated from college and will surely need all my 20 something crisis books very, very soon. You can imagine all the gushy things that should have happened, because all the movies tell us they should. We should have gone camping and toasted marshmallows and stared into the night sky. Or maybe we were supposed to go around the table at our first dinner and say what we were thankful for. But, as Em would say, “You Black!” Hence, none of that actually happened.  Though, if my shell weren’t so hard and so unsweetened, something could have. Maybe?

Instead, we went forth sightseeing like real tourists. Ate out at restaurants that we got lost finding. We laughed at having to share one bathroom, and got pissed at having to share one internet connection. We discovered that the maid actually spoke Spanish, go figure. We realized that the ventilated air smelled like poo. And we did it all together. It was like being at home again, in having to be around the same people. People I’ve known forever. Day in and day out. Had it really been 6 months since I’d seen them? It had been much longer since we’d spent 7 days in the same place. And yet here we were. And there were no fireworks?

I came back from Germany with my stomach more steady, my bank account lighter and a bit more ‘we’ in my ‘I’ stew. And that left me ambivalent. I didn’t have words to describe the recognition of what years of distance had created. And I don’t think I was prepared to notice it as much as I had. On the other hand, though, what an awesome place to rediscover the art of togetherness while battling the sea legs that come with it. After all, Germany is a place where broken and bitter things have happened. Space and opportunity has been more than hard shells with no mutual ground; it has meant extermination and separation. And yet, these days, certain human triumphs live on and fuel a mending of fences – or a filling in of the once barren land on either side of the Berlin wall. There is a shame in being the site of such vast heartache and loss, but much has come of trying to understand the aspects of human nature that made such pain possible in the first place. There is also the intangible sense that forgiving one’s self for a shared past has an unspoken role in an altogether more positive future.

While I have been away from America for 6 months, I have been away from my family for what feels like all of my life. My mother was 9 when the Newark Riots happened. The Berlin Wall fell the same year my brother was born. I turned a sweet 16 the year the Twin Towers fell. And my father quotes his father more now that his father is no more. I’d say we all have mending to do. All told, it’s taken all the time between when I left Munich until now to understand that while there are advantages to bon voyages and hard shells, my next quarter century can suffer a little less of both. So, I’m taking Germany’s example and learning to reckon with my nature and my past to bridge the divide between a few less ‘I’ and a lot more ‘we’ statements in the road ahead. Now if only this road less traveled also came with a German engineered vehicle.

…A girl can dream

Trinidad & Tobago: Mas not Mass

ImageWhere do I begin? For those who are not familiar with Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, the two days prior to Ash Wednesday people from all over the world come together to celebrate life in every sense of the word.  Starting from the 18th century, the French would have elaborate masquerade balls in Trinidad. Because the slaves were banned from such festivities, slaves would host their own mini-carnivals in their backyards. With the emancipation of slavery, these celebrations moved to the streets and since that time Trinidad Carnival is highly regarded as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Carnival season begins from Christmas onwards, with many cultural events leading up to the street parade where you “play mas” on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, including j’ouvert. J’ouvert kicks off carnival Monday with crowds of people dancing covered in mud, oil and paint in the streets in remembrance of the emancipation of slavery. The english translation of j’ouvert is I open and the tradition of oil, paint and mud stems from the slaves not wanting to be recognized in such activity by former slave masters. So, with the history out of the way, now let me tell you what really goes down (or at least what went down Feb 20-21 2012).

I am obliged to say that this was my very first Trinidadian Carnival experience. Though I have participated in other carnivals, including Toronto’s Caribana, Montreal’s Carifiesta, Notting Hill in London, Labour Day parade in New York and DC Carnival, there was absolutely, positively nothing like THIS carnival experience. With only 2 hrs of sleep on Sunday morning, I was ready to jump up for d’original breakfast fete. It was literally the crack of dawn and yes, where I was staying, roosters where actually crowing. By 6am there was a sea of brown, yellow, white, black people eating, limin’ (chillin), whinin’ and drinking like fish in the ocean of fete. There was no bacon, eggs, pancakes or coffee, but rather there was jerk chicken, roti, doubles, and liquor. I never saw anything like it. People of all ages, sizes, from all over the world were gyrating from left to right to soca and chutney music in sweet, sweet T&T. With women rollin’ their bumpers, tipsy, teasin’ and pleasin’ all the men responding and often “rising” to the challenge. Sun beating down, soaking wet with sweat and everyone’s “head nice.” And then when you felt like the whining was done, there was more soca to come and the fetin’ went on and on. It’s now midday and time to cool down by either heading to the beach or taking a quick nap before the “Lara fete.” Sunday night, again scores of people were looking grown and sexy (in sandals, of course) on the grounds of the infamous cricketer, Brian Lara. Tickets are always hard to come by, but I was ready to dance the night away until j’ouvert morning.

Thousands descended on the streets of Port of Spain to play with their respective J’ouvert bands. The alcohol was flowing, flags and rags were in the air with everyone getting on bad, covered in a mixture of oil, mud, and paint placed on their entire body by strangers in the early morning breeze. No time to be tired after 6 hrs of j’ouvert – time to get in costume to play mas in your band of choice or spectate and enjoy the show cause “It’s Carnival.” The energy was palpable as persons playin’ mas cross de stage in their elaborately designed, yet revealing, costumes – dancing as if their lives depended on it.  You could feel the beat of the drums from head to toe and there was a certain exhilaration in saying hi and bye to complete strangers with a common goal of having fun “chippin down de road” during the bacchanal. People say it’s a once in a lifetime experience, but I say it’s an annual one. There is no question where I will be next February. Like any good vacation, it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Mas costumes start at $500 USD and inclusive fetes average between $100-200. Nonetheless, there are truly no words or pictures that can truly capture the spirit of Trinidad Carnival. So, I encourage you all to see it for yourself.

This month’s guest blogger is Charlisa Gibson. Bahamian by birth and well traveled by design, Charlie has lived in the US, the UK, Canada and the Caribbean. When she’s not wukkin up, she’s making the rounds – doing her medical residency in Washington, DC.  She is also Nafeesah’s birthday twin, which clearly indicates that she is some kinda woman… watch out now!